Toronto: Random acts of violence

October 14th, 2014:

We were attacked by druggies in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

We were out after getting dinner and a drink. We saw some people doing fire poi so we said hello. As we started to leave, someone tackled our friend Egon. I got between them and Egon to prevent the situation from escalating and that’s when I got punched in the face and kicked in the stomach.

We slowly backed out. Alyson got between them and me and they refused to hit a girl. Meanwhile our friends had gotten out of the park – they had been shouting at us to leave “their” park. One of them was following Egon. A few people had begun to call the police. One guy threatened to “get out something sharp” if George called the police.

Someone who was shooting a film at a shop nearby let me in to clean the blood off of my face. Then someone shouted something about gasoline and the next thing we knew there was a fire in the streets.

The police arrived shortly after and subdued three men, then took our statements.

And here’s me playing Sky Force while waiting for the cops to take my statement:

I figured I needed to waste some time.
I figured I needed to waste some time.

As much as I like to pretend that I took the attack in stride, the events of that night shook me and led directly to my taking up Krav Maga. I analyzed what had happened and I realized that the only way to get an upper hand in situations like these is to understand what’s happening before it happens. Then, when it does happen, keep a level head and maintain awareness of what’s happening. If those can be achieved, the next step is directing friends to the best or safest actions.

If we had been able to recognize what was happening, we would have been much better off. While Alyson, my sister, says she remembers seeing the attackers from earlier, I had no recollection of seeing them. It made me rethink how I look at people – or whether I even really see people at all. Could we have identified them as unsavory elements beforehand and kept away from them? Perhaps. And even as the attack was occurring, I didn’t know whether or not they were part of the larger surrounding group of fire poi enthusiasts (they weren’t) or just their own gang. This was definitely a factor in my holding Egon back and backing out of the area. I wanted to keep an eye on the obvious aggressors while removing us from the situation.

Unfortunately, this also put me in front of my friends, unable to see or communicate with them. While I’m glad nobody else was hurt as badly, as I acted as a shield, it also meant that I immediately lost sight of my friends. Thinking about it later made me realize that we only ever see half of the world around us and we can only remember or focus on small parts of that at a time. I backed out of the park slowly because I didn’t want to turn my back to my attacker – a white guy, just north of  6 feet tall, long, scraggly, dirty blonde hair, unbuttoned plaid shirt – but also because I didn’t have any idea where my friends were. They had probably fled a while before I decided to turn around.

As a corollary, memory works in mysterious ways. We have unreliable memories, based on reconstructions that can be tampered with. Throw in the fact that we truly do not experience most of the world, most of the time, and what you get after a traumatic event is fragments, like pieces of a once-complete puzzle that was thrown to the floor. I had to reconstruct what exactly had happened based on several accounts, not because it was so violent that it disturbed my ability to remember, but because it blew up the narrative that we were having a fun night out on the town. I probably remember more of that night than most other nights, but I was less able to place those memories in a way that makes sense because someone attacking me does not make sense.

Another aside is that training makes a huge difference. When the white guy was attacking me, I was punched in the face a few times. I kept thinking, “is he about to hit me?” just as the punches landed. This happened three or four times. I got an idea that something was happening, but not what. Meanwhile, he also attempted a similar number of kicks, most of which I blocked without even realizing or noting it. As a tricker, I’ve trained with kicks far more than I’ve trained punches, whether throwing them or defending against them. I don’t need to analyze someone’s body mechanics to come up with the realization that they’re kicking me, I just know it’s happening. Punches, though, are quicker to fire and less familiar.

We could have also used more direction as a group. If we had been able to identify the situation beforehand, we could have avoided it altogether. If I had been in a strategic position and maintained awareness before or during the attack, I could have immediately told my friends where to go and to call the police. As it was, we fled haphazardly and I’m not sure who called the police or when, but it felt like too long after the fact.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is my own personal combativeness. It apparently takes more than someone hitting me a few times in order to trigger a violent reaction on my part. Instead, I was very reasonable, assuring them that we were leaving the park and backing away slowly. Unfortunately, reason was clearly not a language that he spoke. If I’m to be less than humble, I am extremely fit and coordinated and I could have taken any one of the 3-5 drug-addled guys in a fight. But I still didn’t even consider attacking the guy until I thought about it afterward. To be fair, I was also unconsciously factoring in the fact that we might have been outnumbered, which may have tempered my bloodthirstiness, but I was still shocked at how much of a good little sheep I was, waiting for the slaughter. I don’t know what would have happened if he had decided to use a weapon instead of his fists. So while it was good to know that I have a strong pacifist streak in me, it would have been nice to control the situation and kick some ass.

EDIT – the previous paragraph came out a bit muddled. On one hand, it’s about maintaining control. If the guy had used a knife or a gun, I could have been dead with my level of preparedness at the time. Controlling the situation lets you to prevent further violence. On the other hand, I don’t want to deny that my ego took a hit afterward. Is it silly? Yes, but I’ve been conditioned to see myself as an action hero. Also, I’m Batman. Tell your friends.

I said afterwards that it was like being in a natural disaster (mostly to justify going back to Toronto and gorging myself) in that sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, affected by factors beyond your control. But you can always train and control your own responses to those disasters. Krav Maga has been a really good lens for understanding that training and control. But the main message is this: exceptional times call for exceptional preparedness.

  • leslie

    Don’t feel bad about not being an instant action hero. As for Nui seeing the guys and remembering them, women are forced to be more observant of the people around them on a constant basis because of the possibility of aggression or harassment. You did the right thing, every step of the way. Could you learn more and do better in the event of an attack? Sure. But being a peaceful person, hard to provoke, is a blessing and a boon.

  • jyun

    stay safe bro.

  • Charlie Garcia

    I for one am extremely proud that at the time of the attack you were being aware of possible attackers that were no directly in your LOS. Most people getting knocked out in fight its an outsider party with a sucker punch or kick.

    Krav Maga is great, glad you’re assessing the aftermath in such a productive way. Do remember though, that although violence is quite common, the odds of you finding yourself in that situation again ( unless you’re looking for it ) is not very likely, so don’t put too many of your valuable time resources into it.

    You’re one of my favorite people to e-follow ^_^ I hope this doesn’t take away time from your other exploits that make you such an amazing fellow who will surely create great positive change in our future.

    Forgive, do not hold any hatred, and move on doing great things.

    • Forgive, do not hold any hatred, and move on doing great things.

      ^ This is what it’s all about. Thanks, Charlie!