March 04, 2023

Fighting Words

GSTAAD—Okay, sports fans, it’s time to spill the beans. Sometime last year I wrote about rich man’s kickboxing, the art of punching and kicking at someone holding up pads, the best conditioner I know if done correctly and nonstop. I also call it the most Christian of sports because there’s a lot of outgoing and receiving nothing in return. It goes something like this: left jab, right cross, then left jab and right cross again, then left front kick followed by right roundhouse kick, then left front kick followed by right roundhouse kick again, and then the whole thing all over again. It takes about one minute to complete a cycle of ten of what I’ve just listed, which means one’s thrown about forty punches and about the same amount of kicks. Then comes a break of about a minute or less, and you start all over again but this time with variations: more left or right hooks, some uppercuts, more low round kicks because high ones can be very effective but leave the kicker very vulnerable to counters.

“When fighting in a dojo or in a gym, and especially in the street, valor and discipline are all-important, as are courage and cunning.”

If this is boring you, it’ll be over soon. Left jab, right cross, left jab, left jab, left hook, right uppercut, low left round kick, low right round kick, left kick, right kick, on and on it goes and you feel like a champ, look like one—even if I say so myself after sixty years of boxing and martial arts—and finally it comes to an end. It’s been thirty minutes of throwing leather and kicking padded thighs, the sweat is pouring, and the few visitors watching are not about to get in and mix it up with you. Three weeks ago, however, things changed. My tough Turk trainer, Cureyt, put the pads aside and gloved up, and we started sparring. He’s 6′ 2″ and 28 years old, I’m 5′ 9″ and 86 years young. Spectators who had been awestruck that someone my age can kick and punch as hard as I do were suddenly awestruck when the Turk turned me into jelly. He faked a right cross, and when I covered he landed a left hook to my liver that did more damage than sixty years of hard drinking in dives from London to the Bagel. The fact that I had been drinking vodka until late the night before did not help matters. Sparring since then has become compulsory because it separates the men from the boys. The wife had sent out a video of rich man’s kickboxing starring Taki, and it was greatly admired, but for some strange reason Taki looking like a harpooned blowfish after a vicious shot to the liver has not made it on celluloid yet.

Never mind. When fighting in a dojo or in a gym, and especially in the street, valor and discipline are all-important, as are courage and cunning. Wild swings that knock men out are Hollywood fiction, although today street fighting is for suckers. Don’t try it. Every bum and coward is carrying, and if they’re ever caught after slicing or shooting someone they’re either suffering from mental issues or have had such a disadvantaged childhood they deserve a break. The days of hitting someone and waiting for him to get up before another hit are as long gone as high-button shoes.

Karate, kickboxing, and judo are the healthiest of pursuits and can at times come in handy. There are no “love yourself” notices in dojos, at least not the ones I frequent. The love stuff is American-inspired crap, and I apologize to manure for mentioning it in the same breath as these self-love phonies. Otherwise, it’s been dinner parties galore. My close friend Aliki Goulandris gave a great dinner for fourteen of her closest and I sat next to her and Bernard Picasso, grandson of you-know-who, and it was delightful. He spoke English and when I asked him why he said that he had a terrible Parisian accent, that embarrassed him. “Do you sound like Jean Gabin?” I asked. “Yes, something like that,” said the most charming of men, who had a very pretty wife to boot. My advice to him was to speak French, because everyone loved Jean Gabin, especially in his gangster roles.

Wafic and Rosemary Said blew into town and threw a dinner at the Palace grill for twenty with wines to test the willpower of a Pope who had sworn off the stuff. Then came Christopher and Lynn Mills’ dinner at home; their beautiful chalet contains more books than all the dwellings put together, which says a lot about Christopher Mills and Gstaad’s other residents.

This is the good news, but the even better news is that a man called Kenny, writing in the Bagel Times, found your correspondent “stomach-churning.” My friend Mark Brennan sent me the item from the Bagel, and it was like an unexpected present. Anytime I can cause a phony working for that phoniest of newspapers, especially one who—horror of horrors—attended “Paterson University in New Jersey,” makes me forget the liver shot and want to actually buy people drinks. I was taught early on never to snub people, but the line has to be drawn somewhere. Glenn Kenny, of The New York Times, educated at Paterson University in New Jersey, his stomach churned by Taki—it’s just too good and made my week.

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