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 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.
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 posted by one of our friends from school. It 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.
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. 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 let Manuel down. I promised myself I would come back the following year and win it for him.
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 could be argued. But promising myself I would take first place in his honor was a way to cope with his death.
The point of this story is two-fold:
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.