I had to think a bit tonight, have I ever kicked anyone’s ass? I really don’t think I have. I know I don’t want to, ever. I use the phrase from time to time, but it’s mostly because I think it’s a phrase people will understand. There isn’t a lot of reality to it.

I’ve never won a tournament in my life, but I have a big string of second-places. You might think that means I kicked a lot of other people’s asses to get there, but…no, not really. Tournament sword fighting always feels a bit lucky to me. It’s always a gamble. I enjoy formulating strategies, and I’m quite good at it. If I tell a student how to beat another fighter, and they do what I say? They will win, I guarantee it. But I know it’s a gamble. When I see a fighter repeating a pattern, or neglecting certain lines…sure, that can be taken advantage of. But you never know, it might be the one time, in one bout, where the fighter will fall out of his pattern and accidentally do the right thing. It happens.

So, sure, I prepped hard, analyzed my opponents, did the right thing at the right time and won. I’m still aware that’s it’s chance. I prepared better and was able to take advantage of chance, and good for me for that, but I don’t think that qualifies as ass kicking. It doesn’t make me better than anyone else, except on that day, in that bout.

Sometimes I’m just far more skilled than another person, or really have their number, and I can score on them at will. I suppose I could consider this kicking their ass, but it never feels like it. I don’t really enjoy such fights. If I’m not teaching the person I feel like I’m wasting my time with such a fighter…and that makes me feel like an ass.

Sometimes I’ll prove a point with a student, and hit every opening they have, and I suppose that’s pretty close to kicking ass…except that when I do that, I’m really, clearly, illustrating to the student exactly what they need to work on. Even though the student may not feel it at the time, it’s a partnership thing. It’s me pushing them to a new level instead of pulling or guiding. And moreso, I always feel that any student I teach is one breakthrough away from being better than I could ever hope to be. I wouldn’t teach them if I didn’t feel that way.

Without swords? More than once in wrestling I’ve submitted an entire class of students, one after the other. Sounds pretty bad-ass, I know…but the reality is usually that the students kicked my ass right up until they made some tiny mistake. Being an evil, treacherous old man, that was all I needed. That’s not ass-kicking though, that’s survival.

I’ve fought in earnest…I’ve broken people’s arms, dislocated their joints, and hit them and knew they weren’t getting up again for a long time. That kind of fighting never feels like ass-kicking either, it just feels like jittery, scary chaos, with the odd moment of time slowing right down, and things just happening with no thought or intention at all, just flow.

If you push me, I will admit to a few occasions of really unleashing some anger and putting a real hurt on someone, with and without swords. For a moment or two, that dark rage that lurks inside started to peak out a little. And right with it came the rank smell of smug pride. Did I kick ass? I suppose it looked that way, but all I feel I did was soil myself. I felt like I’d broken a part of myself inside, and left a stain that would never clear.

So on the balance of things, I’m happy to not be an ass-kicker. And if I use the phrase again in the future, I’ll try to remember to link back to this post…