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Guest Post: One of My Best Weapons

This Guest Post is by my friend, Mark Tankosich, who has dan rankings in both Sho-ha Shorin-ryu karate and Zen Nihon Kendo Renmei jodo. Along with the martial arts, his passions include the Japanese language. He currently lives and teaches in Hiroshima, Japan.

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More than ten years ago, when I was working as a basic interpreting and translating skills teacher at a language school here in Hiroshima, I had an experience that I've often thought about.

A very famous interpreter (he had interpreted for several US presidents) was in town, and my bosses, I and some of my co-workers took him out to dinner. You may know that pretty much every major town in Japan has an "entertainment district," where you can find countless restaurants, an unlimited number of bars, and a variety of "adult entertainment." In Tokyo, this place is an area called Kabuki-cho. In Sapporo, it's Susukino. Here in Hiroshima, we have Nagarekawa, and so that was where we took our guest.

The dinner went well, and, when it started to get late, we left the restaurant and regrouped outside on the sidewalk. No one was driving that evening, and there was some discussion about how each person would get home. One of my co-workers, an attractive woman in her late 30s, said that she was going to catch a cab. Very soon an empty cab pulled-up and stopped a short distance from where we standing, She walked toward it and the back door opened. (Here in Japan, the taxi drivers can "automatically"open a back door for a passenger from where they are sitting in the driver's seat). My co-worker got into the cab, but an instant after she did, a stranger started to get in, too. I don't know if this man hadn't seen my colleague, or was doing this on purpose, but his action obviously surprised and scared her.

As any of us would probably do, my co-worker began to get out of the door that she had just entered, trying to push past the man. Unfortunately, at this point, the man put his hand on her shoulder and tried to push her back into the car. Seeing this, I reached from behind the man, grabbed his hand, and pulled it off of my colleague's shoulder. As I did so, I immediately noted several things: This guy was pretty stocky for a Japanese; he was dressed like, and had the calluses on his hands of, a laborer; he was a bit drunk; and he had 2 other friends standing right behind him.

Anyway, with his hand removed from where he had placed it, the man turned to face me. As he did, without thinking, I instinctively hit him with one of my best weapons: a nice, big, friendly smile! He stared at me for a few seconds, then turned, and, with his friends, walked away.

Did I manage to avoid an ugly physical fight by smiling at this man? I honestly don't know. Is it always wise to allow your potential enemy the option of striking first? I really don't think so. Is there any kind of lesson to be learned from this experience? Personally, I guess that what I've gotten from it are 1) a greater appreciation of the wisdom of my own sense of intuition, instinct, or whatever you call somehow "just knowing" the best course of action; and 2) an increased understanding of the strategic value of friendly, disarming behavior.

Mark Tankosich