David Bruce: Fights Anecdotes

As a young man, L. Frank Baum, who later wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, almost fought a duel because of a typographical error. For his newspaper, the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, Mr. Baum wrote that a bride had a “roguish smile,” but the typesetter accidentally changed it to “roughish smile.” The angry bridegroom quarreled with Mr. Baum, and bystanders suggested that they fight a duel. They met outside the newspaper office and were supposed to walk around the block — each man in a different direction — until they met again behind the newspaper office, and then they would start firing at each other. Mr. Baum, however, rounded the first corner, then started running for his life. He must have been a slow runner because a friend caught up with him and told him that the bridegroom was also running away. Hearing that, Mr. Baum returned to the scene of the duel and shouted, “Where is that coward? Lead me to him!”

Early in her career, Martha Graham was a dancer for Denishawn. Both she and Denishawn co-founder Ted Shawn had tempers. One day, while on tour, Mr. Graham called Mr. Shawn to say that she wanted to add a new dance to the tour. Mr. Shawn refused to give her permission to add the dance, so Ms. Graham angrily ripped the telephone out of the wall. On another occasion, they grew angry as they talked over lunch in a New York restaurant. Ms. Graham stood up, grabbed the tablecloth, and pulled it, the dishes, and all the food onto the floor, and then she stalked out of the restaurant and into a taxi. Mr. Shawn followed her and screamed at her, “I don’t ever want to see you again in my life! And I mean it!” On both occasions, they quickly made up their differences.

Martial artists are loathe to fight real combats, believing that the very best way to win a fight is to avoid fighting at all. Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan schoolteacher who revived the art of karate in modern times, once said, “To win 100 victories in 100 battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.” Sometimes, people would challenge Mr. Funakoshi to fight in an attempt to prove how tough they were., but he always walked away from these fights. Once, he explained why: “When two tigers fight, one is always injured. The other is dead.”

As a 16-year-old slave, Frederick Douglass was handed over to a man named Edward Covey, whose job was to break the spirits of slaves and take away their desire for freedom. For a while, things went Covey’s way, but Mr. Douglass rose up, fought him, and threw him into a pile of cow manure. Normally, such actions would get a slave savagely beaten or killed. However, if Covey had told anyone what had happened, he would have lost his reputation as a slavebreaker, so he kept quiet. This victory increased Mr. Douglass’ desire for freedom.

Many Quakers were anti-slavery and active in the Underground Movement. Once, 15 slave owners from Kentucky went to Indiana to try to retrieve their run-away slaves. For a time, it seemed that violence was likely to erupt, but a cool-headed Quaker named Eli Osborn saved the day. When one of the slave owners demanded that Eli, a known Abolitionist, fight him in a duel with pistols, Eli replied, “If thee will get down off thy horse, I’ll play thee a game of marbles.” This comment caused laughter and avoided bloodshed.

Gymnasts tend to be small, but very tough. As a teenager working at McDonald’s, Kurt Thomas noticed a strange-looking man harassing a woman at the counter. Mr. Thomas knocked him out with one punch. When the police arrived, they asked who had hit the man, and Mr. Thomas confessed. The police then looked Mr. Thomas over — he was 5-foot-3 and weighed 115 pounds — and laughed.

Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson used to play golf with professional golfer Sam Snead. To even up the competition, Mr. Snead would spot Mr. Robinson one stroke per hole. Mr. Robinson once offered to return the favor if Mr. Snead ever wanted to box him — he would spot Mr. Snead the first five rounds of a six-round fight. Mr. Snead said, “That’s fine — as long as I can use my wedge.”

After jockey Julie Krone won a race by 10 lengths, competing jockey Miguel Rujano whipped her across the face. With her ear bleeding, Ms. Krone told the bystanders, “Excuse me, I have to go hit somebody,” then she punched her attacker’s nose. Ms. Krone’s assertiveness paid off when she became the first woman to win a Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes, in 1993.

Gay author Michael Thomas Ford once played the computer game Mortal Kombat with a nephew. Quickly, Mr. Ford discovered that one of the crushing blows that could be dealt by the fighters in the game was a fist to the genitals of opposing male fighters — he tried it once against a female opponent, but the blow had no effect.

Lucia Rijker is a European boxing champion whose nickname is “Lady Ali.” After winning a boxing match against a tough opponent, she ran over to her trainer and tried to jump into his arms, but he was a new trainer, and he was much smaller than her old trainer. So, to celebrate her victory, she picked him up and lifted him over her head.

In 1916, a heavyweight bout held in the Manhattan Opera House in New York City featured Charley Weinert hitting Andre Anderson and knocking him through the ropes. Mr. Anderson fell into a pile of musical instruments and his rear end got stuck in the mouth of a tuba. As Mr. Anderson struggled to free himself, the referee counted to 10.

Jackie Gleason worked in some tough clubs when he was starting in show business, and occasionally he fought some customers who didn’t like his humor. Only once was he bested in a fight — heavyweight Tony Galento, who later fought Joe Louis for the championship — knocked him unconscious with one punch.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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