Sensei And The Hockey Dad…
There’s an old joke that goes, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” It’s funny because it’s true…
A decade or so ago I won half a dozen free tickets to the Seattle Thunderbirds home finale of the season. Despite attending several games in college, I’ve never been much of a hockey fan; don’t even understand most of the rules. Nevertheless, this one sounded like an exciting matchup—if the Thunderbirds won they would earn a shot at a playoff berth whereas their opponent, the Portland Winterhawks, could clench a postseason slot with a victory. Emotions would undoubtedly run hot, leading to some good fights both on and off the ice. What red-blooded American male wouldn’t enjoy watching that?
I talked it over with my son who thought it would be fun to go, but he wanted company, so I agreed to bring him along with a few of his friends. The boys were 12- and 13-year-olds, mostly students from my karate class. Since their parents already knew and trusted me it was easy to get them to agree to my taking care of the kids for the day. I bought them lunch and headed for the arena.
When we arrived we found that we had pretty good seats, but quickly discovered that everyone around us was cheering for the visiting team. In fact they seemed to know all the players by name. Talking to the lady in front of me, I discovered that these folks were the Winterhawks players’ parents (and a few siblings). I didn’t really care who won, just wanted to enjoy the game, so she and I got along really well. She explained some of the particulars of the game, things not obvious to the casual fan, as well as interesting facts about the players. She not only knew every one of the Portland players, but most of the Seattle ones as well.
Surprisingly there were no fights, not even on the ice, but her color commentary made it a very pleasant experience, for a little over half the game anyway… Shortly after halftime the Thunderbirds scored a goal, pulling ahead. The kids were celebrating along with the rest of the home crowd while I was still chatting with the lady in front of me when suddenly I heard a guy roaring, “You want to take it out on the ice kid? We can go right now. I’ll f@&# you up!”
Startled, I looked over to see a 40-something- year-old guy at the far end of the row snarling at the kids behind him. This guy, a Winterhawks fan, looked like he was about to take a swing at Bobby one of the 12-year-olds I’d brought to the game. Given the group he was seated with, angry guy must have been the father of one of the players.
“What’s going on,” I asked. “You’ve got to control your f@&#ing kids. He does that again I’m gonna f@&#ing take him out!”
That was unexpected
Wow. That was unexpected. I’ll admit to hanging out with my fraternity buddies, drinking heavily, and picking fights with other fans at hockey games in college, but this guy was my age (mid forties) and woofing at kids who were barely into their teens. He was big, at least half a head taller than I was, and in pretty good shape. He also had a beer in his hand, but appeared more angry than drunk. Working stadium security I’m used to dealing with drunks, but something else was going on here. The lady sitting next to him, his wife I presumed, looked more embarrassed than surprised so perhaps this was a regular occurrence in their family.
In the half second or so I took to respond several things flashed through my mind: I could see the kids getting excited. Ooh, sensei was about to go off on this guy. They wanted to see a fight. And this bozo wanted to give them one. Me, on the other hand, I flashed on all the bad things that were about to happen. If I got arrested my wife would kill me. And, Joey’s friends’ folks would never trust me with their kids again. How the hell could I arrange to get them safely home? What if my boss found out? I needed to either deescalate this or, failing that, create witnesses who would testify on my behalf, a not insignificant challenge since they were all friends with the guy causing the problem.
“What, you’re threatening a little kid. Really?” That was aimed more at his wife than him. She pretended not to notice. Others seated nearby got the message though; I could see them shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
“Damn right I am!” Wow, he admitted it.
“What did he do to piss you off man?”
“He was screaming, clapping in my f@&#ing face.”
“Did he touch you?”
“Did he touch you?” Reason wasn’t working, perhaps a small show of force to back it up. I de-cloaked a little: weight shift, deadeye stare, slight edge to my voice.
“No.” He quickly turned away, pretending to be engrossed in the game. Success!
I let out a sigh of relief, but continued watching him out of the corner of my eye. Things went okay for a while as the Winterhawks scored a couple of goals, but then the Thunderbirds tied things up again. And the kids jumped up cheering.
As I feared, he started to react. I glanced over at his wife, cocking my head and doing the raised eyebrow thing (I used to practice that in the mirror; it can be highly effective when done right). During my stadium security career I discovered that when they’re so inclined wives and girlfriends can deescalate things far easier than any authority figure can.
She made eye contact with me, gave a slight shake of her head, rolled her eyes, and with a disgusted look on her faced grabbed a hold of his thigh, digging her fingernails in. He let out a little snarl, realized what was going on, and slumped back down, sheepishly looking at his feet.
The Winterhawks took back the lead. Finally there were a couple of altercations, more pushy-shovey things than real fights on the ice, but surprisingly none in the stands even when the Winterhawks held on to win, spoiling the Thunderbirds chances of making the playoffs. The old dynamic must have changed… perhaps people are better sports nowadays. Nevertheless, the game ended uneventfully for the kids and me.
I kept a wary eye out for the other guy in the parking lot, but nothing happened there either. On the way home the kids started razzing me about not beating up the hockey dad. As I’d imagined, they really did want to see a fight. I turned the discussion into an impromptu class about self defense, describing intent, means, opportunity, preclusion, and justification.
You see, self-defense is an affirmative plea, meaning that it shifts the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the defense. In essence you’re telling the judge and jury that you did it, whatever you were charged with, but had really, really good excuse hence should not be responsible for your otherwise illegal behavior. You can only succeed with coaching from a competent attorney and a really good story, or justification, of why you had to do what you did. That starts with IMOP, Intent, Means, Opportunity, and Preclusion.
To be a legitimate threat in the eyes of the law (in most jurisdictions in the United States), the other guy (or gal) must have intent (desire), the means (ability), and the opportunity (access) to hurt you. If you wind up in court you must be able to show all three to justify using countervailing force for self-defense. And you must be able to explain why what you did was appropriate; martial artists, MMA competitors, boxers, and other “professional” fighters tend to be held to a higher level than everyday citizens. Even if intent, means, and opportunity are clear, there is one other requirement (for civilians and in most states) to satisfy. You must be able to show that you had no safe alternatives other than physical force before engaging. That’s the real bugger for self-defense, preclusion.
Could I have taken the other guy? Probably; I’m a karate instructor who has been in over 300 violent altercations working stadium security. But, he was big, strong, undoubtedly a former hockey player, and still in good shape. That means he was used to fighting and unafraid of being hit. And he was surrounded by friends and family members. Could I have beat him wasn’t the right question; should I have tried was. And the answer to that categorically was no. In that case deescalation was the correct response.
I went to a hockey game and nothing bad happened. And the kids even learned a valuable lesson in the process.
If you’d like to learn more about the judicious use of countervailing force consider my book Scaling Force: http://www.amazon.com/Scaling-Force-Dynamic-Decision-Violence/dp/1594392501