Wednesday, February 28, 2007


One thing that you may not know is that martial arts training is preparing you to be a hero. Not a super-hero, but a REAL hero. Research suggests that nobody is immune to the bystander apathy effect, but individuals who have any sort of training in handling unexpected emergencies tend to be less affected by this crippling hesitation. And that is nearly a perfect textbook definition for martial arts – unexpected emergency training. Of course, you probably won’t learn to resuscitate a drowning victim or put out a house fire in aikido class, but it does get you used to acting in response to a type of unexpected emergency.
As a kid in 1982 I remember watching the newscasts following the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 into the frozen Potomac River. I still get shivery occasionally thinking about that crash and the people involved. Of the 80-something people on board, six got out into the icy water and clung to the tail of the plane. A helicopter arrived and lowered a line and Arland Dean Williams Junior repeatedly passed the line to others. Every time the line came back he passed it to someone else – people he didn’t know. Williams eventually succumbed to the cold, sank and drowned helping strangers.
One of the survivors, a young woman, couldn’t hold onto the tail of the plane and began floating away in the icy water. Lenny Skutnik, a passing motorist, got out of his car, and jumped in repeatedly until he was able to save her. Then he refused an ambulance ride to the hospital because he was afraid they would charge him a fee he couldn’t afford.
Two wholly different kinds of heroes in the same situation. Williams thoughtfully, deliberately passed the line to others. Skutnik jumped in without thought or hesitation because he saw a woman in danger. What did these two men have in common? I don’t know what kind of training, if any, either had but neither succumbed to the apathy that keeps one person from helping another. The kind of apathy that paralyzed 38 people who were within hearing range of the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in the 1960’s. The kind of apathy that paralyzed a bridge full of people who watched Delitha Word jump to her death to get away from an irate motorist who attacked her in Detroit in 1995. The kind of apathy that kept countless people from doing something to save 2-year old Jamie Bulger from being dragged 2 miles through crowded streets by his kidnappers who later murdered him.
I pray that our training will prepare us to do something if we ever are forced to – not because I especially want to be a hero – but because that kind of apathy we don’t need in the world and that kind of hero, we do need.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful. I lived in DC when 90 went down. We didn't know it happened until late in the day. We only knew that traffic was diverted from the bridge (I was living in Arlington). After seeing the videos I often wondered if I could be a hero as well.


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