This is the fourth in a series of pieces from Millburn High School's award-winning literary magazine, WORD, that will be published on TAP Into Millburn once a week. The author, Devika Kanagaraj, is a senior who will be attending New York University in the fall.

How To Pack a Punch

Devika Kanagaraj

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     “Girls can’t fight.”

     Oh, really.

     My cousin’s claim was as ridiculous as his appearance. As a lanky, bespectacled, nine year old, who the heck was he to tell me I couldn’t fight. Honestly, he stood no chance. It was perfectly fine with me if he wanted to challenge me to a fight. He was just begging to be taught a very important lesson. Girl power has no physical boundaries.

     Alec’s misogynistic statement rang in my ears. There was no difference in my eight-year-old mind between a boy and a girl. Except for the clear distinction that girls rule, while boys drool, obviously. But physically? Boys had absolutely no advantage. Especially not over me.

     Had Alec forgotten my incessant boasting of my brand new green belt? It was my prized possession. I had taken to attaching it to all of my clothing that summer. I even tried wearing it to bed, but I found that it was much too uncomfortable to sleep in. I resolved to wear it proudly in the daytime hours and hang it to rest on my headboard while I slept. My green belt was always close. It gratified me. I was no longer a strange, violent little girl, but instead a trained and sophisticated fighter. A martial artist.

     After a year of karate classes I was a good student. I understood that power could be derived from form and technique, instead of brute force. My teacher, or sensei, was a black man who had a friendly face and the beginnings of an afro, and stood more than six feet tall. Next to my three feet and ten inches, he was a giant. Each day, the class ended with a sparring session, and I had the privilege of being partners with the sensei. The first time I stood opposite him I was shaking with nerves. How could I ever hope to compete with someone so large? His size intimidated me. The sensei told me to relax. Being small has its advantages. It is much harder for bigger people to defend themselves, as there is just so much of them. From the sparring sessions with my sensei I learned to be quick and agile, attacking the weak spots my opponent couldn’t cover. I learned the fundamentals of fighting, which I now planned to use in my battle to defend the integrity of girl-kind.

     “Prove it!” I spat at my cousin. We agreed to meet in my basement after our afternoon snack. We sipped at our juice boxes, aggressively staring each other down. As we descended the steps of my basement the air tensed. We were both preparing mentally for the fight. In silence, we cushioned the ground with pillows. Both our hands grasped at the same pillow, and I shot him my most terrifying look. He dropped it at once, alarmed by how seriously I was taking this fight. Once we had the ring set up we stood in the center, facing each other. He smirked at me. I looked him dead in the eye, straight-faced. His smirk faltered and quickly faded. We bowed to each other. This was a gentlemen’s fight. I turned my back to Alec as I walked to the edge of the ring. My mind was recalling what I had spent the past year learning. My fists clenched at my sides as my fingers curled into my palms. I had to remind myself to be careful as to where I placed my thumb. It was crucial that I keep thumb across my index and middle fingers, instead of tucking my thumb under them. This was something my sensei constantly reminded me of. I smiled to myself and thanked him in my head for preparing me for this fight.

     I turned sharply to face my cousin. I brought my fists up to my face, shoulder width apart, just below eye level. I kept my elbows in, making sure they were protecting my chest. I immediately noticed Alec’s failure to do this and saw an easy victory. His elbows stuck out awkwardly, creating the perfect spot on his chest for my clenched fist. As we took our stances I noticed another unforgivable mistake Alec was making. His feet were too far apart, much more than shoulder length, making his uncoordinated self even more prone to falling over. Alec raised an eyebrow at me as he saw me taking my stance slightly turned away from him, instead of facing him dead on, like he had done. This look of confusion quickly morphed into bewilderment as I pivoted on my back foot, rotating toward him at a dangerous speed.

     In that moment I remembered something my sensei had mentioned. Scream! It catches your opponent off guard and throws them. That lapse in their concentration makes them vulnerable. I took a deep breath and hurriedly decided to scream “girl power!” to emphasis the lesson that I was trying to teach my ignorant cousin, but it probably sounded more like “GAPOWAAA!!!”

     I didn’t care. It was just as effective. Alec had no time to react. My knuckles aimed straight through Alec’s chest, and his body fell to the ground as my knuckles met their mark.

     Alec lay curled on the ground, winded. He winced. It was my turn to smirk.

     Girls can’t fight?
     Suck it, Alec.