Garret Hills hadn’t attended a single Jiu-Jitsu class in over a month; his longest break since walking through the doors of Ronaldo Baca’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy about a decade ago.
“Sensei Baca was asking about you again yesterday,” Tommy Jacobson informed when he finally caught up to Garret.
“Tell him I’m fine.”
“He’s sure you’re fine,” Tommy responded. “He just misses you on the mats.” When Tommy, a fellow brown belt who rose the ranks alongside Garret, realized the two were nearing the edge of the high school’s campus—and the lunch break was almost over—he asked, “Where are you going?”
Garret explained, “My parents still don’t know I’m training MMA. If I spend the last month of the school year leaving during lunch once or twice a week, I can make it Downtown, spar with some high-level dudes near my weight, and not have to worry about whether or not I’ll graduate.”
The ninety-minutes one way to Dangerous Minds MMA offered Garret more knowledge about playing punchy-face than the resources his hick, podunk town had available. Those whom studied under Baca were blessed to have a championship-caliber Jiu-Jitsu player in their backyard, but there were only a handful of people Garret was aware of who even knew what MMA was; most seemed to think it was a caged rendition of professional wrestling. A tactical offense on the ground wouldn’t be enough for success in the game on inches; Garret additionally required: wrestling, for dragging a foe into his domain; an ability to serve—and eat—some punishment on the feet; and an even blending of all these facets into a hitman for hire. Garret, a freshly minted eighteen-year-old with aspirations of superstardom under bright spotlights, believed he had outgrown the comfort of his Gi as a child leaves their favorite blanket in the rearview mirror by adolescence.
Garret sharpened the techniques he acquired from those at Dangerous Minds MMA with Josh Harvey, a recent dropout who mirrored Garret’s passion for MMA. Josh figured: if his brain could fend off books, maybe it would work similarly against hooks. Though Harvey’s athleticism wasn’t polished with potential, the twenty-pounds of mass he owned over Garret, along with a grit that pushed him to never quit, made him, what Garret dubbed, “a flesh Kong toy”—mobile and difficult to destroy.
The pair of rogue training partners had scheduled their debuts, six-weeks from the present, at Danger Zone 45, a promotion that hosted an event each month in Downtown’s Tower Theatre. Both Garret and Josh absorbed the energy resonating—affirming their new career path—throughout the venue from Danger Zone’s previous show, and Garret left, fully invested, with premonitions of his hand raised in the promotion’s ill-constructed cage.
While Garret and Josh expanded their gas tanks, pounding semi-paved, gravel, and dirt roads around their quaint town as the beginning of summer—and their first step toward the end of a rainbow shaded in bruises and blood—drew near, Sensei Baca pulled alongside the two in his silver Nissan Sentra. It had been a couple months since he’d seen Garret, and the string bean with incredible dexterity he remembered had added several layers of hardened muscle to his exterior.
“Come see me at the academy soon, Porra!” The Brazilian’s infectious smile was the exact same as the last interaction shared with Garret.
“Will do, sir.”
The next day, before Garret’s afternoon escape across county lines, he stopped at Baca’s Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Baca approached Garret with the same wide, toothy grin flashed from the previous day. With each step, it registered to Garret: one of his hands is behind his back. He readied himself for one of his instructor’s infamous, random tests—a pop quiz for combat.
When Baca’s missing hand came into view, so did a small box, which he handed to his student. Garret lifted its lid. Inside was a yellow and blue—the colors of Baca’s school—rash guard. In white lettering—across the front and back—were the words “All or Nothing.”
Garret repeated, “very cool,” several times as he examined each side of the rash guard, hoping some further explanation would better steer his reaction.
“Porra, I’m expanding my academy; I will offer No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai.” Baca continued, “My cousin, Paulo, is a three-time gold medalist in the No-Gi Global Jiu-Jitsu Games, and a friend of mine, Bak Ken, has told me his willingness to pass a rich education of stand up down to my students.”
“This is fantastic!” Garret brought the rash guard back into view and asked, “What does any of that have to do with this?”
“That’s now your nickname, Porra. There is no gray with you, it’s either black or white. If I didn’t add some training other than Gi Jiu-Jitsu, I’d probably never see you again,” Baca chuckled. “It’s important you continue commuting—until our classes grow—Downtown for the time being, but maybe you can talk some of their guys into the quiet life and they could teach a seminar here.”
Sensei Baca’s support fueled Garret with the confidence to dismantle his upcoming opponent and march through every warm body placed before him.
Garret bowed at his Sensei, tightened the imaginary belt around his waist, and thanked him with a gracious, “Oss!”
Prompted from Fantango’s One Word Challenge: https://fivedotoh.com/2019/12/21/fowc-with-fandango-rash/.