A few times a week, I go to a small gym on a side street in Cubao to learn to fight.
Initially, it was so I could protect myself and my future family against the mean streets of New York City and a way for me to bring part of our culture there (and also as a potentially lucrative alternative career). Also, I needed to get in shape to show the doctor who told me I was obese during a routine medical check up last year what’s what.
By July, though, it had become something I needed to survive. The engagement hit a few complications and I needed both the release and the distraction of having the snot kicked out of me by a college-aged kid named Kyle to get by. It was not the healthiest way to deal with personal problems, but I liked how, at least for a few minutes, nothing else existed except trying to get a hit in while not getting hit myself.
I got better at it, too. Not good, necessarily, but good enough to at least get beaten up by bigger and better fighters. The pain was terrible at times — I had to limp for a while after catching a spinning back kick with an attempt to deliver a roundhouse kick — but I loved that I was learning and that I was giving about as good as I got.
I even began getting interested in the grappling aspect of the art, something that I have always been wary of because of the potential for broken joints and because rolling around with sweaty men is not fun.
Between that and the rigorous warm-up and conditioning exercises, the whole experience has been a lesson in perseverance, willpower, gameness, and generally getting your ass out of bed. Sometimes we also got lessons about moral obligation (towards restraint, for example, or to protect the weak) and the importance of promises and creeds.
The most important lesson of all, though, came while our instructor was demonstrating (on me) how to apply an ankle lock. “When you feel the lock, you have to tap out or you’ll never walk again,” he said in Tagalog. “Sometimes you need to know when to tap.”
And so, the best lesson about learning to fight is knowing when not to fight. And so, I am no longer engaged to be married and I am no longer inclined to ever marry. I fought and held on as best I could, was as kind and loving as I could be, and I am exhausted.
I remember a line from Gallants (2010), the kung fu exploitation movie that exploited the kung fu exploitation movie genre: “If you don’t fight, then you won’t lose. But if you fight, you must win.”
From experience and from what I have seen from other doomed couples, being with someone is sometimes a fight that is impossible not to lose.
And so, I now travel the world with nothing in my hands.