Road rage death and self-defense

This is an interesting case of road rage and it illustrates one of the reasons why I do my Violence Analysis videos: to share information and insights on how violence happens in real life and what the consequences can be. But most of all, how this applies to self-defense and personal safety. One of my Patrons sent me the video and we talked a bit about it. In particular, how people seem to have less and less an understanding of danger and take stupid risks all the time.
Watch the video first, then read this:

Some thoughts:
  • This incident clearly shows the unpredictable nature of conflict: it starts as a typical shoving match but it ends with a body on the floor. That kind of shoving match happens dozens of times all over the world, every day. But not every one of them ends with somebody losing his life over it, most don’t come even close to that. Because so few of them end in death, it is easy to assume they never will.

Our brains like to see patterns and rely on finding them. This works, obviously, but the inherent danger is mistaking the pattern for reality: just because most road rage incidents don’t end in one person killing another, doesn’t mean they can’t. It also doesn’t mean that there are only two options; shoving and killing. There are more shades of grey when it comes to what the potential consequences may be:
    • A machete cut could have left a lifelong scar across the guy’s face.
    • It could have hit him in a limb and cause a permanent injury due to nerve damage.
    • It could have crippled him for life.
    • Etc.

Between “nothing” and “death”, there’s a large gap that is filled with all sorts of unpleasantness. Just because those don’t always happen, doesn’t mean you can’t end up there when it’s your turn. Violence is a roll of the dice. No matter how good you are at it, it can always end poorly for you.

  • Notice the machete strikes. The report said they caused injuries but were not life-threatening. Same as above: this is both positive and negative news. Just because the injuries are apparently minor in this case, doesn’t mean you will have the same results. So if you conclude from this incident that machete attacks are no big deal, you would be mistaking…
  • The attacker loses his weapon and it is used against him, effectively I might add. Two quick points about that, first that weapons aren’t magical; they don’t do the work for you. Just having one isn’t enough; you need to use it correctly too. Second, weapon retention should be an integral part of your training. One aspect of weapon retention for knives and swords is making sure you don’t lose your grip when you strike. My students suffer hearing me go on and on about seemingly minor details when it comes to our weapon techniques. “You can do it that way, but you risk your sword jumping out of your hand upon contact.” is a phrase they often hear. Sounds unbelievable to beginners, until it happens to them. Not really something you want in a life and death struggle, so these details do matter.

Both these points need to be addressed in training. Ignore them at your own risk.

  • China is not a Western country. It has a very different culture and legal system. Looking at the video, I’d be willing to bet that had it happened in the West, the conclusion wouldn’t have been self-defense. The man on the bike picks up the machete and then chases the driver as he hacks away at him. In many jurisdictions here, that would not be seen as self-defense as he was (arguably) no longer in danger of his life. Hence, he would not have been justified in using lethal force.

But that’s the West. Asia is different. Hell, Western countries are different from each other. My point is that you shouldn’t assume your legal standards to apply everywhere. That begs the question: how does your self-defense training reflect this reality? Or, does it even take this into consideration? If not, why not? It seems wise to answer these questions for yourself before you have to use your techniques in real life…

All that said, the best self-defense technique against road rage is to not get in an incident to begin with.

As this video shows so well, things can escalate rapidly and end up with somebody dying.

That somebody just might be you.

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  1. Chris Nelson says

    Great presentation and essay; thanks for both.

    The bicyclist got off lucky on several counts. First, we all know the joke about the difference between a porcupine and a BMW, and the driver was almost certainly “wrong” to move into the bike lane and attempt to force the cyclist to move. (And that wasn’t his last mistake, obviously.) The cyclist was “wrong” tactically to think that his bike-mounted argument against multiple apparently angry and impatient men in a motor vehicle would hold any sway. Clearly, it didn’t, as the driver escalated from shouting and shoving to … get that machete.

    Even at that point the bike rider would have been “more right” to simply abandon the cycle (or grab it quickly and mount it to move against the flow of traffic) and run to avoid the fight … and that weapon. Astonishingly, he decided to engage, even at that huge disadvantage.

    That’s when Machete Man made his penultimate mistake: attempting to use and then losing it. His final mistake was not making his own immediate tactical withdrawal into the relative safety of the vehicle when his advantage was lost. He seemed to have an attitude of, “Huh, well, that happened. I guess you’ll give it back to me, we’ll let bygones be bygones and be on our separate ways.”

    I think your legal / cultural analysis is spot on, too. That’s where the cyclist also “got lucky”. There’s no way he wouldn’t be facing a murder charge in nearly any US jurisdiction based on that “pursuit” once he had the weapons advantage. (On the other hand, a good defense attorney might have made the argument that the driver, once he got back into his car, would have had a new advantage in lethality. He was still dangerous.)

  2. Well done, Wim. Like the incidents reported in the NRA (National Rifle Association) magazine that a patient brings in each month, these real life incidents help to us to become aware of what is going on around us (‘around us’ being relative). It is important to be aware and awake, as well as prepared. Being aware without preparing tends to lead to paranoia and undue fear; being unaware and unprepared is an even worse choice. I do not like some of the realities that you often share, just as I do not like knowing so much is going on in my neighborhood, town, or country. But what we like is not the issue.

    • Thanks Dennis. And indeed, just because you stay informed and try to prepare, doesn’t mean you like any of it. If I could snap my fingers and make violence go away, I’d do it and happily write about something else. But I’m not Thanos last I checked… :-D

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