Blocking a powerful high kick with her forearm, Jia Crawford’s knocked backward. Finding her footing, she sees her opponent is already advancing on her and another kick’s coming her way. Afraid a block will force her off the mat, she steadies herself and gets ready to use her favorite technique. It’s a risk, her timing has to be exact or this match will be over. As the kick flies her way, she catches the leg and uses her newfound grip to lift her opponent into the air and spin her to the ground. As her opponent hits with a crash, the referee calls ippon and the match is over.
Jia offers her opponent a hand but the girl waves it off, getting up on her own. Her shoulders slump and she won’t look Jia in the eye. She offers a brief bow as Jia’s named the tournament champion. Having spent the better part of the last decade as one of the top Judo competitors in Northern California, this isn’t an unfamiliar sensation. Anything less than victory would be a letdown.
Scanning the crowd, she searches for two familiar faces. Her parents brought her today to save her from having to bum a ride. Her car broke down a few months ago and having just gotten out of college, she doesn’t have the money to repair it. Since she’s living with her parents and working for them, that usually isn’t a big deal. Today’s tournament was a notable exception since it’s over an hour from home.
There are benefits to her parents providing a ride. It’s nice to have a cheering section. They haven’t been to any of her tournaments in years since she’s been clear across the country. She kept competing through college, not as often as she did in high school but she’s always remained active. Now that she’s home she’s eager to get back into the local scene. Putting it off for months, she finally talked herself into signing up.
Being able to nap on the ride home after a long day doesn’t suck either.
Running up the bleachers to her parents, her dad wraps her in a bear hug. “I am so proud of you. You’ve improved so much since the last time we got to see you fight. These other girls didn’t stand a chance.”
That’s high praise and Jia wouldn’t go that far. She feels rusty. Two of her matches went down to the wire and she’s fortunate to be walking out of this gym with a victory. Winning feels good either way and the only way to shake off rust is to get back to competing. Her mother even has a small grin on her face, a rarity when she’s fighting. “Nicely done Jia. Not perfect but still very nicely done.”
A compliment with reservations is the best one can hope for from her mother. She’s just glad it isn’t a truly backhanded compliment and that the message is mostly positive. On more than a few occasions her mother has found nothing but negative things to say, even within minutes of her walking off a mat as a champion.
Jia lets them know she’ll be right back before darting down the shaky bleachers. She needs to collect her medal. Once she has it they can pile into the van for their long ride back to Napa. She knows her parents are eager to get home. They left the family winery closed today and even though it’s a slow day most weeks, she knows how much that hurts them. They’ll definitely be opening first thing tomorrow.
Fighting her way through the crowds, Jia makes her way onto the hastily erected wooden stage. A quick ceremony filled with bowing later and she has a shiny new medal to stick in her trophy case. She’s earned a lot of medals over the years but a new one always feels good. It means she’s still at the top of her game.
As they pile into her parents’ purple minivan, Jia considers stretching out across the back seat. Her muscles ache and laying down would feel incredible, but she knows her parents well enough to know they won’t have it. Instead, she scoots all the way into the seat against the wall and settles. This will have to do.
Her dad cracks a joke about listening to polka music, but the stares both Jia and her mother send him show they’re not amused. There won’t be any more talk of polka on this trip.
They ride in silence for a good portion of the way back. It’s late and her parents are probably tired. Jia doesn’t feel any more awake than they do. Keeping her eyes open is a struggle. About half way home, her dad starts trying to make conversation, if for no other reason than to stay awake. Jia’s suggestion of a coffee stop is shot down immediately. The road’s doing a lot of winding at this point and falling asleep would likely send them flying over a ledge. “My daughter the champion. I’ve never gotten over watching you kick the crap out of anyone standing in your way.”
Jia lights up at this. She got into fighting as an angry teenager who needed an outlet. Being able to, “kick the crap,” out of others was a big help in channeling that without getting into fights at school. Her dad was always supportive and that hasn’t changed.
She wishes she could say the same about her mother. There are days where she seems to get into Jia’s fights, practically ducking and weaving in her seat. Other times she’s actively discouraged her from continuing with Judo. When she first told her parents she wanted to try martial arts her mother practically begged her to pick anything else. She wasn’t happy about Jia’s choice but to be fair, she didn’t forbid her from going into it and she certainly could have.
Her mother seems to be napping in her seat so her dad’s left to carry the conversation. “Your mother was quite the fighter in her day too. You must get it from her. I wish I could take some of the credit but I don’t think I could fight my way out of a paper bag.”
This is quite the revelation, though her dad delivers it as if he’s reading the paper. Her mother has never said anything about fighting or martial arts of any kind. In all the years Jia has been involved in Judo she’s never thought to bring it up? Why is her dad mentioning this now? Is he just tired and saying something he shouldn’t be?
At the mention of her history Jia’s mother tenses up, though she doesn’t say anything. Apparently her sleep wasn’t a deep one. Maybe she hopes her husband will drop the subject or that Jia hasn’t noticed what he said. Neither is the case. “She must have gotten it from your grandfather. He was incredible. I saw him fight once when I was young, before I ever met your mother. Incredible stuff. You could barely see him move. If you have their blood, I’m pretty sure mine won’t get in the way.”
At this her mother seemingly can’t stay silent any more. “Who’s opening tomorrow?” She’s happy to move on to a different subject.
Jia’s dad is quick to chime in. “I don’t know if I can get up that early. Maybe our champion daughter should take care of it for us. You know, as a thank you for driving her today.”
At this point Jia’s wide awake. “Can do dad. I’ll be glad to help. Now what were you saying about mom and grandpa being fighters?”
It’s no use. Jia tries to move the conversation back to her dad’s earlier revelations but he’s off on another rant. He can go for hours when given the chance. This leaves Jia alone with her thoughts. She tries to work through the reasons her mother and grandfather have never spoken about any of this. If this runs in the family you’d think she’d have been pushed into it. Instead she’s been fighting for almost a decade without a word.
She didn’t know her grandpa when he was young but picturing him as a great fighter’s funny. He’s the kindest, most gentle man she’s ever known. Her first memories of him are of tending a garden and meditating. She wants to ask more questions but her mother’s reaction tells her she won’t get anything else. She could try speaking with her grandfather but she doesn’t know how that will go. She just has to hope he’s having a good day.
It isn’t long before they come to a halt in front of their house. It’s a small three bedroom place behind the winery. The field surrounding the house is filled with flowers and row after row of grape vines. Even in the dark it’s hard not to get a smile on her face when the slightly sweet smell of the grapes hits her. There’s a reason she came back here after graduation. Climbing out of the car brings the ache in her muscles back. Her dad warns her she’d better get to bed. “It’s already after midnight and you need to have things open by nine in the morning.”
A groan forces it’s way out of her. Her sacrifice didn’t get her any extra information. She mumbles that it’s fine before drifting into the house, heading to her bedroom and finally collapsing into her welcoming bed.