For a bit of reference, and a sort of foreword about my intentions of even sharing this experience: I'm 6'2", 185 lbs, a weight lifter, and an endurance runner. I don't want to come across as a Mall Ninja or a MMQ for the UFC or anything; I'm not a 9th dan in ninjutsu, and I don't carry a tactical shotgun everywhere I go. Even so, I've always thought of myself as relatively competent and sure of myself w.r.t. to personal safety. I spent a large chunk of my life in Israel; I've seen people die violently; as a fat, ridiculed kid, I took boxing classes; later, with the advent of mixed martial arts, I took courses in a few of the popular styles; in high school I was in enough fights to be lulled into a sense of invulnerability. I've lived a life rife with experiences, and as a young man I feel as though I already have plenty of 'war stories' to tell my grandkids.
All this leads me to my point: for a long time I've felt amazingly safe in my skin, even in my neighborhood. I live in an urban area of Philadelphia, a city with a record number of homicides, but because of all the things I thought I knew about myself, I discounted myself as the guy who would never bump into one of those thugs. Further, I always rationalized that if I did bump into any of those people, I'd be safe- how couldn't I be? Athletic, raised in bad areas, accustomed to violence and its effects, etc. Aren't I the archetypal 'survivor'? Well, here's what happened.
Early this morning (maybe 2:30 or so) I woke up and had a ridiculous craving for Mexican food. I decided to walk to the grocery store to get some ingredients. I didn't bring my cell phone or wallet- I didn't even put on a pair of socks. I dutifully shuffled out the door, half asleep, with just a haphazard outfit (some old jeans, a hoodie) and a credit card in my right hip pocket.
I live about a block and a half north of a main avenue, and from there about two blocks east of the grocery store. I reached the large avenue and started to head toward the shopping center. I should mention that my left eye is blind, and so my peripheral vision is not what it should be. I am deemed capable of driving by the state but I know it's something of a deficiency. So, I was walking...
I only got a couple of dozen feet when I was hit, hard, on the side of the head. I didn't see it coming and I stumbled a bit, but I wasn't really 'hurt'. It caught me high, right before my ear, and mostly skimmed off the top of my head. Adrenaline kicked in and I whirled around, hands up. It was one guy and he was stepping forward. I could see his shoulder dipping, and I knew he was about to cock back another punch. He was shorter than me and thinner, but I wasn't interested in fighting. I took a big step back, opened my fists, and showed him my palms. I was definitely willing to hand over what I had to avoid violence- especially considering that I could just call and cancel the credit card.
"Wait, it's yours."
He spat back "f' that" (but uh... with the whole profanity and all. Just trying to keep the message clean) and leaped forward to swing at me again.
I had to make a decision in a heartbeat. Was this guy trying to rob me or hurt me? I can't accurately enumerate the thoughts I had in that split second, but I remember a couple general sensations: frustration that he wouldn't just take my money/plastic and leave, and fear that if this dude wanted blood more than he wanted money, and he did put me on the ground, he wouldn't stop punching/stomping until I was in the hospital or worse.
The punch came, I evaded it, and I grabbed a solid hold of him. We struggled for a couple of seconds and it became apparent that he wasn't as strong as me. I hit him with a quick, sharp hook and I slammed him a couple of times against the wall of the closest building. I went for an instep trip and shoved him, hard. I was hoping he'd hit the ground, have the breath knocked out of him, and, I could just run a circuitous route home. Instead, he landed mostly on his back and he was still conscious and aware.
Again I had one of those split second choices. I'm a pretty fanatical runner and normally I'd put a wager on myself against the average shmoe, but it's the middle of the night, I had just been brought fully into consciousness by a running right hook, I didn't have socks on, and I was wearing boots. At the same time that I decided I'd probably be safer by putting him out, I see him pull up his shirt. I was already on my way down to throw a big punch to his face when I saw what his exposed waistband possessed: a handgun.
Funnily enough, there's only one detail that I really remember from that moment: he wasn't wearing a holster. The back end of the gun was just protruding from his pants.
I instantly shifted my knee on the way down, trying to use it to pin his hand to his stomach. My knee missed and crashed into his stomach right below his hand. I threw a flurry of punches while strewn awkwardly atop him. None of my BJJ kicked in... I didn't try to move for better 'positioning' or any of the other things I learned. I just teed off for a while, landing quite a few big shots on his face. I probably hit him more times than I needed to but I couldn't feel his hand under my body and I was terrified that his hand was already on the grip of his pistol. After a few seconds, I realized he was completely out. I leaped off so I could take the gun out of his band. I put it in my pocket and started to calm down.
My very first thought at this point was 'if I hurt that guy really badly, what's going to happen to me? Can I prove that he attacked me?'
My second thought, as a few seconds passed by, was 'Is this dude going to wake up in the next few seconds?'
I'm going to be completely honest here- I thought about taking the gun out of my pocket and training it on him. I wish I could say that I completely kept my wits about me, but for a second there I felt the lump forming on the side of my head, and I thought about my age and the years ahead of me and the headline 'young man killed in a Philadelphia street brawl'... and I thought 'Why risk him waking up and getting the best of me? I don't have my cell phone on me, and I can't just leave him there. What should I do?' I considered whether I could just flip him over and place my knee in the center of his back and hold him there.
My thought process was interrupted by screeching tires. A car pulled up right in front of me and a middle aged guy jumped out. For a second I considered how it looked, me standing there, and a smaller guy on the ground, bleeding profusely. The guy cut short any explanation, though, and said:
"I saw the whole thing, man. I was going west on the other side of the island and I whipped a u turn the first chance I got. I already called the cops, they should be here soon."
At this point I was insanely relieved, because I knew that I had a witness and now there were two guys around in case the prick woke up looking for trouble. Thankfully only a minute or so later a cop car showed up. At this point I got a little nervous, thinking of all the 'innocent guy reaching for his wallet found with 40 9mm rounds in his body' stories as I was explaining to the cop.
"So I pulled the gun out of his band. Also officer, I don't want any tensions or anything- I unloaded the gun, the magazine is in my left pocket, the pistol is in my right. Do you want me to take them out one at a time or...?"
Thankfully everything went smoothly with the police. The attacker started to come around and the cop had him lay belly down while the ambulance was en route. I don't want to get into the whole process with statements and depositions and all; maybe I'll mention that stuff later, but I only recently got home and I don't want to dive into that whole headache.
Anyway, there it is. Like I said, I'd always thought that my experiences would make me operate like a pro under fire... I guess I did okay. I kept my senses in the beginning, and tried to talk my way out. My judo training started to come back but I think that's in part because the guy was so weak that it gave me time to manhandle him and collect myself before it went to the ground. I sort of lost it once my adrenaline was leveling off, though, and I'm ashamed of the fact that I seriously considered putting a round in him. I managed to regain my sense by the time the cop arrived, though. All in all, I guess this taught me that it's better to be prepared than not prepared (I would have been in trouble, I think, if I wasn't so much stronger than this guy), but you can't expect yourself to act 'ordinary' in an extraordinary situation.
I've been thinking for the last hour or so about where I'll go from here, but I have to say that in general, this experience strengthened, rather than undermined, my determination to carry concealed at 21.
Thanks for reading. I feel a lot better now that I'm talking about it with someone who isn't wearing a uniform.