A few weeks ago, as I walked along Ala Moana Blvd. to stretch my legs and do something since I was in day 5 of a cold/flu, some cracked out dude, eyes looking like a bull seeing red, ran up on me. Dealing with someone in that state of mind was only comparable to a time where a dog broke from its chain and chased me as I walked by its house.
Let's just say neither experience very fun.
From a distance, I saw him sprinting, charging hard through a changing light. He was hard to miss, wearing a wife beater, camo shorts, and slippers (aka flip-flops or thongs depending on where you are from). I had a strange feeling about it but I figured, eh, he's just running, whatever. Plus I was so congested and tired, it just felt good to be outside.
As we drew near, in particular when I passed him, the bell within started to go off because there was something clearly off about this guy.
When we passed by one another, I could feel his eyes on me, and instinctively turned to find that he was running up on me. As I backed up, I was caught between a planter to my left, the glass of a car dealership at my back, and the "Why mad you Bro?" who had sealed the front and my right with his erratic movements.
Without thought my hands went up in the very basic protect yourself, create space, self-defense move that I drilled in fundamental classes, so many years ago. I turned with his movements so that I wasn't square and in an effort to limit the amount of open body space I gave him as best as I could.
The whole exchange, which lasted maybe 20 seconds from start to finish, was utterly confusing. Cars were speeding by, there was someone in the dealership cleaning behind me, yet, none of that mattered because there I was, alone with the homie. In many ways, it felt like being pinned beneath a 285 lb. training partner, and all I could do was wait and see, rather than rush a movement and create a situation I didn't want to be in.
Keep in mind, the whole time, he was yelling at me to "smile" and "smile at me."
As my shock wore off, I finally took a deep breath, something I recalled from experiences while competing in 2010. I learned in one match that if I controlled my breath, my body would relax, and I would be calmer. I lost that match but that lesson learned gave me a win that night as for some reason, with that one single breath, the situation ended. The dude walked away and there I was, left to ponder what had happened, which led me to three takeaways:
1. Keep your eyes open and trust your gut.
When I saw the guy running, I had a feeling there was something awry but I disregarded it. Even at the time of seeing him, I had a chance to take a turn and go in a different direction. Well before that, I had an opportunity to stop and talk with a neighbor who was in the same spot when I returned 45 minutes later. Life really does give us hints, but it is up to us to pay attention and act.
2. Quiet the ego.
In three years of training Muay Thai, with three different teachers, I was taught by each that my mouth was the first line of defense and to always try to walk away. In this case, I couldn't use either because of whatever this guy was on. He was out of his mind and I am very lucky that something worse didn't happen. If I had been in my ego, I might have felt compelled to engage and who knows how that could have played out.
3. The body remembers what the mind might not.
At the time of that experience, I hadn't trained Jiu-Jitsu since tearing my calf in 2011, but some of the techniques I had learned while training in Jiu-Jitsu came into play. Though Sport Jiu-Jitsu is different than real life encounters, what you learn on the mats can truly help you in real life. There are also many principles of Jiu-Jitsu that I have continued to apply on the daily in my professional life in the five years I have been off the mats. No, I don't choke colleagues who I disagree with but through training Jiu-Jitsu, I learned that there are multiple approaches, attacks, counters, and no matter what, keep calm. Freaking out is a disservice to everyone, especially yourself so slow your roll, and flow with whatever is presented. In this case, Jiu-Jitsu kept me physically safe, and for that, I'm truly grateful.
Now, maybe it's time to bust out my old gi...
- Jason Walter