This story can’t be labeled educational despite its edifying value. It can’t be considered a heroic fable either, even though blows were exchanged, and certainly not a show-case in strategic and tactical conduct. However many constructive and wise martial lessons may be deduced from the idiotic actions that I took.
“Out of the strong came sweetness,” (judges – chapter 14 verse 14) some might suggest, although I do believe that the sentence: “In the swamp of stupidity a Narcissus of wisdom sometimes grows,” is far more accurate to describe the conclusion of this tale.
It happened quite a few years back, at the end of November, six o’clock on a Monday morning as I drove to work. I was seated in my rattling vehicle, the window wide open, cold wind blowing in my face, brushing away the cobwebs of sleep from my head and filling my nostrils with the fresh promise of rain.
The sun was ascending steadily in the east, grey rays of light exposing dark ominous clouds that seemed like they were about to collapse due to their overwhelming weight and size. I glared at them, yawning and driving, the radio playing ‘Creedence Clearwater Revival’ performing the gloomy folk-song, ‘Midnight Special’.
“Let the midnight special,” I joyously sang out of tune. “Shine her light on me. Let the midnight special… Hey, what the hell?” I cried out when I casually looked in the car mirror and spotted the sports vehicle that drove dangerously close behind. It was flashing its headlights and honking the horn.
“Get off my butt, you anal scumbag,” I ground my teeth while studying the furious expression on the face of the driver. He was hollering and flailing his arms in the air, threatening gestures that demonstrated his desire that I should hurry up or get out of his way.
Under normal circumstances, the right reaction would have probably been to stick to the right and clear the path for the raging man. However, on the narrow road we drove, the only options that stood before me were to risk the uneven bank on the right or to illegally cross the white separating line on the left, and endanger myself in the lane of on-coming traffic.
In my desperation I tried to accelerate but he kept his distance tight. I slowed down and the beeping became constant and the flashing lights, faster than before. A wicked smile spread across my face as I recalled the system I used to get rid of drivers who used to tailgate me as I drove the ambulance on busy roads, drivers who tried to take advantage of the open path the emergency vehicle made through the traffic, like the sea that parted before Moses as he escaped the raging Egyptians.
“Let the midnight special,” I hummed and pressed on the gas, sharply accelerating with my eyes on the mirror, following the actions of the driver behind. He quickly reacted, speeding up, getting very close and almost hitting me when I sharply lifted my foot off the accelerator and pressed on the brakes. In a desperate reaction that combined braking and swerving the vehicle to the right, he managed to escape a near certain accident.
“What a dick,” I chuckled while moving away, the distance between us increasing steadily. Suddenly, the smile was gone from my face as the fellow returned to the game with a vengeance, madly charging forward, crossing the line that separated the lanes, and getting very close to the side of my car.
He exposed his teeth and sharply turned the wheel toward me, nearly hitting my car, as if trying to drive me off the road. With two wheels on the treacherous bank I tried to escape the madness, slowing down but he did the same, matching my speed and again trying to hit me. At least twice more he repeated the assault while completely ignoring the danger we both faced; his eyes glinting in sheer insanity, his body stretched to the left, before swinging the wheel to the right. To the sound of loud horns coming from the vehicles driving towards him he growled at me and detached himself from the side of my car, swiftly taking over and speeding ahead.
“Coward, you son of a bitch, you,” I whispered while pressing down on the accelerator, murderous thoughts slicing through my brain. I prayed to all the gods I could think of that I would catch up with him at the next junction. Praying, despite the fact I’m not a religious man. Praying, because I knew the chances were very slim. The speed at which he maneuvered along the winding road exceeded the ability of my old battered car by tenfold. No more than twenty seconds had passed since he over took and he was already out of sight.
“Whatever,” I sighed and slowed down. I took a deep breath, my heartbeat relaxing in strength and calming in tempo, my hands loosening their grip on the steering wheel. I exhaled heavily and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I began to laugh.
“Dumb ass,” I complimented myself and shook my head. “A paramedic and an ambulance driver that almost ended up within the bowels of the emergency unit.”
The road curved in a wide bend to the left, splitting into two lanes and then into three. I continued to smile as I approached the big junction ahead, slowing down when I saw the red traffic light, my pupils widening in recognition of the vehicle that stood still in the right lane. The smile left, the heart accelerated with beats that threatened to tear my throat and the delicate skin at my temples.
“Son of a bitch!” I hissed, my chest inflating, my hands clenching into fists. “Just don’t change!” I begged the traffic light as my car came to a halt with a loud screeching sound from the brakes. I narrowed my eyes at the driver to my right. He stuck his chin up in defiance.
“Is that so?” I cried through the open window and this time he raised his middle finger.
“Scumbag,” I called and released the catch of the seat belt, opening the door and jumping out of the vehicle. I advanced towards him, the anger mingling in my mind with educational thoughts. I wanted to scare him, make him freeze where he sat; make him rattle with fear, threatened and terrified, while I screamed and cursed at him; make him learn not to be so aggressive on the road, even if only for the fear his actions might drag extreme retaliation from an exceptionally violent and disturbed man.
But it seemed that no one had explained to this fellow his role in the educational procedure I was conducting. I only managed to take two steps before the door of his car opened and he jumped out. He was of medium height with a large belly, broad shoulders, muscular arms and a fierce glare in his eyes.
I slowed down as he hastily closed the distance between us, way too quick to form a new plan of action. The thoughts raced within my skull and then came to a sharp halt, silenced behind a red screen of anger and violence.
Three more steps.
I instinctively reached out and stopped his advance by grabbing his neck, my other arm raised to strike his face.
“Let go of me, don’t touch me,” he began to cry. “Drop your hands, don’t touch me, don’t touch me.”
His words cooled me down, his wide open eyes and high pitched voice interpreted in my mind as an extreme call of anxiety. I froze where I stood, glaring and listening to his hysterical shouting as a blow landed on the side of my head, right behind the ear. Numbness engulfed me, and at once, I lost control over my body, the vitality disappearing, leaving me limp, disoriented and swaying from side to side.
The hand on his neck moved to the front of his shirt, gripping tightly as if the sweaty fabric was my only chance of keeping balanced in this shaky world. Helpless I hung onto him with the full weight of my body, forcing him to join me in a ridiculous chicken like dance that we performed in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the hand on his shirt kept him as unbalanced as I was, prohibiting him from delivering a further assault.
“Am I losing?” was the first thought that crossed my mind as I somehow began to return to my senses. “Not much of a surprise, is it? You idiot.” I panted. “He gets frightened and you freeze. He strikes you while you stare at him like an imbecile.”
When I finally found my feet my rival also regained his balance but this time, however, I didn’t listen to the words that spilled from his mouth; my eyes focused on the center of his body, taking in the position of his hands and legs while marking his head as my prime target. It was the first time I felt free of inhibition, hesitation and restlessness.
“I’ve been in this ring before,” I told myself when he delivered another wide hook to the side of my head, a strike I analyzed as slow and slack. Instead of blocking I closed the distance with my left elbow leading the way, its sharp edge smashing into his cheek bone. He screamed, this time in pain, and dropped his face onto his waiting hands as the second elbow strike met the back of his head. He collapsed to his knees, covering his head with his hands and whimpering.
“You piece of shit!” I cried. “What are you blubbering? I can’t hear you, what?”
I raised my arm for another blow and then I stopped, suddenly very aware that his lack of response had caused our stage to change yet again — the fourth shift in a matter of five minutes. My eyes detached from him and took in the world around us; a central junction of a large city, a few pedestrians standing on the pavement watching, a couple of cars that beeped while passing by, and finally, my adversary on his knees in front of me, and the evil smile that reflected at me from the window of his car — my smile.
It was the first time in the whole ordeal that I completely freaked out.
“Are you alright?” I asked with a softer tone of voice and stepped backward. He raised his head and nodded at me. I scanned his face, looking for cuts, blood and swelling. I exhaled in relief when I saw nothing but a bruise on his cheek.
“You might kill someone one of these days,” I admonished him, my ears burning to the sound of the ridiculous sentence. “You almost ran me off the road.”
“And you almost killed me when you braked.”
I held the urge to answer back, acknowledging the fact that any further discussion would be as ridiculously pointless as the whole incident. I waited until he got off the road and we both returned to our vehicles. Side by side we sat quietly at the junction. We looked at each other one final time as the traffic light changed green. I remember bowing to him before pressing the accelerator and driving off.
A little bruise behind the ear and a red swollen elbow was the only physical evidence of the event. They disappeared after a couple of days but the experience remained embedded in my consciousness for a few good weeks. My mind was working hectically, analyzing and assessing, trying to understand all the elements that constructed the skirmish and their meaning. In order to simplify the task, I divided the event into four arenas.
The first was the road and the way we drove and behaved; he, who pressed me from behind while beeping and flashing his lights; me, who pressed on the brakes and nearly caused an accident; and finally him again, when he tried to push me off the road, by doing so violating traffic laws and probably other laws I don’t even know about.
The main conclusion that cried out from this first arena, and it doesn’t matter who would come up right or wrong in a court of law, was that we both behaved as irresponsible idiots. The other deduction, which should have been just as clear, was that the fellow was far more explosive in his reactions, something I should have fully comprehended before I jumped at him at the junction.
This conclusion leads us straight to the second arena and the dangerous safety violation I took as I stepped out of my vehicle, hot-headed and without taking into consideration the character of the guy, who, as I said before, had already proven he could push the boundaries of the conflict further than I would.
I should have expected he would get out of his vehicle and I should have taken a proper look at his hands, to make sure he wasn’t carrying a weapon and to be prepared for the blows rather than focus on the words he uttered. It seems like there were many things I was supposed to do or should have been aware of.
I could blame the confusion and disorientation for that.
Or I could blame my anger.
My lack of judgment.
I should simply blame myself.
My only good fortune was the fact that my rival was not the most seasoned street fighter or else, the whole experience could have ended in disaster.
The third arena, the one in which I responded with strikes, was the only arena I felt comfortable in. It was the time in which I reacted determinedly, maybe for the reason that by then, I could fully distinguish my enemy from most unknown elements on the scene, aware of his abilities and his actions and free of inhibition, confusion and undesired thoughts.
The fourth arena I could only describe as an ‘awakening’, the place where I suddenly became very aware of the whole situation and the full implications of my acts; taking in the surroundings, the condition of my rival, the danger of injuries we both faced had we continued with this ridiculous struggle, and even the legal threat of prosecution and loss of personal freedom had the police arrived on the scene.
Thinking back, what I found most worrying was the fact that I hadn’t understood or predicted the chain of events from the moment it started until it ended. It was a most annoying and embarrassing thought, especially so since all my life I have lived with high expectations, a notion that I would know exactly what to do in such a situation. After all, I spent many years training and preparing for such events.
I guess the wise old masters were more than right when they concluded that the dojo is not the street, an observation that takes into account, above all technical skill and drills that mimic the liveliest attacks, the direct and uncompromising experience of the real world.