“Words are power,” adds Science. “If I know your first and last name, I know who you are. I have access. I have more control over you.” He motions at Spider and Legend. “They know my government name if it’s an emergency. But I trust them. We’ve jumped out of windows. We’ve fought together. They’ve earned it.”
The Spartans’ fights started out informally. “We’d just spar with each other without any rules,” says Science. But over time, the Triangle started pairing up friends of similar ability, and rules were drawn up. The fights would follow the basic guidelines of mixed-martial-arts fighting, the hybrid combination of boxing, wrestling, and martial-arts moves that’s become popular in recent years on cable TV. The fights would consist of three rounds of approximately five minutes each (fighters could surrender earlier by tapping the concrete). There would be two critical deviations from mixed-martial-arts rules: No blows to the head were allowed, and fights would be about improving one’s skills, not about hurting or humiliating one’s opponent. The first rule was practical, the second philosophical.
“We figured out, if you were not punching to the head, it was legal to do this publicly and say we were just training,” says Science. “And we wanted this to be like a family. You get humiliated by the world every day. That’s not what we’re about.”
In the spring of 2007, the movie 300 opened at the Union Square Regal Cinema. The film retells the legend of the 300 Spartans who died fighting the Persian horde at Thermopylae. Spider, Science, and Legend watched it repeatedly, transfixed. “I came up with the name the Union Square Spartans,” says Science. “The Spartans are the fighters, but Union Square is all of Sparta. It was like we already had the idea in our heads, and the movie came out, and we were like, ‘Aha.’ ”
“When a warrior is born, he has a milk name, you know, from when all you drank was milk,” Legend says. “When he grows up, he gets a warrior name.”
Not long after the movie premiered, the Triangle watched as medieval combatants wielding spears and shields invaded Union Square. Turns out they were members of the Darkon Wargaming Club, a role-playing society that reenacts fantasy battle scenes. “They put a lifeguard chair up, and I ran up there,” says Science. “I shouted, ‘Spartans, what is your occupation?’ And everyone shouted back, ‘War!’ They let us fight them with their plastic swords, and of course we won. That made us think we could build a world, too.”
The Astor Place cube is just ahead. Legend, Science, and Spider run through traffic and start pushing on it. Legend and Science begin chanting, “Union Square Spartans! Union Square Spartans! Union Square Spartans!” At the moment, they look less like warriors than a pack of bratty junior-high kids. Then Legend shares a fantasy he has for the Spartans: “I’d love it to be the Union Square Spartans take on the Ukraine,” says Legend, his dark-brown eyes lighting up. “The Union Square Spartans take on Cuba.” He seems to believe that there would somehow be money involved. “Everyone in the club would make the same amount,” he says. “I wouldn’t get an extra penny just because I’m the leader.”
We arrive at 2 Bros Pizza on St. Marks Place a few minutes later. Two large pies are devoured in minutes. It’s not clear when the Triangle’s last real meal was. Legend shakes hands with the manager.
“Soon, we’re going to be famous,” proclaims Legend. “You can put a sign up saying PIZZA CHOICE OF THE UNION SQUARE SPARTANS.”
The man smiles and makes another pizza.
Although the triangle members were enjoying their newfound camaraderie and purpose, they were still flat broke. One day in April, Science showed up with a video camera; he had the idea of filming some of the group’s fights. Maybe, he reasoned, if people saw them, they would come down to Union Square and the Triangle could charge them ten bucks a lesson.
Legend and Spider thought this was an excellent idea. In April, Science created the Union Square Spartans MySpace page. He then placed some of the fights he filmed on YouTube. Alas, the Triangle’s original goal of attracting fighters willing to pay for lessons was a failure; Science says no one has paid.
But there was a publicity boomlet. The blog And I Am Not Lying wrote about the fights in May, other blogs followed, and crowds began to show up at Spartan fights. The Triangle enjoyed the spotlight in a charmingly time-delayed way. A printout of the And I Am Not Lying item arrived like a nineteenth-century transatlantic letter, three weeks after the fact. Legend carried it around for a while like a holy relic. There was one line he loved to quote: He kept asking the other Spartans, “Am I really ‘petite and diamond hard?’ ”