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Freeze, Fight or Flight: The Self-Defense Reality


You're walking back to your apartment by yourself after a night out with friends. Midway home you encounter someone watching you from their car. After a few minutes you notice that vehicle is following you. As you get closer to home the car speeds up until it's on you and slams on the brakes. Out comes a stranger who charges to attack. You drop into your fighting stance and prepare to defend yourself. All of your training had led up to this moment.


Scary, right? Some people might even think it's exciting. A majority of people take up martial arts or self-defense training for exactly this type of scenario. However, as scary or exciting as it may sound, what happened to me that night was terrifying, and changed the way I looked at my martial arts training.



The year was 1990 and I was almost 20 years old. Living on the north side of Chicago near Broadway & Surf, it was the first time being out on my own. I shared an apartment with a co-worker during that time. That area of the city was always alive with something to do around every turn. Going to nightclubs was the standard on the weekends, typically on Friday or Saturday nights. It was a blast and we always had fun.


One Sunday night some friends and I decided to go hang at a nightclub called Medusa's. It was an off-night for that type of thing, but we had a good time nonetheless. Eventually, I left and began walking back to my apartment. Normally the walk was about 15 minutes depending on the route. However, there were a few alleys we'd cut through that would save some time.


As I walked down Clark St I came to a point where we normally crossed the road to head east down Brown St. That street had brownstones and trees on either side of the roadway, and was what I remembered as being more residential. When I crossed the street something caught my eye. Someone was watching me from their car via their driver's side mirror. How I even noticed it I don't know, but this person was glaring at me.


It's said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. If that's true then what I witnessed in that moment was pure hatred. That man's eyes broadcasted his disdain for me with every fiber of his being, and we didn't even know each other. Who was this individual sitting in his vehicle watching me cross the street? Why did he look so angry, or why would he want to hurt me or worse?


I told myself that once I crossed the road and got to the corner of the building I'd be out of site and safe. However, right as I crossed the street and landed on the sidewalk I looked over my shoulder and saw the car start up and the headlights turn on. I RAN...as fast as my legs would go. There was at least five seconds before I saw the headlights of his vehicle begin driving down that street. Fortunately for me I had a plan.


Now most people believe that they would be able to handle a situation like this, including myself. I mean, remember that I was almost 20 years old, a grown man out on my own, already training in martial arts for years, and was very fit and physically active. NONE OF THAT MATTERED! My family wasn't there to save me. My friends weren't there to back me up. It was almost midnight, I was all alone and in a neighborhood I barely knew. Strangely this guy was chasing me in his car and I had no idea why. Was there another person with him? Did he have a weapon? I had to hide and figure out my next move.


As I came up on one of our alley shortcuts I thought about taking that route. However, I figured this guy would think that was where I went. Suddenly, I remembered there was a very dark alcove on the opposite side of the house next to that alley. So I hid between the buildings, crouched down behind a bush, with my back up against the wall waiting for him to take the bait. I was wrong.




What I didn't count on was his intent on finding me. The vehicle pulled up so it was lined up directly across from the space where I was hiding. As I crouched there I knew he was staring right at me. I kept my gaze facing away from him so he wouldn't cue in on my eyes. Thus, I never got a good look at him. We both sat motionless for about 20 seconds or so, but I could hear him talking to himself.


I have never been more scared. If this guy got out of his car I would most likely have to engage him. This wouldn't be a martial arts "duel" scenario where we slap and tap. We wouldn't be sparring, and there wouldn't be a referee to break up the action. In fact, there would be no one there accept us. This predator would most likely have something with him to subdue me. This would be a zero-sum situation and I would have to go completely primal. I wasn't ending up in his vehicle.


Fortunately for me, he must have decided that I went down the alley. The vehicle eventually reversed and then turned to drive into the alley. I remainded in my spot for another couple of minutes until I mustered up the courage to continue moving. Though I had my head on a swivel the entire time I eventually made it home unscathed.



So, when it comes to self-defense, or more appropriately a violent encounter, we have a decision to make...freeze, fight or flight. Most times you have seconds to make that determination. Freezing could have been completely detrimental to my wellbeing. Fighting was definitely something I could have done, and would have done, if it came to it. But again, this wouldn't have been sparring or rolling. It would have been much more serious than that. Plus, survival instincts really overrode my desire to fight a complete stranger whose intent was unclear to me. So I chose the one option I knew I could use to my advantage. Flight.


Understand that the "freeze, fight or flight" mechanism within us can be summed up in one word... fear. It's that fear of the unknown that determines our actions in the moment something happens. Knowing the difference between a social "dueling" situation vs an asocial "fight for your life" encounter is paramount. Scenario training and skill set development helps mitigate the fear one feels when involved in an unknown, high stress situation. In my opinion, this should be intelligently incorporated into our training.



Writing about these three incidents over the last couple of weeks has brought up some uncomfortable memories. Unfortunately, the reality is there are people in this world that simply look at things differently than the vast majority of others around them. There's something "evil" that drives their malicious intent towards humans amongst them. Being involved with one these individuals isn't a possibility more than it is a probability. Be prepared or be a statistic.


Chris Mikuta

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