As we were walking I could see three guys up ahead, tall, shady-looking, wearing hooded sweatshirts with the hoods drawn over their heads, walking three-abreast in our path on the sidewalk. I felt uncomfortable as distance closed, their group walking slower than the two of us. When we tried to walk past them their leader blocked our path, poked my buddy in the chest with is finger and calmly said, in street-speak, “give us your cash.”
I didn't see a weapon, but I reacted immediately. I was gone. I bolted across the wide two-lane street and was immediately on the other sidewalk. Then my conscience hit: “Oh shit! I just ditched my friend back there with three guys.” I didn't know the first thing about fighting, but now I was checked-in and ready to go. So I bolted back across the street ready to do something, though not knowing what to do. When I got back to the group, the alpha-mugger had lowered his hood and was laughing; he had spotted us walking from afar and thought it would be a good prank. It was one of our fraternity brothers. My buddy was in offended disbelief that I had ditched him and I felt pretty guilty and embarrassed about doing so. I had reacted instinctively, before conscious decision-making was possible. My instincts had grabbed the wheel.
Reflecting back after years of experience teaching self-defense, I am aware of plenty of pre-incident indicators that something wasn't right: late at night, not the greatest area, 3 guys with hoodies up walking unusually slowly, and having an uncomfortable feeling. To sum up that night, there were red flags in every component of the situation: the environment, the advancing strangers, but most importantly – my gut.
However, my not knowing what to look for or how to listen to my intuition left me unable to proactively avoid or address the situation prior to contact. Years later, this experience has become a valuable teaching example of what a fight-or-flight reaction can feel like, but at the time I didn't understand why I ran. Why did I run? Not, why did I ditch my friend, but why was running my selected option? Here’s a consideration that makes sense to me after many years later of training. Running was my default option because it was the only option in my skill set and the only thing I had ever practiced!
I am a firm believer that your options are a product of your experiences, training, and prior knowledge. If you imagine these three components as overlapping spheres where they intersect is what you are likely to have as elements that can influence your potential actions/options, with the fight or flight response always present and capable of taking the wheel. Without understanding the pre-cursors to violent behavior and not having any trained physical responses, I ran! Today, I would like to think that my knowledge, training, and life experiences have grown significantly have providing me with more pro-active options, such as identifying the threat and getting the hell out of there before contact as well as relevant, rational options if other physical action was required.
So, for my friends that think I'm safe if I hang out with Evan- while that could be true, you better be able to out-run me, just in case.
Feel free to share any fight or flight experiences you have had, even if they are embarrassing like mine!
Train smart & stay safe,
NOVA Self Defense