Anyone who knows me would not be surprised to find out that I was not much of a scrapper in my youth. I engaged in the usual youthful foolishness like trading licks (hitting each other in the arm to see who could inflict the most pain with a single punch), wrestling the neighbor kid (mostly trying to force the other one to the ground and pinning them for a split second before they wriggled out and returned the favor) or my favorite “foot fighting” (not kick boxing….just putting your hands behind your back and trying to trip the other guy). None of this prepared me for the manly art of self-defense. I had to depend on my wits….not so much to talk my way out of trouble as to keep myself from getting into trouble in the first place.
Once I reached junior high (there were no middle schools in Austin, Texas when I reached my teen years), I discovered that there were boys who just liked to get into fights. I am not talking about pinning down the neighbor kid on reasonably soft carpet grass. I am talking about closed fisted punching. A real blood sport. It was a real benefit to know a) how to make a decent fist b) how to use your left arm to deflect blows c) how to move your head when the punch navigated around your best left arm deflection. That was what I learned early on in junior high by watching a kid get clobbered over and over by a kid who knew how to fight.
The victim in this assault had two problems. One, he did not know the first thing about self-defense. Two, he had a smart mouth. He kept insulting the bully no matter how many times he got punched in the face. It occurred to me that I had both problems myself.
I had a nice clique of friends at school (which is lesson number one in surviving junior high). They were all jokesters with a good sense of humor. All but one. We will just call him “Billy” (because I am still afraid of him). Billy was good with jokes being made about anyone else, but never, under any circumstances, make fun of him. Billy was ready to take you outside at the drop of a hat. That made my friendship with Billy a bit strained.
One day, one of the ubiquitous trouble makers (there are always plenty of pot stirrers in junior high) notified me that Billy was looking for me. He’d heard (from some other trouble maker) that I was talking about him behind his back and he was going to fight me. Well, I had no idea what, if anything, I’d said. Chances were pretty good that I’d said something because we were all jokesters. We made fun of everything. That is how we survived. No doubt, I’d said something that was worthy of making Billy mad. It did not take much.
Billy caught me in the hall and told me that he was coming over that afternoon and we were going to have it out. All he had been told was that I had been talking about him. No details. That was all he needed to know.
Now, keep another thing in mind. I was a skinny kid. Billy was a football player. My prospects were bad. All I could do was figure out how to get this over with quickly. I picked a place where we could fight (down by the railroad tracks where the weeds were tall and no one would see us). I knew I could not get out of this. Billy was determined. All I could do was postpone the inevitable. I was not going to live the rest of my life running. I would let him have his pound of flesh.
When Billy arrived, he was red-faced and sweating. It was an hour walk from his house to mine. That shows you his determination. An hour walk and he was still ready to fight. We headed down to the railroad tracks and I said, “Just hit me. I will fall down. You can tell everyone that you won the fight.” Billy had a little stronger sense of dignity than that. He was bigger. He wanted me to throw the first punch. We debated this for a few minutes. My sense of dread was getting stronger so I had to do something. I did not know how to make a decent fist. I was sure that his left arm would crush my right arm as he deflected my blow and then I would be wide open for a savage beating.
I did the only thing I knew how to do. I ran around to his back and jumped on it. It was just like the thing the girl does in an old black-and-white movie when someone is beating up the hero. She jumps on the villain’s back and starts hitting it ineffectively. In my case, I had one weapon. During my years of wrestling the neighbor kid, we progressed from simply pinning each other down to putting a choke hold on each other trying to get them to “give.” It was ineffective because we learned how to maneuver out of a choke hold. But it was all I had.
I put my best choke hold on Billy. After a few seconds, he grabbed my arm, threw it off his neck and gasped, “I give!” I stood there in amazement. He’d broken my choke hold but he still gave up. Billy was fighting back his tears. He’d been beaten by a wimp. He then produced a short piece of chain from his pocket and said, “Let’s go again and this time, I’m not holding back.”
Now all I could do was to keep my distance. I was not getting near that piece of chain. No more choke holds today. I was sizing up my chances for getting out of this thing with wounds I could hide from my parents when I saw two tough looking high school boys walking down the tracks. I thought, “Drat! Now I’m going to have to deal with them also,” but to my surprise, they walked over to Billy and shoved him. “Give me that!” barked one of them as they pointed to his chain. Billy handed it over. “This doesn’t seem like much of a fair fight, a big guy like you, pulling a chain on a little guy. Take your chain and get out of here.” Off Billy ran. When Billy was a good distance off, they started back down the railroad track.
About an hour later, I got a phone call from Billy. He was in a rage. He threatened me with the beating of my life time if I ever told anyone what happened. For about a week, people were curious. I don’t know what Billy told them, but I just said, “It wasn’t much of a fight. We pushed each other around a bit. He took it easy on me.” The last word I heard on the topic was that kids had concluded that I’d talked my way out of it.
So….what does that have to do with anything? Don’t let the odds beat you. Use whatever tools you have been able to develop and don’t run away from the challenge. People are getting jobs every day that they did not match on paper. Sometimes, things go your way.
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