Welcome to Hempstead, New York: A school fight broke out weekly and the graduation rate was below average. In a neighborhood where gang violence was plagued, I felt a pressing need to learn self-defense.
I didn’t realize that my sense of normalcy was dysfunctional. What ordinary kid fantasizes about their first school fight and how they would defend themselves in that moment? I was that kid. Anyone who won their school fights got mad props. That’s what you wanted back then. Respect on your name, plus a look of approval from your three-foot tall classmates when you made your walk down those milk-and-cookie scented hallways.
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures
I remember watching The Last Dragon and becoming fascinated with Martial Arts. I wanted my first school fight to be as flawless as the final showdown scene between Bruce Leroy and Sho Nuff. From my knowledge, no one in my school was training in combat, so I knew if I learned the moves, I would be ahead of the game. I replayed the film until I was able to follow along with the movements on the screen. No matter what sport I was a part of during my adolescence, the fantasy of one day evading a compound of strikes was second to none.
When I was fifteen, my Mother got cool with this guy who called himself a Samurai. I suppose they spoke about my obsession with Martial Arts because he later invited me to a white belt class at his friend’s Dojo. The first class there sucked. It wasn’t anything like in the movies. I didn’t learn how to catch flying insects with chopsticks, diffuse a fire with the whiff of my punches, perform hours of chores disguised as hidden self-defense moves, nor was I challenged to wear a blind-fold and use my hearing senses to “guestimate” my opponent’s moves. My first day mimicked a kid’s class. I succumbed to throwing punches, blocks, and kicks in the air, then yelling “kiya” accordingly. After class was over, I was ready to bounce. Suddenly, that’s when all the black belts rolled in and lined up in a circle, surrounding one brown belt. Apparently, the brown belt was testing for a promotion and had to spar against 10 black belts. They all came at him one by one, but he was untouchable.
Eager for that to one day be my turn, I committed to extra training. Thanks to my collection of Kung Fu films, I knew how to be a likable student, and I knew what was expected of me. If I wanted to speed up my progression, climb up the rankings, and throw hands with the black belts, then I had to be the hardest worker in the room.
The squishy plastic shin guards felt uncomfortable and my mouthguard was overly boiled, but I numbed the feeling with words from a movie, “your armor is an extension of your body.” Everyone in the dojo was ready to witness my capabilities. My Sensei was worried about how I would react to getting hit, but I had no hesitations. I had been preparing for this moment my entire life. Where I’m from, if you show an inch of fear before the fight begins, then you already lost. I don’t remember what happened in my first sparring match, but I do recall getting mad props after.
By the time I was 19, I was a first degree black belt with dozens of championships in Karaté. In addition to Karaté, I trained in Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kickboxing, and Boxing. Mixing up sports was fun, but my availability became a conflict of interest. Each coach promised me fame and glory in exchange for my time. Before deciding which sport I would ultimately focus on, I was approached by a promoter who needed me to fill in as a replacement for his show.
The week before my Kickboxing debut on his show, I injured my wrist and was unable to punch. The promoter threatened to blacklist me if I canceled. This was the point of no return. I thought about my favorite moment from The Karate Kid, and concluded that if Danielson was able to beat Cobra Kai with a broken leg, then I could beat this girl with one hand.
Unfortunately, when I arrived at the venue, I realized that I had been set up. My opponent was an experienced Muay Thai fighter AND the girlfriend of the promoter. To make matters worse, this was a title bout set for the main event. I felt so betrayed, but I knew if I knocked her out then this would make a great underdog story.
I got beat up in the first two rounds and had one more chance to make a triumphant comeback, but I failed. The loss was so painful. I related to the level of embarrassment Bruce Leroy endured when Sho Nuff tormented him; however, that’s not where his story ended. What attracted me to the film was Leroy’s ability to regain confidence and avenge his loss. I still didn’t know what sport I wanted to commit to yet, but didn’t care to ponder. I had unfinished business to attend to.
I signed up for a Muay Thai school in Manhattan so I could start competing. After my first championship win, my coach asked me if I wanted to fill-in for an opponent in three weeks. My shins were battered, and I knew it would take weeks to heal. As I started to say no, he mentioned the name of the opponent--it was the same girl I had previously lost to. Without hesitation I agreed to take the fight.
It had been three years since my loss. Now here I was, standing in front of her, stronger than ever, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Throughout my Martial Arts journey, I started to accept that my life wouldn’t be as cinematic as the movies that once inspired me, yet this fight proved that presumption wrong. If this was a film, then this moment was the climax. All of my training led me to the point. I felt like I was in the Matrix the way I weaved her punches. My counters were dope. I was able to steal the rounds and beat her flawlessly. It was scenic. There was nothing more that Muay Thai could offer me emotionally after that win, but I decided to use an upcoming national tournament as motivation to beat her in a trilogy. I guess the memes circling social media about women from New York are true: we are petty.
At 25-years-old, I was officially a Karaté champion, a five-time Muay Thai champion, and World Kickboxing champion. I was ready to challenge myself in another combat, but struggled with an identity crisis. When it came to Muay Thai, the community knew of me. I had respect on my name. Though I no longer felt passionate about the competition side, there was a heroic sense of responsibility attached. I had an obligation to my teammates and to the gym. I wanted to contribute to the growth of Muay Thai in the United States, but that path would take away from my desire to compete in other sports.
When you are devoted to pursuing multiple passions, opposers assume you will only gain a broad level of knowledge in each craft. If your plan is too complex, then you seem confused. I allowed myself to conform and competed in a final Muay Thai tournament. If this was the last scene in a series finale, then I would’ve won, but there was a plot twist. I broke my toe in the first round, and the fight became more difficult. Upon defeat, I did what any protagonist would do and vowed to avenge my loss.
It would be a while before the bone regained full range of motion. During the day, I binged watched all of my favorite Martial Arts films. As a kid, the storylines originally inspired me, but as an athlete who missed out on her lucky knockout with an injured wrist and didn’t have a Karate Kid moment when she broke her toe, I could no longer accept the false narratives these movies sold. That’s when I decided to write a short film with a more authentic turn of events. Six months later, it entered the production phase.
Film Credit: Not For Girls
For the first time in years, I felt like more than a fighter. I found happiness through faith. I was able to follow through with a successful idea without the approval of others. Once it hit me that I was a screenwriter without formal training and a multisport champion, I started to unbox myself. Despite claims against people who share my personality, I was able to reach beyond broad levels of skill. When my life as an athlete, Martial Arts instructor, and writer are balanced, then I enter a state of euphoria.
Here, at FightCamp I have the privilege of combining all of my passions together to consistently live in that euphoric state. Not only did I honor the 5-9 year old girl who lived her life vicariously through characters, but I found the happy ending.
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