Buford Pusser, Walking Tall

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Buford Pusser Walking Tall (Note the high ready guard)

Buford Pusser is an American hero who stood up for justice and tragically died before his time. Like Carrie Nation, he is famous for a weapon — in his case, the big stick. Just as Carrie Nation standing with an upraised hatchet created a compelling image of someone with the means and determination to fight for justice, the image of a man with a big stick is an symbol of power to which people are instinctively drawn. Multiple movies have been made of Buford Pusser, and the strong-man-with-the-big-stick is always the dominant motif, although I doubt Buford Pusser would approve of a sissy word like “motif.”

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Buford Pusser’s law enforcement methods would probably be frowned upon in today’s politically correct society, but not in his day and age. Early on, he did not carry a gun, depending on his size to get the job done. This was probably the period when the legend of the big stick was born. Buford never carried a club on a regular basis, but he often grabbed a fence post to smash whiskey stills and illegal saloons, and on at least one occasion he did use a club to administer a little “frontier justice.”  Following the stabbing that almost killed him, Buford changed his mind about going armed, and began to carry a .41 magnum Smith and Wesson revolver.

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This reminds me of my dad’s career in law enforcement, when the old school method of policing included cracking skulls when necessary. It is interesting that in this account Pusser’s big stick is an improvised weapon, as is seen in the Rock’s video highlights. If you look at pictures of Buford Pusser, he can be seen holding the stick in a two-handed grip.

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Can you picture Buford charging onto the site of an illegal whiskey still and intimidating criminals with a 28 inch stick? No, you can’t. The big stick is the logical choice not only as a weapon, but as a tool to smash illegal stills while instilling the fear of God into some very hardened criminals.

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This was not to be the last physical attack on the hard driving sheriff. Over the years he was shot eight times, stabbed seven times, struck by a car, and killed two people in the course of his duties.

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The above is an example of Buford’s courage. It’s one thing to stand up to gangs in a fight. What is harder is after you’ve been stabbed eight times, left for dead, and you’ve just got out of the hospital. You wake up in the morning, having spent the first night in weeks in your own bed, with the stitches still in you, and you have to decide whether you will get up, go to work, and face those bastards again, or whether you will quit. This is the definition of courage and integrity, when they’ve nearly killed you, and you inwardly flinch at the sight of a steak knife, yet you rejoin the fight. You’ve been offered a thousand dollars a month (in sixties dollars) if you’ll just ride around in the cop car and get donuts, but you refuse.

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One of Pusser’s most recognized confrontations was against Louise Hathcock, who typically carried a ball-peen hammer in the pocket of her apron. As a young man Pusser actually witnessed her beat a sailor to death with that hammer in the bar that she owned, the Shamrock. Note the pattern here, a real life weapon –in this case a hammer– is used, not a stick, a pair of nunchaku, or any of the other fantasy weapons found in a dojo. Combat reality reality doesn’t involve “Heeyah”s” and samurai swords, but some devious, ruthless woman pulling a hammer out of her pocket and crushing your skull with it.

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Do your techniques work with a hammer? When was the last time you trained with a hammer? I am willing to bet that more people have been killed with hammers than with sticks.

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When Pusser confronted Louise, she drew a .38 revolver. He shot her dead. I’m a believer in the big stick, but if you can carry a gun, and your life is on the line, by all means go for the gun. Pusser was about to confront Hathcock unarmed, but fortunately his deputy at the last minute suggested he retrieve his revolver out of the glove box. I will say it again –It pays to be armed.

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Later on, Pusser was ambushed while driving. The assassins killed his wife. On a second pass they blew out his jaw, leaving him with the lopsided face one sees in later photos. He missed his wife’s funeral because he was in the hospital. A deputy was outside his hospital room, because no one knew when the hoodlums might return to kill him. Here we get a sense of the constant threat that Pusser lived under, never knowing when assassins would emerge from nowhere, guns blazing. Yet again Pusser shows courage and integrity, getting up and going to work at a time when no one would blame him if he retired to a trailer park and soaked his mangled body in a tub of Coors Light.

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This was what made Pusser a great man –it wasn’t about him being a big guy throwing his weight around; it was about him doing what was right, long after a lesser man would have quit and run for cover.

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Look at this video featuring highlights of the Rock’s version of Walking Tall

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The first stick scene begins just before 3:00. Just like in Pusser’s life, the Rock grabs a fence post as a last-minute improvised weapon.

At 3:30 he uses the big stick to thrust. This is a surprisingly fast and economical attack with a large weapon.

At 3:55 he strikes with an underleft to the groin, an attack used in Big Stick Combat.

At 4:05 he uses his awareness of the environment (i.e., a post behind his opponent) to his advantage. While you may not get a clean movie knockout like this, you can back an opponent into traffic, a wall, an oil slick, off a curb, etc., and follow up when he is disadvantaged.

At 4:14 he throws his weapon. My variation of this is the “toss thrust.”  I generally recommend against throwing your weapon, even in the case of my toss thrust, in which you ultimately retain your weapon. But in the instance of an opponent about to draw a gun, this is a do-or-die move.

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The third fight sequence at the lumber mill is interesting in that every improvised weapon is a big stick, whether a 2 by 4, an axe, or a branch. Please observe that if you must improvise a weapon by tearing a branch off of a tree, it won’t look like a “kali” stick, and if it does, throw it away and get another.

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At 8:30 the Rock concludes the fight and the movie with low strikes to the knees. With the big stick, this is “game over.”

 

 

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