Saturday Valkyrie had to deal with an assault in the neighbourhood. We intervened quickly, and as a team. It was an unpleasant interruption to the afternoon’s teaching, but these sort of things happen in life. I’ll probably write more about the incident in a later post, but for now I want to talk about some of the aspects of self-defense that never really get critically examined.

I want to talk about the bad guy.

The subject in the weekend’s play was a bad guy in that there was absolutely a victim. She was bloody and on the ground, and her main role in events seems to have been to try and stop violence between the bad guy and her partner. Bad guy hit her and she was injured and that’s pretty much all the legal we need to know. Bad guy was a bad guy in that he was angry, out of control and spoiling for a fight with anyone…when I went to intercept him he was literally frothing at the mouth, with that thick white paste of foam that saliva forms in a dry mouth.

But skipping past the action, and the successful deescalation, and I am now in the position of keeping this bad guy calm while we wait for the police to arrive. As happens, once the rage has faded and the calming down has really hit, it’s all about blame and excuses.

His point of view? He’d been kicked in the nuts, really hard. I don’t know if was before or after he struck the victim. It doesn’t matter to me. He entered her property with ill intent and I think she would be justified in kicking him in nuts in self defense at that point. Regardless, he feels victimized. I empathize with him. But it’s also a clear point in his head that he is not the bad guy, that some sort of fair exchange had taken place, that both parties were complicit…it’s not all his fault.

He kept saying “I’m an East Van guy, what was I supposed to do? I had no choice. What else could I do?” Our neighbourhood is lovely, but it’s also a tough place. Low income and the older residents grew up in a society of scraps and rebelliousness. Fighting is part of the older East Van experience (which has altered, or matured, into a powerful sense of communality these days…it’s a good neighbourhood.) and the bad guy felt trapped into that response. To his point of view, there was an earlier incident that he felt could only be coped with by a fight. In his mind, he literally saw no other way. He was compelled by his circumstances to act in the way he did.

And he wasn’t wrong. One of the reasons to constantly pursue learning in life is to discover not only new ways outside of narrow thinking, but to also discover that there is always another way. But without that pursuit of knowledge, even wisdom can only lead us to repeating the same old tired tropes. So from his world view, there was no other way.

I also felt quite bad for him. As he ran through his excuses, he suddenly remembered he was supposed to see his daughter in a few hours. He started to fixate on that as a reason that the current circumstance, and his imminent arrest, couldn’t happen…he had a thing to do in a bit that was suddenly very, very important. Deep inside him some part was starting to break at realizing that he had made a terrible mistake, and that thing was now not going to happen. Me? I was thinking that the odds were that he wasn’t going to be going back upstairs to his home for a long time. His favourite cozy chair, book, and favourite drink were going to go untouched for some time yet…and all because he felt the compulsion to act the way he did.

I felt incredibly sympathetic towards him. It was a terrible thing he was facing, and you aren’t really human if you don’t feel the same way.

I felt a lot more sympathy towards the woman who had been expecting another typical day at work, and then a nice evening off, and into comfortable habits. A woman who was now looking at a few days of painful recovery from a concussion, an afternoon in the hospital and talking to the police. And weeks, if not months, of flinching at odd moments and recalling the violence. And the coming weeks of wondering if the same guy was going to come in again, and if you were going to have to face the person who did all this to you over and over again.

And those are only a part of the stories that are going on, and will go on. My thoughts are still complicated, and mostly I have real sympathy for the police who have to deal with this kind of thing every single day, and will always feel the same kind of complicated thoughts as they deal with the crap that humans stupidly do to each other on a daily basis.

I feel strongly for the victim. I’ve been in her place and it sucks. But I also have a wish that I could take the bad guy in, in some way, and show him how to break out of his rut of thinking, and make better decisions in life. Both the bad guy and the victim would happily swap the weekends experience for a boring normal weekend instead. I have no doubt of that. But it’s a sad reality of life that many of us are not able to see that possibility before we make our choices…and sometimes we are subjected to someone else’s choice.

The fantasy of self-defense is doing the right thing, the right way, the right time against the right person…but that’s a fantasy. Real life is more nuanced. It’s important that our training prepare us to see all the possibilities, but also that it prepare us for circumstances were there are no other possibilities than action. And it should also prepare us for the entanglements of emotion and community that occur after.