In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie I saw when I was 10 and love to this day, the main character gets through some ridiculously dangerous situations, not by power, strength or cunning but blind luck.
Think for example of the scene when he chases a truck containing about 10 heavily armed soldiers…on a horse. He successfully removes everyone from the vehicle and drives the lost ark back to the good guys.
Thing is he wasn’t Superman.
He caught the driver by surprise, overpowered the passenger and dislodged some of the others by some creative driving into trees and walls. The final scrap is with a huge hulking Nazi, a fight Indiana only wins because he has his bullwhip with him.
Earlier he fights an even bigger Nazi underneath a plane spinning on its axis on the runway. He wins that fight solely through the convenient timing of a propeller and his opponent apparently being both deaf and having the reflexes of a sloth.
Which brings me to my point.
The other night I was watching the utterly splendid cop show Luther. The opening scene had a psycho walk into a petrol station forecourt and vandalise cars while the frightened customers were locked inside the shop. That is until he began vandalising a car whose owner demanded the cashier let him out in order to confront the guy. The guy turned out to be even nastier than expected, blinding one intervener with acid from a water pistol and clubbing another one to death with a baseball bat.
When I was a Special Constable with City of London Police from 2004 to 2006 I had several arguments with my supervisor/ Section Officer. These rows were about my “intervening” in off duty incidents. I didn’t actively look for stuff to intervene in, but for some reason shit would happen when I was cycling home, quietly reading a book on the train or even in a supermarket. All were at the very least aggressive and all ended amicably. My SO decided that I “enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of being a hero just a little too much” and suspended my free travel for 3 months in order to keep me in line.
At the time I was incredibly angry about this. The incident he cited as cementing his decision involved a crying middle aged woman being harassed by a drunk on a train. I had asked her to leave the poor cow alone and her friends got verbally nasty and then got bored and wandered off.
I felt each time that I had intervened appropriately and that if I hadn’t stood up for these people then who the hell would have?!!
I STILL feel that way but now I can see a little clearer just where my S.O was coming from when he made that decision.
We are still mates today and even though I fundamentally disagreed with what he did, I realised that he did it because he was trying to protect me and was genuinely afraid I’d get hurt as I was (in his words) “too gung-ho”.
Problem was I couldn’t see WHY he’d made that decision.
After seeing the acid water pistol in Luther I now see exactly what he meant.
My interventions were nearly always with me standing (or on one occasion jumping) between people and either asking or yelling at them to calm down. Some of them were drunk and some were even fighting. I once helped a security guard at Brixton’s Iceland subdue a shoplifter. Thing is he was trying like fuck to get away so we all ended up spinning out into the main road.
Nothing bad ever happened…but it could quite easily have done.
In my Krav Maga lessons we are taught that running away, IF you can do it, is the PRIMARY option in any confrontation. Forget macho posturing or even Standing Your Ground…if you can get away then run like hell.
Problem is that this is hard to put in practice as it means you have to swallow your pride.
But I digress…
In the Indiana Jones movies the hero is an ordinary man with extraordinary luck. He is fired at by multiple guys with machine guns but all the bullets miss. He is shot at by a dozen archers at the same time, but all the arrows fall short or thunk into the wooden bridge next to his head. He rolls through doors as they’re closing and always manages to get through (even reaching back for his hat or whip) before they either seal him in, or squash him.
I had Indiana Jones’s luck for a long time but it wasn’t for winning fights. It was instead keeping me from getting beaten up, glassed, stabbed or killed. No one raised a fist to me when I intervened but the problem was that it installed in my sub conscious a belief in my own infallibility and invulnerability. I was the guy who intervened. I was on the path of the Good and would put myself in harm’s way.
My Section Officer had been a cop a lot longer than me and realised just how dangerous this sort of thing can be. In the UK the rules around Health and Safety and professional etiquette for cops are ridiculous and cowardly. Self defence training is used only to show moves that won’t get the Force sued if someone is arrested and gets their arm broken. Fuck officer safety, keeping the Chief Constable/ Commissioner’s budget secure is what matters.
At the time I believed that a guy I liked and respected was withdrawing my free travel on London public transport solely to adhere to these shitty rules. Looking back on it, I now believe he genuinely cared about my welfare and was scared that the gung ho, Indiana Jones on his Section would be spending the rest of his life with a guide dog after weighing up to an aggressive drunk who happened to have a can of drain cleaner in his jacket pocket.
People don’t think the worst will ever happen to them. People see bad things happen and their brains don’t process it (as this video proves). I wanted to be the hero that wasn’t there for normal people.
In the end, all I was, was extremely lucky.