The Most Amazing Fight I Ever Witnessed

One day, a menacing man entered my Taekwon-do school in New York City during class. He was carrying a broom stick and talking incoherently. He smelled like a port-o-potty after an NFL football game and he was clearly on drugs. My instructor was the first person to become aware of his presence and he moved quickly to address the situation.

Eager to see my instructor in action, I assumed a bone crushing kick or punch were imminent. My instructor easily won the fight with a powerful technique. After that day, I held a new respect for this skill and am now more aware of its use and presence than ever before. I practice this technique daily and cannot count the number of fights I have won thanks to my ability to use it well. A kick, a punch, a submission hold – these are what we think of as martial arts techniques but none of these are the technique my master utilized this day when he was clearly under attack from a dangerous person.

The technique he used was the first tenet of taekwon-do: Courtesy.

As the man stood mumbling “Come on, you’re so tough, show me”, my master stood with his hands gently at his side with the palms up. His body was relaxed and calm. I heard him say the same 3 phrases over and over for about 4 minutes.

“Please go.”

“Please, there is nothing here for you.”

“I’m sorry. Please go now.”

My master’s voice was quiet, respectful, empathetic, and gentle. I stood dumbfounded wondering if this would work. After 2 minutes, the attacker was confused because this was not the response he expected. He wasn’t sure why a fight hadn’t erupted. He picked up his stick and gestured again. My master took a deep breath, looked the man in the eye and repeated the same sentences.

“We can’t help you”

“Please go now”

“There is nothing here for you”

Eventually, the man realized there would be no fighting. He realized he had made a mistake in coming to our school. My instructor’s calmness produced calmness in the attacker as I witnessed his shoulders relax and his breathing slow. Finally, the man turned and slowly walked out the door.

Afterward, I was left considering the various ways in which this situation could have played itself out. I had heard stories of bullies coming into our school and my master having them on the mat begging for mercy. I knew that my master had the physical capability to hurt this man or take him physically into submission.

Had he raised his voice or threatened the man, I believe the tension would have escalated and violence would have erupted. If violence had occurred, I’m sure the police and an ambulance would have been called. My master taught us all a tremendous lesson that day in self-control and courtesy. I believe it was the empathy, respect, and courtesy in my master’s voice and mannerisms which ultimately led to the peaceful exit of the attacker.

Each day, there is potential for a fight or altercation. It might be on the phone with customer service or in line for movie tickets. Shamefully, I admit it took me almost 3 years to realize how frequently my master uses the words “please, thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry”. The words are small and they cost nothing but they are some of the most powerful words I can use during a stressful moment. In class, it is very subtle, but the example of my master has carried over into the lives of his students. Courtesy, consideration, empathy, and genuine respect for all persons is a very powerful weapon in the daily fight to survive.

Like any technique, this is a skill which must be taught, practiced with discipline, and mastered before it is truly useful. In the dojang, we use the words “Sir” and “Ma’am”. Very often, Americans are surprised to be addressed this way. However, I have been doing so for years and find that it breeds nothing but positive results. I encourage you to look for opportunities to use courtesy in your daily life and see the results it brings about. Once the skill is practiced and mastered, it may serve you well in a threatening situation as it did that day with my master.

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