John DeVore’s “Why Men Fight” is both an excellent insight into the minds of men in general and into DeVore’s own gray matter. In spite of his eloquently wrought prose, DeVore seems to suffer from a sort of cognitive dissonance on the joys and glory of battle. On the one hand, fighting is epic, manly, invigorating, life-affirming and instinctual. On the other hand, it’s the realm of asshole hipsters, frat-boy broheims, and, ugh, Texans. These groups, as I’m sure DeVore is aware, are reviled by everyone except those who count themselves among their ranks. And hipsters are self-hating. So we’re caught in a bit of a conundrum: is fighting the Glorious Activity of Man DeVore describes or is it the last resort of man-children desperate to hold on to some pathetic vestige of self-respect – or at least have it beaten into them? Looking at DeVore’s examples – a hipster who doesn’t like The Dead and oversensitive fratboys – I would guess the latter.
Now don’t think I’m taking this all too seriously. DeVore is no troglodyte, and I know (I hope) his tongue was at least partially in his cheek throughout the essay, but I fear not enough. His rhetoric doesn’t match his examples. We get Homeric descriptions of battle, “Time slows down. Your muscles seem to swell, and your senses sharpen. Victory is an addictive drug” followed by the only truly manly act in the whole article: DeVore’s long-haired friend who took a beating for his principles. Notice DeVore offers no examples of his own fights. Notice he offers no examples of a fight that should have or needed to happen because a genuine affront to justice or personal safety occurred. Instead, what he offers are pictures of miserable, small men with miserable, small minds looking for some company at the bottom. DeVore’s “Why Men Fight” is no more an accurate picture than if he had written “Why Men Write” and then used Glenn Beck and Tucker Max as exemplars of the art.
In light of this, I wish to offer a counter-point to DeVore’s “Why Men Fight.”
I’ve only listened to fight stories from one man with respect, my former martial arts instructor, Cody Randall. The man was a monument to a body and mind honed to the art of fighting. Standing 6’3″, he had the countenance of a Hell’s Angel-cum-Buddhist monk, a barbarian who had made a conscious decision to control and channel his inherent brutality. His hands could at will shift from ball-pin hammers to precision blades to blocks of granite. The amount of violence and destruction this man could unleash upon a human body, with precision, with intention, with design, was staggering. Cody was trained in a form of martial arts similar to the kind developed by Bruce Lee, that is, a form of practical, street tested self-defense. The bulk of his students were people like my mom: petite women who didn’t want to be defenseless. Cody was uninterested in pride or glory, but he held honor and courage in high esteem. He had devoted most of his life and over a quarter of a century to practice and study. For him, hand-to-hand combat was an art.
Cody had three basic mottoes that were exemplified by both his teaching method and his stories.
1. Don’t fight if you don’t have to fight. Walk away, talk your way out of it, get lost in the crowd, run if you must. The first step to winning a fight is not wanting to fight.
2. If you must fight, fight to end the fight. Hurt the other person, badly and permanently if need be, but no more than is necessary for them to cease and desist.
3. There are no rules in a bar or in the street. There are no “sissy” moves when your life is on the line. Never start a fight, but use any and all means to end it.
These rules, mottoes, guidelines, whatever you want to call them, were taught to us everyday by Cody. He told us stories about his time as a bouncer where he would practice katas in the back alley and about potential bar fights where entire groups of black-belts would walk away from unforgivable insults. A great fighter, a real fighter, knows his or her power and will not deign to fight the likes of the people in DeVore’s stories. DeVore’s lofty descriptions of the emotional and visceral thrill of fighting deserve a worthy story, so I submit one of Cody’s favorites, so that you might have a better understanding of how a true fighter fights.
When still in his mid-twenties, Cody was training with a group of devoted fighters. One of these fighters, let’s call him David, had a situation similar to DeVore’s friend with long hair, with very different results. Unlike DeVore’s friend, David was trained in a panoply of self-defense techniques. After exchanging insults in a bar with a Hulked-out jock who didn’t like David’s hair, David simply walked out of the bar. The Hulk followed and tackled David in the alley with David landing on his back. The Hulk straddling him and started throwing drunk and sloppy punches, easily deflected by David. Exhausted and infuriated, the Hulk ceased his barrage to reach for a knife on his belt. At that instant, David’s hand shot up, his thumb and fingers encircling the Hulk’s windpipe. The giant drunk froze with terror. Treating the Hulk’s throat like a handle bar, David moved the Hulk so both were standing and pushed the Hulk against the wall, tightening his grip on the windpipe. In a low, steady voice, David said, “If you follow me, or I see you again in that bar, I will kill you.” He then unclipped the knife from the Hulk’s belt and slid it into his own pocket, let go, and walked away.
At the end of the fight, neither man was hurt, but one was completely disarmed and the clear loser, in every sense of the word.
Wanting to fight, needing to fight, instigating a fight has nothing to do with being a man. A man can walk away, a man can weather an insult, a man can defuse a situation; a man only fights when he knows he is already in one – starting a fight is the act of a man who has already knows he isn’t much of one. From his examples, and from his mother’s sage advice, DeVores knows that is the truth.
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