Honestly, can you really continue calling it ‘dodge ball’ once the children start drawing blood? I didn’t think so.

It all went down in the taikukan (gym) at one of my elementary schools.

The students were divided into two teams: 3rd grade boys versus a mixed team of 3rd and 4th grade girls. I joined the boys team, naturally, despite threats from the girls that I’d later come to regret my decision. Before I continue with this grisly tale, dear reader, I would like to call to your attention to the fact that at this age, most girls are just as strong as their Dragon Ball-loving counterparts, if not stronger. Therefore, my joining the boys team didn’t put the girls team at an unfair disadvantage. In any case, that’s my story and I’m sticking by it! After a quick rock-paper-scissors match to decide which team would get the first throw, the game was underway.

From the outset, the pace was blisteringly quick. You’d have thought the balls were being launched by cannons rather than the thin arms of small Japanese children. It was all I could do to avoid being hit as the ball flew unerringly towards my head, chest, legs, and, well, other slightly more dangerous parts of my body. In other words, these girls were tough. Ruthless, even! Not that the boys were wimps. They drilled the ball into the girls’ ranks with enough force to make a Major Leaguer proud.

Ten minutes into the game, our team suffered its first serious casualty: one of the larger boys—we’ll call him Tanaka-san in order to protect his identity—was struck in the throat by a missile fired by one of the MLB Players—ahem, I mean 3rd grade girls. That she was petite, with a ready smile and cheerful laugh, made her ferocious attack all the more surprising. Tanaka-san was escorted off the court, and the game went on. Our team was forced to step it up a bit, losing one of our start players and all. And step it up they did!

Hanzo, one of the more agile players on our team, barely managed to catch a lightning-fast throw by Aiko, one of the girls team’s star players, before returning it with a tenacity that brought a proud smile to my face. Uunfortunately, this smile would quickly morph from proud to horror-stricken, for Hanzo’s bullet was headed directly for an unsuspecting Hikaru, one of the girls team’s weakest yet sweetest players. I tried to warn her to duck, or throw out her arms to catch the ball, or pray; but I was too slow. The ball slammed into her legs, and she crashed onto the hardwood gym floor like a shop-aholic who’s just been informed she (or he—don’t want to be accused of sexism) missed a storewide 50% off sale.

I was shocked, to say the least. I ran over to her crumpled form to assess the damage. When I reached her, she began to sob, gripping her leg where the ball had impacted it. Tears streamed down her face. I asked her if she could walk; she grimaced and nodded that she could. When she stood up, I noticed a small rivulet of blood running down her leg. Apparently, the force of the blow had either caused a previous wound to open up, or had created an entirely new one. And you thought dodge ball wasn’t a serious sport!

More surprising than the carnage unfolding before my very eyes in the gym of XYZ Elementary School, though, was the reaction of the other students, boys and girls included, to what had just taken place; that is to say, they had no reaction. Nothing. No one checked if she was okay. Not a single student ran over to comfort her. Instead, they impatiently asked her to get out of the way so they could resume playing their ultra-violent game of murderball. And so she did, dragging her bloody, shattered leg across the court in a wonderful display of what the Japanese refer to as gaman, or endurance. She had taken one for the team. True, she had also almost been paralyzed, but at least she had learned not to place her own selfish needs of a fully functioning body above the group’s need to have a good time.

The game continued for another five minutes or so, when the chime signaling souji, or cleaning time, sounded. The girls avenged Hikaru, however, striking one of our team’s players dead-on in the face. He was a bit dazed, and probably saw celestial bodies floating around his head, but was otherwise okay. Fortunately, no blood was drawn. The girl who threw the ball shrugged, turned the other way, and told me to hurry up and start cleaning. I guess it’s true what they say: Hell hath no fury like a 10-year-old girl scorned.

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