Kung Food Poisoning: Revenge of the Sushi!
By Sensei Ricardo Vera
I have wanted to tell this story for a long time, but have always been too ashamed of its circumstances to reveal my tale to anyone. Even though I'll admit that I do find my story humorous and am able to laugh out loud at myself over it, only now at age 55, am I able to convince myself to swallow my pride enough to share its details with others.
My name is Ricardo Vera. I started training in martial arts in my early teens during the early 1970's soon after being beat up by neighborhood bullies in a local park near where I grew up in East Los Angeles, California. Before that unfortunate incident, my father, a former amateur boxer, had tried to teach me how to defend myself on occasion, but my brain seemed to lack the attention span to absorb the information properly at the time.
Around that time my friends and I went to the theater to see a new action movie that some of the kids at school had been raving about, which was said to feature a dynamic little Chinese guy named Bruce Lee. That film was titled; "Enter the Dragon" and it was the first time Id ever even heard of Kung Fu. I was overwhelmed by the amazing fighting skills being displayed on the large screen! The very next day I set out to convince my parents to help me find a school where I could learn how do what I saw Bruce Lee doing in his film the previous day.
There was no chain of martial arts training centers then like there is today. In fact, my parents had to drive me all the way to Pasadena to eventually find a suitable place to learn what I sought so desperately.
There was a Karate studio up there that was recommended to my parents by a martial arts supply store that theyd talked to on the telephone earlier in the week. As we drove, I envisioned myself being able to do some of those fantastic physical feats Id seen in "Enter the Dragon".
It turned out that both my parents and me were satisfied with the appearance of this studio, or Dojo as it we found out it was referred to as. It was quite impressive with all the awards and other formal documents posted on its walls.
There were many first place tournament trophies displayed throughout the place too. After watching some of the students participating in one class, my parents were invited into an office to speak directly with the owner of the place. His students had called him Sensei during the class, so we did so as well when addressing him in there. My parents quickly agreed to allow me to join and signed the required agreement forms to receive my new uniform. I was excited to become a student!
I attended classes at that studio in Pasadena for five grueling years of intense training. It wasnt easy, but I finally received my Black Belt in Kenpo Karate! My whole family was proud of my accomplishment and me.
All along Id been entering and winning first place in nearly all the tournaments Id entered. Point fighting was ok, but I loved to spar in full contact matches. Around this time someone had coined the term, kickboxing, so some of my fellow Kenpo students and I began to investigate all about it. It turned out that this kickboxing wed heard about was a form of full contact sparring that wed been longing for. There were no boring kata forms to learn; only sparring techniques, which I preferred. Kickboxing was more like Western-boxing punching mixed with the legal kicking techniques as seen in Kenpo and other martial arts systems. I quickly took to it like a duck does to water!
Since there were no formal kickboxing schools anywhere nearby then, some of my fellow Kenpo students and I began to teach ourselves by reading the few available textbooks and trade magazines. It wasnt too hard to figure out the rules. All we had to do was watch one of the rare televised kickboxing events on some UHF channel or on the Wide World of Sports program to learn the ropes. We trained in kickboxing for two hours a day three times a week after each Kenpo class for a full year.
Soon I began to stand out from the rest of my training partners and was ready to start competing in the kickboxing tournaments that were now being occasionally held around Los Angeles, California. During the first round of my inaugural kickboxing match, I knocked out my opponent with a surprise roundhouse kick to his head. The crowd went wild with applause and I was hooked! I began to enter all of the local events and went on fighting undefeated for the next two years. By this time, I got picked up by an established fight promoter and was actually being paid to compete nationally. Still undefeated and in the best shape of my life, my management then arranged for me to fight an upcoming championship bout in Japan!
I was very excited to have accepted this fantastic opportunity and stepped up my training regimen in anticipation for the fight. My trainers brought in additional coaches to help get me properly prepared in time. Three months later, I was on my first plane ride ever to the land of the setting sun and its biggest city, Tokyo, Japan.
Upon arrival in Tokyo, a prearranged Japanese escort met our group of five Americans at the airport, which then transported us towards our hotel. The escort had failed to provide us with a competent interpreter, so we sat mostly quiet and observed the foreign sights along the way. Once we were checked into our rooms, the jet lag finally set in and we all slept for hours. The next morning our coach woke us up for breakfast. We ate strange tasting eggs with rice, orange juice and coffee.
Afterwards, we went thru an orientation at the upcoming events site, which was a fairly large hall somewhere in the middle of the city. There was a professional-looking twelve-foot boxing ring was set up inside with plenty of grandstand seating surrounding it. This would be the largest crowd any of us Westerners had ever fought in front of.
That evening, after wed nearly knocked ourselves out trying to do as much sightseeing as we could with the schedule we were on, we were invited to have dinner with some of the Japanese Fight-Team members and coaches.
That night was the first time Id ever eaten sushi or sashimi. I was a little shy of it at first, but after a few potent Japanese beers it all started to go down quite easily. I ate sushi, drank beer and laughed with the team members for hours until I felt like Id burst! All of us had fun that night in Tokyo.
The next morning, although slightly hung over, my team members and I returned to the great hall and resumed our preparations for the next days big kickboxing tournament. We trained for four hours straight, and then broke for lunch. All of us young Americans were feeling confident of our abilities to overcome our opponents and were anxious for the start of the following days events. I was focused and in the best shape of my life! We all trained aggressively for another four hours after lunch then returned to our hotel rooms to clean up for dinner that night.
The team opted for more sushi and beers for our final dinner plans. By that evening I even found myself craving one of those little sashimi sampler plates, which featured a variety of small raw fish entrees. I ended up eating a lot that night. Then the coach ordered the team to go to bed early to get enough rest for the next days tournament, so we all did.
The following morning, after a light breakfast, our team began its daily training regimen. The coach added two extra hours to our workout schedule to ensure we were properly acclimatized and possessed good cardio. At mid day we all broke for lunch to replace burnt off carbohydrates, and then resumed our workout for another three more hours. By the end of the afternoon, all of our team members were pumped up and started shouting mildly threatening obscenities towards the Japanese training camp. We felt ready to compete!
My fellow American teammates fought well but were all defeated that night. Our Japanese counterparts had dramatically outclassed the first four of us. Two of them had lost poorly in the opening seconds of the first rounds. I was the last of my team members to compete that night. Thankfully my Japanese opponent didnt end up being too physically imposing in appearance when he entered into the ring. I had tried to size him up earlier at the weigh-in, but he was already exiting when it was my turn to report to the scales. He was an inch shorter and gave up about ten pounds to me. Still Ill admit I was truly nervous standing in my corner of the ring that night. My stomach was growling fiercely.
After the Japanese referee shouted some undistinguishable instructions at my competitor and me in the center of the ring, a gong soon sounded and the first round finally began. At first I was able to shake off all my apprehension and put up a good fight! I slipped a lot of my opponents punches and blocked most of his kicks, while my counter-attacks scored well in the first round. My many long hours of training seemed to be paying off as I proceeded to gain advantage on the judges scorecards by the end of round one.
Just when I had him up against the ropes at the start of the second round, my stomach groaned and all the raw fish Id eaten earlier decided to come swimming down stream! With the next combination of punches I threw I could tell something squishy had already beached itself down there between my ass cheeks. When the referee stepped in closer to break us from a sudden clinch, I thought his face had reacted to the smell of the gas that I kept on passing? I was in a panic and quickly began to falter.
By the end of that round, my Japanese opponent had taken complete advantage of me. My being so afraid of revealing that Id completely crapped my pants in the ring was a so distracting that it allowed my competitor to land a straight right cross to my jaw, which completely knocked me out! After being revived with smelling salts in the dressing room, I vomited the rest of the sushi and sashimi out of me, and then passed out cold for hours.
When I awoke I was in a hospital bed somewhere in Tokyo. The steady voice of my coach helped me to focus my senses as I came to. My vision was completely cleared up by the time all my teammates filed in from the nearby waiting room. All of us gathered together there in that small hospital room looked pretty beaten. We all wanted to get back home.
I still feel for the nurses who mustve stripped my clothing for a routine cleaning only to find a more unexpected and smelly mess. It seemed the Japanese hospital staff and all involved were too polite to ever mention my embarrassment. However, it was unfortunate that my fellow teammates werent too polite as well. They constantly ribbed me about it on the long plane ride home and continued to for years until the last time we each trained together during the 1980s. Ive thought about what mustve happened to the Gi uniform Id soiled during my competition, but never investigated its whereabouts.
It took decades for me to finally come to terms with the embarrassing way I lost that important kickboxing match in Japan. I guess I still haven't completely gotten over it, even though writing about this does help me to laugh it off a bit more? My ego was seriously wounded by that incident. That unfortunate experience was my own greatest lesson in humility. It really helped me to keep myself in check and to better appreciate when things go right in my life. I hope it can help some of you readers too?