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Martin Amis

“There is only one way to get good at fighting: you have to do it a lot.

The reason why most people are no good at fighting is that they do it so seldom, and, in these days of high specialization, no one really expects to be good at anything unless they work out at it and put in some time. With violence, you have to keep your hand in, you have to have a repertoire. When I was a kid, growing up in Trenton, New Jersey, and later on the streets of Pimlico, I learned these routines one by one. For instance, can you butt people (i.e. hit them in the face with your face — a very intimate form of fighting, with tremendous power to appall and astonish)? I took up butting when I was ten. After a while, after butting a few people (you try to hit them with your rugline, hit them in the nose, mouth, cheekbone — it doesn’t much matter), I thought, ‘Yeah: I can butt people now.’ From then on, butting people was suddenly an option. Ditto with ball-kneeing, shin-kicking and eye-forking; they were all new ways of expressing frustration, fury and fear, and of settling arguments in my favour. You have to work at it, though. You learn over the years, by trial and error. You can’t get the knack by watching TV. You have to use live ammunition. So, for example, if you ever tangled with me, and a rumble developed, and you tried to butt me, to hit my head with your head, you probably wouldn’t be very good at it. It wouldn’t hurt. It wouldn’t do any damage. All it would do is make me angry. Then I’d hit your head with my head extra hard, and there would be plenty of pain and maybe some damage too.

Besides, I’d probably butt you long before it ever occurred to you to butt me. There’s only one rule in street and bar fights: maximum violence, instantly. Don’t pussyfoot, don’t wait for the war to escalate. Nuke them, right off. Hit them with everything, milk bottle, car tool, clenched keys or coins. The first blow has to give everything. If he takes it, and you go down, then you get all he has to mete out anyway. The worst, the most extreme violence — at once. Extremity is the only element of surprise. Hit them with everything. No quarter.”


From the novel Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis.

I love this quote for the same reason I relish the novel from which it comes: it expresses a brutish bravado in beboping, musical English. That special synthesis of brash tone with light and vibrant language is what makes Amis the master stylist that he is.