One of the best things about learning a martial art is that the traditional teaching methods drill certain moves into the pupil's body and brain and make them second nature. In other words, when you need to defend yourself you don't have to think, OK, now I grab his shirt and pull this way and then stick out my leg and sweep. You just do it. This came in handy for a UNIS classmate who was spending her lunch break in a tiny plaza across the bridge linking the Manhattan campus to the other side of FDR Drive. She told me that she was accosted by two or three young thugs, one of whom grabbed her from behind. Without even thinking about it, she threw him over her shoulder and ran back to the school, leaving the would-be robbers too stunned to chase after her. Fortunately, she didn't have to run far!
I had a similar experience, but it wasn't with muggers - just an overly eager would-be lover. This happened in London, a few months after I graduated from UNIS and began reading Anglo-Saxon Archaeology at University College. I had met a good-looking young Kurd at the student union and we were on our second date. I should have known that it would not end well because of a "portent" as I was crossing Leicester Square to meet him at the cinema - my glasses were suddenly hit with white pigeon dung, square on the right lens.
My date wanted to "make out" at the cinema, but I fended him off politely, trying to explain that I had no objection to kissing him but I really wanted to watch the film. He must have felt frustrated - or taken literally my suggestion that he had some kisses coming - because afterwards, as we were walking down a street parallel to Leicester Square, he grabbed me from behind. It didn't feel affectionate or playful. My reaction was entirely spontaneous - to this day, I'm not sure what I did. Suddenly, there he was on the ground in front of me, staring up with a shocked look on his face. I walked off as fast as I could, and never saw him again. I can't remember another time when Judo came to my rescue, but years later, Capoeira would instill reactions that would have made Bruce Lee proud. But more about that in a future post.