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Midnight in Japan This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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My first fight wasn’t in Korea. It wasn’t on the playgrounds as an elementary school student or inside the boxing ring as a teenager. My first fight took place in some major Japanese city-Fukuoka, Kyoto, one of those Japanese-sounding places. When I was five years old my family went on a trip to visit friends in Japan. I received awesome presents from people I barely knew. Everyone was getting along just fine, and I was playing with this new toy gun that I got and hiding from all the guests.

All the adults were in the dining room, drinking and laughing and having a good time. Most of them I didn’t know- there were friends of my parents, and their friends, along with their friends. At one point in the evening my father told me to step into the dining room and greet all of the guests. Some of them had brought their own kids too and their kids were sitting next to them. I was a shy little kid then, but I knew I had to show respect to the friends of my father’s friends, and one of them who was out of it said “I bet my son can beat your son!” Suddenly all the adults were watching us. My parents pushed me forward and said “challenge accepted” then turned to me and said “uphold the family honor.”

My opponent and I squared off near the kitchen. The ultimate enemies. In our right corner, former featherweight champion of Busan, South Korea, the Brutal Butcher Pyron MJ Kim! In our left corner, current featherweight champion of Japan, the Fear of Fukuoka! Besides the fact that we were sworn enemies and didn’t speak the same language, looking back that kid and I had a lot in common. We were both scared and reluctant to fight, but were like midget gladiators for that night’s entertainment. And let me tell you something about crowds at gladiator games- they want blood.

We began to punch, kick and wrestle each other. First reluctantly, then with greater force and enthusiasm because we knew if we lost then our parents would never forgive us. All I remember about the kid was that he had a yellow t-shirt. That’s all. MMA or boxing doesn’t even compare to two five year olds beating the piss out of each other. Then the moment came. I grabbed my opponent by the hair and banged it against the kitchen sink. We were about as tall as the kitchen sink. I smacked his head against the steel, again and again. He slipped down, and I propped him back up and hit him some more until the adults dragged me off. The room was spinning, so he must’ve punched me a good few times too.

The next thing I know, the adults are massaging the kid’s swollen face and head with ice packs. The kid isn’t crying, because as we all know boys don’t cry. I look at the adults. They aren’t proud of me. More silent and sober, as if ashamed of what they’ve done. Where’s my title? The hot girls in bikinis massaging my tired muscles? The sports announcers, the lights, the cameras? None of that, at least not yet. There was no pride, no honor. Nothing but emptiness and a sore head. One day, I might run into that kid. He’s around my age and going through more or less what I’m going through. If I do meet him, I’ll buy him a beer or sake or a vodka and we’ll talk like old men about a prizefight that no one remembers.



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