#54: Facing a Death Threat [Podcast]

Welcome to Episode #54 of the Fight for a Happy Life podcast, “Facing a Death Threat.”

What would you do if someone threatened your life?

Would you be prepared to fight? Would you be able to walk away? Would you have the wisdom to know the difference between a real threat and an idle threat?

Those are the questions that I’ve been wrestling with after someone recently threatened my life! If you want to know what I figured out, take a listen to this podcast.

Spoiler alert: I’m still alive. 🙂

To LISTEN to, “Facing a Death Threat,” you can either:

Facing a Death Threat poster

To READ along, or if the player won’t play, you’ll find a full transcript down below.

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Thanks for listening! Keep fighting for a happy life! 🙂

Facing a Death Threat


Today on Fight for a Happy Life, facing a death threat.

All right. Here we go. Welcome to Fight for a Happy Life, the show that believes a little martial arts makes life a whole lot better. Ando here with a cup of coffee, feeling on top of the world.

Sometimes that’s all it takes, you know—just give me a cup of coffee and I’m a happy guy. Hope you’re feeling on top of the world, too. If not, hey–grab a cup of coffee and come on up. There’s plenty of room up here.

Today, I have a little story for you. But I’m going to warn you right up front—it’s going to get a little weird. Maybe not the story itself, but at some point, you might think I’m a little weird. Or maybe a whacko. I already know this.

So, I’m just going to ask you to give me the benefit of the doubt until you hear the whole story. Give me a chance to explain myself. When the story is over, if you make it that far, then I’ll take a shot at offering you some advice that you might find valuable… even if you still think I’m a whacko.

Fair enough? Okay. Then let’s get to the story of a real-life death threat.

Here’s the story…

[01:38]  The story is simple. I was minding my own business, as always, and observed a gentleman engaging in what I would call inappropriate behavior. This guy was mouthing off, not showing respect to another human being, so I took it upon myself to call him out on it.

I simply said, “Hey, that’s not okay.” I wasn’t looking for a fight. I just wanted this guy to know that someone was watching, that there was a witness to his rude behavior, and did not approve.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates being called out for their bad behavior. What am I saying? No one likes to be called out for their bad behavior! As a result, the situation escalated.

Now, I promise you, throughout all of this, I kept my cool and tried to keep the peace. But this guy was a hothead and was committed to going to war.

I’ll spare you the full 15 to 20 minutes of dialogue since we basically just went around in circles—me saying that he needed to chill out, and him calling me an idiot, saying that I was wasting his time, and lashing out at anybody else who dared to come near us. But I stood my ground, repeating my message clearly that his behavior was unacceptable and needed to change.

There is one line of dialogue, however, that is worth sharing. In fact, it’s the whole reason for this episode.

At one point, after about 10 minutes of saying the same things over and over, the gentleman took a breath, hardened his face, looked me dead in the eye and said, “I’m going to get my knife and cut your fucking head off.”

That’s right—a death threat. He threatened to cut my head off and in that moment, something in my brain—my lizard brain—clicked.

Like I said, I was cool throughout this entire incident, but when he raised the stakes, it changed everything. My eyes narrowed and I snapped back, “What did you say to me?”

Now, because I’m not psychotic, and because I truly wasn’t looking for a fight, I was able to fight back the lizard and let my higher brain functions take the lead. But his lizard was wide awake and didn’t want to talk anymore.

So, the gentleman started kicking at me. At one point, he punched me right in the groin! Thankfully, I had two other people on my side and we were able to restrain him, even though he was kicking, screaming, and throwing elbows at all of us.

In the end, no one got hurt. Nobody went to jail. The scene broke up and we all moved on with our lives. So, you could say the good guys won. But hours later, days later, I was still thinking about that death threat.

I’m not going to lie–it was chilling. To hear someone so full of rage voicing the clear intention to end my life was unnerving. He wasn’t playing games, or trying to be clever, or trying to impress anyone… it was pure hatred. I believe, in that heated moment, he truly wanted me dead.

And now, for the twist…

[05:14]  Okay. Here’s where it gets weird. Are you ready for a twist?

You might have noticed that I said I got punched in the groin. That’s an unusual attack, wouldn’t you say? When two guys of about the same size square off, it’s usually a push and a punch that gets things started.

But what about when those guys are not the same size?

What if one of those guys is six years old?


Yup. That’s right. The gentleman I’m talking about was six years old. Actually, he’s not even six years old… he’s almost six years old. He’s a student at the school where I teach martial arts.

That makes the death threat even more shocking, don’t you think? I mean, even just hearing a small child call a grown up an idiot is pretty shocking. Seeing a child lash out with punches and kicks, well, that’s also fairly surprising. But a death threat? I didn’t see that coming at all.

Now, clearly, this young man was having a bad day. Only a whacko would take anything he said or did personally. I believe in my heart that he’ll work on his temper and learn how to manage his emotions better and better in the coming years.

But what about me? Do I also have some issues to work out here? Is it normal for an adult to take the ranting and ravings of a child seriously even if it’s just for a moment?

To be honest, there were actually two moments when I felt my lizard brain wake up. The first when he threatened to cut my head off and second when he landed that heavy punch in the groin.

Remember, I work with kids for a living, so I’m used to dealing with bad attitudes, or seeing kids squirm and fuss with their moms and nannies, or taking little punches and kicks during sparring, but that punch was different.

Most of the kicking and elbowing that this gentleman was doing as we were trying to calm him down and take him outside, because he was creating a scene, was fueled by frustration. The intent wasn’t really to hurt anybody, it was just acting out.

But when we set him down and gave him some space, he had the chance to plant his feet and channel his rage into his fist. That punch was a deliberate attack to cause injury. No question about it. That’s why it got my lizard brain’s attention.

The lizard shouted back, “Oh, yeah?”

I hate to admit it, but in that moment, my body wanted to fight back. It didn’t matter that he was six, I was hurt! But I’m not six, so I was better able to manage my emotions than he was.

I channeled my frustration not into a fist, but into a heavy hand. I dropped it on the shoulder of his punching arm and said very clearly, “That’s not okay.”

Again, I want you to give me the benefit of the doubt here. I didn’t hurt him. I wasn’t even trying to scare him. I just needed to make sure that I wasn’t going to get hit again. I also didn’t want him hitting his nanny or the teacher who was helping us.

No one has a right to hit anyone.

All things considered, I think we did a very good job of staying calm, being supportive, and using soft hands to control him so he wouldn’t hurt us or himself during this extreme tantrum. We just wanted him to take a breath, sit down, and talk it through. But when he landed that groin shot, the lizard jumped up to protect me, which I don’t think makes me a whacko.

Still, I stayed cool and found my words. With my hand on his shoulder, I said to him, “Hey—no one is hitting you. If you keep hitting people, someone might hit you back and you’re not going to like that.”

For some reason, even though we had been talking and negotiating for over 15 minutes to no avail, that one statement stopped him cold. Not just his words… his body.

It was amazing, really. He was holding his fist in the air, ready to punch again, and then just lowered it. He was still upset, he was still huffing and puffing, but he did not lash out again.

He punched the air a couple of times, but you could see that he was reconsidering his choices and gaining control. It may sound strange, but it was actually a beautiful moment.

I mean, for me, the whole point of martial arts is self-improvement. Transformation. And here was the process in action in its purest form. I feel privileged to have witnessed it.

[09:56]  Okay. So, that’s the story. What does it mean for you? Well, let me ask you—what does it take for your lizard to wake up? How close are you to pulling the trigger and going on the attack in any given situation?

What makes your heart race? What makes your eyes narrow?

I think this question is worth investigating in depth. Because for some of us, aggression is a daily, if not hourly, if not a moment-to-moment way of life.

If someone cuts you off in traffic, someone got the promotion you were campaigning for, someone hit you with a little too hard in sparring. If you’re that kind of person, I can’t begin to list all of the triggers that cause you to lash out. Your lizard is always awake and on patrol. It sees everything and everyone as a threat.

On the other extreme, you may be the type of person who rarely gets upset or aggressive. Your lizard is fat and out of shape because it sleeps all day. You forgive, you forget, you make peace, you laugh off conflict, you take the high road.

Of course, if you listen to the show at all, you know I’m going to tell you that living on either extreme is not a great idea. On one side, you want your lizard to be well-trained, able to identify true threats, and ready to help you fight to survive when necessary.

On the other side, you want to give your lizard time to lay back and take a nap when there is no real threat to your safety or self-esteem.

The goal for all of us, I think, is to attain the wisdom to know the difference between what a real threat looks like and what is just a waste of time and energy.

Like I said, I work with children for a living. I also work with the teachers of those children. And as I train teachers, I always make the point of saying, “Look, no matter how nice a person you may be and how much kindness you have in your heart, it’s still very easy to take your interactions with the kids personally.”

That’s a fact. I feel it myself and I see it in others. So, I tell them, “If you ever find yourself feeling tense or disturbed when a particular child enters the school, if you hear yourself saying, ‘Oh, no—look who’s here,’ or even, ‘I hate that kid,’ if in any way a child makes you angry or upset, if you find yourself driving home still thinking about some kid who insulted you, or refused to listen to you, or somehow disrespected you, then you really need to take a look at yourself and make some changes.”

Because at the end of the day, they are children. If you’re 20 years old, 30 years old, 40 years old, and you allow a four-year-old to mess with your life, your happiness, your peace of mind, what does that say about you?

It’s natural for kids to push boundaries and experiment with different behaviors. That’s how they learn. And even a child who’s demonstrating completely unacceptable behaviors is often just repeating what they see at home, which just makes them a victim, not a perpetrator of evil.

[13:20]  So, in no way, should you ever have a personal vendetta against a child. Adults? Well, that’s a different conversation. We’ll have that another time. But truth is easier to see in the extreme, isn’t it? That’s why working with children is so rewarding.

So, if you find yourself having lizard brain reactions, or strong emotional responses, to the words or actions of a small child, something is out of whack. Of course, this is something I learned over time.

When I started working with children, I took a lot of those interactions personally.

How dare you say that! Don’t you see I’m an adult? Don’t you see I’m the teacher? Don’t you see my black belt?

But I begin to notice that every time I would be annoyed or upset, the child had already moved on to the next moment, completely forgetting whatever it was that made me upset!

Screw you, kid!

They would skip out of the school as if nothing happened. I’d be left alone, sitting in the dark, brooding, while across the street, the kid was with his parents eating frozen yogurt. I’m cursing his name while he doesn’t even remember mine. It made no sense.

Picture that. The older, wiser adult caught up in his own web of emotions, driving home shaking his head, huffing and puffing, while the immature, carefree child giggled and played. That guy? He was a real whacko.

So, my advice is to really pay attention to your feelings and own them. Be honest with yourself.

Even if it’s just for an hour or two today, see what it takes to shake your peace of mind. What rattles your self-esteem?

I’ve talked about this idea before back in Episode #3, Sucker Punched By Life. I might go back and listen to that one again myself. Because the fact is that the punches are going to keep coming. Whether it’s from friends or family, or the economy, the government, the weather, even your own body, the attacks are going to keep coming. Unfair, unpredictable, and possibly, harmful.

But if you’re a martial artist, you should be getting better and better at managing your emotions, separating yourself from a situation to see it objectively, and picking your battles.

Action is so much more powerful than reaction, my friend. We should always be seeking to choose our behaviors and create our plans, not just stumble into situations and wing it.

We should befriend our lizard brain and train our primal instincts to work for us, not against us. To protect us, not get us into danger.

In this case, I was surprised to feel my lizard wake up in response to a death threat from a small child. I was surprised when my lizard wanted to punch a kid in response to being punched. I thought I was over taking anything a child says or does personally… but I was wrong.

Sure, these were extreme behaviors, threatening to cut my head off and punching me in the groin, but that’s why I’m thankful for the incident. It was a beautiful moment not just for the young man’s transformation into a better person, but for my own transformation into a better person.

Nothing reveals the truth quite like pain and fear.

On the other hand, as much as I was surprised, I was also proud of myself for being able to stop myself from saying or doing anything that might have frightened or injured the child.

In that moment, I completely understand how other people, people with untrained lizards, might’ve struck the child or answered his death threat with a death threat of their own. Fighting fire with fire is a natural reaction when we’re scared, insulted, or feel threatened.

That’s why we should all pay attention to our feelings, even when we don’t feel scared, insulted, or threatened.

I consider the child in my story to be a test… a low-level stress test. What if the same words had come from an adult? What if an adult threatened to cut my head off and then punched me? If I can’t control myself with a child, how am I going to control myself with an adult?

[17:53]  That’s why you should approach everything that happens to you today and forevermore as a test. Observe your feelings and reactions when the stakes are low and there is no threat to your safety. If you don’t, if you neglect training your lizard, you may find yourself saying or doing something you regret when the stakes get higher.

Nowadays, or maybe it’s always been that way, people are snapping, lashing out, and making threats everywhere you go. Take a look at the comment section on most social media platforms, for example. Yikes!

Obviously, most of that language, and the feelings behind that language, are completely unnecessary, unproductive, unhealthy, and only make the world a less happy place to live. That’s why I think it’s important that we don’t leave our emotions unsupervised.

Emotions are just like children who need to be disciplined and guided. You must train them to know when it’s time to attack, and when it’s time to take a nap.

Like I said, the reactions I had to teaching children 10 years ago is very different from the reactions I have today. That’s not an accident… I worked on it. And whether you find yourself living a more aggressive lifestyle, feeling under threat often, or a more passive lifestyle and rarely feel threatened by anything, I think a little work on your emotions will reap huge benefits.

Start by spending a little time identifying what triggers your feelings of anger and affection. Maybe you should be aggressive more often. Maybe you should be affectionate less often. I can’t give you the perfect formula of emotions, but I can tell you that it’s worth the effort trying to figure it out.

If you’re not aggressive often enough, you’ll be taken advantage of. You’ll miss opportunities. You’ll be victimized.

If you’re aggressive too often, you’ll damage relationships. You’ll also miss opportunities because people won’t want to deal with you. You’ll escalate unimportant situations into crisis level situations. You’ll be stressing out your nervous system and hurting your health for no good reason.

So, do the work. Get to know your lizard. Teach your lizard to be fierce, but also wise.

Train your lizard to do battle when the fight is right, but to rest easy when fighting is just a waste of time.

Whatever you do, please don’t allow your lizard to control you. Yes, it loves you and wants to protect you, but it doesn’t always know how.

It’s up to you to lead the way. It’s up to you to throw a saddle on your lizard, grab hold of the reins, and lead it in the direction you want it to go.

That’s how you’ll ride towards glory. That’s how you’ll ride off into the sunset of a happy life.

[CLOSE]  All right. Time to take your lizard out for a cup of coffee and talk things out. Hey—if you enjoyed today’s show, thanks for sharing it with a friend or leaving a review over on iTunes. If you’d like a transcript of the show, you can find it over on FightforaHappyLife.com. Until next time, smiles up, my friend. Let that smile be your shield and your sword. Keep fighting for a happy life.