By John Wolcott
In the world of Muaythai there are many aspects of the art that can be taught to and learned by a student. Everything from technique and balance to ring strategy and how to score points. However, there is one thing that cannot be taught or learned, and that is heart. Heart is one of those qualities that a person is born with; a feature that you either have, or you don’t. Heart is what makes up the substance of a fighter. It’s that intangible force that reveals itself when adversity is at its peak. Heart is something that is tested time and again and grows with each obstacle it overcomes. Heart is what raises a champion off of the canvas when they have been felled in battle. It’s what motivates a combatant to step up and take on any and all challenges placed in front of them. Heart, when speaking in terms of the fighter, is what fuels and drives a person to be the best they can be both inside and outside of the ring, not only for themselves, but for everyone around them.
As a fighter methodically moves under the bright lights of the ring canopy it’s easy to tell who has it and who doesn’t. It’s their display of heart which tells us a story of who they are, what they are capable of achieving, and just how far they are willing to push themselves. It’s a fighter’s heart which also inspires us, and in turn, causes us to look at our own lives and demand more from ourselves. As fight fans, we’ve all experienced this as we watch our favorite fighters do battle. Being from the New York City area, I’d experienced this every time I’d see Chris Romulo fight. As he’d make his way to the ring, draped in his trademark red cape which distinctly displayed the Philippine symbol for strength, heart was the weapon in which he drew to slay the dragons before him.
If heart is about overcoming adversity than Chris Romulo fits the bill. I can vividly recall two occasions where Romulo surpassed previous expectations and showed New York fight fans that, despite being on the brink of defeat, it was his heart that carried him forth to victory. Even on shaky legs he managed dig the soles of his feet into the canvas beneath him, shake off the punishment from his adversary, and bounce back to end the fight early by scoring a knock out of his own. And let us not forget earlier this year when Romulo was the first east coast Muaythai fighter to publicly go on record and take the challenge that his west coast counterparts had offered. Having gotten the chance to do so, Romulo took on the seasoned veteran in Shawn Yarborough. Despite being the smaller, less experienced fighter, Chris Romulo showed fans once again exactly what his heart was made of. Mind you, throughout his fighting career he did this with the utmost integrity.
In a land where trash talking pervades most combat sports, it was Romulo who resorted to keeping any conflict with his opponents in the ring. And upon talking with Chris you get the sense that he lives for something bigger than himself. This becomes evident as you enter his gym and take notice of the codes of Bushido plastered not only on his gym walls, but also in the minds and hearts of his students. However, these codes aren’t some cliché used to build up the allure of his gym. Chris asks that each of his students learn, memorize, and live by those codes. It’s as if Romulo leads his pupils like a master samurai, aiming to guide them through life, as well as through battle. By sharpening their swords Romulo is preparing his students for the woes of life. Similar to how Chris once approached the ring to duel with his own demons, he now takes the floor of his gym to instruct others on how to conquer theirs.
Fighting and coaching aside, if there is anything else that Chris Romulo knows best it is sacrifice. Romulo, being one of the first professional Muaythai fighters to help build up the New York fight scene, surrendered his time and life for the sport of Muaythai. Even as a fighter who couldn’t make a living wage from competing, Chris continued to train and fight for the love of the sport. To many, he was the hometown hero; a champion who became more refined each and every time he stepped into the ring. Now, having said farewell to the ring where so much was sacrificed, Chris Romulo sets out on a more noble venture – a sacrifice for his family. However, this family isn’t limited to the members of its nucleus. It extends into the streets of Rockaway Beach, Queens where Romulo passes on some the toughest lessons he’s ever learned. He has taken kids off the streets to give them something to live for; to teach them a thing or two about what it takes to be a person who stands for honor and loyalty. And whether it is through his words or actions, he instills in them the importance of personal sacrifice.
If it were possible to measure someone by the size of their heart Chris Romulo would be a giant among humans. However, I am not quite sure they make a measuring stick big enough to encompass Romulo’s heart. For now, the only tools we can use to calculate just how big his heart is are the times when Romulo displayed it most; when he was in the ring on top of its canvas painting masterpieces. Chris Romulo may have decided that the ring will no longer be his home, but he is far from finished when it comes to fighting. A person who has spent the last 16 years contending for his place in the world does not turn in the fighting heart at the same time he announces he is turning in his gloves. After all, a heart like Romulo’s isn’t something someone acquires over time and can relinquish at a moments notice, it is something that a person is born with. If I have learned anything over the years watching Chris Romulo fight, it’s that it takes more than composure and calculated moves to conquer ones enemy. One can have all the technique in the world, or just the basics. It goes beyond preparation and readiness. It takes something deeper than what we see on the surface. All it takes is heart.