By Adam J. Pearson
Photo: Fight Sequence photography by Clay Enos.
Brianna suggested to me that “as soon as you have physical contact with someone, you feel emotionally closer to them.” She raised this point because I was talking about something interesting that I noticed after having a series of four fights with my Polish friend, Patryk. Our fighting styles were very different; mine was shaped by kung fu and karate, his by rough experience in fights in Poland. We fought in a spirit of respect and stopped after the fight had demonstrated a point, such as the usefulness of one method of attacking and blocking. After the fights, I felt a greater sense of connection with Patryk, a feeling of brotherhood. Brianna was trying to interpret why this might have arisen and she proposed that it was due to physical proximity. “It’s not like you just shook his hand,” she continued. “You had a great deal of contact in a variety of locations, which ups the closeness.”
Physical proximity can, and often does, create a feeling of closeness or connection between two individuals. This fact is evident in the experiences of cuddling and of being sexually intimate with another person. Moreover, people feel it when they hug their parents, hold their lovers, and console their friends. When a friend has cried on your shoulder, you often both emerge with a deeper connection to another, a more fundamental and powerful rapport that cannot be forged by words alone. Physical closeness and caring forge powerful connections of this kind.
Was this part of the brotherly connection that I felt to Patryk as a result of our fights? Possibly, but I suspect that the roots of this feeling run deeper still. To fully understand these root causes, we need to reflect briefly on what goes on in a quality fight among people who know each other. I’m restrict myself to this sort of fight because the conclusions that are derived here may not apply to cases such as when one fights a total stranger in a street fight, though in some such cases, they may still.
When you are fighting someone, you know that they are mustering everything they have to try to hurt you. They want to cause you harm and you have to want to muster everything you have to both prevent yourself from being hurt and to harm them in turn. If you do not, if you are too afraid to hurt and be hurt, then you are sure to lose the fight – boldness is needed. When I first started engaging in bamboo sword sparring, Alex Phillips made this basic but significant fact clear to me; he said, you’re great with blocking, but you’re being too defensive. You need to aggressively move in with the intention to hurt me. It’s the only way to do damage in the fight. He was absolutely right.
Therefore, when you’re in a really good fight with someone, especially when it’s in a context of respect, you’re strongly aware that the person you are fighting is mustering all of their strength and you are doing the same. All of your techniques and experiences are going in to every punch and block. Your whole physical being is present in every blow.
Photo: Sometimes men can leave a fight feeling like brothers.
Blows are exchanged, and blocks and take downs and reversals follow. Every move your opponent makes teaches you about them, reveals their strengths, illuminates their weaknesses. Every move you make does the same for them. A fight is a dance of concealment and revelation; you want to conceal your secret and powerful techniques until you can explode out with them, but every movement also reveals crucial information about your fighting style. Poor fighters simply lash out; they do not process what happens as it happens. Skilled fighters are always ‘reading’ the situation, always processing, always adapting, always adjusting. They are attuned to the slightest movement of their opponents and adapt themselves to these minute actions. With this processing comes intuitive knowledge; you adjust yourself to the rhythm of the fight and you learn when to move in and when to move out, when to advance and when to back up.
In the midst of an intense fight of this kind, you are also in a state of heightened awareness and if you are applying the wisdom of Sun Tzu in the Art of War, you are highly aware of your environment. You’re aware of the terrain, of where light sources are that could blind your opponent if your back is to them. You notice little crevasses, shallow ditches, and irregularities in the ground that might make your opponent lose his or her footing. You notice rocks that could be stumbled over, or, in an extreme situation, used as bludgeoning weapons. You are as present, as mindful, in your violent context as a peaceful monk seated in high meditation. You must be, for your life is at stake. Your physical being is at risk; your body is your weapon, but it’s also a target.
Thus, when you are in a quality fight, everything you are, your whole being goes into it. Therefore, when you emerge from the fight, you emerge with a deeper understanding of your opponent. With that understanding, comes deeper respect and appreciation. You have sized each other up through combat and had the courage to fight when most in our modern society do not. It is this deep appreciation that I suspect is at the root of the feeling of brotherhood that can develop between two individuals who have physically fought. Through your combat, you have developed a deeper knowledge of, and respect for, your opponent than you had before you fought them. These things forge a powerful bond between you. I suspect that it is for this reason that many men, after fighting with one another, often become the best of friends.