Every single time something strange and/or potentially dangerous happens at a particular variety store I swear never to go back. The trouble is that store has very nearly all the brands of foodstuff we like at better prices than anywhere else. For decades I’ve been in the habit of grocery shopping once per week and I grumble if I have to make extra trips. I can’t afford delivery and I like to pick out produce (a huge chunk of my diet) myself. Even if money were no object it’s still the only place where I can find X, Y, and Z. So I shop there but I do keep an eye out and never go when it’s dark. I’ve tried various days and times and it seems the crazies are there all the time. Today I tried early morning.
The store was pretty quiet and I do believe the employees stocking the shelves outnumbered the customers. That made it super easy to keep track of who was around me. In the dairy section I noticed a big guy right away. He was making strange noises. I had to turn my back on him to fetch my soy milk. Right then he made a pretty good imitation of Ms. Piggy shouting, “Haiiiiiiiiiyaaaa!”
I tensed, then almost reflexively forced myself to relax. I thought to myself, “Relax, relax, it’s just a coincidence, he can’t possibly know that I study karate. He’s higher than a kite. Relax. It’s just a coincidence. Relax. There’s no WAY he could know and at this moment he’s not a physical threat. Relax.”
As I turned around to put my soy milk into my cart I sneaked a glance up. Big Guy was still making strange noises and motions and he was staring straight at me. He was wearing a mask with fangs printed on it, which ordinarily I’d laugh at but this time it was menacing. I was suddenly very glad my cart was between us. The wild look in his eyes told me everything I needed to know. I have an autistic adult daughter, I know what autism is, what that can look like in various people. My gut told me that Big Guy was on something, out of his skull with crazy poison. There was no telling what he’d do and because of whatever was running through is veins he probably wouldn’t feel pain.
As I moved around to grab the cart handle I kept a covert eye and ear on Big Guy. I pushed my grocery cart onward quickly, keeping an ear out while I turned a corner. The store was so quiet I could tell Big Guy was staying put. After grabbing a few items I groaned. I had forgotten something back in the section where Big Guy had parked himself. I didn’t hear him so I casually went back, breathing deeply to calm myself, forcing my shoulders to relax. Big Guy was nowhere in sight. I grabbed my items quickly then headed to the nice, open produce area where I would be able to see him coming.
I finished my shopping and headed towards the checkout stand. I had too many groceries to go through self checkout (besides, those things hate me). There was only one check stand open and guess who was in line before me. I made it a point to appear to be idly scanning the impulse-buy items and the tabloids. Big Guy kept up his weird noises and motions, rearranged the things on the racks, and from time to time he stared at me. I kept peripheral awareness on him even when another cashier opened up another check stand and motioned me over.
Big Guy finished his transaction long before I finished mine. He picked a spot and parked himself there, still gibbering, still staring at me from time to time. By the time my enormous pile of groceries was bagged and back in my cart Big Guy still hadn’t moved. In order to take the most direct route back to my car I’d have to walk past him. I decided right then and there that wasn’t going to happen. I went out the other door instead. I didn’t hear the sound of a cart making a U-turn as I left so I knew he wasn’t following me. I kept an ear out just in case.
The parking lot was mostly empty so I was able to push the cart in a more-or-less straight line diagonally across the lot to my car. I kept an ear and an eye out. After I had put about half of my groceries into the trunk of my car I heard Big Guy’s strange noises. He came out the door that I would have come out of. I was hidden from him. I had parked my car right next to a cart return that had a big sign attached to it. Even though what I heard indicated that Big Guy was loitering near the store I picked up the pace of unloading my groceries. I was very nearly done when I heard Big Guy coming closer. Crap. At least he was moving slowly and still couldn’t see me because of the big sign.
As I put my cart into the return corral Big Guy was very nearly at my car. I took a deep breath, calming myself for quick action. I ran the motions through in my mind, rehearsing what I would do, visualizing speed and smooth performance. I’ve done these motions hundreds of thousands of times over thirty some-odd years. I can perform the sequence of motions without thinking, but never before had I done them at speed and never when there was so much at stake.
While taking the three steps to my car door I used the remote to unlock only the driver’s door. In one fluid motion I opened the door, leaped into the driver’s seat and shut the door. An instant before Big Guy came close to my vehicle I used the door button to lock all doors, completing the movement. I don’t think I’ve ever entered a car more rapidly or fluidly. I fastened my seat belt and as I slid my key into the ignition I gave Big Guy a look that let him know I was prepared to use my car as a weapon if need be. He laughed, made a weird noise, performed some strange body movements, and then got distracted by the open hood of another car. I drove off vowing never to return to the store again, a vow I probably won’t keep.
WHAT?!? I didn’t use karate?
Why, yes I did.
I used karate to control myself and to control the situation as much as possible. Nobody was harmed. Given everything that happened there was no actual need for me to fight – and I’m sure any police officer or judge would agree with my assessment. I think there’s a two percent chance that I was wrong, that Big Guy was autistic, not on drugs. If so then I would’ve been devastated to find that out after sending him to the hospital. I am grateful that I have learned to keep a calm head, to be aware of what’s going on, and to think strategically all in the face of pressure.
Self control is one of the many gifts of studying a martial art. Yes, I study violence, I know loads of devastating techniques, but what good is all that if I do not also know when to abstain from fighting? What good would it do for me to be rotting away in a jail cell when I could be teaching someone something that could potentially save their life? I haven’t earned teaching credentials yet (black belt) but I still have a responsibility to my future students. I need to be the best person I can be so that they in turn can learn good budo (the way of the warrior). I also have a responsibility to those who have invested time and effort into building my skills. I have no wish to dishonor them. Most importantly, if I can avoid harming someone I will avoid doing so.
Even if they’re high as a kite and scaring me.