Part 3 - Chapter 5 - The Fight
There is a certain sort of fellow - we who are used to studying boys all know him well enough - of whom you can predicate with almost positive certainty, after he has been a month at school, that he is sure to have a fight, and with almost equal certainty that he will have but one. Tom Brown was one of these; and as it is our well-weighed intention to give a full, true, and correct account of Tom's only single combat with a school-fellow in the manner of our old friend Bell's Life, let those young persons whose stomachs are not strong, or who think a good set- to with the weapons which God has given us all an uncivilized, unchristian, or ungentlemanly affair, just skip this chapter at once, for it won't be to their taste.
It was not at all usual in those days for two School-house boys to have a fight. Of course there were exceptions, when some cross-grained, hard-headed fellow came up who would never be happy unless he was quarrelling with his nearest neighbours, or when there was some class-dispute, between the fifth form and the fags, for instance, which required blood-letting; and a champion was picked out on each side tacitly, who settled the matter by a good hearty mill. But, for the most part, the constant use of those surest keepers of the peace, the boxing- gloves, kept the School-house boys from fighting one another. Two or three nights in every week the gloves were brought out, either in the hall or fifth-form room; and every boy who was ever likely to fight at all knew all his neighbours' prowess perfectly well, and could tell to a nicety what chance he would have in a stand-up fight with any other boy in the house. But, of course, no such experience could be gotten as regarded boys in other houses; and as most of the other houses were more or less jealous of the School-house, collisions were frequent.
After all, what would life be without fighting, I should like to know? From the cradle to the grave, fighting, rightly understood, is the business, the real highest, honestest business of every son of man. Every one who is worth his salt has his enemies, who must be beaten, be they evil thoughts and habits in himself, or spiritual wickednesses in high places, or Russians, or Border-ruffians, or Bill, Tom, or Harry, who will not let him live his life in quiet till he has thrashed them.
It is no good for quakers, or any other body of men, to uplift their voices against fighting. Human nature is too strong for them, and they don't follow their own precepts. Every soul of them is doing his own piece of fighting, somehow and somewhere. The world might be a better world without fighting, for anything I know, but it wouldn't be our world; and therefore I am dead against crying peace when there is no peace, and isn't meant to be. I am as sorry as any man to see folk fighting the wrong people and the wrong things, but I'd a deal sooner see them doing that than that they should have no fight in them. So having recorded, and being about to record, my hero's fights of all sorts, with all sorts of enemies, I shall now proceed to give an account of his passage-at-arms with the only one of his school-fellows whom he ever had to encounter in this manner.
It was drawing towards the close of Arthur's first half-year, and the May evenings were lengthening out. Locking-up was not till eight o'clock, and everybody was beginning to talk about what he would do in the holidays. The shell, in which form all our dramatis personae now are, were reading, amongst other things, the last book of Homer's "Iliad," and had worked through it as far as the speeches of the women over Hector's body. It is a whole school-day, and four or five of the School-house boys (amongst whom are Arthur, Tom, and East) are preparing third lesson together. They have finished the regulation forty lines, and are for the most part getting very tired, notwithstanding the exquisite pathos of Helen's lamentation. And now several long four-syllabled words come together, and the boy with the dictionary strikes work.
"I am not going to look out any more words," says he; "we've done the quantity. Ten to one we shan't get so far. Let's go out into the close."
"Come along, boys," cries East, always ready to leave "the grind," as he called it; "our old coach is laid up, you know, and we shall have one of the new masters, who's sure to go slow and let us down easy."
So an adjournment to the close was carried nem. con., little Arthur not daring to uplift his voice; but, being deeply interested in what they were reading, stayed quietly behind, and learnt on for his own pleasure.
As East had said, the regular master of the form was unwell, and they were to be heard by one of the new masters - quite a young man, who had only just left the university. Certainly it would be hard lines if, by dawdling as much as possible in coming in and taking their places, entering into long-winded explanations of what was the usual course of the regular master of the form, and others of the stock contrivances of boys for wasting time in school, they could not spin out the lesson so that he should not work them through more than the forty lines. As to which quantity there was a perpetual fight going on between the master and his form - the latter insisting, and enforcing by passive resistance, that it was the prescribed quantity of Homer for a shell lesson; the former, that there was no fixed quantity, but that they must always be ready to go on to fifty or sixty lines if there were time within the hour. However, notwithstanding all their efforts, the new master got on horribly quick. He seemed to have the bad taste to be really interested in the lesson, and to be trying to work them up into something like appreciation of it, giving them good, spirited English words, instead of the wretched bald stuff into which they rendered poor old Homer, and construing over each piece himself to them, after each boy, to show them how it should be done.
Now the clock strikes the three-quarters; there is only a quarter of an hour more, but the forty lines are all but done. So the boys, one after another, who are called up, stick more and more, and make balder and ever more bald work of it. The poor young master is pretty near beat by this time, and feels ready to knock his head against the wall, or his fingers against somebody else's head. So he gives up altogether the lower and middle parts of the form, and looks round in despair at the boys on the top bench, to see if there is one out of whom he can strike a spark or two, and who will be too chivalrous to murder the most beautiful utterances of the most beautiful woman of the old world. His eye rests on Arthur, and he calls him up to finish construing Helen's speech. Whereupon all the other boys draw long breaths, and begin to stare about and take it easy. They are all safe: Arthur is the head of the form, and sure to be able to construe, and that will tide on safely till the hour strikes.
Arthur proceeds to read out the passage in Greek before construing it, as the custom is. Tom, who isn't paying much attention, is suddenly caught by the falter in his voice as he reads the two lines—
[greek text deleted]
He looks up at Arthur, "Why, bless us," thinks he, "what can be the matter with the young un? He's never going to get floored. He's sure to have learnt to the end." Next moment he is reassured by the spirited tone in which Arthur begins construing, and betakes himself to drawing dogs' heads in his notebook, while the master, evidently enjoying the change, turns his back on the middle bench and stands before Arthur, beating a sort of time with his hand and foot, and saying; "Yes, yes," "Very well," as Arthur goes on.
But as he nears the fatal two lines, Tom catches that falter, and again looks up. He sees that there is something the matter; Arthur can hardly get on at all. What can it be?
Suddenly at this point Arthur breaks down altogether, and fairly bursts out crying, and dashes the cuff of his jacket across his eyes, blushing up to the roots of his hair, and feeling as if he should like to go down suddenly through the floor. The whole form are taken aback; most of them stare stupidly at him, while those who are gifted with presence of mind find their places and look steadily at their books, in hopes of not catching the master's eye and getting called up in Arthur's place.
The master looks puzzled for a moment, and then seeing, as the fact is, that the boy is really affected to tears by the most touching thing in Homer, perhaps in all profane poetry put together, steps up to him and lays his hand kindly on his shoulder, saying, "Never mind, my little man, you've construed very well. Stop a minute; there's no hurry."
Now, as luck would have it, there sat next above Tom on that day, in the middle bench of the form, a big boy, by name Williams, generally supposed to be the cock of the shell, therefore of all the school below the fifths. The small boys, who are great speculators on the prowess of their elders, used to hold forth to one another about Williams's great strength, and to discuss whether East or Brown would take a licking from him. He was called Slogger Williams, from the force with which it was supposed he could hit. In the main, he was a rough, goodnatured fellow enough, but very much alive to his own dignity. He reckoned himself the king of the form, and kept up his position with the strong hand, especially in the matter of forcing boys not to construe more than the legitimate forty lines. He had already grunted and grumbled to himself when Arthur went on reading beyond the forty lines; but now that he had broken down just in the middle of all the long words, the Slogger's wrath was fairly roused.
"Sneaking little brute," muttered he, regardless of prudence - "clapping on the water-works just in the hardest place; see if I don't punch his head after fourth lesson."
"Whose?" said Tom, to whom the remark seemed to be addressed.
"Why, that little sneak, Arthur's," replied Williams.
"No, you shan't," said Tom.
"Hullo!" exclaimed Williams, looking at Tom with great surprise for a moment, and then giving him a sudden dig in the ribs with his elbow, which sent Tom's books flying on to the floor, and called the attention of the master, who turned suddenly round, and seeing the state of things, said, -
"Williams, go down three places, and then go on."
The Slogger found his legs very slowly, and proceeded to go below Tom and two other boys with great disgust; and then, turning round and facing the master, said, "I haven't learnt any more, sir; our lesson is only forty lines."
"Is that so?" said the master, appealing generally to the top bench. No answer.
"Who is the head boy of the form?" said he, waxing wroth.
"Arthur, sir," answered three or four boys, indicating our friend.
"Oh, your name's Arthur. Well, now, what is the length of your regular lesson?"
Arthur hesitated a moment, and then said, "We call it only forty lines, sir."
"How do you mean - you call it?"
"Well, sir, Mr. Graham says we ain't to stop there when there's time to construe more."
"I understand," said the master. - "Williams, go down three more places, and write me out the lesson in Greek and English. And now, Arthur, finish construing."
"Oh! would I be in Arthur's shoes after fourth lesson?" said the little boys to one another; but Arthur finished Helen's speech without any further catastrophe, and the clock struck four, which ended third lesson.
Another hour was occupied in preparing and saying fourth lesson, during which Williams was bottling up his wrath; and when five struck, and the lessons for the day were over, he prepared to take summary vengeance on the innocent cause of his misfortune.
Tom was detained in school a few minutes after the rest, and on coming out into the quadrangle, the first thing he saw was a small ring of boys, applauding Williams, who was holding Arthur by the collar.
"There, you young sneak," said he, giving Arthur a cuff on the head with his other hand; "what made you say that - "
"Hullo!" said Tom, shouldering into the crowd; "you drop that, Williams; you shan't touch him."
"Who'll stop me?" said the Slogger, raising his hand again.
"I," said Tom; and suiting the action to the word he struck the arm which held Arthur's arm so sharply that the Slogger dropped it with a start, and turned the full current of his wrath on Tom.
"Will you fight?"
"Yes, of course."
"Huzza! There's going to be a fight between Slogger Williams and Tom Brown!"
The news ran like wildfire about, and many boys who were on their way to tea at their several houses turned back, and sought the back of the chapel, where the fights come off.
"Just run and tell East to come and back me," said Tom to a small School-house boy, who was off like a rocket to Harrowell's, just stopping for a moment to poke his head into the School-house hall, where the lower boys were already at tea, and sing out, "Fight! Tom Brown and Slogger Williams."
Up start half the boys at once, leaving bread, eggs, butter, sprats, and all the rest to take care of themselves. The greater part of the remainder follow in a minute, after swallowing their tea, carrying their food in their hands to consume as they go. Three or four only remain, who steal the butter of the more impetuous, and make to themselves an unctuous feast.
In another minute East and Martin tear through the quadrangle, carrying a sponge, and arrive at the scene of action just as the combatants are beginning to strip.
Tom felt he had got his work cut out for him, as he stripped off his jacket, waistcoat, and braces. East tied his handkerchief round his waist, and rolled up his shirtsleeves for him. "Now, old boy, don't you open your mouth to say a word, or try to help yourself a bit - we'll do all that; you keep all your breath and strength for the Slogger." Martin meanwhile folded the clothes, and put them under the chapel rails; and now Tom, with East to handle him, and Martin to give him a knee, steps out on the turf, and is ready for all that may come; and here is the Slogger too, all stripped, and thirsting for the fray.
It doesn't look a fair match at first glance: Williams is nearly two inches taller, and probably a long year older than his opponent, and he is very strongly made about the arms and shoulders - "peels well," as the little knot of big fifth-form boys, the amateurs, say, who stand outside the ring of little boys, looking complacently on, but taking no active part in the proceedings. But down below he is not so good by any means - no spring from the loins, and feeblish, not to say shipwrecky, about the knees. Tom, on the contrary, though not half so strong in the arms, is good all over, straight, hard, and springy, from neck to ankle, better perhaps in his legs than anywhere. Besides, you can see by the clear white of his eye, and fresh, bright look of his skin, that he is in tip-top training, able to do all he knows; while the Slogger looks rather sodden, as if he didn't take much exercise and ate too much tuck. The time-keeper is chosen, a large ring made, and the two stand up opposite one another for a moment, giving us time just to make our little observations.
"If Tom'll only condescend to fight with his head and heels," as East mutters to Martin, "we shall do."
But seemingly he won't, for there he goes in, making play with both hands. Hard all is the word; the two stand to one another like men; rally follows rally in quick succession, each fighting as if he thought to finish the whole thing out of hand. "Can't last at this rate," say the knowing ones, while the partisans of each make the air ring with their shouts and counter-shouts of encouragement, approval, and defiance.
"Take it easy, take it easy; keep away; let him come after you," implores East, as he wipes Tom's face after the first round with a wet sponge, while he sits back on Martin's knee, supported by the Madman's long arms which tremble a little from excitement.
"Time's up," calls the time-keeper.
"There he goes again, hang it all!" growls East, as his man is at it again, as hard as ever. A very severe round follows, in which Tom gets out and out the worst of it, and is at last hit clean off his legs, and deposited on the grass by a right-hander from the Slogger.
Loud shouts rise from the boys of Slogger's house, and the School-house are silent and vicious, ready to pick quarrels anywhere.
"Two to one in half-crowns on the big un," says Rattle, one of the amateurs, a tall fellow, in thunder-and-lightning waistcoat, and puffy, good-natured face.
"Done!" says Groove, another amateur of quieter look, taking out his notebook to enter it, for our friend Rattle sometimes forgets these little things.
Meantime East is freshening up Tom with the sponges for next round, and has set two other boys to rub his hands.
"Tom, old boy," whispers he, "this may be fun for you, but it's death to me. He'll hit all the fight out of you in another five minutes, and then I shall go and drown myself in the island ditch. Feint him; use your legs; draw him about. He'll lose his wind then in no time, and you can go into him. Hit at his body too; we'll take care of his frontispiece by-and-by."
Tom felt the wisdom of the counsel, and saw already that he couldn't go in and finish the Slogger off at mere hammer and tongs, so changed his tactics completely in the third round. He now fights cautiously, getting away from and parrying the Slogger's lunging hits, instead of trying to counter, and leading his enemy a dance all round the ring after him. "He's funking; go in, Williams," "Catch him up," "Finish him off," scream the small boys of the Slogger party.
"Just what we want," thinks East, chuckling to himself, as he sees Williams, excited by these shouts, and thinking the game in his own hands, blowing himself in his exertions to get to close quarters again, while Tom is keeping away with perfect ease.
They quarter over the ground again and again, Tom always on the defensive.
The Slogger pulls up at last for a moment, fairly blown.
"Now, then, Tom," sings out East, dancing with delight. Tom goes in in a twinkling, and hits two heavy body blows, and gets away again before the Slogger can catch his wind, which when he does he rushes with blind fury at Tom, and being skilfully parried and avoided, overreaches himself and falls on his face, amidst terrific cheers from the School-house boys.
"Double your two to one?" says Groove to Rattle, notebook in hand.
"Stop a bit," says that hero, looking uncomfortably at Williams, who is puffing away on his second's knee, winded enough, but little the worse in any other way.
After another round the Slogger too seems to see that he can't go in and win right off, and has met his match or thereabouts. So he too begins to use his head, and tries to make Tom lose his patience, and come in before his time. And so the fight sways on, now one and now the other getting a trifling pull.
Tom's face begins to look very one-sided - there are little queer bumps on his forehead, and his mouth is bleeding; but East keeps the wet sponge going so scientifically that he comes up looking as fresh and bright as ever. Williams is only slightly marked in the face, but by the nervous movement of his elbows you can see that Tom's body blows are telling. In fact, half the vice of the Slogger's hitting is neutralized, for he daren't lunge out freely for fear of exposing his sides. It is too interesting by this time for much shouting, and the whole ring is very quiet.
"All right, Tommy," whispers East; "hold on's the horse that's to win. We've got the last. Keep your head, old boy."
But where is Arthur all this time? Words cannot paint the poor little fellow's distress. He couldn't muster courage to come up to the ring, but wandered up and down from the great fives court to the corner of the chapel rails, now trying to make up his mind to throw himself between them, and try to stop them; then thinking of running in and telling his friend Mary, who, he knew, would instantly report to the Doctor. The stories he had heard of men being killed in prize-fights rose up horribly before him.
Once only, when the shouts of "Well done, Brown!" "Huzza for the School-house!" rose higher than ever, he ventured up to the ring, thinking the victory was won. Catching sight of Tom's face in the state I have described, all fear of consequences vanishing out of his mind; he rushed straight off to the matron's room, beseeching her to get the fight stopped, or he should die.
But it's time for us to get back to the close. What is this fierce tumult and confusion? The ring is broken, and high and angry words are being bandied about. "It's all fair" - "It isn't" - "No hugging!" The fight is stopped. The combatants, however, sit there quietly, tended by their seconds, while their adherents wrangle in the middle. East can't help shouting challenges to two or three of the other side, though he never leaves Tom for a moment, and plies the sponges as fast as ever.
The fact is, that at the end of the last round, Tom, seeing a good opening, had closed with his opponent, and after a moment's struggle, had thrown him heavily, by help of the fall he had learnt from his village rival in the Vale of White Horse. Williams hadn't the ghost of a chance with Tom at wrestling; and the conviction broke at once on the Slogger faction that if this were allowed their man must be licked. There was a strong feeling in the School against catching hold and throwing, though it was generally ruled all fair within limits; so the ring was broken and the fight stopped.
The School-house are overruled - the fight is on again, but there is to be no throwing; and East, in high wrath, threatens to take his man away after next round (which he don't mean to do, by the way), when suddenly young Brooke comes through the small gate at the end of the chapel. The School-house faction rush to him. "Oh, hurrah! now we shall get fair play."
"Please, Brooke, come up. They won't let Tom Brown throw him."
"Throw whom?" says Brooke, coming up to the ring. "Oh! Williams, I see. Nonsense! Of course he may throw him, if he catches him fairly above the waist."
Now, young Brooke, you're in the sixth, you know, and you ought to stop all fights. He looks hard at both boys. "Anything wrong?" says he to East, nodding at Tom.
"Not a bit."
"Not beat at all?"
"Bless you, no! Heaps of fight in him. - Ain't there, Tom?"
Tom looks at Brooke and grins.
"How's he?" nodding at Williams.
"So so; rather done, I think, since his last fall. He won't stand above two more."
"Time's up!" The boys rise again and face one another. Brooke can't find it in his heart to stop them just yet, so the round goes on, the Slogger waiting for Tom, and reserving all his strength to hit him out should he come in for the wrestling dodge again, for he feels that that must be stopped, or his sponge will soon go up in the air.
And now another newcomer appears on the field, to wit, the under-porter, with his long brush and great wooden receptacle for dust under his arm. He has been sweeping out the schools.
"You'd better stop, gentlemen," he says; "the Doctor knows that Brown's fighting - he'll be out in a minute."
"You go to Bath, Bill," is all that that excellent servitor gets by his advice; and being a man of his hands, and a stanch upholder of the School-house, can't help stopping to look on for a bit, and see Tom Brown, their pet craftsman, fight a round.
It is grim earnest now, and no mistake. Both boys feel this, and summon every power of head, hand, and eye to their aid. A piece of luck on either side, a foot slipping, a blow getting well home, or another fall, may decide it. Tom works slowly round for an opening; he has all the legs, and can choose his own time. The Slogger waits for the attack, and hopes to finish it by some heavy right-handed blow. As they quarter slowly over the ground, the evening sun comes out from behind a cloud and falls full on Williams's face. Tom darts in; the heavy right hand is delivered, but only grazes his head. A short rally at close quarters, and they close; in another moment the Slogger is thrown again heavily for the third time.
"I'll give you three or two on the little one in half-crowns," said Groove to Rattle.
"No, thank 'ee," answers the other, diving his hands farther into his coat-tails.
Just at this stage of the proceedings, the door of the turret which leads to the Doctor's library suddenly opens, and he steps into the close, and makes straight for the ring, in which Brown and the Slogger are both seated on their seconds' knees for the last time.
"The Doctor! the Doctor!" shouts some small boy who catches sight of him, and the ring melts away in a few seconds, the small boys tearing off, Tom collaring his jacket and waistcoat, and slipping through the little gate by the chapel, and round the corner to Harrowell's with his backers, as lively as need be; Williams and his backers making off not quite so fast across the close; Groove, Rattle, and the other bigger fellows trying to combine dignity and prudence in a comical manner, and walking off fast enough, they hope, not to be recognized, and not fast enough to look like running away.
Young Brooke alone remains on the ground by the time the Doctor gets there, and touches his hat, not without a slight inward qualm.
"Hah! Brooke. I am surprised to see you here. Don't you know that I expect the sixth to stop fighting?"
Brooke felt much more uncomfortable than he had expected, but he was rather a favourite with the Doctor for his openness and plainness of speech, so blurted out, as he walked by the Doctor's side, who had already turned back, -
"Yes, sir, generally. But I thought you wished us to exercise a discretion in the matter too - not to interfere too soon."
"But they have been fighting this half-hour and more," said the Doctor.
"Yes, sir; but neither was hurt. And they're the sort of boys who'll be all the better friends now, which they wouldn't have been if they had been stopped, any earlier - before it was so equal."
"Who was fighting with Brown?" said the Doctor.
"Williams, sir, of Thompson's. He is bigger than Brown, and had the best of it at first, but not when you came up, sir. There's a good deal of jealousy between our house and Thompson's, and there would have been more fights if this hadn't been let go on, or if either of them had had much the worst of it."
"Well but, Brooke," said the Doctor, "doesn't this look a little as if you exercised your discretion by only stopping a fight when the School-house boy is getting the worst of it?"
Brooke, it must be confessed, felt rather gravelled.
"Now remember," added the Doctor, as he stopped at the turret- door, "this fight is not to go on; you'll see to that. And I expect you to stop all fights in future at once."
"Very well, sir," said young Brooke, touching his hat, and not sorry to see the turret-door close behind the Doctor's back.
Meantime Tom and the stanchest of his adherents had reached Harrowell's, and Sally was bustling about to get them a late tea, while Stumps had been sent off to Tew, the butcher, to get a piece of raw beef for Tom's eye, which was to be healed off- hand, so that he might show well in the morning. He was not a bit the worse, except a slight difficulty in his vision, a singing in his ears, and a sprained thumb, which he kept in a cold-water bandage, while he drank lots of tea, and listened to the babel of voices talking and speculating of nothing but the fight, and how Williams would have given in after another fall (which he didn't in the least believe), and how on earth the Doctor could have got to know of it - such bad luck! He couldn't help thinking to himself that he was glad he hadn't won; he liked it better as it was, and felt very friendly to the Slogger. And then poor little Arthur crept in and sat down quietly near him, and kept looking at him and the raw beef with such plaintive looks that Tom at last burst out laughing.
"Don't make such eyes, young un," said he; "there's nothing the matter."
"Oh, but, Tom, are you much hurt? I can't bear thinking it was all for me."
"Not a bit of it; don't flatter yourself. We were sure to have had it out sooner or later."
"Well, but you won't go on, will you? You'll promise me you won't go on?"
"Can't tell about that - all depends on the houses. We're in the hands of our countrymen, you know. Must fight for the School-house flag, if so be."
However, the lovers of the science were doomed to disappointment this time. Directly after locking-up, one of the night-fags knocked at Tom's door.
"Brown, young Brooke wants you in the sixth-form room."
Up went Tom to the summons, and found the magnates sitting at their supper.
"Well, Brown," said young Brooke, nodding to him , "how do you feel?"
"Oh, very well, thank you, only I've sprained my thumb, I think."
"Sure to do that in a fight. Well, you hadn't the worst of it, I could see. Where did you learn that throw?"
"Down in the country when I was a boy."
"Hullo! why, what are you now? Well, never mind, you're a plucky fellow. Sit down and have some supper."
Tom obeyed, by no means loath. And the fifth-form boy next filled him a tumbler of bottled beer, and he ate and drank, listening to the pleasant talk, and wondering how soon he should be in the fifth, and one of that much-envied society.
As he got up to leave, Brooke said, "You must shake hands to- morrow morning; I shall come and see that done after first lesson."
And so he did. And Tom and the Slogger shook hands with great satisfaction and mutual respect. And for the next year or two, whenever fights were being talked of, the small boys who had been present shook their heads wisely, saying, "Ah! but you should just have seen the fight between Slogger Williams and Tom Brown!"
And now, boys all, three words before we quit the subject. I have put in this chapter on fighting of malice prepense, partly because I want to give you a true picture of what everyday school life was in my time, and not a kid-glove and go-to- meeting-coat picture, and partly because of the cant and twaddle that's talked of boxing and fighting with fists nowadays. Even Thackeray has given in to it; and only a few weeks ago there was some rampant stuff in the Times on the subject, in an article on field sports.
Boys will quarrel, and when they quarrel will sometimes fight. Fighting with fists is the natural and English way for English boys to settle their quarrels. What substitute for it is there, or ever was there, amongst any nation under the sun? What would you like to see take its place?
Learn to box, then, as you learn to play cricket and football. Not one of you will be the worse, but very much the better, for learning to box well. Should you never have to use it in earnest, there's no exercise in the world so good for the temper and for the muscles of the back and legs.
As to fighting, keep out of it if you can, by all means. When the time comes, if it ever should, that you have to say "Yes" or "No" to a challenge to fight, say "No" if you can - only take care you make it clear to yourselves why you say "No." It's a proof of the highest courage, if done from true Christian motives. It's quite right and justifiable, if done from a simple aversion to physical pain and danger. But don't say "No" because you fear a licking, and say or think it's because you fear God, for that's neither Christian nor honest. And if you do fight, fight it out; and don't give in while you can stand and see.