I have been training in martial arts most of my life. As a kid, I would dream of being a master of every style -- unbeatable, invincible. I would practice punching and kicking in the backyard, becoming the hero in my own fantasy (sometimes the villain). I was the master in my own mind, but I always wanted to learn more. When I was seven my mom enrolled me in Tae Kwon Do. During this time, that or karate were your choices of martial arts in the suburbs of south Seattle. I remember the first time I walked into the studio, I watched the students bow to the flag, then bow to their instructor perfectly timed each person moved as if one entity. The smell of dried sweat on the floor mats and foot odor filled the room and it smelled like home.
As a young student, I progressed quickly. I received a "Most improved student" award my first month in, and began sparring the older kids with higher belts. By my second belt promotion, my instructor asked me to enter a statewide tournament. Although my forms left much to be desired, I didn't care; my mind was always on the fight. Hyped on adrenaline, the brawl of seven-year-old yellow belts began and it was a better feeling than I had pictured in my backyard fantasy. At the end of it all, I received a medal for my victory.
Somewhere in between the ages of seven and 17, I had forgotten my dreams of becoming a master of martial arts. I moved to the city and my home life wasn't always great. I would comfort myself with cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. By high school, I didn't care about anyone or anything. All I wanted to do was skip school and smoke all day until my friends got out.
One day, I was visiting a friend in the suburban south end and he was telling me how he started training mixed martial arts. I didn't know much about it so he showed me a Chuck Liddell fight and I lost my mind. The next day, I went with him to the gym and tried the classes out. After three hours of training I felt as if I were going to die, and, yet, all I wanted to do was train the next day. Suddenly all my crutches that I relied on didn’t matter. I wanted to be healthy, eat healthy, workout. For the first time in my life, I cared about my well-being.
Over the next couple years, I would travel to see my friend and we would train together, however, the distance made it difficult to go on a regular basis and I needed something steady in my life. I looked up local gyms and reviews, trying out different MMA schools until I found one that had everything I needed. I finally had a gym to attend. Every night before work, I would stay up reviewing everything from the night before and anticipate what we would learn the next day. After work, I would immediately take the two-hour bus ride to class and stayed until the gym closed. If no one could give me a ride home, I would walk for three or so hours home because the busses had stopped running by that time. All I could think about was being a professional fighter and being the best. At this establishment is where I met Troy, the boxing coach who would volunteer his time twice a week to teach the aspiring cage fighters, showing us what hands are and how to use them.
Something was different about Troy. He would always have a meaning to the drills and was able to articulate how each skill applies in different situations. His style to me was a mix of classic boxing with traditional martial art techniques applied including Wing Chun and Kung Fu. His teachings came equipped with a philosophical aura.
When Troy went into business for himself, I didn’t think twice and I followed. He founded Reign City Athletics (RCA) and with a student body of about 10 we would practice in a dance studio in the basement of an apartment complex that none of us lived in. The class size wasn’t important, neither was the facility. I learned more in that basement than in any gym with all the bells and whistles. It’s not the location that matters, it’s who’s there with you. Working with Troy helped me develop my skills as a fighter and as a person. He would say things like “Watch your positioning” and “Be mindful”. Because of his teaching, I learned to be a stronger person, and to love myself and the people around me.
Soon after this “fighters enlightenment,” I found myself preparing for my first fight as a mixed martial artist. Six days a week at the gym, working out twice a day – being a fighter was and is hard work.
When fight day arrived, I had never been so afraid in my life. The fear did not come from lack of preparation, as I had been training for months. It wasn’t my opponent, nor the crowd or fear of getting hurt. My fear was that I didn't want to let my team down. Everyone at RCA supported me in my training; they put in countless hours in making me better. My team deserved a victory, and I gave them one. When the referee raised my hand, Troy raised the other. I became invincible, I became the hero.
After all I have done in my life, after all my selfish acts, this one was for my coach and my team. Fighting has made me who I am today, but I wouldn't be an ounce of who I am without Troy and my Team at Reign City Athletics.