Black and Blue
I remember that at the very first open, “any style” kickboxing tournament that I entered. It was years ago– maybe back in 2003 or something like that. I remember feeling sick in my stomach. That was college life– it was the secret life away from my parents and my family, that happened between and after classes.
I remember the drama– in one of the early matches, I was going against [JCVD]. He and I had been training partners both on the gym and in the ring for several years, until [Bunny] and I broke up because she’d been cheating with him. In that fight, I beat [JCVD] down pretty good– and after that, it was once again possible to be friends. I’ve heard that called the language of “Stronglish”– a discussion without words, through actions of strength, that no amount of parley could ever resolve.
I remember [Vittek], my cousin, still fresh from Jeet Kune Do, as one of the judges, telling me to calm down when I got the semi-finals. I also remember barely being able to breathe in the bathroom, being topless, my whole body hot but coated with cold sweat. The sink was on full blast with cold water, but it might as well have been off– I didn’t notice the water running through my fingers. I was beside myself. My ears were ringing with my own pulse, and, though I could see myself in the mirror, I felt disconnected. It wasn’t that I had lost that was on my mind– I don’t know what it was exactly.
The best way I could describe it is that it was the first time that I’d clashed with someone who really, really wanted to hurt me.
Getting bullied when I was younger was something different. They don’t really mean to hurt me– they just wanted to terrorize or belittle me.
But to spar with someone in a tournament? I’m not talking about one-hit point fighting. Nor am I talking about a wrestling tournament won by positions or submissions. I’m talking about high impact, points for KO kickboxing. That’s different– there, before you, is someone who isn’t trying to scare you, or trick you out– their primary focus is to beat the hell out of you. Those fingers no longer write essays or draw paintings or whatever– in the ring, they clench with timed precission to form a fist, and smash against your flesh and bone. If something breaks, all the better.
And it would be a different time, if I was younger, and I just went down, then they’d laugh and leave me alone. This time around, I wasn’t going down easily– and so, they’d keep on hitting me. I’d have to keep swinging even as one of my eyes would see a glove coming at me a fraction of a second before breaking out in stars. But I’d keep swinging.
I think that the perspective that learning to fight gives one on life is that it lets you see something dark about the human soul. It’s one thing to see prejudice and violence– it’s another thing to see someone train themselves, body and mind, into being a machination that ties that into the technique of dismantling a human, fueled by willpower. What I’m sayign is, there are bullies out there– and then there are fighters, fighters who are strong. The difference is that one of them has their soul giving substance to their actions, at once fueling and manipulating their rage towards you. To this day, there is no greater fear that I have than for someone who I’m fighting with, who, really wants to win.
From the outside, it looks like nothing– even if it’s the most boring fight ever on tape. But on the inside, it is an absolute fear. Prior to a match I’m a pack of nerves. And afterwards? I feel like I’ve renewed a lease on life.
That’s what it was. In that bathroom. Though I’d spend the next few hours in an emergency room to have my eye checked out, somehow, it stuck in my memory as something that was all worth it. And I remember Vittek telling me: “You did real good. I kept wondering why you didn’t go down, he was hitting you so much. But you did real good.”
Nobody’s actually here to tell me that now. But, win or lose, I’ll tell myself when it’s all over.
Wish me luck!