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
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.