"You can't begin to unbalance your opponent if you lack balance yourself."
She couldn't remember where she first heard that. Maybe from one of the books she read. Probably her father. She thought she followed the advice, but in reality, she's unbalanced. She's never truly managed to right herself.
They stand on their lines, Katy and her opponent, a taller blonde girl in a blue gi. They bow to the referee, then to each other, in all other ways mirror images.
She loosens her shoulders, rolling them in her sockets. The referee raises a hand, then chops the air.
"Hajime!" He shouts. The judoka heed his instructions and begin, marching across the mat toward one another.
Evenings used to be spent in front of the TV, young Katy bouncing on his knee as they watch a mix of bygone Judo matches and family friendly cartoons. She doesn't yet understand that Judo will be her life. That she's watching a predestined future on their 27-inch Zenith.
Not even when Matthew stares down at her, smiling, and says "The Olympics. That'll be you on that mat someday. I'll be so proud."
She just returns the smile, happy to spend the day with daddy.
Katy's opponent was a defensive player, as defensive as the rules for stalling would allow. Every so often she'd tighten her grip on Katy's lapel and sleeve, step off-angle and go for an O-soto gari, shooting her right leg up as if to reap but only dropping it back to return to her stance. She was doing just enough to not catch a penalty.
It was transparent the girl was just waiting for Katy to stiff-arm her out so she could switch to a tai-otoshi and shoot her leg to Katy's unbalanced side. Idly, Katy wondered how this girl ever got her brown belt.
Katy gave the girl a sharp push with her right hand grip on the lapel while pulling with her left on the sleeve. Her opponent, surprised, came up on one foot for a second. Startled into action, the girl attempted to step in for the Osoto fake again on instinct. Smiling grimly, Katy cleared her left grip and threw it over the back of the girl's neck to grip her armpit as she turned with the movement, squaring up her hips inside of her opponents she forced her off balance.
After six years of doing Judo with her father, she had cried once during practice. He wouldn't leave her alone, saying her form was wrong, that he couldn't believe she was doing so poorly on a simple O-Goshi drill. Some of his students had seemed uncomfortable, but didn't say anything. It was Mr. Warren's school, and it was Mr. Warren's daughter. It wasn't like he was abusing her. Not from they could see.
She had just wanted to go home, watch TV, be a girl and not a future Olympic star. She had said as much when her father asked her what was wrong.
"You don't appreciate this now. But you will later. Get back in line." he had said, and then he had left her to go work with the high Dan students.
The words stung, but the ice of his eyes had frozen her.
She had never cried again.
Katy loaded the girl up on her hip, keeping her pulled tight by the grip under her armpit. Everything else was muscle memory and practice. Katy bent to her knee, pulled hard on the girl's sleeve with her hand, and rotated her hard off of her own hip. To ensure the power of the throw, Katy "went terminal". Her whole body came off the mat as she fell with the girl, her weight driving down into her stomach as she slammed down on top. Katy felt something give way in the girl's body, and she was sure she had popped a rib with the impact of the powerful koshi guruma. One of her finer hip throws, she would later reflect upon viewing the tape her gymmates.
Katy was already moving to a pin, but it didn't matter. The throw had scored her ippon and the win.
"Matte!" The referee called, and Katy rose to her feet. Her opponent wasn't getting up. Now her sensei and their team came to tend to her, along with the tournament doctor. Katy simply returned to her line and adjusted her gi, the jacket having come out of her belt in the brief match.
She glanced at her father, who was sitting in the coach's chair on her side of the mat. He was smiling, warmly. She returned the smile, happy to have done him proud again.
What she considers balance has been restored for the moment. In reality, she had just put herself a step closer to falling down.