#50: Catching a Thief [Podcast]
Welcome to Episode #50 of the Fight for a Happy Life podcast, “Catching a Thief.”
I live a pretty quiet life. So, when I got the chance to help catch a thief, I felt like Batman!
In this episode, I share the story and the lessons learned about self-defense and living a happy life.
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Catching a Thief
Today on Fight for a Happy Life, catching a thief.
[00:24] Welcome to Episode #50—yes, 50!—of Fight for a Happy Life, the show that believes a little martial arts makes life a whole lot better. My name is Ando and thank you for being here on a very special day.
It took over four years, but we finally hit 50 episodes of this podcast. I’m actually embarrassed because it should have happened months ago, but I took a little break. I got caught up making videos, which I love, but it’s not the same.
But don’t worry! I’m happy to tell you that I’ve already got six more podcasts outlined, I’ve got a bunch of interviews lined up, I’m ready to go. I’m committed to getting to 100 episodes as quickly as I can. But today, it’s the big 5-0.
I thought maybe I should do something special to mark this milestone, but before I could come up with any clever ideas, something interesting happened all on its own. Something involving criminals and police and me. Today, I’m going to tell you exactly what happened and what I learned from it.
But before I do, please, let me just say again, thank you for being here. Without you, I’m just a lunatic with a microphone talking to himself. Honestly, I talk to myself anyway, but thanks to you, I’m not a lunatic ALL the time. That’s why I’m grateful for every email, comment, and review you send me.
For example, I just saw a new review over on iTunes from my friend, DPNet. DP wrote that this show is soothing and inspirational. Quote, “I always feel just a little bit happier and more at peace after listening.”
Come on, man. Don’t make me cry. Thank you, DPNet. You just made me a little bit happier, too.
It doesn’t take much, does it? A kind word here, a little smile there—that’s how we can all make the world a better place.
Okay. On to the show. Here comes a story of cops and robbers…and me.
[02:41] The day was Sunday. The time was 1:00 in the afternoon. I had just returned home from Kung Fu class. I walked inside, greeted my wife, Kate, and headed into the kitchen to make a protein shake.
Suddenly, two people come running down the driveway of our apartment building and disappear into the backyard. Now, this is odd because our driveway leads nowhere. It’s a dead end. All you’ll find in the back of our building is a laundry room, a dumpster, and our cars.
So, who were these guys and why were they running down our driveway into the backyard? Our first thought was that they were the friends of a young man who lives upstairs. He has friends over once in a while and they usually hang out in the back, which is usually no big deal. But at this moment, my wife was just about to throw in a load of laundry and the idea of walking through a horde of young men didn’t make her feel comfortable. No problem. I said I’d walk back with her.
So, we grabbed the baskets and head into the backyard. I was in the lead, of course. I mean, everyone knows if there’s a chance that someone’s going to get punched or shot, it should be the male, right?
As we round the corner to the back of the building, we saw the two guys who had run down the driveway climbing over the wall to get out of the yard. The bigger of the two looked right at me. I looked right at him. I said, “Wassup?” He said, “Nothing.”
Then he threw his skateboard over the wall and hopped over. That’s when we noticed a multi-tool—one of those all-in-one knife, scissor, corkscrew doohickeys—on the ground. I keep one in my glove compartment. So, I asked my wife, “Is that mine?”
Now, let me tell you, Kate is always on high alert, so she was way ahead of me. She was already inspecting our cars. She saw right away that one of the car doors wasn’t closed all the way. “They were in our cars!” she said.
My first reaction was that she was overreacting. Like I said, Kate is always on high alert, so this felt like another false alarm. But sure enough, when I took a look inside my car and saw the glove compartment wide open, I knew she was right.
Kate jumped into action, “I’m calling the police.” I did my part. “I’ll see if they’re still out front.” I ran out to the street and immediately spotted the bigger punk standing with his skateboard a few doors down yelling for his friend. Apparently, the first punk took off on him.
An idea popped into my head—take his picture! Get some evidence. So, I ran back into my apartment, grabbed my phone, and sprinted back to the street. He was still there. I wasn’t close enough to take the picture, so I started walking towards him.
Well, maybe “walking” isn’t the best word. Even though I wanted to play it cool and not scare him off, I was also annoyed, which means instead of a casual stroll, I found myself marching straight at him like Yul Brynner in Westworld. Or the Terminator. Or a torpedo.
The punk felt my death stare and he stiffened up… but he didn’t run. Maybe he didn’t want to look guilty. Maybe he wasn’t sure what my intentions were. But as I got closer, when he could tell I wasn’t coming over to offer him a piece of pie, he took off. I shouted, “Hey!” and ran after him.
Now, here’s a quick tip for all of you punks and thieves out there—pull up your pants. This punk was wearing those baggy jeans that hang off the butt, so when he threw down his skateboard to run, he actually tripped himself up. As he stumbled to his feet, a flashlight—my flashlight—fell out of his shirt on to the street. We ran to the corner.
When he realized he couldn’t outrun me, he spun around and he squared up. I barked at him like Batman, “Why were you in my yard?” He barked back, “I wasn’t in your car.”
Wow. The fastest confession of all time. This guy was stupid… and a little drunk, I noticed.
Suddenly, the punk puffed up like he was going to punch me. In that moment, the idea of taking his picture was long gone. Once we were face-to-face, I had forgotten all about taking pictures.
I could the feel the phone in my hand, but there was no way I was going to break eye contact to turn on the camera. Instead, I glared at him, sending him the message that punching me was a bad idea.
The punk shifted his weight a few times, we exchanged a few more words, and then he deflated. He stuck out his hand, hoping to make peace. “We’re cool. We’re cool.” I slapped down his hand and said, “No, we’re not cool.”
At that point, I saw Kate in the corner of my eye. She had caught up. I prayed that that she wouldn’t attack him. I prayed that she wouldn’t tell me to attack him!
Thankfully, before anyone could attack anybody, we heard the sound of police sirens. When the punk heard the cops coming, he ran off.
A half a block away, his friend, punk number one, popped out of hiding and joined him. By the time the police arrived, a few of our neighbors had also come out of hiding. Apparently, the two punks had broken into other vehicles before breaking into ours.
According to one guy, he caught the punks taking a break with a bottle of brandy in his laundry room. He chased them off which is what caused them to come running down our driveway. Ah ha. Now it all made sense.
Okay. Fast forward a few minutes…
The officers asked me if I would be comfortable identifying the suspects. That’s right! They caught both of them. Drunk and stupid. You can consider that citizen’s arrest report filed. One point for Team Good Guys.
Interesting side note… the police said they would need to keep my multi-tool and flashlight so they could be used as evidence in the trial. That was about three months ago. Which means, bottom line, I’ve still been robbed!
What I learned…
[09:12] All right. Now, let’s talk about what I learned from all of this. First, the lessons that apply to self-defense, then the lessons that apply to living a happy life.
As far as self-defense, let’s start with this—chasing bad guys is a stupid idea. In this case, I got lucky. The punk wasn’t armed and he decided not to fight.
Don’t get me wrong—I think my original plan to just get close enough to take his picture was still pretty good. Take the shot, give it to the police, let them do their job. But pursuing the punk all the way down to the corner? That was unnecessary. I’m not even sure why I chased him.
Who am I kidding? The answer is ego. I was upset that someone ripped me off. More than that, my wife was upset and I didn’t want to hear her sniping at me for the rest of my life because I didn’t do anything about being ripped off.
But don’t be fooled—those are just ideas, not actual threats. Recognizing the difference between threats to your self-esteem and threats to your physical safety is a critical issue in self-defense. So, lesson one—
Beware of your ego. Your ego is a greater threat to your safety than any bad guy.
Now, even though I’m sure you’re mature enough to understand that, ego still happens! So, if, like me, you do find yourself chasing down and squaring up to a bad guy for no good reason, do it right.
Thanks to my training, I was careful to control the distance, so I wouldn’t get caught by surprise with a punch. I also had one foot in front of the other so I could keep my balance. I also kept both of my hands up in front of my body, ready for action. And most importantly, I kept my eyes on the punk’s hands.
In most cases, unless your attacker is a talented Capoeira practitioner, or a deranged Cirque du Soleil performer, the hands present the greatest danger. A punch, a push, a grab, a knife, a gun… watch the hands. Even when he says, “We’re cool,” and tries to lull you into a feeling of safety—especially then!—watch the hands.
Oh, that’s another good lesson. Don’t let the bad guy change your feelings. It makes sense that the punk went from freezing, to running, to squaring up, to puffing up, to backing down… as much as I was under stress, he was under more stress.
Why? Because he’s the bad guy! He’s the one who got caught doing something wrong and he’s the one scrambling to figure out how to get out of trouble. Not me. I’m the good guy. Why should I be stressed? My priorities should be clear.
That’s the advantage of being the good guy—clarity. You know who you are, you know what you stand for, and you know what you’re willing to fight for.
Boy, that all sounds great, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s not that simple. Alas… even though I live a simple life—and by simple, I don’t mean boring, I mean, focused—I was confused.
I wasn’t confused when I grabbed my phone and ran after the punk to take his picture, but boy, my mind got cloudy when we ended up eyeball to eyeball. “Should I hit this guy? Should I restrain this guy? Should I walk away?”
To me, that’s the true cause of stress—it’s not the fear of doing something you know you should do, it’s the panic that comes with not knowing what to do.
When we squared up, I had no plan. Neither did he. So, you had two guys staring at each other, waiting to see what the other one was going to do. It may sound nuts, but if he had thrown a punch, it would have been a relief! Even if he had pulled a knife, at least I’d be able to say, “Whew! Time to run.”
Instead, we ended up in a staring contest, which is not just stressful, but dangerous! I mean, where was his friend? Did you forget about him? I sure did.
The other punk could easily have been hiding in the bushes, snuck up behind me, and stabbed me to death. The fact is I was so focused on the big punk’s hands, a parade could have gone by with ponies and marching bands and I wouldn’t have known about it.
So, while I give myself a point for staying focused, I also have to take away a point for staying focused. The lesson?
Tunnel vision can save you or kill you.
[14:05] So, what should I have done? Simple. I should’ve taken a step back, checked out my surroundings, tapped on the camera, taken the picture, and walked away.
Yes, it’s so easy to see now. A little space could have made a big difference. To be honest, maybe the only reason the punk puffed up and pulled his arm back ready to punch was because I was too close. Maybe in his mind, I was the bad guy!
I chased him down, got into his space, and was ready to punch. Seriously—I was so busy managing the distance for a fight, that I didn’t think about managing the distance to avoid a fight. That’s a major lesson, my friend.
Self-defense training isn’t just about winning fights, it’s about avoiding fights. Train accordingly.
The longer we stood there, the more my thoughts stressed me out.
“Should I have chased this guy? Did he really break into my car? Was that really my flashlight?
Am I the bad guy here? Is there a chance that I could end up in jail? Is Kate going to mock me for the rest of my life if I don’t punch this guy?”
The stand-off seemed to last forever. The truth is we might still be standing out there if it wasn’t for those police sirens. In the end, neither one of us made a decision. We were both confused and stressed out. Which brings us to the big life lesson…
Sometimes you just have to wait for circumstances to change to figure out what to do.
I hate every word of that advice, but it’s true. If you listen to this show, you know I’d rather tell you to turn your doubt into action. To move forward even when you’re not sure what to do. To trust yourself to figure things out along the way.
Yes, yes, yes… those all make great motivational posters, don’t they? But all of that “rah rah rah”, and “go go go” spirit is meaningless when you’re stuck.
Getting stuck doesn’t happen that often, which is why I don’t talk about it that much.
Most of the time, even when you think you’re stuck, you’re not really stuck.
In this case, I felt stuck, but I could easily have stepped back and walked away. I just didn’t realize it. When you think about it, that’s really what most self-defense training is all about—making you aware of how much more you can do when you think you’re stuck.
In almost all cases, you are more capable than you realize. Not just in self-defense, but in every part of your life.
Trying to make friends, make money, make connections—whatever it is you’re doing to build a happier life for yourself, you have more options and more power than you realize. That’s an important message that I’m committed to repeating over and over again, for you and for myself.
But sometimes, you really are stuck. Like sitting in your car waiting for an accident to be cleared off the highway. Or waiting for a storm to pass. Waiting to hear back after a job interview. Waiting for medical test results. Saving your money to move to a new town or start your own business.
Many times in life, you must wait before you can act. You want to control your fate, yet you end up at the mercy of the gods. It’s humbling. It’s horrible.
[17:56] In the martial arts, I feel that humility and horror fairly often. The other day, for example, I was rolling with a guy who outweighs me by 70 or 80 pounds. I ended up on my back in his side control for about an hour.
Okay, it was more like five minutes, but it felt like an hour. That’s the effect stress has on time. Time flies when you’re having fun, and stops dead when you’re stuck.
I bumped and thrashed, I grunted and groaned, but went nowhere. I had time to try my A-game, B-game, and my wild card techniques. I had time to try every move I had ever seen, heard about, or imagined, and still, I went nowhere. I was stuck.
The only strategy left was the one I hate the most—wait. I had to wait for him to make a move. Until he changed the situation, my situation would never change. On this occasion, time ran out before he made any moves of his own, which means I lost. Symbolically, I died.
It’s sad, but true—sometimes you have no control over what happens to you. Sometimes, even if you do everything right, you just are not going to get what you want. At least not when you want it.
The best you can do is: 1) prepare yourself to survive whatever life throws at you, and 2) prepare yourself to take action as soon as you get a chance. If you get a chance.
That’s why it’s so important to stay healthy, keep learning, make friends, figure out your strengths and weaknesses, decide on your priorities, and set clear goals.
To be a complete fighter, you need to be able to make your moves, take your hits, and survive the waiting game.
Again, I hate talking about getting stuck because we’re not really stuck as often as we think. How many times have you talked with a friend who whines about being unhappy with part of their life and the whole time you’re thinking, “Well, stop that! Do something else!”
Guess what? Some of your friends are thinking the same thing when they hear you talking about your life. It’s so easy for us to see the options available to others and so difficult to see the options available to us. It’s so easy to think that life has stuck us into a bad situation and so difficult to admit that most of the time, we got stuck all on our own.
[20:48] My advice today is, first, to let your vision of a happy life stay as wide as possible. Tunnel vision may help you when you’re moving forward, but it works against you when you hit a wall. When you hit a wall, all you’re going to see is darkness ahead.
Don’t let your focus blind you to all of the options around you. If the road is blocked, drive in the shoulder. Turn around. Shift into reverse. Go off-road and blaze your own trail. Leave the car and walk away. Ask somebody else for a ride.
Remember—when you’re stuck and can’t see a way out, whether you’re toe-to-toe with a bad guy or toe-to-toe with a bad situation, take a step back and look around. There’s almost always another path you can take.
My second piece of advice is to stay cool while you wait. When you’re truly stuck, when you’ve exhausted every option, when everything has failed, when you’re at the mercy of circumstance, don’t waste your energy complaining about the past. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
The key to success when you get stuck is to focus on the future.
Prepare yourself to explode into action the moment circumstances change. When the pressure is lifted, move. When the pain subsides, attack. When the tides turn, row. Preparing for an uncertain future isn’t easy, of course, but you’ve got to trust yourself to figure out what to do when you finally get the chance.
Instead of being upset about the opportunities you missed, get ready to grab the opportunity that’s about to appear. Make your next move your best move.
Let me wrap this up. Learning how to wait is the most difficult strategy to master in the martial arts or in life, but make no mistake—how you manage your feelings and thoughts when you’re stuck will either lead you to becoming a winner or a loser.
So, make it your goal to keep moving forward in your mind even when everything else is stuck. Turn your inaction into action. A thief may steal your car, but don’t let him steal your cool.
Save your energy, widen your vision, and prepare for your moment to fight.
CLOSING: All right! There is episode 50. Onward and upward to 100.
If you liked this show and want to catch the next one, be sure to subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform, then head over to FightforaHappyLife.com and sign up for my free email updates.
Until next time, smiles up my friend. Let that smile be your shield and your sword. Keep fighting for a happy life!