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.

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David Bruce: Fights Anecdotes

• John L. Sullivan used to fight all comers barefisted for a $1,000 purse; because he was such a great fighter, the person who lasted the longest in the ring with him got a consolation prize of $50. Once, a first-year student at MIT named Alfred I. du Pont showed up to fight Mr. Sullivan — not for any glory, but because he needed the money. Mr. Sullivan was sympathetic to the student’s plight and made sure to spar with Mr. du Pont long enough for him to pick up the consolation prize money. The two men became friends, and after Mr. Sullivan had retired and spent all the money he had earned prizefighting, Mr. du Pont gave him a monthly stipend and a small farm to live on.

• Jack Dempsey was merciless in the boxing ring, battering his opponents senseless as they tried to do the same to him. He believed, “When you get between the ropes you’re supposed to take it.” Once, he decided to go easy on Bill Brennan, whom he called “a nice fellow and a good fighter.” In the 3rd round, Mr. Brennan hit him hard, and Mr. Dempsey didn’t become fully conscious until the 12th round. When he came to, he knocked out Mr. Brennan and refused to show pity in the boxing ring ever again.

• During the Avengersepisode “Mandrake,” Honor Blackman, who played Mrs. Cathy Gale, accidentally knocked out pro wrestler Jackie Pallo during a fight scene, kicking him in the face and knocking him backward into an open grave. He remained unconscious for six or seven minutes, and the newspapers had a field day with the story. For a while, Ms. Blackman was afraid that she had ruined his career.

• Lord Buckley was a 1950s comedian who said pretty much whatever he wanted, whether the audience wanted to hear it or not. Once, a big man started to heckle him, so Lord Buckley asked him to step outside. They did, and a few minutes later, the two men returned. The heckler was unharmed, but Lord Buckley had been stomped. Lord Buckley then continued his act as if nothing had happened.

• Kato-Dewanokami-Yasuoki revered the martial arts. One day, Zen master Bankei visited him, and Yasuoki picked up his spear and pointed it at Bankei. However, Bankei merely used his rosary to flick the point of the spear aside, then told Yasuoki, “No good. You’re too worked up.” Eventually, Yasuoki became a master of the spear and spoke of Bankei as having been his greatest teacher in that art.

• Orestes A. Brownson (1803-1876), a Unitarian minister, once became angry at Mr. Trask, an anti-tobacco crusader, and knocked him down, then apologized for it. Mr. Trask accepted the apology, but kept saying “I forgive you,” which made Mr. Brownson angry enough to tell Mr. Trask, “I have knocked you down, and I apologize for it. If you say anything more about forgiving me, I will knock you down again.”

• Sir Thomas Buxton (1786-1845) noticed in the Election of 1818 that his supporters were engaging in physical violence against the supporters of the opposing candidate. Sir Thomas told his supporters, “Beat them; beat them in the generous exercise of high principles; beat them in disdain of corruption, and the display of pure integrity; but do not beat them with bludgeons.”

• Early in his career, Lenny Bruce worked in burlesque. This can be a hard place for a comic to work, as the patrons go there to see the strippers, not to hear the comedians. When patrons cried out “Bring on the broads” during Mr. Bruce’s act, he responded, “I’d like to, but then you wouldn’t have any company at the bar.” This comment occasionally caused fights to break out.

• Alfred Davis, a Quaker, once saw a fight in which a large woman was sitting on a small man and hitting him. He tried to stop the fight, only to have the small man tell him, “If you won’t allow us to settle our family affairs in our own way, I’ll change places with you.” Mr. Davis decided to allow the family quarrel to continue without interference.

• Sports writers Joe Williams and Heywood Broun were watching the Baer-Carnera fight, in which Baer knocked Carnera down several times, yet Carnera kept getting up. Mr. Williams said, “Gosh, but the big fellow certainly can take it.” Mr. Broun replied, “Yes, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it.”

• In 404 C.E., the gladiatorial contests in the Roman Coliseum came to an end. Telemachus, a monk, ran into the arena and commanded the gladiators in the name of God to stop. The audience howled for Telemachus’ blood, so the gladiators killed him. This murder brought an end to the gladiatorial contests.

• In the early 20th century, Mr. Fyfe, the Caddie Superintendent at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews in Scotland, had an interesting way of dealing with disputes between caddies. He simply told them, “Go to the bandstand and fight as long as you can stand, then come back and I’ll find you work.”

• Lord Justice Harman once had to judge at a trial between two men — both were fighters who claimed to be the welterweight champion of Trinidad. The Lord Justice said, “It occurred to me for the first time during the hearing to regret the desuetude of ordeal by battle as a matter of trial.”

• In 1942, Robert Trias, the United States Navy’s middleweight boxing champion, got into the ring with a kung fu master and discovered that the kung fu master was so quick that he couldn’t hit him. After the “fight,” Mr. Trias began to study kung fu.

• In 1966, in London’s Albert Hall, young ballet dancer Natalia Makarova fell down while performing Giselle. As she lay on the floor, her dance partner, Onoshko, pretended he was a referee in a boxing match and started counting, “One … two … three ….”

• Famous actor Rudolph Valentino once walked into the offices of the Chicago Tribuneand offered to fight anyone at the newspaper because a reporter had said in print that he was a sissy because he wore a wristwatch.

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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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Through a fight, Pablo Neruda learned that his poetry was becoming popular. Two young men were arguing on a dance floor, so Mr. Neruda told them to stop arguing and let the other people enjoy themselves. As the first young man turned and listened to Mr. Neruda, the second young man hit the first young man and knocked him unconscious. Later, as Mr. Neruda left the dance club, the second young man was waiting for him. Mr. Neruda thought that he would be beaten up, but the young man suddenly recognized him and asked, “Are you the poet Pablo Neruda?” Mr. Neruda admitted that he was, and the young man said that he and his girlfriend had memorized much of Mr. Neruda’s poetry — the poetry was keeping them together. When Mr. Neruda’s friends came out of the dance club soon afterward, they found the young man reciting Mr. Neruda’s poetry. In 1971, Mr. Neruda received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Singer Avril Lavigne was born and raised in Canada, and like most or all Canadians, she likes hockey. As a 10- and 11-year-old, she was the only girl on her hockey team, and she could take care of herself in a hockey fight. In fact, on occasion, she started fights. In one case, she started a fight with an opposing player who had insulted one of her teammates. In another fight, the goalie was someone who had picked on her at school, so she took the opportunity of the hockey game to fight him. Her father recorded this fight — in the background fans can be heard cheering her on in the fight: “Avril! Avril!” When Avril turned 18, her record company, Arista, gave her an ice hockey birthday party at an indoor skating rink. She played with so much passion that she knocked down an Arista executive.

Chico Marx of the famous Marx Brothers married a woman named Betty, who traveled with the comedy troupe to be with her husband during their vaudeville days. One day, the usually mild-tempered Gummo Marx (who left entertainment to go into business before the Marx Brothers started making movies) got into an argument with a train brakeman, and the brakeman got so angry that he lifted a wrench and was going to hit Gummo with it. Although Betty was seven months pregnant, she grabbed the brakeman’s hand and held on long enough for Gummo’s brothers to come to the rescue. Chico proudly claimed afterward that Betty was not afraid of anyone.

Jimmy Carter remembers that back when African-American fighter Joe Louis was defeating white boxers with ease and regularity, black neighbors of the Carters would visit so that they could listen to the fights on the radio. The blacks were always very polite, and they were always very quiet, and they would thank the Carter family for allowing them to listen to the radio. Then they would walk about 100 yards away and enter a house in which lived a black family. At that time the Carters could hear yells of jubilation over Mr. Louis’ most recent victory.

Movie director Steven Spielberg teased his younger sisters a lot while they were growing up, and when sister Anne grew old enough, she helped Steven torture the other sisters. Sometimes, Steven would fight with sister Sue. His arms were longer, and he would keep her away from him as she struggled to get close enough to fight him. Eventually, he would shout, “Anne! Quick! She’s hysterical!” That was Anne’s cue to rush in with a glass filled with water and throw the water in Sue’s face. Sue says, “That was how the fights would usually end.”

Henry Kumler, Sr., a pioneer bishop of the United Brethren Church, once traveled a while with a man he had met only to have the man pull a gun on him and attempt to rob him. The bishop was not a man to attempt to rob. He grabbed the gun from the man, who told him that he was only joking and that the gun was not even loaded; therefore, Bishop Kumler contented himself with lecturing the man on ethics and religion and among other things told him, “I can’t beat you because I am a bishop.”

Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges had a strong sense of honor. In 1971, he lectured at Columbia University. Some Puerto Rican students protested Columbia University, which was a landlord in some impoverished areas. One of the Puerto Rican students insulted Mr. Borges, who invited him to step outside and fight. The Puerto Rican student was approximately 20 years old, while Mr. Borges was 72 years old and needed a cane to steady himself while walking.

Joe Louis defeated Max Baer after Mr. Baer was counted out after getting up on one knee. Mr. Baer retained a sense of humor about his loss. When someone asked how he felt about being counted out when he was on one knee, he said, “I could have struggled up once more, but when I get executed, people are going to have to pay more than $25 a seat to watch it.”

Conductor Serge Koussevitzky sometimes got very angry at his musicians. In one case, he yelled at a musician who stayed silent. Enraged, Mr. Koussevitzky stormed with his Russian accent, “Vy don’t you spik? Vy don’t you say something?” Before the musician could reply, Mr. Koussevitzky stormed, “Silence! I vill have no opposition!”

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