Sample Special Exercise: No Horsing Around–I’m Fighting a Duck

What appears below is a response to the Special Exercise (SpEx) assignment required of the students enrolled in my ENGL 1213: Composition II classes during the Spring 2016 instructional term at Oklahoma State University. Circumstances surrounding the SpEx allowed students to do a fair bit of preparation for it; I have availed myself of similar opportunities by setting up the initial essay materials (such as this prefatory blurb), but I composed the actual text of the response (below) in roughly the same amount of time allotted to the students. I try to model the behavior I want to see.

I have studied Japanese martial arts since I was twelve years of age. Although my training in them has been inconsistent, it has spanned more than two decades and several styles: what is currently taught as taiho-jutsu, Kodokan judo, and Aikikai aikido. Consequently, I entertain the conceit that I have some idea what I am doing on the mats and, although I hope never to put it to the test, in an actual fight. Owing to that conceit, I assert that I would rather fight a single horse-sized duck than 50 duck-sized horses, if ever such a situation were to arise.

This does not mean I do not think I would do well against the horses. A decently-sized duck is perhaps a foot tall, a foot and a half long, and maybe three-quarters of a foot wide. Scaling down a horse to such a size would make what is normally a formidable animal far less so. It would still be able to kick, to be sure, but the kicks would be of far less power, driven by greatly reduced muscle mass, and although the similarly shrunken hooves would focus that force, it would be able to be delivered only to my legs and feet, perhaps up to just above the knee. Bites would be similarly restricted in power, scope, and range. Having studied judo, with such foot-sweep and -reap techniques as kouchi garide ashi haraihiza garuma, and osotogari, I know that I am well able to endure abuse to the parts of my body likely to be affected–and to press on despite the abuse. In brief, I would be well able to endure what each horse could deploy against me, which would help me to fight successfully.

The horse would not be alone, however; 50 such animals would be arrayed against me, and any fight against multiple opponents is necessarily more complicated. Training in Aikikai aikido has shown me the truth of the assertion. But it has also allowed me tactics to use in such situations. Continual movement, so that the bulk of attackers cannot rush on at once, is key, and even if I do get cornered, there are only so many attackers that can reach me at once. More than a few will get in each other’s way, allowing me an avenue for reprisal. It might well be a brutal one, in which I use my superior size (for I am far larger than a duck-sized horse) to seize one attacker to use as a weapon against the others, adding (admittedly sickening) blows from above to the kicking and stomping that fighting such smaller opponents suggests.

Fighting the duck would be better, however. While such an opponent would be physically larger than I am, I am accustomed to working against larger combatants; I often worked with larger and heavier people than myself in judo and aikido. Also, a single opponent is generally easier to defeat, as there is less need to attend to other factors than the single opponent than in a fight with multiple attackers. And scaling up the duck to the size of a horse would take away one of the few combat advantages it might otherwise have; a bird so large would not be able to fly, certainly not from a standing takeoff such as it would have to use to be efficacious in a fight. Indeed, the duck’s mobility would be sharply limited, as ducks on land are ungainly and awkward; I would have no trouble maneuvering into favorable positions from which to attack the duck and strike it repeatedly until it either fled or fell.

Another factor that makes fighting the duck a better option than fighting the horses is the issue of cleaning up afterwards. Both horses and ducks are free with their excretions. Fifty sets of excretory organs will leave a large mess than one, or at least a more widely distributed one, so that cleaning up after the fight against the horses will be more of a chore than would cleaning up after the fight against the duck. And if the fights were to the death, rather than to unconsciousness or retreat, the disparity of cleanup would be greater. Fifty duck-sized horses would need disposal, meaning fifty broken bodies of animals would have to be handled. A single large duck, however, could be butchered for meat–and a fair bit of it, too, as well as far more readily and easily than the horses. There would be less waste from the duck, then, than from the horses, so that the end of the fight against the duck would be better than the end of the fight against the horses. The end of the fight is the thing that matters most about it, so a better ending makes a better fight; fighting the duck is the better option.

Either situation–fighting 50 duck-sized horses or fighting a single horse-sized duck–is unlikely. It is not as though a coruscating series of high-pitched whinnies or a resounding, mighty QUAAACK! will herald the coming of the horses or the duck, and it is far less possible that both will occur in such a way as to afford me the choice of which to confront. If, through some unintended consequences of genetic research or some malevolent machinations of a mastermind, the situation does arise, however, I know what I will do. I can only hope that others will attend to the other problems, though, while I ensure that the duck is defeated.

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