Through recent conversations with family and grade school friends. (yes, I still have those.) I was reassured that many, if not all, of my early childhood memories, happened. My doubts surfaced a few years ago during a neighbor’s daughter paid a visit. After examining the six-year-olds hands and soft knuckles, I began to think some of my memories and tales were something of folklore. For better or worse, those stories remained in the memories of those who were there to bear them.
Whereas many of my memories remain detailed and almost sharp, the most formidable ones start around the age of four.
While kindergarten was a great introduction to socializing and learning to communicate, it was also an education on dealing with bullies. To state it boldly, it’s when I first learned to fight.
I remember it clearly, and with detail. During that morning, there was what was, without any doubt, most kids’ favorite event of the week, ‘Show and Tell.’ At the same time, I may not have been the most popular kid in the class. Bringing my G.I. Joe with Kung Fu grip and authentic (Fuzzy) hair was both a hit and the envy of some male classmates.
As the half-day came to an end, I found myself waiting in the nose bleed seats of the school auditorium. Suddenly, the Cruz brothers, Carlos and Eddi, intended to take my G.I. Joe and give my ass a proper beating. Their plan to attack from both sides was a good strategy. However, they surely underestimated my intent to hold on to my prized possession. Despite their two-prong attacks of kicking and punching, I stood my ground and did enough damage to hold on to said action figure.
When I got home, my Father noticed the scratches and red eyes and asked what had happened. I remember telling my Dad about the incident and commenting they used karate on me. (At the time, I considered any form of kicking to be karate or kung fu.) He told me to never back down to bullies and began to teach me how to fight.
A day later, I found myself in the garage with my Dad learning the ropes to not only fight back but win and even disable my opponent.
A year later, I was in the first grade, despite how handsome and charming I might have been. There were even more cruel kids looking to target and bully me. And just as I was learning how to defend myself properly, my Father was slowly but surely gravitating towards loansharking and numbers to make a living.
By the early school year of the second grade, my parents headed for a messy divorce, and I was processing my anger and newfound anxiety. A lesson, for better or worse, was taught that would set me on a course.
My Father got down on his knees and asked me, “Do you want to win a fight?’ I nodded, “yes.” “Do you want to win a fight quickly and be sure he never comes back at you?” I agreed again. Nodding, “Yes.” That’s when he took my hand gently yet firmly and taught me a lesson I’d never forget.
The first thing he taught me was pressure points and how to throw a punch properly. “Hit somebody directly in the chest, and they can’t breathe. If someone can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” Punch someone in their throat, and they can’t breathe.” “They can’t breathe. They can’t fight.” “There are two ways to punch someone effectively in the nose.”
“While an uppercut can cause a nosebleed, but if you come down on the nose hard enough, you can break the bone. Either will take your opponent out of the game. That was gouging one’s eye out with my finger—a tactic best saved for mortal combat or some soldier of fortune adventure in Uganda. Now luckily, the last and most gruesome lessons I learned, that day would never be called on, let alone thought.
Now, bear with me. I’ve gone over the inappropriate nature of a father or any parental guardian teaching their six or seven-year-old son how to disable their opponent both physically and mentally. For me, and perhaps in my Father’s eyes, learning pressure points was like learning how to play chess. The streets and schoolyards were often battlegrounds, and bullies came in all shapes and sizes. One day I might be fighting for more than an action figure or my lunch money.
In the week, months, and years that followed, I stood my ground in countless altercations in the schoolyards and on the streets. The lessons my Father taught helped me navigate and win fights with people older and bigger than me. I quickly learned that school administrators and police officers rarely judged who started the fight—often seeing the more damaged or bloodied person as the victim. Looking back, I take great pride in the fact that I was never a bully. In contrast, I was quick to throw a punch. Yet, I never once started a fight. Often leaving one teary-eyed, asking why they made me hurt them. Except for one that sent my friend to the hospital, and the exception of my first school. I never fought a classmate.