Today (Friday, August 30, 2013), I had an interesting experience. I was walking back from the science building at the university to go across campus and grab lunch. I got about halfway to the food court, right in front of our library, and a random guy wearing a pocketknife in his right pocket came out from about 30 feet in front of the group of people in front of me. He was indexing the knife with his right hand as if he was about to draw it, and he was headed directly toward a girl in front of me with a pissed off look on his face. His walk was menacing, and his intent was right on the girl as he approached. I instantly felt an adrenaline dump as he closed in to about five feet from the girl, who was paying zero attention. He started to pull his hand out of his pocket and draw the knife, all in a forward motion towards the girl. I was close at this point, as I had started closing the distance between me and him……Then, to my surprise, he made a little lunge like gesture at the girl, she let out a little yelp, and they both started laughing. The guy was just messing with her. Apparently they were friends.
Sneak Attacks, Ink Pens, and Oddities of Perception Under the Influence of Adrenaline
The knife clip I had seen was actually a pen clipped to the outside of the guy’s pocket. It was a bit of a shock because I was mentally ready to kill this guy about two seconds earlier and now, it was all just a joke. I told them that he scared the hell out of me and that I thought he was about to attack her. Hopefully he will think twice before doing something like that in public again. Regardless of the lack of an actual fight (thank God there was not one), the whole thing was rather informative. I texted my teacher just after the event and he suggested that I share what I experienced here, so I will do that now.
Before I get into what I experienced, let me assure you that I have never been so certain that it was going down as I was in those few seconds. That guy would be a fantastic uke, because his emotion and intent was all dead on. I thought for sure he was going to stab the girl he was going for. This produced a very real reaction from me, since I was not in on the joke.
“The Mind Navigates the Body.” – Coach Tony Blauer
The first thing I experienced was a quick little microflinch as I saw the guys face and what I perceived to be a weapon. I was aware of a very quick “holy crap” moment in my mind, in which I could have ended up freezing if I chose to. We’ve trained and talked about the flinch response a lot with the PDR material. Basically it was like an internal flinch. The threat was not after me, so I didn’t throw my hands up and dive off of the side walk. However, I did felt a sort of microflinch internally, and I am pretty sure if I had a poor mindset or very low confidence, that would have been the moment when I would have completely frozen. Fortunately I overcame that very quickly. Instead, I started closing the distance and I thought, “I am going to kill you if you draw that knife,” or something to that effect, except on an emotional level more than as a conscious thought. I did not think of the knife cutting me or of blood or of dying or anything like that. I just knew that I was going to stop him. I think those flinch points are the times in which you decide if you are going to be afraid or not. I decided to attack the guy and was making my move. The fear of the knife stayed back at that decision.
On the physical level, you could have punched me in the side of the face because, hello tunnel vision. All I saw was that one guy. Before the incident, I was walking right in front of some class mates. Five seconds later, I have no idea where that went. Might as well have disappeared off of the face of the Earth. It wasn’t really like a literal blackening of the outside of my vision as it was a failure to visually process anything beyond the threat. I could still see everything, but not really. Everything else became like an unnoticeable background. I also experienced the usual other adrenaline dump side effects. My hands were shaky afterwards, heart rate sped up, and I was ready to kill things and/ or run for miles. It made for an interesting walk into the food court afterwards. I’m sure I probably looked a bit cracked out.
Although the encounter was short and it didn’t culminate to any real violence, there are definitely some lessons to be learned from it. The most important thing I got from it was the utter speed at which this stuff goes down. You have to be emotionally ready to defend yourself or someone else if you are going to do it. It’s not something that allows time for thought. There wasn’t a lot of thinking involved, just feeling. If the threat had turned out real and I had thought my way to concluding that I needed to attack the guy, he would have already stabbed the girl many times and ran away before I got close to him. Rational thought is just not fast enough. There is no time for an extensive internal dialogue about the situation. In the PDR material, we learned about either getting challenged or getting stuck in the fear loop. Basically, that is what it is. There is not a third option where you can rationalize the situation and think of how to execute your favorite technique on the threat. My focus was to get him off of her. If it had been too complex, I would have gotten too lost in the decision making process. It was more important to just get moving.
Challenged or Threatened: Getting out of the F.E.A.R. Loop and Taking Action
You can either get challenged or be afraid, and it is a decision made when you move or you don’t, not necessarily when you “think” about it. Surprisingly, when you make the decision by actually moving, the fear part will leave you alone. Once I moved forward, the battle against the fear was done. It wasn’t a continual struggle every step closer. I could have punched that guy right in the face (I was about to) and not even thought twice about that knife. I think that understanding of how it works is something that I didn’t grasp before. In my mind, I thought, sure you get out of the fear loop at first, but it’s a constant struggle. After today, I would say it’s pretty much a one-time decision, in the moment. Start moving and you may surprise yourself. You can leave the fear behind totally if you choose to do so.
BYOB – We Ain’t Talkin’ Booze Here
Another lesson from the experience is that you absolutely cannot trust anyone to defend you. You have to be willing to Be Your Own Bodyguard, just like PDR talks about. Of the around twenty people who were walking down the crowded sidewalk, do you know how many noticed the “attack?” I’m the only one. Everyone else had headphones or conversations or were just out in space as they walked through. The “victim” was looking straight forward and she didn’t see the guy. He came straight down her line of sight, and she didn’t see him at all! People don’t pay attention even if their lives depended on it. In fact, her life would have depended on it, if the guy had been a real attacker. You’ve got to pay attention and be ready to defend yourself, because most people are just going to keep listening to Taylor Swift’s man problems and go on thinking you never existed, these days.
A final lesson would be, don’t freaking do stuff like that, you idiot! Though many many people are consumed with their iPods and other distractions, there are some people out there looking forward to kicking bad guy ass. If I had been just a couple feet closer to the guy, I would be sitting in the campus safety office right now, explaining why I just punched him in the face in the middle of the sidewalk. This is especially not good in the South, where I’m pretty sure even pets carry guns. If good ol Bubba saw this on the sidewalk, he may have hastily shot the attacker. If you want to charge at your friend while drawing a weapon in the middle of the street, don’t. That’s stupid.
Well, I’m very bad at conclusions. That’s pretty much all I’ve got. If I stressed anything, it would be the importance of getting challenged and overcoming fear. That is an important step, and it is something that is done by literally moving your body and doing what needs to be done. Strategy is good, but it should probably be pretty simple. Get too complex and exact with it and you just won’t have time to act after thinking it all through. If you are in a do or die scenario and you choose to do, well then you probably won’t die. Thanks for your time.
Have you been in a similar scenario? How did you react/respond? Are you training to prepare for such a scenario? Please post in comments below.