Monday, May 23, 2011


Can a fist fight be good? -- at least for self-understanding? I had one that was, I think.

I remember some scraps from boyhood, mostly while playing football with neighborhood friends. But there was one fight that I remember to this day because, in the middle of it, I became immediately aware of the significance of my thoughts. I was about ten.

It was fall and we were on a tree-lined field; our usual football arena. It was cold, getting close-up on winter. Everyone played the game hard, with that energy that kids radiate during their few hours of freedom under fall clouds and falling dark on a school night. 

The original "Rocky": Marciano
Something happened with an elbow -- he claimed it was mine -- and the other guy came after me, swinging maniacally.

I was bigger than most other kids, so I never had trouble with bullies and very few people wanted to take a chance messing with me, even though I preferred Star Trek to Bruce Lee flicks. If things ever came down to a fight, I usually ended it quickly, one way or another. Most of the time, it ended before it started; I could usually make the other guy back down.

Well, this kid was not going to back down. For the first time in my innocent life, I witnessed rage -- real rage -- in another person's eyes. There was blood on his teeth where he'd been elbowed.

He got me solidly on the side of my cheekbone and then on the forehead with the other fist. I turned away from another swing and tripped over someone's foot (there were fifteen other guys around) and I went down into the sneaker-churned mud.

Before I could get up, he started kicking my ribs. I remember thinking: He's not going to stop. What's he thinking? Someone's hands slipped under my arms and lifted me up. I looked over my shoulder and saw my friend George's face. "Get him," he yelled, breathing out steam.

They were holding the other guy back, but once I was on my feet, they let him go and he charged back in. His eyes looked like shark's -- wide and black, but filled with an exclusively human kind of anger. He lunged and got me on the shoulder.

I swung back and bent him over with a fist to the stomach. He was bent over, breathless, waiting for his lungs to open up again. An uppercut would have ended the whole thing.

But that's when things froze: If I hit him in the face, I could really hurt him, I thought. Somewhere else, another voice (the devil on the other shoulder?) pointed out that if this kid could kill me right now, he would. "Get him," I heard George say again.

Hugh Syme's cover for Rush's sci-fi/mythological
exploration of the mind's yin and yang: Hemispheres

I couldn't throw the punch. I was all the way in, mind you; I was enraged; he was acting like an animal; my heart was pounding and the adrenaline definitely had me kind of Hulked-up. But in the midst of that, my head told me that a rough play on the football field wasn't worth maybe blinding a guy I had just sat with in lunch that day -- a guy I was shooting baskets with and laughing with only three days earlier.

He came back swinging furiously, but, using my size advantage, I just pushed him down again and again and again until he just plain quit and cursed me and walked home alone.

I suppose I have always had a kind of disconnect. By no means is it a lack of emotion. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. But, somehow, my reasoning then, and forever after, has always hovered above my emotions, keeping watch, sorting them into actions, even in the most emotional situations -- especially when someone's well-being -- mine or someone else's -- is in question.

Well, on that day, I recognized this, anyway. Yeah, I've lost my cool lots of times but I'm not one of those wall-punching dudes. There's never a likely to be a time when I'm angry enough to throw away the fingers I need to play music. I could never see letting anger drive me to do real damage to another human being, either physically or emotionally.

I believe most of us have this fail safe built-in. Don't we? I certainly hope so. If the thoughts I had in that fight sound like I'm bragging about my wonderfully anomalous  mind, I think we are in big trouble. If my behavior is more absurd than his, we need to do some serious work.

What do you think? Do most of us rule our emotions, or no? I'd love to know how your mind works in similar situations.


  1. I don't think most of us rule our emotions, particularly if we allow for more than 'anger' and its accompanying emotions. Perhaps we control our most extreme emotions consistently.

    A fight, and withholding oneself, is a good example of a response to a strong emotion. I have also caught myself leading into a fight, though most often, I think adrenaline/testosterone control(s) me more than emotion (i.e. anger, frustration, etc.).

    However, small angers can come from something like dirty dishes and dirty clothes. An uncleaned litter box. Not giving close attention to a conversation. These little angers often lead to crueler words than the big angers.

    I'm not so sure I'm explaining myself; I've never had a gift for explanation, particularly using examples. Suffice it to say, I'm of the opinion that most people don't closely govern their opinions (though society could be well-helped by more self-moderators).

    ~ Matt

  2. So, there's a vote for most people having trouble.

    Unrelated note: I was looking at the picture of Marciano punching the other guy. I noticed there is no agression on Marciano's face -- looks like his is concentrating on what he is doing --all business. Could that have been one reason for his legendary success in the ring? --self-mastery?

  3. I'd think that most of the best professional fighters control their own emotions well (though some may certainly provoke emotions in their opponents). Looking at MMA, Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva are both stolid in the ring.

    This makes me think of the "Iceman", a Dutch man who controls his body so completely through meditation that he can sit in a bucket of ice for at least two hours. Researchers have done studies on him, and it seems as though he can send warmth to the colder parts of his body, in a sense controlling presupposed purely physiological reactions.

    Check out an article on him:

    ~ Matt

  4. Interesting -- this puts us in a whole new realm, with Yogis and the like. Control over emotions becomes actual manipulation of body functions, etc. with the mind. THose people are the rarities, indeed. Our only taks is not to flip out. You'd think it would be easy.