For the record I've only ever had one physical confrontation in my life (in second grade and a girl named Terry Daniels got upset with me for some reason or another; she puled my hair so hard it made me cry, so I yanked hers back, made her cry and that was the end of it). That was all before this morning.
Because my son's college tuition deposit to whichever institution of higher education he chooses will be due in four short months, I've taken a few side gigs to help squirrel away a couple of extra dollars to pad the 529 account that took a bit of a hit when the economy dipped. My morning job is a before-school program for parents whose work hours start before their children's school days do. For two hours each weekday, I play board games, draw and read to/with a few kids before their school days begins. Our time together ends when I drive them from the activity center we meet in to their bus stop.
This morning, my own son missed his school bus. Dropping him off at the high school made me 10 minutes late getting to the activity center. When I arrived, a very angry parent who almost never drops his kids off was waiting. The two kids - ages 8 and 5 - were just inside the door while dad was outside with a cell phone stuck to his ear. I pulled up to the door and waved to him before lowering my window and apologizing for being late. Before I could even tell him why, he started screaming at me, called me a bitch and told me that since he paid a lot of effin' money for the program - and hence, paid my salary - I should effin' get there on time. He then walked over to my car, stuck his finger in my driver's side window to wave it in my face and continue to berate me for jacking up his day - all while his children watched from about 10 feet away.
This past Christmas, Sensei S. bought everyone in the dojo metal kubatons. We've had a class or two on using them and since they came attached to a sturdy key ring, I keep mine on clipped to my house and car keys. After psychotic dad called me a bitch the second time, I have to tell you the thought of sliding the kubaton off my key ring and shoving it right into his windpipe most definitely crossed my mind - but instead of acting on that, I asked him if he would please move away so I could back my car into a parking space. He refused and actually moved to the back door of the vehicle, stuck his foot under my rear tire and dared me to move. Yeah - exactly...
It occurred to me that I had three choices at that point: run over his foot, get out of the car to try out an ippon combo I learned last night or chill and figure out how to get this idiot away from me as fast as possible. I put my window up, locked my car doors and reached for my phone. Calling the police was my plan, but, probably thinking I was either calling 911 or getting out of my car to move him out of the way, he motioned to his children, got in his car and drove off. I was so upset, I was literally shaking.
After I calmed down and called my boss to let her know what happened, I contacted Sensei S. and told him that I almost had to make use of his Christmas gift today. Once he assured me that I did the right thing by avoiding a conflict, he reminded me that yoking an unarmed (albeit angry) man with a weapon would probably net a legal issue. Like me, dad had choices - and he chose to walk away. Had he taken a different route, I would have been prepared, Sensei said, to defend myself.
The adage that there is no "first strike" in karate rings in my head now and I know Sensei is right, but I hafta tell you that I felt very vulnerable sitting there waiting for him to either stop the foolishness or make a definitive move. I did feel threatened, but there wasn't really anything I could do about it.
But there's something else I felt, too: how easy it is for a "situation" to spiral out of control. Everything happened so fast! If he would have reached into the car to grab, hit or even spit on me, I would have had a reason to do something. But because he didn't, I couldn't.
A non-martial artist friend commended me on taking what he called the high road. "You're a better person than I am, because I would have hit him as soon as he stuck his body too close to mine," he said. I'd probably be explaining all this at the town police station right now if I'd done that, I bet. The reality is that I had no control over how the angry person would act. I guess all I an ever do have control over is how I react to it.
What would you have done?