by Bill Handren                      

"How come you let him talk like that to you, Joe? Why didn't you teach him a lesson?"

"Listen, if I were an opera singer, would you expect me to sing him an aria?"...Joe Louis, The Brown Bomber.

It was 1979.  My town was having its first all town celebration, called Harvest Days.  A 10 k race was being held and I was coerced to run in it.  My nephew sort of looked up to me and had been telling everyone how his karate uncle was going to not only enter, but win.  Yes, I ran three miles every morning, but I was a horrible runner. Gumby like. But, I thought, "what the heck".

I started way back at the end of the pack which was around 175 runners.  Alongside me was a really butterball shaped guy.  To my surprise he took off pretty fast and was soon way ahead.  However, after about a quarter mile I caught up with him.  He was leaning over with his hands on his knees about to lose his lunch.  I felt better when I saw this.  He was totally out of condition and I didn't want to be out-run by him.

Another half mile, and to my horror he passes me.  He manages to lead ahead of me for another quarter mile and stops again.  I pass him by.  I am starting to get irked at this.  He seems to have a plan; run a bit, walk a bit, get sick a bit.  Trouble is, he is outdoing me.  I had made up my mind I would run the whole thing without stopping but he has kept up the entire race so far.

Darn!  He just did it again.  He's become my nemesis.  There is no way I am going to be out done by this guy.

It's been almost six miles. We are within a half mile of the finish line when he passes me.  Oh no! No way!  I ran as a hard as I could and barely made it past him as we finished the race.  Yay, I won.

Then, I felt bad.  Why did beating him suddenly take on such importance?  It was just a lousy race.  I had no illusions about my running skill. I started to feel really small and ashamed.  I allowed myself to get caught up in the moment.  Ego.

We met as we were walking away from the finish line and I started a conversation with him.  "Good race", I said.  He agreed and eventually told me he made up his mind he would finish this thing no matter what.  I told him about how I had made up my mind to run without stopping.  Neither one of us had any illusions about ourselves winning - finishing was the goal.  We had a common thread of sorts.

But, he was the better man.  I had been training and he didn't appear to, unless he was jogging to Dunkin' Donuts every day.  He had more heart than sense and probably didn't walk well for a few days afterward.  I admired him.  I was humbled.

The Japanese used to have a tradition of putting newly minted dan grades through a sort of hazing.  It was supposed to remind the new shodan his ego needs to be kept in check.  That learning stops where self begins. Nothing removes ego faster than being used like a Swiffer by your seniors.

I'm retired. I wake every morning and the first thing I see is my ceiling fan.  At my feet is a nice High Def TV and a Blu Ray player.  Decisions, decisions.  Netflix now? Breakfast first?  Call and get the grandbaby?  Life is sweet. I could wake and the first thing I see is a bare light bulb with a protective shield over it.  I could turn my head to see a 350 pound, tattooed cell mate looking at me as if I were his Prom date.  And that could be the best part of my day.

One way to remain a free man is conflict avoidance.  Consider the consequences before you act. Eliminate all gray areas.  Walk away or give it your all. Drop the ego. There is no such thing as minimal force.  Even a shove can cause someone to hit their head on an edge.  The end result is prison.  

Oh, I know how hard it is. If I hit everyone who deserved it I'd have Carpal Tunnel. But, I don't have a lofty code of conduct which keeps me in line. It is knowing how my idyllic life could be ruined in a burst of temper and I am not willing to pay the price.  I am at life's finish line, hands on my knees, catching my breath and it is time to relax and enjoy.

So, for me, minimal force isn't part of karate .  I reserve fighting for that moment when my life or the life of a loved one is on the table.  Eliminating gray areas simplify life.  The fool's parade I march in every day becomes less stressful when I understand my only task is to make it home and relax.  The parade will be there tomorrow and I want to walk in it, not watch it through steel bars.

But, some will say "what if....?" and then come up with a hypothetical situation.  "So, this guy is hitting on your girlfriend, being rude, etc., and I just let it go?  Walk away?"  No, you can beat the living Jesus out of him - if you are willing to do the prison time.  "What would my girlfriend think, if I ignore a situation and we just walk away?"  If she wants you to fight for her honor, it may be time to check out for a replacement.  But, it is always that darn ego that whispers in your ear, "you gonna take that?"

Someone once wrote fighting should be viewed as a loaded gun.  If you aren't willing to shoot someone over something, you shouldn't be willing to fight over it.  The fish who doesn't bite the bait gets to swim another day.

I was given a tee shirt for finishing the Harvest Day's race.  I found it the other day.  Wearing it now, is like putting a rubber band around a marshmallow. Guess I should have kept up with the jogging.  But, it is a reminder of how quickly one's ego can cloud judgment.  How getting caught up in a moment can escalate.  How the sweet life could turn bitter in a heartbeat.  

The ultimate street tactic?  Sometimes, it may be to just keep on walking down the street.