You know that feeling, when you’re squared up, face-to-face, fists raised, adrenaline pumping, a crowd huddled around shouting, nothing left but a first swing? That initial swing happens, a furious instant passes, and it’s over. Win or lose, all your left with is that feeling of a fight on your hands. You know that feeling that comes with being in a fight? I don’t.
I’ve never been in a fight. Never thrown a punch at an enemy. Never stood up to a bully in a physical manner. Never baited anyone into attacking me and then had to fend them off. Instinctively, I have always avoided physical confrontation at all costs and recoil at the very whiff of a pummeling. Perhaps this is due to a childhood experience, but if so I don’t remember. All I know is that for me it has never gotten to the point of ‘when push comes to shove.’ The result has always been ‘when push comes to run’.
Strangely, I find this regrettable. People – boys more specifically – are supposed to fight. It’s some kind of macho and painful rites of passage. Like to binge and purge on alcohol as an adolescent, changing a tire because you’re Dad said ‘it’s about God damn time you learnt,’ and discovering that mayo on pasta, well, it’s just not that tasty. All these lessons need to be suffered through not only for their inherent value but also because of what they teach us about ourselves, which is also where the true value of getting in a fight lays.
A natural hunger for violence is not a gene I possess, as I have no desire to purposefully hurt another person. Don’t get me wrong, I know this is a good quality, but it is important to note that a fight is it’s not necessarily about trying to hurt someone. Instead, a fight is about having a strategy based on smarts, savvy, the pillar wits that lead to victory in everything from chess, to football to politics, and using them to defeat an opponent. It’s not about beating-up a weaker gent just to inflict pain. It’s to size up a challenge and find out if one has the astute intestinal fortitude to conquer said challenge.
This at least is the impression I’ve gotten from a number of scrappers over the years. Regular fighters see throwing fists as nothing more than sport, a competition to find out who is a better survivor. Ultimately, it has been explained to me that there is a mutual respect between the two spontaneous combatants, an understanding of the pride, joy, and ability to partake in a fight, just like boxers or hockey enforcers, but without the fanfare and paychecks. I remember watching a handful of fights throughout grade school where two heated boys would put one another through all sorts of pain only to shake hands after it was over in some kind of mutual brutish respect; a respect that seems to stand for the will, courage and pain tolerance of their counterpart. Perhaps even more accurately a respect for the distinct lack of fear a fighter possesses.
A close friend of mine that has more tales of exchanging fisticuffs than teeth in his head, told me the most satisfying rush he ever felt while brawling was when he stood up for a weakling friend and was consequently beaten by a half dozen drunks outside a bar. The part that he claims was one of the most boisterous moments of his life was when he rose up off the ground, broken, bloodied and bruised, and dauntingly staggered back to his friend’s car. The small mob just stood and watched, unable to believe that he could withstand their vicious beating, appearing as indifferent to their assaults as if he just tasted a Coors Light for the first time. I suppose at its bedrock the reason for this proud mentality is that you could live without any real fear. Suffering through such a beating or physical trauma, the kind of pain that people often worry about and spend their lives trying to avoid being subject to, would make intimidation and threatening circumstances nonexistent.
Perhaps this is why a Fight Club is such an engrossing concept. You go, you fight, you shake hands, and you never talk about it. It doesn’t interfere with your regular life but you are afforded the understanding of what it is like to give or take a beating. You find out what you’re made of, at least in some respect, in ways that poker, tennis and downward facing dog just don’t reveal. And that’s the part about fighting that I envy. There is no faking it. Things like bravado, confidence, smarts, and worldliness, if advertised properly can all be passed off as defining traits when it’s actually a complete façade. Fighting on the other hand would banish those attempts as futile because they would no longer hold any ground. As the grand philosophizing boxer Mike Tyson once said “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Then we find out what we’re really made of.
For myself it’s not as if I never had the opportunity to throw a few haymakers, as I was bullied plenty through grade school; a lot of it no doubt coming from the fact that I never retaliated. But now it’s probably too late to strike this off the bucket list because a grown man that fistfights is plainly an idiot. No longer would I be considered a ‘tough guy’ by my peers, but rather an irresponsible hothead without any respect or commonsense. Plus adults fall harder, heal slower and have more at stake so the chances of facing a hospital stay or an assault charge is much greater. But again, I don’t want to hurt anyone and it’s not respect from peers that I yearn for. It’s just the mystery of how I would react if I were to be punched in the face. It’s the quest for truth I wonder about. A barbaric quest no doubt, but maybe these so called knucklehead scrappers are looking for something more than violence, maybe they are trying to find something out that rest of us are afraid of…or maybe they’re just assholes.
I’ll probably never find out what it’s like to scrap. I’ll never have that feeling of standing over someone with battered fists and a heaving chest, rejoicing in my victory. Conversely, I’ll probably never stare through rapidly swelling eyes at someone lording over me as I whimper on the ground hoping that my punishment is over. I suppose that’s a feeling I can learn to live without.
Kris Kantrud is a freelance writer. If you have any questions, comments or complaints please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.