How learning to box taught me what it really means to be a fighter.

As seen in Ali: A Life by Jonathan Eig

I am obsessed with Muhammad Ali. My father’s name is Moghamat, a derivative of the same name albeit the South African version with Dutch pronunciation and English transliteration. Unlike Muhammad Ali, that is my father’s real name and he didn’t have a Cassius Clay before-life, which he could outgrow and transcend. There are few people in the world who do not know Muhammad Ali and of those fewer still who do not admire what he stood for. I don’t know if my obsession is a birthright — born to a Moghamat, perhaps it isn’t hard to love another one. Their name, incidentally, isn’t the only thing they have in common. My father wasn’t a boxer, but he was a fighter.

Before I started boxing, I was disturbed by the idea of bludgeoning another human for sport. But I liked the choreography, the dance around the ring. I liked the fluidity, the way that boxers moved. This is what had drawn me in. I want to master that, I thought. I want to move like a boxer. It had never been my intention to fight like one. Not at first.

When I first moved to Timor in late 2018, I had heard there was a boxing trainer who did classes for expats. His name was Abilio Orlando. As I would later learn, like most Timorese and especially those from the district of Los Palos, he had two names — one official one and one that he went by. To his friends and family in Los Palos he was raised as Makarso. The name he fought under and the name that won him several titles in Timor and abroad was Abilio.

When I started training with Abilio, I didn’t know how to explain why I wanted to box. It was a sport and a domain I felt I had no right to be in. It turns out I didn’t need to explain, as Abilio and I shared no common language. Long-term this worked to my benefit, because a trainer who can’t understand your excuses definitely won’t accept them.

During my very first session, Abilio had spent what felt like 15 minutes intricately wrapping my hands. He had sold me a pair of blue Everlast wraps fresh out of the pack and they had cost more than what I was paying him for an hour of training. To this day my wraps have to be blue and I own multiple identical pairs. I didn’t realise it at the time but this would be my first introduction into boxing psyche — the ritual that comes with performance.

The remainder of my first session was spent primarily on footwork. Variations of the boxer’s stance, one leg in front of the other. Positions 1, 2, 3 and 4. As a right-handed boxer, I stood with my left leg in front and my right foot just behind it — otherwise known in boxing jargon as “Orthodox”. Left-handed boxers and their stance are both generally referred to as “Southpaw”, their right leg in front and their left behind. Moving through these positions and having every part of my body corrected, from my posture to the direction my toes were pointed, to the way I held my hands and the angle of my shoulders — I felt like a dancer being trained under scrutiny. I hoped that by the end of it I would actually be able to move like one.

When I was a kid, I fantasised about being a ballerina. Like most girls, the pageantry was as appealing to me as the discipline itself. As I got older, I did not outgrow my love for dance, though the thrill of tuille and ribbons began to lose their appeal. I would watch Hollywood movies set in dance academies, eventually progressing to documentaries set in Russia depicting the rigorous and demanding world of professional ballet. The thing that drew me in more than the beauty of performance was the ugly side of the journey it took to get there. The discipline, the training, the singularly focused ambition. Beauty comes at a cost. A professional dancer’s life was one of blood, sweat and tears. Making it to the top was not about talent, it was about tenacity. A dancer’s career may start with the body, but its deciding factor is mental strength.

This principle applies to any athlete but feels more pronounced in solo sports. In the absence of a team, the mind plays an arguably greater role. In my very first boxing session with Abilio after spending almost half an hour on footwork, I began to wonder why he had wrapped my hands if I was only going to be moving my legs. Eventually in the last few minutes of our session he took out a pair of worn boxing mitts and told me we were going to do “pad work”. He lent me a pair of 12-ounce boxing gloves, which I slipped on over the wraps and he slowly guided me through my very first punches. “Jab” — a left-hand punch and what Abilio calls a “strike” (also referred to as a “straight” or a “cross”) — a right-hand punch that draws power through momentum. The position of your feet is crucial to the way you utilize your arms. Both with Orthodox and Southpaw stance, the positioning allows the boxer’s dominant hand to move through the body and land with maximum force. This, generally, is the strike or the cross. The jab is faster, a shorter punch delivered with the snap and speed of a spring. “One, two” Abilio commanded. Jab, strike. Over and over again. Repetition was a key training method that Abilio employed and it was one on which I came to depend. It was fundamental to making movements that weren’t at all natural to me, look and seem like they were. “One, two”. Jab, strike. It was absurd to me how much I had begun to sweat. One, two. I could feel the heat rising through my scalp and my blood pulsing through the skin of my temples. One, two. I began to lose the strength in my arms. One, two. The next thing I lost was my concentration. One, two and I had forgotten how to punch. “Jab! Strike!”, Abilio commanded. The next thing to go was my stance. “Footwork!” Abilio yelled as I began to stumble, lunging desperately at the mitts. One, two. Jab, strike. Do this in repetition for a three minute round in your very first boxing session and you are officially K.O. without having ever faced an opponent. The lesson to learn here, whether you are a novice or a pro: there is no greater adversary than your own physical and mental limits.

Learning to overcome the limitations that my mind set for my body was the greatest gift that Abilio ever gave me. Although this learning curve took place over the good part of a year, it was evident that he was teaching this to me from the very beginning. Every time I would reach breaking point, he would ask more of me. Or rather, every time I thought I was reaching my breaking point, he knew better.

Abilio ended every session with sit-ups. At first it was forty and I could barely manage with him holding my feet down. Twenty sit-ups with straight legs and fists held to my chin. Twenty sit-ups with knees bent, hands at my face ready to punch and on every “up”, a jab and strike. One, two. I dreaded the mandatory sit-ups that signified the end of a session. After a few months, the sit-ups had become the easiest part of my training and I would look forward to doing them as a warm-down exercise. I increased the frequency of my training from two times a week to three times a week and the sit-ups stopped being difficult for me altogether. Four or five months later I remember getting dressed one morning in front of a mirror and was astounded to see a faint, vertical line forming at the top of my abdomen.

Growing up, I was told I looked like my father. My mother, being of a different ethnicity and skin colour to him, did not factor into that equation. My father had dark skin and so did I, therefore he was the one I resembled — or at least that was the sentiment repeated to me both by people who knew us and people who didn’t. My father left South Africa in 1982, escaping a regime that segregated races from one another. Although it is commonly believed that under Apartheid people were ranked by the colour of their skin, there were in fact multiple “non-white” ethnicities that existed in South Africa at the time and they were all equally separated from each other, allocated to districts and legally forbidden to mix. Apartheid in Afrikaans translates literally to “apartness”.

When my father arrived in Australia, he began to alter the spelling of his name from Mogamat to Moghamat. This was to make it easier for English speakers to pronounce it. The letter “g” in Dutch and in Afrikaans is a guttural and harsh sounding “k”. To phoneticize this in English where no such sound exists, my father opted to add an “h” — after all, it was derived from the name Muhammad. Maybe his relocation and the respelling of his own name really was as transformative as a boxer entering the world stage and assuming a fight name. Cassius Clay, however, chose the name Muhammad Ali to tell the world who he wanted to be. My father chose Moghamat to make it easier for the rest of the world to tell him who he was.

Later as an adult when I began to weave narratives, I came to think of Apartheid as my father’s origin story. He grew up in a country where racism was institutionalized, where those who held the power used it to suppress people who looked like we did. Even in my earliest years, through the innocent lens of childhood and the adoration for my parents that came with it, I could sense my father’s disdain for authority. He was a law-abiding citizen and a hard-worker but every now and then you could detect his spirit of rebellion. My father worked in the same job for over twenty years. One day I came home after school to find him sitting in the living room. He told me he had lost his job. When I asked him what had happened, he said there had been an irresolvable conflict between him and his boss. There were workers that were being discriminated against and my father had come to their defence. Apparently, he had lost his job trying to stick up for them. The details of this event remain vague to me even after all these years, but I never forgot my father’s side of the story: that he had been willing to bear the consequences for doing what he thought was right.

As a second generation South African growing up in Australia, I realised my father’s life was never going to be easy. He was used to living it with the odds stacked against him. From marrying my mother, who came from a different country and culture, to earning a living using his hands as his primary instrument, to putting down a deposit on a small flat in a safe but sombre part of Sydney — nothing came without hardship and little was won without battle. My father never complained because to him this was normal. It was almost as though he had been born to fight.

Abilio continued to train me three times a week and because I was training alone, he became more creative with our sessions, tailoring them to my changing needs. “One, two” had become standard and was my go-to combination when my arms grew heavy from fatigue. I was introduced to a hook, both with the left and with the right hand. “Elbow up”, Abilio would remind me and show me how my knuckles should be aligned horizontally when meeting his mitts. I asked him why I couldn’t punch with my fist held vertically and he simply used one finger to trace an invisible line along the length of my knuckles, saying “Like this, stronger.”

The hook was followed by the introduction of the uppercut. There were two uppercuts, one delivered to the opponent’s body and one delivered to the face. Because the only thing I was hitting was Abilio’s pads and later a heavy punching bag, it was difficult for me to distinguish between these two punches. Six months into my training and I had begun to understand that boxing alone was going to have its limits. I could increase my level of fitness, I could work fastidiously on improving my form — but I was never going to get better if I didn’t at some point face an opponent.

One of Abilio’s techniques was teaching what he calls “combinations”. A fixed set of moves made up of various punches. We had begun learning methods of defence including ducking to the left or right when he swung at me, stepping back when he lunged toward me, blocking my face, blocking my body and slipping to the right and to the left. These methods of self-defence coupled with the jab, strike, hook and uppercut made up the diversity of combinations that Abilio tried to teach me. It started with a “Right, hook, right” — a right-hand strike, followed by a left-hand hook and ending with the same right-hand strike. This increased to an “Upper, upper, hook, right” — two uppercuts, followed by a left-hand hook and a right-hand strike. Some combinations would be repeated and some 3–4 punch combinations would follow in a particular sequence, for example, a “Right, duck, right, back” would always be followed by a “Right, hook, right” and a particularly long combination would end with a “One, two”. By this stage “one, two” had simply been shortened to “two” and I was cued by Abilio holding up both mitts. I depended more and more on the repetition of these combinations, trusting that with enough practice my muscle memory would take over the job. It occurred to me one day after training that without seeing the mitts and assuming the boxer’s stance, I was unable to recall any of the combinations comprising of more than five to seven moves. Instead of being disappointed, I recognized this to be the muscle memory I had been waiting for, at once understanding that although engrained, it required a trigger.

The combinations eventually grew to up to 15 moves. There was one in particular that I had a hard time remembering. Since my very first boxing session I had always struggled to maintain my focus and concentration when tired, especially when my core temperature began to rise. Once fatigued, I found it hard to think and harder still to recall what I had been taught. My body at this point would simply take over and as my strength and fitness increased, I was able to push out my fatigue threshold. I imagined my mind was also adapting, that my stamina was relying on both my physical and mental powers. My mind, however, was always the first to give out and once it did, my body would follow soon after. The combination I had been learning went something like: “Upper, upper, upper, upper, block, upper, hook, right, back, right, hook, right, right, duck, triple jab.” It was nothing I hadn’t learned before, neither new nor overly difficult but it was 15 moves done in a particular sequence and I simply could not remember them in the right order without getting one wrong. I tried and tried again, asking to start over every time I missed a punch or forgot to block. With each failed attempt, I grew frustrated and began to doubt my mind’s ability to ever master this choreography. Later, after the session had ended, and I incoherently tried to repeat Abilio’s cues in my head, trying to memorize the combination without actually performing it, I had a sudden flashback. It was of a scene from a documentary I had watched as a kid, on a ballerina rehearsing her part in The Nutcracker. I was not a ballerina and this was not The Nutcracker but somewhere deep within me I felt strangely fulfilled, able to see a parallel between my life and that of a dancer.

Before Abilio became a trainer, he had been a national champion. Competing overseas and representing Timor-Leste, he was something of a local celebrity. At the ripe old age of 30 when I met him, four years after he had officially retired from competition, he had already moved into the category of “past legend”. When I asked him why he had stopped fighting, he told me there was little support for boxers at the time and though he had been successful and had competed overseas, by 2015 he had had children and a family to support. It is not uncommon in Timor to start a family relatively young and to have had several children before the age of 25. Abilio told me that someone from the Australian defence force, who had been posted to Timor-Leste at the time had approached him and asked if he would train him. Once asked, he said he used his own creativity to come up with a program based loosely on what his own training program had been. Abilio’s coach had been from Cuba and had trained him at the peak of his career for three years. Abilio still occasionally yells “venga!” at me while training or counts my sit-ups in Spanish — a habit likely formed during that time. His very first client, the Australian defence force personnel, marked the beginning of Abilio’s second career. He was so satisfied with his training session, he offered to pay Abilio double for the next one — ten US dollars for the hour.

I asked Abilio once how he became a boxer. He said he had always wanted to box ever since he was a child. Like most of the Timorese population, Abilio came from a history of poverty and started out in life with very little. I wondered whether his parents had been supportive of his dream, if they thought his early training would eventually pay off. When I asked him how he knew he liked boxing, he said he used to watch Mike Tyson on television and wanted to do what he was doing, copying his moves at home. That Abilio would go on to compete in Australia, Laos, Thailand, China, Japan and Indonesia, that he would become the first person ever to hold the title of national champion in Timor-Leste in three different weight categories over the span of his career, that he would bring home a Bronze medal from the South East Asian games in Vientiane and a second Bronze medal from the Arafura Games in Darwin in the same year, that he would still be doing TV interviews to tell his story five years after retirement, that he would spawn a new generation of boxers in his home district of Los Palos, who would later form the team he would train for free to reinvent the future of boxing in Timor — did his parents somehow know this when he was just a kid who wanted to box? Did Abilio know that he could make a life and a living from boxing? I imagined Abilio as a child watching Mike Tyson on TV and wondered if just by seeing it, he recognized an ability or a talent in himself. Perhaps it wasn’t even talent, but a desire, sheer will. In either instance, I couldn’t help but think that maybe Abilio was born to fight.

There were a few things I felt I inherited from my father, or maybe they were passed down to me, not through genes but through example. One of these things was his severe distaste for authority. The problem was that as a child, my parents were the first authority I ever knew and instinctively I pushed back on their rules, evading them entirely when I was legally able. Over the years my mistrust in authority simply cemented my mistrust in all things and this translated to a belief that if you weren’t with me, you were against me. “A peace offering,” I had once said to a former boyfriend. I can no longer recall what it was that I was giving him, but I remember very clearly what his response had been. He was baffled, rather than flattered and gently answered, “I’m not your enemy.”

Every time someone fell out of my favour, I pushed them over the enemy line. It was a line only I could see and I determined who stood on either side of it. It alarmed me how often the person closest to me could easily cross that line, how those in my innermost circle were the ones that were able to inflict the most harm. I found myself in heated conflict in relationships that had once been a source of intimacy and trust. It was astounding both to me and to others how quickly and easily I was ready for battle. It was like I was hardwired for conflict. As though I was primed to fight.

When my first daughter was born, I began reading about the way a baby’s brain works. A baby will experience a rise in cortisol levels — the “stress hormone” — when exposed to a new situation, such as being bathed for the first time or learning to sleep alone. Their natural response is to cry. Babies, however, are quick learners and will eventually learn not to cry — even if their cortisol levels remain high. I sometimes wondered if I had grown used to my own levels of cortisol, that I had stopped being able to detect when they were elevated because to me elevation was normal.

When I first started training, I hadn’t thought of myself as a boxer. I had, however, spent the majority of my life cultivating an identity as a fighter. A fighter does not give up. A fighter accepts things aren’t easy. A fighter does not back down from conflict. There were two commands Abilio used with me when he timed my three-minute rounds on the bag. “Forsa!” he would yell in Tetun, (“Força” in Portuguese) when he wanted me to push harder, punch with power, put more strength into hitting the heavy punching bag. Some days I felt highly energized, hitting the bags with enthusiasm, determined to hear the satisfying “pop” from the punching bag that I could extract from the mitts when I hit them hard enough. “Kalma”, Abilio would then say (“Calma” in Portuguese), tempering what I thought was healthy aggression, encouraging me to focus on my form, instead of sacrificing technique for power. Perhaps what had drawn me to boxing was not a preoccupation with the legend of Muhammad Ali, perhaps boxing was simply an outlet for my inclination to fight.

I had spent my life fighting things that no one else could see, scarred by battles with enemies I had imagined. Boxing felt like something I should have been good at — a way to externalize and materialize conflict. Eight months into training, I purchased a biography on Muhammad Ali, drawn to the black and white photo on the cover of Ali flaunting an exposed fist. Re-reading about his life made me think about whether we were in fact born to fight or whether in reality we were conditioned for it. Muhammad Ali was the most prime example of a fighter come good. His legacy was being The Champion, his most famous words were “I am the greatest”. If there was any truth to the notion that you could be born to fight, Muhammad Ali’s life was evidence that you could also be born to win. I looked to Muhammad Ali as a model of where the life of a fighter could take you. My father was a fighter, but Muhammad Ali was a champion. There was a way to triumph and I wanted to know what it was.

One of Muhammad Ali’s most characteristic trademarks was the way he taunted his opponents before a match. He used to say one of his strategies was to “psyche them out”, making them “so mad they couldn’t think straight.” It was the psychological advantage, according to Ali, that lead him to victory over Joe Frazier and George Foreman. Muhammad Ali did not fuel his own fighting with anger. He was a good-humoured and playful personality, but he was also a physical phenomenon. Boxing for him was a form of enjoyment, a natural extension of his sporting prowess. He would say that fighting in anger was never a good idea, that it was important to keep your cool and to think clearly during a match. Only with a level head was it possible to draw on one’s training and to make good decisions in the ring. This was the reason Ali mocked his opponents before a fight — so that that their thoughts would become clouded, giving him the upper hand.

Abilio brought a pool noodle to one of our sessions. It was essentially a thin, foam cylinder that had been cut in half and duct taped on either side. “Gloves on,” he told me, which was my cue to start our pad work. Instead of holding up his mitts, he held the foam noodle in front of me, told me to get in position and start moving. “Block!” he called out but this time instead of swinging with his mitt, he swung at me with the foam noodle. I raised my elbow to protect my face and the noodle hit me in the side of the arm. It didn’t hurt, after all it was only foam, but the impact left me in shock. “Move,” Abilio commanded and I began to circle around him as I’d been taught. “Block!” he called again, this time swinging at my right as my elbow felt the blow of the noodle just in time before it reached my face. Three minutes later, exhausted and full of adrenalin, Abilio and I both realized something that from that point on I would be able to exploit in training: that I had a strong response to fear.

I didn’t want to get hit in the face. In fact, I didn’t want to get hit at all. It seemed ironic, then, that I would choose boxing as a pastime and that I labelled myself as a fighter. Being a fighter should have meant being able to take a punch, and this was something I had yet to learn. Abilio continued bringing the foam noodle to training sessions and utilized it as often as he needed to until I learned not to flinch. For almost ten months he had been yelling “Hands up!” to me, because I would always let my hands drop after every punch. I retracted my hand too far back after delivering a punch and when one arm was moving, I would let the other fall instead of keeping it held close to my face. “Hands up!” Abilio would yell as he swung with the foam noodle and because I did not want to get hit, I would immediately oblige. It was remarkable how quickly my hands would learn to do this when I was incentivized by fear. Even then Abilio would constantly remind me to keep my eyes open, to not look away or turn my head. Footwork was my other problem, learning to be in constant movement. Boxing was draining and I could only swing with my arms when my feet were firmly planted beneath me. Abilio wanted me to punch and then move, execute a combination and then move, assume the boxer’s stance and move, block and then move. A boxer, I understood, needed to be in constant motion or at least placed to be able to move at will within seconds. The stance was important but it was not intended to be stationary, it dictated the way in which a boxer moved. Positions 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Responding to fear was a way of getting me to move. Conditioning me to fear was a way to overcome it. Later, when I finally came face to face with another boxer, the fear of being hit was still motoring my footwork. Because of it, I moved better than I punched and I recognized this as a strength. Later, when I felt sapped of energy toward the end of a session and could barely lift my arms, I would draw on a reservoir of pent-up aggression and imagine that I was fighting to survive. It was startling how well this technique worked for me and when it did, my final punches in a session were often my strongest.

I had relied on fear and aggression to become a better boxer but eventually this strategy began to work against me. Eleven months into training and I asked Abilio if I could learn to spar — I wanted to come up against my first opponent. Abilio was sceptical of this plan but told me that if I wanted to spar, he would organise someone for me to fight. On an early Saturday morning after almost one year of training solo, I met a young Timorese boy by the name of Telu. Telu was his name growing up — he was from Los Palos, like Abilio. I would only learn his real name more than eight months later when I would see it printed and hear it announced as he entered the ring at a boxing event with a thousand spectators looking on: Elidio da Conçeicão. Elidio, or Telu as I called him, was by no exaggeration less than half my age. He was 16 years old when I met him. At 49kg he also weighed less than me, meaning he was both fitter and faster than I would ever be. The lesson I learned from him when we sparred that day, however, had nothing to do with age, nor with weight. What Telu taught me was that if I wanted to become a good boxer, I would have to learn to be a better fighter. This meant not fighting out of fear, not fighting in anger, not fighting contingent on my emotional state at all. What I learned from Telu was how to fight with composure. “Kalma,” Abilio would caution me, which he would then follow up with, “control.” Being calm when boxing meant having control over myself; it was about utilizing my body as well as my mind with measure and with skill. As Telu circled me and we sized each other up, I was moving, constantly, but without any intent or direction. I was nervous and I was scared and this translated to a kind of jumpiness. Everything I had learned about punching seemed to have left my brain and all I could revert to was the basic “one, two” that had become habitual. I jabbed at Telu’s gloves, never once actually landing a punch. Two rounds of this and I was ready to throw in the towel. When Abilio blew the whistle, I felt all the blood sugar leave my body and I thought I was about to collapse. Being so hypervigilant, amped up on adrenalin, moving, sweating, swinging, missing, bracing myself for a blow and trying to land one myself — two rounds, three minutes each, and I was done. There was one more round, though. I didn’t know how I was going to continue because I didn’t truthfully think I could. I tried to fight out of fear, I tried to fight in anger but the emotional zest I had started with was all but gone. I wanted to put my hands up and surrender and I would have been willing to allow myself to be hit until it was over. I looked at Telu and noticed that he was also fatigued, that he was sweating as much as I was, if not more so. But he was composed, he was himself, he was moving with control and ease. It took effort for me to keep my hands held at my face, but he kept his up as though it were automatic, he punched with a perfectly straight arm, blocked with precision, ducked with speed and agility. It wasn’t because of his fitness or his stamina. Telu had the discipline that I lacked, he fell back on his training when he was tired, he didn’t rely on a final surge of strength because he could maintain it for the duration of a match or as long as he needed to in order to fight to the end. Telu not only outclassed me, he demonstrated in three rounds what had taken me almost one year to learn: that training could only serve you if you allowed it to, that emotion was a poor substitute for skill, and that power only had value when coupled with control.

A year and a half after meeting Abilio, I was training with him up to four times a week. When the Velcro on the 12oz gloves I had bought a year before that began to lose their grip, Abilio gifted me a pair of his old training gloves. They were 10oz, less cushioned and made of pure leather, flaking from use. I felt honoured. I had spent hours upon hours training with Abilio. He knew when I was tired, he could tell if I was sick, he instinctively felt when something was on my mind because of how it affected the way I trained. Although the language barrier meant we could never really converse, he had pushed me harder than anyone ever had before and I was better for it. He had unwittingly accompanied me through several stages of my life in Timor, simply by showing up for me — day in, day out. When I had met him in late 2018 and asked him to train me, I didn’t know how to justify why I wanted to be a boxer. He never questioned me when I increased the frequency of my training, never undermined my ambition or my eagerness to learn. After almost two years of training with Abilio, I understood that I would never have to justify myself. The only reason we were still training was because he believed in me.

Almost a year after I had sparred with Telu, I asked Abilio about his boxers. Abilio trained a group of young Timorese boxers, most of them from Los Palos, and he referred to them as his “boys” or his “team”. He trained them for free, six days a week, and some of them even lived with him. Abilio believed not only in his boxers but in a better future for boxing in Timor-Leste. He wanted to professionalize the sport in this country and one day see a national team compete in the Olympic Games. I asked him which of his boxers he thought had the most talent, or which of them he thought could make it to the Olympics. I suppose it would have been like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. He thought about it and answered with, “Telu is good.” I wanted to know what it was that distinguished Telu from the other boxers, what it was about him that made him better. Abilio said, “He listens.” I waited for another reason and he hesitated before finding the words: “He has the spirit to fight.” I was speechless. Abilio, who was not confident in English, who was from a predominantly Catholic country, where the word “spirit” connoted “The Holy Spirit”, had answered with one of the most profound statements I had ever heard. I thought about my father, I thought about Muhammad Ali, I thought about Abilio, Telu and myself. Maybe there was no such thing as being born to fight, maybe for all of us it had only ever been about having the spirit to try. I wanted to ask Abilio whether he thought you could be born to fight but then I assumed it wouldn’t translate, no matter what language I tried to say it in. He looked at me as I finished winding the blue wrap around my wrist. I looked at my hands, adjusted the fabric and he simply said “Gloves on.”