At West Point (and later in the Army), PT (physical training in this case, not physical therapy) was a big part of our existence. We spent a lot of time at it, for one thing, and for another it tended to present us with some of the longest-lasting lessons we learned there.
Speaking for myself, anyway--the longest-lasting lessons I learned, I learned in PT.
Take boxing, for example. No, really, I wish you could just take it. I hated that class, mostly because the instructors were famous for their love of the presentation of blood outside of the body in which it belonged. Woo hoo! Blood makes the grass grow! (but Professor, there's no grass in here in the gym, nobody ever said)
Didn't matter. Boxing was one of the four classes we male plebes had to take, two each semester. Women took another class--couldn't take boxing, in fact, and I'm still not sure what I think of that. I mean, I know how strong women can be. I marched with a girl with a broken foot for seven miles once, remember? I'm 100% for equality of the genders in all things.
All things, that is, except boxing. Boxing exists for one purpose: hitting the other guy--er, person--in the face. Multiple times, even. Hard enough to knock him down, too. Have you ever really looked at the faces of long-term professional boxers? That primary goal of the sport jumps right off of those visages.
The thing is, ladies' faces are to humanity as crown molding is to room decor: the ultimate touch. The one greatest addition for elegance and beauty. Whom do you know that would walk up and start smashing crown molding, hmm? Women's boxing is like that, to me. Hit? On purpose? What, are you nuts?
I understand it's not like that any more. I've seen images of women cadets boxing. Part of me cheers on the egalitarianism of the academy. The other part--well, I've made my point. No smash!
In any event, I had to take the course, and so it was that I found myself early in my plebe year sharing the gym floor with other sweaty guys learning to pummel the blood out of each others' faces. Keep those elbows in, the professors would tell us, because we absolutely must protect our cores at all times. Because, you know, that part doesn't bleed unless there's something really serious going on, I figured. Unlike the face, anyway, that bleeds most satisfactorily and then stops all on its own. Nevertheless, I kept going, one day after another, learning jabs and left hooks and right hooks and uppercuts and combinations that made me feel like Muhammed Ali (and made me look like Gumby).
Finally, then, we came to the end. Final exams. No, no multiple choice tests there. Of course not, right? We were tested hands-on, so to speak, right there in the ring sparring against each other, four three-minute matches worth.
I lost the first one. Lost it pretty badly, in fact, if memory serves. I'm not sure, because I don't really recall that first match. The next one, though....
There I was, matched up in the perfect Stephen's Gonna Win This face-off. We were matched by weight, and so my lanky 6' frame weighed the same 160 pounds as my opponent's squat frame did. I had probably half a foot of height on him, though, with a similar advantage in reach. I remember grinning all the way into the ring, thinking "I'm gonna win this, I'm gonna win this."
I danced into the battle, perfectly executing the strategy they'd taught me. Jab. Jab. Dance. Jab jab jabbity jab. Straight left followed by a right hook to drive him out, then jab, jab, jab again. Dance. Jab. Dance. Jab. Jab. Dance.
I was unbeatable, I figured. He couldn't hit me, I figured.
I was wrong.
Along the way I started celebrating my victory a skosh before the bell rang. I relaxed. Before long I looked more like an Irish brawler than a boxer: elbows out to the side, fists smashing in to the opponent in a rhythm that was beautiful to behold.
Beautiful until he hit me, anyway. He came right in under one of my jabs and planted an uppercut right in my unprotected solar plexus.
That was the next-to-last hit in the fight. The last hit was my body hitting the mat. Oof!
If you've never been hit hard in your solar plexus (that spot the nerves come together right in the center front of your diaphragm), trust me: avoid it at all costs. It will make you want to lose every ounce of food you've ever eaten. It takes all the fight right out of you. It makes you really wonder what kind of a jerk would let his elbows flop away from his midsection in a dang boxing match.
Of course, I lost the match. I passed the class somehow, though luckily I was doing quite well in math and chemistry classes which offset the rather low P.E. grade.
So, yeah--you know what the lesson is, right? Never celebrate before the final bell. If the eggs haven't hatched, don't count any chickens. It ain't over till it's over. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. That, and all the rest of those pithy cliches. Ugh, ugh, and more ugh.
Seriously, don't do it.