I just returned from an awesome trip to Spain - it began with seeing my brother in Barcleona (his semester abroad blog can be found here), followed by some time with friends in Ibiza and Formentera, culminating with a quiet four days in sunny, beautiful Mallorca. For all the great stories and experiences from the trip, there was one that stuck out as decidedly un-fun.
The not-so-abridged version is as follows: my girlfriend and I were walking home from a dinner in Ibiza Town on our way back to the hotel. This involved walking both up and down several steep flights of stairs. It was eerily silent as we went up the many steps - almost too quiet, I commented to my girlfriend. A few flights from the top we noticed a ragged, shirtless man standing at the top, staring down at us. As he walked away we continued walking, carefully. Right before the top flight of stairs, where he had been standing, I sensed that someone was near us. At the last few stairs I moved to the opposite side from which he had stumbled away, in order to be able to see him were he to be hiding around the corner. Unfortunately for us, he was. It is difficult to articulate what happened next, because it was so visceral. He stepped in front of us, preventing us from continuing to the stairs down the hill. I stared into his eyes to size him up, and can honestly say it was one of the most ghastly things I've ever seen. His face was covered in pus and blood, his teeth were bared and his eyes were red, wild and glazed over. Without overdramatizing the situation, I can honestly say I feared for our lives - this dude was so far gone he could kill and not even realize it.
I want to describe both what happened and how it felt, because today's topic is about self defense. The most striking feeling I had was first the sense of something being very wrong - almost a sense of dread - then, upon having my suspicions confirmed, I remember an intense adrenalin rush unlike any I've experienced in sports. The hair on my neck was up, my heart was pounding and my body felt numb. Surprisingly, I felt lucid and was able to neither freeze nor go into a frenzy. Instead I put myself between my girlfriend and him - while keeping eye contact - maneuvered around the guy, firmly saying "NO" to his growling demands for money. Many people to whom I've told this story ask why I didn't give him a few euros. The answer is simple: I felt that if I were to stop, reach in my pocket, or do anything to slow down, we would have been in a much more vulnerable spot. The guy was clearly explosive. Indeed, after saying no and walking by him (and telling my girlfriend to start running down the stairs), he started lumbering down after me angrily and sarcastically saying "MUCHAS. GRACIAS." repeatedly. I'm not trying to sound like some kind of hero - to be clear I was terrified. This guy had nothing to lose - by the blood on his mouth looked like he had just devoured some animal - and was now following us down the stairs. We had just arrived and knew nothing about the town or the area, and there was literally nobody else around. I turned back and stood my ground and from a distance of 10 meters or so we stared at each other, and eventually he backed off. I ran to catch up with Rebecca and that was that.
But I was shaken. While ready to fight, I began to question what would have happened in that scenario. I don't have military or martial arts training, and at 165 pounds, I will not typically have a size advantage (and didn't, in this case). So in the spirit of the blog I decided to see what the internet's free resources could teach me - and you - about self defense. I learned a lot, but most important (and perhaps obvious) is that there is no "solution"... Each scenario is different, and all you can do is think about and plan for specific types of scenarios. The general themes were helpful, and from my experience in Ibiza turned out to be true. The first was that a confrontation happens much faster than you expect. This was definitely the case in my encounter. The time from that initial sensation of danger to us facing off took no more than a few seconds. Overwhelmingly, the advice I read emphasized getting away as the primary goal, and fighting as the last resort. However, it was also fairly consistent that if your gut tells you you're about to be attacked, you should strike first. This only makes sense to me now, after the experience. Everything I felt at the time was instinctive and animalistic - I came very close to striking preemptively, because my gut feeling was telling me we were about to be physically assaulted. Fortunately nothing more serious happened.
But the real meat and potatoes of all these videos was focused on the following - if you have to strike, how? Where? With what? The first point was that in these situations, you do what you must to survive. That said, the goal is to debilitate the adversary and run, not stick around and beat the person to death. Somewhat surprisingly, punching was almost never mentioned as the best option. Knees to the groin, eye poking, elbows to the head, head butts, kicks to the shin and open palm hits to the nose were all mentioned prominently. Another theme was the importance of the element of surprise. Whether throwing your glasses in the person's face or spitting out your last sip into their eyes, anything to give you one second to take your first blow of choice was described as crucial. Another move I hadn't thought of was the double hand clap around your opponent's ears. Apparently this is very disorienting and will give you the opportunity to strike or run. The use of tools around you was also mentioned - in my case it was a barren street, so a rock or a stick would work, but generally a bottle or chair also do the trick. The problem with any weapon, of course, is that it can be used against you.
In terms of where to strike, it was advised not to hit hard tissues of the body. Vulnerable areas include the knees, groin, eyes, bridge of the nose, kidney, heart, neck, throat, and the solar plexus. As I understand it, these are the places where you can expect the most "bang for your buck." I would encourage anyone who wants to learn more to do a simple YouTube search for "self defense techniques", as a video is worth more than a thousand words in terms of the execution of these ideas.
Most important is proper training and practice, which I fully plan to pursue following this encounter. I am sure none of you will take self defense tips from this blog, so I won't go on ad nauseum. But the quick summary of my introductory learning is: keep your wits, always look for a way out, understand your relative strengths and weaknesses, and if you strike, strike decisively and then get out. My story may not sound terrible, but it is the kind of thing that shakes you to your core, because that situation can happen anytime, anywhere. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world, and cannot entirely prevent these types of events (although not walking in an unknown city at night is a good start).
We can, however, be prepared for when it does.