Here's an excerpt from the latest installment of the Emily Kane Adventures, entitled Girl Takes The Oath. Enjoy. And if you haven't started the series yet, you can find it here. In this scene Emily has agreed to give an informal lesson in hand-to-hand combat to a few friends at the Naval Academy.
“Hey, Em,” she heard Zaki’s voice call out. “We’re running out of land.”
Emily shook her head out of the dream and laughed. “Sorry, guys. I got lost in thought for a moment there.”
“What the hell, Em,” CJ moaned. “You didn’t say we were gonna sprint the whole way. I’m like totally winded.”
“It’ll be a better workout this way,” Stacie cried out, huffing as badly as CJ and Zaki.
“Stacie’s right,” Zaki said, “more like battlefield conditions.”
“The only conditions that matter are the ones inside your heart,” Emily said. “Weak, strong, rested or tired, fearful or resolute—those are all just states of mind.”
“Really, Em,” CJ said, one eyebrow arched into a peak of sarcasm. “You’re really gonna go all zen on us?”
“I will if I have to. But, seriously, you can’t waste your time wishing for the perfect conditions. When a fight breaks out, the conditions are always bad. You have to depend on what you find within yourself.”
“And just how do we do that?” Zaki asked. “I was in a couple of fights in high school, and I remember all too well what it’s like, that first time you get hit. When someone hits you, I mean really tags you, it’s like your whole brain goes numb, and you break into a cold sweat and you can’t focus on anything.”
“That’s exactly what happens,” Emily said. “And you want to make sure it happens to the other guy, not you.”
“So you’re saying we should be super aggressive?” CJ asked.
“Because that’s not what you said that day in the advanced hand-to-hand class,” Stacie said.
“It’s not about aggression. It’s about initiative. Stacie, you know what I mean, right?”
“Not exactly,” she said, looking less confident than someone with all those muscles usually does.
“Remember what your sensei told you about sen?”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think I ever really understood what he said about that.”
“Okay,” Emily said as she took a deep breath. “Let’s talk it through. We can start with CJ, but what I have to say will be true for you, too, Stacie, and to a lesser extent for Zaki. What do you do when someone picks a fight with you?” she asked CJ.
“I hope I remember to run,” she said through a nervous giggle.
“But if a man attacks you, he’s likely to be stronger and faster than you. That means you won’t get away by running. And besides, if you run in battle, you’ll let your unit down. So, in the face of superior force, and if you can’t run, obviously you have to stand your ground, right?”
“I guess so,” CJ replied, now beginning to look very put upon by the turn the conversation had just taken.
“So, let’s think of it in terms of an isolated encounter. If a man attacks me, running won’t help, at least not until I’ve disabled him. Zaki, give me a strike.”
He obliged, standing opposite her and extending his arm.
“You can see, can’t you, since his arm is longer than mine, if I step back I place myself in a purely defensive position. If I can’t reach him, he’s got nothing to fear from me. He can attack with impunity.”
“Okay,” CJ said, wary of the conclusion Emily might have in mind.
“That means, not only is it useless to run, but also that I have to step forward, into his attack.”
“Yes,” Stacie cried out. “That’s just like in shotokan. We try to block and then step inside, and nail him with a reverse punch to the center of the chest.”
“Exactly,” Emily said. “And beyond the mechanical advantage of being able to strike with your weight on your back foot, which is the strongest hand-strike you have, there is the hidden advantage that he won’t expect it. Of course, when you step inside, you really have to nail him, and even then, you still can’t run.”
“I’m not sure I can do this, Em,” CJ moaned.
“I hope you never have to, but if you do…”
“Then you better know how,” Stacie crooned.
“One last thing,” Emily continued. “Once you nail him with that strike to the soft spot just below the bottom rib, you have to hit him several more times. You don’t back away, or even think of running, until you’ve hurt him, by which I mean you’ve made it physically impossible for him to pursue.”
“And that means…” CJ cringed to ask.
“It means killing or maiming; a few bruises is not enough. You have to break his knee, or chop his throat, or maybe strike the back of his head just above the neck, gouge out his eyes—you get the picture, I hope—all very nasty stuff. Also, contrary to popular belief, merely kneeing him in the nuts will not really disable him. He’ll be able to run after you within a few seconds. Once you gain the advantage over your opponent, you don’t back off until you’ve settled it. To do anything else is simply to hand the advantage back.”
“Oh, God,” CJ whimpered. “Isn’t there any other way?”
“Of course, there is,” Emily replied, trying to find a reassuring tone of voice. “You always have options. And the more of ‘em you have, the better. Pain compliance is the other main tool in your hand-to-hand arsenal.”
“What about kicking?” Stacie asked.
“CJ doesn’t have any karate training, so I didn’t mention that. But I think of kicks as an adjunct to hand-strikes.”
“What about pain compliance, Em,” CJ chirped. “Let’s do some of that.”
“Okay, but I want to make sure you understand its limits, as a strategy. Unless you intend to snap someone’s neck, or maim them, pain compliance is only useful in cases where you think your opponent can be ‘reasoned’ with, if you catch my drift.”
“Yeah, but I’ve had training in pain compliance.”
“Oh, c’mon, CJ. I want to see how we stand our ground,” Stacie said. “Let’s go over that, Em.”
After some mock bickering between the girls, Emily had Zaki simulate an attack, first with a punch combination, and then with a grab.
“Put on pads, even if we’re only doing half-speed, or you’ll get bruises from the blocks.”
“What about you? Are you just gonna wear grappling gloves?” Zaki asked.
“Don’t worry, you’re not gonna hit me.”
“You mean you want me to pull the punches?”
“I mean you won’t be able to hit me.”
Zaki frowned at her, and then assumed a fighting stance.
“Whatever you say, Em.”
“Don’t be like that, big guy. You know we love you.”
Several attacks later, Zaki found himself lying on the grass contemplating the clouds as they drifted by. One resembled a camel, another an elephant.
“This is so humiliating. How do you keep doing that, Em?” he groaned as he picked himself up.
“Let’s try it at one quarter speed, and we can pause after each move.”
After she leaned away and swatted the first strike across his chest, she said, “See how I haven’t stepped back, and as I block with the right, I’m already striking down here with the left. The bottom rib on the side is a vulnerable spot. If I can crack it, he won’t be able to continue with that arm, and breathing will be difficult. Though with someone as solid as Zaki, it’s gonna take more than one blow.”
“I see,” said Stacie. “And blocking his arm across his chest closes him off from the next attack.”
“Exactly. It takes an extra second to untangle himself. His natural next move is to step back and swing a hook from the other side.”
“That feels about right,” Zaki said, and then stepped back for the hook. Emily stepped forward, but leaned out of the way of his strike.
“You see how I don’t let him get further away. Distance is his friend, so I deny him that. At this point, he’s vulnerable to a knee to the groin. But if I do that, he’s likely to lurch forward on top of me. I might kick through his knee, like this, or slip a right hand over his arm and strike his throat. But I need to keep my left ready to defend against the right that he’s in a good position to deliver.”
“Are those your best options?” CJ asked.
“Well, not exactly, but I don’t think you’re gonna be able to do this,” she replied, leaning over even further to slip a high side-kick under his chin, gently nudging the throat, just as he brought the right arm around.
“Holy crap,” Stacie squealed. “How on earth did you do that?”
“I had no idea you could get a kick like that in from so close,” Zaki said, stumbling back a step or two.
“You see how it let him get some distance. I’d only do that if I meant to finish him with it, you know, crush his windpipe.”
“Oh my God, Em,” CJ said. “There’s no way I’m flexible enough for that.”
“Yeah, that’s why I think the better option for you is the knee to the groin, but be prepared to shoulder him off of you, and strike his throat when he reaches down to check the family jewels.”
“It all seems so nasty. I don’t know if I’m mean enough to do some of this stuff.”
“Fighting is nasty, CJ. I hate it.”
“Is that why you won’t go to competitions with the team?” Stacie asked.
“Sort of. I mean, kumite is good training, but I hate thinking of fighting as if it were a sport.”
“Then why do you train so hard all the time?”
“Because I have to,” Emily replied, beginning to grow weary of the subject. “Look, guys, can we get back to work?”
“Sorry, Em,” Stacie said. “It’s just you’re so good at this. It’s kind of awesome, you know.”
“Yeah, Em,” CJ piped up. “Have you ever been in a tournament?”
Emily sighed at her friends’ persistence. Perhaps she’d have to share something with them, but how much could she afford to reveal about herself? Her high school friends were just the same, especially Wendy… at least until the incident with the West Virginia bikers. Seeing a real fight up close cured them of their fascination with abstract violence.
“Fine. I’ve been in lots of tournaments. When I was a kid I only wanted to compete in kata, but in high school Sensei and my dad made me do kumite, and they insisted I compete in the men’s division.”
“Man, that sounds harsh,” Zaki said.
“My dad used to say: You’re not training to defend yourself against women.”
“I suppose he’s got a point,” CJ said, “but still…”
“How’d you do against the men?” Stacie asked.
“Second place the first time, which showed me that I could take a punch.”
“Was it full contact?” Zaki asked, horrified.
“No, but boys will be boys… or men, in this case.”
“What about the next time?” Stacie asked.
“At the Norfolk invitational…”
“You mean the Leatherneck Brawl?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” she said, her mind racing back to the scene three years earlier, and especially to the much more violent confrontation with Tang and his operatives in the hotel parking lot later that night.
“I hope you didn’t get too roughed up,” Zaki said.
“No, and more importantly, I didn’t have to hurt anyone else,” she added, with a wistful smile.
“Is that the tournament Coach Parker’s always talking about?” Stacie asked. “Because according to him, you totally dominated.”
“You know, I’m not the same person I was in high school. Back then, I could spar and kid around with my friends afterwards. Now, I don’t spar, because I hate fighting. It’s too nasty, and I’ve just been there too many times. I never want to fight again.”
“Have you ever been in a fight with someone as good as you?” CJ asked.
The expression in her eyes made the girls cringe, until Emily caught herself and made an effort to compose her face. She had fought against several people as good as she was, and even wished at moments that they would take her life away, granting her the serenity she craved. But some tie to the world, to a friend or a loved one, always brought her back to the restless self-assertion necessary to prevail.
“There’s no one as good as me,” she muttered darkly, “because no one is as evil as I am.” She thought, but did not say, “And because I am prepared for death.”
Her lonely, mysterious admission hung in the still, humid air, like a soap bubble drifting tremulously, ready for the lightning to burst it open and consign its meaning to dim memory. No one dared speak for a long moment, but no lightning came.
“Now can we get back to work?” Emily finally said, looking directly at CJ. “It’s closing in on oh-six-hundred.”
If you enjoyed this, you can find the rest of the series here. And Girl Takes The Oath will be available this summer!