“Two extremes pushing on me from either side,” by Charles Humphrey

Photo credit: scicraze.blogspot.com/

“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.


  1. I am so glad that nothing worse happened. I am so grateful that my art is aikido, which makes me a bit hard to hold on to, but even more grateful that nothing like that has happened in my life. So far, in every case where I felt action was required there was nobody to get in the way. In San Francisco the pusillanimity is such that when a problem eventuates there is NOBODY there. Convenient, by comparison.

  2. I’ve never been to a fight…yet. So my word is only as good as my intention. However, at this point in time, ask an aikidoist. I would have stood by you – to hold down the fort and man the hatches.

    As for the action itself; coming from me, you did the right thing. Perhaps now with your gf and other responsibilities, it is not wise to go into other peoples’ fights. But I believe you did the right thing for that particular situation.

  3. Keoni Ronald May says:


    I am amazed, that you can remember so many details, of your fight. I am retired from law enforcement, and, can not remember many details, of my crowd fighting (or riot). The fighting was too fast and furious. There were piles of people on the ground.

    There will always be people, who will hold their ground, people who will restrain these people, people who will run for daylight, and others who will say that everyone over reacted.

    The USA is not a 3rd world country. The rules of fighting (or lack of rules) are different in every country. You are lucky that edged weapons were not used. Weaker fighters always resort to using weapons. Blunt force weapons are a primary choice, however, edged weapons leave far more lasting wounds and/or deaths.

    Now you know, from personal experience, that very few people can hold their own in a fight. Personally, I admire your courage and strategy. It took a lot of courage to stand and fight, instead of run & hide.

    Keoni Ronald May

  4. Joe Tharp says:

    I can understand the emotional conflict within yourself because of the incident. If you had not intervened though, I believe the results would have been worse for you. Because of your moral character it was necessary for you to do what you did. Sometimes there is no purely positive outcome from our actions. In my experience when we act on something or some situation with good intent, that outways the negative impact of the outcome. You did what you thought was right…and I believe that is easier to live with. You have to listen to your heart. It knows best.

  5. Well done Chuck! You did nothing wrong but you’re not Robinson Crusoe in your experience. You acted spontaneously and with skill coming from a place of moral integrity and justice.

    Now here’s the rub. MOST PEOPLE ARE COWARDS despite their front. BULLIES AND COWARDS ARE THE SAME ILK playing a variable of the same dirty, entangled symbiotic, mentally ill game. I despise cowards and they disgust me. Much of the time, THE VERY PEOPLE YOU HELP AND SAVE WILL TURN ON YOU. Ask the Cops in a reasonably civilised country. They used to step in to stop a woman from getting bashed by a cowardly woman basher and she would stab the rescuer in the kidneys or claw his eyes or such. Figure that one out. I think now they rightly, initially arrest and cuff both as being participatory where the law has progressed to a reasonable awakened level.

    Violence is irrational. Restoring order the highest form of service. Yes, violence should be avoided at all costs IF POSSIBLE. But cowards do not serve either justice, harmony or anything of worth. Cowards and bullies contaminate the world. Sadly they are the majority in human form but devoid of moral worth and the attributes of true humanity. Only the shape. You’ve heard the saying, “When good people do nothing evil prevails.”

    Do they “deserve” it? I cannot judge that. But you should treat the cowards that failed to assist you with the disdain they deserve. And watch your back from now on. Know this: Expect no thanks from turncoats. Your comment in blue at the top of the article says it all. I agree with you philosophy and your actions. Well done! Next time let the cowards learn from their own experience. They are still asking for it by their actions, their demeanour and their lack of thankfulness for your good work.

  6. Each situation is different but much of what you describe contains features common to most situations. To your, “I still can’t figure out what I did wrong…” I slept on it and believe the error was this, one I’ve often made myself: It is in making the assumption that untested others are the same as you and will at least provide essential backup instead cutting and running or jumping ship.

    I don’t know about statistics, but in my experience most people will leave you to fight alone, or join the side they perceive to be winning. The worst and most pernicious type of confused low-life moral cowards, those self-imagined, “nice” people, servants of the devil, who will hold you, try to hold your hands, thereby ruin your timing and advance, and place you, their protector, at high risk because they don’t want you to “upset” the already proven enemy. This article resonates because of these similarities. For future reference, turncoats, whatever their imagined “nice” motives may be should be considered as enemy and treated as such. Get them out of the way so you can do the job. The less than “human,” the sub-human responses you experienced in this particular battle are common predisposition. I reckon they come from the 98% chimp gene humans contain and have been common throughout our unevolved and violent histories. You should make it a point of understanding to expect nothing more and to evaluate your “friends” or the persons you are protecting more carefully in the future. Most people are somnambulistic and self-serving clods with a mighty opinion of themselves, which is unfounded. You said it best.. “..plain old cowardice and the empty moral superiority with which it adorns itself.”

    We learn to live with this fact.

    In today’s world constituents of “tribe” or “clan” who are also reasonably awakened and peaceful unless real need at fight arises (sufficient to at least watch your back while you do the work) are rare. To evaluate, watch people’s footsteps not their words. Though I understand in this case it was politics, I stopped attending bars a long time ago because in those days the brawls and other trouble appeared to be a predictable feature.

    By the way, this situation was a gift. You are intact and now also have much raw material to take back to your dojo to rework and to refine strategic capabilities. Go for it buddy!

    • Gregory says:

      If you are even somewhat martially “aware” or vigilant of your own defense and those you are responsible for, or even those you consider “on your side”, how could you do anything other that what occurred under those particular circumstances? Cowards are full of it and not worthy of discussion except when they get in the way.

      The cost was great, but we all are reaping the benefit of the “real” feedback and contemplation of the event.

  7. Interesting story. Of course, we don’t have other accounts to corroborate what you say. Going to a noisy, “sort of” pick up bar late at night does not exactly sound prudent.

    Also, your comment about being of a “minority in a country with a large majority with xenophobic tendencies” tells us much about your own views/biases. As one who has traveled extensively, it is not clear to me if one nation is any more intolerant of conspicuous outsiders than any other country.

    I have a friend – a senior yudansha in jujutsu – who was asked a question by his sensei upon the occasion of his shodan exam: “What 10 techniques do you think are the most important to know when going down a dark alley?” Though this question was asked many years ago, the answer is as relevant today (in situations like yours) as it was then.

    • Thomas Fox says:

      I have been to many countries, but I have never seen one without a “large majority with zenophobic tendencies.” My own birth country, the USA, and China are among the major examples of this tendency, since the greater the global power of the government, the greater the tendency to mobilize hatred and jealousy for a domestic agenda. There may have been excesses that weren’t expressed in this account on the part of the person who opposed the organized attack mob, but when you’re opposing an organized attack mob, you’re going to have to show a little assertiveness to make an impression. If you can do it without violence great, but as the organized attack mob had allegedly already started the violence, I fail to see where any bias influenced the intervention, aside from a bias against people who attack without provocation.

  8. “..may God help the coward, for cowardice is of a surety its own punishment.”
    From Edgar Rice Burroughs, ‘A Princess of Mars’ (Chapter 2, Paragraph 6)

    Thomas Jefferson said: “He who trades liberty for security, deserves neither and will loose both.”

    Benjamin Franklin said: “He who gives up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”

    Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill said: “We do not war primarily with races as such. Tyranny is our foe, whatever trappings or disguise it wears, whatever language it speaks, be it external or internal, we must forever be on our guard, ever mobilised, ever vigilant, always ready to spring at its throat.”

  9. Each of us has a different mission or purpose in life. Perhaps you are fulfilling yours and they are fulfilling theirs? I suspect it is not congruent for a courageous person to be influenced by cowardice. Kudos and thanks for sharing your experience.

  10. Spot on… “Took a licking and came out ticking”…your bravery is to be admired although some may think it foolish you were a warrior and helped to save someone. A great tale and true!

  11. I am impressed with the detail – I associate such clarity with mushin when the whole world falls into such stark clarity. Such movement requires extreme clarity of thought and no doubts. I am sorry that those you were trying to help did not live up to your expectations. It also sounds like most of those people there had no idea how to help even when they did try.

    I agree with both the kudos to your courage and your skills, and the comments that you got lucky. Thrown bottles instead of slashing with broken bottles. Hard to fight a large group without making certain attackers don’t get up – hard to deal with the local authorities if you put too many in hospital or the morgue. The marine did think a strategic retreat was a better option for you, but it probably looked like it wasn’t an option to you at the time.

    Mr Chew’s comments – as an ex-pat myself it is reliable and prudent to remember I am not a member of the country I reside it and the culture and legal systems are not in existence for me, an outsider.

    In my corrections background, there were times I set out to help others and found I regretted the final outcome. When the people weren’t worth it, the only question I had left was had I actually done the right thing, and was that solace enough? Sounds like you have some of the same questions for yourself.

  12. Andrew Bedford says:

    Sometimes there are no why`s or wherefores. it just is, and that is what happened here. You acted to the best of the ability you had at the time and that is all realistically anyone could do.

    Yes you had to act, by doing nothing is still an act, which for you was the wrong choice, to be pro-active, to protect life is an admirable trait and a totally selfless and without thought, this was was the right choice. why was it right? Because nobody died!
    Can the same statement be said if you had not acted? Not, with certainty.
    However the injuries and violence would have increased, because that is what they were there for was it not?
    Therefore, you had no choice but to protect life, that is our duty as human beings, trained or untrained it matters not, because there are some states that are worse than death, which is what was more likely to happen in this situation.
    I commend you sir, your bravery, honesty and courage. Thinking and analysing is for after the event, in the moment you can only do what is right for you, god bless you, and may you live in peace.

    Andy B

  13. Andrew Bedford says:

    Only a warrior can choose pacifism, everyone else is condemned to it.

  14. Sensei Roy Dempsey says:

    Dear Chuck,

    In my book you are a hero! I was very sad to read that your experiences left you to some degree disillusioned. This I understand well as a person who has himself put his life and safety on the line to save others only to find that those around him, far from assisting, criticised because of their own cowardice and inability to act. If I am in trouble ever, I would wish to have a person like you at my side. I know that bad experiences when we are trying to do the right thing change us, that is the way of things. However, there will always be heroes and cowards. I know which side I would rather be on. I am really sad to read even on this website veiled criticism of yourself suggesting that the veracity of what you say can be questioned. (G. L. Chew) This is just plain rude. Why on earth would you lie or exaggerate about such as awful life changing experience. In contrast, I am delighted to read that the vast majority of people posting on Aikido Journal are in support and admiration of what you have done. As am I. I am proud to live in a world with people like you in it. Well done. (Fought for my own life three times and fought for the life of others twice. 42 years in the martial arts.) Again Chuck, I am proud of you.

  15. Kevin Monte de Ramos says:

    I appreciate the conundrum you face. I myself was involved in a peacekeeping effort (albeit much less intense than yours) and struggled with similar feelings. I wrote an article, anonymously, so that I would not face the judgement you face now. That article can be found here: http://nakaima.ca/news/article-does-aikido-work.html.

    After some years, I now take pride in my intervention; as you will certainly do as well. Here are some quotes from a man greater than ourselves to guide your internal dialog. (available in its full context at http://www.fightingmaster.com/masters/ueshiba/quotes.htm)

    O’Sensei reminds use to “Cleanse the body and spirit by removing all malice, selfishness, and desire.” For me, and I suspect for you as well, I wanted others to understand and appreciate the risk I assumed to better harmonize society. Still, in many cases they do not, with our own spouse’s being the most critical of our efforts (for they themselves have much to loose because of their investment in our well being). For me, I found my own desires rooted in selfishness; as I sought acknowledgement from my piers. In hindsight, their acknowledgement did little more that speed my own recovery. A good outcome for ME, but not really anything valuable to others in society … my selfishness confirmed.

    Morihei Ueshiba warns that “Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice.” I now embrace his warnings and embrace that the Budo developed through years of Aikido practice will at times leave me in a situation where my actions will result in some negative consequence. Still, what are you to do other than to face the consequences of being true to yourself? A natural consequence of being a leader (of which I am working towards) as one moves from being a risk-averse conformist (where all but the noble and elite must begin life’s journey).

    “True Budo calls for bringing the inner energy of the universe in order, protecting the peace of the world , as well as preserving, everything in nature in its right form.”, says our teacher. “It is necessary to develop a strategy that utilizes all the physical conditions and elements that are directly at hand.”, which you clearly have done.

    So I leave you this compilation of words, a pep talk from our common heritage, I hope you enjoy and make use of it.

    “Do not look upon this world with fear and loathing. Bravely face whatever the gods offer. … Be grateful even for hardship, setbacks, and for bad people. Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training in Aikido. … At the instant a warrior confronts a foe, all things come into focus.”

    “After each practical application, reflect on your efforts. Progress continually like this. … If you are enlightened about a certain principle, you can put it into practice. … If you perceive the true form of heaven and earth, you will be enlightened to your own true form.”

    “True victory means unflinching courage; self-victory symbolizes unflagging effort; and let that day arrive quickly represents the glorious moment of triumph in the here and now. … Cast off limiting thoughts and return to true emptiness. Stand in the midst of the great void. This is the secret of the Way of a Warrior.”

    “Life itself is always a trial. … You must test and polish yourself in order to face the great challenges of life.” [Now that you have transcended the realm of life and death, you will be able to make your way calmly and safely through any crisis that confronts you.]

    “Simply act decisively without reserve!” Over time, you will “Defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within” and your warrior spirit will guide you along “The Great Path [which ]is really No Path” at all.

    Enjoy your journey and take from it what you can.

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