“I’m gonna knock you out. Mama said, knock you out.”LL Cool J
Fredia ‘Cheetah’ Gibbs heard an old-time gospel as panicky footfalls facilitated her escape from bullies to the reliable safety of Grandma’s house.
“Travelin’ shoes, Lord.
Got on my travelin’ shoes.”
Gibbs’ path included rivers of spilled beer and piss-stained concrete that took her across a crass mosaic of broken brown and green malt liquor bottles flecked with cheap wine shards before she navigated Chester, Pennsylvania’s shadowy side streets and alleys of death.
At her grandmother’s door, she panted, teary-eyed, heavy-hearted, mind and body exhausted.
“Running from my bullies is how I learned to run fast,” she said.
Gibbs grew up in a city made up of six square miles where times were always hard and its residents harder, the type of place where fish is fried in kitchens, beans burn on grills and deluxe apartments in the sky are as far as heaven is from Earth with persistent poverty her panoramic view.
Life in Chester was no Jeffersons’ rags-to-riches excursion. Above her head, she saw trouble, and on the ground, she stood in its midst.
Childhood’s innocence was anything but. Try oft-ridiculed, the rarely pleasant playground and a schoolyard more like the Serengeti with lurking lions and heckling hyenas. The emotional toll created a damning effect which “lowered my self-esteem and confidence,” she admitted.
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“Being bullied is such a terrifying experience, especially for a child,” she said. “[We] are just trying to learn our identity and learn who we are; to be threatened and quartered by kids who are supposed to be your classmates, whom you help with homework, it was uncomfortable, ugly and very negative.”
To survive the taunts, frequently about her body’s athletic frame, which was not as delicate as other girls and therefore enviable by the boys, she planted her toes firmly against her shoes’ inner soles as they took her swiftly to the safety of grandma’s house.
Her uncle, Dr. William Groce, met her at the door this last time. “Look, baby girl, you can’t continue to run all of your life. You’re going to have to learn how to stand firm and face your fear(s),” he advised.
At Quiet Storm Martial Arts School, Gibbs was an ersatz Frankenstein experiment every Saturday for an hour while Uncle Will and the community of white and blue-collared men taught posture, structural alignment, body mechanics and practical functionality. As he routinely placed the key to the building on the floor behind him, Uncle Will reminded her, “This is a matter of life or death.”
Then they sparred.
Delivering a flurry of punches and rounding kicks, he would say, “You’re going up against a man. I need you to punch harder, go through harder.”
Earning her black belt was the unorthodox result of throwing powerful jab combinations and mastering tactical takedowns to obtain the glittering key on the ground behind Groce, the only way out of The Storm.
“It was tough. It was difficult but, I got the key. I unlocked the door and walked out.”
Gibbs was born with the veil, skin over newborn eyes that require surgical removal. Children arriving with this optical covering are thought to be able to see things others cannot. Although she could not see it clearly, something was foreboding in her uncle’s insistence that she fight well enough to whip a man.
After seeing Sensei Benny Urquidez on television in a kickboxing match in Germany, Gibbs packed up her belongings and headed to California to learn the sport at Urquidez’s combat training center. Gibbs’ foundation in karate propelled her to the sport’s mortal combatants ranks, landing her first scheduled fight less than a year after she solicited the tutelage of the kickboxing legend.
The year Snoop Dogg‘s Gin and Juice poured from house party speakers across the globe and into red-colored Dixie cups was the same year Uncle Will’s caveat would foreshadow the night’s imminent danger:
“You are going up against a man.”
She had lost her paycheck and bus fare in a game of Dominoes at a gathering in Inglewood, Calif. Strapped for cash, stranded and wanting to sleep in her bed instead of the couch she was offered, Gibbs accepted a ride from Lonnie Franklin Jr. after spending hours playing against him. She had no way of knowing her Domino opponent was California’s infamous Grim Sleeper, the serial killer responsible for murdering at least 100 Black women in South Central, displacing their bodies throughout Los Angeles circa 1985.
Now with him in his RV (rape van), something sinister in his sudden need for coffee awakened her intuition as he pulled into a secluded area.
“Let me stick it in, bitch,” he said.
“No, I don’t want you to stick it in,” she replied.
She tried to exit the passenger’s side door. The handle had been removed. When she scrambled for the van’s rear doors, she came face-to-face with a monster intent on violating, then adding her to his list of lifeless victims.
“He came charging at me like a football player, but he didn’t know he was fuckin’ with the wrong B.I.T.C.H.” (babe in total control of herself). She explained the aikido technique that uses an assailant’s clothing against them. “I tied his shirt over his head, pulled his pants down and grabbed his dick so he couldn’t move,” demanding, “Where the mother fuckin’ keys at, nigga?”
With her second key to freedom in hand, she told Grim, “When a bitch says, ‘No,’ she means, ‘No.'”
The battle had just begun but the war was not over. Boasting eight professional bouts and one life-saving encounter, Gibbs had another ass-whipping to give.
Gibbs’ meteoric brawling record warranted an invitation to compete in a pay-per-view International Sport and Karate Association (ISKA) match-up against Valerie Wiet-Henin, dubbed “The Most Dangerous Woman in the World.”
Wiet-Henin was a formidable opponent renowned for breaking jaws and bruising ribs, a million-dollar baby who did not scare Gibbs.
The night of the fight, she was prepared to tap gloves. Then, someone shouted from the rafters, “That’s the Black girl that came here to get knocked out.”
She countered with a prayer, “God, tonight, [we] are gonna shock the world,” before taking the ring. In the third round, Gibbs said, “My legs began to get weak.” Looking to The Hill from whence her help was to come, she cried out, “Oh God! You gotta help.”
Stitched-up, torn and tattered, she delivered a lethal kick followed by an overhand right to the back of Wiet-Henin’s head, knocking her out. In addition to becoming “The Most Dangerous Woman,” Gibbs also became the only martial artist except Bruce Lee to have a combat statue dedicated in her honor on the planet.
Not only did the Black girl expected to get knocked out, do the knocking out, but the girl who also used to run from bullies emerged victorious from life-changing fights “…with both hands raised.”
This article was originally published in Rebel Writes.
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