By Nikko Lee (Guest Blogger)
When I started karate class at the age of sixteen, I was painfully shy, overweight and by no means naturally coordinated. I fell in love with the powerful punches and graceful kicks as much as the confident and dedicated attitudes of the black belts.
Over the next eighteen years, I was thrown in the sparring ring with opponents who could run circles around me and weren’t afraid to hit a girl; taught kids as young as three years old to pull their toes back before they kicked; and found the courage and strength to be the person I wanted to be regardless of what anyone else thought.
I found good friends who shared the journey for a month or years. It was where I met my first boyfriend. We used to joke that karate class was the best dating service because so many of the students who stuck around eventually found their short-term or long-term partners in the dojo. There’s something about spending six out of seven days working out, traveling and struggling together to be better that forges a deep bond.
Training in martial arts has taught me more about myself and others than any other experience I’ve had - except maybe motherhood and distance hiking. In the sparring ring or on the dojo floor, you can only run so long from your opponent or yourself. It is the one place where it is safe to make mistakes and getting back up again is the ultimate achievement.
I’m still shy at times, but I can step in front of a crowd and do my best. I’m still not in the best shape, but I have the confidence of knowing what my body can do if I push myself. And I can kick ass when I need to.
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As a black belt, Tyler helps his students face their fears, but he has yet to come to terms with his own bisexuality. When he finds a new sparring partner in Jaime, an openly gay man struggling to find his place in the dojo, Tyler is surprised at how right it feels to be intertwined with him.
Determined to put his partying days behind him, Jaime returns to martial arts training and swears off one-night stands. He is finally ready to look for something more when Tyler approaches him with a request - help Tyler explore his new found sexuality. Their physical relationship intensifies in secret. It isn’t long before their time together becomes about something more than just sex.
Despite their growing closeness, Tyler refuses to acknowledge their relationship in public. Now Jaime must choose between returning to his former lifestyle and falling in love with someone afraid to embrace him in front of their friends. Tyler doesn’t want to lose Jaime as a student, much less as a lover, but can he overcome his fears and accept his new identity?
As soon as they got their gear on, they bowed and faced off in the center of the dojo. It didn’t take long for Jaime to get a little more aggressive with his attacks. Tyler could see him trying some of the moves they had learned in class that night. Unfortunately, his distancing and timing were still off.
Tyler used the opportunity to work on some kicking techniques.
The first roundhouse kick caught Jaime off-guard and stopped just shy of his head. He acknowledged the strike, and they returned to their beginning position. Jaime was a quick study and, unlike other white belts, knew when he was defeated without Tyler having to beat it into him.
Tyler should have known better than to try the same move twice in a row, but he didn’t think Jaime was paying that much attention. As soon as Tyler’s kick neared Jaime, he stepped in and caught Tyler’s leg on his shoulder. With a quick sweep, Tyler was falling. Instinctively, he grabbed the lapel of Jaime’s gi. If he was going down, he sure as hell wasn’t going alone. His weight dropped back, Tyler pulled Jaime over him. He weighed even less than Tyler thought.
With little effort, he launched Jaime as he hit the ground. At best, he would dive roll and end up several feet from Tyler. He’d have plenty of time to regain his feet.
Instead of letting go as he rolled, Jaime pulled Tyler along with him. A clumsy cartwheel landed him on his back with Jaime on top. Before Tyler could push him off, Jaime pressed his forearm against Tyler’s throat and cut off his airway. Jaime’s wide eyes watched Tyler with such an intensity that Tyler wondered what he was expecting to see. Whether he searched for anger, fear, or resentment, Jaime never relented his hold.
The first spike of panic hit when Jaime cut off Tyler’s airway. The weight of Jaime’s body on Tyler’s chest burned into his muscles. Tyler knew he wouldn’t black out for another thirty to forty seconds. Plenty of time to find a weakness in Jaime’s hold. A shift of his hips only served to bring Jaime’s face inches from Tyler’s. Those brown eyes of his were filled with concern, but he sank into the shift and increased the weight on Tyler’s throat.
By the time Tyler realized he was completely helpless, his vision was starting to close in. In the instant he tapped frantically against Jaime’s back, the choke hold was released. Exhilaration and oxygen flooded Tyler’s senses. There were few things as satisfying as being soundly defeated by someone he knew in his gut would never hurt him.
Air rushed into Tyler’s lungs as soon as Jaime shifted. He settled straddled across Tyler’s ribs, concern and triumph mixed in equal parts in his eyes.
“Did I go too far?” Jaime asked.
Sitting on Tyler’s ribs, his weight was more a comfort than a burden. Every breath that filled Tyler’s lungs lifted and settled him.
Tyler shook his head, still trying to catch his breath and unable to look away. A wicked grin crept over Jaime’s lips. He was so confident and triumphant. It was beautiful. Tyler wiped that thought away as soon as it occurred to him. Men weren’t supposed to find other men beautiful. Strong, powerful, hell, even handsome. All could have described Jaime in that moment, but only beautiful came to mind.
“You know I like it rough.” Tyler choked the words as much from embarrassment of his thoughts as the scratchy feeling in his throat.
A crimson flush suffused Jaime’s cheeks, which he tried to hide by looking away as he stood up.
“I should probably get going,” Jaime muttered and avoided direct eye contact.
“Yeah, me too,” Tyler said as they bowed. “Jenny’s expecting me to come over tonight.”
Tyler nodded. “She doesn’t like it when I’m out too late.”
They headed down to the changing room. When they got there Jaime moved to grab his bag and leave.
“Didn’t I tell you I’m immune to your charms?” Tyler said without looking at him.
“I don’t mind if you change in here.” Tyler undid his belt and took off his gi top.
Jaime stopped in the doorway, clutching his bag to his chest.
“Unless you think you won’t be able to resist me.” A smile was all it took. Jaime exhaled the breath sharply.
“I’ll do my best, Sempai.”
There were certain unwritten rules when guys got naked around other guys. Rule number one was not making direct eye contact. Peripheral glances were unavoidable, but the gaze should never linger more than a few seconds. Tyler’s idiotic ego was almost disappointed when he looked up to see Jaime focused on his bag as he changed. Whatever the unwritten rules were for gay guys, they didn’t seem much different than those for straight guys. Neither of them spoke as they changed. Tyler was not sure what he was expecting, but Jaime didn’t behave any differently than the other guys. It wasn’t that Tyler was expecting Jaime to jump him; Jaime was too polite for that. Part of him wondered if he just wasn’t Jaime’s type. Part of Tyler chastised the other part of him for even thinking the thought.
“Can I ask you a personal question?” Tyler said once they were both changed and headed out the dojo.
“Sure, Sempai.” Jaime spoke without hesitation.
“Out of uniform, I’m just Tyler.”
Jaime nodded, a relaxed smile on his lips. “Okay, Tyler. What do you want to know?”
Tyler hesitated. The more he worked with Jaime, the more Tyler was convinced he belonged in the dojo. The problem was Jaime would have to get over his nervousness around the other guys if he wanted to hang around. His trepidation and hesitation only brought out their aggression. Tyler doubted any of them would be openly hostile with Jaime, but it was the little slights like being last to get a partner or being excluded from the changing room comradeship that would wear on Jaime. Eventually he would get discouraged and leave. Tyler couldn’t force the other guys to like Jaime, but he could make sure Jaime didn’t back down from them.
Tyler was confident that, if he stood his ground and demanded equal treatment, the other guys would have to respect him. If not, it wouldn’t be long before Jaime could handle anyone of them in a sparring match. As hardheaded as Steve could be, he had to respect skill.
“Why do you have such a hard time working with the guys in class?” As soon as Tyler spoke the words, Jaime’s smile faded. “You have no problem sparring with me.”
Jaime shrugged. “I guess you don’t seem to have a problem with the fact that I’m gay.”
His voice trailed off before he finished the thought.
“Sensei Melissa would never let anyone get away with bullying you.” Tyler wanted to reassure Jaime, but he wasn’t sure how.
“I don’t want to make trouble for anyone.” Jaime’s eyes drifted back to the dojo. The sadness in them spoke of more distant and painful memories.
“Sometime trouble is worth making,” Tyler replied and put his hand on Jaime’s shoulder. “It tests character and reveals strength.”
“Thank you, Sempai.”
The way Jaime smiled softly as he said Tyler’s name elicited an uneasiness in him. Tyler pulled his hand away. The heat contact still burned the palm of his hand.
“I’d better get going. Jenny’s going to be pissed as it is.” Tyler said quickly. “See you next class.”
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Nikko Lee is a scientific curator by day who enjoys writing genre fiction from erotica to horror in her spare time. Born in Canada, she moved to Maine after completing a PhD in Zoology and her post-doctoral training. She resides near Bar Harbor with her husband, daughter, two cats and malamute. She blogs about hiking, writing and science at www.nikkolee.com.
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/Nikko-Lee
Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3132914.Nikko_Lee