Science lived with family and friends through his teens, but he’s been mostly homeless for the past decade. “I’ve always been a ronin,” he says, referring to the Japanese term for a rootless warrior.
Like Legend, Science once fought in underground fight-club bouts to make some cash. But he’s less of a tough than Legend. “It was down in Chinatown in a garage. We were surrounded by cars with their lights on, and I was really nervous. Then the fighter gets in the middle with me and it’s a woman. And I was like, Should I punch back? By the time I did, another guy jumped in the ring and I got the shit beat out of me.”
Spider, who’s 23, is painfully thin, and still has a trace of adolescent acne. He is the quietest member of the Triangle. He was born in Panama and moved to New York when he was 6. He first lived in Flatbush and then Crown Heights. Like Legend and Science, he never really knew his father.
Spider went to Louis D. Brandeis High School on the Upper West Side but got kicked out in the tenth grade after getting into a fight with another student. Spider left home at 16 and spent the next two years living in Union Square during the day and on the Q train at night.
In 2002, Spider headed to the Port Authority and settled in Norfolk, Virginia, before coming home. Now he’s the only one of the three to have a job, working at a nearby Papaya King. “I’m the most cautious of the three of us,” Spider tells me.
It’s raining harder now. Spider shivers. Strawberry and Legend do a little stoned dance to stay warm. Science tucks his sketchpad under his sweatshirt to keep it dry. I suggest we get a pizza at a place on Sixth Avenue. “No, a cheese will cost you like sixteen there,” says Spider. “There’s a place on St. Marks where you get one for eight.”
As we walk down Broadway, Legend shares what he sees as the Spartans’ purpose. “I want it to be competitive, but like a family,” he says, holding Strawberry’s hand. “It makes you tough, but it shows you love. I didn’t have that as a kid.”
The Spartans’ creation myth begins at the Pyramid Club, on the Lower East Side. Science worked for the club, but different floors would be rented out to independent promoters who provided their own security. One night in the winter of 2005, Science was summoned to handle a situation where a group of drunken men were harassing a woman. By the time he arrived, another bouncer was already on the scene.
“This guy went to the pressure point under the armpit on the first guy,” says Science with awe. “Then he hit his palm under the windpipe of another guy. I was like, This guy has moves.” Science and Legend escorted the offending patrons out of the club. “Once we got outside, we started talking about how we had both done martial arts as kids. Then we started sparring out in front of the club, right then.”
Science invited Legend to hang out with him in Union Square. The timing was excellent. Legend had been living with a girl in Brooklyn, but it had ended badly, with Legend’s girlfriend chucking a jar of applesauce at him, slicing open his arm. He had nowhere else to go.
At first Science and Legend had a different idea about how to make money off their fighting skills. They would spend hours talking about how cool it would be to choreograph fight scenes for the movies, then they’d work out sequences and perform them for their Union Square friends. Legend and Science taught some of their friends their moves. Spider was one of them, and the three men became close. Science nicknamed the trio the Triangle after something he read in a book about ancient warriors. “All warriors are equal,” says Science. “But there’s a triangle of warriors that leads the phalanx into battle. That’s us.”
Legend says he’s been known by that name since he can remember. Science’s real middle name is “Scientific” because his mom hoped he would become a scientist. Spider got his nickname because he loves Spider-Man comics. I ask Legend if he and the others will tell me their real names. No, Legend says. “When a warrior is born, he has a milk name, you know, from when all you drank was milk. But when he grows up, he gets a warrior name that is more who he is. This is who I am.”