Everybody Was Pencil Fighting

by Steve Mitchell

What’s that?  What is pencil fighting?


I’m not sure if the kids still pencil fight these days, what with their D.S.’s and their text-thumb-gizmos.  I’ll ask my boys, but the Gen-Xers may have been the last group to partake.

I myself was never a pencil fighter.   In my view, pencils were better used to doodle robots and race cars and if you lost a pencil fight, you lost that pencil.  But, I saw many a pencil fight during my elementary school years.

So, what is pencil fighting?  It’s simple.  Two combatants, each armed with a pencil, square off and take turns trying to break the other’s pencil.

One person holds a pencil horizontally between two hands, thusly:

break this if you can . . .

The other person attempts to break that pencil by flicking (with much force) their own pencil against it, vertically, thusly:

prepare to defend yourself . . .

Simple, right?  But don’t be fooled.  Technique and proper pencil selection could make all the difference.   Everyone had a preference as to how to hold a defending pencil or as to how to flick the attacking pencil.   A close grip was the best defense.  Attack grips varied greatly, and often required body english.   Short pencils were favored defenders but were not as good at attacking.  Long pencils broke more easily but carried more oomph on the attack.

Everyone had a favored strategy, but the best strategy I ever witnessed was the simplest . . . to cheat.

A classmate, who held pencil fighting in some disregard, came up with the ultimate fighting pencil.  I think he let me in on his secret weapon because he needed to show someone and I, too, was not a pencil fighter.  Here’s what he’d done.  He’d taken the fiberglass rod from a bicycle pennant flag, cut it down to pencil length and colored a lead-size circle on each end.

When he was done he had, what appeared to be, a round, unsharpened, white pencil, with no eraser.  What he actually had was an illegal, fiberglass, pencil-fighting juggernaut . . . with no eraser.

I watched with secret, mischievous, glee as he destroyed all comers.  No one could break his pencil and no one suspected it wasn’t a pencil.   He was, for the day, the undisputed champion of pencil fighting and he could’ve ridden that glory train for months.  But he wasn’t really into pencil fighting.  His über pencil was more a proof of concept than a means to glory.

In any case, for me, that was the highlight of many years of tedious pencil fight goings on.  Pencil Fighting – I don’t miss it.