The following is an excerpt from chapter 2 of Locked On: Focused Training for the Modern Warrior. I've been getting non-stop feedback about the book and am very humbled by what I'm hearing. The praise and constructive criticism are keeping me motivated, focused and determined to train harder and share as many experiences as possible!
If you haven't seen it already, you can find information on the book and also download the first chapter for free right here to see if it's something you might enjoy. If you like reading the blog and have any interest in training or violent fight stories I think you might like it.
This particular chapter focuses on achieving clarity in chaos and how to simulate that in your training. If you address it in your training and reflect on your results, you'll almost go into a combative auto-pilot when in crisis mode. When there's no time for thought, you'll perform what has always worked best for you. How you train is how you fight.
And enough of me explaining! Here it is...
“The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”
The night had turned into chaos. I was working as private security for a group of people visiting the city on vacation. Or so I thought. It turns out, “security” to them meant that they would attack anyone they didn’t like and expect me to finish the job. They only let me bring one guy from my team of usual co-workers and paired us up with some eye-lowering psychopaths. I remember my only thought when meeting them: “thank God they’re on our side.”
On paper, the job was to go to a show in a small venue where they had reserved a balcony VIP area. My only job was to shadow one of the big shots in the group. Each member of this group had a security person assigned to them. The in-house security would handle the exits and make sure we weren’t disturbed. My hopes were for an uneventful night of drinking a little of their champagne and looking mean. I realized right away that I wasn’t going to get the easy gig I had hoped for. I broke my own sacred rule of freelance security: don’t take a client without references. I had no idea who these guys were and took the job anyway. Stupid. From coat-check to the bar, a distance of maybe 20 feet, I had to diffuse FOUR near-conflicts! Not a good sign…
When we got to the closed-off private section, I felt a little relieved that they were separated from the rest of the crowd. I figured if I could keep them contained we should be fine. I tipped all the waitresses and busboys generously to make sure that the ice stayed frozen, the drinks came regularly and, most importantly, that any unused glass objects be removed frequently (a trick from my sensei who had helped me prep for that job, thanks again Kevin!). A few bottles later and all my precautions would be thrown out the window. Fights among themselves started to erupt, which prompted the venue’s security team to intervene, which made the other “security” gorillas jump in and, of course, also meant that we had to fix the whole situation. Lots of restraining and verbal de-escalation and the next few hours would have random flare ups like this, but nothing more. That’s when things really got crazy. Someone in the general crowd had pulled a gun and the performer on stage saw it. In a panic, he yelled “Gun!” into the microphone while getting rushed off the stage by his bodyguards.
The crowd started to go crazy, naturally, as everyone was scrambling for the exit. I told everyone to stay in the VIP area because there was only one way in and we could guard it until things cooled down. Somehow, they took that as confirmation that we were invincible in our fortress and that they should start throwing empty glass bottles at the crowd from our balcony. Our other security partners had run out the second things got hairy and I could see them fighting with the bouncers who had been in our area earlier. Good job, guys. The next day, the news would report that there were “shots fired” at that show, but at the time I had told everyone to stay low without knowing for sure if there was any shooting going on. I knew that there was a chance and, even if there wasn’t, it kept them from throwing things at the crowd.
Suddenly, crystal clear focus came to me and I realized that I didn’t care about this contract anymore. All I knew then was that I was going to get home that night, get my friend home that night and not get shot. These were the only sure things in my life at that moment. I peeked out of the door and saw an angry mob heading toward our section. Who could blame them? Realizing that we were grossly outnumbered, I started scanning the crowd for those other two idiots, who were supposed to be security also. I found them, getting the shit stomped out of them by a large group of bouncers who decided that was more important than helping the crowd. Past them I saw a door. It was an emergency exit in a dark corner that no one seemed to realize was there. That was also my ticket home. I pointed it out to my partner and told him to run for it, grabbed the person I was shadowing (my partner grabbed his also) and ran for the door holding my client’s head like a football. The angry crowd had caught up to us by then and so it took some punching and elbowing to get through, but I knew if I could just keep moving forward I could get out. I hate winter, but I’ll never forget the moment of pure relief when that cold winter air hit my lungs and I knew I was safe. I even let myself think that my night was over for a moment there. So close…
After doing a quick head count we realized that we didn’t all make it out. I told them that there was no way I was going back for the other two nut jobs and that there was no hope for them now. My client then informed me that his little brother was still in there and that he was just a fifteen year old kid. They had been bribing the bouncers all night to let him stay and he was somewhere inside. I knew that I wanted to go home that night, but I realized that that kid probably did too. I’ll never know why I went back in but I did. Our emergency exit was locked from the outside so I had to go around the building, back through the front door and head first back into the riot with no idea of where this kid would be.
When I got back in, I immediately looked up at the balcony that we were in earlier, but there was no one there. The place was going insane and I felt like a fish swimming against a strong current. Every ounce of my being wanted to turn around and leave, but my focus had changed and I really wanted to get that kid out of there. Punching and elbowing through the crowd, some new faces and some familiar, I somehow spotted who I was looking for. By pure luck I just happened to look at the stage and saw him there, pinned against the front of the stage, frozen in terror. Poor guy. At this point I was covered in cuts and bruises and my shirt was ripped, but there wasn’t a scratch on the young man I came back for. I worked my way toward him, ducking flying bottles and unseen things whizzing past my head and made contact with him. He looked at me with watery and vacant eyes and I simply asked him if he wanted to get out of there and he just nodded slowly. At least he was somewhat with me. He was going to have some post-traumatic stress from this for sure, but the important thing was that he was going to be ok. I hoped.
(Ironically, this event would lead to my own experience with some post-traumatic stress, when I would later learn more details about the night)
After being chased around by my many unhappy followers, we made it out for a second time. There was a lot of ducking things in the air and using human bodies to push through congestion points, but we were home free. I found a nearby strip club to bring the tourists to, collected my pay and went home. I obviously never worked for those sociopaths again and never found out what happened to the hired help that had been with us but I did find out that that performer would never come back to my city after that night. I would meditate and reflect on the moment that I knew I was going to be ok for a long time after that night. I had never experienced anything like it. There was a clarity in the middle of my panic, I saw myself lying down in my bed and reverse-engineered the events of the night to make sure it ended that way. I knew what I wanted and an action plan formed itself, seemingly on its own. Some focus, determination and a little dumb luck and we were all safe.
Years later, celebrating my close friend’s return from Afghanistan over beers, I would be telling him this story, laughing about how crazy people can be in a crisis. He stopped me when I told him that I had to duck flying objects and loud whizzing sounds in the air. He explained to me that those could have been bullets. I laughed into my beer and he, with an uncharacteristically serious face, told me that when a bullet passes within three feet of your head you hear a loud whizzing sound. He told me that he had heard that sound overseas a number of times and that I described it exactly how he remembered it. We both drank quietly for a long time after that. I didn’t sleep for weeks. Instead, during those sleepless nights, I would meditate on whether or not I would have been able to stay so focused if I really understood the implications of the threat. I’ll never know for sure, but you can bet that I still meditate on this regularly. Stay sharp, stay alert, stay alive.
And there you have it. This chapter was carefully selected based on the kind of feedback I've been getting about the book. There are much worse stories and many more training tactics included, but I thought I would share this one in particular as readers have said that they appreciate the insight of what it felt like to be in a violent crisis.
Please feel free to share your thoughts. Feedback, both good and bad, is always appreciated! If you have any questions feel free to message me here, on Facebook, on Twitter, via email or any other way you might know.
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