Yesterday afternoon, I was walking on 60th Street towards Columbus Circle, holding an umbrella in one hand, my phone in the other.
Halfway down the block, a black guy in his mid-20’s walking past me suddenly and unexpectedly elbowed me in the face.
Hard enough that it bent my glasses, that I could feel the beginnings of a bruise under my right eye.
It took me a few moments to regain my bearings. Then I turned around and followed after him.
“Hey, buddy,” I said. “You just hit me in the face.”
“Yeah,” said the guy.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” I asked him.
“Because I felt like it.”
By that point, we were face to face.
“Now walk away,” he said.
I could feel my heart beating, adrenaline pumping through my system. But my mind was calm. Old sense-memory came back to me, from younger days when I competed in semi-pro MMA competitions, would get dragged into bar brawls alongside drunken friends upset because somebody was sitting on ‘their’ stool.
I found myself envisioning the choreography for what would happen next. My hands were already up near my face, palms open and forward – a well-practiced, nonthreatening street fight stance. His arms were by his sides, a stupid move. I imagined thrusting the fingers of my left hand into his eye, swinging a hard right elbow hook into the side of his face, grabbing the back of his head with both hands and driving it down into my right knee. Beneath us was smooth sidewalk, and I knew I could take it to the ground if I needed to, pull a double-leg takedown, get to a mount position, then punch him in the face again and again with his head pinned against the concrete.
For a moment, I almost snapped into it. The first rule of a street fight is to hit first, and hit hard. But with age and wisdom, I realized that because I could, I didn’t need to.
Go ahead, I thought, hands still in a nonchalant guard. Make my day. My lips curled into a smile. I slowed my breathing, stood my ground.
The second rule of a street fight is to never get into one with someone crazier than you. I think it was the smile that did it, a little too unexpectedly anticipatory. Seeming unsure, he took a step or two back, then turned and walked away.
I bent my glasses into shape, used the camera on my iPhone to examine the bruise forming below my right eye. I thought of Sun Tzu: “he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”