From the Back Cover
Tristan Steyn has two dreams. To represent his country in international competition and to grade as the youngest nidan in the history of his karate club.
When be becomes involved in a violent encounter outside the dojo, he fully expects to be dropped from the National Team selections. But Tristan is stunned when his mentor, Shihan Dean Stander, exacts a much harsher punishment.
Hurt and angry, Tristan goes from being bright and hard working to sullen and difficult almost overnight. But, as friends and family begin to give
up on him, tragedy strikes and Tristan is forced to re-evaluate his life and show a strength of character he didn’t know he possessed.
But is it too late to redeem himself in the eyes of his hero?
The knot in his stomach tightened and he resisted the urge to run his moist hands down the front of his jacket. “Yame!” Stop, he called, the sound surprising even him.
The fighters on the mats stopped, scanning the room for the source of the command.
“Sempai!” Shihan Dean Stander’s voice cut the silence. He seemed, from across the mats, to have grown taller than his six foot six. “I trust you have a very good reason for stopping kumite in the middle of a grading?”
Tristan swallowed, suddenly not so sure he did. “Shihan, I’m so sorry,” he said, his voice low, “but I desperately need to use the bathroom.”
A gasp circled the room. The shihan’s mouth came open slightly. Tristan felt a heavy chill slide from the top of his head and settle in the pit of his stomach.
“Go!” snapped the shihan, inclining his head towards the changing rooms.
“Thank you,” Tristan managed. As he stepped around the mat he made eye contact with the girl. Slipping a thumb up under his belt, he jerked the waistband of his dogi pants. The relief in her eyes told him she understood.
Painfully aware that every eye in the dojo was on him, he ducked into the changing room. He closed the door, leaning, for a moment, against its cool surface.
Self control was important to Dean Stander. But, right now, it was only 30 years of diligent practice that stopped him losing sight of the fact. He paced to the window.
“What on earth were you thinking?” he bellowed, resting white-knuckled fists on the windowsill. “Sempai, you know how important focus is in sparring. You could have ruined the grading for everyone!” He turned to face Tristan, small beads of perspiration breaking out on his shaven head. “And all because you can’t control your bodily functions!”
Tristan looked up, his face flushed but expressionless. “I’m sorry, Shihan.”
Dean sighed. Despite early evening weakening the harsh South African sun, it was hot in the small office. It had been a long, hard day and he was booked to fly to Japan tomorrow; more long, hard days. He wanted to put his feet up and relax. He didn’t want to deal with this, not now.
“Go!” he said, waving a hand at the door. “Just go.”
Dean’s most senior instructor and right hand man, Sensei Gavin Richardson, closed the door behind Tristan. “Fancy a beer?” he asked.
“You read my mind. Let’s get out of these and grab a bite to eat and a cold one,” Dean said, tugging at the jacket of his dogi. “I’d like to put this day behind me.”
Dean and Gavin sat on the terrace of the Blue Porpoise waiting for their seafood baskets. They sat in silence gazing out over the Indian Ocean. Dean lifted his glass and drained it. “Ah,” he sighed, “that’s better.”
Gavin picked up his own and tilted it towards Dean. “Another?” he asked, downing the dregs.
“My round,” said Dean coming up out of his chair and gathering the glasses in his large hands. Dean may have been Gavin’s senior in the dojo but, with the dogi off, they were just a couple of good friends.
Dean returned from the bar, placing two foaming beers on the table.
“Thanks,” said Gavin, leaning forward and catching the foam before it slid down the side of the glass.
Dean sat and stretched his long legs out in front of him. “So,” he said, “the obvious hiccup aside, what did you think of the standard today?”
Gavin leaned back in his chair and ran a finger round the rim of his glass. “You underestimate him, you know.” He looked up. “I know he’s young and…”
“He’s too young,” interrupted Dean. “It was a mistake to give him so much responsibility. And I still think it was a mistake to grade him to shodan when we did.”
They had graded Tristan to first degree black belt almost two years ago. In terms of ability he had been ready much earlier, but the school’s tough style of karate demanded all candidates be at least fourteen years of age to grade. Prior to Tristan, Dean had never graded anyone under the age of eighteen to black belt.
To Dean’s chagrin, Tristan’s birthday had fallen just before that year’s winter grading camp. With pressure from his Sensei and no reason, other than a gut feeling, not to grade him, Dean had felt he had no choice.
Despite a tough exam Tristan had qualified for his first dan only eleven days after turning fourteen, the youngest shodan in the history of the club. Dean knew that Tristan was hoping to do the same with his next grade, nidan, when he turned eighteen.
He sensed Gavin’s disapproval and felt a prickle of annoyance. He had heard it all before. He was well aware that in terms of physical fitness, technique and determination, Tristan Steyn was more than worthy of his grade. But it wasn’t the boy’s physical ability that concerned him.
“I know how you feel about him, Gavin,” he said. “Yes, he knows his stuff, he’s committed, he’s got guts, on the surface he’s good. But damn it,” he leaned forward and jabbed a finger on the table, “he just doesn’t have the right attitude. He’s still a kid, Gav. Look what happened today, no insight whatsoever. He doesn’t have the mindset for his level of training. And that makes him dangerous.”
Gavin shook his head. “Look, Dean,” he said, “I’m not going to push the point, but I think you’re wrong. You missed something out there today.”
* * *