Sport of Blood Unseen

“Once you step out of the sunlight into the narrow corridors, it’s time to protect your nuts, guys.”

-Victor Lin (played by Kenneth Siu)


You loved terrible movies, glittering with violence and shallow story-lines. Watching those movies on Saturdays after cleaning the house were some of the most peaceful times we spent together. Since we didn’t have a VCR, we had to rely on whatever the basic channels (because we didn’t have cable either) played on those Saturday afternoons after I’d finished my morning chores and you’d woke up from one of your naps. UPN 21 played Bloodsport, Rambo, or some Steven Seagal movie. You loved martial arts and seeing your Jamaican brethren on- screen, so Seagal’s Marked for Death was your all-time favorite. Seagal’s nemesis in the movie, Screwface (played by Basil Wallace) says in a patois accent, “Everybody want go to heaven.

Nobody wants die.” And I thought, Ma wants to get to heaven but will she if she keeps doing this to me?

Those movies desensitized violence and I think they empowered your physical ferocity toward me. Bloodsport: a movie made on a tiny budget that shouldn’t have made it; like you, the eleventh child born to your mother—the three babies born before you didn’t make it. But you did—squeezing yourself into this world for 55 years before leaving without being able to say goodbye. And during my childhood, you and I walked in between others, almost unseen because we were both little.

And we didn’t look like anyone else I knew in Texas—you with your Chinese-Jamaican features and tiny stature and me, the little adopted girl who had the same black hair as you and brown eyes. But that’s where our similarities end. You made sure we saw people with dark hair and eyes on TV—Martin, New York Undercover, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air were our shows, but we didn’t always get to see them, especially if Pops was home. And while I loved Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, I obsessed over Jean-Claude Van Damm. In Bloodsport, the sandy-haired Belgian forces his way into a space of brown fighters from around the world, portraying Frank Dux (in the allegedly true story of how Dux won the real Kumite in 1975). He looked how I felt in most places, that is, out of place.

I imbibed Van Damm and envisioned you—my Ma—as Chong-li, Dux’s nemesis, even though Chong-li was as huge as you were small. You lusted for pain like him. You both snarled out of noses that flattened in the same place. I felt the fire you snorted through those nostrils.

You both inflicted pain far longer than necessary. Chong-li often over-pressed his competitors, beating their vulnerable, already broken bodies long after the fight had been won—bringing them unnecessarily close to death. You know I cried for hours, long after you’d finished working on me. I cried convinincing myself I had a reason to stay alive.

You and I held our breath every time the Kumite clan walked up to Frank Dux and challenged him to break the brick most in-between all the other bricks—the one in the bottom- middle, among three columns, five bricks deep, stacked firmly upon one another. We let our breaths out when Frank pulverizes that bottom middle brick, in slow-motion of course, and proves he’s truly a student of Shidoshi Tanaka, worthy of fighting in the Kumite. All the other bricks remain whole, just like the outside of my body—you aimed for inside me. All the competitors watch Frank’s success, some even cheering for him, then Chong Li scoffs and warns Frank, “But brick not hit back.” I didn’t hit back.

Just like the “Kumite song” says, you got to fight to survive. You fought to survive in the best ways you knew how: tough work, including bussing tables and telemarketing; tons of walking because your Turner syndrome brain couldn’t compute the complications of driving and your Turner syndrome body would have needed serious accommodations made to the car; and putting on a pleasant face, complete with a fake smile, in public—no matter how tired or unfulfilled you were inside. But everything you held in had to come out somehow, somewhere. It manifested from you onto my body. When I took your blow, usually kneeling on the ground, I wanted to fall into the splits and hit you right in the pelvis to make you stop, the same way Frank takes out the huge guy from China who isn’t Chong Li, Pumola. You were legally the height of a midget, barely 80 pounds, but you were my Pumola and Chong Li. I fell onto my knees in the space between the bed and your chicken-thin legs. And the belt or its buckle or a shoe or a pan found me there in that black space where I stared at the poop-colored carpet. Like the movie, there are no stunt doubles, and there was no one else around to absorb your blows but me. And the shaggy carpet absorbed my tears. My body absorbed the pain.

Forest Whitaker and Norman Burton, play the cops chasing Jean-Claude Van Damm all over Hong Kong. Frank fights in the kumite and outside of it. I fought your insecurities at home and my own at school—Forest and Norman embodied the bullies I faced at school—the mean girls who stood in the way of my complete contentment at being alone in the place where I felt safest. Obstacles everywhere, it seemed, and I only felt myself when I wasn’t anywhere, somewhere between home and school—in a bus, in a car, walking to some destination where I didn’t have to engage with people.

Frank’s solitude—his escapes from the cops and away from the kumite and his new journalist lover—on the Hong Kong bus, offers him peace for a moment but then he sees Chong

Li’s face in that of an elderly Chinese man in the seat across from him, and he knows he must face Chong Li. He cannot escape, and neither could I from you. Frank gets his chance in the final, climatic fight. Frank and Chong Li collide, and just when it seems Frank’s sure to be victorious after some impressive flying kicks and controlled punches to the gut, Chong Li throws salt in Frank’s eyes, and once again we get the drama of slow-motion from the camera, and we watch Frank absorb the pain and revive his blindfolded ninjutsu training to finally take out our villain, the beast from the East, Mr. Chong Li. Despite Chong Li’s dastardly methods, Frank prevails. Despite hundreds of spectators, no one, other than Chong Li, quite knows what Frank’s endured for that victory. Only you and I really know what you did.

There is, perhaps, one other witness to Chong Li’s methods: the match’s supervisor, the bald man with thick eyebrows in the silk, mauve karategi. He’s on the mat with the fighters—he should have seen the salt thrown into Frank’s eyes—just like my brother and Pops should have seen what you were doing so many nights of the week. But both the men in the house were like Frank’s buddy in the movie, Jackson—the untrained American, full of ego and spirit, his own worst enemy. He cheers for Frank, admires Frank, but doesn’t have Frank’s discipline. My brother, your stepson, once came home when you were going at me, so he went at you with broom–clumsily whipping it toward you, like he might hit you. In fact, he did save me that one time, but little did he know, it just meant you’d be meaner and harsher the next time you and I were alone. All of Jackson’s threats toward Chong Li only enraged Chong Li more, and when Jackson faces Chong Li, he ends up hospitalized in a coma, his Harley Davidson bandana taken as a trophy by Chong Li. Of course, Frank gets the bandana back for Jackson.

And I gave my brother—despite all of his self-destruction and the chasm between you both—your most cherished furniture. For years, your lacquered, mother-of-pearl Chinese chest, the one you paid off on layaway over a few years, sat in his living room. The heavy divider, inlaid with carved Cranes covered his windows. But after he drifted off somewhere in the world, to some place I don’t know, I took that furniture you commanded me to dust and polish at least two nights a week and each Saturday before we watched the Saturday movie. I dust that cabinet and divider only when I feel like it. And once a year, I curl up with no one around, and I watch Bloodsport. And I think of you.

Jennifer Love is an Assistant Professor at The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, NM. She graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from IAIA’s Low Residency Program in May of 2017. She has been published in Ragazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Wards, Accolades, The IAIA Anthology, and she won the Santa Fe Reporter’s 2017 Creative Nonfiction contest, judged by Hampton Sides. She lives in Santa Fe with her three dogs and husband.