Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Herd Behavior

I do not excel at many things. It’s a fact that I think a lot of people deal with. I can do many things passably, and fewer well. I can cook well; I have a “good” sense of humor and can be funny at times; I can read a large book of cryptic philosophy and tell you the gist; and I can do many home improvement tasks with little help. I, however, would never claim that I excel in any of these areas. There are people without as much training as I that can cook far better. There some who can dissect Foucault more thoroughly than I can ever hope to. There are others who can construct a house with little more than a pair of pliers and a bent nail. As a human you come to realize your limitations, and understand your strengths. If you distill this thought process down enough you may come across what it means to be an adult. Knowing where you can excel and following it, and knowing where you can fail and avoiding those situations. In any case, I do excel at one thing: fencing.

Or more specifically re-enacting Renaissance swordplay. I’m very good at it. But I’m not good at just one-on-one competition, I can fight well against large groups. You see, we line up several fighters on each side and fight in large melees against one another. There can be 200 people on each side. I fit a small role whenever we fight in these melees, I am a flanker, or as my friends call me, “a fire and forget missile.” Whenever we fight together they just let me do my own thing, which is taking on large groups by myself. I run to engage the enemy and then fight as many as I can pull away from the group.

I don’t just run up and try to score a touch on a whole group at the same time. Instead, I try to make them see me as a threat and then pull off as many fighters as I can to come chase me. This leaves us with superior numbers and then I wait for my group to come help me. If I have to I can take out a number of fighters all by myself. There are some tactics that I use to help me do this:

• I make sure that I position my opponent in-between the other fighters and myself for as long as possible. This makes my immediate opponent an obstacle and gives me a short time to fight him one on one. I can win most fights one on one if given a few seconds.
• I use natural terrain as obstacles. I will try to fight around trees and brush if available to limit my contact with the group and fight individually.
• If the opportunity arises, I always take out the legs of an opponent. A downed opponent cannot chase you nearly as fast.
• Make sure to keep track of everyone. Don’t let anyone flank you.

There is more to it, but the other points only apply to thinking opponents.


I slide down the pole quickly, only slowing myself so I don’t turn my ankle or something. When I hit the ground, I can see that they are only a foot or so out or reach. I run as fast as I can to get to the tire iron. It’s very dreamlike, I am leaning very far forward as my legs push me through the air. It feels like I a running in soup, my motions feel slow. It’s the adrenaline altering my perception, I know it, but I can’t make it go away. When I get to the weapon I snatch it off the ground and spin. I see that one or two had turned away from the bus, but they quickly give up chase and go back to pounding on the glass.

I jog quickly back toward them and see a few start to peel off the side. They are lumbering towards me quickly, but not too quick and I start to herd them. I begin to isolate the closest one, and quickly thrust the tip of the tire iron through its head. As he falls I position myself around the body. The others, four of them, keep coming forward, but don’t pay attention to their fallen comrade. The first stumbles over the body and presents the top of his head to me as it catches its balance. I club it and it falls lifeless to the ground. The pile gets larger as the others fall and stumble toward me. I retrieve more after this group is dispatched, and pull them toward the pile. When it gets too high for them to try to step over, they start to step around, and I quickly start to make a pile in another location. The process of pulling the creatures away from the bus takes about a minute and a half. They offer little resistance, and are easily isolated or tripped up.

When there are none in front of the door, the Rastafarian opens it up and begins to shepherd the people out of the bus. He takes out two that get too close to the running people but he never wavers and gets them all out safely, even Juice, who is last. The people scatter in all different directions. He asks me if I want the crowbar back and I tell him to keep it. The tire iron is longer, easier to wield and has a better point. We part as we hear all the sirens coming. I climb back up the el and pull out my cell phone. I typically get Sarah’s voice mail. She’s probably in surgery anyway. I hang up and head down the tracks. The train that was stopped before is still there. I wander past it and hear more shouts, screams, sirens and what can only be gunshots. I jog as quickly as I can down the tracks and head to the train station. I only hope that I can get out of this city by dusk…

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