Kung Fu Fighting

James Brogan — May 2014

When I lived in Tucson, Arizona, in the desert, I got in a fight over a girl. As a grown-up I turned this story into a speech for a Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest. I’m going to relate that version of it below. The only difference is that I’ll start with an opening paragraph that my Dad wrote for it when he was reviewing it.

Dad’s suggested introduction:

When hormones are just beginning to make their presence felt, every boy will eventually find himself facing the serious dilemma of fight or flight. Their comfortable little world will suddenly be challenged, threatening what seems to be every little bit of their physical being, male dignity, and self-respect. Everything is on the line. My turn began one Arizona spring day in 1975…

Script from contest speech: (actually I had to cut it shorter than what follows to fit under the 7 minute time limit):

Brenda was a sixth-grader and the object of our affections. She had tender features, blue eyes, and light, light brown hair that was wavy in that way-cool early seventies fashion.

Kyle was a sixth-grader. Tall, I suppose, but not particularly bright, popular, or athletic. I thought he was something of a dork, but not intolerably so.

I was a sixth-grader, cute smile, blue eyes, curly blond hair, extremely witty, and confident in every situation, except for those that involved girls my own age. Actually, I wasn’t bad at flirting, but I could never have gotten up the courage to get serious with a girl. No goin’ steady for me.

David was much older. He was very popular, probably at the height of his popularity. Which was understandable, he had his own TV show. It was called, “Kung Fu.” I watched it religiously and my brother and I would pretend we were him and choreograph scenes and fights on the lawn, right out in the front yard where people could see. David was great, our hero.

Now I kinda had a crush on Brenda. I didn’t tell her about it. I didn’t tell my brother about it. I didn’t tell Mom or Dad about it. I didn’t tell my best friends Wayne or Scott about it. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I just looked at her wistfully now and then and made sure to ask her to dance at school dances.

David was no competition. He didn’t even go to our school. But he would have liked her. And on the TV show he never developed a lasting relationship with anyone, anyway.

And Kyle struck me as a complete non-competitor. He was too much of a dork to notice that boys and girls might even like each other. I thought he was entirely involved with his hobby of drawing tanks and war planes and hotrods on every scrap of paper he could find. I was wrong.

One day, my duties as a safety patrol member had me monitoring the halls at lunch time. Consequently I was the last one entering the classroom after the ending bell had rung. Kyle, this day, was the second to last. Just as we were about to file in from the deserted hallway, Kyle pulled me over, turned me around and pushed me up against the wall. Something told me this wasn’t going to end pretty.

He pinned my shoulders against the wall. I didn’t resist because I wanted to seem calm and cool. He was also comically over-intense. He was forcing the emotion.

“Brogan,” he said, using my last name like we all did at that age to show our maturity, “do you like Brenda?”

I kept my cool, but gave myself away with a too-long answer. “Yeah, sure. Kinda. Of Course. Everybody likes Brenda.”

Kyle wasn’t quick enough to read the signs so he had to use a back-up question. “No, I mean do you really like her?”

“Well, I could like her, she’s real cute, but we’re not going steady or anything.”

He took my head between his hands and squeezed as he delivered his threat. “Good, just stay away from her okay? I like her and she’s going to be my girl. Got it?”

I said, “Yeah.” in a way that clearly indicated I “got” his meaning, but not that I was necessarily going to do anything about it. He missed the subtlety.

“Good.” he repeated, but seemed frustrated that I hadn’t offered any apparent resistance. My head was still between his hands so he bumped it into the wall behind me, but not too hard. I hadn’t given him enough justification. He stormed into class and I followed as if nothing had happened.

Now whenever bad things happen to good people, they go through five stages. This was a small tragedy so I went through all of them by the time I sat down at my desk. The first was fear. Kyle was bigger. He could beat me up. Second — anger. He was facing away. I could attack from behind. The third was denial. He wasn’t threatening me, was he? How did he know I liked Brenda? I was further confused by what he could possibly expect me to do. There really wasn’t anything I could do to make my feeling towards Brenda less demonstrative. Fourth stage — depression. I would do nothing, I knew. I was a weakling. I wasn’t worthy of Brenda. Fifth — acceptance. Oh, well. I wasn’t going to do anything before. Nothing has really changed!

The rest of the day went well. I was helping the teacher after class and he pulled me aside and said he heard that Kyle had threatened me about Brenda.

For a minute I thought I had confirmation of my theory that the whole world was here just for me. I was the only real person. The only person with real feelings and thoughts. Everyone else was an actor, a robot. How else could you explain it? apparently, everyone knew I liked Brenda, when I hadn’t told anybody. The teacher knew about events in the hallway that Kyle would not have admitted to. What was going on? Was I the subject of some bizarre experiment for fight of flight?

I told the teacher what had happened and that he shouldn’t worry about it. It was all over. I wasn’t even allowed to date until I was sixteen so it was a non-issue.

He said, “Okay.”

The story came to a dramatic conclusion at the community swimming pool. My older sister, my brother and I had suited up, slipped our feet into on our bamboo thongs with the politically incorrect name of jap-flaps and walked to the pool. My brother and I were too young to be allowed in without our older sister, but once we got in, we separated and did our own things with our own friends. I was alone in the four to five-foot section when Kyle appeared. He could stand on the bottom and still breathe, an act I suddenly found difficult, even hanging on the edge with my head clear out. I thought, ‘He’s not here to apologize’ and I was right.

“Brogan, when you get out and no one else is around. I’m going to beat you up.”

One of our spelling words that week was ‘nonchalant,’ so that was the effect I went after as I said, “Okay.” and swam off. I pretended to be having a good time, but I kept my eye on Kyle, waiting for him to get distracted. I went over to my little brother and told him what was going on.

“As soon as he’s looking the other way, we’re getting out of here. We just grab our stuff and scram.”

Somewhere up in the sky behind one-way glass I could imagine a scientist with a lab coat and clipboard checking something off, ‘flight’.

The moment came and we got out of the pool grabbed our towels picked up our jap-flaps, walked through the gate and across the dirt court, dripping wet and barefoot.

Our exit was noticed. Before we made it to the outer gate we were surrounded by Kyle and four of his friends. I didn’t know he had any. It was looking grim. I decided I’d had enough of the flighting. It was time to fight. I hadn’t been in a fight since third grade when I lost to a sixth-grader. My record against sixth-graders was oh-and-one. Not good. Kyle was a head taller than me. Not good. Kyle had four friends with him. I had a little brother. Not good. But I had a secret advantage. I had watched hours and hours of Kung Fu. Kyle didn’t stand a chance. Ironic, wasn’t it; it was just like an episode of Kung Fu. A hint of violence at the beginning, but the hero acted nobly, avoiding conflict to the best of his ability, but in the end forced into a violent showdown where the bad guys would get what was coming to them.

Only one thing would be different. Kwai Chang Caine, or David Carradine, never struck the first blow. ‘He could afford the luxury,’ I thought. ‘He’s had more experience.’ My actual lack of practice would justify my attacking first. So that is what I did.

I ran up to Kyle and, unexpectedly to him, I think, I lifted up my foot and kicked him in the chest. The impact caused his unwilling body to move back a full half inch. Perhaps I should have kicked harder. The kick had a strange effect nonetheless, for he looked down where I had kicked him and observed a perfectly defined footprint. I was wet, barefoot, and standing in dirt, so I was well-equipped to make a really nice mark. It was the perfect badge of shame. He paused for a second…just before he drew up his resolve to pound me into a muddy, pulpy mess.

But it was not to be. My sister, Jenny, had seen us leave and got out to follow us probably to bawl us out for leaving without her.

She was three years older which was enough to intimidate five sixth-graders. She arrived just as Kyle began to approach me. She told him to stop and go home…and he did!

We walked home and as soon as we were out of earshot, we all began to laugh at how funny that footprint on his chest was. We walked off into the east, which wasn’t the perfect movie ending, but Kyle never bothered me again and perhaps the easterly direction was a strange tribute to Kwai Chang Caine, David Carradine, and Kung Fu.