This is a guest post from John Dvorachek, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Chatfield College.
I’m going to tell you a story about two pedals: the gas, and the brakes.
A promoter on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey, was wearing an “Armani” skull cap and asking us where we wanted to go.
“Hey guys! My Friends! What you looking for? What kind of music? I take you to best places!”
My friend and I said, “a local place with live music was what we wanted to see.” So Armani said, I got it! And he started winding his way through the alleys of Istanbul until we ended up at a basement club. It didn’t feel right from the beginning and I said to my friend, “come on let’s get out of here.” But, they had already poured us beers without our asking and were handing them to us. Nick says, “well they already gave us a free beer…” So we let them lead us to a table in back and sat down with our beers. We had one more round and asked for the check. It was a really seedy place with a lot of red lights, and cheap trashy bar furniture. There were only maybe 30-40 people in there…and there wasn’t any live music either.
The price for those 4 beers was 600 lira: the equivalent of about $270 American. That was a bit steep, and when we refused to pay it, the manager came to speak to us…. with an additional 6 guys in tow. He threatened us that we had no choice in the matter of the bill, and said, “That it was time for us to pull out all of our cash.”
Now I personally happen to be about 6’2”, and a muscular 225lbs. I also have the benefit of having studied a variety of martial arts, as well as 5 years experience as a bouncer in various bars through my late teens and early 20’s. So, this was far from my first encounter with physical violence. But, this wasn’t a movie, and no matter how skilled you may think you are, getting into a fight with half a dozen Turkish men in a back alley bar is always a bad idea.
As they were walking up to us, I turned to my friend Nick and told him very sternly, “Whatever they do, don’t do anything to start the fight.”
Just then, the manager and his head enforcer walk over to our table while the remaining five men take up residence leaning on neighboring tables and chairs, while they give us their best stare down.
The manager says to me,
“My friend…” which actually means I am not his friend… “I am told you have a problem with the bill. I’m afraid this is the price. You must give us all the cash you have.”
So what to do? A guy is trying to shake us down in this little sordid night club. And that scrawny sleaze Armani’s job was to obviously lead the victims into the den. They aren’t trying to rob us though. They’re trying to extort us. They want us to give the money over willingly in keeping with the façade of their racket. So…how to proceed?
In all confrontations, especially involving physical violence, you can’t control the actions of others…but the most important thing to recognize is that your actions will either accelerate, or decelerate the situation. You can either step on the gas, or hit the brakes. Once you realize that…then the secret is to hit the brakes when the enemy expects gas, and stomp on the gas just when they thought everything was slowing down.
Now there was a reason I told my friend not to do anything physical.
I knew they weren’t coming over there to beat us up. I knew this because the manager was coming along with them. If, when the manager was told that we wouldn’t pay, he instead had remained at the bar and sent the guys over…then that would have meant violence was imminent. But, he was leading the pack, which meant that talking was still the first card on the table. So when he told me to pay up, I responded to him;
“My Friend!”…which meant, he was not my friend… “It’s not the price that bothers me, it’s the insult you give.”
This, took him by surprise. Turkish male society, and the Middle East in general, is a strongly honor based culture. This is one reason why politeness is feigned and everyone calls strangers friends. He was trying to get me to play along with his scenario, so I met it directly. He was pretending that it was a legitimate price and was used to people protesting the price; to be angry, and to rant and rave. But I didn’t rant and rave as he was expecting. I merely named the exact thing he was doing to me, and the precise thing he was pretending to avoid.
So he said, “My friend, no one is insulting you, it is simply the price. We are all friends here.”
Yes of course we were friends! Six of them glaring their best Clint Eastwood impressions, and the manager smiling away.
I told him, “We have been to many places here, and this is not the price. The price is five, or ten lira per beer. Not 150.” To which he sheepishly responded, “we are not other places.”
We kept talking like this for a few minutes. I was making sure to stay calm, and most importantly, polite. As long as we were both polite, there was no reason to be impolite. What I was looking for, was for the 5 extra guys on the sideline to start to lose interest. What I was doing, was putting on the brakes to the situation, when they had initially came over raring to go.
And after a few minutes, the muscle changed a bit. Their body language was more relaxed, and the glares had softened. So now I take out some money and put it in the folding book with the bill and hand it to the manager, saying, “This is more than enough.”
In addition to Turkish Lira, I also had Euro’s on me. The manager opened the book and saw a 50 Euro note in there. Not the 600 Lira they were asking for but it was something. Maybe they won’t know the exchange rate off hand.
Remember, do the unexpected. Take the aggressors off of their game plan however you can. I knew we weren’t getting out of there without paying something. The question was could we get out of there without giving them everything, and still be in one piece.
But I guess he knew the exchange rate because he then obstinately says,
“No. This is not enough.”
I said, “It is more than enough.” And started to stand.
As I did, the Enforcer clasped his hand on my shoulder and tried to shove me back into my seat. Now this is the first form of physical contact…which means the game has just changed. Backing down now and complying with their demands erodes any ground I’ve gained, and gets the other 5 guys back in play. So as he tried to shove me back down, I hit the gas.
As I sprung up from my seat, I violently struck his forearm with the blade edge of my palm followed with a hard open palm strike to the chest. The two areas I was trying to hit were the radial nerve and the solar plexus. I hit them. He clearly got the wind knocked out of him, and I’d bet his arm was absolutely numb. As the he stumbled back a few feet, I immediately turned to the manager, looming over him with all the height and puffed up masculinity I could manage, and shaking a finger in his faces I cried out in my deepest angry voice,
“BAD IDEA! VERY! VERY! BAD IDEA!”
I don’t know why I said that, but it conveyed what I needed. The Enforcer was physically shocked, and the manager now had me in his face with no one in between. Before the 5 subs on the bench could even get up the manager was saying,
“No Problem! No Problem! He is sorry!”
And although it was clear that the Enforcer wanted to call everyone into action, the manager was apologizing and cowering.
So…Do the Unexpected… I apologized too…. Remember, de-escalate.
Everyone else was expecting gas, so I hit the brakes again. After all, I may have just taken them by surprise, but we were still in the back of this club, a long, long, way from the exit. So I said.
“It’s ok. It’s ok. I’m sorry too! Sorry to hit you.”
And as I said that, I took out more money and put a stack of bills in the book saying, “Here I owe you more.”
But, as I gave it back to him, I kept a hold of it too, and putting my arm around his shoulder we started walking toward the exit. I kept saying, “So sorry for the misunderstanding.” We were at the door before I let go of the book and he saw that I had put about 100 Lira (about $40 American) in the book in various bills.
He protested… “this is not the amount!…” but I looked him hard in the eye, clasped him on his shoulder, and walked out.
I was hoping I had given the Manager enough cash to keep the guys inside, and I was hoping I gave the Enforcer enough of a bruise to keep him from protesting that they should chase. As no one came out the door behind us, I guess the balance was right.
SKILLS TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS?
Whenever someone intends to do you harm, they’ve thought about it. If it’s common for them, they’ve experienced how it normally goes. This is why you never meet their force with force. You end up playing into the scenario that they’ve already got in their head. That’s the situation they’ve prepared for. Do anything to keep them off balance. When they’re gas, you break. And if you have to hit the gas…then hit it. No hesitation.
But what’s the real moral of the story? I knew it was bad from the beginning. You can feel those things before you can think them through. I should have trusted my intuition…but…”come on, they’re nice guys, they already poured us a beer!” I knew better. It was stupid to stay in there. We were lucky to get out the way we did.