You've trained hard for weeks, months, and years. You've stressed yourself to your absolute limits, and pushed past those limits to become stronger, faster, and better overall. How do you test yourself? You have two options, basically:

1. Get into a street fight

2. Enter some kind of martial arts tournament that will allow you to participate

I chose the second option mostly because I want to not go to jail. Also because people like to bring knives and guns to street fights. No honor amongst rogues and all that. Oh well!

This was my first "full contact" tournament, and my third tournament overall. "Full contact" means no pads, only a cup and a mouthguard. Because of that, we don't punch to the head or face, since they learned quickly in the old dojos that that led to lots of broken teeth and faces. I fully realize it has problems in terms of "real life" applicability, but that's why I supplement with other training. Regardless, in the words of a buddy of mine, "damn, this shit hurts." Yep. Shit hurts a lot.

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Anyway, on to the fight itself. You know that feeling of performing in front of others? Knowing that your actions will be seen and recorded by hundreds? That was me this past Saturday. Only I wasn't just performing, I was fighting to beat someone into the ground so that I could demonstrate martial prowess.

I got there in the morning with my whole group, and we quickly settled into the prep room. We warmed up, got our gear on, and... then we lined up for a photo. OK, easy enough. Then we're told we won't be fighting until... after lunch.

AFTER LUNCH?! That's a lifetime away! I can't wait! I'm warmed up! I'm ready to go!

Nope. Sit down and wait. You aren't going until maybe 1pm.

The waiting is the worst part, really. Sitting around, knowing that out there is someone who wants to beat you as badly as you want to beat him. Who is he? Which number? Is he any good? Is he as stressed out as I am? Is he more experienced? Less experienced?

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Then I'm called up. Finally! I was to go second round to take whoever wins the first fight in my bracket. Except, as I realized, both guys in my bracket were shodan (first degree black belt.) Balls.

I watch both step into the ring. One guy is a head shorter than me, another one is a half-head taller than me. I'm rooting for the shorter guy, because he seems older and... less tall. 30 seconds later the taller guy has one with a nasty leg kick and I'm going, "Ah, well...shit."

One fight after this one, and then I'm up. That's okay, that's at least two minutes to collect my thoughts and plan. Maybe even four minutes if there's an extension and...

"Ari Schwartz."

Wait, what? I'm up already? Yep. That fight was quick.

I put my mouthguard in, and step into the ring. Here we go. Damn that guy's big. He looks nice enough, but... he's a pretty fierce fighter and...

The first punch lands. Only it's both of us. We both land shoulder punches at the same time. I think for a moment that I might have felt something I'd call "pain," but I'll be damned if I care. All I care about is demonstrating skill and tenacity and... ah shit, I just got swept.

But I'm back up in less than a second. It's not "waza" and doesn't get him a point. But it does count against me. The ref pushes me back and resumes the fight. I gotta make up for that slip or I'll never get an extension. I throw everything I've got at this guy, punches, leg kicks, front kicks, hooks to his kidneys. Everything.

Not surprisingly, he's not easy to take down. But I was determined to be his hardest challenge of the day. At the very least, I was going to cost him first place.

Two minutes later, the round is over. I'm out of gas, but so is he. The judges call a tie, and my opponent visibly sighs. He's tired. But, unfortunately, I'm more tired. A minute later, I'm now on the defensive more than before, taking punches to the shoulder and body, and kicks to the leg. I throw everything I've got, but he controls the last minute.

That's enough for the judges in a kyokushin tournament, and they call it for him. The last minute is all it takes, and he gets a unanimous win.

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But it cost him. He fought one more time, this time for 1st place. He was tired, sore, and limping. He took second. I tied for third.

All told, not bad for my first time doing full-contact fighting. Best compliment I got from a friend later was, "Goddamn, you're fucking aggressive!" For me, someone who was once considered one of the most timid fighters in the group, that was a huge compliment. To know that I could step into a ring and fight as hard as I did was one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. I didn't win any trophies, but I sure won myself a lot of pride.

Also bruises.

So there it is.

The only other thing I could say is: if you've ever wanted to try this out, just go do it! I went from not knowing anything about fighting to being a halfway decent fighter in a few years. If I can do this— I was seriously out of shape and unathletic— then you or anyone else can too!