The Winners

Posted on December 6, 2006   

By Trudy A. Martinez

As I approach the Junior High, a hum catches my ear like a swarm of bees.  Occasionally, a high squeal pitch punctures the air, following a towering roar, commanding, “Get over here–leave that girl alone!”

Crowds of mother’s litter the doorway with an occasional father here and there. And of course, there are a lot of small children trying to squeeze through small openings in the crowd.

A long metal table blocks the wide entrance, except for a small passage way leading to the activity floor.  Behind the table, volunteers sit on tan metal folding chairs frantically handing out fliers, signing up enrollees, or answering questions.  It is difficult for early enrollees to push past the eager new participants.  A harsh voice rings out, “Just a minute, Jimmy.”

“Come back here,” says another.

Anxious children who manage to escape their parent’s side pepper the passage way in black outfits that look like over-sized pajamas tied in the middle with a white belt.  The belt wraps around their small frames twice before being tied in the front.  On their backs, contrasting the black color of the pajama, are bold white letters forming in a semi-circle, spelling out “Young Olympians,” an artistic illustration of a block kick in action, and stars, U.S.A., and more stars.

An air-borne white sock flies high above the heads of the crowd, as if propelled by a rocket–tailing behind a voice commands:  “Go get that sock!”

The activity floor with its waxed and shining hardwood takes on the appearance of a gym. An instructor, giving directions to children from an earlier session, is about to break up.  He says, “Remember now,” taking in a deep breath as he raises his finger to his puckered lips, “Sh-h-h!”  Then he continues, “What you learn here tonight you only use as self-defense to protect yourself from anyone who tries to grab you or hurt you–NOT your friends,” he adds.  Taking another deep breath he says, “Your participation in learning and mastering the techniques I show you can earn you this bright yellow belt.”  Then he asks, “Do you want one?”

A loud sharp, “Ya,” rings out as all the children reply to his question in unison.

Although the educational activity program is sponsored by the Y.M.C.A., a men’s organization, encouragement is given for both boy and girl participants.

Chandra, my granddaughter, eagerly awaits her class to begin.  Her big brown eyes glisten and beam with excitement.  It is difficult for her to remain still.  Her muscles tense and her fists clinch in anticipation.  When her mother says, “Chandra, you need to get your shoes and socks off.”  Chandra immediately drops to the floor as if she is a puppet and the words pull her string; her mother does not need to repeat the words.  She moves quickly, untying her shoes, pulling them off, and then removing her socks; when she finishes with one foot, she instantly repeats the process with the other.

On the activity floor, the instructor tells the early group, “Good-night,” as he bows to them with both hands at his side.  All the students reciprocate and then leave the floor, scampering with excitement back to their parents.

Chandra’s eyes grow in size, taking on a pleading look as if to ask, “May I go?”  Her lips form a smile and she turns her head upward toward her mother, anxiously waiting her mother’s approval.  “Okay, go on.”

The turnout for self-defense and safety awareness programs highlights a growing problem that faces America: helpless children falling prey to unknown assailants and turning into victims.  A concern for the safety of children prompts the offering of the classes.  An overwhelming response indicates parents worry.  Because of the size of the class, some parents participate by holding the block pads and block sticks (foam padded) for the children to practice on, thus freeing more instructors to assist kids who have difficulty mastering the techniques. The Children form lines in a row.  Chandra makes sure she is right up front so she doesn’t miss a move.   Chandra’s mom said the first night of class, “Chandra needs encouragement and reassurance. She doesn’t want to be the only one who dosen’t know anything.” But out there on the floor during her first lesson her shyness disappears.  She certainly did not act like a novice.

“Horse stance,” says the instructor.

Immediately, all the children assume the position:  they spread their legs apart, assume a semi-squat position, double their fists tightly until their little knuckles appear white and hard, and position their little arms in preparation to block and punch.  Their bodies are rigid.  “Punch,” yells the instructor.

The children throw one arm forward sharply with force–”Ya.” they reply in unison.

The instructor has them sit on the floor in a squatting position as he demonstrates the next move.  “When I say, ‘get up.’  I want you to get up as fast as you can–but don’t start until I tell you.”  All the little bodies tense and lean forward slightly. 

One over-anxious little bottom leaves the grown, protruding upward–it is Chandra.  “Down,” the instructor repeats.  “Don’t get up until I say.” 

He went on giving detail instructions on how to block a hit and then immediately follows through with a kick forward.  “Up,” he says.

Little bodies pop up like they are spring-loaded.

“Horse stance,” he yells.  They instantly assume the position.  “Block–Kick.”

“Ke–.” they yell as one arm goes up to block.  “Ya,” they continue as their leg goes up close to their body and instantly shoots forward.

Judging from the height of their kicks, I imagine an assailant dropping to his knees.  “These kids can turn out winners,” I think as my mind envisions an encounter and then their little legs carrying them speedily away from the danger.



By Trudy A. Martinez

Normally in the morning when my grandmother awakes, my aunt will attend to her needs, but this summer, I am to be her little helper. When I agreed to be her little helper, I had no idea that she would be my alarm clock. Promptly at 5:00 A.M., she goes off: “TRU-U-U DY.” she calls out, pronouncing each syllable of my name separately as if to transform it from one name into two. The sound of the vowel is intense, imitating the doleful howl of a wolf.

“TRU-U-U DY,” she repeats. As the stress of the syllables gain intensity, the tone of her voice rises, producing an irritating ring in my ear. Then just as abruptly, her voice drops to a sweet mellow tone that sounds almost like a whisper. “Are you up, Buttercup?” She asks. The expression of endearment (Buttercup) softens the rude harshness of my awakening and soothes my senses.

“I am now.” I quickly reply, preventing her from repeating the episode. “What on earth can she want at this hour of the morning?” I think as my brain slowly came out of its dream-like state. “Perhaps, she misplaced her cane.” I reason as I hop out of bed. “Granny needs her cane,” I assure myself, “–to find her way to the bathroom.” I continue to justify my thinking as I make my way down the hall to her room, “The cane is like another leg to Granny, strong and sturdy; it assists her old weary bones by holding up her aggregated frame.” As I approach the doorway, her words greet me.

“Buttercup,” she says sweetly as I enter the room,” I want you to give me my shot this morning.”

“You want me to do what?” I said, questioning the words tingling in my ears; they send chills down my spine, feeding the surface of my skin with blossoming goose bumps.

“I want you to give me my insulin shot,” she repeats.

“Aunt Peg said she will give you your shot before she leaves.” I shudder to think I will need to do it. “I am only nine years old.” I add, trying to convince her I wasn’t worthy of such an honor. “Besides,” I continue “I don’t know how,” thinking the matter is now settled and my final reply will put an end to such an outrageous idea.

“I’ll teach you,” she quickly replies in a reassuring tone. “You may be only nine,” she says, smiling. “But you look and act much older.” As she continues to butter me up, she reaches for my hand, grasping it and squeezing it gently as she speaks. “I am confident you can do it,” she says. “Say you will,” She pleads. “Say you will.” Granny’s eyes are small and gray; they appear like passage ways that led into the inner depth of her being, pleading with me long after her words cease.

“Okay,” I stammer out slowly, hesitating and then adding, “But, –I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t. Now go–get the insulin out of the ice box.”

“You mean the refrigerator, Granny,” I say laughingly, correcting her and bringing her back into the present as I leave the room.

When I return (moments later), I find Granny sitting on the edge of the bed with her feet dangling. In my absence, she seems to have been transformed into a different person. Her eyes are no longer pale gray. Instead, they appear dark and sinister. The gentleness disappeared; now they are huge, monstrous eyes, piercing the depth of my soul. I feel like Little Red Riding Hood, wanting to scream out, “Granny, what big eyes you have!” while anticipating her answer: “Better to see you with my dear.” My mind races. Then I notice Granny’s glasses are no longer sitting on the night stand; they are sitting on the bridge of her nose. I giggle inwardly and smile. The glass is thick, thick as the glass of a coke bottle; they magnify; they intensify her every glance. Occasionally a slight tint of a rainbow can be seen when she moves her head slightly.

“What’s the matter with you Buttercup?” her sweet voice hums.

“Oh, nothing,” I reply, smiling sheepishly.

“Get the syringe out the bottom drawer,” she orders. I obey. She gives me step-by-step directions on how to fill the syringe with the insulin, interjecting how much she hates for my Aunt Peg to do it. She says, “Your Aunt Peg jabs the needle in my leg as if she was attacking a wild animal.”

I laugh as I gently prick her skin, push slowly inward, and release the medication from the syringe as she instructs.

“Ah-h-h,” she exclaims, “–that didn’t hurt at all! You did well.” Then she looks at me questionably and asks, “Why were you laughing?”

“Granny,” I said bravely, “When I came back to the room just now–”

“Yes,” she says, coaxing me on when I hesitate.

“I–I imagined you were–.” I hesitated again, and then blurt out, “The Big Bad Wolf.”

Granny roars out laughing, waking Aunt Peg who instantly appears at the doorway like a hunter seeking his prey. When Granny finally gets a grip on herself, she says, “Buttercup, you just made my day.” The she turns to look over at Aunt Peg and says, “You’ve been replaced–I’ve already been shot today.