It was my first day back in Vancouver after visiting the Toronto HQ for a dose of excellent training, I felt clear and recharged. Being as I had been away from home for a few weeks, I needed to run some errands and headed out to talk a brisk walk to my destinations.
I was walking peacefully on East Broadway (Vancouver) when a man carrying a large "boom-box" was strutting down the street with his music blaring. Noticing the noise first, I turned to look where this was coming from. Many others in proximity were looking, probably wondering the same thing I was "who is this person that is creating such a nuisance?"
The man was headed my way, step by step he was heavily planting one foot in front of the other. Even from a distance his demeanor was loudly telling everyone around him "get outta my way!” As he became closer I stopped to pretend to look at a furniture store to allow him to pass in front of me on the sidewalk, as I felt it would be safer to walk behind him than in the path he was carving proudly down the street...
All it took was one look at him, then he suddenly started spouting off challenges and threats to fight. He claimed that it was his "turf" and that his brothers were ready to back him up. I simply stated that I don't like his music, and it's as simple as that. There were a few more words exchanged, and I made sure to not let fear take over my thinking, breathing, or body; knowing that this man was like a predator, seeking out whom he might devour.
After he was satisfied with his attempt to be intimidating, he walked ahead, continuing the same direction. After I had felt he was far enough out of my personal space, I started to walk in the same direction to carry on with my errands. It wasn't long until he looked back, and was struck with fear... he believed that I was following him, in a sense, calling his bluff! Quickly at the next corner, he turns right and was waiting for me to reach him.
As soon as I got to the corner, he had put his boom-box on the ground and started challenging me again to fight with him. At this moment I was able to recognize that I wasn't the one who was reacting to feelings of fear. I softly closed the space between us, put my hand on his shoulder told him something very honestly. I said "I didn't say I don't like you, I said I don't like your music".
At this moment, the whole situation was turned upside down... he began to cry and shout about his family problems, lack of financial stability, and even more details about the dynamic between him and his wife. It was as though suddenly the hard and tough front was destroyed, exposing a soft, vulnerable, and sensitive person underneath.
When I put my hand on his shoulder, I was trying to close the distance between us to give myself an advantage of more control if there was going to be a physical complication... little did I realize that a relaxed hand being placed on him without fear is what would trigger a cathartic therapy session on the East Broadway sidewalk.
Thankfully, I was able to console him briefly, also mentioning that he needs not challenge people who are also his neighbors (being as we apparently live in the same area of the city). I was both relieved and even more surprised by the outcome of the event. To me it demonstrates the power of a calm state, clear thinking, and noticing the presence of fear in a confrontation.
By no means will I ever plan to resolve any future situations the same way, except to keep one factor consistent - breathe, and notice what is happening inside, and honor those feelings. So next time you encounter an aggressive person, remember that it comes from fear, and a lack of love in a person's life, certainly nothing personal. I am ever thankful for our Systema training, that we are not just training our bodies, but also our minds and our spirits alike.
J.P. Gagliano has been training and teaching Systema since 2007. John-Paul has done training with both Vladimir Vasiliev in Toronto and Mikhail Ryabko in Moscow, he currently resides in BC, Canada and is a certified instructor at Systema Vancouver Martial Arts.
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