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Susan Dalton
07-31-2015, 12:36 AM
This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton 2015, all rights reserved.
I rarely lose my temper. I'm calm, kind, reasonable, or so I like to believe. But Gadi Shorr's May column (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=24229) about road rage made me think about an incident that happened almost twenty-five years ago, shortly after I began Aikido. My husband Kemp, five-year old son Ryan, and I were driving back from a lovely day at a lake near our town. Ryan sat in the back behind Kemp, probably listening to a Ninja Turtles story on tape, maybe drowsing a bit after a long day in the sun. I, in the passenger's seat, read a book, and Kemp drove. We were stopped in the left turn lane at a stoplight, getting ready to turn from a major road onto another major road, almost home. Suddenly the car jerked and my husband cursed. A truck had come roaring up to the light. Instead of slowing down behind us as the light changed and we began to move, he swung around us, passing us in the left turn lane, causing Kemp to have to slam on brakes. Kemp yelled something and stuck up his middle finger.

The truck was large and red with no plates. A toddler stood in the middle of the front seat between a woman and a red-faced giant of a man. Immediately the man slowed the truck to almost stopped and began swerving all over three lanes so we could not pass. He then jumped out of the truck and ran back toward our car, where he jerked my husband's door open. Kemp threw our car into reverse; the sudden movement made the door slam. Kemp, of course, hit the master lock button to secure all our doors. The enraged man drew back his fist and smashed it into the driver's side window, sending flying glass all over my husband and all over my son.

Now, there are a couple of facts you ought to know. My husband is blind in one eye and has endured repeated surgeries on that eye. Glass near his eyes frightens him and terrifies me. And my child sitting there in the back seat covered with glass shards, well, he was the first of my miracle children (the only one I had at this point in our lives), the one my doctors said I would never be able to carry to term, the one I stayed on strict bedrest with for six months, no pillow, allowed up for five minutes every other day to take a shower. Yes, I'm justifying, but I'm trying to get you to understand what happened next, although I'm not entirely sure I understand it myself.

"You SON OF A BITCH," I screamed as I jumped out of the car and advanced on the man. I don't know what else I screamed. All I knew was I was going to kill him. When I got my hands on him, he was going to be dead. He was huge, bigger than my mountain of a brother who stands 6'4", 260, but I didn't care. White hot rage engulfed my entire body, particularly my nonfunctioning brain. I was going to kill him, and if he killed me first, I was going to keep on killing him, too angry to know I was dead.

So the guy took off running back to his truck, hopped in, and roared away. I'd like to think he feared for his life, but most probably he had broken his hand when he smashed our car window and was now in tremendous pain. By then I was returning to my body and my rational mind, and I listened to my husband's demands that I get back in the car. Now his rage took over and we began chasing this truck through the city streets, going sixty, seventy miles an hour in a twenty five mph zone.

"We need to stop chasing him before that baby standing in the truck gets hurt," I said. I had crawled over the seat into the back to brush the glass off of Ryan, who was fine. Our window had been made of safety glass, so although it broke into pieces, those pieces had no sharp edges. "We need to stop and be sure you're OK. We need to report this jerk to the police." I kept talking and my husband s good sense returned, just as mine eventually had. His foot eased a bit off the accelerator. Finally, I said, "What are we going to do if we catch him? What if he has a weapon in the truck?"

Driving even more out of control than when we'd first encountered him, the guy in the truck put distance between him and us. We stopped at a red light and watched as he roared through the next red light blocks away. "Let's turn here and go to the police station," I said, and Kemp agreed.

At the station, the officer told us that the last incident of road rage she responded to had ended in a fatality. Someone was dead, and someone else was in prison. Ryan told her that when he grew up, he was going to be president and the first law he was going to make was that no one could ever give anyone the finger again. He also made sure to tell the officer all the bad words I said.

I think of Toyoda Fumio Shihan laughing at a seminar as he talked about yes, we can keep our centers on the mat. But what about in traffic when someone cuts us off? Can we do aikido then?

Hopefully my years of training mean I would respond differently today. I had never experienced this level of anger before, a rage so intense that I lost my center, my judgment, my mind. I had never before realized I was capable of murder. Hopefully I would now think of that baby standing in the truck throughout the incident rather than as an afterthought. Wherever that child is today, I hope he's OK. And of course I now realize something was already going on with the man in the truck long before he ran into us. Wherever he is, I hope he's OK, too --although when it rains, I hope a twinge in his hand reminds him not to be a jackass.
"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.

Janet Rosen
07-31-2015, 02:00 AM
I think most of us, even the ones without "an anger management problem" (damn, I hate that phrase), will at least once in our lives have that combination of buttons pushed that turns on the rage and turns off the inhibitions...and I think it is valuable that we experience it, so we can recognize that it truly does reside in us as part of the human potential.

07-31-2015, 10:05 AM
To add to what Janet has said: it's a step for us to recognize when our buttons are being pushed, and not react to that. It's a further step to recognize when we're pushing others' buttons, and refrain from doing so.

Mary Eastland
07-31-2015, 03:35 PM
I think you did exactly what was supposed to be done and that is aikido. Least possible harm.

People need to watch out when then mess with our families.
The aftermath was adrenaline.

Susan Dalton
07-31-2015, 03:55 PM
Thinking, judgment, any thought of consequences, had been completely turned off. All that existed was rage and the need to get my hands on him. Honestly, he probably would have killed me, but I don't think I would have known or cared that I was dead. I agree, Janet, that it's valuable to realize that monster is in there.

07-31-2015, 06:06 PM
Back in the day when I ran a carpentry crew building houses...

I had one guy who was fond of saying: "I'll kick your ass, not even get mad."
Another guy who would say: "One of us is going to the hospital, I don't care which."
And they MEANT it...

Meanwhile, I discovered that heat and fatigue will turn almost anyone into a raving lunatic. I learned quickly to talk people down from the blind fury... Fearless calm tinged with empathy in the face of blind anger works amazingly well with most people in most circumstances. I'm not sure Aikido training can get someone to that place - but I think training to be calm in the chaos of conflict must be beneficial.

Susan Dalton
07-31-2015, 09:25 PM
Yes, I agree that remaining calm amidst conflict is beneficial. That's something I strive toward and can usually do. I've been in some bad spots in my life and my best weapon is that I can remain calm, think, and talk. But not this day--that part of my brain did not function. The whole situation was ugly, and I'm lucky it wasn't uglier.

07-31-2015, 09:53 PM
Oh yeah. I've had my own moments of foolish blind anger. Fortunately, no serious harm...

Susan Dalton
07-31-2015, 10:04 PM
I think one of the best tools I've gotten from aikido (and yoga) is controlled breathing. I can't remember using it to rein in anger, but I definitely use it to deal with anxiety and fear.

R.A. Robertson
08-14-2015, 02:45 PM
I agree that we should all train for calmness or whatever other brain states will help us achieve optimal performance.

Ultimately, though, I think it's the performance that really matters. Performance (behavior) in the face of a seriously altered brain must somehow also be incorporated into our training.

As desirable as calmness is, I think we need to know that we can somehow still function regardless of what we feel, or how much red we see. Some brain states are by definition an impairment, but to be able to recognize it and allow for it means accessing some part of our brain which could be termed "rational," but that's not the same thing as serenity.

In other words, very very well done. Under the circumstances.

Susan Dalton
08-15-2015, 02:24 PM
That's really kind of you, Ross. Wanting to kill someone and being ready to actually do it was such an alien feeling--I am usually a very rational person. I think and think and think some more. But there was no thought process involved here, only rage. Really, I was very lucky the guy broke his hand and took off running before I could get to him.

A guy I know used to do physical therapy for prisoners. He said for the most part he was much less afraid of the guys on death row than the ones who had lived a lifetime of crime. He said most of the death row inmates he knew were there because of one incident where they snapped and regretted it the rest of their lives. After this incident, I understood what he was talking about.

08-15-2015, 07:42 PM
What a great article, well done!

Susan Dalton
08-16-2015, 08:31 PM
Thanks, Ben.