View Full Version : The Harsh Judge

Pages : [1] 2 3 4 5

3/05/2010 6:07am,

For most martial artists, being mugged in broad daylight is an unlikely occurrence. Fit, aware and confident looking people do not make inviting targets. However, in modern society criminals are more brazen than ever and how we react to such violence is the measure of us. We need to stay on the correct side of the law and control our reactions but, as the old-question asks, “is it better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6?”

There follows a true story of a situation that took place in the street, but equally could have been straight out of a dojo training session. It is interesting because it highlights many things: the dangers of being “switched off”, the speed of the trained man’s reactions, the attitude of the police and the judgement of others. It also highlights a part of conflict that is often missed and shows that in the end the most harsh judge is in fact yourself.

This story is true and happened in late 2009, I repeat it here as it was told to me with permission of the person involved.

Raymond was walking through his local town of Brixton, London. As he walked down a quiet street near the park, three large men approached him from the front. Raymond didn’t totally ignore them and walk straight into the situation, but he was not instantly aware of the danger either. They closed on him and formed a semicircle that blocked the street ahead. Raymond looked up to see the man in the middle pulled out what he later described as, “the biggest knife I have ever seen”. The knife came up threateningly and moved towards his midriff. It looked as though these guys were going to mug another helpless victim and escape into the park. However, this time they had made a huge mistake because Raymond is a professional martial arts instructor.

“As soon as I saw the knife, I just started moving. It was instinctive,” he told me. “It was like a sudden shock and my body took over, it was so fast.”

Indeed the entire episode was over seconds later. Raymond turned his body so the knife passed by his stomach. He then covered over the knife arm with his hands and slammed his hip against the man’s elbow. The move was textbook perfect and the knife man’s arm was dislocated instantly. The second man moved in to strike Raymond. Without letting go of the first man’s arm, Raymond kicked out with the classic downward sidekick to the knee. This missed its intended target and his heavy shoes crashed into the second man’s shins, braking through his leg with a sound Raymond described as, “a sickening crunch”. As the second man fell down, Raymond pulled the first man’s arm around and disarmed the knife by pushing it towards the man’s face making him let go of the blade that passed into Raymond’s hand. Another textbook technique, except as Raymond was describing this to me I saw a look on his face; a look of self-reproach.

“You moved the knife towards his face?” I asked.

“Yes, it was the technique,” he replied to me, “when it is taught in class, the end of the technique is to have the knife against the opponents neck. I have taught it for years; take the knife and use it against them.” He shook his head and looked down.

“And did you?”

“I was about to. My body was just doing the technique automatically and the blade was moving towards this guys neck. I realised that this was going to kill him. I screamed at myself inside my head, trying to stop the action from completing. I was like, ‘what the hell are you doing?!’ to myself. At the last moment I turned the blade away.”

As the blade moved in front of the first man’s face the last man moved in to grab Raymond’s hands.

“What did you do then?”

“I stepped forwards into him and struck the last guy with an upper rising elbow to the collarbone. It broke and he went down.”

“A stepping upper rising elbow?” I asked, “that’s a strange technique choice.”

“With the knife in my hand I didn’t want to stab him, it was just instinct,” shrugged Raymond.

With the three men disabled and rolling around on the floor in pain, Raymond did what any good citizen would do in these circumstances; he called them an ambulance. Then the police arrived and promptly arrested Raymond.

“They arrested you?”

“Yes, they spoke to a bystander who had been on the other side of the street and he said I had been excessive and over the top,” he said.

“Really, there was three of them. Did the bystander not see the knife?”

“No, I showed him it on the ground and he said that I had still been too violent. I couldn’t believe it, I was like, ‘can you not see the size of this thing?’”

Raymond was telling me this story the next day along with some friends. To them, it was exciting and macho. They replayed it again and again amongst themselves, shouting and whooping and saying how they would have dealt with the situation. The only person not smiling was Raymond.

“What do you think the police will do?” he asked me. Luckily, one of the friends present was a off-duty Metropolitan police officer.

“What did you say at the station?” the policeman friend asked.

“The truth. That they pulled that knife and I was defending myself. That they were coming for me and I was in fear of my life.”

“Don’t worry,” the policeman friend said, “you appear to have acted correctly. You waited and phoned the ambulance too that shows a lot. They will probably give you a medal.”

Raymond looked across to me, “what do you think Basho?”

“How long have you been teaching Raymond?” I asked him.

“18 years.”

“Mate, you will have hundreds of students willing to give you a character statement. Don’t worry.”

“Yeah,” said the policeman friend, “I will give you one too, just get them to call me. You have my number.”

“Yeah,” broke in one of our other friends, laughing, “and if you need one from a bricklayer, let me know!”

We all laughed, except Raymond. The others went back to describing the event to each other excitedly. Raymond remained quiet.

“Look,” I said, “I know how you feel. Guilty, right?”

“I was so close to killing him. Maybe I was excessive.” He sounded unsure of himself.

“Take your time,” I said, “you just need to work through this.”

Raymond’s reaction to the event was not unusual. Where one might expect him to be happy, elated and empowered by single headedly defeating three muggers, in fact he was badly shaken by it. The huge amount of danger he had been exposed to had put his mind into shock. What if he had lost the fight? Would he have been stabbed to death? These things were running through his mind again and again, playing over different outcomes, a mental state the French call, L’esprit de l’escalier” or in English, “the spirit of the staircase.” Such feelings are very common after a violent situation. At the moment Raymond saw the knife, and his reactions took over, his brain ordered his glands to dump all sorts of chemicals into the blood. These chemicals made him stronger, faster and narrowed his vision. It also made his blood coagulate quicker and his mind process faster so that the entire event seemed to be happening in slow motion.

One side effect of such a body reaction is the feeling of either terror or rage. The ‘beast’ inside is unleashed and takes over the body. For martial artists, this is channelled through our training. By the endless repetition of techniques, basics and kata we have conditioned ourselves to act in a certain way under pressure. The downside is trying to control that rage with ‘the beast unleashed’. Our civilised brains, the part of us that doesn’t want to hurt anyone, fights for control. For some, like Raymond, it succeeds. For others, the beast wins and tragedy happens; someone gets killed.

Regardless of the outcome, the chemicals burn the event into the memory and what Raymond was feeling was essentially survivors guilt. Guilt for having lived through a traumatic experience, prevailed against the odds and having almost killed in the defence of his life.

The part of British law that covers self-defence has been clearly written to take this mental state into account. The police arrested Raymond and made him make a statement very quickly after the event. At this point he was either still pumped full of adrenaline (making him more talkative) or coming down off the chemicals in his blood stream (making him feel down and possibly needing to “offload”). The police are trained to take advantage of this situation to get the truth out and down on paper. Therefore, your statement is the most important thing to get right. People acting in self-defence have still gone to prison because of what they put in their statement. Knowing not ‘what to say’, rather ‘how to say it’ is going to be the second ordeal you face on a day this happens to you. The law is available in clear and understandable terms at the following government web address: www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/self_defence/

The question of how to translate the mental part of combat into training is the primary challenge for instructors. Most doctrines teach that building muscle memory is the way to go, and it is often said that a thousand repetitions of a technique will embed it into instinct. While this appears to be true, there is a large question left outstanding; if we are not teaching people how to cope mentally, then are we teaching them to freeze up and fail at the vital moment. On the other hand, it is important to avoid fully automatic instant responses and end up battering someone honestly asking for directions. It is a balance that forms the hardest part of training and teaching. How many instructors inadvertently teach techniques that kill, sometimes tacked onto a disarming technique as an afterthought? Instructors spend all their lives teaching how to deal with the physical outcomes of conflict, but is it not equally important to understand and teach the mental aspects?

While objective answers to these questions may be impossible, it is surely vital that the class and the instructor considers the questions.

The next week I met up with Raymond again. He told me that he had re-visited the police station and been told that all three men were still in hospital. However, he was also told that the police were not going to press any charges against him. He looked most relieved. He was free of the event legally, I only hope that he is able to free his mind as well.

This is a cross-post from http://www.outsidecontext.com/2010/03/03/the-harsh-judge/ - comments are welcome in both threads.

Basho has been in the martial arts for 18 years and holds a 1st Dan instructor grade in Taekwondo. He recently returned from a year touring the Far East and currently studies Goju Ryu Karate at DKK in London.

**EDITED for a little clarity at the end - Note: all errors are my own**

3/05/2010 7:40am,
It's surprising that they didn't press charges. Everything I've seen about the UK's self defense laws seems to indicate that they would rather people just curl up into a ball and hope a policeman happens to be passing by.

3/05/2010 9:43am,
B.S. From every strike breaking something (sure) down to "they were still in the hospital a week later" (really, for a dislocated elbow? a broken leg? a broken collarbone?). Of course if you can get any of the arrest reports you will prove me wrong.

3/05/2010 9:59am,
I think the correct response is, "go ride yourself".

EDIT. Actually, that's not fair of me. Even if this is the internet.

So, there are four possible outcomes, but note : I am not "Ryamond" myself and this is not fictional writing.

1. "Raymond" made the whole thing up.
2. The police made up what they told him when he went back to "scare him" or some such.
3. "Raymond" mistakenly told me that they were still in hospital. He could have meant that when he went back to the police station a few days later that they were still in hospital. I was speaking to him the next weekend. I admit the text may be confusing on this score.
4. It is all correct as stated.

I personally believe outcome 4, but then I would wouldn't I?

However, none of these things matter. I cannot prove anything to you and I don't intend to. Believe it or not, it's up to you. The point of the article is not in the combat (which after all I didn't see first hand), but in the effect it had on "Raymond".


Now, go ride yourself.


3/05/2010 10:36am,
The correct response would have been "Yes, I guess that doesn't sound correct. Perhaps I should go back and investigate the facts."

3/05/2010 11:08am,
Very nice article. Thats why in Krav Maga training they push you to your physical breaking point then you have to get in a very agressive state with overwhelming attackers and numbers so you get used having controlled aggression instead of just pure aggression.

3/05/2010 11:08am,
Vorpal mate, the entire event is hearsay. You must have me confused with the police or perhaps some sort of masked vigilante. I am not going to check anything beyond the amount I already have done. The article is presented as is.

3/05/2010 11:34am,
Fine. Then in my opinion it's a bunch of bs and any discussion related to it is useless. Come one, read it again. It's classic TMA stroke off fantasy bullshit. Your reluctence to even give your buddy Raymond a call to ask him a few quick questions shows that you're beginning to realize yourself that its all made up.

3/05/2010 11:44am,
I am willing to believe the event. Sometimes fights look like brawls somtimes fights look like sparing matches and somtimes fights look like they have come out of a ninja movie. It happens.
what is believable is the response afterward which is the point of the post.
One thing that has been drilled into me is that even wining a self defence will have its consequences and the moral is, a streetfight is not something to be entered into lighly.
Also that once the physical is over be prepared for all the other crap that my go along with it. This would not only include defending yourself in court but getting things like aids tests done.
having said that I fell that Raymond was pefectly justified in what he did and I hope he recovers well. I dont know how long ago this was but look out for him trauma like this can have a tendency to repeat on you.

3/05/2010 11:53am,
Why should we seriously discuss somebodies response to a fictional scenario?

3/05/2010 12:13pm,
somtimes fights look like they have come out of a ninja movie.

Oh dear god, kill me now.

Conde Koma
3/05/2010 12:26pm,
I generally like giving people the benefit of the doubt, but it is definitely sending up some red flags. Still, I guess the main point of the tale, true or not, is about helping victims with their own Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I've heard here in the US that police have people to do this sort of thing, but perhaps on the LEOs here can clarify?

3/05/2010 12:35pm,
OK, my troll senses are firing here, so this is the last thing I will say on this matter.

I spoke to Raymond for over an hour about this event and was totally convinced that he had not made it up, as was my policeman friend and indeed everyone else listening. After talking to him about it, and how he felt, I asked his permission to write an article about the event. He agreed.

I wanted to speak about something that I saw clearly in him, which struck a cord in me and I hoped would do so in others. Some of the comments I am getting on my blog suggest that I managed to communicate these feelings. As a philosophy graduate (University of Greenwich 98, under Jim Urpeth), I am interested in these sort of things. As a martial artist myself (Black belt cert @ www.flickr.com/photos/outsidecontext/307741405/in/set-72157594181284325/) I am also interested. I witnessed a very nasty stabbing in 2002 outside Walthamstow dog track and appeared as a witness at Snaresbrook court, so I have been through much of what Raymond was feeling.

However, of course, I was not there at this event. But, and again take this or leave it, I have done the necessary in daring (gulp) to post on Bullshido. I have been a member for many years and respect this forums reputation.

End of.

3/05/2010 12:50pm,
Fine. Then in my opinion it's a bunch of bs and any discussion related to it is useless. Come one, read it again. It's classic TMA stroke off fantasy bullshit. Your reluctence to even give your buddy Raymond a call to ask him a few quick questions shows that you're beginning to realize yourself that its all made up.


The fight sounds made up, like a fight scene from Bourne, ie a RBSD, tu D34dly sales pitch. Also if he's been training teh D34dly for 18 years surely he wouldn't be suddenly shocked at having control and why the hell would he check up on the guys health afterward? Now it's sounding like The Karate Kid III.

Plus, if no charges were brought or no one died the Police wouldn't tell Raymond anything about the assailants health, it's none of his business by then.

It's a fantasy.

3/05/2010 1:34pm,
If it will stop all the sooking and put the discussion back on track we can change the scenario to the David Hooks killing in St Kilda which absolutly happened and still hits most of the points of the debate


3/05/2010 5:11pm,
A professional martial arts instructor defeats three thugs? Sure, I can believe it.

...but when it is with three quick movements, each one breaking a bone or joint, that's when it sounds like phooey. I've never heard a verifiable story of anyone snap, snap snapping bones like that, unless you count Tony Jaa movies. Sure, people have PTSD issues about a lot of stuff and it's good to talk about, but untraceable ninja stories on the front page of Bullshido make me a bit sad.

Not to mention, if he really was a martial arts instructor with lightning-fast knife reflexes and knife-fighting know-how, he would have used his run-fu.