“Finish him,” the voice inside me said. The hulking late-teenager facing me may have been a brown belt to my white, but I had an extensive-yet-rusty set of kung-fu skills from my late teens/early twenties and wasn’t going to let him get the best of me.

I’d already won the fight. Young and brash, he’d pushed the offensive and showcased all his flashiest moves to intimidate me.  Being older and wiser, I let him run himself into a sweaty, panting mess of carefully-masked frustration. Yet in the split second of opportunity as I saw his chest and throat open up, I abandoned my wisdom and the safe win. Instead, I opted for the show-stopping, Mortal Kombat-style finishing move to teach him a lesson. And I ended up teaching myself my biggest lesson in humility to date.

I was already in prime position for a easy block and counter to the throat. It would have left him wide open, with no way to counter. And it was the right choice. But after minutes of slipping and blocking his fancy crescent kicks, spinning side kicks, double-fists, and other ‘big’ attacks with simple redirections, I wanted to show him that having a big vocabulary didn’t mean he needed to use it.

In retrospect, the hypocrisy of that split-second decision is pretty staggering.  Let’s just throw that on the table up front.  Yikes.

So I went for not just one, but a pair of jumping snap kicks to his upper chest and throat. Exactly the opposite of the safe takedown move, they were strictly from my shock-and-awe library. He was tired so I knew the slow delivery was still gonna be fast enough for his tired arms. I landed the first left to his chest. Felt awesome. Bounced to the other side, snapped my right leg up to pop his chest again, but as I came back to land everything kinda tumbled out from under me. I found myself on the ground, with a wave of pain that hit a few seconds later.

I wasn’t really thinking about celebrating the win anymore.

Or any lessons, for that matter.

I was thinking about the loud pop inside my head, still resonating in my skull.

The timing seemed a little fuzzy but it also seemed like it happened before I hit the ground?  I hoped no one else heard it, but it was obvious that they did- and from the looks on their faces it was pretty loud.

As the spike of pain relaxed, I stood up on a sore and shaky knee which I gingerly tested for a few minutes walking to and fro. However, when I decided to try a kata my knee promptly folded sideways like a bendy toy, and deposited me back on the carpet. I got back up. Rinse, repeat.

Soon everyone went back about their business.  I bought a neoprene brace from the local drug store and fooled myself into thinking it was something minor or temporary.  Two weeks later, after falling a few more times, a specialist told me it was a torn ACL and nearly-shredded medial meniscus.

So yeah, I got a few great comments on the badass snap kicks and how I worked the ring in the days after the fight.  My long game in that bout was even used as an example of fighting smart.  But I mostly just got pats on the back and expressions of sympathy for the huge brace, bandages and crutches I had to wear for months. A symbolic badge you only earn when putting humility to the side in favor of pride and ego, and stooping to a style-over-substance game.

I know it was my own pride that hurt me. My lack of humility.  My sparring partner has been really gracious about it all too. He got the point but agrees the cost was too high. And that’s the part that is the most ironic – in trying to teach him a lesson in humility, we both ended up the students.

And for my own staggering lack of humility, I even ended up being the example.