Letting primal instincts come to the foreground
Fighting is a really bad idea. If you fight you will get hurt, you will get injured, you will hurt other people, and your psyche will bear that scars of that hurt. I love to fight, and I’ve done it much of my life.
Why I Like to Fight
When you first start to fight, it’s terrifying. There is chaos and violence. The world is loud, confusing, moving too fast. I don’t know how old I was the first time I was in a fight, maybe five or so. It was probably a schoolyard thing.
I was a weird, awkward kid. I liked to read, and my clothes were always wrong, not cool. I wore brown corduroy bell bottoms and plaid shirts. This was because it was the early eighties, and all we could afford was used clothing. I was also shy and didn’t know the social cues the other kids knew. See, I lived in another country. No, not literally, but essentially. I lived in hippie land where TV was banned, and sugar was the enemy.
So yeah, I got beat up a lot. I’ve heard that psychological bullying is worse than physical bullying. I have never heard that from someone who has been on the receiving end of real physical bullying. It isn’t like the kids who are getting punched in the face aren’t also getting called names, being ostracized, hearing rumours spread about themselves. All the psychological stuff still happens.
The hippies used to preach pacifism. “Tell them you aren’t scared of them, they will leave you alone.” That doesn’t work. Don’t try it. Being pinned to the ground by four boys who were larger than me while a fifth, the largest of the group, straddled my chest and punched me in the face over and over again was what that tactic earned me.
In grade six, I was in line. It was winter, and we were going to gym class. Our school was divided into the main building and a series of portables a few blocks away. Gym class was in the main building, and all our other classes were in the portables. One of the kids, the only black kid in my class (this was rare, most areas I had lived in were predominantly black, but in grade six we were subletting in a co-op for Russian immigrants), kept punching me in the back of the head as we walked.
I hit my breaking point. I turned around and grabbed my antagonist by the throat and slammed him into a snow bank. I screamed into his face, told him if he touched me again, I would kill him. I got detention for a long time after that incident.
That kid never attacked me again, and the physical violence eased off. I was accused of being racist after that and made things much worse for myself later. The same kid kept calling me names. One day I snapped and said, “Would you like it if I called you a nigger?” As an adult, I regret using those words and realize that it isn’t close to being equal. At the time, I was a badly damaged child. I was now the class racist. Thankfully I was only in that school for one year.
Junior high happened after that. I learned that I could fight and I carried that through. I was still bullied, but I found some kids who were outcasts like me, and we formed a group. It was good; there was some safety in numbers not to mention people who could share my misery, who didn’t just dismiss me as a loser. By grade eight, I was on a hair trigger and would fight at the drop of a hat. I even bullied one kid. I regret that. He switched schools as a result.
After that, I ended up in the Solomon Islands for a while. I came back to Canada by way of Papua New Guinea, a messed up place. All of that left me pretty ill-equipped to deal with life in Toronto. I flamed out pretty bad and fought a lot more. It turned out it felt good. It helped to quell the rage and anger that filled me. I trained martial arts on and off as well, starting at age seven. Some was formal; some was informal, friends who trained, friends who also liked to fight.
I ended up on the street in Toronto and fought a lot. There’s nothing like being homeless and dealing (and doing) drugs to get you into fights. Things got bad, and I realized that I needed to leave Toronto or I was going to die young. Moved back in with my Mom and she moved me to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I got into a lot more fights in Halifax. I mean a lot more. At one point, I developed a habit of baiting neo-nazis into fights. I was on and off the street in those days. Then I had a kid. That was it; no more street fights for me. I got lazy and sedentary, but I then I got back into martial arts and started fighting in a more organized, formal setting. The rush was still the same, the focus, the adrenaline. On the plus side, the odds of me dying or being arrested went way down.
Fighting is intense. Your body fills with adrenaline, and you go to this calm place, it’s strange because, after those early fights where everything is overwhelming, fighting becomes a place where you can stop being overwhelmed. Your entire world becomes tightly focused, everything narrows to you and your opponent, at least that’s how it is for me.
There is a feeling when your fist hits, a good solid connection. It’s amazing. You feel a shock go down your arm, but it’s not bad, it feels powerful, connected to the world, to the primal ancestors that still live in our brain stem. A well-executed kick at the right moment is poetry, dance. There’s a reason they call it martial arts.
When you are fighting your mind clears. Your emotions settle. The anxiety you feel over tomorrow, over money, over your relationship, all of that goes away for a few minutes. The calm lasts longer than the fight.
There is nothing I have experienced that is capable of tiring you out as a fight. Your body and your mind feel like they have worked hard; they have fulfilled the job they evolved to do. There is a high from fighting, win or lose. There is clarity.
If you fight, you will get hurt. I mentioned that before, but it bears repeating. You will break bones. I have broken toes, fingers, my nose. Once I was kicked in the head for a very long time while I lay on the ground trying to cover my face. I bled a lot. Head wounds tend to do that. I didn’t even really fight that time, I got hit once and folded.
The worst injury I’ve had was sparring. I tore my ACL, my MCL, and my meniscus. The MCL and meniscus weren’t too bad. My ACL needed to be replaced. Knee surgery is a bitch. I’m talking walking with a cane for a couple of years kind of injury. The surgery fixed my knee, but I still experience severe pain if it’s cold and damp out. I will, for the rest of my life.
I have scars — lots of them. Most are small — split skin on my knuckles. I have a split in my right eyebrow where I got hit with a stick during a fight. A half moon on my forehead from a fist. More on the top of my head under my hair.
My knuckles hurt in the cold — a lot. I’ve broken them quite a few times, and that leads to long term arthritis.
Then there’s the other stuff. Things sometimes seem two-dimensional now that I don’t fight, like the world isn’t as full, as rich, as deep. If I’d never started fighting, I wouldn’t have that. Then there are the memories of times I hurt people. I’m talking back in the day when the fighting was real. A fight where I knocked someone out, except it was a friend and the reasons were stupid. The guilt for that hasn’t left me. Times I went too far and hurt someone more than I wanted to. Times where I left permanent damage. That won’t go away anytime soon.
What it all Means
I don’t know what it means. I know that fighting is something primal, something that lives deep inside of us. I do know that I feel closer to complete when I fight, but that I’m still not sure it’s worth the cost.
This post was inspired by a Medium conversation with Jason Weiland. He’s a very talented writer and deserves enormous respect and success!
Thanks for listening.