My good dojo buddy Dan witnessed a heated argument between a large man with a small and a frail woman in the ticket booth of the Montreal Metro (commuter train). The offending man in question seemed to refuse to pay for his metro or subway fare, yelling and even spitting at the poor lady. Not knowing what to do, he simply stood there, watching the man scream and yell, telling himself he would stop the man should he ever resort to physical violence...
Once at the dojo, Dan asked the sensei the following question: What should a black belt Karateka do in such a situation?
What would batman do in the same situation?
Probably nothing, unless the aggressive man physically attacked. Or perhaps, he would try to verbally defuse the situation. In most likeliness, Batman would have had better things to do than to moderate petty arguments. Besides, why would Batman or his alter ego Bruce Wayne use public transportation
There are no good answers since Batman and super heroes do not exist, or do they?
Real life superheroes
There is a growing movement of people in North America, patrolling the streets or their city, preventing crime and helping those in need. And they do it while wearing a super hero costume.
For the most part, they patrol streets and alleys, keeping an eye on misfits and alerting authorities when trouble arises. Many are also doing voluntary jobs. Rarely do these superheroes use physical violence in their interventions (or at least that's what they say). What’s surprising is that though they place themselves in situations that logically are more prone to physical altercations, it is reported that the majority do not have any combat training at all.
Real life superheroes problems with department of justice
In October 2011, Phoenix Jones, the self proclaimed leader of the rain city superheroes movement, was arrested on allegations of pepper spraying a group of individuals. Jones claims he was breaking up a street brawl while the group reportedly were dancing and having a good time outside of a club.
Ultimately, Phoenix Jones was not charged, as Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes cites proof problems, but did lose his job as an autistic children educator. He also had to unmask himself, revealing his -not so secret anymore- identity.
How martial arts training would benefit real life superheroes?
Beyond practical skills that may make a difference in times of trouble between life or death, practice of martial arts puts the practitioner in front of ethical and moral issues. Legitimately or not, most schools believe in the effectiveness of their training methods, giving than an edge over untrained opponents and as uncle Ben said it best: “with great power comes great responsibility”
Martial artists like my buddy Dan are faced from the beginning of their training to the consequences of their actions: if they don't control their kicks and punches, they risk injuring their training partners. The same logic applies outside the training hall: injure someone and there will be consequences.
Which martial artist never thought about using their skills for real, just to see if their training would allow them to handle street situations? Yet not many actually do it, in part because they know they can get in trouble.
Keeping consequences in mind, most martial artists I have spoken to had reflected on what situations and criteria would need to present themselves before they snap and use techniques they trained so hard to master. Although real life situations seldom are like imagined ones, having a plan allows the martial artist to remain calm(er), to think and minimize the chances of doing something he may later regret.
But Phoenix Jones did have martial arts training!
In fact, Benjamin Fodor, the man under the costume, had a mixed martial arts record of of 11-0 with four knockouts in 10 amateur bouts and one pro fight (October 2010). Some will argue that MMA is not a martial art but rather a sport... but that shall be the subject for another time...
So what should a black belt do when witnessing a fight? Did Dan react the right way?
In hindsight, Dan reacted the right way. Although frown upon in society, screaming and yelling isn't exactly breaking the law.
By standing there watching the scene, he instantly became a potential witness. His watchful eyes became a deterrent for the aggressive man to go any further. Had things escalated, Dan would have been able to call the cops or try defuse the situation with reasonable force. At the end, the large man left angry, but did not harm the ticket lady.