Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Lesson from Life's Military School

"You should put on a sweater Tong," I said as we waited for the announcer to say my name. Tong had fought fifteen minutes before and was still wearing his shorts. Fresno is warm but there was a slight fall breeze in the air. I could feel it brush against my skin.

"Focus on your fight," Mike Regnier, my trainer said. I looked forward. The announcer, with a rolling voice, belted out Norman's name; Norman "The Storm" Valencerina. My calling card came next and my feet followed Coke's. We walked out into the small baseball stadium in Chukchanski park, home of the Grizzlies. The ring was set up close to first base. General admission tickets gave you a seat in the stands while a slightly pricier ticket gave you a seat in a folding seat near the ring. We walked to the red corner.

"Don't step on the first step," Coke, my fearless trainer, said to me.

I followed his movements. He held down the rope for me and I went to my corner. I knocked the post three times and followed the rope around the ring. By the time I'd reached the second post the ram muay music had begun. I knocked each post corner three times, circled the center of the ring three times and then bowed down to begin the ram muay. My body was tense, its been hard for me to relax my body. In the locker room I'd been trying to fine tune my positioning. Alex from Cheetah's Muay Thai in Oakland gave me some friendly advice, and a laotian trainer had said in regards to ram muay "It looks easy, but really its not." I couldn't agree more. My eyes saw Fuller Espiritu my last opponent in the folding chairs by the ring. We'd fought just three weeks before. He nodded his head encouragingly. I wanted to smile but thought it wouldn't be so good for my tough guy image. My ram muay was conducted with as much grace and care as I could muster.

The referee brought us to the center of the ring. Norman stood an inch or two taller than me and two pounds lighter. I'm tall for fighting at 140 lbs, and at 5'9" he's extremely tall. Prior to the fight I'd imagined him teeping me, using his reach against me. In my mind I parried his push kicks to the side and landed heavy right crosses against his face. The bell rang and the third man in the ring told us to begin to fight. We touched gloves, paused respectfully and then the fight began. The entire fight was action packed. There was little resting, feinting, or down time. He caught one of my right leg kicks and in a terrible move I turned over falling. I got up right away and we started to engage again. We clinched for at least two thirds of the fight. He had excellent technique and his knees slammed into me with precision. I could finally understand why my opponents got gassed so quickly when I kneed them. I body kicked him a few times and leg kicked him from too close. During the second round I thought to myself "This is a close fight." We were both throwing as much as we could into each other. Norman had an aggressive technical style that relied on more hands and knees while I relied more on a persistent will that drove my kicks and knees. During the second round a feeling of deja vu came over me. It was if the punches Norman threw had landed before, in some mirror world. Everything was happening once again.

When the bell rang Mike told me to use my hands more as the california judges are boxing judges. They look for hands. Coke told me to use more power in my knees. "Hidt Hawd!" Coke said. I looked at Norman and he was gassed. The third round was much like the previous two, a blur. Sometimes two minutes is so long, sometimes its just not long enough. We were both time bound, time was both an adversary and ally. I wished for nothing more every time that Norman's knee struck my ribs that time would quicken, that my pain would end. Yet during the third round as he began to tire I wished for nothing more than for time to elongate so that I could strike more, strike harder, strike with all my heart. When the bell rung I was both tired, and glad. The pain, the physical pain was over. I had no idea who would win. I thought maybe, just maybe I would win, yet also I knew that he had done his damage as well. My body felt his six minutes of effort. My lungs felt like they were going to burst. My ribs were sore, my heart was fading. I thought that I was going to cough up blood.

The announcer called out a split decision. "29-28 for Norman Valencerina, 30-27 for Matt Lucas 29-28 for the winner Norman 'The Storm' Valencerina." I went over to Norman and said a quick word. I think; "That was close," or "that was a good fight." I stepped out of the ring and made my way to the dressing room. The adrenaline was still pumping through me so I didn't feel the pain. It wasn't until later in the evening that the physical pain would set in. It wasn't until later that the emotional pain would set in.

1 comment:

eric said...

"Action is transitory - a step, a blow
The motion of a muscle, this way or that -
Tis done, and in the after-vacancy
We wonder at ourselves like men betrayed;
Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark
And shares the nature of infinity."

--William Wordsworth