I was at a seminar a while back, taught by another instructor, and at one point he asked one of the larger, more muscular guys in the class up to help with a demonstration/question. He asked Big to grab his collar and then addressed the group, “I’m walking down the street, and a drunk guy has grabbed me by the collar. Am I allowed to punch him in the throat?“
Silence. I kept mine because I felt I knew the answer, but wanted to hear what others had to say.
He asked again, only to be met by more silence. Nobody was going to risk getting this question wrong.
Finally, he pointed directly at one participant whose eyes didn’t turn to the floor when he looked around. “What do you think? Am I allowed to punch him?”
“Maybe,” I responded. Context, I thought, is everything. And this confrontation lacked a whole bunch.
“Of course not!” was the instructor’s heated response. “How am I possibly justified in punching him in the throat? He’s only grabbed me by the shirt!”
“No, of course not,” chimed in some of the participants, finally aware of what their answer should be. “You can’t take away his airway for only grabbing your collar.”
I said nothing more, preferring to hear the reasoning behind the decision to not strike. In retrospect, perhaps I should have said something to back up my position, but to be honest I was a little underwhelmed by the class to this point and didn’t see a purpose to lending my perspective to this instructor.
There was a single voice of dissent from the group. One of the women, when considering the size of the opposition, stated she might not punch him in the throat – and may not even be able to reach – but would probably kick him in the testicles! “Not allowed at this point,” said the instructor. “After all this is only a drunk guy who has grabbed you by the collar.” I literally had to bite my tongue.
The real issue with this scenario is that it places us somewhere we wouldn’t naturally be – suddenly in the grip of a hitherto unseen aggressor whose drunken state must be considered. I am not going to administer a breathalyser, ask him how many drinks he’s had or have him walk a heel-toe-heel-toe line while saying the alphabet backwards. How drunk he is (or isn’t) is not my concern. In fact, he may be playing drunk in order to lower my guard.
The simple fact is if a supposedly drunk person begins to approach one of us on the street, our goal would likely be to avoid him. We would give him a wide berth, stop in our tracks as he approached and verbally reinforce a boundary, walk in another direction, step into an open business, or do just about anything to avoid being grabbed by a drunken stranger. I would likely deal with the drunken friend differently, but that’s a whole ‘nother cup o’ coffee.
Because I’ve done what I can to avoid contact with this “drunk fellow,” his intent to encroach on my space (and lay hands on me) must be either abandoned or made obvious. Because the scenario says so, we can assume his intent is to lay hands on me. As he closes on me with what I can reasonably assume to be intent to make contact, I sidestep and my hands protect my personal/intimate space. Maybe I brush his hands away. Maybe I weave and run. Maybe I yell at him to back off. Maybe maybe, but apparently he’s still grabbed me.
Beyond his intent to make contact, I’m not that interested in his motivation. Whether he’s an aggressive panhandler, a thief, a sexual predator, angry at someone who looks like me, or just plain wobbly and looking for support doesn’t matter at this point – I’ve done what I can to prevent being grabbed and am now in a position of having to defend my physical self.
So, do I punch him in the throat? Realistically, while a punch in the throat may not be my first choice, if I’m going to respond physically I had best be ready for things to escalate to that point (and quickly). It’s conceivable that his throat may be my only target, especially if his intent is to overwhelm my defences. What about if the guy grabbing me isn’t the bigger of the two of us, does that change how violently I can respond? Again, if I’ve done everything I can to prevent the grab from having taken place it’s really in my best interest to recognize the threat potential of this situation early. A 97 lb attacker seeking a crystal-meth payoff can push a screwdriver through my fleshy bits awfully quick, and waiting until I can see the weapon may mean I see it on the way out rather than in time to stop it on the way in.
Fact is, since I’ve done everything I can do to avoid this scenario if I suddenly find myself in it I’m going to respond fast and hard, and here’s why: Get a buddy to try to grab you by the collar. Make it easier by wearing a stiff jacket, like denim or leather, or something a little over-sized. Assure your friend that you won’t be hitting him/her so long as s/he doesn’t hit you. Now, don’t let your friend grab you. Angle, side-step, brush her hands away, scare him into a closing flinch by yelling “BOO!” It’s really not that easy to grab somebody who doesn’t want to be grabbed, and if your friend manages to do it, some really quick movement was probably required. “Drunk fellow” won’t have it any easier, yet he’s managed to succeed… How fast can he thrust a screwdriver into your throat? The exact movements I do will follow principals, but won’t be very technical. I won’t likely be doing any joint-locking/arm-barring movements that require me to stay within reach, or within range of the screwdriver. How’s that punch in the throat looking now?
At the end of this scenario I beat feet outta there, and as soon as I’ve found a safer spot I get my cell-phone out and do triage – Am I stabbed? If so, I need to call an ambulance while maintaining pressure on the wound. I know it sounds a bit odd, but the encounter could have seen enough adrenaline and dopamine slammed into my system that I wouldn’t notice a wound until I looked for it or fell down from blood loss. If I’m safe, I can now call the police. I will mention very little other than how afraid I was for my safety, how I did everything I could to avoid this guy, and how I really, really can’t say anything else until my lawyer arrives.
Stage: Green is for home or other such safe, controlled environments. Stage: Amber is for any situation that calls for a slightly heightened awareness, one which may escalate quickly. Stage: Red is for those times there aren’t other choices and I must react quickly and violently (yelling, by the way, is quick and violent). Hot Amber, or “Ramber” is where I went when I first noticed “Drunk Fellow” approaching me and started doing what I could to avoid him. If I didn’t see him approaching and he’s suddenly on me, it’s like not noticing the traffic light switch from green to amber and it’s just red now: I slam on the breaks with the intent to avoid being a minivan sandwich. “Drunk Fellow” clearly took steps to overwhelm my defences in the early stages, and is now in a Stage: Red situation. While I may examine and revise my awareness and avoidance methods post-incident, it’s important to remember that he and his intentions are responsible for any response on my part so long as I stay within the law. Here’s the Criminal Code entry on self-defence against unprovoked assault:
“34. (1) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted without having provoked the assault is justified in repelling force by force if the force he uses is not intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm and is no more than is necessary to enable him to defend himself.
Extent of justification
(2) Every one who is unlawfully assaulted and who causes death or grievous bodily harm in repelling the assault is justified if
(a) he causes it under reasonable apprehension of death or grievous bodily harm from the violence with which the assault was originally made or with which the assailant pursues his purposes; and
(b) he believes, on reasonable grounds, that he cannot otherwise preserve himself from death or grievous bodily harm.”