I got a late start in martial arts—I’ve only been training for two years now. But it’s already paid off in a big way. Earlier this month, my wife and I were awakened at 1am to the sounds of someone in the house. We could hear someone kind of banging and shuffling around just outside our bedroom door (we live in a small flat).
The good news is the incident ended as best it could; there was no physical altercation and he left immediately; apologizing the whole way out. We suspect he’s either a resident of the building or he is a visitor of a resident, and he entered the wrong unit. The big, glaring question that remains is how his key worked on our door (we had the lock changed later that same day).
There are a few thigns about this that prompted me to write about it; primarily that the benefit I capitalized on most from training in martial arts wasn’t the skill of violence, but the skill of emotion-management. Sparring is a controlled and restrained fight but even though you know this, it’s still intimidating to be punched, kicked, and grabbed with an intent to harm. There is a rush of adrenaline, there is frustration, there is the high of success, and it all must be managed so that neither you nor your opponent get hurt.
I did a lot more sparring in a previous gym and there were guys who didn’t manage the emotions and the adrenaline well. They got angry, they took things personal, and they got sloppy. When opposing someone like this in a fight, the temptation is to match their energy level and their intent. They start trying to hurt you out of frustration and its very tempting to take it up a level, maybe with the goal of intimidating them or showing them they don’t really want to ‘go there’ but it rarely works like that. You take it up a notch and that pisses them off even more, so they take it up another notch.
The point is that it rarely de-escalates. Violence almost always escalates.
I don’t recall it being a conscious decision, or any well-thought-out plan of mine, but the first thing I said to him was a forceful “can I help you!?” I think that helped set the tone, rather than yelling at him to get the fuck out or verbally threatening him with impending violence.
When I first joined my current gym, one of the purple-belts was talking to several of us about street-fighting and specifically how to avoid it. He showed us several de-escalating tactics that didn’t involve bone-snapping arm-bars or sleep-inducing choke-holds. It was a smile and creating distance. It was a lighter tone of voice with defensive body language but not an overly aggressive fighting stance.
Street fights get ugly and chaotic and even if you’re trained, the other guy may be better trained. He may have a weapon or pick something up to use as one. Even worse, you might end up doing serious, permanent damage when it wasn’t really warranted.
One of the things about taking martial arts, is that you learn from your opponents when sparring. In both gyms I’ve used here in Singapore, almost everyone is very helpful and gracious in sharing knowledge. Yes, there is likely going to be that guy who just wants to show you he’s a beast, but by and large there is an enormous level of congeniality and respect in the gym. There are also many rituals that reinforce respect for one another; the bowing of the head, tapping gloves before a match, thanking each other after training, all of this encourages and reinforces a respect for one-another and that is largely missing in the world these days.
While I was very angry someone was in my house and while I was petrified at the prospect of what his intentions were, I quickly realized this was likely a very large mishap and there was no real reason to get ugly. In many states in the US, I would have been within my rights to kill him without question (it’s called the castle doctrine). But within seconds the situation was being de-escalated and I maintained control of my emotions and the raw dump of adrenaline in order to continue to de-escalate things and help him out of the house with all three of us unharmed. Because that is the point of training; to avoid harm at all costs.
I still believe in the modified golden rule; do unto others as they would do to you, but do it first. And that’s what I applied here. He meant me no physical harm and while I couldn’t be sure of that at the time, his body language, tone-of-voice, and demeanor all supported it.
We got very lucky in this situation. I don’t think he had malicious intent. He was incredibly drunk or high, very disoriented, and very apologetic. But my wife and I did several things very badly. I didn’t lock our bedroom door when I went to confront him. Also, my wife didn’t immediately call the police. I keep a very large flashlight by my bed specifically because it can be a weapon, but I left it behind and went out empty-handed.
We’ve since had several conversations about it, how it went down, how we responded, and what we should do the next time. We just should have had that conversation sooner. And so should you. It seems silly to talk about it. We all think it won’t happen to us, or I live in a very safe country, it doesn’t happen here. But by not planning for it, you’re increasing the odds of things going very wrong when it matters most.
Get trained. Get into martial arts. Learn to use violence so you can work to never use violence.