It was a night like any other at the Doors Nightclub in the heart of Johannesburg’s city centre. The year was 1998, and I was hanging around at the front door of the club watching patrons come and go – when the call came through – “major fight on the roof terrace”. Running through the crowd in the club I had no idea what was about to encounter.
As I reached the roof, I saw one of the doorman Nick on the floor. Standing over him were two guys punching him in the face. I pushed them off him. Immediately the guy closest to me took a swing at me. Blocking the incoming punch I returned with an open hand hook strike (what I affectionately call the Boomerang) knocking him to the ground. As he began to stand up, I saw a metallic object in his hands, and before I knew it, it was directly in front of my face. Recognising it immediately for what it was – a firearm – I reacted. As I got out the way, and got my one hand on the top of the gun a round went off, whizzing inches from my ear. A micro second later, I had disarmed him, and needless to say the rest of the night didn’t go so well for him.
There where a few lessons that night.
Things can change before you even know it, or even suspect that it will. What started off as a quiet night, almost became the night my life ended. Context is one thing, but situations that one may find oneself in can change rapidly. When I ran up to that roof terrace, the context was two guys beating up my partner working the door that night. Thinking that’s all it was, I pushed them off, only to find the situation change in less than 60-seconds. In self preservation you have to be fluid. You have to be prepared to adapt to the situation as it changes. I had to adapt from what seemed an empty hand fight to one that now included a weapon. Thankfully my quick reactions, coupled with training saved me that night.
It is never a good idea to take on a weapon wielding opponent, and in my view should always be the last resort. Clearly on that night, the guy was going to shoot me. The fact that he purposively introduced a firearm into an empty hand fight showed his intent.
While by no means do I claim to be a firearm expert (because I am not) what saved me that night where 4 cardinal rules I always apply when dealing with a weapon,
1. Immediately remove yourself and or the target from the threat. My head was the target, moving that first, not my hand to deflect the firearm was primary. If I moved my hand first, my head would have still remained and I would have been shot.
2. Once you get the target out the way (in this case my head) the next thing to focus on is the weapon hand. Reaching up and controlling the weapon is crucial. Not only to know exactly where it is, but also had I not gotten control of it, he could have just as easily re-aimed to where my head was now. Getting control of the weapon prevented him from re-aiming at least for that moment.
3. Once initial control is initiated, find a way to trap the further use of the weapon, especially its mobility. As in my video example below I worked to trap the weapons mobility, taking it hopefully out of play (it is always however still a threat, you treat it that way until you know you are completely safe).
4. Reverse the psychology. Typically anyone who uses a weapon understands (to some degree) the ramifications of its use. Pulling a firearm in this instance helped this person feel that they could win the fight they were loosing. Had he shot me in the head he would have won. I didn’t try to get the weapon away from him, but rather reversed the weapon back on him. This changes the psychology of the fight, from having a weapon and feeling potentially powerful and a degree of control, to “oh shit, it’s turning back on me.” He now has to worry about his own weapon.
Even with that said, I am always prepared to adapt. If there is one lesson I learned outside the doors of nightclubs for several years, is that you absolutely have to be prepared to change your strategy when it is not working. Shortly after this incident I quit working the door, and in November 1998 began coaching martial arts full time. Needless to say, a whole lot safer for the most part.