Fighter (Part 1)
Every entrepreneur is a fighter.
For me, it all started with my terrible asthma attacks. To get my asthma under control, a French doctor suggested my mother adopt a counter-intuitive approach—encourage me to be very active physically, which would ultimately expand my lungs. She took his advice literally, and this led to a heavy diet of sports.
As my fifth birthday drew nearer, so did my excitement because I would not only receive a Smarties marble cake but also start martial arts lessons at Ikoyi Club (a country club in Ikoyi, an upscale suburb of Lagos). A couple of months before my first day, I watched Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master every chance I got on our Sony Betamax video player. Even though I idolized Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan’s character, Wong, was my hero.
The day I had been waiting for finally came. It was a rainy Saturday morning in April 1979. I wore my spanking white Shotokan Karate uniform with white belt and a pair of rubber slippers. African parents believe kids should grow into their clothes so my outfit was slightly big. As we drove from Yaba to Ikoyi, I distinctly remember replaying in my head, the training scene where Wong is practicing the Eight Drunken Immortals.
At the end of training, the teacher or Sensei as we called him paired students to fight. He paired me with a boy who was a yellow belt. As the Sensei said kumite, which means spar in Japanese, I immediately went into character, acting as though I was drunk, kicking and punching in the air while making cat-like sounds. For the first few seconds, my opponent seemed confused while everyone else was silent but with mouth open. Then almost on cue, everyone, including my opponent, burst out laughing hysterically. I stopped in the middle of a spinning kick and stood perplexed. It was not a great start.
However, by eleven, I was a brown belt in Karate and a green belt in Judo. Growing up, I had a short temper, lacked the flight gene, and if I’m being honest, liked fighting. I would never start a fight, but I would certainly not back out of one. My main trigger was injustice. I hated bullies. Although I had won many tournaments, I was yet to be tested on the mean streets of Lagos.
I remember going to play table tennis at Ikoyi Prison against some tough neighborhood kids whose parents were prison wardens. We placed bets to intensify the competition. I played a game against Jamiyu who was fifteen and considered an ajepako, a street-smart rugged person who didn’t grow up with privileges. I beat him for the first time, and I was excited that all my extra practice had paid off. I won 50 Kobo (42 Cents). To my surprise, Jamiyu refused to pay and called me an ajebutter (opposite of ajepako). I took offence to this label and threatened to collect my money with interest if I had to use force. All the kids present started laughing and chanting, “Ajebutter! Ajebutter!” This enraged me, so I had no choice but to prove them wrong and reintroduce myself.
While I was facing the chanting crowd, Jamiyu jumped me. A brief scuffle ensued and Tijani, his older brother, encouraged him to deal with me. I stumped on his toe with my heel and escaped his chokehold. With a three-quick-strike combination (left leg sweep, right hand throat punch, and axe kick to the top of his head) he was on the ground gasping for air. Not satisfied, I jumped on top of him screaming, “Who is the ajebutter now?”
Eyes, bloodshot, Tijani charged at me with a rusty bread knife. Luckily, he announced his approach by shouting, “So you think you can do karat, I will kill you today!” I sprang into a fighting position and used my left arm to block his right-hand knife thrust. Stepping away from him, I pulled his right hand over my left shoulder and as I spun, using his momentum, I rolled him over my right shoulder. As he landed on his side, I came behind him and immediately put him in a two-hand headlock with both my legs wrapped around his torso. Because he was sixteen, muscular, and much bigger than I was, I knew it would be an effective move. I pulled with all my strength until I could not feel any more struggling. I pushed him off me and sprung back up to fighting stance.
“Anyone else want to fight an ajebutter?” I yelled.
Everyone was quiet and stared in disbelief. There was blood on the sand and two of the most feared ajepakos were lying on the ground.
The adrenaline started leaving my system as I became aware that the knife was still stuck in my left arm. The blood was mine, and it was everywhere. I pulled out the knife, and someone helped me use his shirt to tie my bleeding arm. I thanked him, calmly walked over to Jamiyu and then Tijani, ransacked their pockets, and collected 1 Naira (84 Cents). Waving my money at the crowd, I stated that I had promised to collect what was owed me with interest and was keeping my word. Then I promised to return the following week to play with them.
No one in that neighborhood ever called me Ajebutter again.
I don’t fight on the streets anymore, but I’m certain I can defend myself. Here are 5 tacit lessons about the entrepreneurial fighting spirit we can glean from my story.
1. See the opportunity in the challenge.
– My mother fought my asthma with my active lifestyle.
2. Get professional help.
– I got martial arts lessons. You can learn online free of charge.
3. Feed your passion/ find your why.
– My trigger was injustice. What’s yours?
4. Take calculated risks.
– Although my opponents were bigger and had brute strength, I had the skills to win. Where can you step out and win?
5. Don’t leave money on the table.
– In loan terms, Jamiyu was principal; Tijani was interest and their egos were default interest.
So, tell me your ‘fighter’ stories. I would love to hear them!