It was a typical late afternoon subway ride, at 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday. I got on the C train at 23rd going downtown. The train was almost full of seated passengers and a handful of people were standing. A man came onto the train with a large black canvas bag, and the telltale white cords of an iPod in his ears. He stood directly across from where I was seated, near the train door he entered. He proceeded to rummage around in his bag vigorously, which seemed to be filled with something large, wrapped in white plastic bags. A brief thought passed through my mind – the reminder to alert the MTA if you see any suspicious bags. He occasionally mumbled something – not too loud but nothing he said made sense so it’s wasn’t the words to the song. He briefly was quiet, then, suddenly, started shouting much of the same, nonsensical stuff but now it sounded like a rant. The train stopped and I bolted out of my seat and towards the next train car’s open door. He was just too close, too loud, too strange, and now I really didn’t like my initial thought about the way he was pawing through his bag.
The train doors remained open at the 14th Street station. I was nearly at the door to the next train car, perhaps 6 feet away, weaving though slower-moving folks near the edge of the platform for the next train. I could hear him yelling, “She ran out of the train because of me!” Then he yelled repeatedly, “Why did you run out of the train into the next car?” He ran out of the other car and caught up right behind me. I hoped to make it through the crowd and through the closing train door before he caught up. However, the doors were still being held, and I was about 3 steps into the car when I heard him, closer, still yelling to me. He made it in right behind me. I wheeled around and without thought or conscious direction my body was in ready position. It felt as if I looked over my shoulder, pivoted 180 degrees, and got my hands up simultaneously and in less than a second. That all felt good, but I was not at all happy that he was yelling and that he ran after me.
In what felt like an out-of-body experience, combined with hyper-consciousness of the expression on his face, I snapped into taking charge of the situation before he decided to do more than continue his rant directed at me. Out of my mouth, again without any conscious directing of my voice, are the words, “Stop. Back up.” Gosh, it is just like what other graduates say when they tell their own success stories and describe just having the training flow right out of them automatically. In the moment I was so pleased my voice didn’t catch or fail to work. I said, “Back up” over and over, perhaps a half a dozen times. He gradually seemed to ease out of his aggressive demeanor into less tension and perhaps towards a decision not to persist with me. I was conscious of pausing between each iteration and making sure my voice wasn’t aggressive, just firm and directive. I was also very conscious of how quiet the train was and how much I wanted to turn around to look at people’s faces, just out of curiosity. I fleetingly considered dropping my packages, then thought “I won’t have to drop my bags to physical defend myself.” The train doors were still open and his attention moved towards the open door. He could still exit. He finally said, “And so I will.” I found a seat and sat down. Not a single person said a word. No one asked if I was OK.
I thought to myself that I would never be flip again when someone asks me if I ever used my Prepare training in “real life.” Of course, boundary setting and clear directive language are a part of daily life in NY and I often say so. What I think people want to know is, have I ever had to use physical resistance skills* and strike someone to end an attack? Maybe they just want to know if under pressure I could do what I do so comfortably in the classroom. Or, perhaps they just want to be assured that these skills can be successful in fending off a dangerous situation. That situation, being chased from train car to train car by a ranting man, felt very threatening. I was very grateful that I had the ability to ward him off, without a single strike and without any assistance from a train full of passengers who witnessed him yelling at me and chasing me. I can still happily say I have never had to deliver a blow, but I know that under the fear and danger of a real life situation, my Prepare skills are there for me.
* Note: I like the more expansive definition of physical resistance that includes anything you do with your body to keep yourself safe. I used stance, breath, voice, visual awareness, and trusted my gut feeling.
Copyright 2005 Karen Chasen, Instructor