The Art Of Fighting Without Fighting

Most of my acquaintances will tell you that I look like a very unassuming kind of guy. A geek my whole life, I have always worn dweeby clothes and never really put on airs pretending to a high degree of badassery. If you see me walking down the street you do not hear the song “Bad To The Bone” playing. Rather, it would probably be “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”. Normally, it wouldn’t bother me, but occasionally I find myself running afoul of a redneck. Living in Kentucky, this is bound to happen. Additionally, it happens to me even more since I work Security for a local business and have to ID various contractors from day to day, some of whom are felons with a natural disposition to resent, and resist, authority. Most of the time I seek my Center (or Zenter, if you will excuse the terrible pun) and let it roll off of me like so much hogwash. Yet, I must confess that occasionally I do want to surrender to my inner tiger and uppercut a couple of “good ol’ boys” when they say something passive-aggressive (often in passing and at a distance since such people are always cowards). The thing is, as my acquaintances will attest, I don’t look like a fighter. In fact, I am of a slender build and have fluffy hair (which my fiancee adores, thankfully) and I tend to cultivate a courteous demeanor. I am, in some ways, not unlike a certain Martial Arts master whose philosophy and fighting acumen have inspired me throughout my life. This person, of course, is the legendary Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee was one of the reasons I began my Martial Arts journey over two decades ago. Here was a man whose life was written by the philosophy he believed. Moreover, he was a peerless fighter who pioneered so many things which the rest of us Western Martial Artists take for granted. For example, he was one of the first to teach Martial Arts to Americans. He also formulated his own Martial Arts—called Jeet Kune Do, or the Way of the Intercepting Fist—and embodied a philosophy that reconciled a lot of Eastern and Western thought into something that was greater than the sum of its parts. He was a Renaissance Man. Idolizing him, I studied Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do— in which I earned my first black belt— Kajukenbo Karate, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and boxing. Studying him in the dojo, (or dojang), helped me not only to handle the rednecks of the world, but my own need for self-discipline and self-betterment. His lessons lent themselves to all the areas of my life. As a writer and an artist I utilize what he taught me. The pursuit of perfection, after all, is endless, and he inspired me to emulate his focused drive in the life I live (even if I falter and fall short of the aim sometimes).
Yet, there was more to him than jump kicks and two-inch punches. Despite being an amazing Martial Artist, Bruce Lee also valued the Yang aspect of Martial Arts, or passivity. His notion of the“art of fighting without fighting” wasn’t just some catchy koan to throw about to sound wiser than the people around you, but something that hints at the core of humanity and the basis of continued civilization. That is to say, our world works as well as it does because we do not, generally speaking, kill the guy who disrespects us. This refusal to follow Nature’s “tooth and claw” paradigms saves the world every minute of our lives. Without it, we would be feral beasts succored on blood.
I have lived a long time among the redneck demographic and I know that if there is an alligator nearby they will want to grab it by the tail, heedless of the consequences. And I COULD bite, if I ever surrendered to the inclination, but I instead choose to keep calm and persist in friendliness as much as I can. When I have confronted these cowards, they tend to walk away, mouthing things under their breath. Later, when they are entering the plant again, I tell them “Good morning” or “Have a good day” and they will, for the most part, mumble something likewise while staring at the ground. See, that is how I have won: they realize what they have done and become ashamed of themselves. That is the art of fighting without fighting. That is the wisdom Bruce Lee gave to me.

I rarely plug anyone’s book, but a book I have owned for over a decade now is the wonderful “The Warrior Within” by John Little. It was endorsed by Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda, and is a great place to start understanding the legend and how he can inspire all of us. It has many anecdotes and quotes and several sections regarding different aspects of Bruce Lee’s life. One of the most wonderful passages is in the section wherein Bruce Lee’s ideas about romantic relationships are discussed. He believed something that I, too, believe in regard to my own relationship with my fiancee: he says that he and his wife were like coals, burning warm and long together rather than flaring out in a blaze of passion. This, I believe, is the perfect image of a mature, healthy relationship and is the same sort of relationship I share with my fiancee. We do not party. We do not rely on mutual friends. We stay together and are happy, even if the whole world should fizzle out, leaving us together, burning contentedly in the ashes of the world.

Shadowboxing

He fights his memories,
often cornered by them in random ambushes, the flash-mob
throwing jabs and uppercuts while he staggers
against the neural ropes, brawling with his
life, its mortifying figures
casting behind him as shadows.
People who see him boxing against
invisible opponents
think he is restless, or crazy, but
it is the only therapy that keeps
him from curling up in a fetal position
as the amygdala gangbangers take turns
kicking him in the hippocampal gut.
He always tries to fight back against their
hazing, his fists focusing the emotional
excess to fend off
the challengers that step into the
limbic ring.
It is a tick, an eccentricity,
a necessity. Punch the
memories away. Here he swings a
haymaker against the recollection
of the time he wet himself in Middleschool while in want
of a restroom; and here is
a straight left, followed by a right hook
to knock out the vicious memory
of his first attempt to get a date
for the Highschool Christmas dance,
stuttering and sputtering as if
already suffering from boxer’s brain,
the mnemonic concussions coming like a free-for-all melee tournament.
It is not suppression, Freud,
but sublimation; the means by which he
faces off
against his faceless shadows.
He tries to
curbstomp
his own feelings,
his shame and humiliation, his self-
loathing, and to embrace the ringside
grandstanding showgirls
of his first kiss, his first love,
his first bout of
lovemaking, only to be startled by the upset loss to
his first breakup, his first car wreck, his first
eviction notice.
He tries to pummel these shadows down,
to vanquish them with his knuckles
only to find them huddling out of reach
against the back wall of his
mind, dwelling there, eclipsing any and all victories
until the day he should lose the final
fight, the fight of Life,  which we always eventually lose, the bright lights of the cerebral ring turned off, the arena boarded up, and these belligerent memories at last subsumed by the final darkness, like
still, nondescript shadows
lost in absolute night.

Knockout Blow

A fulgurous fighter
with flashy techniques and
raw, elemental power
as his rains pummel the earth.
He punches both down and up the scale,
unconcerned with weight class, sex,
or age, being a brawler by region,
which is to say, by
happenstance.
He is literally a
street fighter,
bombarding the streets with a salvo
that leaves bleeding pot holes,
hemorrhaging ditches,
and gushing, gut-punched gutters.
He is a meteorological pugilist
engaged in atmospheric fisticuffs
and taking a break only
to catch his second wind before
doubling down with a shower of
jabs. He is a dirty fighter
even as he washes the world clean
with his torrential sweat.
His fancy footwork
cascades as rivulets athwart the roads,
tripping up the cars with
hydroplaning leg sweeps,
every fender rattling
with oceanic waves of churning water.
Like a ringside announcer
the Emergency Broadcast System
touts his size and speed and
KO count.
As if to justify his weight class he
delivers a series of ice-fisted
hail storms, each one harder than the last,
the barrage cracking windows and
windshields, his winds snapping trees and
telephone poles as he playfully
jump-ropes power lines.
Soon, he bellows taunts
with galeforce winds,
roaring like a train as he
spirals round with his special
twister coup de grace,
the preceding silence but a
feint
before the knockout blow
that crumbles his opponents
to their foundations.
Only after the fight, when he has
trotted his victory lap and
thundered his last victory speech
and the limpid stillness
of the aftermath morning
claims the next day as it own
does the hardest fight come—
the fight of telephone calls and
answering machines,
of jaunty, ironic Muzak while
we wait on hold;
of a claim agent
boxing our ears with
clockwork courtesy and patronizing
politeness, smirking and knowing
with the deadly certainty of a professional killer
that we have already lost this
high stakes prize fight
to the true knockout blow
waiting silently, and serenely,
in the fine print.