Written by Hen Z.
January 6th, 2021 was a memorable day for any American that was still alive, had a conscience and didn’t have their head buried up their rectum. By memorable, I mean the stuff of nightmares thanks to what Chinese newspapers called the “金頭猴” (Jin Tou Hou), referring to the golden-headed monkey who sat in the oval office from 2016 to 2020 (also known as “45” and “Toad from Mario Kart” although I’m not sure if the latter refers to him or his…never mind). I gave two teletherapy sessions that day at my doctoral psychology externship. I enjoyed helping children and their families cope and furthermore, it helped me pretend that the world was not on fucking fire, which it totally was at the time.
“Hey guys, I’m back from giving therap…what the FUCK happened while I was gone?!”
“IED found on capital grounds”
“Actually more than one”
“They attacked congressmen”
“The videos are pretty bad. I have a feeling nobody will get arrested or shot
“Eh, I’m sure the terrorists will shoot someone, alright be right back”
“Really Henry?! You know what I mean!”
”Yeah I totally did. Okay everyone, I’m going to treat my next client and pretend it’s okay, unless they bring it up or something”
That’s what I did for the next hour.
“Hey I’m back, time to see how fucked up things have go….wait, what the FUCK, somebody got killed?”
Each detail we learned about the terrorist attack only made us progressively more disgusted, from how they attacked the police, how the police not only took it easy but let them in (and even participated), how so many people we knew were either silent or condoning this, the meaning of the “6WME” sticker, to a noose being hung near capitol hill.
Mainstream America woke up to the horrors that Asian Americans such as myself had felt for almost a year, the same horrors that led to our existence. Mainstream America also had their own name for these terrorists but we called them the “death cult,” because not only were all ethnicities complicit in enabling this, but our differences were due to ethics and facts rather than politics. It was only a little over a year ago that some of our Asian American members watched the movie “Ip Man 4” and thought to ourselves “there’s no way people in America could be this racist nowadays.”
In many ways we were like everyday people. Grad students, computer programmers, medical office personnel, teachers. However, unlike the rest of the world, we weren’t surprised when we saw the death cult in capitol hill. In fact, we had been preparing for the possibility we would see such terrors in our own neighborhood.
8PM, We logged onto Zoom to remotely hone our combat skills together for the purposes of self-defense, just as we did every day since April. We drilled our striking, defensive maneuvers, takedowns and weapon based striking for the first half an hour.
To hone the reflexes, my trainees drilled their defensive maneuvers into takedowns in real time against punches and blunt weapon strikes that I threw towards the screen for the remainder of the hour.
Our country was still in the middle of dealing with an airborne virus that half the country minimized, and this was the best we could do with our situation. We cooled down with the use of diaphragmatic breathing, a method I introduced to the regimen in response to deal with the mental toll of the times and I ended with this speech.
“As you have witnessed today at Capitol Hill, and as I have repeatedly said the last few months: The state does not protect you. You will need to do that shit yourself. This week we will be focusing on head movement to takedowns as a countermeasure against these imbeciles who believe that their armor and blunt weapons will protect them. As always, survive, help others survive, protect the weak, empower them, that is the way.”
I hugged my fiancé after practice, realizing that her vision that we would all need to come together against racism was true and that I would need to run Dragon Combat Club (DCC) for the years to come.
I’ve already introduced who I am in the last story and how we got here. This story is about DCC’s battle against racism both the kind people know about, and the kind people don’t know about, as well as how being autistic played its role.
First off, in case you’re wondering how my internal dialogue is still vulgar as fuck despite all my education or why I speak in movie, anime or videogame references (that I successfully suppress to keep my job and stay in school) , that’s probably why. Being neurodivergent isn’t mostly sunshine and rainbows combined with shits and giggles. In fact, being autistic with ADHD for me caused a fuckton of problems growing up that warrants another story in itself despite the fact that I am considered by some as a 2E (Twice Exceptional).
Problems that may have gotten me institutionalized (from a downward spiral triggered by somebody who was close to me that believed I would not have a future or be a good role model due to my condition) if a man named Kru Brandon Levi from Evolution Muay Thai did not accidentally save my life by giving me a place to train. There, I met Gene Kobilansky from NYU Wrestling who taught wrestling for the purpose of grappling competitions and fighting. I also met Chad Vazquez who was my former training partner in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) who turned into my coach. In case you’re wondering how that happened, he dedicated his life to martial arts all these years while it took 2020 racism for my lazy ass to get anywhere as motivated.
As a 2E Autistic who studied Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) on and off the last decade and shot/edited many instructional videos, this meant that the techniques were etched into my mind. At Evolution, solidarity between diverse groups (including marginalized ones) was a fact of life. Brandon and Gene became amongst the first few people to learn I was on the spectrum, something that I was frightened to disclose until 2019. At Evolution, women becoming formidable warriors was a fact of life.
“Henry, I know you mean well but don’t do that again mate”
“What do you mean?”
“I know how hard you hit, if you’re hitting that belly pad lighter, you’re sabotaging her training, she needs to be able to take it so she can defend herself”
“I don’t want to see that kind of sexism again, got it?”
In case you’re wondering whether that may be a metaphor given that MMA is considered a combat sport, ten years ago, Brandon gave quite a passionate and memorable speech to all the members present at the gym including a younger, more impressionable version of me, that the purpose of martial arts was to kill.
Being autistic for me meant that I had limited social interaction outside of my activities that involved martial arts, going to graduate school, being a school psychologist and being with my girlfriend at the time. That being said, our idea of a romantic time out was watching martial arts movies such as Raid 2 or watching Thai Boxing matches.
She was a particular fan of one fighter from my gym and would habitually tug my arm asking me “Hun, when are we watching Angie fight again?” That was Angela Hill, who later became the first Black American female fighter in the UFC. I just happened to be one of the many people she taught and used for target practice back in the day.
Being autistic for me made me oblivious to how different the outside world was until 2020 (ironically the year we had to quarantine).
Being autistic for me means having these ideas that are logical that I struggle to convey to neurotypicals using words. Shortly after I got engaged, my fiancé (who became a speech language pathologist) and I started our tech company Timehacks.
I soon realized that I actually needed to shoot actual demonstration videos to convince people to buy my products because it was based off of a concept I couldn’t explain in words. This funded my appetite as a doctoral student of Psychology given that graduate school doesn’t pay. Furthermore, this funded my ability to run a very important initiative: DCC.
Reviewing the cover system with Jase, Arlene, Lorraine and Juno. Jase and I trained together in Evolution for years while the other three were new during the time of this photo.
DCC started as a remote MMA club in April 2020 by five BIPOC martial arts practitioners including myself due to rise in anti-Asian violence since February 2020. By rise I mean an over 1900% increase after 金頭猴 named COVID-19 the China Virus or Kung Flu.
Most Asian Americans were either rightfully angry but used that anger to be inexcusably anti-Black (even though our attackers came from every ethnicity) or used their education to justify the horrific violence under the guise of fighting anti-Black racism. Those were the two convenient options that a system many call white supremacy offered Asian Americans because humanity was so collectively fucking primitive that they thought fighting one form of racism automatically invalidated another. In the toxic cesspool some referred to the online Asian American community, the only solace I found was that the increase was not a typo from over 9000.
In case nobody got the last reference.
Things got so violent that despite having 10 years of MMA training (on and off), I decided it was necessary to learn the weapon based martial art of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. As 金頭猴 openly declared war on all minorities during the first presidential debate and as anti-Asian attacks got even worse during September 2020, I realized what I was doing was necessary but insufficient.
I realized another minor problem: most of our initial club members were men with former training.
Most of the targets for anti-Asian hate crimes were women or the elderly while four of the original founders of DCC don’t exactly look like the kind that people would choose to attack. Two of us (one who passed away, the other being me) give off the “loose screws vibe.” The third one looks like Danny Trejo from Machete, which is great for intimidation but also not so great given that he’s been on the receiving end of some inexcusable color-ist discrimination from some of the people he’s been running our club to protect. The fourth one is basically our version of Goro.
“We will now be defending combos from Rodny. Remember, he is over 300 lbs, so even though VR is painless, if he hits you, you die….”
“Man, fuck you! I’m 290!”
Now those that were paying attention may have realized “wait Hen, didn’t you say there were five founders?” Well, the fifth one recently had to beat the fuck out of someone who thought he was an easy target.
The rest of us? Noah (the Black dude who promised to shove his foot up a racist’s ass when boba liberals were gaslighting us) serves in the army. There’s Joe, who nicknamed himself “Joe The Jew” that I met at Evolution who ran his own MMA club in college.
What about the ladies at my club back in the day? Well, there’s the ones from Evolution, an ex-rugby player, an ex-dancer, one who joined our class as one of her many workouts of the day and one who gives as much fucks about being socially appropriate outside of work as I do (I don’t).
In addition to the representation issue, I also needed to address the common perception of self-defense (particularly for women) in the outside world that I found disturbingly primitive.
“So, I was at this self-defense seminar and the guy teaching was like if you’re a woman, just get pepper spray”
“Do they show you how to deploy tool effectively like this?”
(demonstrates motion where one strikes eyes/throat and draw out weapon simultaneously)
“Do they make you drill or do any live training?”
“What about de-escalating safely?”
“That is very dangerous…but not for the assailant”
I continued the same MMA training since it developed the necessary foundation and since we needed techniques to safely practice on each other in the event we could do in person training.
However, in response to our new needs, I also began explicitly teaching “sport-illegal” variations of MMA techniques including using the Thai Boxing long guard to eye gouge and repeated stomps to the neck of a downed opponent after a takedown as well as how to bludgeon and impale people with “weapons of opportunity.”
I made it clear these methods were reserved for “phase 3 scenarios” and that unwarranted use would result in automatic expulsion from our club (and presumably homicide charges, but what do I know? I’m not a lawyer). Furthermore, much of the more vulnerable population typically gravitate away from MMA training due to various misconceptions about combat sports and their own limitations.
Therefore, I reverse engineered what I studied about learning & behavior from my Psy.D. classes (particularly information processing theory and social cognitive theory) to change what they had been socialized to believe to more adaptive schemas, creating a world where this form of training was normalized for those that needed it.
The foundation of this was our three-phase protocol, that I would introduce this each weekend:
“Some people say that martial arts is about not fighting, some say martial arts is about fighting, others say that martial arts is about killing. At DCC, you are expected to become proficient at all three. Not all self-defense situations are the same, and we conceptualize it as a three-phase protocol, it dictates your behavior outside or training and the rationale of your training. The first phase is de-escalation. Your opponent may be better trained, they may have COVID-19, or they may have a blade. Make every attempt to avoid the situation to avoid harm. When that is no longer feasible, it is time for the second phase, fighting. Much like the sport of MMA, there is an emphasis on both physical exertion and technical precision. The final phase warrants the use of homicidal methods. There will be situations where in order to save your life, or the life of another, you will absolutely, positively, need to kill a motherfucker. We will focus most of our training on phase 2, it is physically and mentally demanding and provides you with the foundation for all three phases. So even if you never plan to step into the ring or the rage, this is the sacrifice you will need to make in order to survive these difficult times. Many of you will have questions such as, can’t I just run away, can’t I kick him in the nuts? Can’t I just stab him? Yes to all, and we will address that in the later parts of training.”
Consequently, I changed DCC’s description from a martial arts program to a self-defense program and I also trained my fiancee who herself survived her own hate attack and had her demonstrate some techniques in front of everyone, shocking our female trainees with no prior training who would later on embody the idea that women becoming metaphor was not a fantasy, but a fact of life. Ideas such as this do not require a conversation, but rather a demonstration.
These changes created progress that nobody expected. People, including women, with no competitive aspirations developed basic fighting skills quickly, mainly in unarmed combat but also use of everyday objects, from lysol can, pens, television remote, flashlights and even fleshlights.
This also resulted in numerous complaints from beginners that they were unable to walk the next day (mostly due to our infamous wrestling drills). I smiled upon hearing my trainees tell me stories about how they taught their mother how to de-escalate, throw Thai-style elbow strikes and how to impale their attacker with a pen.
We were not always successful in training our loved ones. Some Asian American trainees reported that their parents felt they were exempt from anti-Asian racism because they were not Chinese. As for my own mother, let’s just say what we do remains a little too extreme for her tastes.
DCC was a covert initiative for its first six months in that nobody outside understood the true reason for our existence. People just assumed we were getting together for the purposes of uhh…health or something.
That was until an accidental disclosure from my end. As I was running DCC, I was also part of a student support group called FOOD. With my gigantic appetite, I got catfished there by a classmate named Tori, who has one of the biggest hearts I know and is also a passionate advocate for the disability community.
Much to my disappointment when I first joined, there was no actual food there. It was just titled “Focus on Our Diversity.” There I met more wonderful people, including Radwa who spearheaded some necessary changes for our school to better support Black students during the Black Lives Matter movement. One day I disclosed to Radwa about our experiences with anti-Asian racism and the depths I had to go to deal with it while the world was silent. I made sure I wasn’t minimizing anyone’s suffering by minimizing my own. That did not stop Radwa or the rest of them from being horrified. Their reaction taught me that Asian Americans were actually human.
“Chad, I told my classmates what we’ve been going through…they’re horrified”
“That’s great! Not the violence or horror part, but as in great that people can care if they knew. So this is just, lack of information”
“Yeah, I can’t believe people would actually care”
We had a long conversation about the relationship between politics, social media, peoples’ perceptions and behavior as well as the horrific future of Asian Americans if we allowed things to continue in this current trajectory.
These events led me to make a speech that publicly revealed the existence of DCC as well as anti-Asian racism. The wave of support from students and faculty from all backgrounds (except for the occasional 金頭猴 sympathizer) demonstrated that as long as one spoke from a place of concern for those they love, that one can speak up against the silence on anti-Asian racism without being anti-Black.
After my speech, one of my professors, Dr. Riley, shared my message that would eventually be spread to thousands of people. I also connected with They Can’t Burn Us All who had a similar ideology to our club (except they marched in the streets as we operated in the shadows.)
Our club also interfaced with community based self-defense organizations to help normalize our ideology and methodology amongst the vulnerable.
This is how I befriended Lorraine who further expanded on our de escalation tactics while she would study our more violent methods to better arm the women, femme and LGBTQ population she served that had been experiencing violent assaults long before COVID-19.
Not all organizations have gotten back to me, either because either my ideology and methods may be a little too extreme for their tastes, or they have gotten a little too busy. The example of the latter being an initiative set up by a Black Lives Matter organizer to walk people from subways back home.
That initiative started due to attacks against women in Bushwick. They are in the process of setting up teams for Chinatown due to Anti-Asian attacks and Harlem (due to more attacks against women) as I write this story. Many schoolmates interviewed me, with a slip of tongue that accidentally dubbed DCC a “modern-day ninja clan,” a term that will stick for a while.
“You have a decade of martial arts training?”
“I’m actually not that good myself, don’t even consider myself a professional or expert. Yes I got trained by some of the best which ended up saving my life, but it was on and off. Took 2020 racism to get me the work ethic I needed.”
“And you’re a doctoral student who runs a tech company during the day, the latter that funds your martial arts training as a way to deal with anti-Asian hate crimes. So basically, you’re Batman.”
“It does really make me think, what is an Asian American who doesn’t have all those resources or training supposed to do in this situation?”
“This is why we exist.”
The interviews I gave to my schoolmates, including Emily, a fellow FOOD member, DCC trainee who helped spread awareness for infographics against anti-Asian hate crimes, gave me a chance to organize the insane sequence of events that would come in handy later. My fiancee also had this wonderful idea to play Among Us each week, which we still do to this very day, so we could socialize and take a break from the violence.
In addition, our club also met each week to review footage of attacks we were preparing ourselves against (from random anti-Asian attacks to “protests” that death cult, to that last “protest” that mainstream media finally had the fucking balls to call a terrorist attack) to determine how to evolve our training program, process current events (typically entailing the shit coming out of 金絲猴’s ass that showered our nation that week).
Joe would later tell me that DCC’s new programmatic changes reminded him of the stories his grandfathers told him about random civilians being trained to fight Nazis in Europe. We would also be figuring out who to recruit:
“Remember it’s everyone versus racism. We’re looking for BIPOC from any group that meets our criteria that really need it to survive against the fucking death cult, so obviously, no anti-maskers, no trumpanzees”
“Umm..about that…I disowned all of them already”
“As a reminder, just because they’re anti-Trump doesn’t mean they’re appropriate for our program”
“O yeah I was thinking about the guy that was like who cares about Asians, they never did anything for us”
“Ooo I know who you’re talking about!”
“Tanner brought up a good example of how a person who may share our political views, does not share our ethical views.”
“So fuck him, if he dies, he dies…”
Also, just in case people didn’t get that last reference.
If you think that’s cold, I’d like to remind you about the origins of my club’s slogan: I had a friend who was equally enraged as I was when somebody named Henry Cheng along with his grandparents were brutally attacked, leaving his grandmother laying on the tracks resulting in all three of them hospitalized.
My former friend went on a rant about “the ghetto race” and refused to rectify his errors despite multiple attempts at explanation (from mutual friends and I0 that slurs were not just an offense to one person, but all people in that group including my customers and friends.
So I publicly disowned him, recruited the survivor into my club, announced my actions and proclaimed that in times of rage, that we commit ourselves to become the solution.
Just like how Itachi “sacrificed” (murdered) his friend to gain special eye powers, but I “sacrificed” (publicly executed, but metaphorically) a racist motherfucker for our club’s slogan. By the way, Henry Cheng’s attacker wasn’t even black.
Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration marked the end of the 45 saga. Amanda Gorman’s beautiful poem offered the country some closure. As an Asian American whose suffering remained invisible to the country, I was shocked how well she conveyed how I felt, even if she may have had no idea what people like me had gone through. Many cried as I merely breathed much easier, making me wonder if my lack of tears made me atypical. It was time for the nation to heal.
That is unless you were Asian American.
Anti-Asian attacks became progressively violent. Furthermore, a very callous tweet by somebody named Eileen Huang surfaced, causing one side to ignore/defend her erasure of anti-Asian racism and the other side to engage in some inexcusable death threats as well as misogynistic and transphobic attacks.
To help people understand the root of the rage while simultaneously hoping people would become more principled with such rage, I wrote the story “Ninja Squads & Love” based on my previous interviews to explain how the alleged Asian American anti-racists were actual puppets of white supremacy and the distinction between sharing political views (which we shared) and ethical views (which we clearly did not share).
The story helped many individuals see the big picture, find the words to convey their own suffering, and even allowed people who hated the word “privilege” that was previously weaponized to justify our suffering to understand the importance of such dialogue. I had no intention of my story being used in academia and left all my obscenities in there.
Nevertheless, some professors loved it enough to teach it in their class due to what some called a “well-summarized narrative of multiple intersecting systems of oppression.” I was also stunned that another professor I have much respect for called me a role model for activists for fellow graduate students for two reasons.
First it gave more closure to the incident that sent me on a downward spiral eight years ago. Second, I never saw myself as an activist, just a person who believed that martial arts belongs to the (right) people and that violent problems require violent solutions.
As my story spread, I realized I was never alone. I met Max Leung, lifelong practitioner of Jeet Kune Do, leader of the San Francisco Peace Collective in Chinatown who also protested for Black Lives. I also met a social worker from San Francisco with twenty years of MMA training that I’ll just refer to as “Yoda.”
It turns out after my club had discovered the power of empathy and solidarity in fighting racism (partially through martial arts) after a long and arduous journey the same way Christopher Columbus discovered America, we didn’t. It’s just that white supremacy keeps fucking erasing that shit.
I realized that I was merely one of many people who used their martial arts background to create social change and build interracial solidarity. I learned that there was a day when it was the norm for marginalized groups to fight for one another instead of against one another.
I learned about the Bandung Conference, the Third World Liberation Front as well as the frequent use of PsyOps (psychological operations) to perpetuate division between marginalized groups.
The most common was perpetuating hatred in one marginalized group against another and disguising it was empowerment.
These actions disconnected my community from the Civil Rights movement. Consequently, Asian Americans were considered either perpetual foreigners and “good” minorities, or the people who enjoyed benefits of white supremacy by oppressing of Black Americans by financially exploiting them.
Max Leung and the San Francisco Peace Collective
Furthermore, a friend of our late co-founder named Jon who was a science teacher and long-time Pekiti Tirsia Kali practitioner, joined as our weapons specialist. I began to pick up Pekiti-Tirsia Kali in Mid 2020 and consequently, only felt comfortable demonstrating the first two angles for weapons strikes. After Jon joined our cause, we expanded to five angles for beginners and twelve angles for more experienced practitioners.
Furthermore, we integrated many new concepts that were invaluable for saving lives and “terminating” our assailants. I also began remotely training with a longtime martial artist Conrad Bui (co-founder of Tiga Tactics), who refined my weapons skills and taught us our mindset:
During the last Sunday of January, my mom and grandma received a last minute appointment to get their COVID-19 vaccine. I originally was not going to go until I realized where they were getting the vaccine: Bensonhurst. Bensonhurst was literally where the burn of They Can’t Burn Us All came from when an elderly Chinese American lady was set on fire. Letting my mother and grandmother go alone wouldn’t sit well on my conscience, so I packed my EDC and let Tanner and Jon teach until I returned home. After all, what was the worst that can happen? Well, I returned during the middle of practice to watch our newest genin in the middle of getting shanked by a random dude.
Fortunately, that random dude was our trainee’s live-in boyfriend. Turns out that they were able to take care of our beginners quite well while I was gone.
I believed it was finally time for me to also step away from being vocal about Anti-Asian racism to focus on school, running my business and on training the next generation ninja with the help of those around me. The latter was still necessary as we felt as if we were living in a martial arts movie rather than a Disney movie where the sun would shine, or a Marvel movie where we wield the Infinity Gauntlet to snap our fingers to make all the violent racism magically disappear. In the meantime, others would use our story to create a future that would normalize mutual understanding, unity and solidarity. I went to sleep, knowing that it was time for the country to heal, including Asian Americans.
The next morning at 3AM, I woke up for what was going to be another random trip to the toilet. As I sat down, I checked the discord for They Can’t Burn Us All and noticed another hate crime. I wondered “What was going to be the worst that could happen?” After all, I’ve been training people how to defend themselves against this violence for the last 10 months. That was the wrong question because I watched that 84 year old Thai-American named Vichar Ratanapakdee get murdered as his head was violently shoved to the concrete floor. I was broken and sick to my stomach for the next 3 days, attending classes as a shell of myself.
“You and grandma will receive your 2nd dose of vaccine in 4 weeks. However, you are not allowed to leave the house until I provide you with some training. Antonieta already went through this. You may say this is not something you want to do, but that is not up for debate. This is from what I saw last night, and how it’s a pattern of what’s going on.”
“Did another Asian get beat up in the news?”
“No, he was killed. Think about what I’ll need to have you two do as I go back to doing my schoolwork”
Watching footage of subsequent near fatal attacks on the elderly from the Bay Area (as well as New York City), sometimes multiple times a day, did not help. The first two weeks of February 2021 would be a memorable week for Asian Americans with a conscience who did not have their heads buried up their rectum.
By memorable, I mean in a truly fucked up way. The silence, gaslighting and excuses by Asian Americans (pejoratively known as Boba Liberals) whose heads were still buried in their own bullshit while people who looked like our families were being beaten left and right was deafening.
There were claims that anybody who brought attention to anti-Asian hate crimes were pro-police and anti-Black to silence us. The so-called Asian Americans anti-racists made zero acknowledgements for the wave of hate crimes (or its horror) for almost two weeks, but cared to make extra efforts to remind us that police and anti-blackness were bad.
I realized while I was never alone, that there were too few of us, because American institutions “educated” too many Asian Americans to become some of the most useless motherfuckers on this planet when it came to anti-racism. At this point, they might as well have told us that water was wet.
It took literally all the psychology doctoral students from FOOD to mentally stitch the pieces of me back together. The same student who interviewed me read our story and told me that she noticed that with every tragedy, DCC found a way to come back stronger.
I watched many brave volunteers, including a family friend turned speech language pathologist with no combat training decide that enough was enough. I saw brave heroes including a man named Jacob Azevedo plan to patrol the streets with nothing but his dog, only to have hundreds to join him later.
A Chicano paramilitary unit known as Brown Berets with a history of protecting their community from hate crimes, marching for protests for DACA and against children in cages and other civil rights movements announced they would protect our elderly because that is what is right. This was in addition to people such as Max Leung who had been doing this all along.
They all planned to go into the streets, to take the safety of the vulnerable into their hands. I breathed normally again upon realizing the echoes across the country of what I believed all along:
In the absence of hope, purpose is what keeps me going. Metaphorically arming these heroes with the means to survive and help others survive, along with the rest of my club mantra, was that new purpose.
A post on Instagram to the brave volunteers and a message to the world about the dire nature of anti-Asian racism.
My club had a new decree: we would train two members of every volunteer patrol team that fit our ideology in both New York City as well as the Bay Area. Technology gave us the means to metaphorically arm people on the other side of the country.
Instead of arguing with boba liberals I would document my actions and host IG live talks with an activist and DCC trainee Arlene about what we could do to survive difficult times, because our need for survival was not a conversation, but a demonstration.
In a time we were drenched knee deep in the blood of our brothers, sisters and elders as those who were supposed to represent us in the ivory tower yelled down at us to reflect on our sins, we built bridges and started people on the same journey of martial arts that saved lives and made us who we were today. As solidarity became a new hashtag, I changed my club’s colors to what had been in our hearts all along.
We changed our colors from Blue to Black, Brown & Gold to reflect how we were about solidarity long before it was a hashtag.
I trained our new heroes with fear for their safety given their limited training as well as awe of their bravery and progress in limited time. A week into the hate crime spree in both the Bay Area and New York City (mostly the former), and a year after we had been violently assaulted en masse for our ethnicity, mainstream media finally broke the silence thanks to the collective work of so many people (that I took a minor part of).
America had finally discovered violent anti-Asian hate crimes the same way Christopher Columbus discovered America, it didn’t. It’s just that white supremacy kept fucking erasing this shit all year. Social activists from all groups came together to denounce anti-Asian racism.
I noticed Black American activists articulate what we were going through and that everyone, regardless of their own background, are potentially complicit in perpetuating white supremacy (including anti-Asian racism) and that we need to fight multiple forms of racism concurrently in a manner that Asian Americans had failed to do in the past.
Most boba liberals finally changed their tune, sharing posts to pretend they were not part of the problem all along. I could finally step down from being vocal as there would finally be others who would be vocal to defend what should’ve never been up for debate in the first place: our humanity.
That weekend, three of the many brave volunteers began their combat training (remotely) at DCC, including one of the two Brown Berets at my club.
Many have asked me what has led to all this?
Systemic oppression that engenders white supremacy is enforced by educating people to think absolutes even for moments that require nuances. It is enforced when people believe they are fighting one form of oppression without realizing their perpetuation of another only makes things worse.
It is enforced by having people learn only about differences that set us apart while forgetting that we must learn in order to better bring us together in a genuine manner.
It is enforced by a culture that promotes using the knowledge of privilege to criticize the privilege as social credit rather than using such knowledge to help those who actually suffer.
It is enforced by telling people about the unjust hierarchy that they must end while neglecting the human element of hate that makes people emotionally committed to enforcing it and the importance of empathy in counteracting it.
It is enforced by an institution that provides knowledge, but fails to provide wisdom.
It is enforced by an institution that fails to acknowledge that they have the luxury of having conversations on social media about privilege when our safety and humanity is endangered without empathy, requiring people like us to become the solution.
About a year ago, the system called white supremacy gave me two convenient choices back in the day: pretend there was no need to be angry as people like my family burned or turn my rage into hatred against my friends. It took away the words for the choice I made, leading to a long, difficult and seemingly lonely journey. In retrospect I’ve realized that I was never alone, and that our actions collectively told that system to go fuck itself in the ass with a durian.
Dear my non-Asian readers: This is a durian.
Lunar New Year was supposed to be a time of celebration for Asian American families. Despite all my years of martial arts training and ability to turn anything into a joke, I was frightened for some of my trainees as well as the people they were protecting.
I wrote a desperate plea to faculty and other students that my school needed to take action to not just fight anti-Asian racism, but to find ways to fight racism against all marginalized groups concurrently since our futures are intertwined. This email got forwarded to administration. I detailed the severity of hate crimes and also the steps I had been taking to detail on the lengths I had been doing to keep others safe and to drive those who shared my rage away from hatred of other marginalized groups.
I begged them to take actions not just for the sake of Asian Americans, but all marginalized groups since our futures were intertwined. My BIPOC schoolmates from other ethnic groups acknowledged that the Asian American students were either traumatized, stressed, or literally preparing people to fight a war against racism, quickly diverted mental health resources to supporting Asian American communities and organized meetings to help process and help our institutions take action. My email had got their attention, perhaps a little too much attention. Long story short, I learned the hard way not to include the words “lethal means that horrify my own fiancee” or “paramilitary” in a professional email anymore.
I spoke to Mr. Azevedo when he initially announced he would patrol Oakland alone with his dog and offered to train him remotely at my club. He declined saying that he had already learned martial arts from his father but would get back to me on sending me two of his members. According to a news article on CNN weeks later, hundreds of people have joined him.
After two long and tiring weeks, I was reunited with the love of my life who I had not seen since the capitol hill attacks on Valentine’s Day. Let’s just say this reunion was the best thing for my mental health this year. The day before, I had told parts of this story to Nelly and Juno from Two Addys and a Coffee podcast who focuses on sharing stories about neurodivergent Asian Americans about my experiences as an autistic prepared me for the war against racism. I also ran a public self-defense seminar on IG Live as a fundraiser against anti-Asian hate crimes. At the same time, people from all backgrounds rallied together in Oakland to condemn anti-Asian hate crimes and to join together in fighting all forms of racism.
I smiled to see my vision that was long relegated to the shadows become reality across the country in addition to mainstream media ending the silence. Marginalized groups who understood their differences and at the same time realized it was time to come together because of what we shared in common, that our futures are intertwined. I smiled upon seeing footage of some of our trainees on the ground in the rally and patrolling to protect the vulnerable . My fiance shared my joy as we hugged each other.
“Wow aren’t you proud of what you’ve done?”
“It’s what we’ve done. We did our small part. That’s all we can do. This is just the beginning.”
I posted this photo with pride seeing people getting together, including one of the Brown Berets that trained at DCC. This creeped out Max a bit.
During my next meeting at FOOD, I asked the other students if they heard about the Oakland Unity Rally. Only Radwa nodded, because not only had she become a member of DCC, but she had been checking in frequently to see if I was doing okay. This was no surprise, because when it comes to marginalized groups coming together, white supremacy really fucking loves to erase that shit. I know what this erasure leads to: people from marginalized groups refusing to stand up for one another by claiming “they’ve never been here for us.” We’ve already heard this lie so many times.
You may be familiar with the phase: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This time, it’s not the system or the people in power who are verbalizing the lie. While the Infinity Gauntlet only exists in reality as a metaphor, they are the ones who wield it. All they need to do is shape peoples’ perception of reality, leading people from marginalized groups to repeat that lie and do the dirty work for them.
This is a war that also requires building bridges along with the constant self-reflection of one’s thoughts and actions against the constant erasure and all forms of hatred. I
t’s about creating relationships about different people working together while acknowledging their differences and amplifying such narratives as much as it is about sharpening your hands every day.
It’s about being genuine with your anger as much as it is about being principled with your rage.
It’s about putting humanity and ethics before politics.
It’s about realizing this is the war we must wage collectively for the generations to come, even if there will be times that you will need to wage it alone.
It may only take one person to start a fire, but at the end of the day, it takes a village to make a permanent mark in our world for the better.
“I got a lot of people congratulating me, although of course, this is not me, it’s all of us”
“Yay, we did it, we ended the silence”
“Only after like what? One year? All this violence?”
“Yeah and we’re still getting fucked up out there, and dying out there”
“All this work just to become a popular hashtag”
“Wifey says we’ll need to be doing this for years to come. For the days we’re still a trending hashtag, and the days we’re not.”
For me, that means continuing to play my role in training the next generation ninja every day when the sun sets as I continue to help others in my profession when the sun rises.
I know it means more than just telling my kid what to read or what to say. That being said, given my track record of being too graphic with my emails and advocating for sodomizing white supremacy with durians, I’m clearly not the best role model for proper speech.
It means telling my kid that mom made all these women, despite whatever obstacles they face in learning martial arts that I will never experience, realize how powerful they could become, setting the example for the world to see.
It means telling my kid that in an era where society used Black Americans as an excuse to be silent about our suffering, that it was Aunt Radwa who led me on a journey to end the silence on anti-Asian hate crimes. That in a time many Asian Americans vilified Black Americans for their problems, that it was my Black schoolmates who fought for institutional change since I was busy training others to protect the vulnerable.
It means telling my kid that the people that 金頭猴 called criminals, rapists and murderers to jumpstart his presidential campaign included the very people who assembled together to protect our elderly who were violently assaulted, as the world remained silent.
It means telling my kid that people vocally claiming to fight white supremacy are also the ones who perpetuate it with their actions. This is why we exist.
It means telling people that advocating for a group of people does not mean pretending they’re not fucked up, that you do it because it’s the right thing to do, because peoples’ humanity is not up for debate.
It means telling people that the price for waiting for a higher power to call out something that is blatantly wrong before you finally do what is right, involves the lives of innocent people.
It means telling people that this war against white supremacy does not merely entail the termination of assailants or censorship based on superficial ideas, but the termination of toxic deficit-based narratives to replace them with more strength-based, nuanced and humane ones.
“As we’re figuring out when to finally meet to discuss the logistics of our….partnership, a few of my members have taken the liberty of signing up for the Chinatown and Harlem team on their own. I am quite disgusted to learn about the attacks on women in Harlem.”
“Sorry we keep delaying our meeting, the news wanted to speak to me last minute”
“No worries, once you get to know me, you’ll see I understand quite well what it’s like to be busy”
“So Hen, which of these are your people?”
“These two. They’ve been training long before my club’s existence. It’s a pleasure having them at my club, and Chinatown will be lucky to have them.”
As an autistic living in a neurotypical world, I’ve learned that the termination of primitive narratives to make place for more humanistic ones requires more than just a conversation, it requires a demonstration.