I was the pudgy Chinese kid. In 4th grade, I was the equivalent to the lame gazelle limping at the back of the herd. Easy pickins for every bully who roamed the halls looking for a distraction. Hell, even the girls picked on me for an occasional ego boost. I hated life. As one of two Chinese kids (my sister being the other) in a working-class Boston suburb beaming with Irish pride, friendlies were hard to come by. As a result, I just accepted the daily taunting, occasional beating and even a very painful “Jim, go back to Shanghai,” which, by the way, was uttered in front of the entire class by my 6th grade homeroom teacher. Given the circumstances, I did the only thing I could. Eat more and study hard. My salvation was the elite private school down the street. I knew that if I tested well and got in, I would be among my kind – nerdy smart kids.
I did. And life was good.
I spent 7th to 12th grade at this school, rebuilding my self confidence, honing my academic prowess, and even picking up a sport or two. By the time I was a senior, an entirely new life lay ahead of me. There was just one thing I couldn’t shake: the nagging regret for my passivity in the face of aggression. It was time to face my demons.
Freshman year in college, I joined a Kempo Karate class. It never really clicked with me how chicken beak strikes could stop some guy from tackling you, but I took it on faith that it might. I made it all the way to brown belt level. A few months before my black belt test, I discovered Shotokan Karate. A much more direct form of combat, utilizing straight line attacks (as opposed to the circular, flowing moves associated with that branch of Kempo). This seemed to fit my philosophy a lot better. I dropped Kempo, donned a crisp new white belt and started over. Within 2 years, I was a freshly minted Shotokan Karate black belt. An honor on paper, indeed, but in earning it, I never made real contact with a single opponent. Karate tournaments are “controlled contact” meaning you don’t actually hit the person to hurt them. You do it for form and timing and are scored based upon this. Did I feel like a black belt? No.
During the summer of 95, I moved to California, where I discovered kickboxing. One thorough ass whupping dished out on my black belt ass in the ring by some kid who had only kickboxed for a year was all it took. If I were to face my demons, I needed the threat of real pain. Between 1995 and 2007, I pounded the passivity out of my psyche, training in kickboxing and MMA (“anything goes” UFC type stuff). Along the way, I made some of the best friends I will ever have. There’s nothing like spending a few hours a week choking, punching, kneeing and kicking each other to forge lifelong bonds of friendship. Strange how that works…
So what’s my leap of faith? Showing you all this video.
It is not glorious. At all. It shows me getting pummeled in a Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) match. When I watch this, it reminds me that despite all the years of blood, sweat and dedication, I still get my butt whupped. But whereas I lived to train another day, my demons went down for the count.
Because now I hit back.