Please bear with me as I take this story back a bit. I didn’t start classes with Lorenzo until I was 18 years old, but I’ve been fighting all my life. In elementary school, I was almost always the shortest one in class, and other kids found it funny, took advantage of that, pushed me around, beat me up. I remember Stephen, my first bully, and I remember him making fun of me for whatever he could. The fact that I was smaller, the fact that I didn’t draw very well, the fact that my mother was Chinese, and the fact that I would cry when he said those things. And despite the fact that I got in a lot of trouble for it, I remember the feeling of when I started fighting back. At the time, I was a child, ignorant of things and fighting out of anger. I was sent to the principal's office over and over, and I’d built up this reputation as this boy who was fragile, but also volatile. Because “Hurt people hurt people”- a person who has been hurt by someone is likely to hurt someone else; and unfortunately that sometimes includes people who aren't involved in the conflict at all. As I got older, I learned that violence should never be the first reaction to aggression. I learned better, but I never forgot the power in my body and the feeling of a fight.     Skipping ahead a bit, I had just begun classes at John Tyler Community College. I was a bit adrift and found myself feeling a bit hollow, empty, as if I were missing something. To preface, my brother had learned under Master Gibson before I was even born, and my late uncle studied with him long before that, so Lorenzo has known my family for quite a while. I’d considered martial arts when I was young, but my parents’ work schedule made it difficult. I should say though, that I have always been interested in the different techniques and philosophies of martial arts, and all through high school, I’d educated myself on the ideas of different styles -Muay Thai kickboxing, Wing Chun kung fu, Escrima stick and knife fighting, as well as western boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling- they all fascinated me. Now that I was a young man with the independence of a job and a car, I wanted to pursue martial arts in a deeper way. And so, I started my 2 free classes… in a pair of skinny jeans. Needless to say, there were LOTS of reasons I was happy to have my own uniform.     So now I was exploring martial arts for myself. Being a bit of a perfectionist, some things clicked with me. Not many people know, but the patterns we perform in class, the katas, they exist as an encyclopedia of movement. The low punch in the first pattern Chon Ji should be exactly the same every time, because if you ever feel shaky or out of form, you should be able to refer back to that pattern and say THIS is how I should make that low punch EVERY time. When I first learned how to do a tornado kick (360 crescent kick), and I realized I could actually do this high-level move, I practiced for hours on my own, mostly in my backyard in the summer wearing pajama pants so I didn’t get grass stains on my uniform. I learned the respect that you can have for a sparring partner, an opponent, and how much you can look up to someone truly more skilled or naturally talented than you. This is hard to understand for some people, but when you take the anger and the hate out of fighting, when the two of you begin a match testing each other as well as yourselves, knowing that you do not actually want to hurt that person, there is a trust that’s built, and you legitimately bond through it. 

I fell in love with the science of fighting, and for a while, it was the main thing people used to describe me: “That’s Ian, he does Karate/Taekwondo.” The day I got my blackbelt is more prominent in my memory than the day I graduated high school (probably because I never liked high school). My brother came, and he and Master Gibson and my mother caught up on old times. My father was afraid to come because he thought he’d make me nervous, but he made sure to let me know how proud he was. After you get your blackbelt, you get a patch for your uniform that says “Instructor”. This is directly under the patch that reads “Grandmaster Lorenzo Gibson’s Martial Arts”. I take both of these very seriously, and as I was asked to teach young students -whitebelts, yellowbelts, and greenbelts- I tried to do my best to teach them the basics, the mechanics, solid foundations to build their movements on in the future, all while being mindful that I represented Master Gibson as both a student and family friend.  They say that you learn a lot teaching others, and I would absolutely agree. Teaching 5 children with the exact same words doesn’t always work, and so you have to adapt to them, explain in different ways, and try to think about what you’re teaching from different points of view. If obsessing over forms and kicks by myself gave my knowledge depth, then teaching others gave it breadth. Moreover, teaching is incredibly rewarding for me. When a student gets up during their belt test and does their pattern, and they do it well, and the audience applauds, their success is something you helped create. There is a joy in building people up, and in a way, their triumph becomes your triumph, their pride becomes your pride, and you never have to take anything away from them to feel that way. About five years of me being in Master Gibson’s class have come and gone, and I feel confident in myself. I feel strong. And, after having sparred a few of my friends outside of class, I know that at some level I do really know how to fight. But then I started feeling strange. It started with the occasional nosebleed when I did certain exercises on my own. Only very strenuous things at first - handstand pushups and heavy weightlifting. But then I had a staph infection in my skin. After that cleared up, I felt a tension in my right shoulder, and it progressed until one was visibly higher than the other. I was going to Patient First, but all they were doing was giving me antibiotics. Eventually, I even contracted Shingles. This was all incredibly strange because I rarely ever got sick, but problems persisted. Then one day an ENT doctor tells me I have some growths in the back of my sinus. They performed a biopsy, and soon after they told me it was cancer. Stage III Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma. Fairly rare, by some standards. By the time they found the tumor in the back of my sinus and top of my throat, it was the size of my fist. It was big enough that it was pushing on my spinal cord, and that pinched nerve was what caused my shoulder to hunch up the way it did. I went through chemo and radiation therapy. I lost the ability to eat by mouth, and so they put a feeding tube in my stomach. I lost the ability to talk, so I wrote down what I needed or played charades and hoped that my parents would understand what I meant. I was having so much chemo put in and so many blood samples taken out, that my veins started to collapse, and they had to put in a device called a port-a-cath which went into the artery under my collarbone and made injections easier. Radiation gave me what looked like an intense sunburn on my neck, so I had to be careful of how I laid on my back, but I couldn’t lay on my front because there was a tube sticking out of my stomach which hurt whenever anything touched it. I laid in bed with my thoughts for 9 months…

But I never lost my spirit. All through treatment, I kept humor through the ordeal, telling everybody I’d rather laugh about it than cry about it, and honestly making dark and usually inappropriate humor. Because it's just like taking a kick in the head. In a real fight, if you get hit, you can't stop just because you get hurt because the other person won't stop. Everyone has battles in their life, be they spiritual, emotional, or physical; the difference is in how they approach it, and I'm very fortunate to have (among other things) the mentality of a fighter.      Now the battle is recovery. I've been bedridden for a long time, and I have to build my body up again. It's not easy losing a part of yourself like that, not having the skill set you once did. I' self-conscious and constantly aware of the difference in my performance. But I can't stop. Because I hate losing.  If you're still reading, I can't tell you how to fight your fight, but I want to reach out a hand and let you know that we are all fighting. And that you should never give up.