In the past decade or so, I have gotten quite interested in the psychology of violence. Over time, I have gotten interested in the writings of Marc “Animal” MacYoung, Rory Millar, Kris Wilder, Lawrence Kane and Peyton Quinn.  Finding MacYoung’s website was the portal to finding out about the other writers. Since then, I have read MacYoung’s “In the Name of Self Defense”, Rory Miller’s “Meditations on Violence”, Kane and Wilder’s “The Little Black Book of Violence.” I intend to read Quinn’s works when I have the chance.  All share a common theme in that they discuss and explore the nature of violence and how to avoid it. They offer great insights into the different types of violence. The overriding theme is the need to avoid violence, particularly avoiding the “Monkey Dance.” In my view, this academic field is long overdue and needs to be addressed in the self defense community.

But what sparked my interest in reading these works? Ah, that’s a story that I shall tell here.

There were several close incidents all of which did not end up in violence. However, there was one that really got me thinking about human psychology and violence.

The story begins in November of 2004 while I was living in Columbus, Ohio. It was a cold blustery snowy day. Perfect weather for me to take Mario, my 13 year old golden retriever for a walk. This guy LOVED cold weather and I could not deny him this pleasure. I bundled up and took him down the main street in my subdivision toward the park.

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Mario was the typical golden retriever who thought that every human and animal was a friend. As I approached the entrance of the park, I looked around.  Due to this cold windy day, there was not a single soul there, or so I thought. I let Mario off the leash. I wasn’t worried as he was an extremely responsive dog. Call him once and he’ll come running back to you.

Unfortunately, as soon as I let Mario off the leash, a man on a bicycle whizzed by with a Rottweiler on his leash. I had not noticed this guy.  Being a regular patron of this park, I had never seen this guy before. As soon as he whizzed by, Mario ran after him, most likely thinking that there were two potential friends. Keep in mind that Mario was 13 at this time and didn’t have great stamina. As can be seen by the picture above, he was clearly a senior dog blessed with a furiously wagging tail.

The gentleman on the bike angrily yelled at me, “get your dog away from me!”  Before those words had gotten out of his mouth, I had already called for Mario to come back. He did come back immediately, albeit reluctantly.

We were 15 to 20 feet apart. Due to the fact it was a windy day, I shouted at the guy “I got him!” I admit that there was an edge to my voice in response to his anger. I put the leash back on Mario. Looking back in hindsight, that edge in voice may have set him off. Who knows?

In any case, while I was getting Mario back on the leash, the guy suddenly appeared next to me on his bike and with his Rottweiler on his leash and snarled “What did you say to me?”

Me: (vaguely recognizing what was happening) “I responded that I had got him. I apologize for my dog.”

Him: “I’m training at the local police academy and I’m training my dog. You distracted my dog. I want to know what your name is and where you live.”

Me: (as calm as I could be) “I’m sorry sir. I’m not giving you that information. I hope that you have a nice day. Let’s go our separate ways and forget about this.”

Him: “I’m not leaving until I know your name and address.”

Me: “I’m not giving you that information. I apologize for offending you.” (this was my attempt at de-escalation).

It went on and on. The guy followed me with his Rottweiler as I walked away from the park. He made a point of letting the Rottie get close to me and Mario. I got the sense that the guy was not, in fact, training with the local Police Academy. He kept persisting in wanting to know, in a threatening tone, my name and my address. I kept politely refusing and continued to walk.

I decided that I was not going to walk home and give away where I lived. I kept telling the guy that I was not interested in any conflict and “let’s forget this.” Nothing worked. The guy was not letting go of whatever issue existed in his mind. 

I walked to a friend’s house a half mile away, with this guy following me and threatening me with his Rottweiler. My friend was my Modern Arnis instructor and a firefighter as well. I rang his doorbell and, to my relief, he answered the door. I explained the problem. He let me into his house. Two minutes later, the guy rang the door bell and told Dan that “I want your friend.” Dan told him that was out of the question and to get off his property.  The guy did not respond kindly. Dan essentially told him to “fuck off” and called the police.

The guy lingered in the street outside of Dan’s house until the police arrived. He then took off. The police took my report. They doubted that the guy was at the local police academy based on my description. I got a ride home with Mario in the backseat. (Note: Mario was a hit with the police officers. YAY!).

About an hour after getting home, I got a call from one of the officers indicating that the guy had filed a police report. I said “Well, I’m actually glad that he filed a report since that means we now have his name.” The officer said “Yup, he’s not too smart. We were able to cross reference his name with the local police academy and his name did not come up.” Surprise, surprise.

I thought about this episode for a long time. What set that guy off? The worst that I said to him was “I got him!” with an edge in my voice. It’s quite possible that he was responding to the tone of my voice. Peyton Quinn has a nice 4 part checklist of how to avoid a monkey dance and to avoid violence: (1) don’t insult him; (2) don’t threaten him; (3) don’t challenge him or accept his challenge and (4) give the other party a face saving exit. I did none of those things. I was walking away from him as soon as I got Mario on the leash. Was he simply an overly sensitive Monkey? Who knows? Or he was mentally ill?

The most concerning thing in this entire episode is that, until I got to Dan’s house, this guy was in close range. He was not barking at me from 10 to 20 feet away. Instead, he was no more than 5 feet away on his bicycle and his Rottweiler and occasionally letting the leash extend toward me. Due to the presence of the dog, I figured that my best option was to keep walking toward Dan’s house.

Compounding the situation was that there was no one at the park and in the neigborhood due to the fact that it was overcast, cold and blustery. If the situation deteriorated, there was no one out there to intervene. It was a bad situation all around. I calculated that my best option was to keep walking to a safe place.

Looking back at it, I was caught in a difficult situation and was able to get out of it. So I consider that a win. I was protective of Mario (whom I had adopted when he was 10. He was a perfectly healthy abandoned dog. A six month old puppy trapped in a 13 year old body.) Here was a guy who was emotionally and mentally violent and appeared to be willing to let his Rottweiler attack either myself or Mario. Despite my attempts to walk away and de-escalate, the guy was stuck in his Monkey Dance for quite awhile. I could not get him to break the Monkey Dance script. I’ve often thought about what other strategies I could have used at the time. I have not able to come up with any other alternatives. In any case, I negotiated this situation as best as I could. The end result was that nothing happened. Of all the close incidents that I’ve had, this was, by far, the most difficult one.

As a result, this episode triggered an interest in the psychology of other humans and the issue of violence that continues to this day. It reinforced that martial arts training alone is not sufficient. As it is possible that my tone of voice may have played a role, I admit that I’m conscious of how I act toward others.  I have come to believe that awareness of the law and human psychology needs to be included in self defense/martial arts training. If you haven’t read of the aforementioned authors works, I highly recommend that you start with:

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And Marc MacYoung’s book:

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Have you read these two books? What other works do you recommend?

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4 thoughts on “A Moment in Time – Avoiding Violence

  • December 5, 2014 at 10:00 am
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    I think about this subject all the time, as a native New Yorker and Kung Fu practitioner, and reading your story, I felt my whole body tighten. You sound like you handled it really well. It must have been very upsetting. I am writing to say this: here in NYC, the most dangerous people I have EVER met are highly mentally unstable people who do not respond to normal cues. Your story underlines the fact that the spectrum of normal “de-escalating” behaviors may not work; here, on the subway, I have found non-engagement is the best strategy (meaning, I keep my physical language non- threatening, and say nothing.)

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    • December 5, 2014 at 10:15 am
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      Hi Julie Ann, thanks for sharing your perspective as a New Yorker and especially on the subway. Yes, the person in my story was quite out of it and just wouldn’t let go. I think that you’re right in that highly mentally unstable people do not respond well or at all to “de-escalation” cues. Very unfortunate. As you point out, sometimes the best strategy is non-engagement and being non-threatening.

      Reply
  • August 13, 2015 at 11:37 am
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    I had someone who was obviously mentally unstable approach me when I was waiting for a friend. He asked me for a cigarette and I told him I didn’t have any. He kept insisting and eventually punched me in the arm. I stayed calm and told him that hitting me is not going to change the fact that I don’t have a cigarette and he needed to calm down and keep going. He looked at me for a few seconds and then walked away. In your situation I definitely think you did the right thing. Good thing with cell phones now are apps like bSafe and onwatch that can silently alert others.

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    • August 13, 2015 at 11:57 am
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      Hi Mukesh, thanks for reading and commenting! Looks like you handled your situation well. You just never know with folks out there, especially those who might be mentally unstable. I suspect the guy in my post had some kind of mental illness or was just one angry dude. You’re right about today’s cell technology!

      Reply

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