A new soccer season has begun and I was talking to Ender after our practices yesterday. He happened to mention, in passing, that he’d gotten into another fight with his teammates towards the end of last season. This wasn’t anything new. Like me, he’s an outsider by nature, and although he gets along fine with his teammates most of the time, the fact that he only joined this team two years ago, was the youngest on the team last year, and is observably different than the others tends to make him an occasional target given the usual group dynamics. Things are also a little more rough-and-tumble here in Europe because fighting in school is largely ignored by the teachers unless someone gets badly hurt.
His first season with the club, he had to beat up the son of the assistant coach, (who is a teammate of mine), which didn’t faze anyone, including the boy’s father, since the kid is a little fireball who can be set off by anything. (Ironically, despite the fact that this boy and Ender dislike each other, they play very well on defense together, much better than any other two defenders or midfielders. The father and I both find this very amusing.)
That season Ender also had to deal with two other boys egging a third boy on to attack him, and sent the boy running away crying by smashing his cleats into the boy’s face after blocking his punch. When I asked him why he hadn’t used any judo techniques, he shrugged and said that he had been holding his cleats in his right hand and it hadn’t occurred to him to drop them. The two instigators tried lying to the coach and claimed Ender attacked all three of them, but the coach is no idiot, and to the third boy’s credit, when asked about the situation he told the truth and exposed the other two boys.
This year I noticed the star of last year’s team, X, who had always been fairly friendly to Ender, being just a little colder to him than usual at the field. When I asked what was up, Ender explained that he had beaten up X and his friend towards the end of the second season. I was more than a little surprised to hear this, not so much because he was outnumbered, but because X is an exceptional athlete, is bigger and older than Ender, and is easily the strongest, fastest player on the field. I mean, the boy could play with my veteran’s team and not only hold his own, but probably be one of the top five players on the field. He’s also a year older than Ender, and this year has gone up to play on the team that is one level below the adult first team. Judo or no judo, X would have been the one player I would have expected to get the better of Ender in any physical encounter.
Ender explained that X’s best friend, L, was acting up and threw a kick at him, so he caught the foot and walked it forward, thereby putting L on the ground. Seeing his best friend go down, X jumped in, caught Ender from behind and threw him down by his shoulders. However, while going down, Ender went to hook X’s leg and ended up catching his knee, he then rolled, came up, punched X in the face, then put him in a judo lock and told him to knock it off. Thus ended the encounter, with no one seriously injured. But X’s pride as the undisputed alpha male of the team had been bruised, hence the uncharacteristic coldness. On the other hand, Ender rather bemusedly observed that all the other players have been strangely respectful this season.
I’m not entirely sure he has put two and two together yet. I’ll explain it to him one of these days.
As a father, I was naturally concerned about this, so I asked Ender if the punch he had thrown was a jab or if he had made the common mistake of leading with the rear hand. When he indicated the latter, I began to point out why that had been a risky move, as one always wants to open the opponent without risking the exposure intrinsic to a rear hand. But when I asked him why he’d led with the rear despite having been repeatedly told not to do so, he explained that at the time, X was doubled over and clutching his knee, therefore he was already open, there was no risk using the rear hand, and Ender could deliver more force with it.
I haven’t really sparred with him yet or trained him anywhere nearly as much as I should have. But somehow, I think he’s going to be just fine.