The right attitude can save a defender’s life. The wrong attitude can get him killed. A good attitude allows the defender to make wise choices. Machismo and overconfidence often pushes a defender into a bad position, which risks disaster.
There have been times in my life when anger made me want to throw caution aside and pound an opponent black and blue. But whenever faced with danger, I have always tried to weigh the pros and cons. There is no shame in enthusiastically putting distance between one’s self and a serious situation. It depends upon what’s at stake. If someone is in danger, then stand and fight. If there is nothing to win, make an escape.
I used to visit friends in Monterrey, Mexico. They were quite poor. I’d bring money, and we’d have a great time. We once rented a party barge and had a barbecue on Presa Rodrigo Gómez, the beautiful water reservoir that supplied Monterrey. I kept a weary eye on the boat’s cover just feet above the open flames, but we managed not to burn everything down to the waterline. I knew I could swim to shore. I wasn’t sure about my friends.
I always enjoyed visiting my friends. They, and all Mexicans, have many admirable qualities. They also have a number of shortcomings, chiefly their adherence to machismo. This attitude permeates their society man, woman, and child. It causes much trouble.
One day, Gloria’s son, about six or seven, showed me his school workbook. The pages were perforated to break into squares to be used as vocabulary flash cards, a picture on one side and the corresponding word on the other. One card had a drawing of a man wearing a large sombrero with his coat wrapped around his left hand and a very large knife in the other. He had taken in a fighting stance.
“What word is this?” I asked in Spanish.
I nodded but didn’t want to say anything. In my mind, bravery is the unarmed man facing the man with a knife while calling for peace. There is a difference between bravery and fruitless aggression. A man who whips out a knife and leaps into a barroom brawl mixes bravery with foolishness, a lethal combination.
A couple days later, Gloria asked if I wanted to go with her family to a party thrown by her aunt. I was very tired and begged off to get some sleep. Sometime during the night, Gloria burst into my room and leapt onto the bed.
“Manuel…Manuel…Feel this.” She was very drunk and very excited. She put my hand on her knee in the darkness. It was badly skinned. She had other injuries besides. She told me the party had devolved into a mêlée. In the morning, I came out of my room to discover the full results of the fight.
The white of Gloria’s left eye was solid blood red from a thumb gouge. Along with her skinned knee and injured eye, she had bruises and bandaged lacerations scattered over her body. Her father wore a neck brace and bandages around his head, a tuft of his hair sticking out the top. Her mother hobbled around on a crutch, bandages around a knee. Everybody had their share of bruises and lacerations. I almost laughed; it looked like a Warner Brothers cartoon.
As I sat watching and listening to their account of the family feud, I thought how lucky I had been to have escaped that party. When they told me the cops broke up the fight, I was relieved on a whole new level. I had barely avoided discovering the joys of a Mexican jail cell.
Sometime in the past, I had told Gloria I knew how to fight with my feet. It had come up in casual conversation, but it had really impressed her.
“Manuel,” she said, “you should have come to the party. You could have used your feet.”
“Yes,” I said, “to run away.”
Gloria’s smile fled her face. Running away from a fight was contrary to her deeply held belief system. She didn’t talk to me for a few days. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were still angry about it all these years later. Although it wasn’t the answer she had expected, it was the intelligent answer. Turning to fisticuffs over a spilled beer or hurt feelings is about as idiotic as diving into a swimming pool of hungry piranha because one of the little monsters gave you the stink-eye.
Why fight when there is nothing to gain. I am self-assured, and I possess skills. However, I set aside machismo, which only appeases manly pride. I have a brain, and I use that brain to determine potential gains against potential losses. If I must fight, then I release a rather shocking monster onto my opponent. If there is no need to fight, I grown wings and fly away.
About a hundred fifty miles north of Monterrey in Laredo, Texas, Ernest, a fellow with whom I worked at the time, talked me into going to a party at his friends’ apartment. The best thing about the party was, the guy from upstairs was the exact double for Scott Bakula, complete with a gray spot in his hair. They looked so much alike I thought maybe he was Bakula living under a pseudonym. However, he claimed he had never seen Quantum Leap and didn’t know anything about the actor. (This was years before Enterprise.)
By about midnight, everybody there was drunk but me. I don't drink. Two of Earnest’s friends were rougher than the rest, brothers, one short and wide, about five ten, the other tall and narrow, about six one. The short wide brother had become enraged over something someone said. The crowd fled into the apartment with the short brother in pursuit. Earnest tried to shut the door as the short brother tried to fight his way inside.
I rushed up behind the short brother and grabbed his belt loops, one loop on each side, and yanked hard. This folded him at his waist, and he stumbled backward and out of the doorway. Earnest slammed the door shut. The short brother was so drunk I slipped around him as he spun to see who had pulled him out the door. He saw nothing but a streetlamp lit parking lot.
Then Scott Bakula’s doppelganger began flinging beer down on him from halfway up the stairs. He started for the stairs, and Bakula’s look-a-like began a hasty retreat up the stairs to his apartment. I ran up behind the short bother to pull the same trick as before.
I should have left it alone. Bakula’s look-a-like could have easily made his apartment. Nonetheless, just as I reached the short brother, he turned around. Suddenly, face-to-face, I became the object of all his unsatisfied fury.
He stepped down off the stairs after me. I was wearing work boots that evening, which were not well suited for fighting or running. They are, however, good for kicking someone in the groin. I danced backward, trying to talk him into calming down.
“Tranquilo, amigo, pro favor.” Take it easy, friend, please.
“Pro favor, pro favor,” he mocked.
This guy was strong and could have hurt me if I had let him reach me. He walked with a wide swinging gait because of his size. This open gait left his groin exposed for a good solid front kick. I danced backward and watched for an opportunity of perfect alignment.
I had learned back in Bragg not to become so focused as to ignore other things happening around me. As I fixed my gaze upon this short brother, I paid attention to his brother in my peripheral vision.
The tall brother was trotting to my right, parallel to us. Instead of joining his brother, he was working his way around to come up behind me. The tall brother's proximity became my second consideration to when and how I would front kick the short brother. I planned to kick and then slip off to my left and out of reach of the second combatant. Things were happening fast.
The tall brother was moving rather quickly and soon reached the edge of my peripheral vision. The moment he disappeared from view, I was in trouble. I could handle them both if I could see them both. However, I decided this fight wasn’t worth it. Everybody was safe in the apartments. I was the only one out in the street facing these brutes. I really wanted to kick this guy in the groin, because he really deserved it; but that wasn’t enough for me to tussle with him.
I darted to my left, the two brothers in pursuit, my work boots pounding the pavement. They were too drunk to run fast or far, and I waited down the street until the cops arrived to sort out the guilty from the innocent.
It would have felt great to have had dropped that guy with a swift front kick. However, I had nothing to win except a pride, and pride is not as valuable as health. Real life is not like the movies, wherein people rarely get hurt while fighting. Fighting often causes damage to both defender and attacker.
Years earlier at Bragg, I had spent the evening in Fayetteville with a couple of other guys from my training unit. By the time we headed back to Bragg, I was exhausted and fell asleep in the backseat. I awoke in the parking lot of a bar just off Fort Bragg Boulevard. My friends were not around, so I figured they had stopped for a drink. I went inside for the bathroom. The bar was full of young troopers from the 82nd Airborne.
When I came out of the bathroom, all the airborne troopers were rushing out a side door. I still hadn’t seen my friends and decided I’d better follow the crowd to see if they were involved in whatever was happening.
I found twenty of these young troopers in the parking lot surrounding my friends. Suddenly, one of the 82nd dudes punched one of my friends in the throat. My boy went down hard, and I, the Lone Ranger, leapt into action. I got in one decent punch before I felt multiple fists pound the back of my head. I went down as hard as my friend.
The airborne troopers gathered around and began kicking me with their jump boots. I can think of no other reason for them to wear military jump boots with civilian clothes except that they had hoped to kick someone with them. I did the best I could to defend myself, but I was on the loosing end of this war. Someone walked up with a tire iron, and everybody stopped kicking to gave the guy room to do some real damage. That was all the chance I needed.
I jumped to my feet and ran through a small gap in the crowd. I was in great shape those days, due to all that good Special Forces training, so my movements were quick like the jackalope. I could hear the twenty pair of jump boots chasing me. Unfortunately, I hadn’t escaped toward the street but toward the back fence. It was chest high, two fences running parallel to each other, one wood and one cyclone.
Great shape or not, my next stunt surprised me. It absolutely stunned the airborne troopers chasing me. When I reached the fence, I leapt it like a gazelle and didn’t touch a thing. I simply hurdled it as if I were at the Olympics. I don’t know how I did it; I just did it.
I cast a glance over my shoulder. The troopers were all gathered on the other side of the fence, watching me with stunned expressions on their collective faces. They didn’t even try to climb over the thing.
Their attention was on me, so my friends were able to jump into the car and drive away. My actions, although foolhardy, saved my friends. That wasn’t my intention, but everything happened too fast for me to devise a crafty plan. I was winging it.
I have since gone back to look at that fence. My mother and I were on a trip to the east coast and decided to take a drive through Ft. Bragg, our home back when dad was in Group. Mom had not been there in years. I stopped in that bar’s parking lot, telling her the story. The same fence still stood behind the parking lot, older and in poorer shape. I had thought that through time I might have exaggerated its height. I had not.
When motivated, a person can do some amazing things. As if the twenty airborne troopers were not enough motivation, that tire iron really put the fuel in my tank.
There is no shame in running, as long as you are not leaving someone behind. Never do that. Nonetheless, the first step in effective self-defense is avoidance. For instance, the best way to avoid bar fights is to stay out of bars known for fights.
Situational awareness prevents a plethora of problems. I notice everybody around me. This does not require scanning the room with my back against the wall. I just give everybody and everything around me at least a glace. A man in need of a bath standing at a counter with a look of desperation raises my alert faster than a gray-haired grandmother struggling with her walker. I’m always suspicious of anyone being friendly when it is out of place or becoming overfriendly for no apparent reason. I never accept things at face value, and I always pay particular attention to anyone walking or standing behind me.
An air of self-confidence deters attack. A person with evil intent will generally shy from the stronger and seek out the weaker. Knowledge and practice of fighting skills shows in your stance, and someone bent on evil generally can instinctively tell. But just because I walk with self-confidence doesn’t mean I sunder down dark alleys.
Occasionally trouble finds me despite my best efforts. The other day, just as I pulled out of a gas station, I glanced into my rearview as my usual habit. A white van I had seen earlier in the parking lot was now so close to my bumper I could see nothing but his grill. In surprise, I reacted by letting off the gas. He had caught me off guard. He assumed I had slowed on purpose.
A traffic light stopped me at a nearby intersection. He pulled up and began to yell. He got out of his van, but Schotze was in the car; and the aggressive tailgater decided, wisely, he didn’t want to tangle with a German shepherd. If Schotze hadn’t been there, I’m certain the encounter would have escalated. Crazy people always escalate everything..
In this circumstance, escaping would not have been an option. I couldn’t run off and leave my car. The best I could have done is wait for his next move. If he ranted a while and then left, the problem would have solved itself. If he had attacked, I would have waited for his move, parried, and delivered an effective and well-placed counter-strike. His anger blinded him to my ability, and he would not have known what I could do until the moment he blacked out into unconsciousness.
But know this. In a survival situation, you will not have a support system. There will be no clinics to patch you up after a fight. You can’t afford to do battle with every hothead you run across. The first order of business is to avoid contact with people who might do you harm. The second order of business is to be mindful of escape routes and, if confronted, run. If all else fails, and you can’t avoid a fight, let loss your monster and make you opponent suffer through speed, fury, and effective strikes.
Running is not giving in but getting away. Like the old adage, “He who runs away, lives to fight another day.”