I was 13 years old when I went through one of the most significant yet utterly inane rites of passage of being male.
I’d been doing some aikido the entire summer before school started. After two straight years of being a punching dummy for bigger kids and going home from school in tears, my dad thought it’d be high time for me to start defending myself.
That little piece of information went around quickly like a bad case of herpes. And these little assholes stoked the fire.
One particular kid called me out for a little juvenile game of “ten seconds.” Here’s how it worked: two guys meet in the boys’ room during their break and duke it out for ten seconds. No hits to the face were allowed.
Nobody really came out as the winner. It was more of a litmus test of one’s grit and hardness. Whoever came off as the dominant one got to enjoy a bit of bragging rights in those tiled, piss-laden corners of the school.
I still remember it like it happened a few hours ago. I was up against the wall in my aikido stance as the other kid squared up. On his right was one of his buddies who poked fun at me for whatever bullshit reason every chance he had.
The ten-second clock starts and I throw a lazy jab. He counters by blitzing with at least five punches in rapid-fire. I cover up in retreat by curling back towards the wall, with both hands in front of my face. It was the longest, most miserable ten seconds I’d ever gone through at the time.
The story should’ve ended there, but it didn’t. Word about my pitiful showing got around. As it was customary for me during this period of my life, I was jeered at and called every insult that degraded and questioned my character as a male. And I lived through it for the next five years of my life.
I’ve always pointed to these scarring experiences as the reason why I do what I do now. But even with the amount of training and beatings I’ve taken in the gym, I wouldn’t think twice about backing down from a similar situation if it happened today.
Yet, many others — particularly those who absolutely have no clue about what it’s really like to get smacked around in a controlled environment — are the ones who feel like they’re the apex predators of the streets.
I’m sure a lot of you are as puzzled as I am with how men have such an overblown perception about their ability to fight. Well, I could be wrong, but I think I know why.
For the lack of a better word, this is what I’m calling it right now. Anyone who steps out into the world with the thought of “Fucking shit up today” has no place in society.
Every man walking this green Earth has machismo running deep in their veins. Whether it’s exhibited or not, it’s hardwired in our systems dating back to our formative years.
In our world, successful intimidation equals commanding respect. It’s why you see dudes in street fights puffing their chests, trying hard to look like the alpha male of the situation.
You try to bark your loudest, hoping that the other person cowers with their tail between their legs and walks away. But you fail to realize at that moment that you’re both programmed the same way.
Here’s where it becomes a problem: neither of you has any idea of what the other person is capable of.
He could very well be just like you with the same inflated ego with zero skills to back it up. Or he could be a trained killer underneath the goofy sweater and horn-rimmed specs. Is he even armed?
That’s when you learn one of your biggest, most painful life lessons.
Getting some of that “respect” feeds the ego for days. But for some folks, it’s the sweet fix that lingers for a lifetime.
There’s definitely an unparalleled satisfaction in beating a fellow man in a fistfight. In a sports setting, there’s no better feeling than those precious moments when you get your hand raised after making your opponent say “Uncle.”
You feel like a king. You’re on top of the world, basking in that cloak of invincibility. The other guy? He’ll be feeling that sting for a while. Worst case scenario, he doesn’t recover from it.
They say the ego is the most fragile thing in the universe. Nine times out of ten, you’ll encounter someone in the street who’s miserably failed at keeping it in check. But we already know how that story usually ends.
A measure of manliness
I still remember one of the first life lessons my father taught me. It came in the form of a story about the boldness pertaining to manhood.
It happened during his high school years. One of the guys he knew apparently berated him to no end. He said he told the dude to stop, to no avail. So as a receipt, he blasted the guy in the nose with an upwards palm strike.
I’ve always had the utmost respect and admiration for my dad from then on. I knew with confidence that if shit went down, he’d be able to defend his family.
This tactic obviously won’t work in this day and age. But there is definitely some value in having the ability to set boundaries through physicality when necessary.
Then you have the class of jerkoffs who have it in their minds that picking a fight is a measuring stick for their manliness. These are the boneheads who’ll act tough with you after you unintentionally cut them off in traffic or if you look at them the “wrong way.”
These buffoons are the bullies in school and the workplace who thrive in other people’s “weaker” fronts.
If you’re one of these idiots, I say this with all my heart: you deserve every beating headed your way. It may not have arrived yet, but just sit tight because it’ll come. This dude just got his.
The Harsh Realities
If you’re part of the sane majority, you already know where this conversation is headed. This section’s for the congregation of insecure manchildren out there.
Real fights are never a sight to behold
Real sex is always messy. It’s never as cinematically raunchy as pop culture portrays. It’s really a collective stickiness of bodily fluids all over your crotch area.
Real fights are always ugly. We’re talking about possible broken bones, fallen teeth, and shattered eye sockets. Heads bouncing off concrete. And if it goes on long enough, there will be blood.
It’s never a clean, highlight-reel knockout that you’d see on ESPN. The people involved normally end up looking like a disgraceful, embarrassing mess. Their inability to fight is amplified to 11.
Then again, there are these outliers.
It’s all futile
So you get to beat the brakes off somebody who gave you a dirty look at the bar last night. You go home with nothing but scratches and a tattered shirt. The other guy’s in the hospital with his jaw wired shut, and will likely be unable to talk properly for the next few weeks.
You check your phone the next morning and see your little fracas go viral on World Star Hip Hop. A few days later, your face makes it to the local news.
Months later, a judge rules in your victim’s favor. You now have to pay him for damages. This all happens after your company decides to ax you for your reckless behavior.
How are you feeling now, champ? How is that brief moment of glory holding up for you?
It’s an infantile pursuit
I just began reading John Gottschall’s The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch. Gottschall is an English professor approaching mid-life who decided to step inside the cage and compete in mixed martial arts.
The book is a chronicle of his experiences, along with the explanation of why he subjected himself to such a menacing undertaking. It’s a fun read so far, and I highly recommend it.
What caught my attention were his historic accounts of the pistol duels in 18th Century England and how it’s all connected to today’s overarching concept of fighting. This particularly stuck to me as it provided a lucid explanation of why we are who are as men:
A culture of honor is really nothing more than a culture of reciprocation. A man of honor builds a reputation for payback. In tit-for-tat fashion he returns favors and retaliates against slights.
Gottschall pointed out how the idea of honor in the 18th Century also represented a man’s entire social wealth. For someone living during that era, you rightly protect it at all costs. Simpler rules for much simpler times.
But society has since evolved by leaps and bounds. We now play by the rules of diplomacy. You’re better off settling a dispute with a handshake than a drawing of blood, regardless of how small the amount.
Nowadays, embodying the ideologies of 18th Century England makes you a childish prick. You’re not worth the time of day, and you’ll never win here, pal. Move along.
The Caveman DNA: An omnipresent life force
An (arguably) great man once said, “I don’t care what color you are, or what language you speak, or what country you live in. We’re all human beings and fighting’s in our DNA. We get it and we like it.”
It’s one thing to be fascinated by impromptu fisticuffs on aisle 12. I’d be lying if I told you I won’t stop whatever it is I’m doing at that moment to spend a few precious minutes of my busy day just to see how this spectacle ends.
But to be one of the participants is a whole other thing. And I’m telling you right now, it won’t end well for you.
If you’re badly itching to trade fists with somebody, get your ass into a gym and lace up some gloves. The worst thing that could happen is you get the shit kicked out of you in a controlled environment. Think of it as a much-needed ego-cleansing session. It all happens to the best of us.
What you get out of it are valuable life lessons along with some old-fashioned genuine camaraderie. That’s a champion deal if you ask me.