“I used to only be sick of people who sport an aggressive mentality to hide their deep fears, but I’m just as sick of plain old cowardice and the empty moral superiority with which it adorns itself.”
This lengthy comment by Charles Humphrey was among those received in reply to my recent blog titled “Risking your life to help someone.” I thought readers would find the content and viewpoints expressed very interesting reading, and therefore have posted it as a blog on its own. I’m sure it will generate even more commentary on this timely subject. – Stanley Pranin
It’s funny to see you post something like this right now because I had a similar experience just a few months ago and I still can’t figure out what I did wrong. I ask myself if I shouldn’t have intervened, but the possible alternative of watching four men who, if not friends, I was at least acquainted with for years, beaten up and potentially killed by more than twenty men motivated largely by xenophobia would have left me more damaged than the actual incident that happened.
I was pulled to a bar I don’t normally frequent by some good friends I’d met up with earlier. I’d gone out for a walk when my girlfriend went to sleep early and I felt wide awake. The bar is normally a bit loud and a bit of a pickup place, but my friends insisted there would be good music so I came along. They weren’t lying. I spent a good two hours dancing to the music in what was an unusually good atmosphere. Everybody was smiling and laughing and dancing in their own way. I should preface this story by making it clear that I live in a relatively rural part of China. Calling 911 is not really an option, and is as much likely to provide reinforcements to the attackers in these situations as it is to bring calm.
I’d had enough dancing and wanted to go outside to cool down. As I was going out, holding a fresh microbrew (only my second of the night), somebody warned me not to go outside as some people were after the owner of the bar. Now, I am not one to go looking for trouble. Except for one case of defending myself from a desperate Mongolian thief, I hadn’t raised a hand against anyone outside the context of sparring or other training in nearly ten years. I am most proud of being the one who keeps his friends from getting into trouble and have a pretty solid track record as a de-escalator in tough situations. That said, when you live as a minority in a country with a large majority with xenophobic tendencies and a strong pack mentality, it becomes your duty to at least stand by to observe when there is an altercation involving minorities, and the always huge mob of the majority population that assembles when there is any issue involving a minority. I’d seen this kind of thing before. There is a great deal of resentment against any and all minorities, largely from a cultural inferiority complex. Any situation in which something happens between members of the majority and a minority, everyone comes out looking to provoke a conflict in which they can get out some of their frustrations in the safety of a big mob.
I sat down with my beer on the furthest bench, keeping casual, keeping myself out of the situation, not looking at anybody, just enjoying the evening and sipping on my beer. There were some arguments and a little bit of a scuffle, but nothing major erupted, so I stayed sitting and paying attention without watching. For a moment I thought it was all going to calm down, and started to think about going back inside. Then suddenly something changed.
The entire group of twenty or so young men, until now largely dispersed except for about ten who were concentrated around the group of four foreigners, converged on the group of four. I saw a knee go up, aimed at testicles, I saw a fist hit the back of a head. I realized that if I didn’t act immediately, it was going to escalate and it would be too late. I took off my coat, folded it on the chair and hit the first person that I came across who was holding one of the four foreigners while another hit him in the back of the head. I nailed him where the jaw meets the ear and sent him reeling several meters, out of the melee for the duration. I then jumped at two more who stumbled back and came at me. I deflected a kick, unbalancing the first attacker while the second advanced, then I hit the second clean in the jaw and sent him reeling back well out of range.
I started to think, “Hey, this is going to be alright, the training has been good, I’m in a bottleneck where I can’t be surrounded (there were benches on either side of me and space for only two people standing shoulder to shoulder), I’ve got my back to the bar where there’s other minorities like me, I just need to hit a few more like that and the rest will be shaken off attacking me since they have to come in twos and can’t get around and behind me.” It might have worked. Then everything went to hell.
One fellow, a friend’s cousin, Chinese, put himself between me and the mob. I tried to get around him to keep landing blows, to prevent them from regrouping and coming together at once, but then the people behind me starting to hold my hands back, signaling that I should stop. I didn’t understand, and assumed that they knew something I didn’t. Out of habit, I kept up my guard, and I should have too since now the entire mob of twenty something, which had been dispersed enough for me to maneuver against, were in a giant cluster and making threatening gestures at us. But the people behind me, well-meaning hippies that they were, kept pulling down my hands to keep me from holding up my guard or keeping up my momentum. So I took a bottle to my right eye. It cut open my orbit. I’m lucky it didn’t hit my eye.
Then I got up and tried to put up a guard and be ready for more. Again, the people behind me interfered, almost holding me back. I wasn’t advancing, but I was holding the line, keeping them from rushing the bar. They were content to throw bottles, but wouldn’t advance on me. But I needed the guard and the boy in front of me blocked my field of vision. So another bottle, this time a heavy beer tumbler, hit me on the top of my head, giving me a nice gash and knocking me to the side. I got up to hold the line and found myself being pulled inside the bar. As soon as I was not in the immediate line, they charged at the bar en masse, pushing the intervening boy aside. I had been pulled inside, but again stood my ground on the two steps at the entrance, knocking down a couple of attackers before losing my balance as one I was holding got pulled back by a friend, and was pulled down myself. I covered up, went down, relaxed and tried to sight up knees to strike (thank you Vladimir) so I could disrupt their group and get room to stand up.
Fortunately, some folks pulled me out of the group and put me inside the bar. Again, realizing that the mob was about to enter the bar proper where they could rearm with bottles, and not knowing there was a back door, I considered it imperative that I continue fighting now. We were on “death ground,” as far as I knew. I went to try to close and lock the door but they had come through. One tried to throw a bench, I pushed him back out of the bar. As I tried to keep them out I looked to my left and right and suddenly realized I was fighting alone. Everyone around me had retreated to the corners of the bar, even the huge 6′ 5″ 240 lb ex-marine who I figured at the absolute least would be there beside me. He was yelling “stop fighting, there’s too many of them! Stop f**king fighting! We’re outnumbered!”
I realized that, while three or four of us manning the doors might have kept the aggressive ones at bay, now that they were filing in, it was only a matter of time before they all got their hands on full bottles of booze to throw at me or anybody else (they were by now kicking and hitting anyone, Chinese or foreign, male or female, they could get their hands on). As if to punctuate the realization, another bottle came at me from my periphery, but this time nobody prevented me from putting up a quick elbow guard to let it bounce off my flesh rather than breaking on my bone. I turned around and beat it around the corner of the bar.
A few of the group who I had battered rather well came up to me, one with a bloody nose, looking angry but fearful. They didn’t dare get too close and one boy stood in front with his arms stretched out to intervene. They both had bottles so took shots at me while I told them to relax, that I was sorry to have hurt them, trying to calm things down since I wasn’t interested in fighting a horde of bottle-wielding attackers alone inside an enclosed space with no exit. I dodged one bottle and went to “ippon dori” the second when the attacker changed his mind when I caught his arm and dropped the bottle on the ground. The ex-marine was yelling “get the f**k over there, quick!” and pointed to a corner where I would be out of sight in a quasi-hidden room. I leapt over there and waited it out with fifteen or so people who had been hiding there since the beginning, all looking concerned. After a while, the police showed up, not before having given the ringleader a phone call to warn him (this was all on CCTV and you can see his phone go off and him call “the boys” away just seconds before the police arrive), and driving nice and slow to avoid running over the casually waltzing away mob, staying in their cars until they had dispersed down alleyways, then getting out of their car to lean on the car and glare menacingly at us.
Now, as you can imagine I drank free beer for a week and my medical expenses of 30 dollars for stitches to my eye and head and a CT scan of my brain were covered by the bar. I was getting handshakes and beers from everyone in the foreign community for weeks. Some people who had fled at the first sign of conflict accused me of being too aggressive, saying that I “just started hitting people” and that I should have just not been involved. What I saw that night and on the security footage was several blows being thrown and landed en-masse to vital areas (groin and c-spine), it seemed obvious, even just from the vibe of the group that they had come there with a dark purpose in mind. It wasn’t random.
They’d rented a party bus to deliver them all at once. They had a purpose and it was clear from the moment they swarmed the group. The bar was famous as a place where cultures mixed conversationally and sexually. They wanted to take out or intimidate the owner into closing. Foreigners have died from exactly the same treatment, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. But a lot of the same people who would have been attacked if I had not put myself at the front line and shown that I could deliver serious blows, people who had been hit and were able to escape thanks to my sending their attackers stumbling several metres in the opposite direction, they suggested that I should have stayed out, that I was making them angry by keeping a guard. Nobody had helped me.
There were at least fifteen males in the bar, maybe five of whom were staff. I had quickly removed three of the most aggressive attackers from action and quickly drew the attention of the rest, giving the original victims time to flee back into the bar to regroup (they were cut off until my counterattack, I opened a path for them to retreat,) where they promptly armed themselves to the teeth and fled out the back door and down an alley. The rest got in my way and held me back, save for the one Chinese boy who had gotten in my way in the first place. After watching me fight alone and get hurt and keep fighting, trying my best to keep them out of the bar, he later said he “felt uncomfortable” and just started hitting back. He was thrown several times into the bar and had serious bruises to his back. Now we’re good friends, and I was happy to buy him drinks for his birthday, whereas all the others, who ran away then bought me beers….I can’t look at them the same anymore.
I know I really opened up, but this is something that hasn’t sit right with me. I almost lost my girlfriend over it because she was afraid for my safety in light of the fact that everyone else ran away and I probably injured at least one or two of the mob so was a posible target for reprisal. She was furious with the bar owners and everyone there and wouldn’t let me talk to them anymore. I just feel conflicted. I feel that I did what had to be done. I did it without hesitation, enthusiasm or emotion, I just felt inside that it was what I was called to do at that moment in time. I think for my age and stage in training, I did about as well as I could hope from a technical and tactical perspective. But it just doesn’t feel right because the people I was trying to help and protect ended up hiding behind me and running away, if not outright getting in my way. People who were bigger and older than me and strong and who talked big all the time, they all ran or hid. It taught me something about myself, but also something about other people, something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The sad thing is that next time something like that happens, I’m not likely to act like that again since I nearly lost an eye and the love of my life because when there is great danger, people from our society today will flee and put whatever they can in between them and it, whatever the moral cost, and I don’t want to be that thing again. My health and the peace of mind of my girlfriend are not worth fighting other people’s battles, people who will do their best to hide behind me and then impose their own twisted coward’s morality on me and expose me to greater danger in the process. I’m not an aggressive person by nature. I’m pretty quiet, soft spoken and not very social for the most part. I don’t much like foreign wars or the ever expanding definition of “counter-terrorism,” and I really cringe at the kind of macho modern military culture that sometimes gets mixed in with martial arts. But being peaceful doesn’t mean that moments come where you feel deep down inside that your state as a moral being demands action.
I used to only be sick of people who sport an aggressive mentality to hide their deep fears, but I’m just as sick of plain old cowardice and the empty moral superiority with which it adorns itself. So basically, since that night, I feel quite alienated from my larger cultural milieu since there are many at the two extremes and so few decent people in that golden middle. It’s where I try to keep myself all the time and I found myself that night alone in that middle with the two extremes pushing on me from either side.