By Kru James Floyd
It all began soon after the new Tae Kwon Do Academy first opened up right across the boulevard from my already established Muay-Thai Kickboxing Gym.
This TKD Dojang was one of those typically structured “corporate-like” martial arts schools that became common, located on many American street corners, during the 1980’s. A place where the curriculum, often very rigid, may force their own students to become blinded or close-minded by it’s own unyeilding structure. A place where big egos all meet to train with a lack of talent and limited viewpoints, a place that makes money in a competitive environment.
Up to then, my Muay-Thai gym was responsible for training some decent talent throughout the five years I’d owned it. For the last three years, I’d built up a good student base. I saw a steady flow of local guys come in since the day we opened. Business was ok and I enjoyed the comraderie in there. The neighbors all thought the gym wasn’t a problem and we’d never had any reason for complaints.
There was a big “grand opening” the weekend that the TKD school opened. Hundreds of mostly Korean students and their families and friends attended, the flow soon extended outside of their parking lot. When their lot overfilled, they began occupying part of ours with dozens of their cars squeezing in. To help provide them ample room, some of us obliged by reparking our trucks out back.
Everyone across from us seemed to have enjoyed themselves and we all went home happy.
Two weeks later, during one of our afternoon training sessions, I looked up and noticed two young TKD students were standing in our doorway observing our training session. After a few minutes, they left, perhaps to report what they witnessed back to their Sa Ba Nim?
Days later, two TKD Black Belt students showed up at our door. This time I greeted them both directly and invited them inside. I asked about their new studio, but they seemed uninterested in conversation.
Before I excused myself and returned to teaching my students, I offered them an opportunity to take Muay-Thai classes at my gym. I thought I heard one of them snicker as my was back turned. Minutes later, I turned towards the entance and they were gone.
A week after that, one of my young students came in to class late and explained that two TKD students had mildly harassed him in the parking lot. No blows were thrown, but the other two Korean boys suppossedly had some harsh things to say about Muay-Thai and my gym…and about me!
I figured it was just some “schoolyard” rivalry, until it escalated.
One afternoon, while I was in my my puny office handling some billing, I heard an assistant instructor’s beckoning knock on my door. I was immediately alerted towards the front door to see the same first two quiet TKD students from the other day, only this time they elected to actually step further inside our small reception area and were causing some commotion, interrupting my younger students as they were performing a series of warm-ups. Apparently, these individuals had become brash enough to begin issuing some mild insults towards the Muay-Thai being taught here.
Using the best of my seasoned “voice of authority” to fill the room, I asked what what going on, etc.
After a brief moment of blank stare’s, the taller of the two TKD practitioners said matter-of-factly, “Their kicking is not precise.” The second man nodded in agreement.
My students gathered around me as a I replied, “Show us what you mean?”
They continued on as if they didn’t hear me, “They commit too much to one single technique so they cannot restance quickly in order to perform combination-kicks.”
Again, I invited them both to demonstrate. Then, I asked one of my less threatening-looking students to step forth to spar with our guests. Perhaps out of his obvious arrogance, the taller of the two TKD guys agreed to spar with my younger Muay-Thai fighter inside our regulation boxing ring.
The Korean, wearing a traditional TKD Dobok uniform, ducked under the ropes to enter the ring, while my student leaped clear over the ropes to make his ring entrance. My student immediately loosened up by shuffling his feet and regulating his breathing while the TKD fighter simply settled into a rigid formal stance. They both looked serious as they faced off from their corners to await the bell.
Of course, I first made sure thast both of the boys were 18.
When I rang the bell to start the first round, the TKD guy stepped forward in a straight line as my student began to zig-zag ahead to open up an angle of attack. The TKD guy threw one round-house kick at my students’ ribs, but, he was ready for it and shielded himself and quickly countered with a solid hook to his opponents’ head, which floored the TKD guy! Feeling highly humiliated, the defeated said not a word, as they wasted no time gathering themselves up then made a hasty retreat for the exit.
Those few students who happened to be in the gym that afternoon began to cheer our fighter on!
Although word had been spinning around the gym about the fight, which keep everyone pumped up and training hard, more than a week went by without any incident. The gym was active and keeping busy.
One day four of those TKD students, all wearing their Black Belts, appeared in our doorway. They’d been watching some of my teenage students performing a series of shin-conditioning drills on some heavy-bags. Wearing critical expressions as they talked quietly amongst themselves, it appeared as if they disapproved of something…of my students’ actions?
As I drew nearer, I noticed that the student that had previously fought and lost in my gym was not with them. The eldest-looking of this bunch stepped forward and bowed in front of me before he spoke. He crossed his arms over his chest and explained that they were there to defend the honor of their Master. He then made a formal challenge to whoever was the best fighter among my students.
I immediately accepted his offer to fight and made them all agree to sign waivers.
This time, I had the fighters all don pairs of protective “Muay-Thai” shin-guards and proper head gear and boxing-gloves. I realized that some of them may not even be 18 years old and didn’t want any trouble with their parents in case of serious injuries. I made sure to pair all of them up wisely and fairly.
We started by pairing up the youngest two fighters available. My student won quickly by delivering some solid punches to his opponents’ head. The second pair were two years older and had a bit more experience. Again, my student won with a series of hard leg kicks. The third pairing was between to obviously more matured martial artists, which was more exciting to watch. These two had a decent variety of techniques to pull out of their growing arsenals. After the first round of “feeling each other out”, in the second round, my able young student managed to break his opponents’ nose and leave it bloodied!
While that red-faced loser was patching up his broken nose in our restroom before returning across the street, the last TKD guy was entering the ring for the final face off against one of my toughest students.
Adrenalin raced through the gym as the bell sounded! Our fighter began a game of testing his opponents’ abilities by throwing feints of long-range jabs and kicks to learn more about his possible tendancies. The TKD guy’s face looked red and angry while my guy looked relaxed and loose. Suddenly the TKD fighter launched himself into a fancy series of combination kicks, designed to confuse an opponent, before potentially scoring. His final kick only made fairly light contact due to a lack of power probably conditioned by a more restricted background of “Point-Fighting” instead of full contact fighting?
Meanwhile, my student quickly countered with a low line Muay-Thai “round-house” kick upon the thigh of the his opponent, which made the TKD guy’s whole leg buckle and quiver as he retreated backwards.
A second similar kick dropped the TKD fighter down on one knee on the mat and left him wincing in pain. Any seasoned kick-boxer could tell that this kid had no boxing experience at all.
All four of the TKD guys lowered their heads and made no eye contact with any of us as they exited and returned to their Dojang across the street. I began to imagine what their Master might be telling them…I also wondered if there would be any complaints from any of them?
Early one Saturday, not long after the fights with the TKD guys, I arrived at my gym to open up for morning workouts and found one of the front windows was broken. It had been smashed in with a brick, but there was no other damage and nothing appeared to be missing.
I had an alarm system installed that afternoon.
Soon after, I began to notice that some of the TKD students were hanging out more often in the parking lot on our side of the street. They’d always quiet down and watch us whenever we exited our gym.
The following week, some of my boys had reportedly been issuing harassing statements to random TKD students who’d parked their cars on our side of the street, it happened more than once.
Still, I mostly dismissed it to childhood gaming and “that-old-cross-town” rivarly.
It wasn’t until I found graffiti on my gym’s front doors that I became trully concerned over our new rivals across the street. My insurance company helped me to have the paintings removed and I also had an outside surveillance camera installed on my roof.
Sure enough, about another week went by when I arrived early one morning to find graffiti had again been applied to our doors during the night. A review of the new camera’s footage from the previous night revealed that two Asian boys whom I did not recognize were the notorious criminal artists. Also, noticing that some of the spelling was indeed in Korean, I decided to walk across the street to speak about this latest incident with the TKD representatives. As possible evidence, I first downloaded a fairly clear still-shot of the suspects to present to them when I got there. I had aone of those strange suspicions that there might be someone there who could recognize these boys.
I entered the Dojang long before its first classes of the day. Too bad, I woulda looked cool and loomed large for effect in front of its class for a moment before stepping forward to introduce myself to the Sa Ba Nim for the first time. He formally greeted me in the entryway wearing a clean new white Dobok uniform with a lot of patches all over it to display his various achievements in TKD. He then brought me directly into his spacious office where he graciously allowed me to explain my business with him.
Before I showed him the physical evidenence, I explained my entire side of the story, concluding by asking him if he had already been aware of his students making challenges and remarks towards the students at my gym prior to my visit. At first, he tried to lecture me about not allowing students to brawl with one another or becoming too aggressive without proper dicipline and supervision, before I had to cut him off to tactfully set him straight.
At that point, I surely knew he was aware of the recent bouts between our students at my gym!
He completely shut right up once I showed him the still picture I’d brought along, which was taken by the new night camera in front of my gym that I was now very glad I’d had installed. I could also tell that he definitely recognized both of the two naughty boys with paint cans in the photo when his face began to turn red. But, he remained quiet for a few more moments before he responded.
I thought it was kinda funny when he finally settled down and replied, “We are not your rivals, this I can assure you. Mista Foyd, we are not North Koreans, we can become good neighbors.” I laughed inside as he continued on with a very thick accent, “Also, I too have heard that your students have instigated some problems. Students fighting this way can become a big problem and must come to a stop.”
Right then, I knew that the real problem was that we were both dealing mainly with teenagers!
Before I left his office, the Master promised that none of his students would ever bother my gym.
Afterwards, days went by without any sign of any TKD students on our side of the street. The activities went on in my gym without any distractions and my students progressed with their training unhindered.
One evening, as I was locking up my gym, three large Korean youths were secretly waiting for me to walk out back. They jumped me just feet from my truck, but, I managed to push them off and step back and away from them enough to regroup myself into focus and fight. I rushed the nearest and kicked him hard in the groin. As he fell down to his knees and rolled, I attacked the next nearest with more hard kicks to his legs, which forced his retreat into the night. The third had already turned and ran off in cowardice.
The next morning, I retrieved the entire footage of my foolhearty assailants stealth in the parking lot from my trusty video camera. It showed them wearing dark clothes and sneaking in to desired positions for an ambush. The video clearly showed their faces revealed in some of the frames.
Instead of immediately calling the police, I decided to walk across the street and show the film to the TKD Master. The Sa Ba Nim’s jaw dropped when the footage revealed that the muggers were actually some of his students! He apologized profusely to me and seemed to be truly embarrassed by the evidence.
After some in depth discussion, together we came up with a mutual plan to hopefully end any more rivalry between our two schools. We decided to organize a martial arts festival together.
You see, I actually found the Korean Master to be a reasonable guy, one that reminded me a little of myself in some ways. I believed that he was truly vying to provide good teaching while experiencing the same sort of struggles I was going thru trying to keep a business afloat.
Our plan was to bring local martial arts schools together in order to share our interests and learn from one another, which would include various competitions. It took two months of collaborative planning plus another to secure a proper venue to have my regulation boxing ring set up. Four dozen mutually donated floor mats were also laid out for a big grappling contest.
On the day of the event, many people showed up to attend and participate. Each investor was relieved to have easily made their money back at the end of the day. Over 150 martial artists of various ages signed up to compete in weapons demonstrations and a Kumite where any style could enter and fight against a matched skill-level opponent. We arranged for the winners to receive medals, teams got nice trophys.
I thought it was cool to see the variety of schools whose students competed against one another using differing fighting styles or systems. Although, I noticed the few TKD students who’d competed thus far weren’t doing well, my Muay-Thai students were undefeated up to then!
When a “prearranged” matchup between the first two of our students who’d fought before in my gym was finally paired, the result was predictible to me. My student immediately started to beat his drastically unprepared opponent backwards into his own corner and proceeded to pummel him until the referee stopped the fight only :45 seconds after the bell began the round.
Everyone on hand from my gym celebrated while matches from other schools were fought.
Soon, the next pair of school-rivals faced each other. Again, my student won. This time by attacking his opponents’ lead leg with a series of hard upper thigh-kicks, which forced him to quit the fight in the early in the first round. This left the TKD fighter obviously upset.
One of the last scheduled boughts finally paired the two of our senior students who’d also fought previously in my gym. These two were taller and more physically solid than most of the day’s combatants. This match up should prove to be the most interesting fight of the day.
It really wasn’t. My student beat the heck out of that poor TKD guy while he seemed to take delight in toying with his prey! My student ably managed to continually corner his opponent, delivering rapid-fire straight punches to the head and punishing hooks to the body with ease. One of his kicks made the stunned TKD fighter’s whole body shudder!
Before the end of the first round, my student executed a lightning-fast right hook to the head of his opponent, which delivered the only true TKO of the day to the TKD guy.
The local crowd roared loudly with excitement!
Out cold, it took a couple of minutes to revive the fallen TKD victim. While being assisted by his fellows,
I noticed the rival Master’s face looked grey as he welcomed his beaten student down from the ring.
When the activites were completed and the patrons all went home, our crew of students and volunteers packed all the equipment into trucks while the investors divided up their fair share of profits from the overall take. We all pitched in to remove any trash before finally calling it a day. Soon after, all of the TKD participants and staff members quietly left without saying much.
Since the day of that event, I had not heard a word from anyone at the TKD Academy across the street. The Master never returned my phone calls. None of their students were in our parking lot anymore.
However, a few former TKD members eventually decided to defect and asked to become my students, explaining that they saw how effective Muay-Thai was at the martial arts festival.
I gladly accepted them as members of my gym.
The gym continued to prosper for several more years after all that happened. As I grew older, I felt that I’d contributed enough, having seen and done it all. I felt a bit weary of managing all the related business aspects, politics, personalities and…rivalrys. Well into my mid-50’s, I finally decided to sell my gym when one of my long term senior students made me a good offer. The thought of retiring while knowing that my beloved gym was in good hands left me feeling content.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I ran in to that same senior Black Belt TKD student who’d fought and lost twice to my Muay-Thai student. I was walking my dog in a local park late one evening when he and two other associates approached me. They had recognized me before I could recall their faces and then they launched a vicious attack on me. As my little dog ran off into the night, I countered and landed some solid strikes, but, these were now grown men and no longer young boys and I knew that I was now too old to simply play around with them.
After successfully knocking one of them out, I quickly landed a precise finger-jab in to the eye of another who flinched and turned away in pain. The last of the three jumped upon my back before I could turn back to face him. I used a nice Judo throw to land him back in front of me, however, I was understandably off balance due to poor footing in the wet grass and damp soil and stumbled across his body. I fell down rather hard on him with one knee over his exposed throat.
The force of this crushed his larynx and he immediately began choking and writhing in the grass!
Naturally, I decided to call the police. By the time they arrived on the scene, the other assailants had since fled the park while I tried to keep my choking victim from passing out. The Medics were unsuccessful at riviving him as they sped to a nearby hospital in an ambulance. To my chagrin, I soon learned that he died upon arrival.
In court, the prevailing judge threw the book at me for 2nd Degree Murder.
Since that decision, I’ve reflected daily with remorse upon that most unfortunate incident. That unexpected fray cost me much more than I ever would of imagined…that day truly changed my entire life.
As a result, I have now spent the latter part of my colorful life in prison. I can now freely admit that my pride and ego have contributed to the circumstances I am currently facing. Even though my family and friends agree that it wasn’t my fault, I still feel like I allowed a worthless rivalry between two gyms to dictate my actions.
Rival (Ri-vel) n. One who attempts to equal or surpass a competitor.