Authors: Matt Christopher
Copyright © 2009 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
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First eBook Edition: August 2009
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental
and not intended by the author.
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With a forceful cry, eleven-year-old Cole Richards flipped his best friend Marty Bronson backward over his hip. Marty landed
with a thud on the thick floor mat. Cole dropped down and, with a loud “He-
!” aimed a punch at Marty’s throat. His fist stopped less than an inch from its target.
They both froze for a moment. Then they relaxed and looked at their martial arts instructor, their sensei.
“Good,” said Sensei Joe, nodding.
Cole stood up and adjusted his white gi top so that it lay neatly over the uniform’s white pants. He tugged at the ends of
the blue canvas belt wrapped around his waist, tightening the belt’s knot.
“Okay, Marty, it’s your turn,” the instructor said. “Cole is going to attack you with one of three grabs — a single wrist
grab, a double wrist grab, or a front choke. When he does, defend yourself.”
Marty faced Cole. Cole waited a beat, and then rushed forward and put his hands around his friend’s throat.
With a lightning-quick move, Marty flung his arms straight up and outside Cole’s arms, fingertips pointed at the ceiling.
Then he stepped back, twisted sideways, and dropped one elbow across and down onto Cole’s arms.
Cole fell forward and released Marty’s neck. Marty delivered two quick elbow jabs at Cole’s exposed jaw, punctuating each
with energetic cries.
Those elbow jabs ended the move. The two separated and turned for Sensei Joe’s reaction.
“Not bad,” he said. “Marty, you attack Cole now.”
“Okay!” Marty wrapped his left hand tightly around Cole’s right wrist. Cole tried to free himself by pulling his fist up toward
his ear with a sharp jerk.
It didn’t work.
“Stop,” Sensei Joe said. “Cole, what did you do wrong?”
Cole stared at his wrist, still encircled by Marty’s fingers, and shook his head, mystified.
“Marty, do you know?” Sensei Joe asked.
“He forgot to turn his wrist first,” Marty replied immediately.
“And why would that make a difference?” the instructor prodded.
“Because then the skinniest part of his wrist would face the spot where my thumb and fingers meet,” he said. He demonstrated
by rotating Cole’s wrist. “Without the turn, the widest part of his wrist would be at that spot instead. It’s hard for the
wide part to force its way through that opening. But it’s almost impossible for me to keep my grip on him when the skinny
“Exactly,” Sensei Joe said with satisfaction.
A red flush of embarrassment crept up Cole’s face. He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten such a basic move. It was something
he’d learned nearly four years ago, when he’d first started taking karate, for Pete’s sake!
“Try again,” their instructor said.
This time, when Marty grabbed his wrist, Cole remembered the turn and yanked himself free without a problem.
“Good,” Sensei Joe said.
Cole and Marty attacked one another with several more grabs. Then Sensei Joe told them to join the other students to practice
some different defensive moves, called kumites. They bowed to one another and moved from the mats to the main floor of the
dojo. Their instructor, meanwhile, disappeared into his office.
Marty nudged Cole. “You know what Sensei Joe’s doing, don’t you?” he whispered.
Cole glanced through the office windows. “It looks like he’s printing something,” he said.
“Exactly! And I bet I know what it is!” Marty grinned at him. “It’s your invitation to test for your green belt!”
Cole blinked. His mouth grew dry. His heart started thumping in his chest. “My green belt test? You really think so?”
ole had been a karate student for more than four years. Like all beginners, he had started his training in the white belt
class. Sensei Joe and the other instructors taught him some basic blocks, kicks, strikes, and stances, plus some simple defensive
moves, and how to spar safely against other students. They also taught him his first kata, or series of karate moves.
Each belt level had its own curriculum. After a few months, Cole had learned all the material at the white belt level. But
before he could advance to the next rank, yellow belt, he had to demonstrate that he had mastered the white belt skills. That
demonstration, or test, was by invitation only and took place on a special day and time outside of class.
Cole had been nervous the day of his first test. But once he began, his anxiety had fled.
For the test, one of his senseis asked him to do some basic moves. Another watched him perform his kata. Finally, Sensei Joe
had tested his defensive skills. Cole did each task well and had passed with flying colors. When he accepted his new yellow
belt from Sensei Joe at the end of the test, he couldn’t stop grinning.
As a yellow belt, Cole learned new moves, a new kata, and practiced all the white belt material as well. In time, he advanced
to the next level of orange belt, where he continued to build upon the skills he had learned at white and yellow.
At some karate schools in other parts of the country, green belt followed orange. But at Sensei Joe’s dojo, the next level
was purple, and then blue, green, and brown. Cole was a blue belt; if he made it through green and brown and continued training,
he could eventually achieve the coveted rank of black belt.
That wasn’t the end of the road, however. If he wanted, he could train for years to come, for as Sensei Joe often said, there
was always something else to learn or some skill to perfect.
To reach blue belt, Cole had gone through the testing experience four times. Each test had been longer and more difficult,
for the higher up he climbed, the more he was expected to know. His last test, from purple belt to blue, had lasted more than
Now, the thought of being invited to test for his green belt filled his stomach with butterflies. There would be so much to
“Hey, boys, shake a leg!”
The call came from Sensei Ann, another instructor. Sensei Ann was a senior in high school but she already had her black belt,
a sure sign of her dedication to martial arts. With her warm smile and easy laugh, she was a favorite among the students.
She didn’t mind joking around with them — but when it was time to train, like now, she was all business.
Cole and Marty quickened their pace. The other students had already formed two lines facing one another. Cole joined one line
and Marty took a spot opposite him.
Cole liked pairing with Marty during exercises that required a partner, such as the defensive maneuvers they were about to
do. They were the same age, height, and build, and since Marty had just recently advanced to blue belt, they were the same
rank, too. While Cole had no problem working with someone shorter or taller or weaker or stronger than he was, he preferred
to pair off with someone equal in size, strength, and skill, like Marty.
“Bow to your partner,” Sensei Ann called when everyone was ready.
Cole and Marty dipped forward, straightened, and then assumed positions about an arm’s length apart.
“Kumite number one,” Sensei Ann said. “Marty’s side strikes first, the other side defends. Ready? Go!”
Marty lunged forward with a straight-in punch directed at Cole’s face.
As the fist neared, Cole burst into action. He slid his left foot back. He twisted his body a quarter turn to the left. He
struck out with his right arm, hitting Marty’s forearm with the back of his own to push the punch away. Then he flattened
and flipped his right hand and thrust the pinky edge at Marty’s neck — a strike their instructors called a shuto. That done,
he slid his right foot over and twisted back toward Marty, driving the heel of his left hand at Marty’s jaw as he did. A split
second later, he unleashed a right punch at Marty’s midsection.
“Ki-ai!” he shouted with the punch.
“Ye-ow!” Marty yelped in pain. Then he clutched his abdomen and moaned, “Oowww, my gut!
or one heart-stopping moment, Cole thought he had really hurt his friend.
But then he realized he couldn’t have. After all, he had only touched Marty with his knuckles! If he had actually hit him
full force, with that punch or any of his strikes, Sensei Ann would have been on him faster than fleas on a junkyard dog.
So instead of showing concern, he folded his arms over his chest, rolled his eyes, and said, “Nice acting. Are you up for
an Academy Award or something?”
Marty straightened, a wide grin on his face. “Just imagining what it’d be like if you really hit me!”
Cole struck a pose, hands circling in front of him. “You better hope you never find out! These bad boys are lethal weapons,
“Ahem,” Sensei Ann interrupted. “Some of us are trying to practice kumites here. If you’d rather goof off, please step out
The boys stopped clowning around instantly and muttered apologies. At their instructor’s command, Cole threw a straight-in
punch at Marty. Marty defended himself with the same quick, powerful moves Cole had just used.
When both lines had done the first kumite, Sensei Ann told Marty’s side to shift down one spot. Now everybody faced new partners
for kumite number two.
Felix, a small boy who had only recently achieved the rank of purple belt, looked up at Cole with trepidation.
“Hey, Felix,” Cole greeted him. “What’s wrong?”
“I always mess this one up,” Felix confessed.
“So don’t rush it,” Cole suggested. “Do it one step at a time. Then do it again and pick up the pace. Learning to do these
kumites right is what this drill is all about, after all!”
“Okay,” Felix said, looking a little more cheerful.
Cole came at Felix with a straight-in punch. But unlike the driving punch he’d delivered at Marty, this one was slow and deliberate.
Felix responded with the same twisting arm block used at the start of kumite number one. Then he hesitated.
“Slide your front foot back,” Cole coached. “And do the two shutos, right then left, at my neck. Follow those with a right
punch to my stomach. Remember?”
“Foot, shuto, shuto, punch,” Felix muttered, performing the motions as he said them.
“Good!” Cole praised the other boy. “Now do it all again, with a little more power and speed. Ready?”
This time, Felix didn’t hesitate at all. When he finished he gave Cole a big grin. Cole responded with a thumbs-up sign. Then
he defended himself against Felix’s punch with the same moves. After that, it was time to change partners again.
When Cole saw who he was paired up with next, he almost groaned out loud.
Monique Cleary had started taking karate at the same time as Cole. Back then, she, Marty, and Cole had been good friends;
in fact, Cole and Monique had been the ones to convince Marty to join them in learning karate.
But right after he did, something changed. Monique started taking private lessons with Sensei Joe in addition to the regular
classes. She also started taking karate much more seriously. She delivered every kick, every strike, and every block as if
her life depended upon it! That newfound intensity, plus the extra training, had vaulted her ahead of Cole and Marty. Three
months ago, she had earned her green belt.