Last night, a fellow student at my dojo told a story. It’s rare for Sifu to invite a student to speak at length during a normal class, so the air filled with tension as he came forward and sat in seiza before us.
The student is one of our most senior students and has practiced over a decade. He is very intense, very dedicated to practice, and is incredibly challenging to work with (in a good way). He comes across as extremely hard to beginners, and when I was new I dreaded when he was teaching a class. After a bit of time, you realize he’s actually a very warm person who is simply pushing you harder than you thought you could go. He’s certainly one of my favorites.
As he sat, he apologized and wondered if he would make it thru what he had to say. He was straining to hold back the emotion welling up in his eyes.
A few nights prior, he entered the stairwell of a parking garage near his office. It wasn’t late. He heard footsteps approaching behind him which struck him as odd because the stairwell had been empty when he entered. As he turned, an attacker thrust a knife at him. He pivoted, and grabbed the arm. They struggled back and forth, onto the ground, then back up again. Finally he broke the attacker’s arm, and the attacker fled, dropping his knife. He picked up the knife and a second attacker appeared, saw the knife, and likewise fled. He ran to his car. It probably lasted less than 60 seconds.
He called his wife, then found Sifu to work thru what had happened. He still wasn’t exactly sure, but walked us thru what he believe occurred during the struggle. Clearly, the muscle memory of practice had saved his life in a moment when there was no time to think.
Several things struck me about this.
After practicing martial arts for several years, you start to have some confidence in your abilities. You think, if it came down to it, you’d be OK if you got attacked. Stories like this are a wakeup call from that sort of complacency. It would not be OK. This was a highly trained, dedicated martial artist who can run circles around me in the dojo and he came so close to getting stabbed there was a hole in his fitted shirt afterward and his ribs were bruised by the attacker’s knuckles.
It also struck me that there was no revenge. He broke the attacker’s arm, yes, but then he let him go. He didn’t go after the second attacker at all. He ran. He gave the knife to Sifu. He went home and held his child. This is why we practice meditation of course, but it was still powerful to see it work.
Self-defense is not enough reason to practice the art for decades, but the effectiveness of the training saved the life of one of my favorite people, a husband and a father. Maybe it saved the attacker’s life too.