A two-stripe white belt is now on your bad side following a passive-aggressive excuse after tapping out to one of your submissions in class, you told the Jiu-Jitsu Times.
The teammate in question, who opted to remain anonymous for this report, is said to have been on the receiving end of one of your twisters, which you have reportedly been working really hard on. During your roll with the white belt, you reportedly landed the submission with success… only to be told that the result was not what you’d hoped for.
“Yeah, man. That was tight,” the teammate reportedly said to you. “It was more of a choke than a crank, though.”
It was this single comment, you say, that has sent you into a spiral of rage and self-doubt that has ruined your days and disrupted your nights.
“The f*** does he mean by that?” you ask the Jiu-Jitsu Times, pacing erratically around your living room. “Is… is that even a thing? Of course it’s not a thing. ‘It’s more of a crank than a choke’ is a thing. But the words that he uttered… have they ever been spoken in that order?” You fall silent for a moment, thinking back to the incident in question. “It was a f***ing crank. He’s just salty he got tapped,” you finally say, punctuating the declaration with a nod. “And does it even matter? A tap is a tap.”
When we follow up with you, the bags under your eyes have grown darker. Your hair appears to be flecked with more gray, though we can’t be certain if we’re just noticing it more now that all your curtains have been drawn. “Yeah. Of course I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine?” you ask. “Honestly, I don’t think he knows what he was saying. It was a typo. From his mouth. A speech-o. Is that a thing? If ‘more of a choke than a crank’ can be a thing, why can’t a speech-o be a thing? There are no rules, no order to polite society anymore. While we’re at it, why don’t we start wrist-hooking people? Cranks are chokes and feet are hands now, right? Right?”
We opt not to remind you of the concept of wrist locks for your safety and ours. My colleague, a recently promoted blue belt, has already been traumatized by the comment sections under his articles. The least I can do is get him out of an interview intact.
The next time the Jiu-Jitsu Times comes to speak to you, your screen door blows unsecured in a breeze that we hadn’t felt before approaching your house. We let ourselves in and call your name before finding an unsettling scene: all of your previously earned jiu-jitsu belts are arranged in a circle on the floor of your living room. Written within it in either blood or acai are strange symbols we could not immediately decipher.
Your voice is haggard and croaky, as though it has been used far too much or far too little since we last spoke. You lean on the door frame for support, your clothes now far too large for your weakened frame.
“He cursed me, you know,” you say, staggering slowly toward us. “It was no accident, that thing he said.” You gesture to the mess on your floor. “You’re journalists. You’ve heard everything. Tell me: how do you break a curse when you cannot break anything at all?”
We stay silent, waiting for you to elaborate. You lick your chapped lips and pull out a box of cigarettes from your pocket. It’s completely full until you remove one, slipping the rest back into your oversized trousers. You pinch it at both ends and stare intently at it with your bloodshot eyes. Your frail arms tense, your hands begin to shake. Your gaunt face grows red, the veins becoming prominent in your forehead. Finally, you stop straining and shake your head. “No matter how I try, I cannot snap it in two. Perhaps this is my punishment for attempting a neck crank on a white belt: I can’t break anything at all.”
You offer the cigarette to my colleague, who splits it down the middle with an easy snap of his fingers. “It’s all in the technique, man. If you want, I can show you –“
“It is not the technique!” you bellow, pulling at your unkempt hair. “I have tried everything. Pencils. Matchsticks.” Your head turns toward the door of what is either a broom closet or a basement. “Arms. Legs.”
My colleague and I exchange a look. “Well. We have taken enough of your time,” I say, stepping between you and my colleague. “We will be sure to follow up with you if –“
“I can only choke,” you say, your voice barely above a whisper as you take a step toward us. “He rearranged those words in a way they never should have been spoken, and in doing so, he has summoned something evil.”
My colleague peers around from behind me. “We have seen plenty of evil in our time, my friend. I’m sure that this, too, can be managed,” he says. “I have witnessed with my own eyes a purple belt who rolled at a charity seminar with ringworm.”
“Worse!” you hiss. “This is worse.” Before I can back away, you grab my hand and start stroking my fingers almost lovingly, as though petting a newborn kitten. “So small,” you say. “So thin. So very… fragile.” I try to move, but I am rooted to the spot in both fear and a sickening curiosity. I flinch as you isolate my index finger and push it backward with all of your remaining strength. It bends but doesn’t break.
My colleague doesn’t appear to notice that I’ve stopped breathing. An invisible force blocks my windpipe. I try to cry out, to gasp, anything, and find that it’s impossible. Your wild stare meets my eyes, your mouth twitching with either glee or pity. “Cranks, chokes, broken, unbreathing, it’s really all the same, is it not?” you say. I claw at my throat in desperation; there is nothing to remove. I tap your shoulder, and you do not let go.
“Small joint manipulation!” my colleague cries out. “The evil walks among us!”
In an instant, you are knocked to the floor, releasing my finger. Air rushes into my lungs, and I collapse to my knees as oxygen reaches my brain once again. You are wrestling to your feet, having been the victim of what may have been the first takedown my colleague has ever done on purpose. I don’t have time to wonder if this is another effect of the curse — my colleague sits back, wrapping you in closed guard with a guillotine around your neck. He pulls and squeezes with all his strength, his teeth gritted with the effort. If he cannot finish this, if you escape, there is no telling if we will walk out of here alive.
He releases the choke.
“No! Don’t let go!” I gasp.
He looks up at me, confused. “He tapped.”
You sit up, rub your neck, and shrug. “Eh, I did. But it was more of a crank than a choke.”
The screen door goes quiet. The air around us shifts and then settles. The look that comes over your face tells me that you feel it, too: something has changed.
“Your cigarettes,” I say.
You don’t require further explanation. You pull one out with a shaking hand and snap it easily between your fingers. Something between a laugh and a sob escapes you as you pull out another and then another, breaking each one in half until the box is empty. You hold the last one in your hands and look at me with tears streaming down your cheeks.
“It is broken,” you say.
The Jiu-Jitsu Times followed up with the two-stripe white belt three days afterward — nearly a month after the inciting comment was made. When asked if he recalled the twister in question, he thinks for a moment and shrugs. “I dunno, man. I can’t remember. I’m a white belt. I’m always getting submitted,” he says. He kicks his shoes off before stepping onto the mats and looks over his shoulder at us. “Does it really matter, though? I mean, a tap is a tap.”