October 28, 2010

El Peatón

The tone of this blog has been rather abstract, literary and full of densely layered psychological and symbolic meaning. I intend to inject some action into these paragraphs with an incident that I have alluded to in recent postings but never divulged fully. I am omitting certain key details, such as exactly where and exactly when the incident took place and the reason for these omissions will become obvious as you read this account. Anonymity and a delicate dose of fiction, as I mentioned in my previous posting, can be an effective shield. If the story is to be told, it must be from under that shield. I was inspired to share this story from editorials I read in two separate newspapers here in Bogotá today, each lamenting the dangers of the pedestrian bridges around the city and the numerous robberies and violent assaults that take place there each night after the sun goes down. El Tiempo hasn’t posted today’s editorials in their web archive yet, but here is a related story of a women being robbed, beaten and stabbed on a pedestrian bridge not far from here.
http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-7737054Now that I have set the context, let us begin the story.

I take the Transmilenio everyday as I move about the city. I practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at night, I have friends who live on the other side of the city from whose homes I sometimes return at night, and I have been out later for job interviews several times. The area where the Transmilenio, that hybrid metro-bus system, let’s me off late at night when there is limited service is what has seemed most dangerous as the streets are dark, trash strewn and populated by an odd cast of ugly hookers, drug addled vagrants and petty criminals hustling what they can. But ironically it wasn’t through one of these slums that violence found me this night, it was late at night on a pedestrian bridge near the Transmilenio. These pedestrian bridges, frequent ambush zones, as the news article attest, are high in the center to accommodate the largest vehicles, and have long ramps on the side that wind back and forth. The perfect site for an armed robbery.

I am moderately vigilant during the day but I am hyper-vigilant when I walk at night. I saw the man on the bridge in front of me before I got on and I suspected he might be trouble before I got close. I also saw the two men behind me and took note of their quick pace as they rushed to catch up to me as I made my way across the bridge. As I had reached the top of the bridge but had not yet crossed the road, the man already on the bridge moved to intercept me as his two accomplices neared from the other direction. They had me at a choke point. The drop was maybe thirty feet to a paved sidewalk area below. Few vehicles pass this point at night and even those that did would be in little position to notice much less help thwart any crimes happening above them. We were as alone as we could be in a city of eight million inhabitants.

My reaction to threatening individuals on the street has been to watch their hands for weapons. Usually, the only object I spot is a bottle or a cell phone, but not this night. The man in front now had a knife in his hand and a quick glance behind me revealed another knife in the hands of one of those two men. My own knife, a 3 inch iodized black Benchmade folder that will lock open with a snap of the wrist, was clipped to my pocket. I never go anywhere in this city without it.

In my front right pocket I had my wallet with my credit cards. In my back left pocket, I kept a second wallet with an empty Visa debit card and a thousand peso note, in the hope that I could someday satisfy or distract a thief with it. I did not like the odds I was up against on this night. I looked at their faces and I didn’t see the fear that I often see in the faces of such people who are about to commit some crime. They were not new to this. Their faces said to me “we have done this before, we have stabbed and robbed men for far less and your blood matters not to us”. I had little doubt that they would injure or kill me if given the chance. I did not intent to give them that chance. Perhaps I am foolish or just unwise, but I don’t feel much fear in these situations and I never panic. My thinking becomes very cool, quick and calculated in these moments of urgency. I feel stronger and the expectation of violence feels almost pleasurable sometimes. I am not sure which should be more frightening in reality, this feeling within myself or the danger around me.

All three of them were almost on me, but their pace had slowed. I didn’t wait for them to ask for my money, I announced it, as I reached into my back pocket for the decoy wallet. “Voy a sacar mi cartera… aquí está…” –I am going to take out my wallet… here it is… -- I said to them as I produced my wallet and offered it to the unarmed man. My other hand had already palmed out my knife and my thumb was in the hole that snaps it open in an instant. Their attention was on my wallet at the moment though, and not on the blacked black that was concealed in my right hand.

I held to him lower than we comfortable, which compelled him to bend forward to reach for it. Both of his companions were close by with their weapons in my direction, but for a moment the unarmed man was between us. As he bent forward to take the wallet from my outstretched hand, I snapped my own knife out and twisting my entire upper body around, bringing my blade with my arm in a whip-like motion that caught him across the throat. The blade of my knife cut deep into his throat from one side to the other and his veins and arteries were wide open before he knew what had happened. A single spurt of blood shot to one side at first, then as the pressure dropped an instant later, the entire front of his throat just poured blood. I did not have time to contemplate the vacant look of shock in his eyes as he clutched his neck and fell forward. I moved quickly enough to avoid him and the blood as well as I could.

The other two men were obviously the more dangerous. One of them was momentarily blocked by the body of the thief whose throat I had just slit, so I moved to disable the other man first. When facing a knife, you can either fight at a distance and attempt to cut his knife hand every time he enters to attack your center of mass, or you can close the distance and engage him from inside. The first option requires patience and space, neither of which I had. So I closed the distance before he could put his weapon to use. When closing the distance on an opponent wielding a knife, the most important detail is whether his knife arm is on the inside or the outside of your body. Either way presents options for effective counters, but they are different. In this case, I charged at his center so that his knife hand was to the left of my body. Judo is a martial art that focuses on the use of leverage and balance to control and ultimately through an opponent. Judo is normally practiced in a heavy uniform ideal for gripping. This man was wearing the next best thing: a leather jacket. I switched my own knife to my left hand as I closed with him, leaving my right hand free to grab his jacket lapel. My other hand, now holding the knife loosely, just had to block his knife and guide his knife arm to complete the throw. The throw I performed is called

morote soei nage.

By pulling his lapel strongly towards me, turning my back to him, dropping to a squatting position while pulling him over my shoulder, I succeeded in pulling him completely over top of me. I had done this throw thousands upon thousands of times on the mats while training in judo and had some success with it in tournaments as well. The difference being that in this case when my opponent was pulled over my head he didn’t slap the mat below us. I finished the throw facing the edge of the bridge and the man in the leather jacket continued in a parabolic arc over the end. I didn’t watch him hit the pavement thirty feet below, but I heard a sickening thwak as what I later imagined was his face slamming into the ground. Only maybe five or six seconds had passed in total, but now the odds were much more in my favor.

I ended in a position to now face the third attacker, who was on my other side. I rushed into him before he could slash or stab effectively with his knife. I was on his outside this time though, in contrast to the first man. I did what is known as “jamming” him, as I tackled his knife side and clutched his weapon arm to my chest as I charged into him. I knew his natural reaction would be to tear it free and I was not in a position to apply most of the jiu-jistu shoulder locks I knew. But simple shoulder pressure from that point, a staple of Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, worked beautifully. As I kept control of his knife arm, I torqued my body into his shoulder. This put a lot of pressure into his shoulder joint and should have been able to bring him down. But somehow he changed his stance and fought out from it and I lost the pressure. For the first time in the encounter, I experienced the smallest measure of apprehension as I felt myself begin to lose control of my opponent.

But then I realized that as he was focusing on wrenching his arm free, his footing was now unstable. I quickly switched my hips and pulled his arm off my chest for just long enough to sweep his legs out from under him. He hit the bridge with his back and head like dead weight, and I followed him down. I swung one leg over his body and the other leg I braced against the side of his head, with his arm between my thighs and his elbow beneath my hips. I had what is known as an arm-bar in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In practice, we are taught to raise our hips slowly, exerting pressure our pelvis against the elbow joint. I did not move slowly but instead squeezed my knees together and thrust my hips up as hard as I could manage. I felt his elbow dislocate as I did and his grip on the knife was released. I didn’t care to stay on the ground for long, so as soon as I felt him release the knife, I scrambled to my feet and kicked the knife away. The first man was lying unmoving, his face sideways and his eyes open and unblinking, so I ignored him. The man whose arm I had broken began to curse and clutch his arm. I stood over him. It felt so easy to lift up my leg, lift it up as high as I could, and bring the heel of my shoe down on his face. Then again. And again. I kicked him in the throat. I stepped on his head and felt his skull bounce off the surface of the bridge. After several more stomps, he stopped even the blood choked gurgling noise he was making and lay still, so I let him be.

I had some blood on my shoes by them, which I was not happy about. I also noticed then that I had blood on my knife. I wiped the blade off on the pants of first man, then closed it and clipped it back onto my pocket. I picked up the decoy wallet again and replaced it into my pocket. After the event is when I felt winded and shaky. My legs shook, my hands shook and even my back and chest seemed to shake. I think clearly when I am in danger, but afterwards I feel the effects. I left the bridge and decided not to take the bus at all. I walked off my anxiety and I felt almost normal thirty blocks later as I neared my apartment building.

You can understand why I don’t want to provide too many details about where or when this event took place, and even, for those who don’t already know me, who I am exactly. If anyone who is reading this lives in Bogotá, I must caution you against using the pedestrian bridges at night (or in the early morning hours too). And I must also caution any thieves reading this: I will still be using those pedestrian bridges at night. You have been warned.

1 comment:

  1. That was intense!! Is it a true story? don't answer that.