Think about your self defense mindset. When it comes to fighting to the death or living, what is your life worth to you? Your car? Your cell phone? The contents of your wallet? Twenty bucks?
Everybody’s going to have a different answer, and if you don’t already have one you should try to figure out what it is. Personally, I drew the line at a young age.
I began training when I was in high school. Around the same time, I worked as a cashier in a really terrible seafood restaurant. One night two guys came in to rob us, armed with a handgun. I remember being distinctly aware of having a choice: I could give them the money or get to work injuring them. I weighed my options, seeing branching outcomes, but in the end my read on the situation and utilized my self defense mindset — their faces, body language, the tone of voice — was that this was a purely antisocial.
They wanted the money and to get the hell out there. They were nervous and in a hurry.
Processing what was happening, reading the situation and making a choice all happened in a blink of an eye that seemed to take minutes. I felt no fear, just a cold calculation, and so I made my choice. They could take property; but if they went after people, I would go after them.
It was over in minutes, and when the police arrived, I was the only person with enough composure able to provide a detailed description of the men. The officers marveled at my recall and commented that they wished they had more witnesses like me. Meanwhile, my coworkers were shocked into either silence or terrified crying. Of all the people there, I was the only one who slept that night.
I was also the only one who could identify the weapon and point the two men out in a line-up. (My coworkers freaked at seeing the men in the line-up and played stupid so as not to be involved.) I was the only one to turn up in court and take the witness stand.
Now, while this probably sounds like superhuman braggadocio, the simple (far less legendary) truth is that the only thing I had that my coworkers didn’t was a choice. I didn’t lose my dignity or have my humanity stripped from me by the threat of violence. Where most people feel as if they have no choice I recognized the robber’s threat for what it was: the choice between the money and violence.
I really didn’t think much of it outside of my surprise at the weird experience of being able to think, make choices and function calmly under the threat of violence. Then, years later, one of my instructors had exactly the same experience. Down to every last detail.
He was working at a bar, taking the trash out back where he was met by a guy with a balaclava and a shotgun. The other robbers were going through the front door at that very moment.
He read the situation and made a choice — they could take stuff, but not people. He was the only one who could describe the men to police. He was the only one who slept that night. He was also the only one who didn’t need counseling after the incident.
His take on the experience and outcome were in line with mine. He didn’t feel mentally tough, or emotionally hard, or that he was a “better man” than his coworkers; he just felt that he had a choice where others felt they had none at all. And that made all the difference in heading off a psychological aftermath — the typical feelings of anger, fear, and vulnerability after being the victim of a crime.
These incidents happened long ago (26 and 20 years, respectively) but the exact same experience occurred again several weeks ago when another Instructor’s son and his friend were mugged in a local park.
They were approached by three men, who claimed to have a gun and told them to empty their pockets. Now, both young men have trained, and know how to hurt people, put them down and make them stay there.
And both of them, thanks to their self defense mindset, felt they had a choice.
I’ll spare you the details, since they’re identical to the two experiences above.
My son’s other friends couldn’t believe the two of them didn’t “do something.” His response to them told me he understands violence better than most people: “It wasn’t that kind of situation,” he said. “Besides, I don’t want to kill someone over a cell phone. Or die for one, either.”
The less is to use violence where violence is necessary. You need to use your self defense mindset and decide where the line is for you ahead of time, but you also need to understand that when you choose violence, you bet your life.
I know where my line is: My life is worth my life. The lives of others are worth my life. And that’s it. I refuse to kill or die for a social slight, a barstool, a parking space, my car, cell phone, or what’s in my pocket. I’ll risk a life for a life, but everything else is bullshit.
Not everyone’s going to have the same answer, and that’s fine. But you do need to think about it, make the choice, have that self defense mindset ahead of time and then train to support that choice when you’re challenged to back it up.