Having practised martial arts in various guises and with a number of competitive ‘fights’ under my belt, most people are alarmed to discover that I actually tend to avoid fighting. It isn’t through cowardice, as some may suggest, but simply the usage of one of the first rules of defence: avoidance. Avoiding a punch, kick, head-butt, knife wound or GSW is much easier if you are on a different street.
Also, having been born in South Africa, some people are equally surprised to hear that I am not a racist. Apparently, according to a few people in Britain all “Seuth Afrikans are reecist”, as they try to remind me, which makes me laugh. Personally, I would say that most South Africans are prudes, not racist, but maybe that’s for another article.
A fight over the weekend past almost changed all of this.
I was walking home at about 3am after a night drinking with some friends and as a shortcut I walked down a side road that is well lit, lined with residential apartments and a great big petrol station. It’s a shortcut I’ve taken many times and didn’t think anything of seeing a couple of guys clustered in a doorway avoiding public scrutiny as they rolled what I assumed were cigarettes. Usually happy to ignore and be ignored at such a time of night I continued past, however, from one of the doorways a pair of gentlemen noticed me.
I have been strictly forbidden to write what they said verbatim but it was deliberately vulgar and disparagingly offensive. I responded saying, “Have a good night guys,” as I passed and continued on my way.
It was a very sarcastic response on my part, but I was eager to get home. Then they continued, spouting vulgarities regarding my mother, my father and my sisters. Then direct taunts about me being a coward as I walked away. Followed by more abuse towards my family.
I stopped, turned and walked back to confront them both and ask for an apology.
Yes, I was angry, yes I was trying to diffuse the situation by asking them to apologise because yes I know that they were trying to impress each other as they huddled in a doorway in their new trainers, skinny jeans and hoodies. Yes, I wanted them to apologise meekly and skulk away like the vermin they were. I am not happy about the thoughts in my mind.
Instead of an apology I got more abuse while each of them rolled a cigarette. When I asked again one of them spat on my shoe.
I shoved him and demanded an apology and was met with a flurry of attacks from his colleague and for a brief, even beautifully graceful moment, we were locked in a fight scene from a Steven Seagal or a Jet Li film.
I skilfully parried the punches with surprising ease (did I mention I had been drinking with some friends?) and years of training under Senseis in two different countries guided my footwork with sublime balance and ease. It was as if the world had slowed down so everyone could watch this twerp throwing punches and me dodging them with choreographed and practised skill.
I spotted the man I had shoved circling around me and was hit by a windmill punch in the eye by his colleague.
I recall dozens of punches repeatedly colliding with the back of my head as I held the puncher by the throat against a stone wall which I had thrust him hard against because I didn’t want to hurt him with a punch. To avoid this kind of injury I may have done it more than once.
However, at the same time I do recall throwing a punch and it hitting the other target in the face who had decided that joining in the fray would be a good idea. During the whole fiasco I threw perhaps two or three actual punches, never once considering stepping back and letting out a screeching cat like scream or throwing a kick which would have been equally disastrous and hilarious considering how tight my jeans were not to mention I was vexed because they were making the mistake that many untrained fighters make in a brawl- they were attacking wrong!
Seconds after the scuffle had begun it ended.
The apology, which I had asked for and had been given but was promptly followed by more abuse, verbal threats about my family as the pair departed. When I think back on it I am sure they were limping, but I can’t guarantee this as I never went for their knees.
I suppose technically I won, but I feel more ashamed and frustrated by the entire event because of what I remember the most: they weren’t English. At a guess I would say eastern European but this is a total guess but for an instant I thought, “Bloody foreigners,”
I have never felt like such a hypocrite.
It served to prove something; fighting outside of the ring is pointless and achieves nothing. These gentlemen were weedy, with the upper body strength of mice and while I may have a shiner, I have been hit harder by my niece swinging an inflatable hammer. I guess with my training and my physical size I could have caused them some real pain, just like Steven Seagal. Maybe I could have broken bones or smashed a larynx. I could have thrust his head a bit harder against that wall. I could have left them on the floor, begging for me to stop and if you had heard the sort of uncalled things they were shouting and if you had been spat on, you may well have wanted me to do so too.
And then I would have been summarily arrested for grievous bodily harm. Six foot five martial artists don’t fit the shape of a victim very well.
But what if I hadn’t cared? Or hadn’t stopped? What would I have to show for it?
Great I beat up a bunch of fellow immigrants at 3am in the morning. And adding some additional reasoning to it, only while writing this has it occurred to me that it’s unlikely that there would be two sober gentlemen out at that time of night. So marvellous, I got into a drunken brawl with two guys just because they hurled some abuse at me?
Luckily, we all walked away from it but looking back, the fight had nothing to do with an apology. For the same reason they used verbal abuse on me, I approached them and demanded an apology because I wanted to dominate and not want to be the victim. I felt like I had to, but more importantly, I wanted to.
… years of watching films where a fight is over when one man is left standing and years of competing where a fight is over when the referee calls it had left me with a subconscious idea of what it is to win. You win when the other person has clearly, clearly lost…
Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, we have in ourselves something that feeds off of dominating another person. When we feel justified it is often through the mollification of someone else. Is being right no longer enough for us, do we want people to admit that we are right and that they are wrong?
I didn’t focus so much time on learning how to fight so that I could get involved in such scuffles. I learnt how to fight so I could protect my friends and family – none of which were in any danger from these gentlemen. My Senseis and coaches would be disgusted in me and the friends that supported me should have known better than to encourage such activities and suggest that I should find them.
I hope I do run into them again because I want to apologise. I am not responsible for how other people live their lives or the mistakes that other people make, the lapses of judgement and the silly things that people live to regret doing, none of that is my concern. The only thing I am solely responsible for is how I conduct myself.
Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never harm me.