Yesterday as I was walking out of the post office at Balmain a man walking past me caught my attention. Just for an instant I looked at him and him at me….I thought, “wow what an interesting hair cut and hey, tattoos…he is covered in them, he is not the usual person you would see walking the street in Balmain.”

He was looking at me at exactly the same time, and I think he was thinking something completely different. The look on his face said it all.. “What the *!!*#** are you looking at?”  I could immediately sense that this could very quickly escalate to a very serious confrontation.

So I stopped walking and looked straight ahead. I was  keenly aware of his presence close by me as he continued to stare at me…weighing up his options and probably assessing his chances. A few moments passed and I looked in his direction again, he was still glaring at me, we were now on a razor edge and the slightest provacation or movement from me would have sent us head long into a chain of events that could have had the potential of a very ugly ending.

I put my shoulders back, turned my chin into the wind and  started to enter into an internal process that I know well and trusted would protect me no matter what happens. This process starts with a connection to the present moment, a subtle changing of the breath and a steeling of nerves as the body prepares for the adrenalin dump prior to conflict. All of this happens with the space of a couple of seconds. (At Northstar we call this the “ready stance.”)

As I started the walk back on Darling St towards the dojo, on the outside it would have appeared that I was ingoring him completely but on the inside I was watching the way he walked and moved, to assess his ability to fight. I became acutely aware of the distance between him, his 2 associates and myself. I put my keys and mobile phone in my pocket and secured my wallet. My breath controlled and my mind clear, I knew that if this escalated I would have to move very quickly with precision and use just enough force to ensure my safety.

As they continued to walk ahead of me, they kept looking around to check me out, they were still weighing up their chances. As I was completely neutral, I gave them no opening to allow any escalation, in fact, I was in complete control of the situation. For a moment, they entered into my world and I am glad that they chose the path of peace.

Peace and non aggression  is always my chosen path. But is I feel for an instant that I am cornered and the safety of myself or someone that I choose to protect is threatened then I will turn every sinew into combat and unleash a force that is well trained through years of disciplined training.



  1. Jack on September 2, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    I think it takes an equivalent amount of skill, to avoid conflict, as it does to deal with it (by drawing your sword).

  2. Ed on September 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    It is strange how a lifetime of fear and self doubt can lead men to a path of agression. With all their ‘peacocking’ tattoos, bloated muscles, skinhead, or whatever it is that they use to support the supeficial and false macho image, what they are really saying is that they are afraid and that they do not know themselves.
    Perhaps they sensed your composure Andy, and this threatened their fragile balance. ‘Manchild’ is a word that I would use; a man’s body driven by the mind of a child.

  3. Richard Holdstock on September 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    “wow what an interesting hair cut and hey, tattoos…he is covered in them, he is not the usual person you would see walking the street in Balmain.”

    Having went Rozelle High School travelling each day from Ryde (circa 1955)and having to walk to Balmain PCYC to do Metal Work classes that guy was at that time the norm and he would have been the one thinking “he is not the usual person you would see walking the Streets in Balmain” times change ~ in this instance ~ for the better.

    You took the wise option Sensei ~ one can predict what the consequences of Street fighting may become.

    Warm Regards

    Richard Holdstock ~ Sensei

    Goju Ryu Bushido Karate Academy
    Blacktown City

    • andy on September 7, 2010 at 11:46 am

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Sensei. yes things have certainly changed.

      Kind Regards


  4. Vaughan on September 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Yet another example of the fact that REAL power is in gentleness and readiness. You obviously had the upper hand at all times Andy. Thankyou for sharing this reminder of everything that is great about the Northstar system.
    Best regards

  5. Andrew Blanch on September 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Your ready stance comments resonated particularly deeply for me. I had never thought about ready stance quite in this way. I have felt something of it so far in sparring, under pressure from high spinning kicks!

    Very well written Andy Sensei. Engaging, emotive, visceral and clearly detailed. And with a profound message to boot. That hit me towards the end, where it tends to have the most impact. Black belt writing ;o)

  6. Enus on September 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Just from a look?

    I wonder what he was thinking in reality – maybe what you figured…

    Maybe – holy cow, that bloke looks like he’s about to kick the crud out of me – “Hey guys, could you keep an eye that guy behind us & make he doesn’t kill us”.

    Wasn’t there, wouldn’t know, just wondering. I’ve had those encounters a couple of times and it just turned into “Hey, those are great tattoos, where did you get them?”

    • andy on September 3, 2010 at 7:25 am

      Thanks for your comments.

      I understand your point but I was being gentle in my description of the situation. These boys were busting for a fight! And the first innocent that that looked at them sideways would have been assaulted. These type of iundividuals prey upon the vulnerable and pick their mark very carefully. These were not a nice group of boys chatting walking down Darling St, discussing their latest ink, being watched by an over zealous martial arts master…!

      I am fortunate that my training and now teaching gives the skills to be able to assess situations and prepare properly. In the preparation comes the ability to cope. With out the preparation it would be like giving a gun to a child. There is temendous power in stillness and observation. Engaging this is the true mark of a good martial artist.


    • Enus on September 3, 2010 at 11:00 am

      You’re welcome. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for some time, since my boy used to attend mighty mites.

      I can only accept that the situation you describe was truly threatening.

      The reason behind my query was an ongoing disjunction between my experiences and what I read of your experiences, and many others here.

      I have read many examples over the years of your finding yourself in potential fight situations and dealing with it calmly in readiness, with very little escalation. That’s admirable.

      The disjunction is that I can recall only a single similar situation for myself in the last 25 years, where I experienced real violence and can’t recall any situations where I expected violence. There have been only a handful of times where I anticipated even some probability of violence.

      I find it hard to make the distinction between the following;
      a. Sensei finds what he is prepared for and on the lookout for – situations requiring readiness
      b. I’m just lucky
      c. I’m skilled at minimising risks
      d. I’m ignorant of the violent undercurrent surrounding me
      e. I have similar experiences but call them different things

      So, here’s a question, which I very much hope you have time to answer – how would you experience the following situation? It’s a real, recent experience of mine.

      You find yourself on a border town in Borneo, walking with 2 friends (a couple) through a blacked out zone just beyond immigration. You have just crossed the border, so you are carrying valuable documents such as a passport and everyone knows you’ve come with some money.

      You’ve only come for the evening to spend time with friends at a tavern playing music. You are surrounded by illegal drinking houses, bordellos and most likely some even more nefarious activities. It’s not even really a town, with the sole purpose of this settlement being to serve this border trade. There is a recent change in the tone of the place, with some new, legal establishments, but it is a matter of months since the whole place was just tin shacks selling whisky for $10 a bottle. It’s definitely dodgyville.

      It’s drizzling and the area you are walking through is usually floodlit with sodium arc lamps, but they’re blacked out. There might be 25 buildings in the whole town – the rest is anonymous, dark jungle. You have to cross about 300m to the beckoning lights.

      You notice a guy about 10 paces behind your group. The others haven’t even noticed him. He’s wearing a beanie in the tropical heat. You can’t tell if he came through customs behind you or he started tailing you on this side. You speed up, he keeps pace, you slow down, he’s coming closer.

      What are your thoughts and actions at this point?

      • andy on September 6, 2010 at 5:43 pm

        Thanks for your email. Wow, great experience’s!

        A martial arts master is not in a constant state of vigilance, always on the lookout for a nasty situation. He/she does not make a point of choosing to get involved at the slightest provacation.

        In my last comment I touched on coming back to a still space that is always present and can be tapped into at any time. This stillness is a gap of awareness that can be used in any situation, be it threatening or non threatening, the still space is the same. Bringing this sense of neutral awareness more regularly into one’s being enables an ability to see the real need of any situation and hopefully a response in accordance with exactly what is happening and not what you ‘think’ is happening.

        I call this “moment mastery’. That is, the ability to shape your own life in every moment based on the truth of what is happening in that moment. So in regards to your questions and great scenarios….a little scary….for sure. But if you regularly practise connecting with still, present awareness in regular daily life, then the practise is the same in times that are a little more threatening, there fore, you don’t over or under react, you respond with calm, centred awareness in appropriate action based on what is needed.

        This is an art form in itself and is not readily taught in modern mainstream martial arts.

        Once again thank you for reading the posts and contributing in such a positive manner.

        Kind Regards


  7. Rach on September 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I really like this story, Thank you for sharing it Andy. Perhaps it is because inspite of the apparent ‘non action’ there was indeed plenty of action but it was all internal. It’s a reminder of how all the other ugly interactions we read and hear about on the news or have experienced could be avoided. Seems like Andy Sensei’s presence was the key, like he says they were on a razors edge. Most people when they are on that edge have no awareness of it and get hurt through ignorance and automatic reactivity. That man has probably spent most of his grown life waiting for people to buy into his rage so he can feel justifyed in hurting them. Whilst i know it was the perfect outcome and indeed the need of the situation, I can’t help a part of me that would love to witness Andy Sensei take down that guy and teach him some err humility? Sorry, I still have a way to go i guess. People have knives and guns nowadays and there is no honour in street fighting. External tough guys would do well to take up Martial arts and learn some lessons on how to behave with honour, respect, dignity, courage, humility etc…. Well done Andy this is why you are our teacher.

  8. Oran on September 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Great story, thanks Andy. Going back to Enus’ comment I think that it is not that you are on the look out for trouble or that trouble seeks you out; more that you are more aware. I am only beginning my martial arts journey and I am already very much more aware than I was a few years ago.
    I would compare the changes that I have experienced to having children. Four years ago I never noticed buggies, playgrounds or high chairs, now it seems as if I have stepped into a parallel universe the only purpose of which is to service families.
    With regards to my training at Northstar I am now much more aware of potentially difficult situations, I tune in to changes in tone of an argument on the street, I observe the drunken hoon on the train where before I would have put my head down and read my book. These are conditioned changes and the situations were always there, it’s just that I chose not to see them.

    You have always taught me to be present and still in the dojo, that those tools can be employed outside of the dojo should not forgotten.
    BTW, if Enus has a blog I’m dying to find out what happened in Borneo 🙂

    • Enus on September 28, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      Thanks Oran. You expressed better what I had in mind – that effect where when you buy a particular model car, it seems to pop up on the street every second block. There were always the same number of that model getting about, but your perception has changed, as you described.

      I had a similar thing after I learnt the Heimlich maneouvre – I used it twice in restaurants within about 6 months and never again for 15 years now. It’s exited my awareness.

      I took from Andy’s reply that he might be experiencing that, in that he would not experience his “still space” unless his perceptions were changed – through greater awareness perhaps.

      It probably explains the relatively very few times I have felt the hint of impending violence – lower awareness. I may have been in great danger and completely missed it.

      To answer your question about Borneo, the guy walked on by and I felt that I’d been overly paranoid. But it’s like any risk management scenario – the management is working best when you don’t know whether it’s working – the problems that never eventuated. Perhaps I was experiencing something like Andy’s “still space”, that became apparent and the bloke in Borneo changed his plan. I’ll never know.

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