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When my friends and I reached middle school, we all decided to start working out together so we'd be in great shape by the time we got to high school. My house had a big basement and my dad agreed to let us turn it into our gym. It wasn't anything fancy but we had some mats on the floor, a weight bench and a lot of loose weights, an exercise bike, and a heavy bag that my dad found for us on eBay hanging from the ceiling. Sometimes there were as few as three or four of us down there working out, sometimes as many as seven or eight. Our little workout club had a couple of rules. First, no shirts downstairs. Everybody worked out topless so we could check out each other's progress and bodies. And the second rule was, no challenge could be refused. Guys would challenge each other to all kinds of stuff - wrestling matches, who could do the most situps, stuff like that. Once we really got into it, we put up two chin-up bars next to each other on the wall so we could have pull-up competitions too.
The gut punching contests started one night when my friend Harry was working out on the heavy bag. He was working up a sweat throwing punches into the bag when he stopped and said, "This is boring. It'd be a lot more fun hitting one of you guys." "Yeah," I said, "but we'd hit back. Better keep hitting the bag, ha ha!"
"Tell you what," Harry said. "Put on a pair of gloves and let's see what those abs of yours are made of. I bet I can take way more punches than you can."
So that was how it started. Two guys would put on the gloves and kneel down facing each other on the mat. We'd flip a coin to see who went first. One guy would punch the other guy's abs, then the second guy would get to punch back. They kept trading punches until one guy cried uncle or couldn't go on any more. That first one didn't last too long. I think Harry and I traded six punches before he grabbed his stomach and said, "Okay, that's enough! I quit!"
Every so often somebody else would thrown down a gutpunch challenge and we'd go at it. Seems like I always won. I work my abs really hard and take a lot of pride in my 14-year old sixpack. Most guys our age aren't that well-defined but my abs were really cut. Other guys had bigger arms and shoulders but you really can't get too much muscle into a punch on your knees anyway, so my hard abs always seemed to win out over their brawn.
I guess the story got around school, guys telling stories in the lockerroom and whatnot. One night, about five of us were working out when there was a knock on my basement door. It was Lee, a new kid from school. Lee was Korean or Chinese or something. He was pretty thin, with a pretty, almost girlish face, big almond eyes, and jet-black straight hair that fell into his eyes. "Hey Lee," I said. "You wanna come work out with us?" "Yeah, Lee, your scrawny ass could use some muscles!" guffawed one of the guys.
Lee seemed very serious. "I came to challenge you to a gut punching contest. The guys at school say you're pretty tough. I say I'm tougher."
I didn't know what to say. It was one thing roughhousing with my buddies. I didn't know if I wanted to get into a fight with a kid I hardly knew. "You're sure? You know how it works?" I asked.
"Let's do it," Lee said.
We walked together to the mat on the floor and I kneeled down. Lee kneeled down facing me. "You gotta take your shirt off," yelled one of the guys. "It's the rules!" Lee grabbed his t-shirt, pulled it over his head, and tossed it away. Then I got a shock. Yeah, he was thin, but he had a perfectly proportioned body. He had surprisingly firm mounded pecs that fell away to a tight, washboard stomach and a perfectly defined 8-pack. You could practically play checkers on his belly. "Whoa! Look at Lee, he's built!" whistled one of the guys.
"Put on your gloves," I said, as I started to pull my own pair on. "No gloves," said Lee. "Bare fists."
A muffled "oooh" went through the room. We'd never done that before. "You sure?" I asked. Lee just stared into my eyes. "You go first," he said.
I wasn't quite sure about this. This kid was out to make a rep for himself and I decided I couldn't afford to take it easy with him. Take him out fast, that was the way to go. I took a deep breath, pulled my arm back, and threw my fist as hard as I could into his gut. The loud slap of fist against flesh rang out as I felt my hand connect with his rock-hard abs. It was like throwing my fist into a side of frozen beef. "My turn," said Lee. I tightened my abs as Lee cocked one arm back and extended the other in a classic martial arts pose. Oh shit, I thought, this kid knows karate. That was the last thought that crossed my mind as Lee's coiled arm exploded into my mid-section. Even fully prepared, I could feel the blow driving air out of my lungs. A sick feeling of imminent doom washed over me. I was gonna get my ass kicked here.
I tried throwing an uppercut for my next punch, driving it into Lee's solar plexus. He grunted slightly but didn't seem fazed at all. His next punch to me was a crossbody chop across my abs. I let out a loud "GLUG!" as my body arched back. I looked down and there was already a big red welt forming across my abs.
I threw three more good punches, but every blow back from Lee took more and more out of me. His fourth punch was a straight-on karate blow directly into my gut. It hit me like a piledriver and doubled me over. I straightened myself up and was ready to quit, but Lee looked at me and silently shook his head, as if saying, No, not yet. This isn't over yet. I threw a weak slapping punch that barely connected, and Lee followed immediately with an open palm into my gut, not even giving me time to tense my abs. I doubled over, holding my guts, screaming, "Okay, I give! I give!" "Not yet," said Lee softly. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled my head up, then arched me backwards over his knee so my torso was fully exposed. He finished the backbreaked with a karate chop directly into my bellybutton. My body jackknifed and I bounced to the floor, doubled over in agony. Lee stood up, reached down, and picked me up by my chin. He put his left hand under my neck, holding my head and body up, and used his right arm to start throwing uppercuts into my midsection. Slam! Slam! My body spasm'd with each blow, the air driven completely out of my lungs. As I gasped for air through teary eyes, I saw Lee smiling as he threw me down to the ground. I lay flat on my back, completedly defenseless and barely able to breath. Lee looked down at me, grinned, crooked his right arm, and then brought his elbow down directly into my gut. I thought I was going to explode, and I must have blacked out for a second.
When I came to, Harry was wiping my face with a damp towel and yelling at me to wake up. All the guys were circled around me with worried looks on their faces, except for Lee. He stood there, his sleek Asian physique slathered in sweat, smiling. "So much for the champion," he said. I raised myself on my elbows and smiled. "Come back tomorrow and see what you can do," I said. "I will," he said, and left as quietly as he had arrived.