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Saturday, August 13, 2011

How To Win A Fight

Winner and still champion...

It's been a little while, I know...

Maybe it was the last time you got cut off in traffic. Or maybe it was at your wife's high school reunion and that guy made that comment in the men's room, not knowing you were in the next stall. Or when you were having drinks at the local with your neighbor, and that drunk douchebag asked if you two just got "back from Brokeback Mountain."

Or maybe it hasn't been since the high school dance and, buzzed from your first beers, you wanted to punch the denim off the kid with the Ozzy Patch who bumped into you every day in the halls.

Whatever it was, you've thought about fighting; you've thought what you would do or you've wished what you could do should the opportunity ever present itself.

With the UFC and the emergence of MMA schools everywhere, it seems we've all gotten a little more mindful about the fight game.

I went to the ER recently for a staph infection and told the attending physician that I may have picked it up on a grappling mat. I was prepared to give an introduction to the basics of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, when he proceeded to tell me, as he made the incision and forced the drainage (Oww!) that he trained MMA, and we went into the 'ol "striking versus grappling" discussion.

That's the day we live in.

And with all this said, for all the TAPOUT shirts, and everyone picking up techniques from Youtube, that for all of this interest and devotion, do we know anymore about fighting?


If you do care about this fight stuff,  you are in good company...

Well, you are also in very bad company; in fact, maybe the worst company there is. But that might be obvious, and as the speakers at professional development seminars remind us with goofy illustrations: accentuate the positive.


Writers, statesmen, artists, politicians have long engaged and been fans of the fight game, folks.

Hemingway, Mamet, Fitzgerald, Joyce Carol Oates, London, Aimee Mann, Mailer and on.

Those who immortalize writers and their spirit might suggest that it's their inherent contempt for the status quo.

But writers, like fighters, like the rest of us, are most concerned with their own status quo. And it is the love-hate relationship with status quo that unites them.

Before he was published, Raymond Carver railed at the publications that rejected him; for whoever listened, he derided the editorial staffs and the work they did choose to publish.

When a story of his was finally accepted, he took the actual magazine out with him for a night of drinking in Iowa City and then home where slept with it.

Similarly, the unranked fighter trains for his upcoming bout with the #37 man in his weight class with an indignation for being slighted and belief that those who come up with such rankings are fools who don't know nothin'.

He wins and breaks the top 40 world rankings and now prepares for his next opponent who, how dare he think he can compete,...because he's unranked.

The struggle fighters have, like the struggle writers experience, might be a bit more extreme than anything the average person does, but we are all at heart ridiculous yearners longing for more and better.

Thank God there are those who give voice and legend to our despair.


There is something consummately democratic about the competitive fight: You are grouped by weight class, often by age or, and in the martial arts, by skill/belt level. The social fight, too, is democratic because the pauper can, and often does, outperform his rank and role in society.

That equality is something we like as Americans. It makes sense to us and when you see billionaires and celebrities ringside to watch a kid from a trailer park, it fulfills that American sense of justice and balance.

The duel with pistols had the same intention, to afford the offended a chance to stand up for their honor against a more able-bodied opponent; just because you were bigger and stronger, it didn't entitle you dishonor the smaller man.

But like rewarding for effort in the classroom proves to favor the teacher's bias even more so than a test, the duel system began to see offense only in that which offended the upper-class. You want to trash the man with no property or family? Have at it. As it would evolve in 18th century and on,  the duel system was regulated mainly to protect property owners and men of good name.

And as the duel came to favor the better pistol (that was also regulated), those who could afford finer, custom-made pistol were coming out standing as the lowly sank into the marsh.

And yes, some of the Founding Fathers and early men on import believed in the duel, there were some of rebellious spirit who despised it.

It is not totally accurate that President Andrew Jackson loved duels. The 'ol son-of-a-bitch, who upon entering the White House, brought along his kin and friends who damn near tore the place. Jackson, it seems, believed more in throwing down.

 I suppose Old Hickory, not a sentimental man, enjoyed dueling more than poetry or other soft sciences, but truth be told about the man who engaged in and won two duels: He'd much rather beat you with his fists.

In the latter of his two duels, Jackson's pistol misfired, and as was the rule, as if a faulty gun was a sign from above, he was to hold fire until his rival had his shot.

"Be damned!" Jackson exclaimed, firing again and killing the man.

Why should he be killed by a lesser man because a piece of machinery didn't work, he reasoned?  Shouldn't men settle matters with what God gave him alone?

As we moved away from the duel winner being chosen by "God's will", we began to look at those who toiled and built their muscles for the fight as better men.

Our love for fighting has since bloomed.


There are three different kinds of fights: There's the social/street fight. This has its origins as the after school fight at the tennis courts and later evolves into the bar fight that can occur well into your fifties.

Then, there's the competitive fight: boxing, mma, wrestling, judo, etc.

And, of course, and probably the least prevalent- meaning: of all the fights that exist, the competitive ones and the social ones make up the vast majority- and that is the survival fight.

Common questions about fighting are: Who wins a striker (boxer, muay thai) or a grappler (judo, wrestler, Brazilian jiu jitsu)? As it's well-known: Styles make fights. And those styles change as much within the discipline as between discipline...

Two of the most dominant middleweight college wrestlers of recent years were slick and funky, Darrion Caldwell of NC State, and a meat-and-potatoes hammer named Brent Metcalf of Iowa. When they met in the NCAA Finals, the clash of styles was so significant, it appeared as if they were in separate disciplines.

In an MMA fight, Caldwell and Metcalf would present entirely different problems for their opponents, and yet, there's the tendency to group them because they both happen to compete in the same sport.

The same could be said of Willie Pep (the evader) and Gene Fullmer (the bruiser) had they competed at the same weight class. Both hall-of-fame boxers, but night and day stylistically and temperamentally.

The question isn't what discipline wins, but who is practicing the discipline?

Yes, wrestlers, by and large, should win the takedown game. Boxers can end the fight almost imperceptibly. And in the scramble, the judoka or bjj guy can find a lockout or choke that puts the other guys to sleep.

And of temperament, wrestlers may share that "wrestler's intensity" or the BJJs might possess a characteristic calm, but approaches do vary, coaches have different philosophical leanings and the fighters also represent their region and personal make-up.

Who wins?

Only the most expert followers of the game know, and they are frequently wrong.

And this is in a controlled, officiated contest within a very strict system of rules and measures.

Can you imagine the possibilities in the no-rules brawl outside the local bar?


In the "Pine Barrens" episode of "The Sopranos," Christopher and Paulie pay a visit to a drunken Russian mobster, Valery, who owes the crew money. After suffering Paulie's indignities, he finally snaps when they break his universal remote.

He charges them like an aimless bull; big, but paunchy and ridiculous in pajama bottoms and rumpled t-shirt. Like the pros they are, Christopher and Mr. Walnuts subdue the bull and crack his windpipe. Believing they've killed him, they roll him in carpeting, toss him in Paulie's trunk and head for the wooded area near the state's central shore.

When they open the trunk upon arrival, their Russian friend has bitten through duct tape and is spitting violent Russian epithets. To learn him a lesson, the boys march him into the snowy woods at gunpoint and indicate a spot to commence digging his own grave.

As he notices Paulie and Christopher clad in their leather jackets, hunching their shoulders against the cold, Valery, still in alcoholic evening ware, pounds his chest, exclaiming in Russian:
"You think this bothers me...I wash my balls in ice water!"

Okay. I take you at your word.

Without the privilege of subtitles, Mr. Gaultieri and Moltisanti aren't as on guard as they should be and Valery seizes the opportunity at a moment's flinch and whacks them with a shovel and makes a sprint for the woods.

They shoot and either connecting with flesh or a patch of berries (poisonous, by the way) send a burst of red into the air. Had they hit him? If so, wouldn't he die off somewhere deep in the bush? he out there, stalking? And what kind of machine can endure a gunshot?

Well, evidently: A former Soviet Special Forces officer who killed  sixteen Chechen rebels, which was Valery had been before his descent into booze.

Within hours, Christopher and Paulie are delirious from hunger and cold. Approaching an absurd and certain death in an abandoned van, we ask how did they sink to this when earlier that day they had made relatively quick work of Valery and he, quite possibly, now is holed up in a cave, making a fire from frozen bark and subsisting on flora only a special forces officer trained in Siberia could identify.

They had overpowered Valery in the dank Fair Lawn apartment and were now, should he find them, at his mercy. How?

Christopher and Paulie had left the terrain where they are best, and had entered Valery's wheelhouse.

Just as Valery can make a weapon from a tree branch, or find cover in the hollow of a log and live on berries and squirrel dung, Chris and Paulie own the layout of an apartment: fireplace stokers, Humanitas plaques, lamps, belts and sashes, shoes and every other object not-tied down is a perfectly viable weapon.

Where others might be reticent of second-story windows, they are not. Where others' instincts shut them off when a fight breaks out inside a home, they let loose. And where others are fearful of what they might do to the other person as they could get sued or arrested, Chris and Paulie know that they have ways around that.

Mobsters are free of responsibility to anyone but themselves and their bosses; they have little fear, as that  has been subsumed in their blood oath

But in the frozen Pine Barrens, there is no one to bribe or inveigle. It is just the elements, and Valery, while oafish in the social interaction, he has worked out a nice deal with them, and once out of firing distance, he was taken into a world in which he was protected.

Such is the case with the street fight, the social fight: it is decided by terrain. Mental and physical terrain.

I met a former Marine from Texas. About 25, rugged and with the look of someone who'd done his share of scrapping. He had been in Boston a few months and had seen a bar fight:

" One dude hit another dude out of nowhere..." He said, incredulously.
"Yeah," I told him, "That's a 'sucker punch'. It's how all fights in bars start."
"Not where I'm from."

He went on to tell me that where he's from, when two guys want to fight, they go outside, take off their jackets and have at it. You try to take off your jacket, I told him, somebody is going to clock you in Boston.

"But what's that prove, hitting somebody like that?" He asked.
"It proves you're going to keep your teeth." I tell him.

In the city, there are just too many people, too many possibilities to play around in a competition game with fighting.

And this does not mean that Boston bar fighter is the best fighter...that's just his terrain.

Perhaps in a town outside Lubbock, Texas, he would be out of his realm and this young Marine would whoop him.

I am just offering this simple advice: If you are about to fight, know your terrain and stay in that. If you are not on your terrain, do everything you can to control the environment.


It's 1953 and a mother drags her eleven year old son to a Louisville boys' club to learn to box. He had his  bike stolen and wouldn't defend himself.

Under the tutelage of several coaches, the boy overcomes his reluctance and wins six amateur state titles and then, the 1960 Olympic Gold Medal in Rome, and finally, numerous world titles.

Muhammad Ali.

Little Ray Walker is living in depression era Detroit in the rough "Black Bottom" neighborhood. Concerned over their diminutive nephew's well-being, his uncles begin teaching him how to box. And while he immediately displays dancer-like footwork, he holds back on his punches.

Eager to get in the fight game, Ray took the identity of an elder friend and became Sugar Ray Robinson, Ring Magazine's Pound-for-Pound Greatest Fighter of All-Time (Incidentally, he got over his misgivings with punching: 108 career knockouts).

Bas Rutten, another early legend of mixed martial arts, suffered so much teasing because of a skin condition as a teenager, he took up karate to fend them off.

George St. Pierre, currently regarded as the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artist in the world, took up fighting as a way to combat the bullying he suffered at school.

And on and on...

Let's go back to the high school fight...

Kids load up cars and drive to a vacant lot on the other side of town. The two rivals get out and a circle forms around them. The first punches are thrown and the crowd, eager for blood and action, moves with the fighters, sometimes pushing them back into the action.

What brought them to the lot? A girl? An almost-fight in gym class? "Talking shit"? Whatever it was, it will soon be only a footnote to the ass-beating that is about to take place.

What is that the above world champions displayed from a young age that is lacking in the after-school brawlers?

Fear. Reticence. A dislike, even, for confrontation.

The teenager takes a swig of Jack Daniels from a bottle that the stuffed Chevy Nova he's riding in is sharing. He steps out of the car, gripping his fists and snarling to convince us that he's not afraid.

No need to convince us. I'm sure he's not.  But he should be. Anyone should be. Fear in this situation is a very good thing; it's part of the natural system. That fear is what fueled the fight in Ali and Robinson.

And he's going to put himself in a situation where he will invariably get hurt over something he now, walking to that circle, probably can't remember. (Believe me, ten seconds in, your unshakeable disdain vanishes and concern for surviving sets it).

"He's an asshole!" The kid insists. Okay. Then, let him go and be an asshole. Or, as Chazz Palminteri in "A Bronx Tale" tells C about the boy he wants to beat up because he owes twenty bucks "For twenty bucks you got him out of your life."

Sure, you get to hit the asshole. But he gets to hit you, too. And here, this may be very difficult to face: there are people out there with beliefs, tastes in music, friends, jobs, personal lives, ideologies, etc, that you would find despicable who can kick your ass.

Sorry, but it's true.

Fighting them is probably the worst way to combat what you don't like in them; if anything, when you do fight, a Stockholm Syndrome sort of thing occurs and you may even develop respect for them and acceptance of the lifestyle you find so despicable.

The seed of Robinson's fight interest was the evasion of being hit. By getting in that car and going to fight that kid, you are giving up the best opportunity there is to not being hit. Talent understands opportunity: dime yourself out to the cops, fake an injury, swear at a teacher and be kept after school, just don't get in the car.

If you can't appreciate on the macro how dumb it is to get in that moveable ring, then I'm convinced you will not understand the subtleties of slipping punches.

Bobbing and weaving is great, but finding a way to bow out of fight that you might be over (or under) matched for, that takes in no consideration for your physical condition (Man, you coulda just gotten over the flu), that's the stuff of champions.

"But he spilled a beer on me?!"

Sorry. But go into competitive fighting and after a few months when you understand what punching is about,  see if this potentially dangerous endeavor doesn't seem ridiculous.

Don't you want to win? Sure, you do! But what constitutes a win? Bloody nose? What if the other guy doesn't care? He goes down first? What if that's his style? Everyone there said you won? What if they don't (and they probably don't) know what the hell they're talking about?

Guys who get their asses kicked frequently don't accept that they got their ass kicked.

If you're looking for unanimous support, look elsewhere.

And then, go to law school. You win.


In 2007,  Massachusetts man,  Kevin McDonough was awakened in the early morning by a strange noise coming from his daughter's room. Waking his wife, Jeannie, they went next door, flipped the lights and looked in.

On their daughter's bed was a man holding a large hunting knife.

McDonough rushed the man, nine inches taller and almost a hundred pounds heavier, and got on top of the man's back in a choke hold. His wife held the man's knife hand as she called the police.

The man, they would find out, was Adam Leroy Lane, a trucker and serial killer who was soon connected to two murders and several attacks.

No betting man would take McDonough over Lane in a bar fight. Maybe not even in a competitive match.

Aside from Lane's significant size advantage, he was studied in attacks. McDonough, a relatively active fifty year old man, who works in construction, he had never been in a fight in his life.

"Just playing around stuff. Nothing real." McDonough said.

Joe Maffei, an early mixed martial arts competitor and coach and currently an expert in survival, he trains police department and various military outfits in elements of surviving attacks, wasn't totally surprised by the outcome.

"All things being equal," Maffei said of McDonough's situation, "I'd rather a guy who'd never been in a fight than some street brawler."

Why? Because street fighters, he said, make mistakes of ego: "They let their ego get in the way..."

As part of most dojo rules, martial artists are not allowed to use their skills "out in the street."

Not only is part of their sense of moral decency, but it's about karma.

As they say "How can you be prepared to defend your family if you would harm others' family?"

Tony Soprano begins having panic attacks when he sees a family of ducks walk around his pool. Dr. Melfi suggests that it is fear of taking care of them that has caused the anxiety.

"Mommy!" Cries mob wannabe, Matt Bevilaqua, as Tony and others fire shots into him.

Tony has anxiety of what can happen to his children because he knows the harm he has done to other people's children.

Maffei's studies, the case of Kevin McDonough, show that engaging in the social fight doesn't prepare you for that attack.

"It's amazing how well people with basic knowledge and respect can protect themselves." Maffei says. "And the best fighters I know, they walk away from trouble."

Brendan Behan wrote "The laughing boys are handiest in the skit," and reasoned, "It's not in a man's nature with sense of humor to be tricking with guns..." and if he is there must be something "wrong" with him. And you don't want to mess.


The popularity of mma, which incorporates all the bare-handed possibilities of the fighting arts, has changed the public's concept of fighting.

As a wrestler, I am so pleased that it has awakened the masses to my discipline and brought it so much respect.

Still, I don't believe that it is the ultimate deciding ground for who's the best fighter: It tells us who is the best competitor at the regulated sport that takes place in an octagon, cage or ring.

What fighting means to people engaged in endeavors we don't know about (special forces military, perhaps?), might encompass beyond what goes on in mma.

Fighting is a science that can never be totally encapsulated.

Fighting evolves and yet, we go back and find the old stuff works, and there was technique we missed.

But still, on basic cable we see shows that perpetuate silly concepts of fighting, looking for the "Who wins?" answer:

"Who would win: Alexander the Great or Attila the Hun?"

They are really trying to figure out who would win between two opponents who lived 800 yrs apart with absolutely no gauge of their physical make-up, athleticism, martial arts training?

Who knows if Attila ever even put his fists up?

It is only slightly less absurd than the debate of who wins: Mighty Mouse or Underdog?

A title bout between contemporaries can have Judges ringside who can't come to a unanimous decision, but we're to figure out the winner between the two ancient conquerors?

Or the shows will travel to exotic places to learn the local martial art. "We're in Tel Aviv with Israeli Special Forces to learn Krav Maga..."

Why not go to the Krav Maga of America Headquarters in West L.A.? It's probably about ten minutes from your production studio and I imagine it's pretty good KM?

Sure, it might not be as sexy, but you can find interesting fighting going on everywhere...

Like in Rahway, New Jersey where the wrestling club hold meet nights where ex-wrestlers, who include prison guards and NFL players, go at it.

Fighting is everywhere. Every culture and subculture fights or has come to terms with it.

Fighting changes, not only discipline from discipline, but from exit to exit on the highway; rich to poor, ethnic group to ethnic, and every possible lifestyle.

That should be a show.

Rather than  having the host be some Dude in a  silk shirt talking the talk, why not have a normal guy with a little knowledge take us to the Native American Reservation, the prisons, the cities, the mill towns, the ghetto surf culture, gangs, immigrants and on.

Just as Man vs. Food shows us the joy of food in the unexpected and the small, the fight show could expose us to how people view fighting everywhere...

World Champs to Street brawlers to survivors. I'd call it "Fighting Stance."

That would be some show.

I hope somebody does that...

Oh yeah, they did...

I have twenty-seven hours of footage that examines fighting from this exact perspective.

If you got any friends in production, tell them. Let's see if we can make this happen.

Until then: Put your money on Mighty Mouse.

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