“Aikido and Self-defense on the New York Subway,” by Grasshopper

Prior to moving to Manhattan, I used to live in Brooklyn, not too far from the Sheepshead Bay area. It used to be a safer neighbourhood, where you could walk home after 11pm and not run into any trouble. It has changed in the past few years as gangs moved in and crime appeared on the streets. As far as I can recollect, I only ran into a situation where I needed to protect myself in 1997 close to Coney Island Hospital. Since then it has been pretty safe.

A few weeks ago, I visited a friend who has lived close to Sheepshead Bay train station for almost fifteen years. We spent most of the day together, and it was time for me to go home. I walked a short distance to the train station, and as I was swiping my metrocard, I checked the electronic billboard for the next train to Manhattan. It hadn’t arrived yet, so I followed a teenage girl to the platform.

There were stairs to my right and left, she went left and I, assuming there were more people, went in the same direction. I was wrong. There she was with a teenage boy. They were talking. They seemed to know each other. As I got closer, I overheard a conversation and became slightly alarmed. The girl was trying to dissuade the boy she was talking to from continuing the conversation. I politely inquired if there was a problem and if she knew him. She told me he wasn’t leaving her alone. I turned towards the boy and asked him what was going on. He replied that she was playing around and that she knew him. The girl refused to acknowledge knowing him.

At last, I turned towards the boy and told him I was former self defense instructor, and it was in his best interest to walk away. The girl immediately jumped into a starting discussion and told him that I was going to make him pay for his actions and disturbance. I remember being extremely calm, the way I feel in Aikido classes most of the time.

As the train appeared in the distance, the boy turned and ran away towards the end of the train, away from both of us. I suggested to the girl that we walk to a car farther away just in case. As we boarded the train she moved further into the car and sat. I started thinking about entire incident. This was the first time in over twenty years that I helped to resolve self defense situation without actually getting into a fight or angry discussion.

After the train crossed the bridge and the doors closed at Chinatown train station, I got up and walked towards the girl I helped. I told her since she travels late at night she may want to learn something about self defense because the next time I won’t be there to help her. She mentioned her interest in boxing as one of the possible choices in self defense learning. My response was supportive of this idea.

I know how much Aikido has improved my life, but this incident stayed with me as it has shown me how much remaining calm is important in all sorts of situations and circumstances.


  1. Craig Cruse says:

    Sir, you don’t know how nice it is to see someone get involved today, even a martial artist. We shouldn’t be selfish or afraid to step up and help out when someone is in a dangerous position. A man of honor and we all need to be more like you.

  2. Bad idea telling him your “defensive instructor”….many kids on the street today will think it’s a CHALLENGE to their MANHOOD…and the fight is ON.

  3. My heart always warms up at stories like these where results are obtained without any physical conflict or harm to anyone.
    These are the best “war stories.” This is the truest and ultimate Aikido expression.

    You seldom hear these stories from people not budo trained because they lack the perspective and confidence to enact moral integrity. And so they err grossly on the side of extreme caution based on fear, ignorance and a doubt of their own capabilities, as in their imagination the supposed opponent tends to loom larger than the facts. These either run or add to harm.

    The well trained budoka, fully confident of the backup capabilities gleaned in practice, will have sufficient discernment to innately strategize a situation to advantage.

    “I remember being extremely calm, the way I feel in Aikido classes most of the time.” Music to my ears. This is the way it often is, at least for the first few minutes, after which if necessity demands, it will be over one way or the other.

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