Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.17.39 AM“You box?” asked my friend.

“Boxing” is a specific art. I can’t say I box. Do I own boxing gear? Full contact safety stuff with a gag reflex mouthpiece, “get bashed in the head” Olympic headgear, and 14-ounce gloves because I don’t need the full pound? Yes. I own boxing gear. I’m trying to give it away. I don’t need it anymore.

I sparred as full contact as I could when I was able. My opponent always survived. For me, sparring was a chance to use my head–if only to protect the wall behind me. Fixing walls is hard. If the dent’s small, it’s not so bad–just patch it up. Matching the paint is a whole different matter. It’s never exact. Bigger holes are much harder. Better to keep the wall whole or it’ll be more work for me.

I confessed I don’t “box” box. It’s an art best left for those tougher than me. I’ve knocked myself out before, I don’t need to step in a ring and let someone else do it. Good fighters get angry–fired up. I’m calm. I’d rather shake hands with someone than punch him out. Japanese sword was better for me. I still got hit in the head, but first I got to meditate.

I’ve fought in and won competitions though.  A lot of times I won because there was no one fighting in my bracket. I guess girls don’t want to stand in a square and get duke it out. I got trophies just for breathing. 19th century swordsman Yamoaka Tesshu, one of my favorites, called this “The sword of no sword.” To win a fight without fighting is the ultimate victory. He was known for stranding challengers on islands, saying, “Oh, I forgot my sword…back in a minute.” It worked pretty well for him. He lived.

When I did fight, it was all very simple. No smoke and mirrors. No “wax on-wax off.” Step back, side kick. Point.  My opponents were serious. How could something that simple cost them the match? They got mad–they were highly rated. I was not–I competed for fun. I repeated the strategy–it worked. Angle, side kick, point. Something a first-grader would do. Why does everything have to be complex? Why can’t it be fun?

Regarding real life fights, someone much older and wiser advised, “If you get into a real fight, you’ll never use this stuff anyway. Better to keep both feet on the ground. And run.” 

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 6.19.42 AMRun. That’s a strategy I like. It served me well in the day. I like to think mankind is good, but truth is, there are bad guys out there. I used to live in the bottom floor of a house near the psych ward, not too far from the jail in Rochester, New York. Once in a while the criminally insane waiting at the bus stop in front of my window would rattle on the front door. I learned to leave the shades open and twirl my French knife in the air. I don’t think I looked menacing, though. I think I looked equally crazy standing there in the living room hacking up an air turkey that wasn’t there. I suppose I could have glared into their souls and said, “Vegetarians–that’s how we roll,” or if I were a better actor, “I ate the last one that touched my door.”

Running’s effective when the insane finally catch up. When a guy gets out a car with no pants on–in Rochester, where the windchill is a million below rendering man’s best friend a popsicle in five seconds flat–something’s not right.  Running is nothing short of perfect.

“He who lives to run away, lives to run another day.” Tesshu had it right. No fight’s a good fight. He had wits. I had run.

I’m old now. I know the best way to deal with an opponent isn’t to avoid fighting him–it’s not to have one at all. Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. He kept his friends close and his enemies closer. If you hated Lincoln, he’d give you a job. You’d love him before long. If Lincoln were a boxer, he’d show up, touch gloves, and take you to lunch instead.

I’ve watched a lot of fights in my careers–people fighting others, fighting policy, fighting the workplace bully, and fighting themselves. I’ve been in some of those fights, and I’ve done a lot of running. I don’t like to fight and running isn’t always the right choice.

“Not fighting” doesn’t mean being a doormat, either. There’s a fine line between fighting in vain and challenging a wrong, standing up for oneself. There’s an equally subtle distinction between ignoring and outflanking. But sometimes a person has to be willing to step in the ring.  As I get older, I have few hits to the head left in me. So, I work on my strategy and try a little harder not to protect the wall.