Sunday, October 25, 2009
The Last Fight I Lost
A few years ago I was talking with a young guy from another Dojo who was about to test for Black Belt. He commented that he wondered if his martial skills would work if he needed to defend himself. I was a little shocked, and I asked him if he'd ever been in a fight before. He said no. I laughed, bought him a Beer and told him not to worry, his skills would be there when he needed them. But inside, I wondered.
You see, I had rarely thought about that. I had been in lots of fights before I ever started training in the Martial Arts.
This year, at 50, I've got enough distance from my youth to look back and see things with the perspective that age brings. There are two things that stir unparalleled emotions in young men; fighting and fucking. Both are extremes in passion and expression, fueled by hormones and experimentation. It's a brave new world.
There were so many scraps that barely rate as a fight, but some that bordered on life-changing. One of the first big ones was with a kid named Teddy in 6th grade. We met in the back field after school, a crowd around us. As a kid, we were always told not to hit, so I wasn't a very good hitter. Teddy, whose hair was redder than mine, got a few good punches in and we wrestled until we got tired. That was it.
But the following year, I was a little bigger and stronger. I was down in the cafeteria where a nerdy friend of mine named Berkley was being bullied by a mean kid named David. I got between them, David knocked the notebook out of my hands and the fight was on. I put one hand on a locker and another on a table and launched myself Errol Flynn-style into David with a kick. It got into grapling, and David got me in a headlock and threw me on the ground. Before I could get up, he kicked me in the head. That's the last fight I lost.
Years later, I picked David up hitchhiking. I drove him to town in my '70 Cuda. He was strung out on drugs and committed suicide sometime later.
High-school wrestling was a great sport for channeling all that adolescent energy, and provided some basic fight skills as a bonus.
One day while aimlessly loafing around the school, the call to help our buddy Dickey went out. It seems there were these guys in their late twenties that had chased Dickey into the school. They were rough street people, nobody knew where they lived but they were rumored to have cut the brakelines of another guy's car earlier.
As I rounded the stairs to the area in front of the auditorium, one of them swung a wine bottle at Dickey's brother Bob, and it shattered on the floor. There were three of those guys and way more of us. I grabbed one and slammed him into a wall, then held him in a choke hold from behind and put my back to the wall. My friend Terry had one guy on the ground and was pounding him. The third came to me and said to let his friend go or he'd cut me with a knife. Right then, with a huge group of students gathered around us, one of the male teachers came to break up the fight. Those guys went to jail, and none of us got suspended.
Around that same school year, there were similar incidents. One night, we were in a store in Northwest Portland, then called "Heroin Alley" trying to buy Beer. My friend Bud was waiting for us outside when trouble broke out. I ran outside and grabbed the Junkie who was fighting with Bud, drove him into a car fender and laid into him with body hooks. We got our Beer and got out of there.
Sometime that Spring, we traveled across town to 82nd avenue where the hot rod car action had moved when the Cops shut down Broadway. There, in a McDonalds reastaurant, my best friend John got hit in the eye by a guy named Teague, who was one of the star football players in that school district. We were clearly outnumbered, and retreated to John's '51 Mercury and headed back to our turf.
The next Saturday night, fueled by cheap Beer and fresh troops, we headed back over to 82nd to see if we could settle the score. This time we had several cars, and John and I were riding in Dave's '54 Oldsmobile. We parked across from the McDonalds to wait for the other cars with our buddies. Well, that '54 Olds looked enough like John's '51 Merc, and we were spotted. Out of nowhere, carloads of local kids started pulling in and gathering around us. Where were our guys?
There must have been sixty people circled around us three. As it is with these things, most people just want to watch, not get their noses bloodied. But three of them squared off with three of us. "That's the one Teague hit last week" said the guy pointing at the black eye John was sporting. The fight was on. One guy threw a punch at Dave, who was wearing glasses and got cut. I stepped between them and that's the guy I took. It was all like slow motion. He threw a loopy right, and a left, both which I blocked easily. The wrestling kicked in and I took him to the ground, with both of us rolling to the curb of 82nd with traffic a few feet from our heads. I managed to get on top, with his face down on the sidewalk. I hit that shithead with hammerfists to the back of the head until one of his buddies grabbed me by the sweatshirt and yanked me off. John and Dave were mixing it up with the other guys. Some religious couple quoting scripture stepped in and tried to break it up, right as our reinforcements made it to the fight. It turned into a stand-off for just a minute, and the crowd drew the attention of the Cops, who broke up the scene and sent everybody packing. We headed back to our turf, we still had Beer, and considered that one a victory. My friend John had another black eye, and we called him "Rocky Raccoon". This was at a time when a fistfight was a fistfight, no guns or knives thank goodness.
Two seperate guys got their noses busted by me when I hit them first. One tried to get revenge and actually found us on a side road and threatened me with a gun. I had a feeling he was too chicken to shoot, and I approached his car. He shoved the gun under his carseat. As I walked to his car, he backed away and I found the gun and threw it out into the bushes. The guy flipped out in a rage. He raced his car out of there, passed some Cops a few blocks away, and was arrested. The Cops came back to where we were parked, and I showed them where I threw the gun. They gave that kid an "elevator ride" in the jail when he tried to fight with the jailors.
I went to work right out of school, had to grow up, start paying rent and feeding myself. There were a few weird scrapes, including saving a Mexican girl from being raped while I was working an overnight shift at a gas station on Burnside in Portland. But I hadn't worked it out of my system yet.
One night after work my friend Mark and I hopped in his GTO and went to a car lot (again, on 82nd ave.) where I had started negotiation on buying a Plymouth Duster with a 340. Nice car. Never bought it. Got in a fight with the used car salesman.
I can't remember exactly how it started, but we argued, and the salesman tried to kick me in the balls. I instinctively blocked it and took him down with a judo leg sweep from wrestling. His sport coat came off in my hands, and I stood over this pathetic middle-aged car salesman, whipping him with his sport coat. Mark and I got out of there before they could call the Cops, and I had some answering to do at work because the company I worked for owned that car lot also. There were a few other dust-ups, but nothing special.
When I finally made the decision to go back to school, I started a Goju-Ryu Karate class for P.E., like thousands of other students try on a whim. Except I never stopped. That class channeled my energy into a path that would lead me to maturity, my first of several Black Belts, and lasting friendships with Dojo friends that beat me up so other guys couldn't.
Something changes when you take up a martial art in a serious way. Sure, I had some minor incidents after that. The difference was, I could handle the situation without breaking anybody's nose or rolling around in mud and broken Beer bottles. simple things like positioning, joint-locks or simple avoidance worked quite well. I didn't have anything to prove to anybody. Hell, I'm old now and there's plenty of people out there that can hurt me, so I stay out of trouble for the most part.
Some fights were emotional, some in rage, some with fear, others just cold procedure. But "the machine" always turned on.
Which brings me back to the young guy I mentioned in the beginning. He did get his Black Belt. He's probably still wondering if his skills will work if he gets into a fight.
I got that question out of the way years ago.