It was early morning over the stadium. Its size was pretty huge, at least as big as an American football stadium. A huge open roof let the bright lights of the city flood in. The early morning air swept through the stadium like a wave of cool water in high tide, soaking the stadium with a rapid chill. The wind seemed to crash against my skin, eroding my nerves, keeping me on edge. The bleachers were sparsely filled with super martial artists. Each of them looked like lookouts scattered about, all looking for land. These men and women were looking for a pupil, a pupil they can teach to navigate the rocky waters of competitive martial arts.
There were one-hundred participants there to prove their worth and sheer will in a test of combat aptitude. Each of them wore the garb of their respective practice. Each of them also wore the same look of worry, worry that they will be overlooked in a sea of talented people. Then there was me, a mediocre-looking guy. Sure, I was pretty fit, but it seemed like everyone else was a boulder or a sharpened and deadly shell. Me, I was just an average stone, a stone you’d pass up walking along the beach.
Much to everyone’s surprise I’m not a 182 centimeters tall manly man, I’m actually only 173. My shoulders weren’t wide either and I only weighed about 88 kilograms. During that exam, if you could measure the anxiety I had in kilograms, I would have probably weighed as much as the heaviest fighter out there. Sweat doused my shaggy dark brown hair and we hadn’t even started warming up yet.
The exam proctor, a slender man in a tracksuit, walked onto the field brandishing a touchscreen tablet. His cold brown eyes were apathetic to the weight of the event surrounding him. He alone bore the responsibility of proctoring the first step of these fighter’s journeys. Maybe I could have leaned on his stoicism for support during this emotional maelstrom. “Roll call!” He sternly yelled.
My heart raced; my palms were soaked, all the muscles in my body were on full alert to move at any moment’s notice. I began to dissolve into anxiety, like a sugar cube would dissolve in water, except this was way less sweet. ‘Shit! SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT….SHIT! I don’t know if I’m ready for this! If I don’t pass the entrance exam, it’s the end of the line! I won’t be able to look my mom in the face, and my dad will roll over in his grave.’ My own combative thoughts beat me down into a messy pile of emotions.
“Nogu Takeo, are you present?” The exam proctor shouted over the crowd of participants.
I jumped out of my skin at the sound of my name being called. “Here!” ‘Shit! should I have been more formal! I look so stupid!’ My thoughts were interrupted by a ground-shaking chuckle.
“Takeo! Takeo’s boy is at this entrance exam?” The man who spoke was none other than Roger Burrow, the strongest American super martial artist. He was the greatest professional fighter in American history and the only western fighter to beat my father. They called him ‘America’s pride’.
I swallowed down my anxiety and quietly raised my hand. “Yes s-sir, it is me.” I quickly dropped my hand back down to my side. ‘What the hell man? What was I thinking?’
In an instant, Roger leaped from the stands that surrounded the roll call area. It had to have been a twelve-meter jump. Far further than any standing long jump record in human history. He might be one of the strongest men in the world.
He towered over me at 213cm tall, and probably weighed around 136 kilograms. His broad shoulders were covered by long blonde hair. His massive arms the size of columns were nothing but pure seasoned muscle. He had a rock hard set of abs and an even stronger jawline, one deserving of his title ‘America’s Pride’. All of this was held back by a navy blue tee-shirt. Kind of an oddly normal thing for a star martial artist to wear.
The other participants stood in awe at the sight of this beast. ”HA HA HA HA HA” Roger laughed in a cartoony sort of way. He pushed every monosyllabic boom of laughter through the air. “Hello, young man! I shall be anticipating your performance!” Roger stuck his fist out to mine for a fist bump.
I gulped at the large meaty hand in front of me and politely obliged the offer. His hand had to have been two times bigger than mine, it was the size of a basketball. “Yes si-r, thank you!” I moved my hand back down to my side and looked straight ahead. My eyes burned holes in the back of the person’s neck in front of me.
Roger bent down and set his massive hand on my shoulder. He whispered into my ear. “Hey, just remember that martial arts were invented to defeat the strong. Just stay with what you exceed in young Takeo.” He bent back up and smiled at the proctor. “Sorry to interrupt sir! All of you do your best to make your families proud, but most importantly make yourself proud!” He saluted and jumped back into the stands breaking a couple of the benches. A loud chuckle could be heard. “Sorry!”
‘What the hell, that was so surreal. That was America’s Pride! Shit, I can’t mess this up now. I mean I’m kind of used to celebrities but shit he’s here watching my entrance exam.’ I took a deep breath to get out of my head. ‘In through the nose, out through the mouth.’
“Alright, now that we know everyone is here maybe its time for the fitness course.” The proctor tapped on his screen some more. “We will begin with the stamina tests, then we will do weight lifting. After those two tests, you will fight a randomly selected opponent in a regulation match.” He looked around to gauge people’s understanding.
‘My thoughts drowned out the rest of the names being called out apparently’ I clenched my fists in anticipation of what was to come. ‘I should at least be able to pass all of these stages.’
“Hey, Takeo!” You gonna be able to make it past the stamina test, or is dad’s name alone gonna get you through?”
I looked over to see Josh Bogart, the snide European prodigy. I could see he wore his usual black Gi, which signified his membership at Kenpo karate dojo. Of course, he was a mixed martial artist that knew a range of techniques, but practical street fight tactics in Kenpo karate were his strong suit. ‘He is mainly good at self-defense so it will be hard to touch him. I’m sure he has some offensive techniques in his bag of tricks as well.’
“That’s enough Mr.Bogart! Let’s begin our 500 meter dash, the fifty people with the worst time will be failed immediately. These people need to make their way to the starting line; Francis Chapone, Cao Zhilan, Josh Bogart, Charlotte Tuttle, and Din Banahatti.” All those whos names were called walked to the beginning of the track.
‘Oh god, this is going to be a long morning.’ I proceeded to the middle of the field where the waiting area was. Several people began to practice breathing exercises and core stretches. To everyone there, this was an event they could not afford to lose.
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