It's a Sunday afternoon, you're at a nice marketplace on Powers Boulevard, looking for a certain kind of shampoo, and suddenly a guy says angrily, "Hey, you're not the only one shopping here, asshole."
You answer, "All yours," and start to move away, so the obnoxious person can find his shampoo. Except you look and see him coming at you, brandishing a pocket knife with about a 3-inch blade.
What would you do? Run? Scream? Freeze?
Greg Hartman's reaction two-plus weeks ago was different from most. He's a 47-year-old, second-degree Universal Kempo Karate black belt, and those instincts took over.
If you've been reading the Independent for a while, chances are you might remember Hartman. He has sent us many letters to the editor, though he's not often on the same page politically as the Indy. A native of Kansas, he worked for Focus on the Family's online site as a technical editor for 12 years until his department was shut down a few months ago in favor of outsourcing. Now he's doing similar work for a Denver company but still living in Colorado Springs as he has since 1998.
He and I visited two years ago for a package we did on our most prolific letter-writers ("Type cast," cover story, Jan. 17, 2008), and he talked then about enjoying karate. As he recalls now, "I joked about being too old to fight fair, so if I couldn't avoid a fight I would have to make sure it didn't last long."
Those words proved prophetic on June 13. Amid the job changes, he hadn't been training as much, "but there are some fundamental things that don't go away immediately, like when it comes to defending yourself against a knife."
Like most of us, Hartman has encountered his share of aggressive people, and he says his usual response is "just to walk away from trouble. After all, you don't buy a car to see if the air bags will deploy in a wreck."
But when Hartman saw that knife, in his words, "I had to do something."
What happened over the next 3 to 5 seconds takes Hartman several minutes to explain. He grabbed the guy's wrist, hit him in the face with what's known as a "palm strike" and, when the man wouldn't drop the knife, Hartman pulled harder until the man's wrist popped, either broken or dislocated.
"He finally dropped the knife, and I kicked it behind me," Hartman says. "But then he started to come at me again, so I hit him with another palm strike, and from the sound of it, I'm pretty sure it broke his nose."
That ended the fight. The man stumbled away, and Hartman didn't try to stop him. Instead, he went home.
"I just wanted to remove myself from the situation and try to forget about it," Hartman says. "But if the store had caught it on video and came back to me wanting an explanation, I would've talked to them. As fast as it happened, though, I doubt if anyone could have known what it actually was."
He shared his story with Facebook friends, whose reactions were understandably positive. But in the days since, that incident has affected him in other ways, which is why he contacted me.
"I've spent a lot of time second-guessing myself and feeling crappy about it," says Hartman, who also has multiple sclerosis. "I'm thankful I had the tools when the situation arose, but I would much rather have avoided the whole thing. One friend said it could've been somebody else, and somebody would've been in jail with a victim injured or dead.
"Now I understand why they make cops go to a counselor after they have to shoot someone. I don't think people appreciate them enough. There's a lot of guilt, even though you did nothing wrong, and you wonder if it was really necessary. But a 3-inch blade can do a lot of damage if somebody stabs you in the right place."
We talked more about the police analogy, and how he also knows more now about how soldiers might feel after combat. But it bothers him that he would "not feel very confident" about being able to identify his attacker in a lineup or a courtroom. He just remembers several details: white male, maybe 35 to 40 years old, short brown hair, hoodie, jeans.
"I didn't really look," he admits. "I've scolded myself about not being more alert. I really wish I could've avoided it."
Hartman has learned another lesson worth sharing. Even in our supposedly tranquil village, in a laid-back store on Powers Boulevard, bad things still can happen.
"I used to joke about it," he says, "but it's not really a joke anymore when somebody comes at you with a knife. ... People should not be fearful to go places, and it's smart to do anything to avoid a fight. But still, don't be oblivious to what's around you. Be alert. Pay more attention, inside a store or going back to your car. It's wise to think about what you'd do, just like you have an escape plan if your house is on fire. Because things can get ugly real fast.
"You can't afford to think you're totally safe, because maybe you're not."
Yes, even in Colorado Springs.
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