Mike Marziale
San Kyu


One of the core principals that we discuss quite often in training, is the concept of Zanshin, or maintaining a state of total awareness.  The importance of this idea is self evident.  After all, what good is the rest of your training if you don’t recognize the moment in which it is needed?  I recently had occasion to be reminded just how important it is to stay aware of your surroundings, even when you believe yourself to be in a safe environment.

    New Year’s Eve this year found me in St. Louis, Missouri.  I had the good fortune to be at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, simultaneously ringing in the New Year and celebrating a friend’s (San Kyu Chris Hale) imminent wedding.  The night was going well, everyone had moved up to the eighth floor suite of the father of the bride after the rehearsal dinner, and we were all doing our best to welcome in the New Year in proper form. 

    Everyone was having a fine time, but the room was growing quite warm with body heat, even with the windows cracked open. Eventually, I decided to step out into the hallway for a while, to get some fresh air and cool off.  I hadn’t been outside for very long when the door across the hall opened, and a young man came out into the hall.  Several of us had been in the hall earlier that evening when this gentleman and a couple of his friends had returned to their rooms.  I had paid attention to the way they were conducting themselves, though to be honest it was hard not to.  Their inebriation was evident, as we observed this young man knocking on random doors, with his friends doing little to stop him.  Much of this might have been simply disregarded as a few people who had over indulged during the holidays.  A year ago, before I started training, I probably would have let it go at that.  That night, however, I notice other things going on.  I noticed the way his friends kept their distance from him, how they seemed more interested in getting away from him than getting him safely and quietly to bed.  I also noticed something about the young man himself.  There was something about his eyes and expression that said he was looking for trouble.  I later found out that the group had been tossed out of the bar because of his conduct.  When they came back, it wasn’t even 11:00 PM. 

Now I found myself alone in the hall with him.  His inebriated state was only more evident now, as he had lost his pants, though thankfully not his boxers, yet somehow managed to keep his ball cap.  Despite this failing, the young man then tried to move past me and join the party in progress.  I stayed in his way, and told him that it was a private wedding party.  He continued to insist that he needed to get into the party, and started telling me that his girlfriend had texted him and told him she was inside.  When I refused to yield, he become increasingly belligerent, and started moving closer and closer to me.  I paid attention and watched the way he moved, and took note of the fact that he was closing the distance between us.  It didn’t take much for us to be within easy arm’s reach of each other, hotel hallways aren’t that wide.  At this point, his intentions were obvious, but he hadn’t really done anything yet, so I simply continued to deny him entry.  Finally he got right up next to me, started poking me in the chest and said, “I’m telling you, as big a guy as you are, that you don’t know anything.”  Once he made physical contact, I had the right and the responsibility to defend myself, and I know from personal experience what’s coming next when someone makes a statement like that.  I took the opening he gave me and neutralized the situation.  He had positioned himself so that his neck and sternum were roughly in line with my right arm.  I reached up and grabbed his neck with my right hand, swung my right leg out behind him, and swept back through his right calf, while dropping my weight and throwing him forward with the grip I had on his neck. 

    The young man went down like a sack of potatoes, bounced his head off the floor, and maybe a bit of the baseboard.  I had practiced this technique, Osoto Gake, many times in class, and knew that it would do what I needed it to do.  The individual was no longer a threat, and while he would probably have a headache, he wasn’t really hurt.  Maintaining my awareness, I kept my eye on him, making sure he wasn’t going to get back up.  Reaching behind me, I opened the door and called over my shoulder for the groom to call hotel security, and we let them handle it from there.  Eventually he was escorted off the property. 

    Martial arts students (including myself) have many different reasons for training.  Physical fitness, camaraderie, the challenge it presents, or just enjoyment, I’ve heard all of these reasons, and I can identify with all of them.  At the end of the day, however, we train in this art in order to learn how to defend ourselves.  We all hope we never need the skills we learn, but that is why we are all here.  You never know what situations life will present you with.  I was in a very nice hotel, on a private floor requiring key card access, celebrating a friend’s wedding.  I wasn’t looking for or expecting trouble.  Thanks to my training, however, and the guidance of my Sensei (Sukh Sandhu), my Sempai (of the GiYu Honbu Dojo), and the other students, I was able to identify and handle the situation when trouble presented itself.  I owe them a debt of thanks for the skills they have taught me and are continuing to teach me.  Zanshin….a never ending skill to be learned.