Budge came home from work yesterday completely wiped out. She’s been doing PASS testing all week and that had taken its toll, but what really had her in high dudgeon was having to break up her first fight in her entire seven years of teaching. As she described it, I realized this wasn’t just an ordinary fight. One boy really meant to hurt the other one. She told how the one boy had knocked the other boy to the ground and then, instead of backing off, the aggressor had begun kicking the other child, resulting in some huge knots on the poor defender’s body. I told her, as a former boy, that wasn’t cool. I don’t know about everywhere else in the world, but when I was growing up, such a display wouldn’t have been tolerated. As tweens and adolescents, we had our own informal code duello that a boy ignored at his peril. Girls fighting girls had their own rules to which we males were not privy, but they seemed to involve copious hair pulling and disrobing.

Rule #1 was you always fought your own size. Now a brave and tenacious little chihuahua of a boy might take on a big ole’ country boy, but a larger boy would be ostracized for starting a fight with someone smaller. Same thing for girls. Generally, girls were NOT to be hit; however, where I come from and in a couple of the places I taught, some girls walked the halls with boys hurrying to get out of their way. The rule was the same. You could not, in good honor, strike a girl for any reason. You couldn’t even retaliate against a girl who struck you. BUT, all things have their limits and a girl who drew back for the fourth or fifth time was putting herself in a man’s place and thereby bringing herself under a man’s rules, so caveat emptor.  Now, if the boy was the significant other of the girl doing the assaulting and she was doing said assaulting because of information she’d found out about said boy’s activity the previous night . . . well, he was honor bound to stand there, protect his face (and nether regions), and take it like a man. He earned it.

The second inviolate rule of our fights was if someone was knocked down, the combatant standing was obliged to either stand back and let the fallen regain his feet or to go to the ground with him. Under no circumstances was it kosher to kick a person who was down while you were standing. See, when you are punching someone or wrestling with someone, you get hurt too. You feel the pain and that encourages you to moderate your blows so no one is permanently injured. When you kick someone though, especially if you’re wearing shoes or, gods forbid, boots, you don’t feel a thing and one wrong kick to the head or kidney can result in more than just a lecture from Mom or the principal.

Finally, the fight continued until honor was satisfied. I’ve seen boys knocked cold by a roundhouse right, I’ve seen boys choked out by a rear naked choke on the ground, and I’ve seen — more than once — two boys just stop and walk away or shake hands and pat each other on the back. Fights were for pecking order, attracting the attentions of a girl, and settling disputes or matters of honor. We were not out to really hurt each other. When one person stopped resisting, the fight was over.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I saw more than one fight that was a blood rage because of the taking of a girlfriend or some unbearable insult to family. Those fights were much more brutal and it was highly unlikely the combatants were going to be friends ever again, if they ever were. Still, despite what the pugilists might scream at each other before battle was joined, I only saw a bare handful of times when one boy truly saw red to the point that he meant to cause serious, irreparable damage to the other boy and on those rare occasions, it was up to those of us watching to keep one from the hospital (or worse) and the other from prison. Those fights were thankfully few and very far between.

Today though, the rules are out the window. We would never have considered using a knife in a fight, much less a gun. A boy who pulled a weapon would immediately be branded a coward and a pariah. After all, no shame was meted out for losing a fair fight. Students today, however, fueled by the violence of the culture surrounding us all have developed precious little respect for the sanctity of life. I have looked into the eyes of two, and only two, students I parted during a fight and knew in an instant that if they had the means at hand, they would kill me right then and there without hesitation or remorse.

Of course, we fought for different reasons and it was seldom deeply personal. The papers today are full of reports of students killing each other over the smallest affronts, real or imagined. Also, boys today fight for territory, for drugs, and for sheer rage and rebellion. Today, many fights that break out in the halls or on the playground could very well be “for keeps.”

That is sad to me. I suppose it is a sign of the times as the “old folks” say. Still it hurts my heart to look at young boys so willing to deal out death or dismemberment — often for little reason if any at all.

Take care, everyone. Stay out of harm’s way. Keep your left up, lead with your jab, and wash your feet!

Love y’all 🙂

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