About three years ago, I stepped outside of a bar to have a smoke with a buddy. My friend had to go back inside for some reason, leaving me out front talking with a stranger. After a few minutes of casual back-and-forth, the stranger said "I feel like getting into a fight."
I looked at him, and gestured in the direction of a back-alley next to the bar. Without much in the way of words, we hopped over a chain-link fence, took our coats off, and went at it in the alley.
We both hit each other in the face a few times before I managed to get behind him. A little bit of training went a long way for me, and I managed to get him in a rear-naked choke. Before he went out, he dropped low and flipped me over his shoulder. My head hit the concrete pretty hard, just above the forehead, and he dragged me a short distance, trying to get me off before he passed out.
I don't know if it was the adrenaline or just the desire to win, but I managed to keep my grip. A few seconds later, he tapped out.
I remember blood dripping down my face as we shared a cigarette after that. We were back to talking about the area. About work. I think we chatted about the weather a little before he had to go. Despite both of us nearly losing consciousness, it was a good experience. It was a vitalizing experience. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.
People who have never been punched in the face before may have a hard time understanding how getting into a fight can be good for you. They think about the risks. They see the pain, and don't see any upside. Why fight?
The same question could be asked about sex. Why not just watch porn and take care of yourself? After all, there are STDs, emotional complexities, and the distinct possibility that someone, someday, will accuse you of something serious, and you will have no ability to defend yourself.
Despite the risks, people will continue to have sex because it is good. It affirms your value in a way that beating it never can. It brings you closer to another living person. It is real.
Fighting has all of these qualities too. You learn that you can take more than you imagined, that getting punched doesn't really hurt as bad as you thought. You become familiar with your opponent, his weaknesses as well as his strengths, if you're good. And it makes you feel alive.
Sex and fighting differ in more ways than they resemble each other, but given that both are prone to serious long-term consequences, it speaks volumes about our culture that sex is advanced as a "human right," while fighting is condemned as barbaric, even stupid. What's a broken arm compared to AIDS or an unexpected kid?
Like porn, violent movies and video games are faint shadows of the real thing. People condemn violent video games because they think fighting is bad. Because they've never been in a fight, and can't imagine the social benefit. But for men, fighting is a drive. Like the libido, we feel compelled to fight, or to come as close as we can by proxy -- sports, or games, or movies. Saying people shouldn't fight is like saying people should stop having sex. It isn't going to happen.
And it's a good thing that people will continue to fight.
Fighting has always been a tool for testing yourself, for building strength, courage, skill, and confidence. You learn to keep your guard up, or you get hit in the face. You learn how to sprawl, or you get thrown. You learn more about your own body, how to use it, what it can and can't take.
When you know you can fight, other people can't bully you. You can say what you think, without fear that you might offend “the wrong person.” Even in social situations where physical conflict is not a possibility, the knowledge that you can take a punch assuages ambiguous fears. That something might happen.
Fighting puts you on the map. We all want to be in the hierarchy, even if we can’t be number one. If you can beat four of your friends, but two are better than you, you know where you stand. You know what you have to aim for to rise, in fitness and in training. You know who’s coming up behind you. If you haven’t fought, or at least competed, with the rest of your group, you can’t know where you stand. You’re outside. Even the guy who gets beaten by everyone else is above you: at least he’s in.
In 19th-century Prussia, military cadets would fight each other with swords in hope of receiving a schmisse -- a “dueling scar.” Such scars were considered bragging rights, especially if they were on the face. Likewise in Rome, Marcus Tullius Cicero described how the evidence of having participated in a fight brought honor to a man:
For what grace, what power, what spirit, what dignity was wanting to that orator, who, at the close of a speech, did not hesitate to call forth his accused client, though of consular rank, and to tear open his garment, and to expose to the judges the scars on the breast of the old commander?
It may not always solve problems. If you and a friend disagree about something and fight over it, whoever wins isn’t “more right.” It doesn’t always end well. Even friendly fights can lead to unforeseen and serious injuries. A concussion. A ruptured spleen.
A broken neck.
People can die in fights. It happens all the time.
But lethal car accidents are still more frequent. We all keep driving.
Fighting is a part of who we are -- of what we are. Because it is a part of our nature, participating in the game is a way of becoming better versions of ourselves. It is a way of better connecting with others. And it is simply a way to live more completely; to live better.
If you want strength, if you want courage, if you want life and honor and respect, fight for it. You’ll be glad that you did, because a life not worth fighting for is a life not worth living.