Pencil Fighting

Pencil Fighting

What happens when middle school boys have spare pencils and too much time at the bus stop? Pencil Fighting.

Watch Pencil Fighting in Action

Pencil fighting was huge during my sixth and seventh grade years of school. Two boys would face off, each with his chosen pencil in hand. They would then proceed to trade blows. One would hold his pencil flat by the ends and the other would strike it with his own pencil, then they’d switch. This continued until one boy’s pencil was broke in two. It was a primitive and unnecessarily destructive game, and yet we devoted a lot of time to mastering it. We developed and perfected techniques: the snap off the finger to give the strike maximum velocity, the added torque of the holding hand, and the “Cherry chop”, a snapless hits which was often outlawed.

We also developed some specialized equipment. You could pull your pencil eraser out of the top and then crush the metal ring until it became a blade. With this blade you could chip away at your opponent’s pencil. The best guys could take out chunks of wood with each strike, stripping the opponent’s pencil down to the lead. And we learned to select the right pencil. The yellow banana wood pencils were useless and would break with one or two strikes, while coated pencils were almost indestructible.

Pencil Fighting

The girls thought all this was stupid, of course, and when you looked at the growing number of broken pencils in my Trapper Keeper, you almost had to agree. And yet it was tons of fun. Making a guy sacrifice one of his favorite pencils. Trying to get in one last strike with a severely damaged pencil without breaking it. Finally breaking through your opponent’s pencil and feeling the thrill of victory. Oh yeah. It was tons of fun. You just had to be sure never to do it with your Atari pencils.


Doug is a child of the 80s who was raised in Ohio and is now living the life of oblivion in the bay area of California.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I remember doing this all the time, though I wasn’t so great at it. My signature move was snapping my own pencil in half as I went in for the snap.

  2. I remember playing this as well. I wasn’t very good either. I remember some kids had a technique that broke some pencils with the first try. Also, the pencils that I found called “Trusty” pencils were the best because they had the coating. It was almost a pencil that the wood was a mixture of wood and plastic.

    I always hated using Trusty pencils to write with though because the graphite was not very dark and sharp like a regular pencil.

  3. Our pencil fighting grew more and more brutal as time went on. I still have a scar on my left hand with a slight grey discoloration from when an errant pencil tip got me.

  4. This is gonna sound crazy, but I miss Trusty pencils. Can you still buy them? I can’t find them anywhere. Ooh, and Dr. Pepper & A&W gum! Those were the BEST! And of course, I can’t find either flavor anywhere. Any ideas??

  5. I was a Dixon Ticonderoga kinda guy. We used to pencil fight when I was finishing elementary school as well as in junior high – say 76-78 or so. The key to survival seemed to be flexing your pencil upward before it was struck, but subtly easing off the torsion as your opponent struck it – in other words, to use your hands as something of a shock absorber while still giving your opponent the sensation that his pencil was striking with full force.

    Also, you had to measure the pencils pre-fight to make sure no one had surreptitiously cut off the end of the pencil – the shorter the pencil, the stiffer it became and harder to break.

    There was a round pencil that was occasionally favored – it seemed to be made of some sort of sawdust composite as it was completely uniform and had no grain to speak of. It was generally lousy at this – BUT – never splintered or shattered. It always broke cleanly – as if it had been sawn through – if safety was your thing.

    Many of my friends and I were also fond of DIY flamethrowers with BIC or other disposable butane lighters. Pretty simple – you pressed down on the gas release button but without turning the flint wheel – then sucked all the butane out that you could manage. Then, you’d ignite the lighter and spray the butane gas out of your mouth through the flame with as much force as you could manage. If done right, you could get a flame of a couple of feet or more. Done wrong, you likely singed your eyebrows. One of the black fellas in my class had a massive afro – and did a flamethrower at precisely the wrong moment when someone opened the door to enter our portable classroom. The draft blew the flame back onto his afro, which set instantly alight. Michael Jackson alight. He was unharmed (though did have to get that afro severely trimmed afterward), but for an hour or more the burnt hair-soot descended about us. Oh, the memories!

  6. Wow Chuck, you guys put a lot of thought into this. I remember the pencils that gave clean brakes, but I never thought of using my thumbs as shock absorbers. I also never considered the different between round and flat pencils. Thanks for the insight. Makes me wish I could pencil fight some more.

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