Last Night Aikido Saved My Life

I’ve been training martial arts for most of my life. I’ve done karate, jujitsu, Brazilian jujitsu, aikido, and some tai chi chuan. Despite all that (or maybe because of it) I’ve only been in one real fight in my life.

Well, I guess it depends on your definition of a fight. I reflexively punched a younger kid in the face as a grade schooler over some perceived slight during a baseball game. As a freshman I was once given a bloody nose by a high school pal during a friendly bout of slap-boxing which didn’t feel very friendly. I’ve sparred a lot during my years of training martial arts, but that doesn’t really count.

No, I’ve only ever been in one real fight, where, as an adult man, another adult man actively attempted to do me harm. Well, actually, adult “men” would be more accurate, there were 4 or 5 of them. So I guess technically, I was jumped.

In that case, I’ve still never been in a fight; I’ve been jumped. Once.

It sucked, as you might expect, but it was also a great experience. If I’d ended up with my skull bashed in by a bottle I might not think so, but since I made it out none the worse for wear, it was a worthwhile learning experience.

Maybe I should just relate the story:

It was Valentine’s Day 2011 and I was out with my girlfriend at the time in the popular bar district in Beijing, China. Following a nice meal and some drinks, we ventured into a nearby yet infinitely seedier section of bar street to have a drink and dance, at her insistence.

We ended up in a bar called Butterfly, which was one of the many places on that particular street where dreams went to die. The entire area has since been walled over with concrete, which is for the best. In typical fashion, the bar was packed to the gills with rowdy expats and Chinese aficionados of the species. Rather than braving the dance floor immediately, to build our resolve we stood at the bar for a while chatting and having a drink (poured from a bottle within which was definitely NOT the alcohol advertised on the label).

Suddenly an arm pushed between us with deliberate malice. A hand reaches down into the stool that we were using as a hat rack, grabbed my hat, threw it aside, and a gruff voice said in Mandarin: “This is my chair.” I look up and there is a tallish, smirking mouth breather making “come at me bro” eyes at me.

My girlfriend immediately began gathering our things and pulling me towards the door, eager to avoid a confrontation. Somewhere beneath my instinctive male ire I found this interesting because her insistence implied that she thought that I might be inclined to chest puff and monkey dance with the guy. For the record, I don’t do that, partially out of maturity and a general disdain for posturing and showmanship, and partially due to cowardice and a general self-preserving desire not to be accidentally beaten to death.

Still, in front of my girlfriend I had to keep a little bit of face, and I WAS annoyed, so I give the guy my best smirk and “If-it wasn’t-for-my-girlfriend-I’d…” look and slowly followed her out of the bar. A helping hand guided me on my way as I turned to go.

Now, despite being a coward and general pacifist, I also have a rule that goes like this: don’t touch me. So I knocked Mr. Helpful’s hand off of my back, which was exactly the signal that his 3 or 4 friends were waiting for to attack.

What follows probably lasted for all of 10 seconds, but when I replay it it feels like 5 minutes. Long story short: I was separated from my girlfriend and attacked from all sides; I dodged a few poorly thrown haymakers and managed to grab a guy and commenced using him for Operation Human Shield. Thankfully the genius squad attacking me was using the tried and true “movie ninja” method of attacking one at a time, so I was able to keep them at bay, make my way to the door, and throw my trusty shield back at his friend before exiting the fine establishment with my girlfriend and beating a quick retreat to a waiting taxi.

Now, I’m a fairly small individual. I stay in good shape and am pretty athletic, but I’m not tall or large. And as my fighting experience outlined above (namely the lack thereof) might tell you, I’m definitely not a battle hardened tough guy.

Therefore I attribute my general success in the encounter to a combination of 3 things: the fact that it was well past drunk o’ clock which rendered my attackers’ already inept fighting skills useless; the fact that at the time I was training several martial arts regularly and thus had somewhat increased physical and situational awareness; and the fact that after the plan A of immediately dragging me to the ground for a head-kickfest failed, the plan B of actually slugging it out with me seemed less attractive.

I managed to make it out of the encounter entirely unscathed. My then-girlfriend also made it out fine. Thankfully the attention was all on getting to me. She stayed out of harm’s way pretty easily once they swarmed. Being from Korea where pugilism is anything but irregular she was also almost completely unfazed by the events of the evening.

I, on the other hand, had an adrenaline dump going that kept me up until the wee hours. During that contemplation time, some things about situations like the one that had just transpired were highlighted in my mind. One was that the vast majority of people in the world don’t know how to fight. Even in places where fighting is common, there are very few people who really learn to fight. The other was that most people, even assholes who want to participate in a good old fashioned jumping don’t really want to fight. Oh, they want to beat someone up alright, but they don’t want to actually risk anything for it… hence the underlying conceit behind jumping.

The last thing had to do with my martial arts studies. I’d been mostly studying Brazilian Jujitsu and Aikido at the time, and I could definitely feel the usefulness of my Aikido studies.  Especially in today’s MMA saturated world, lots of people denigrate Aikido as overly exaggerated and useless in practical application, but it was probably the only reason the situation ended up as well as it did. While staying entirely defensive also probably helped keep the situation from escalating, knowing how to move around multiple attackers, knowing how to keep an opponent off balance while maintaining my own, and knowing how to respond to the various angles presented helped keep me safe that night.

My petty desire to have cracked at least one of those clowns in the teeth not withstanding, I couldn’t have asked for a better first brawl.

3 Replies to “Last Night Aikido Saved My Life”

  1. I’m not sure what part was most entertaining here…I know I laughed hardest at the “movie-ninja” comment. Do you think you could clarify a little more on why Aikido was so useful? Is it because it’s a defensive style? Is it a defense style? I know nothing about it. As for remaining defensive in general, I fully support that technique. The last time I got stitches in my face it was because I was caught off-guard after having thrown the first haymaker. The guy I hit went down, but his buddy subsequently dropped me and Plan A of head-kickfest nearly happened. I managed to remain barely upright enough to only get punched in the face. That I can deal with; boots to the face are a different story.

    Also, congrats on breaking your brawl-cherry.

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