Sunday, January 27, 2008


When Jack Dempsey was in his 70s, he was the subject of an attempted mugging. Dempsey broke the man’s jaw. All such stories have a tinge of apocrypha, even those gleaned from newspapers, so I have some latitude for embellishment. In my version, the would-be mugger wakes up in a hospital bed, his jaw wired shut. He manages to say, “What happened?” through his wired jaw, and the orderly cracks up. “You tried to mug Jack Dempsey, asshole!”

Mugging is a high risk occupation, without much upside potential, so muggers tend to be pretty stupid. There was a locally famous student at the New York Aikikai many years ago, “Harry, the Muggers’ Mugger” as he was known. Harry was in his 60s, and liked to dress like a “pigeon,” mugger bait in other words, and go out walking in Greenwich Village late at night. He had decorated a wall of his apartment with switchblades, ice picks, and sharpened screwdrivers that he’d taken away from would-be muggers. I don’t know whether he did more than remove their weapons. Aikido, as I have said before, offers the option of being kind and gentle, but there are other options as well.

Dennis, who was a member of Aikido of Berkeley back when I first began the practice, was once standing at a bus stop in the rain with his umbrella over his head. A guy sidled up beside him and put a knife to his ribs, saying “Don’t make any sudden moves.”

“You mean like this?” Dennis said, and raised the umbrella up higher. The guy’s eyes went up to follow the umbrella…

The way I remember the story is that, after Dennis took the guy’s knife away from him, he remarked that the guy was lucky to still have all four limbs still attached, and possibly that such attachment remained optional. Again, as I recall, the guy then politely asked for his knife back. You may imagine the laughter that this produced.

As I say, mugging is not a career for the intelligent.

My friend Dale and his wife Susan were out walking one day, along with a friend of theirs. Susan was six months pregnant at the time. Two men jumped out of the bushes and tried to snatch Susan’s purse. Dale and the friend tried to pull Susan back out of harm’s way, but Susan was having none of it. She was a) holding onto her purse, and b) defending herself with what she had in her other hand, which was a folded umbrella.

She got one of them in the eye.

As the two fled, blood streaming from the one, his buddy called back over his shoulder, “You didn’t have to be so rough about it!”

Mugging is not … oh, hell, you know.

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