Why you should care

Because there but for the grace of goodness goes you.

My entire life I’ve struggled. Mostly wondering if I was even supposed to be here. At the same time, how much I wanted to be something special seemed to argue in favor of me being here for a reason. I mean, have you ever seen so many signs telling you something, or have a feeling so strong it’s hard not to believe?

But some background: I was abandoned at birth. A pregnant teenage mother having an affair and an uncertain father. Nothing unusual coming out of New York. Another day, another sorrow. It’s an infestation of memories you try to get rid of. So many in my life, my position, try to bury the memory with alcohol: an addictive medicine that helps regret.

My addiction, though: martial arts. It’s what I use to numb the obvious pain of the reality that I do not belong. If there was one thing that made me feel truly alive, this was it.

Fast-forward 17 years and I got my diploma and an amazing graduation gift for kids from group homes: homelessness. That is, out on the street. Not a dollar to my name. Someone once told me you’d be flipping burgers without a diploma. Couldn’t even get a job doing that with a diploma. Maybe it had something to do with being a model minority.

Leaving the homeless shelter and trying to get back on my feet is what I did. I refused to be broken like this. Which is when I got stabbed.

A wise man once said that as a man you have one job: to shoulder your burden without complaint. I spent a good amount of my life doing this. But I didn’t have anyone to complain to, anyway — just myself. I’m not that social. So maybe writing this, marking the one time I did, will change things.

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Viktor Oh + where he goes

Source Photo courtesy of Viktor Oh

You see, if you fight you learn that you’ll have to overcome other fighters or you’ll break. Just like in life, you must protect yourself at all times. If you don’t, who will? Leaving the homeless shelter and trying to get back on my feet is what I did. I refused to be broken like this.

Which is when I got stabbed.

During my time being homeless, I had the luxury of using a park bench as a bed in Des Moines, Iowa. You’d never think someone would stoop as low as robbing a homeless teenager, but it happened to me one night. You think homeless people report getting robbed to the cops? Though I never looked like I had anything, the black suitcase I carried with me religiously was a giveaway: I had something.

So one night two guys, probably on drugs and/or drunk, decided to mess with me and take it. I resorted to my old trick of playing the fool and acting like I didn’t know how to speak English. The guys try to separate me from my suitcase, and the entire time I know I could take one guy, but my chances with the other were slim.

Dehydrated and with only a beef jerky sandwich as fuel, I was not fit to fight. One guy started wrestling with me, trying to get my suitcase. The other tried to scare me with a knife. These are how the cards were stacked against me. Specifically, right up against a high chance of dying. Sure, I could maybe walk away by giving up my suitcase. But everything had already been taken from me, and they were wanting the last thing I had outside of my pride and dignity.

It wasn’t the cowboy ending I wanted, but I’d seen enough death in my life to know you don’t get to choose. So I threw a right cross to the stomach of the guy in front of me. The other bum rushed me with the knife. I’m not a big person, but I got speed on my size. I knew the knife was in the right hand, and that’s where my attention was.

I cried … you’ve never been more alone than after you have been stabbed and are hunkering down in an alley in the dark with nothing but the suitcase you’re sitting on.

I could have taken a side step to dodge most of it, or at least just get cut on the shoulder. Instead, I let it pierce my chest. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but I was angry. Not at him, but at myself. I was allowing myself to be defeated while facing that my grand destiny was to be a random death at a park in the middle of nowhere.

I pulled back off the blade, and he threw a left hand at the side of my head. I proceeded to bear-hug him. Get control of the knife hand and see where his friend is. I don’t know how many knees I threw, but for a few seconds they were all to the groin.

A part of me wanted to stay around and see what would happen. But my will to survive kicked in, and I grabbed my suitcase and ran for it.

The wound wasn’t that deep. I was bleeding, but not that badly. I hid near a building, crouching down, looking for weapons of any kind. Like a stick or something sharp in the trash can. I found a soda can, which is really sharp if you tear it. Good for them they never found me. I was angry, and mercy was far from my mind.

I cried, and I’m not proud of admitting that. I never got used to the loneliness that has been my entire life. Things haven’t changed since childhood. And you’ve never been more alone than after you have been stabbed and are hunkering down in an alley in the dark with nothing but the suitcase you’re sitting on.

A few days later I found a homeless shelter. Hoping I might get lucky and run into them again. Instead, I felt kindness from some people I never expected. Eventually a friend got me a job, and I managed to move out and stay at a teen shelter. I saved up and bought a one-way bus ticket out of there.

That was the last fight I had outside the ring. While I was trying to prove a point, I guess, all I can see now is how much I flirted with death. A part of me believes I intentionally didn’t dodge his knife. The scar it left is a good reminder of how low people can go and how stupid we all are sometimes.

But it was what I needed to decide to move to another state, to a place with friends and breathing room. This was the W. Bush era, and the economy was sick. That did not turn out too well for me either. Feeling sorry for me? Don’t: That’s the last thing I want. What I do want? A dream to inspire, a world title. I want to break stereotypes. If you knew where I’m from, you would know we haven’t had a hero in 43 years.

Which is where I am today. Training, fighting, working. My will to succeed is strong. Is this what normal people feel? I wouldn’t know. I’ve got an empty bank account, and bill collectors adore me. But the samurai makes peace with death. I willingly let the shots come, and I take them with smiles.

Maybe, like a movie, things will turn around. Wish me luck.

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.