Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Escape From a Mugger Shows The Value of the Black Belt

I did one thing wrong on that Wednesday afternoon - a sunny day in a parking lot in front of the pool, a non-threatening location where my guard was down - I stood in the door of my car.

I was waiting for my daughter, talking on the phone. The car was hot, I got out and stood there, enjoying a few minutes of warm autumn sunshine. I was distracted, chatting with a person in a ticket office, my credit card held loosely in my other hand as I read off the numbers.

At first, the man approaching me looked like any other young guy walking down the sidewalk. Maybe his pants were hanging a bit low, a chain connecting his wallet or keys draped across his front. The baseball cap on his head turned backwards, the loosey-goosey gangsta walk gave him an aura of trying a bit too hard to be a bad boy. But you see guys like this all the time.

So I didn't pay attention as he came towards me along the sidewalk -  until he veered straight at me. Only then did I realize the vulnerable position I'd put myself in. Trapped against the door of my car. Unable to get in and slam the door in time to shut him out. By the time the second or two had passed between him seeming like another guy walking by, and him being a guy walking towards me looking like trouble, I had nowhere to go. I had forgotten the golden rule of being a woman: never let your guard down.

What happened next probably took less than a minute. It went by so fast that only in retrospect could I analyze what had transpired between us. In the moment, it went something like this:

Thug: You're going to give me that phone and your credit card.
Me (surprised, still chatting on phone): What?
Thug (getting in my face, reaching out) Give me your phone!
Me: (to person on other end of line) Excuse me just a moment
        (to thug): No, I don't think so
Thug (getting angry) You f***ing little b*tch! What, you think I can't take this. You (stream of obscenity I won't reprint)
Me: I think you need to leave me alone now. Move away.
Thug moves away down the sidewalk uttering more curses at me over his shoulder

At first, I was simply shocked that he left me alone. He was probably six feet tall and 190 pounds. He had me trapped in a corner. What the heck happened here? But when I replayed the incident in my mind, I realized what had really occurred - a complex dance of body language and words, a moment in which years of training in martial arts had kicked in, and tipped the direction of the encounter.

When I looked back, moment by moment through the encounter, here's what happened in my mind and body:

Thug: You're going to give me that phone and your credit card.
Me (surprised, still chatting on phone): What?
I look around, realize I'm trapped. Realize I've put myself in a bad situation. Without realizing I did this until later, I slipped off my flip-flops and kicked them back under the car.
Thug (getting in my face, reaching out) Give me your phone!
Me: (to person on other end of line) Excuse me just a moment
        (to thug): No, I don't think so
I examine the thug from head to foot. His eyes look clear - no evidence of drugs or alcohol. I sniff, no scent of alcohol on his breath, and his face is only inches from mine, so I should smell it. No bulges in pockets that could be weapons. Hands are both out in front of him. He could have a weapon in the waistband of his pants but it would take him a moment to retrieve it. He's gesturing with his right hand, probably right-handed then. I have more room to his right side, so if he comes at me with an attack from that direction, I can block, move past him, and probably take out his knee.
Thug (getting angry) You f***ing little b*tch! What, you think I can't take this. You (stream of obscenity I won't reprint)
Me: I think you need to leave me alone now. Move away.
My body language shifts into defensive mode. I come up on the balls of my feet, ready to move, like a fighting stance in karate. My phone can be used as a weapon to strike him on the temple. My other hand is open, I draw in a slow breath, speak calmly, and look him in the eye. I can see this is totally unexpected for him. He expected this woman to back down and give him what he wanted. He's confused, both by my politeness and by my readiness to engage. I literally watch him evaluate, and back down.
Thug moves away down the sidewalk uttering more curses at me over his shoulder.

Now, things might've turned out differently if he'd had a weapon. If he'd been on drugs, or looked like he was mentally unstable. I might've made different decisions based on a thousand factors. But the truth is, the years of training that went into becoming a black belt helped me make all of those decisions on the fly. And ultimately, I knew I had options, I had defenses. Even though I'd originally put myself into a bad position (lesson learned there), I was able to get away from a bad situation.

This is why even on the occasional days when my kids don't want to get up and go to karate, I insist. My kids are both teens now. They bike or take the bus places without me. They're out in a world that's usually wonderful, but can sometimes turn ugly in a heartbeat. I need to know that they will have options too.


Ironmom (Julie) said...


Kerri Heffel said...

Regular reader to your blog... and I must say, this post gave me chills. Incredible story and truly empowering. Thank you!!!

Warrior said...

My first remark is you did nothing wrong. Second, it's a shit world if the first rule of being a woman is not to let your guard down. Men get mugged too.
There is so much in me screaming against the way the story is told. Thankfully you were not hurt. You were not mugged. I know you a little , the title should be how an asshole escaped a beating from Ironmom. I like what you do and how you live. I admire you a lot, but there are things that are just setting of so many bells. It sounds as if life is a war zone. It might well be, but it shouldn't be.
Here is my last thought. I have escaped in a similar way for a similar situation, but I have zero training. I just wasnt' going to let the punk away with it. He knew it. They whoever they are operate through our panic. they are the minority. Yes I would advocate self defence classes for everyone too.

Marv said...

I have tried to make my wife more aware of her surroundings for this very reason. For instance, don't lose focus in a parking lot, going to your car. Take in the people and surroundings at all times. Glad you had the training and the prescence of mind to negotiate this safely.

Kathy said...

My guess is "warrior" is a guy. Different world for guys. Just the way it is. Women live in a radically different environment than men do.

Robin said...

Collie (Warrior), I love your comments and you are right - it shouldn't be like this. And yet it is. And yes, men do get mugged, though probably more often with a weapon. A man is often the same size as a potential assailant, whereas most women are much smaller. This man was 6 inches taller than I am, and probably 30 pounds heavier or more. At that disadvantage, it becomes ever more crucial to have techniques at hand that don't rely on force or size.

Also, women are so much more likely to get mugged, assaulted, raped, or even just in a "I said NO" date situation that gets out of hand. We really do need to be able to defend ourselves more than men do. I know this is the third time I've been in a situation where I needed to defend myself physically, and the first time I've been able to do so. I am so very grateful that this time did not end up with me in the hospital, like the last time. I think my training made that difference.

Katie Duffy said...

That was totally badass.

Trail Smitten Mom said...

Holy cow! Chills here. Way to stand your ground, learn a lesson and share it with your readers. Glad you are okay. Saddened, scared and angry that the "thug" and many more like him are still out there.

Elise said...

Glad you are safe. I'm confident too that I'd be safe if ever in a similar situation based on the extensive training I have done with Impact Personal Safety. Every life is worth fighting for!!

TeamHolloway said...

Hi there! Its me, Lauren... I don't know if you remember me, but you inspired me to do my first tri last October, and I wrote out my story for you about it...??
Anyhow, OMG! Robin, seriously, you are my she-ro! :) I'm SO glad to hear you are safe! I can't honestly say I would've reacted the same way as you, and for that I am a little disappointed in myself. My husband has been telling me for ages that I need to take some kind of self-defense classes, and it never seems like I have time. (Sigh!) I reckon I better start making some time...
Anyway, I also wanted to let you know that Baby #4 will be here in about 4 weeks, and I am already planning on doing my FIRST half-marathon this spring! You inspire me so much, and I just have to say, "Thank you!!" Eventually I will be on your level and be an IronMom! Baby steps for now, I guess...
Continue to take good care of you---you are worth so much more than you know.

Ian M said...

Your reaction totally threw him for a curve. So much can be said about body language, posturing, confidence...he figured he had a weak sheep in herd and had no idea what he was getting into. If you have time read, or listen, to Gavin De Beckers "The Gift of Fear."

To steal a quote from Batman Begins "Always be mindful of your surroundings" I share these words with my four year old and wife all the time. Sometimes I wish I didn't have to live in such a vigilant world. Occasionally I joke about buying fifty acres in Montana, building a moat and filling it with flesh eating creatures.

I spend part of my week chasing bad choice makers (thats how I explain to a four year old my life as a cop in southern California). I don't think its jaded me but my awareness is very different. I don't go for a bike ride without my firearm, I run only with one working earphone and a time when there are lots of people around.

Stay safe, stay strong, stay positive.