David Bruce: Fights Anecdotes

• While Abraham Lincoln was President, Ward Lamon was Marshall of the District of Columbia. A powerful man, Mr. Lamon’s fists were weapons. Once, he arrested a man, but the man resisted arrest and attempted to hit him. Mr. Lamon hit him with his fist, and then carried him to a physician, who said the man would die soon. Worried, Mr. Lamon talked over the matter with President Lincoln, who counseled, “I am sorry you had to kill the man, but these are times of war, and a great many men deserve killing. This one, according to your story, is one of them; so give yourself no uneasiness about the matter. I will stand by you.” Mr. Lamon said that he had no doubt but that he had done his duty, but he felt grief over taking the man’s life. President Lincoln smiled, then said, “You go home now and get some sleep; but let me give you this piece of advice — hereafter, when you have occasion to strike a man, don’t hit him with your fist. Strike him with a club, a crowbar, or with something that won’t kill him.”

• In the 1960s British tongue-in-cheek TV series The Avengers, Mrs. Cathy Gale, played by Honor Blackman, used judo to subdue her attackers. The use of judo came about through a process of elimination. The producers had already rejected the idea of Mrs. Gale screaming for help. At first, they had her reach into a handbag for a gun, but that grew tiresome. Then they tried having Mrs. Gale wear a gun in a garter holster, but it made her walk bowlegged. Next they tried concealing the gun in an under-arm holster, but tight sweaters are incompatible with concealed guns. Then came concealed daggers and short swords, but they kept cutting her bra straps. Finally, René Burdet, who had been the head of the Resistance in Marseilles during World War II, taught Ms. Blackman how to throw people. Later, both Ms. Blackman and Patrick Macnee, who played John Steed, learned judo from Douglas Robinson, a 9th Dan black belt.

• George Frideric Handel and Johann Mattheson were both composers and friends, although occasionally they had fights. Mattheson wrote the opera Cleopatra, in which he played Mark Antony. When he wasn’t on stage, he played harpsichord in the orchestra pit, with Handel filling in while Mattheson was on stage. At a December, 1704 performance, Handel was having so much fun playing the harpsichord that he refused to let Mattheson play it even after Antony had been killed on stage. Mattheson promptly challenged Handel to a duel; in the duel, Mattheson’s sword broke on one of Handel’s brass coat buttons, and Handel lived to compose his Messiah.

• Tsukahara Bokuden founded a school of martial arts known as the Way of Winning Without Trying. In the practice of this martial art, the adept wins by figuring out how not to lose. One day Bokuden was traveling in a small boat with a few other people when a warrior on the boat challenged him to a duel. Bokuden suggested that they duel on a near-by small island. When they reached the island, the warrior stepped off the boat, walked onto the island, and unsheathed his sword. However, Bokuden, still standing in the boat, used a pole to shove the boat off the island and into the water, leaving the warrior stranded on the island.

• Bruce Lee was a master of the martial arts, but he became a master in spite of his physical limitations. One of his legs was almost one inch shorter than the other, so he developed a stance with the left foot leading. He discovered that his physical limitation gave him an advantage in certain kinds of kicks because a greater impetus came from his uneven stance. In addition, he wore contact lens because he was nearsighted and unable to see an opponent until the opponent was close. In fact, Mr. Lee began to study the martial art of wing-chun because it was ideal for up-close fighting.

• Heywood Broun was on a voyage once when he was asked — for the sake of entertaining his fellow passengers — to fight another man of approximately his own weight and stature. He agreed, but when he met the man he was supposed to fight, the man said to Mr. Broun, “I’m going to ask you a question which I have wanted to ask someone ever since I got on this ship. What is this ‘demitasse’ they have on the bill of fare?” Mr. Broun immediately canceled the fight, saying, “Any chap who doesn’t know what a ‘demitasse’ is must be a tough guy.”

• Groucho and Harpo Marx once managed a fighter who lost many more fights than he won. The Marxes promptly nicknamed him “Canvasback,” but continued to manage his career. In one fight, Canvasback was knocked down five times in the first round. When the round was over, he tried to sit in the fighter’s stool in his corner, but Harpo shoved him aside and sat down in his place, and then Groucho fanned Harpo.

• Wilson Mizner and Sammy Finn left the Brown Derby restaurant one foggy night, when they noticed that they were being followed by two men who apparently intended to rob them. Mr. Wilson said to Mr. Finn, “You take the big guy, and I’ll take the little guy with the knife.” Fortunately, they got away from the two men in the foggy night, and it wasn’t until later that Mr. Finn realized that the fog had been so thick that it was impossible for Mr. Mizner to see whether the little guy had had a knife.

• Jigoro Kano adapted the martial art of jujitsu into the sport of judo. In Russia, he demonstrated judo by facing a much bigger Russian fighter. He quickly threw the man, but he put his hand under the man’s head to cushion his fall and make sure the man was not hurt. For good reason, the 5-foot-4-inch-tall Mr. Kano was known as the Gentle Giant.

• Medieval astronomer Tycho once got in a fight in which most of his nose was cut off. For the rest of his life he wore a fake nose made of an alloy of gold, silver, and copper.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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