I have nev­er expe­ri­enced any sort of hand-to-hand com­bat in this life. I have nev­er felt an adversary’s fist slam into my face, nor have I felt the sur­pris­ing­ly-cold bite of a blade slice through my flesh. I once threw a punch in some­thing like anger, at the age of eight, and the mem­o­ry I hold of that brief and awk­ward moment is a strange mix­ture of the indeli­bly con­crete and the swirling surreal.

There is some­thing about phys­i­cal com­bat that has always set men (and yes, in cer­tain cul­tures at cer­tain times, women) apart from those around them. Some­thing about the fierce pri­mal encounter of mêlée unlocks some­thing with­in, some­thing buried, some­thing ancient and pow­er­ful. It can be ter­ri­fy­ing, to be sure, but it is very often also exhil­a­rat­ing, and for not a few has been addic­tive. Many would call such vio­lence ani­mal, but are we real­ly less human when we dirty our hands with each other’s blood? Or are we more so?

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