Responding Vs Reacting
Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth – Mike Tyson
I got punched in the face yesterday.
Not for the first time in my life, and almost certainly not for the last time.
It was a wake up call. It was in broad daylight, in a good neighborhood, with hundreds of people around. I did nothing to provoke it. I didn’t even see the guy coming.
Just the wrong place at the wrong time.
People are so fond of saying that, when these types of things happen.
It doesn’t make it feel better, trust me.
You don’t expect to be the victim of random violence. You don’t see it coming, even if you’re someone who has the delusion of being ‘situationally aware’ at all times.
I’ve had my share of violent experiences in life. As a kid, I grew up in a bit of a “rough neighborhood”, with lots of skinhead gang activity and more than a few fistfights. I’ve taken some self defense classes and pride myself on my ability to de-escalate a situation.
I’ve learned the hard way– it’s never worth it to fight, unless you’re protecting yourself or your loved ones.
As an adult, I’ve been beaten, hooded, handcuffed, zip tied, tased, waterboarded and thrown into the back of a van. After I escaped (as I had been trained to do), I was chased across the city of Los Angeles and had to fight and use my wits to evade recapture.
This is all something I paid for– stress inoculation for an Urban Escape and Evasion Course I took with some friends, taught by Kevin Reeve at On-Point Tactical. I took the course because I travel to some not-so-safe places and I wanted to feel prepared in case the shit hit the fan. It expanded my comfort zone in a big way, but I did find some edges.
For example, I really hope I never have to experience something as horrific as waterboarding again.
No matter what you’ve heard on the news– it’s a brutal and terrifying ordeal.
This proclivity for adventure has led to some pretty unique experiences– In Peru, for example, my friends and I were swimming with piranhas and pink dolphins in the Amazon river, had to forage and fish for our food, and build our own shelters. We were stalked by a jaguar in the jungle when we accidentally wandered too close to her cubs. This was on the heels of a hike across the full length of the Inca trail with my buddy Neil and our dear departed friend Alex. May he rest in peace.
My friend Charlie and I almost got trampled by donkeys in Kenya, while we were touring the cradle of civilization with his boss at the time, Tim Ferriss. Tim just did a TV show about On Point Tactical and their training program if you’re interested. It’s worth a look.
In Africa, I learned that hippos kill more people there than anything. I watched lions and vultures tear antelope to pieces and pick their skeletons clean. I learned that you can take malarone pills and still contract malaria. I relearned that ice is water and you should never drink the water in a third world country.
Heed that advice only if you value the proper function of your digestive system.
I’ve gotten malaria, jaundice, flu, food poisoning (avoid buffets in Buenos Aires), pneumonia, and every other type of illness imaginable.
I’ve lived in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and traveled to every back alley in every borough and neighborhood at almost any time of the day or night, mostly without incident.
I’ve jumped off of buildings and been stunt flying incurring g-forces that made me hurl and nearly pass out.
I struggled through a triathlon long before I knew how to swim.
I’ve hiked and camped and fallen and twisted and broken things and had to chase off bears. I’m gearing up to do it again in Alaska this summer.
I wouldn’t trade these adventures for anything. I look back on them fondly and have grown and changed more than I ever could have imagined. They’ve given me the greatest gift of all, the gift of perspective. I have no real problems, when it comes right down to it.
I’ve been where bad is, and this isn’t it.
Despite all these dangerous (and sometimes ill-advised) experiences, I’m still here, still breathing. When I look back at all the hairy situations I’ve found myself in and that I’m still alive and well, I’m very grateful.
I’ve certainly never been cautious. I have a burning desire to suck the marrow from life.
There’s no other way to truly feel alive, in my experience.
Some of these events I signed up for. Most just happened to me. Wrong place at the wrong time. But that’s how life is. It’s a series of events over which you have no real control. The only thing you can hope to control is your reaction to events. And if you get really good, you stop reacting altogether, choosing to respond instead.
It doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a muscle you have to choose to work every single day, so that you can reclaim your control and your power to make good choices.
Choice of response the only real power we have in this world-– a world that’s so unpredictable and constantly shifting beneath our feet. Life is not guaranteed. It’s a fleeting thing. Best to embrace that and focus on what you can control:
Your response to a situation.
Your ability to decide. To plan. To take consistent, directed action.
Anyway, without further ado, back to the random violence.
I’m crossing the street on Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, CA– in full view of dozens of passer-bys– when some kind, upstanding young man decides he’s going to sucker punch me in the face as hard as he can, then run off.
When something like this happens, you’re forced to make decisions really quickly.
Your first instinct, it turns out, is to cover up in case another one is coming. Ok. That’s cool. I can deal with that. The second instinct is to retaliate, but by the time I registered the pain and what had happened, the coward was already across the street and making his escape.
Bystanders and motorists sat agog and watched the events unfold. I yelled something probably very equally charming, peppered with some cleverly distasteful New York language, which usually gets peoples’ attention.
A few people asked if I was alright. A few shared in my outrage, but nobody really DID anything. No vigilante street justice was forthcoming. Nobody took the license plate of that speeding car, and it was gone before I could make sense of it all.
If it wasn’t for the aching in my temple and jaw, and the small crowd who had formed to witness the event, I would have suspected it was all a dream.
One person told me that “it’s been happening a lot recently, some “knock-out” game that people are playing” to get their rocks off or ‘be cool’ and ‘build a rep’ with their gang.
Ego craving significance. Wait. I can play this game too. Let’s reframe this. “Great news! I’m part of a trending topic.” Maybe this will go viral and I’ll be super cool too! ERMAHGERD.
Please. Get a real hobby. True significance can only come from growth and contribution.
After the incident, I stood for a moment taking stock of the situation. I weighed my options and prioritized my safety. Once I had confirmed that I wasn’t cut or bleeding, I called it in. I mean it makes sense to alert the authorities that someone is walking around punching people unprovoked, right? I’m pretty sure that falls under their job description.
This isn’t Grand Theft Auto, right?
The lady on the other end of 911 kindly informed me that it was a misdemeanor crime, but that if I wasn’t willing to wait for officers to arrive so I could file a report, that there was very little she could do. The guy was long gone anyway.
So what should I have done?
I suppose I could have reacted. I could have chased the guy and tried to fight him. Probably not the best idea. He’s obviously a dangerous, cowardly individual with no respect for himself or others. He might be capable of greater violence than I am willing to commit, unless cornered. He may be armed with more than a fist, and it’s not doing me any good to get stabbed or shot.
A punch in the face is a punch in the face. I’m a big dumb animal, after all. I can take a punch.
I could have chased him down and attempted to hand him over to the cops, but I was on my way to dinner and didn’t want to stand my friend up. Or act all butt-hurt about it. So I decided to let it go and get on with dinner. It was certainly a topic of discussion, but I didn’t let it ruin my night.
Why spend a perfectly good evening filling out police reports and dealing with idiots who get off on random violence to fill their desperate need for significance? I was just relieved that it wasn’t a worse experience.
As it turns out, it was a fun story to break the ice with people we met for the rest of the night.
“Hey, did you hear what happened to my friend?” Or “so I was walking across the street earlier, minding my own business, and you’ll never BELIEVE what happened.”
Something about surviving a violent encounter is viscerally attractive to the opposite sex. I can’t really explain it, but there were more than a few alluring glances shot my way. Even without talking. Flirting happened, numbers were exchanged.
Life was good again, even if my temple and jaw are still aching as I type this.
I didn’t die in my sleep, and the swelling has gone down, so that’s a win.
We could replay the scene 1,000 times and I could have handled it dozens of ways. So many people I’ve spoken to said they would have handled it way differently if they had been there. I did what I did and I’m glad it wasn’t a bigger deal than it could have been. It’s easy to say you have a plan, right up until the second you get punched in the face.
I’m choosing to write about it, for closure, for catharsis, and so that you, dear reader, can hopefully understand the lesson, which is this: shit happens. It’s going to keep happening. But your reaction determines the ultimate outcome.
As my friend Brian Kight is keen to say, E + R = O.
You cannot control events, but you can control your response, which invariably creates the outcome.
So if you want to control outcomes, focus on your response, because where focus goes, energy flows. A healthy dose of stoicism is a key to thriving in the the modern world. Stay alert and be safe out there, it’s a crazy world, for sure. As long as humans crave significance, some will resort to violence to get it.
Don’t let it ruin your day, or by extension, your life.
You’re the one who’s in control. No matter what happens.
Don’t wait around for a punch in the face to remind you.
Let me know your story and any questions you might have in the comments section below, and please do share this post with your network. This can happen to anyone, and it’s important that the word gets out so that people can be more aware of their surroundings and take reasonable and proper precautions.
Comments for This Entry
Nox TauakipuluBrad thank you for sharing, I'm glad you walked away relatively unscathed. You're a better man than me, because I know from previous experiences I would not have been as forgiving. I will however have to disagree with the statement of "Random acts of violence can happen to anyone at any time..." Yes, random acts of violence do happen, but not to anyone and not at any time. No offence, but my brain doesn't compute writing myself off as a potential "victim" - growing up where I did, one thing I learned very early is that people will only treat you the way you let them. Which brings me back to how Predators actually pick their targets. An ideal target is someone that shows some sort of exploitable chink in their profile/armor - if you look like food, you will get eaten. The environment also needs to be favourable for the aggressor and finally the window of opportunity must allow for the assailant to close the gap, attack and escape - unless they intentionally wish to get caught. Assailants will use this information to quickly calculate probability of success, then decide whether or not you're worth the risk. A couple of simple things may help prevent such an attack in the future: Walk with confidence, have your head on a swivel (not looking at your phone) and protect your personal space/ reactionary gap or very least have your hands in proximity to do so. It will also pay to take the time to learn about predatory behaviour and pre-assault indicators, so that you can recognize a potential problem before it materializes into an actual problem with you in the middle of it. Just my two cents.
May 5, 2015 at 2:47 pm
Brad HartAppreciate the input and the thoughtful comment Nox! I can't say I was acting anything unlike I've ever crossed the street before. Wasn't on my phone (which is lucky because I probably would have dropped it and broken the screen) I didn't have my head on a swivel I guess but I will in the future, even if I am walking in a safe neighborhood in the middle of the day. Good tips!
May 6, 2015 at 5:06 am
Brad HartSeriously. Super lucky. Sorry that happened to you. Sounds awful. Some people...
May 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm
Brad HartThanks Josh! Appreciate the kind words
May 3, 2015 at 10:11 pm
Kyle Del BonisI'd definitely support that your decision was a right one. But, it makes me wonder, how many other right decisions could there be in a situation like this? Is there only one? I agree that unconscious and ego-driven violence is never the right reaction. However, entertain the idea of a highly trained martial artist with a very keen sense of awareness and reaction time. What if this person anticipated the assault and defended himself? Hypothetically, his reaction to block or dodge and then counter-attack might be instinctual due to training, so that would be a reaction. At that point, I feel the best response would be to let the aggressor decide whether they have learned their lesson and flee, or if they want to toe-up and continue down their wayward path to continue learning their lesson. If the aggressor chose the latter, would it be a better response for the victim to continue defending himself with strikes and counter-attacks, or by dodging and parrying until the aggressor gave up or was detained by somebody else? It's likely that the kind of person who would reap value from such a heinous act, the aggressor, would also be the kind of person who would not try it again if he instead was knocked out. That said, as Brad stated, he may also be the kind of person that would react with a higher form of violence. But remember, in this case, I'm talking about a victim who's trained to respond to these situations like a true martial artist. And I only pose it as a way to stretch our thoughts about the topic of right and wrong in this case.
May 2, 2015 at 8:56 am
Brad HartAwesome feedback Kyle! Thanks so much for the thoughtful addition to the discussion. I agree, if I were a highly trained martial artist (I am not) and I saw it coming (I did not) then I would be in a better position to respond appropriately. It's nice to fantasize and go on ad-finitum thinking the situation over in my head and how I would respond. I have in fact done that on a number of occasions in the past. It made no difference in this particular circumstance. That's not an excuse to not be as prepared as possible, however, to protect myself and my loved ones at any given time, warning given or not. It makes me want to get back into martial arts, maybe take a few more boxing classes. It's been a while and I'm rusty for sure. There's a dojo just down the street from me. I think I just might look into it this weekend. Thanks for the note!
May 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm
Kyle Del BonisMy pleasure, Brad - thanks for the thought fodder! And yes, there are a lot of great martial arts studios around the WestSide. There's Verdum on Washington if you're looking for Krav Mage, an incredibly effective grappling art I've been curious about for a while. There's also an amazing BJJ place on Lincoln between Venice and Washington -- names escaping me right now, but it's got some very well known talent running it. I'm looking forward to getting back into Muay Thai out here!
May 4, 2015 at 9:01 am
Steve LachutaThank you for sharing this Brad! It's really unfortunate in this day and age that punching a random person in the head is considered a game. :( You bring up alot of great points on even when situations arise that are greatly out of your control you can still control your response. And that really is the only thing we do have control of. Do you just react or do you choose? It's not always easy to make choices in the heat of the moment but when we do, we are always better for it. :) Be well and keep up the good work! ~Dr. Steve
May 1, 2015 at 6:47 pm
Brad HartThanks Dr. Steve! Appreciate the kind works and well wishing. You rock man! It is unfortunate that people would resort to such things to get a cheap thrill at another person's expense. I still say, all things considered, that we live in the best time in human history. Excited to see what comes next!
May 1, 2015 at 6:56 pm
John FawkesI live in San Francisco, which is full of vagrants. A few months ago, one of them was walking down Market Street with his dog, body-checked me while I was ogling this hot girl on the other side of the street, and just kept walking on. I was stunned for a second, then started following him- he was just walking away really fast, totally ignoring me. I almost caught up to him, then realized that while I could most likely take him, I didn't really know how to fight a large dog. So I went and hit on the girl I had been looking at instead. I didn't have plans like you did though, so in hindsight I should have called the police- after talking to the girl, of course.
May 1, 2015 at 6:15 am
Brad HartFocus on what's important. It might save your life, and help you find the love of your life too ;) Pro Tip for fighting dogs (I know a few police dog trainers and people who know) 1) Brace yourself so you don't get knocked over and have the dog bite your non dominant arm (it will latch and shake)-- you're going to get bit anyway, so it's best to give them a target that is not your throat. Dogs are too fast to avoid this. And the next part is kind of brutal: I'm a dog lover so before you freak out know that I would NEVER do this unless it was me or him. 2) Gouge the dogs eyes with your dominant hand to stun it, then put your dominant arm around the back of its neck, and use that as a lever to push back with the non dominant arm (the one in its mouth) to snap it's neck backward. I know. I know. Worst case scenario. Also: Hope you're wearing a coat so you don't get shredded by his teeth. Here's hoping this never ever happens. I'm staying away from junkyards at night.
May 1, 2015 at 3:44 pm
John FawkesWhoah, thanks Brad. I figured gouging the eyes had to be the right move, but I didn't think of snapping the neck straight back like that. So now I know how to fight a dog. Still doubt I could win against a dog plus a drugged-out bum though. Better stick to fighting bums with cats.
May 1, 2015 at 9:18 pm
Mike CampbellNicely put Brad. I have a very similar story. Jumped by 3 young guys down a back walk way and smacked in the face. All they demanded was my phone - a piece of shit, mind - they could have taken my wallet or who know what was in my bag. Yet the phone was it, which made me think it was clearly just an excuse to act tough and have some sort of vague significance. Afterwards most guys said "Did you fight back?" or words to that effect. To me that would have been the stupidest thing I could have done. This was in South West London, knife crime was rife, and I value so much more than 'getting one back. So I called the cops, and got pissed off that I can't walk the back way to my building without some scumbags trying to get their kicks. In the end I laughed it off that these sad kids had nothing better to focus their energy on, and that I was grateful for not living such a shit existence.
May 1, 2015 at 4:10 am
Brad HartEXACTLY. Thank you Mike. Spot on. Glad you could keep your composure. Totally not worth it to lose your cool and turn a bad situation into a worse one.
May 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm
Mike CampbellYep exactly. Some have perspective, so absolutely don't...
May 5, 2015 at 3:53 am
Ivan GonzalezI've read about this "game" before and often wonder, "what would I do in this situation?" I was in a somewhat similar confrontation before, walking down the streets of SF heading towards Market. Middle of the day with people all around me, when I spot a big group of little girls up ahead (about 7, around the age of 10-12) walking in my direction. They were being loud and obnoxious and I paid them no attention. I was looking off to my right as we crossed paths when the "alpha" leader of the group shoots her hand in my face and yells "BOO!", close enough that she hit my nose a bit. It startled me, to say the least, and got my heart rate going. They laugh and continue on their way, as do I. Afterwards, I felt embarrassed because I train in street self-defense and one of the first concepts they teach us is self-awareness. For a good while afterwards I thought how it could have been worse and am glad they weren't older and more brazen. Anyways, Brad. Great read, I'm glad it didn't escalate beyond what happened and now you have a cool story to tell when you meet girls at the bar!
April 30, 2015 at 11:44 pm
Brad HartThanks for the story Ivan. Crazy, it reminded me of another time I completely forgot. Some kid in Montreal, no older than 16, once got in my face on the street late at night to look tough in front of his pimply faced friends. I don't remember the words that were exchanged, but in the split second after he squared off on me, I remember thinking: I'm at least 10 years older than you. I have 40 lbs on you. I'm in the best shape of my life and completely sober. I would wreck you right now in front of your friends. It wouldn't even be close to a fair fight. Plus he didn't know that two of my friends were right behind me, and that one was an MMA fighter. I didn't SAY any of this. I didn't have time. Because my body reacted before my brain could. I just laughed. Hard. Cackled. Right in his face. It was so absurd that he just sheepishly backed away. Didn't have to even say anything. Wasn't planned, but it worked out better than I could have ever planned.
April 30, 2015 at 11:59 pm
BJ WhiteOutstanding Reaction Brad & Great Story!! YOU ROCK!!! Tony's UPW Event....Definitely had an Impact on YOU!! Your adding Value to others by Sharing your Experience, & that is Growth & Contribution in action! I know Too Many Men who would have had a much different experience!! :)
April 30, 2015 at 10:43 pm
Brad HartThanks BJ appreciate the love.
April 30, 2015 at 11:00 pm
KellenCongratulations on turning a negative event into such a positive one. Your story is incredibly inspiring.
April 30, 2015 at 5:23 pm
Brad HartThank you Kellen. I just honestly hope that this type of thing is brought to the forefront so that people can understand that A) it pays to be aware and B) even when bad things happen there is always something good that can come from it. Limit risk of downside but don't limit upside in the same way. Thanks for the note!
April 30, 2015 at 6:56 pm
SpringSorry this happened to you Brad but I commend you for how you're dealing with this and writing to bring awareness! Something like this actually happened to me in SF a few years back where I was a victim to a car break in and attempted robbery (with me sitting in the car). Similarly, this was on a busy street in broad daylight. My initial reaction was shock that no one else did anything, followed by being upset that I didn't react fast enough to retaliate. Eventually I came to the same realization as you - if someone else is crazy/desperate enough to do something like this then they probably have nothing to lose. Ultimately I was thankful that nothing worse happened other than a shattered window. To this day I am reminded to be more situationally aware in public because bad place and bad timing is not always avoidable and all we can do is protect ourselves when the time comes.
April 30, 2015 at 3:33 am
Brad HartThank you so much Spring for sharing your story... wow. Scary! I'm glad to hear it turned out OK and you weren't hurt. I guess I did the right thing in retrospect. I mean, it's not worth escalating the situation into something that might be really f'ed up if at all possible. Did they not realize you were in the car? Did they bail after they realized you were sitting in it?
April 30, 2015 at 3:37 am
SpringEither they didn't realize or they really needed that money. We had a tug-o-war on my laptop bag with his arm through the shattered passenger side window. Good thing I'd been working out and won that one. =)
April 30, 2015 at 10:35 pm
Shawn ButtnerThanks for sharing your story, Brad! Great message about rolling with the punches life throws at you! Could not resist, glad you are ok.
April 30, 2015 at 2:47 am
Brad HartThank you Shawn! Appreciate the pun :) I think I deserve it for sure. Someone just texted me the following and she's totally right: "The universe is telling you that you're beating yourself up. So badly that you got punched in the face for the message to get through. There is a huge lesson to be learned here. Be mindful of yourself. Be proud of the growth you have accomplished. You have created an incredible life for yourself and you have so much to be proud of."
April 30, 2015 at 3:01 am
Kyle HandleyGreat story Brad! A reminder to live at choice, even when life punches you in the face.
April 30, 2015 at 1:17 am
Brad HartHaha. Yes, @ATH_Kyle:disqus quite literally. Random acts of violence can happen to anyone at any time and people need to be aware that this goes on every day so they can be on the lookout.
April 30, 2015 at 1:35 am