Stepping onto the mats felt like home, and I leaned forward as if to kiss the ground and rolled over my right shoulder, and then my left, and again and again in a continuous tumble that rolled me almost all the way around the outside of the mats. I sat still for a moment, shaking my head and flexing my shoulders and then reversed my momentum and rolled backwards along the same path, over my right shoulder then my left. By the time I found my original position I felt loose and limber and put my palms on the mat and pressed into a turtle stand with my feet raised and flexed to form a triangle. I took several deep breaths and then pressed into a full handstand and tucked my head and rolled to my feet to find myself staring at the owner of the pink runners I’d noticed coming in.
She’d been sitting in the middle of the mats stretching the whole time, and though I’d noticed her presence I hadn’t really looked. She had short auburn hair – a clear military cut – and a slender bone structure covered by the kind of lean muscle every soldier builds in boot camp. She wore navy trunks and a short-sleeved army green rashguard so any doubts I had about her connection to the local military base rapidly diminished.
“Hey,” I said, sitting straddled in front of her and leaning forward to stretch my back and hamstrings, “you new around here?”
“My unit shipped in a few months ago. Shipping out late September.” She smiled down at me, green eyes twinkling. “I was about to ask you the same question. I’ve been here almost every day for the past two months.”
“I was out with a sprained ankle,” I said, “and then I banged it up just as it was getting better.” I indicated the last yellowy green remnants of the large bruise on my shin. She nodded, leaning over for a better look in a deep side stretch.
“What’s your unit?” I asked, making conversation as I brought my feet together for the butterfly stretch, leaning forward to stretch my groin.
“Rangers, Special Operations,” she grinned, “if I told you where I’m shipping out to next month, I’d have to kill you.” I laughed. She did not, but the grin and sparkling eyes stayed focused on me.
“Well then don’t tell me ’till after my workout.” I quipped, and then she did laugh, long and musically and falling on her back.
“That’s the best answer I’ve ever gotten,” she said, still rolling about in mirth, “and I say that to a lot of guys.”
We chatted about combat sports while we finished stretching, and then I tucked my legs into my chest.
“Wanna roll?” I asked. I wasn’t asking her out or inviting her to somersault. Rolling is the most common term grapplers use for sparring.
“Sure,” she said, sounding surprised. A lot of guys aren’t comfortable rolling around with women on the mats. Personally, I prefer it.
She got up on her knees and I stayed sitting with my legs in front of me. We slapped palms and butted fists and then she attacked like a muzzled wolfhound.
The soldier shoved both my shoulders to get me rolling back and then grabbed my legs, trying to underpass my guard. I rolled all the way through the shove, backward over my left shoulder, freeing my legs and snaring one of her ankles at the same time. She fell backwards and recovered to her knees in the same instant, and we found ourselves back where we had begun.
“You’re good,” she said, and in the instant I might have responded grabbed my head with both arms, cinching her grip toward my neck for a quick choke. I tucked my shin and drove my shoulder into her abdomen and picked her up like a wrestler as I came to my knees and stood. She rained light punches down on my back and wriggled like a fish on a line.
“Hey, I thought we were grappling.” I laughed, spinning around as if to deliver some helicopter WWE finisher.
“I thought we were fighting,” she growled in my ear. I made as if to slam her and she squeaked as I set her down gently and flowed into a dominant position. With my body perpendicular to hers and my chest pinning hers and my left arm hooked deep under her right shoulder, she had little chance of escape. As she shrimped and scooted I devoted my attention to isolating her right arm in an americana keylock. When she defended with her left I hooked her elbow and stepped over her head and leaned back to finish with the armbar. She tapped quickly and laughed – no ego to bruise.
“Nice one,” she said as we reset and slapped palms and butted fists and went again.
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