He stood six feet tall and was perhaps just as wide. Big, black and ridiculously strong, Viv (his real name, I kid you not) had run out of suitable sparring partners at the dojo. The last one he had was still recovering at St Mary’s hospital with a broken jaw and a dislocated shoulder. Restraint and self-control obviously weren’t very high on Viv’s list of priorities. Naturally, nobody was looking forward to spending any sparring time with Viv, least of all me.
When the sparring session began that day, Viv was the first at the centre of a very vacant ring. Almost everyone – yours truly included – secretly cowered in fear, dreading the possibility that our name would be called out. Then it came:
“Bangkai-san!” cried the sensei.
What? How could my sensei do this to me? I was too young to die.
“Bangkai-san!” he called out again.
I feigned deafness and hoped that, somehow, I would become invisible. If I were going to become invisible, it had better be soon, for out of the corner of my eye, I saw my sensei making his way towards me.
“Bangkai-san, today you girl?” he whispered into my ear. “Fight Viv, Bangkai-san!” he ordered.
A lacklustre “Hait!” was all I could muster; condemned men are seldom very enthusiastic.
There was no escaping it now. I would have to fight big, bad Viv – and probably die in the process, too. I checked to see if my groin protector was in place. It was. But it felt strangely loose. I prayed that it would be strong enough to protect my family jewels should one of Viv’s devastating strikes land where they shouldn’t.
I stood before a towering Viv, trying very hard not to tremble. My entire life flashed before my eyes as I performed the customary bow of respect. Thud! Without any warning, I was all over the floor. A shove from his powerful left arm had sent me tumbling to the edge of the ring.
“I ain’t fighting this shrimp!” he roared. “Bring me someone my own size: I don’t want to fight some puny faggot!”
All fear left me as I began to see red. Anger burned from the pit of my stomach and raged all the way to the top of my head. “Aaaargh!” I screamed as I lunged for Viv. My sensei restrained me in a lock before I could do any damage to myself. “This not the way, Bangkai-san” he urged in his Mr. Miyagi like way.
“I’ll fight Viv” offered Gerry, my long-time sparring partner. Physically at least, Gerry was about as big as Viv. But he woefully lacked the power and speed – not to mention the technical skill and attitude – to deal with an opponent like Viv. Every cell in my body rebelled as I watched Viv pummel Gerry into a semi-conscious, senseless heap in less than a minute. As he stood victorious over Gerry, Viv grabbed his crotch a la Michael Jackson and taunted me: “When you grow up, you can fight me, wimp!” he roared again.
After the training session, we retired to the local pub to unwind and enjoy our usual pint of lager (or two). Before leaving, I had to make a quick visit to the gents. As I was taking my much needed relief, I felt a massive presence at the next urinal: it was Viv, big as a bear and twice as menacing. He made a show of looking over his shoulder to peer at my ‘assets’.
“Where’s yours, man?! I ain’t seeing nuthin’!” he mocked.
That was it! As soon as I zipped-up, I let loose a flurry of kicks and punches what would have made any Bruce Lee fan proud. I didn’t even care if Viv killed me; all I wanted was to inflict as much harm on him as possible before I went down.
The all-out brawl continued briefly into the pub and then onto the street outside. By that time, we were a mass of blood and flailing limbs; mortal enemies intent on killing each other. It went on for a few more minutes before the police arrived. The next thing we knew, we were spending the night in adjacent lock-ups at the Harrow Road police station.
“Hey, Bangkai…” Viv called out; his voice devoid of any of the aggression that had been there before.
“Lookit yer face, man! You one ugly mother!” he said. Was that a hint of humour I heard, in his thick Jamaican accent?
I checked the bruises and cuts on my face with my fingers. They hurt like the blazes. He was probably right – I was probably looking like a pile of sh*t.
“And you’re not exactly Danzel Washington yourself right now, you know…” I replied.
“Yeah, I know. You gave me the beating of my life, you useless faggot!” he said as he smiled.
“Call me a faggot again and I’ll rip you b*lls off and feed them to you, you dumb moron!”
We both laughed. That night we became friends.
I went on to be his longest surviving sparring partner and he went on to be of my best friends. But one night as he was attending the tryouts for the British karate team in Leicester, he tried to foil a robbery at a local Pakistani grocery shop and got stabbed for his trouble. He died from his wounds the next day.
Even today, when I’m at a urinal, I can sometimes hear his voice saying: “Where’s yours, man?!”