In the back of the black vest, strapped in surreptitiously like a baby, there’s a shiny, sinister sword.
In the front, there’s a dangerous dagger and a menacing mallet and a hive of knives, the kind you would need in a street fight when fists aren’t fast and furious enough.
Bonafide Warhawk, a soft-spoken tough guy who possesses the composure of a monk, suits up.
He has tats marching like soldiers up his arms, a shaved head and an assured, serene smile.
He’s not out for a fight – he’s out to teach you how to defend yourself.
The dull-blade aluminum cutlery is for practice, not piercing skin.
In case you haven’t guessed it, that’s something he knows quite a lot about.
Bonafide Warhawk: It’s not the name he was born with; it’s the moniker he seized during combat on the streets of New York City.
Born in Astoria, Bonafide Warhawk, who is 46, spent the first four years of his life here.
When the family house burned down, Bonafide Warhawk’s father, an alcoholic, deserted, and his mother, not financially equipped to raise him and his 7-year-old sister alone, sent them to a boarding school in Pennsylvania that was dedicated to orphans and hard-knock cases.
It was not a place for cowards, as Bonafide Warhawk soon found out.
“Kids were fighting each other all the time,” he says. “We used to take heavy boots, put them in pillowcases and beat each other with them as we ran up and down the halls.”
To say that Bonafide Warhawk didn’t thrive in such an institution is a vast understatement.
“I stayed eight years,” he says. “I wanted to get out, so I was fighting all the time and destroying school property on purpose. They threw me out, which is what I wanted.”
He returned to New York, only to find that neither parent really had the time, inclination or financial ability to keep him.
“My father was living in a rented room in Jackson Heights,” Bonafide Warhawk says. “There were holes in the floor, and I had to knock roaches out of my shoes. We were so poor that I only had two pairs of pants and two shirts – clothes bought from street vendors.”
Although Bonafide Warhawk’s father had stopped drinking by this time, raising a son was not his priority.
“He threw me out of the house every day so he could have sex with his girlfriend,” Bonafide Warhawk says. “I was forced to be out on the streets. I fought for gangs, but I was never in them because I was tougher than they were.”
Soon, Bonafide Warhawk was fighting practically everyone he met, including guys who were much older and bigger.
“I was the protector of my friends, which was cool, because it gave me something to do when I wasn’t in school,” he says.
He still recalls every detail of the knife fight: The push, the thrust of the blade, his eye hanging down on his face.
A drug dealer who kept robbing Bonafide Warhawk’s friend stabbed him in the eye, rendering him legally blind.
“I was told he had knives, but it didn’t scare me because I was used to fighting,” Bonafide Warhawk says. “This changed my life big time because I had been very athletic – I was a swimmer, and I played football. After this happened, I couldn’t even see my mother’s or my father’s face. I couldn’t even cross the street any more.”
He spent a month in the hospital and had to be tutored at home for a year.
“I had headaches that felt like a knife was digging through my temple,” he says. “I was more angry than ever, and I wanted vengeance.” he says.
Bonafide Warhawk wasn’t really sure what to do with his life; it was a high school counselor who saved him.
“I told him I wanted to do martial arts because I could fight without needing my eyes,” he says. “This was interesting to me because I had learned to walk the streets by listening and using my intuition. I found comfort in it.”
Bonafide Warhawk, who earned an associate’s degree in computer science from DeVry University, devoted himself to the martial arts, working as a master trainer at a variety of gyms, including Equinox, New York Sports Club and New York Health & Racquet Club.
At the beginning of this year, he and a business partner opened HardKnox, a martial arts and functional fitness center in Astoria whose students range in age from 5 to 78.
Bonafide Warhawk, who lives in Jamaica and has three young children, added knife fighting to the roster of classes, by the way, to make sure that nobody else who is attacked loses an eye.
“My goal is to help — not hurt – people,” he says. “I see people’s hearts, and I help people see themselves. I use the opportunities I created for myself to help others.”
He puts all the knives back in their slots and unzips his vest.
“If you can’t make somebody better, you’re taking, not giving,” he says. “I don’t cut down trees; I plant them.”
Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling