“Hey Mr. D! Would you ever fight a student?” It was a common question I’d heard over the years. To which, I would always answer, “No.” “You mean you’d let some kid hit you?” they’d ask, voices filled with incredulity. “No, No. You are asking me two different questions. You see, I think of a fight as a contest for dominance which requires self restraint. Getting hit requires self-defense.” Now dear reader you may rightly accuse me of semantic hair splitting and you’d be correct. But, sometimes in the classroom, even the bald guy has to split a few hairs to get his point across. There is a difference between a contest for dominance and a life saving battle of self-defense. At this point if Erick was in the room he’d say, “Hey Mr. D., tell that story about that time when you were a kid – you know what I mean.” And I’d have to tell it all again…
I’d always begin with my list of warnings starting with, “Don’t fight!” Then I’d quickly point out that, it’s easy to say, but hard to live by. Next, I’d call on authorities wiser than myself. I’d point out that, in The Art on War, Sun Tzu tells us (in Chapter 3 Attack by Stratagem #17) 1) “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” Robert A. Heinlein’s greatest hero, warrior and survivor, Lazarus Long (in Time Enough for Love) says, “I’ve alway watched where I put my feet… and never fought when I could duck out.” If you read my post A Tale of Two Beatings, you may recognize that my philosophies and actions mirror SunTzu and Heinlein.
But sometimes you just can’t duck out. Shakespeare tells us (in Henry V Act III,i) “In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility, But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger:” Unfortunately, many parents and educators don’t get this. Thankfully some of us do.
In Rosalind Wiseman’s most excellent book The Guide (a sort of survival manual for teen aged boys which I highly recommend), she takes the very brave position of saying (in Chapter 5 Frontal Assault) she believes that, “Under specific circumstances you have the right to fight.” I believe that also. [Please read her whole book before you give yourself permission to use her sentence as license.] She then goes on to list critical questions to answer and ironclad rules to follow when defending yourself. Let me point out a few that I used in class and in life that are relevant to my story.
First, remember the rule of law. Wiseman says, always ask yourself, “…am I prepared to accept the consequences from the institutions I’m a part of… ?” Or like David said, echoing the Gray-Bar Hotel philosophy (in What Happened to David), “If you do the crime, be a man about doing the time.”
Second, Wiseman’s rule, “You don’t start the fight by your words…” Heinlein put like this (in Citizen of the Galaxy), “A wise man could never be insulted, since truth could not insult and untruth was not worthy of notice.” That one can be very tricky – more on that in later posts.
Wiseman advises, “You need to stop the behavior, not the person.” Sun Tzu says it this way (in Chapter 3 Attack by Stratagem #2) “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” And Heinlein (in Time Enough for Love) reminds us that, “Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes.”
Now why would I go through all this lengthy explanation in class or now? I didn’t want to sound like I was boasting! In I Was Bullied and A Tale of Two Beatings, I was the victim and the underdog. In this story I was a victim but I was also the undisputed victor and I don’t want to sound like I am bragging.
But I need you to be the judge of my actions in one respect. Ms. Wiseman’s final rule, “You don’t have the right to humiliate the person.” might need some clarification. The way I see it, any defeat is a humiliation of a sort. Being beaten to my knees on Michigan Ave. was humiliating (A Tale of Two Beatings). Winning humiliates the other guy. But the way I interpret Wiseman’s rule is that you don’t have the right to gloat, make the other person eat dirt, steal his pants or things like that. That’s unnecessary. “You need to stop the behavior, not the person.” So you be the judge, and see if I crossed the line.
Self-Defense in 7th Grade
In seventh grade I may have been a nerd, a goody-two-shoes, a whining mama’s-boy, and unable to catch a fly ball, but I was nobody’s cream-puff! I was the oldest of the three of us and expected to watch over (dominate) my two brothers. My parents must have really loved us because we were such hellions, if they hadn’t loved us they surely would have put us in a sack and thrown it into Lake Michigan some dark and stormy night. My brothers and I fought like Tasmanian Devils from the time they could stand – those two against me. So I got very good at subduing without injuring (most of the time) in contests for dominance.
Also, I had started weight training when I was 12. By my 7th grade year, I was 5’ 7” tall, and 135 pounds of muscle, bone and grizzle. That spring I was able to engage in contact sports (see I Was Bullied) and the contests for dominance were in full swing.
But I never expected trouble from Tommy. He was an 8th grader and we didn’t travel in the same circles. Somehow, I got targeted by his radar and he came after me. I was alone and he had a group of friends. He started with verbal abuse which, of course, got him nowhere with me. Then he got physical – pushing and shoving me trying to get me to run or break down. At first I took it just because I was so surprised. I was 6 inches taller than Tommy and at least 3o pounds heavier! I thought, ‘This fool does not know how to pick his battles.’
Finally, I’d reached the point where, like Popeye the Sailor-Man, I’d stood all I could stand and I could stand no more. So I snatched him by the arms and threw him to the ground on his back. I jumped on him and pinned his right arm with my body, reached over his head and grabbed his left hand with mine, and pinned his legs with my right leg, which left my right hand free to do my worst!
Then I tickled him!
He never bothered me again.