Monday, August 15, 2005

Step to the Line

How many of you have been in a fight? I don’t mean a play fight or a verbal match. No, I mean a donnybrook. A slobberknocker as it were. It’s a very strange experience. There’s a combination of horror, adrenaline, and pride all mixed into a giant ball of rage.
It can all start with a word. Just one wrong word can make a person summon up the energy needed to throw that first punch.
We like to believe that we are civilized (a topic I will post on later). We want to see people debate using words. Yet, there is something about a fight. Deep down inside in places we don’t want to talk about, we want to see the debaters grab swords and duel. We want to see blood. Rome could be considered the very pinnacle of civilizations, yet their method of entertainment was quite bloody. Why do most people watch NASCAR? They want to see that crash where the tire shoots into the crowd and crushes the fat grandma. It’s also why wrestling is so popular, why people slow down at car crashes, and why we watch the Three Stooges (though the last features no “real” pain).
So when that first punch comes, or you throw that first punch, it’s not as quick as the
Hong Kong Films make us think. For the sake of this post, we’ll discuss it as a punch coming at you.
I have this ability, so I am told, to use words like a weapon. I’ve talked before about how words have the power to hurt someone much deeper than a beating. Scars on the outside from a kick to the face will fade, but verbal beatings and scarring never fade and are very hard to heal. There have been children who have overcome the beatings given to them by their parents, but a child who is never hugged, never told he or she is loved, or is cut down no matter how often they succeed will often hurt more.
So, having understood this idea since I was a child, I always made sure to have the proverbial “ammo”. One thing you’ll learn, my younger readers, is that if you’re on a college campus, in a high school, or at a job, and you just sit and listen to everyone else talk, you’ll learn things about the people around you that they may not want you to know.
At one point in my college career, I had a very bad break up (again, a topic for another post). Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE, on the campus knew about it. On one particularly rainy day, I grabbed a hot sandwich and sat up in the catwalk of the theatre and ate my lunch. Unbeknownst to the class occurring below me, I was listening to them talk about me. I was the discussion du jour. However, they then branched off from me to talking about their bad breakups and other juicy gossip about other classmates and even faculty members. One girl, in particular, talked about how this one guy made her gain 20 pounds. Now, fast forward two weeks. I’m at a party, and this same girl is trying to give me crap about a life choice. I turned to her and said, “Your thighs look a little chunky. Did Brad break up with you again?” Her face turned red, her mouth hung open, and she just stared at me. That’s the power of words. You take what you know about people, and you twist it like a knife.
Imagine you’ve said something to the wrong person. You’ve insulted his manhood (I’m using the “he” pronoun, because I have never hit a woman, I’ve never had a woman hit me, and I would NEVER hit a woman, even if she punched me in the face or kicked me in the groin). Better yet, let’s use a real example. A person makes a racist statement about the students you teach. You decide to cut into him about the fact that his grades are low, his mind is closed, and his ex-girlfriend told you, over a few pints, that he was the lousiest lay since that eunuch in France (if you don’t get it: he’s bad). From the moment you say the last part, you can see the anger flash into his eyes. This is the moment that our civility melts away. Our primal nature takes over and tells us, “hurt, kill, murder, destroy!”
From the moment his body turns, you know what is coming. The body is turning, the arm is moving back, and the open hand is now a closed fist. In short, this person is going to use man’s first weapon against his fellow human.
Most people will tell you that it’s all a blur, but in truth, time does in fact slow down. Your brain kicks into high gear in order to help you prepare. Thousands of computations and strategies fly through your head. If you been in multiple fights, then you’re figuring out not only where you need to block, but also what points on your opponent’s body are now vulnerable. The surroundings come into play. Do you have the ability to move? Do you need to move? Does this guy have friends that can hurt you? In the time it takes for you to read the first three words of this sentence, a person could have already knocked you out with one punch. This is what I mean about your brain going into overdrive.
Now his arm is coming around, and you’re wondering how high it is, where it's going, etc. When a person takes a swing at you, they often go for the face. Most people have never been in a fight, so they think it should be like the movies. One punch and the bad guy goes down. It’s not that easy usually. Yes, you can knock someone out with a good punch to the chin. Several nerves in the chin are connected directly to the brain. If you hit those nerves hard enough, they will spasm, and the person will drop. How often does that happen? Not very. Fights are also rarely as clean as in the movies. Two men who square off care more about winning rather than using
The Queensbury Rules. A kick to the groin? Some guys don't think twice about it. Eyes and ears are even fair game. It only takes about eight or nine pounds of pressure to remove an ear from the head. That's not much folks.
Maybe you judge the punch right and move out of the way or block it. Perhaps you misjudge, and the punch connects. If the person misses, you have to spring back quickly. Take advantage of their mistake. However, if they hit, it's a different story. Think about the movies again. Whenever that famous actor hits the bad guy, there's a sound. A loud sound that sounds like, "Wo-pow!" In real life, there is no sound if the fist is closed. That is, unless, it connects. If you are hit in the face, you hear the bones and muscle of the fist grind against your own bone, muscle and tendon. The crowd may not hear it, but you certainly can. The sound, along with the pain, resonates to your brain. Think of a sonic boom: the plane passes by, then you hear it. It's the same principle. The fist, foot, or head connects, and you hear it in your brain before the pain blooms.
What happens next depends on who you are. I've seen people get punched and just stand there holding back their rage. I knew a guy in college who was hit in the back with a baseball bat. He got himself up, turned the to person who did it, and said, "I've turned my cheek. Hit me in my chest....I dare you." Others, seeing that they would be hit, ran. With fight or flight, sometimes we run. Me? I've never known better. I defended my students in the very same building where I was gaining my Master's. That's right: I had a fight with a fellow Master's student. It was a mistake (make a note of that, kids, Mr. Leab is saying that fighting is not the right way to go). Why? Well, honestly, words can do more damage if focused in the right places.
Hopefully, however, you never need to throw that punch. If you do, however, make sure you keep your thumb on the outside of your fist. You hit someone with that digit inside, and it's broken.


Voix said...

Ouch. Well-articulated description of where the brain goes when threatened. Isn't it amazing how people getting snotty about our students can bring out the protectiveness in us?

Leab said...

It's not just snotty though. He was flat out making racist statements about my "inner-city" students who would, "do nothing but be on welfare." I have a problem with that.