The Karate Girl
By Isabella Jia
A harrowing experience during a late-night commute in New York City teaches a teenage girl more about finding her inner strength.
Clutching the brass-coated key in her hands, the girl felt the ridged crevices, positioning the blunt tip precisely between her index and middle finger. The incongruous edges poked her skin. Lifting a finger up slightly, thin, fragile scraps of brass parachuted, falling to the ground.
Though her house key was only a small alloy, it was compressed and shaved deliberately with purpose. It wasn’t meant to just fit into the door knob of her main entrance; it was her katana. Her ancestors, the samurai, used their sacred katanas to defend their nation and she too carried the key for protection, ready to strike if anyone attacked.
Throughout her childhood, Obachan always told her to find her inner katana as a way of building defense and protecting herself. Taking these words from her grandmother to heart, she registered for Shotokan classes, earning a black belt in the span of eight years. Though her moves were adept and powerful, she was prudent and unleashed her power only when necessary.
When the frigid wind sliced through the air, the strands of her hair fluttered aimlessly, blocking her vision momentarily. Even the fleece-lined jacket Obachan knitted for her wasn’t enough to keep her warm as she clutched the unzipped ends together.
The girl walked hesitantly into Penn Station with its dilapidated interior, streaks of graffiti littered on the cobblestoned walls, plastic bags strewn all over the ground. Sensing it was past rush hour, she noticed the usual clamor of Wall Street businessmen and firm executives muttering impatiently was muted.
Nearby, a blanket shuddered and wobbled under the impending thumps of her footsteps.
The girl swiped her flimsy MetroCard, only to halt as the turnstile didn’t budge. Realizing her card had $2.40, she groaned, heading toward the card refill machine. She pressed refill, not noticing the disgruntled man who suddenly awoke from his slumber. While she fed the crumpled twenty-dollar bill, the man loomed closer and closer, the wad of cash captivating him.
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Having not eaten in two days, he was craving something to sustain himself. Looking at the girl and her puny size, he knew he could easily overpower her. The money opened up unlimited options for him: a nice hot meal at the nearby halal cart, two slices of dollar pizza, or even a McChicken from McDonalds. These thoughts excited him and he could care less about anything else.
The man approached her, asking if she could lend a five-dollar bill. The girl was used to this and had been told from an early age not to talk to strangers. She always handled the situation the same way.
Keep your head down. Don’t talk back. Walk away as fast as you can. Steer clear of danger.
So, after retrieving her newly refilled MetroCard, she turned to walk away.
The man was used to this. Ignored by others. Shamed by the public. Pushed and kicked by the police. Feeling undeserving of a single glance by others. The anger towards society bubbled inside him and this was the last straw.
The girl felt the two hands on her back, forcefully propelling her forward until she lost her balance, clashing with the debris on the ground. Bruises already started bursting on her knees, but her backpack shielded her head from the impact. She realized at that moment this was real life and not just a karate competition.
“Give me your goddamn money RIGHT NOW!” the hungry man screamed, revealing his yellow, rotted teeth. Alarmed by his tone, she froze, but eventually picked out her wallet from her side pocket, threw it onto the ground and ran.
The wallet lay lifelessly on the floor, its leather edges peeling and dollar bills peeking out just a teeny bit. The man picked it up, cheekbones rising with his first smile of the day.
The girl ran and ran and ran, no destination in mind, her head clouded with regret now that the feelings of danger had fleeted away. Why did I succumb to him? Why did I freeze? Why did I give up?
She should’ve fought back. She should’ve pushed him, beat him up, kicked him until he bled, so he wouldn’t dare to do the same thing to any other girls her age. She should’ve unleashed her inner katana, knocking some sense into him.
But, she didn’t. Instead, she chose to run away like a coward. The countless hours sparring, the gold medals hanging on her wall, the black belt wrapped around her waist: everything felt useless.
Slowing down, a tear slid down her glass skin, staining her jacket. Reminded of Obachan, she remembered her words: her inner katana was supposed to protect her at all times. Though she didn’t fight back physically or defend herself, she was unharmed in the end.
All these years, she had tried to sharpen and whet her inner katana, through grueling karate practices and carrying her key everywhere she went. But all along, her instincts and conscience were the most powerful tools she carried.
Looking down, she noticed her house key in her hand and realized she made the right choice.
As a high schooler, woman, and daily commuter, I’ve been through many situations when wandering around Penn Station or various subway stations that made me feel unsafe. During one encounter, I was pushed by a stranger and wanted to write and reflect upon the emotions I felt during that moment. My mentor also shared similar experiences and helped me significantly in expressing my emotions in the most genuine way possible. Thanks to her, I feel really proud of my piece!
Isabella Jia is a high school junior at in New York City. She is especially interested in journalism and business. You can typically find her editing and writing articles for her school’s newspaper where she is a News Editor in Training or helping manage finances and hosting fundraisers as a Business Editor for her school’s yearbook. She loves the outdoors, going hiking and taking walks at her local park as well as cooking, especially trying out new Asian dishes.