Tears of Perseverance

Meet Manuel Vivanco. I went to school with him from 3rd-5th grade and then we went off to different middle schools. Our friendship was lost for a few years until Facebook brought us back together in 9th grade. From 9th grade on we would talk on a regular basis. Karate, girls, sports…you name it! He loved watching me do karate and would constantly ask me about my journey to getting my black belt and the tournaments I would compete in.

In 2012, I vividly remember being on the phone with him upset that I lost in the jissen (a form of sparring in Taido Karate) championship in overtime. He told me that I did my best and that he would be at the tournament next year to watch me get first place.

In 2013, I injured my ACL and could not compete in the tournament. I promised Manuel that I would be healthy so he could watch me compete the following year.

The next week, I pulled into my parent’s driveway, took out my phone and got on Facebook. What happened next shocked my world.

I read a post on Manuel’s wall from one of our friends in school that said “Dang bro…I can’t believe you’re gone. This isn’t real”.

My heart skipped a beat.

Gone? What? No. This is a sick joke.

I immediately went to his Facebook page and saw that hundreds of people posted “RIP” “We will miss you” “Love you, man.”

Next, I call his phone. It goes to voicemail.

I text him. No response.

Reality hits.

He’s gone.

I walk into the kitchen and I am hysterically crying. My mom immediately runs in and asks what’s wrong. I am so traumatized I can’t get my words out. I am heartbroken at the loss of my friend. It did not seem real.

I tell you all of this to set the stage of why my karate tournaments are so important to me now. From that point forward, I dedicated my tournaments to Manuel. He is no longer with us so I promised myself I would compete and win for him.

1 year later, I had his name henna tattooed on my ribs in honor of the Karate tournament. I made it to the finals and lost. Again. I walked away from the tournament feeling defeated and I had let Manuel down. I promised myself I would come back the following year and win it for him.

In the 2015 tournament, it was an international friendly between USA and Japan. I made it to the championship again and not only lost but I was disqualified. I had lost for the 3rd time, embarrassed my Taido school for fighting too rough and let Manuel down once again. I came away from that loss humiliated, embarrassed and angry at myself.

In this year’s tournament, I made it to the final’s once again and finally took first place after an epic match that went to double overtime. When Uchida Shihandai blew the whistle to signal I had won the match, I had to hold back my emotions. I had promised Manuel for years that I would get first place and it finally came true. After I was awarded the trophy and my friends congratulated me, I went into the locker room, I closed the bathroom door and I cried. I cried out of happiness of winning, sadness that my friend wasn’t there to see me but most of all I cried because I finally made true on the promise I made to my friend.

You could read this and say, “This guy needs to not take Karate so seriously!” and yes…that point could be argued. But promising myself that I would take first place in his honor was a way to cope with his death.

The point of this story is two-fold:

  1. Never give up. I lost in the championship 3 years in a row. 1 match I lost in overtime, the other my opponent destroyed me and the 3rd time I disqualified myself. All 3 losses hurt and made me not want to compete again. I could have called it quits so I would not have to face the idea of losing again. The thing is…that is no way to live life. In fact, defeat is healthy. It motivates us to train harder and keeps us humble.
  2. Everyone is fighting a battle that we cannot see so go tell someone you love them. Manuel had struggles just as we all do. He struggled with addiction and depression. I tried to be there for Manuel as best as I could but his death is no one’s fault. I beg of you to go find that person in your life that you know needs a friend, needs a hug, or just needs someone to talk to. You never know how long you or the other person has left on this earth so don’t wait to talk to them some day. Make that day today.

Manuel,

Buddy…I miss you so much. I think about you often and randomly find myself with tears flooding into my eyes at the thought of you no longer being with us. I want you to know I strive to live every day like it’s my last. You had your struggles but you had such a great heart. You are missed deeply. Thank you for your kindness, your inspiration, your love and your support. I love you, man.