Self Defence: the Casey Heynes case

This is a martial arts blog and some of you may find strange to find this article: at the same time I believe that self defence, whether properly trained in a gym or the simple result of someone’s self preservation instinct, should be seriously considered as a topic from which everyone can learn about, even in a blog about martial arts.  Ultimately why do we practice martial arts?  Many people will not list self defence as the primary objective of their training but nobody can deny it can be very nice side effect.

Casey Heynes is a 15 years old boy who defended himself after years of abuse: it happened just a few weeks ago and the 40 seconds video that somebody put on line went viral and hit every corner of the world in just a few days.  For many people around the globe Casey became instantly a hero who stood up to his assailants and put an end to a life of misery.

See here below the news video with inverviews:


Bulling is unfortunately a pretty standard practice and I know very few people that were not bullied when kids.  Whether you (used to) wear thick glasses (my case) or you are overweight or any other visible difference you can offer a good reason to be bullied.  In some cases it can be just verbal abuse but very often it becomes physical and even painful. Whatever the nature of the bullying it can cause the stress and anxiety and can cause permanent damages to someone psychological and emotional well being, reducing self esteem and jeopardising chances of success in later life.

Casey ended a life long situation of being mistreated by simply fighting back.  In his definition he snapped, acted irrationally for a few seconds; he did it in a way that could have caused some serious injuries to the boy who initially started the altercation but I truly hope that this event taught him something about bullying.  Casey’s action, as explained in this video was more that just an act of defence; it was the desperate need for justice from a boy that about a year before was contemplating suicide to put an end to a life of abuses.  His father and the rest of his family were far from understanding what the boy had to bear on a daily basis.

How many movies portray the weak or abused boy/girl/woman or whatever other character and the usual hero turning up and beating up or killing the baddies?  We like and sympathise with the weak ones because in many case we can identify with them at some point of our life; we like and feel satisfaction when the hero sorts matters out in many cases we would like to be one of them.  Casey is receiving so many messages of support for his act for exactly the same reason.  Support messages are sent from boys and girls as well as from fully grown up adults that used to be (or sometime still are) the weak ones, the bullied ones, the abused ones.

I remember when I was at primary school before I started martial arts; there were a few bullies who truly enjoyed imposing their will to the smallest and weakest ones (yes I was one of them).  If I start thinking about those times and mentally go back to those scenes I can still feel the anxiety and the frustration of being unable to defend myself from the nasty and cynical behaviour of those guys.

So what lessons can we learn from this episode? Here is my list:

  1. if you are a 12 years old  boy of 50Kg or less do not bother a 15 years old 80Kg+: when he retaliate he will hurt you
  2. when we see bullying and abuse we should not ignored it and let it happen; we cannot all become heroes but referring the abuse to the relevant authority and ask to immediately address the issue.  The same when it happens to your friends, children or any other person you know of
  3. if you are a child there is nothing wrong to report to your parents or other authoritative people the fact of being abused
  4. if you are a parent keep an open dialog with your children: try to find out whether bullying is happening to them or their friends

One of my missions in life to advocate for martial arts, their broad diffusion across a much broader range of individuals starting from young boys and girls.  In my opinion a more generalised and systematic practice of martial arts among young people would have a number of benefits against bullying including:

  1. better discipline and respect for authorities
  2. better self confidence for the weak or shy ones: confidence is not about threatening like “leave me alone or I’ll hurt you” but simply have a higher self esteem and naturally project it to the people around us
  3. better chance for the weak to fight, verbally or physically, his/her way out of a bullying situation
  4. more respect from the potential bullies: martial arts (should) teach respect for the fellow practitioners, even for the opponent you are fighting
  5. respect for the weak: while you learn how to hurt people you learn how you must be respecting or even helping the weakest ones.  Hurting weak people is easy… why should we enjoy it? Why should we enjoy hurting anyone at all?
  6. defence by applying a controlled response: when a person without knowledge of martial arts enters a fight can either get hurt himself/herself or cause excessive damage to the opponent as he/she is unaware of the amount of damage that could be caused; a knowledge of martial arts can help understanding how much damage can be delivered by an attack and avoid unnecessary excessive damage

I would like to conclude by sending my regards to Casey who did a good job in ending his grief the way he did it: while violence should be avoided when possible there are situation where it is unavoidable and we all know this was one of those cases.

Road Rage and lack of common sense

BaldManLogical reasoning and common sense are usually great help in everyday life but this morning an event suggested me that it doesn’t apply to everyone.  The three following statements definitely apply to my way of thinking but I was proven wrong:

  • Approaching a car in a in a road rage can be anything between very dangerous to lethal.  Any body, regardless their shape, size and background can hold weapons of any kind in a car.
  • When I see a man from behind and his bald head seems to be linked directly with his trapezoids (muscles above the shoulders) without any neck, e.g. like Mike Tyson in the good old days, I would avoid fighting him unless I am attacked first.  I cannot see any good reason to approach aggressively a similar looking person, whatever he has done on the road.
  • Early morning at 6:30, when traffic in a small city like Cambridge is nearly inexistent, is so it’s unlikely to cause good reasons for arguments.

This morning at 6:30 I was travelling toward my usual Wednesday business breakfast meeting when I stopped, on a dual carriage way bridge, at the red light behind another car.  In the other lane I saw stopping a Ford Focus with a big guy in it and a couple of seconds later a Vauxall Vectra stopped behind.  Nothing wrong until the driver of the Vectra rushed out of his vehicle run the few metres to approach the other car and slamming a big slap on the side window at the driver side shouted “what the f%&k are you doing?”.  This person is in his late fifties to sixties, long haired and slim, wearing shirt, tie and suit trousers: I was between surprised and astonished about the whole scene.

At that point I see the big guy turning quite calmly toward his window that he is lowering while he is saying something I could obviously did not hear.  I also noticed a little baton, perhaps a kid’s baseball bat in his hands: he was probably suggesting the older man to get away or risking troubles.  To be honest, given the size of the bald man the older driver could have had enough problems evev without a weapon.  Nonetheless the older guy shouted a few more obscenities until I saw the big driver swinging the baton out of his window.

At the point the light turned green, I started moving forward with my car and the Focus’ driver did the same: nothing really happened but the old guy could have spent his morning at the hospital if the big guy decided to get out of his vehicle.

Now, I even like to believe there have been good reasons for this to happen but once more I am convinced, as I wrote recently, that a bit of common sense sometime would avoid lots of troubles.

Two good ways to avoid a fight

I am convinced that getting involved in a fight is something that should be avoided at all times.   There might be circumstances where fighting is absolutely unavoidable and I repeat something I have already expressed before: in a fight or flight the latter should be preferable if you are sure you can run faster than your attacker 🙂

What triggers a fight? Many different circumstances and reasons: in any case it takes more than one person to be involved.  Even if somebody is bothering you or threatening you in many, many cases you could avoid the physical confrontation by talking the situation down or simply walking away.  Unfortunately our pride plays bad tricks sometimes and we would love to be like inspector Harry Callahan, being able to state a few sentences and then punish our attacker to be in a way or the other.

The so called self defence should really be applied to situations when you are physically attacked and the only way of getting out of the situation is to stop your attacker with all possible means before he might cause serious injury or death to yourself or your loved ones.  While it is not often possible to turn and offer the other cheek very often it is possible to avoid a fight and walk home rather than risking to spend some time in a cell or in hospital as a result of a fight gone in one way or the other.

B.H is a friend of mine ex professional boxer and is surely a guy you would not like to be involved with in a fight.  With nearly hundred fights under his belt between amateur and professional is a person that spent more time in front of somebody that would like to knock him down than most street fighters will ever experience in several lives.  As it happened once a guy thought to have a good reason to punch him straight in the face.  This is a fairly common, not too exciting, experience for a professional fighter: probably similar to have a cup of coffee for the average office worker.  The simple end to the story is that the attacker was so surprised of B. not reacting at all to the attack and simply adding: “it takes a lot more to make me angry, and if I get angry I could kill you”.  This sentence made me think: it is true that a pro sport fighter is in business to harm other people for money (legally).  At the same time he will not necessarily react with anger to the typical situation where most people would go berserk.

Another similar experience happened to me personally: although I never been a pro I consider myself capable of seriously harming the average punter with bad intention that happens to be on my way.  A few months ago I drove out of my driveway in a winter, dark afternoon and somebody in another car was arriving at a distance that I failed to evaluate correctly so he had to slow down.  He blew his horn violently and repeatedly.  As I stopped at the red light a few hundred yards away I promptly checked in my rear mirror where the guy was and I noticed a car behind mine with no driver: in less than a second I noticed the guy was by my side window yelling at me what a “f*&$!%g idiot I was and blah blah”.  He was enraged and ready for a fight, inviting me to get out.  I apologise to him and said I did not see him coming (never mind he was probably faster than he should be), but he kept insulting me… after a 30 second or so and a few more insults he went back to his car, the light turned green and I went on to my meeting.  The guy was scary looking and enraged, nonetheless if he tried to grab me or injure me I could have probably got rid of him in no time, perhaps leaving him in the middle of the road… and then what?  He saw me coming out of my drive way: he could come back there and wait for me with a weapon and/or friends, he could burn my house down or anything else you can think about.  Are all these terrible consequences really worth the fact that he thinks I am a “f*&$!%g idiot”?  Not really, so I left him with his opinion and moved on.

The choices that B. and I took were safer in the end because we avoided, in different ways and circumstances, a fight that could be avoided: for B. being punched in the face is as normal as a hand shake; for me, while I don’t like to be called names, I can conclude that it is simply your opinion and it does affect my self esteem.

Would you rather fight a street or a professional fighter?

None of them if possible. Street fights do happen: sometimes dictated by irrational behaviour, other times escalating from binge drinking, road rage or other unforgivable reasons: whatever the motivation, it can happen to you. With this post I am not trying to discuss how to defend yourself in such a situation: simply analyzing why a professional fighter is usually a more dangerous opponent than a street fighter.  An experienced street fighter, perhaps somebody who grew up in a rough neighbourhood, is a dangerous opponent to fight because:

  • he is surely unfair, not playing according to rules (what rules?)
  • he will be seizing any opportunity available, hit you first
  • he would try to hurt you with a sudden move, perhaps while talking or arguing
  • he will try to knock you down as soon as possible: probably once he succeeded he will continue to hit you while you are on the floor
  • he will be ruthless, perhaps using weapons, in order to win the fight at any cost

Let’s now define a professional fighter: my definition here will be ‘somebody who fights full contact either in boxing, kickboxing, muai thai, K1 or MMA and trains for it several hours per week’.  I am convinced that you ever get to fight one of these guys (or girls) in the street your chances are much slimmer than in the other case.  The professional fighter will be:

  • stronger, faster, fitter than the average man on the street and with enough stamina to be fighting at full power for several rounds lasting 2 to 5 minutes each
  • with a good knowledge about what parts of the opponent to hit and the precision needed to deliver on target
  • with a well conditioned body, trained to be hit hard by other professional fighters

From an emotional point of view the street fighter will be acting under rage, at full adrenaline burst: the professional will surely be affected by adrenaline rush but in a much more controlled and trained way so he will be more focused on his actions.

Considering that is unlikely we know who we are going to meet on the street and whether they are street, professional or non fighters my suggestion would be to avoid fights at any cost: in the mean time keep (or start) training martial arts, they might be useful one day.