Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff’s post on harassment got me to thinking about self defense in general, so I decided that today’s post should be a flash memoir about a time I defended myself on the street. This appeared in my collection Flashes of Illumination.
The Adams-Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C., is noted for its booming nightlife, but get a block or so off Columbia Road and it becomes a quiet residential area. One night about 10 PM I was walking home alone through those deserted streets. Everyone else had already retired for the night; I saw neither other pedestrians nor even cars. The streetlights worked, but the light was filtered by the abundant trees and bushes in the well-kept yards.
About halfway home, I heard – or felt – someone behind me, and looked back to see a young man about three-quarters of a block away. Something about him bothered me – perhaps only his presence when no one else was around – so I picked up my pace.
A block later, as I was walking past a tall, thick hedge and so close to home that I could see the well-lit front steps of my apartment building in the distance, a man suddenly appeared in front of me: A large man, over six feet, with a husky build. I had no idea where he had come from.
He stood directly in front of me in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking my way. His hands were raised and in his right he held a small pocketknife, blade open. He mumbled something at me. I didn’t understand him, but I was sure about one thing: He meant me harm.
Time slowed down. I had all the time in the world to figure out what to do. I remembered the young man behind me. He might be in league with my attacker, so I couldn’t turn and run. The only safe place was on the other side of this large man. I had to get around him. He stood there, the front of his body completely open, and I thought, “This man wants me to kick him in the groin.”
Back when this happened, I didn’t have a black belt. I didn’t even have a green belt yet. I was a raw beginner in the martial arts, with about a year of karate training and no particular gift for the art.
But I knew how to block and kick and punch, and I knew a target when I saw one.
So I flung my left arm up to block his right – in case he struck down with his little knife – and I kicked him straight in the groin. Not very hard – he didn’t fall down – but hard enough so that he hunched over and moved back.
That gave me enough room to get around him and I took advantage of it. I ran all out, faster than I’d ever run before, all the way to my front door. It was only when I was standing there under the bright entrance lights, panting for breath, my hands shaking as I fumbled for my keys, that I dared to look back. The man hadn’t followed.
I had saved myself.