Battle in the streets. I find a common theme of this trip is that everywhere I go to practice dancing I get called out to battle local dancers.
From battling Shingo’s junior and senior crew, bboy Monkey J and bboy Loki in Hong Kong to battling Big Phil, bboy Killmyself, and an unbelievably strong 8 year old boy. I’ve been challenged in Asia almost every time I go to a bboy practice here. It is the ultimate test. These foreign practice spots have between 20 and 30 bboys & bgirls and I am the only white guy. I jump right into the center of the cypher after analyzing which cypher is the more “senior” crew as they call more experienced crews in Asia. Once I’ve picked which circle I want to jump into I begin by warming with a basic set and then a few minutes to stretch on the edge of the circle. Between these warm up sets I watch the other dancers closely and look them in the eyes, nod out of respect and continue dancing, sharing the positive energy of the space we create (whether we are in a dance studio or on a subway platform in the blazing heat we communicate without a word spoken).
After about 10 minutes, once I’ve fully warmed up, its on. If you step into another crew’s cypher, especially if they have no idea who you are, prepare to be battled. That’s how the story has gone my whole trip. From Relax crew to SSSM crew in Hong Kong to TIP and TG Breakers in Korea to Aerstix side crew in Osaka to All Area Crew in Tokyo I’ve experienced cyphers from dance studios to the streets. In fact, the majority of practices I’ve been to have been on the concrete.
There are two recent battles and outdoor practices that really stand out to me in Osaka.
The first was on a night I had no plans or intentions of dancing. In fact, I went out specifically to an area I thought wouldn’t have dancers to just relax and be lazy. At the turn of a corner those plans changed very quickly.
After a traditional Japanese dinner where I ate many mysterious treasures of delicious fishes (rhyme!) I went for a walk around Osaka station surrounding area. As we turned the corner I heard music and knew something was going down. I followed my ears until I saw 4 dudes dressed like bboys hanging out in a tunnel, 3 poppers, and a few hip hop dancer girls. In Canada it wouldn’t be more then 10 minutes before someone would kick you out of a public space like this for dancing (ohhhhh canada)…
When I arrived I saw a battle take place between two of the dancers who were hanging out. After 3 rounds of the battle I looked more closely and thought I might recognize one of the bboys, “No way… That couldn’t be Big Phil”, the hilarious and super creative bboy I met 7 years ago in Long Beach, California at Freestyle Session 8 bboy/bgril battle. Nah…
After the battle I was too curious I had to ask, “is your name Big Phil??” His eyes lit up, it was him! Big Phil!!!
Ever since I met Big Phil 7 years ago I never forgot him because of how he introduced himself when we met. “Hello my name is Big Phil… Don’t ask me what is big”. I stared at this under 5 foot Japanese bboy when he said this and I couldn’t help but burst into hysterical laughter. Ever since that day 7 years ago I had told many people this joke and this hilarious encounter but I was always sad that I didn’t get his contact or keep in touch. I gave up, what are the chance I’ll ever bump into 1 of the 1000’s of bboys from Japan randomly on the streets. I didn’t even know what city in Japan he lived in but somehow my luck has it that the first bboy I saw in Osaka right when I arrived was Big Phil!! Crazy!
It was great to catch up, he is a joker but I was shocked and happy to hear the Big Phil has grown up to be a man. Big Phil is now married with 2 kids! He is a joker but this was the truth. After catching up we went back to the tunnel to do some dancing. I battled Big Phil more then 15 rounds on the concrete until I realized the last train to my hostel departed in less then 10 minutes!
Without a minute to even dry my sweat with a towel or change tshirts I sprinted to the subway station dripping sweat as the heat felt like a sauna on my back from my body heat combined with the scorching humidity. I made it, just in time catching the last subway of the night. I tried not to touch anything or anyone in the stinky soaking wet ride back 🙂
The second battle which I will never forget was a slightly different challenge. Although also on the street, this time it was against a little boy, only 8 years old in Osaka at a popular outdoor dance practice in Namba subway station called “OCAT”.
At first glance I thought this boy was just there to watch. I thought maybe he had been dragged along by his parents who might have been dancers. Oh, was I ever wrong…
When the boy arrived he shook my hand and bowed his little head and then went around to do the same to everyone else at the practice. I noticed this is a Japanese tradition out of respect to greet everyone when you arrive, something that is lacking in other bboy scenes. Respect is key. I feel respect creates community amongst Japanese bboys which in my opinion is why they are so good at what they do and have such a huge and continually growing hip hop community. Crew is really family out here from what I’ve seen.
Back to the point, once this unsuspecting little boy finished shaking everyones hand he began to start throwing down some moves. Once he hit the floor everything changed. He went from a cute little kid to what I would call a “monster” bboy (strong as anyone I’ve seen, even those 3 times his age). This boy is only 8 years old but he was doing powermove and freeze combinations that I haven’t seen adults do (ie: 2 halos to scorpion freeze back to halos to diamond leg head hollow back to headspin… just one of many insane combos this kid pulled out of nowhere!). My jaw dropped in disbelief but then I remembered I was once this young boy. Maybe I didn’t start bboying at 8 years old, but I could see that this young boy without words shows others that his age is not a limit to how far he can take this dance. I used to push these limits when I started dancing at 13 and now this boy is doing it at an even younger age!!
I thought it would be good to help this young one gain some new experience by posing a bit of an unexpected challenge for him. I called him out to battle in front of everyone and for 6 rounds this tiny bboy and I went at it, round for round. He could see I was impressed with his rounds by the look on my face everytime he finished a set and he pulled moves I had never seen before. I could see his eyes light up when I did the same for him. This battle was an incredible exchange of ideas and energy as everyone at the bboy practice stopped to witness.
After our battle I shook his hand, gave him props and told him we will battle again one day. He smiled and nodded. This kid is the future. I believe that our bboy communities lie in the hands of leaders that share what they have and I feel he got this quite clearly at a young age because he didn’t need to join in this battle. In the battle I didn’t hold back for a second and no lie he had me on a few of the rounds. Would you battle someone who is 3 times your age? Well I would because I’d probably smoke a 70 year old!!
But seriously, even though younger, less experienced and even a little scared this boy put himself on the line and I give him all the respect I have for coming at me with everything he has. And it showed! No one expected either of us to go so hard on each other but at the end we knew that something was gained larger then the battle from this challenge. Knowledge, experience and respect. We didn’t judge on age but on skill. If we didn’t challenge each other we never would have known or learned these things about each other. That is a real battle.
To me the real purpose of a battle is to challenge yourself.
It’s experiences like this that make this more then just a trip or a vacation.
This boy re-enforced to me that no matter your age, or even how many years you have been dancing, your skill is in your hands (both in dancing and any skill).
I feel that one either pushes their limits and really tests their skills to grow and improve like this boy did or one does the opposite, avoids risk, remains comfortable and watches their flame slowly burn out.
For me, I have and will continue to throw oil on my flame even at the risk of burning myself at first.
What this taught me? You’re never to young to play with fire!!! Oh wait…no… that’s not it…
This boy showed me that even though his age could be used as an excuse to back down, he never even hesitated.
By not making excuses we both got something incredible from this battle.
I got a life lesson and he got an ice cream from his mom at McDonalds after!!
Oh the joys of being little…
also here is a quick clip of me battling bboy Killmyself on the streets at OCAT in Osaka.