The subject is one that I feel strongly about because of how it shaped me. The answer to the question is not always clear. To fight or stand down is a difficult decision to make. You have to understand that, as you grow to be the man you want to be, you will make the wrong decision many times before you learn. There are adages on either side that are true and some that are not when it comes to war or peace.
“Live to fight another day” is one I have come to hold to any encounter as some may escalate to that point and you may not get a second chance to practice this one. “Never back done” was a statement I held closely as a teenager; however, as a man I see sometimes that this method has folly. The important point is to never let anyone become comfortable being disrespectful to you while also realizing that your ego and pride will leave things to escalate all to often.
This question plagued me in high school. I was a late bloomer and overweight. I was slow to get stubble on my chin and loathed exercise. I was the hue of the modern day kid with days filled with television and video games. I felt my own greatness, but it derived from my father’s accomplishments. Every man believes he is his own hero but few rise to the challenge to realize their own requirements.
After sheltering in private school, I had maybe one skirmish every year. When fists became involved in public high school, I shied from every encounter. I did this until I became an easy target. Being dark skinned only left a target on my back. Even weaker white boys would make a target of me as they knew the tougher older kids had their back if I showed resistance. I was to take their abuse, and I deserved it for being in their space. Name calling, being sprayed with hair spray, spitting, pushing, or a random shove into a locker became a regular thing. I did not meet their eyes as I had too much shame.
When I met your mother, I was in a better spot mostly because of chance rather than effort. I had hit a growth spurt and lost some weight while starting kung fu. I did not seem an easier target, but I was. After our dating that summer, I realized I had worth, and if it came to protecting her, I would have fought to death for her. We broke up after that summer which was the biggest mistake of my life. In the aftermath, I needed something to feel passionate about again.
I became passionate about being better. I began to lift weights and became more serious about martial arts. I started in Bujinkan Ninjutsu after feeling I had attained all I could from Kung Fu. I had some jobs and began saving money. I knew I wanted to be a doctor and I retook my classes in which I had poor grades. In this process, I needed to obtain respect for myself and learn to make others respect me.
I took on the never back down policy; I wanted to be respected and feared. Interestingly, I have never been in a real fight. Every brush with fighting never lasted past a few blows. I came to realize that bullies are weak. They have a longing to be noticed and feared. If you do not show them that fear, they lose their power. What I needed to achieve was the attitude that I would rather die than feel anymore shame. It seems in today’s age, kids will sadly hurt themselves before they will stand up for themselves. I decided that I knew I was worth it and there was no pain worse than shame. I took on every adversary which usually only amounted to prolonged staring, chest puffing, and some body checking. I did not always have the words for witty quips, but what I did have was the resolve that this person would not get away with disrespecting me.
The last real physical altercation I had was as a senior. A fellow classmate that I had not known about my change in attitude decided to throw something at me. I raced directly back to his desk and pushed it backwards and demanded a fight. We were only three weeks from graduation and a fight would have been foolhardy at that point. He decided to back down with weak statements of “how crazy that would be” and “maybe we could fight later.” He swallowed his words.
Since that time, I had a man run back to my car after an argument at a stop sign. Your mother was with me at the time. He was a typical thuggish character and angled his car so I would have to stop. His hand trailed behind his jacket as he approached our car. I believe he had a gun. I would not allow him to disrespect me when it came to words, but I would not engage him either. I had some stabs to my ego that day and I may have been lucky that he did not try to touch me. In retrospect, this was a wise day to concede and “live to fight another day.” Words were not worth dying for, and, furthermore, my main objective should have been to protect your mother. In that instance, I lived to fight another day.
I was in several shoving matches in my school days that I ought not to have been. I truly believed I never started anything, but that did not mean I was not overreacting. If I felt words were disrespectful, I responded physically. As mentioned, I have never been one for cleverness in heated moments. I even came into some of these ‘fights’ with friends; however, my ego could not stand anyone overhearing disrespect. I thought it would shatter the safety I had found. There was safety in conflict.
In retrospect, I likely had a mild form of PTSD that led to some of my decisions and ferocity. Some of these bordered on my becoming the very thing I loathed. I forgive myself though as an adult. The trials of teenage years are fraught with mistakes and shortcomings. Overcoming fears is an important part of life as it is part of gaining wisdom. It prepares you for the type of man you will be as a brother, son, husband, and father. Listen to that voice you have that tells you what the right answer is. It will grow wiser and stronger as you utilize it. You will know when to fight and when to live to fight another day.