Bring a Thief to a HandstillApril 29, 2013 by Garry Hodgins
Recently, I travelled to Barcelona, with my wife, for a short holiday. While travelling on the Metro, we realized that we were being interviewed by a female spotter as potential targets for some pick pockets. Though I don’t speak Spanish, I gleaned from her message as she had mentioned the name of the station we were in. I also noted that she was overtly flirtatious in her body language towards me (this is highly unusual for me). As we were getting on the subway, we moved away from her, stood at the door opposite and let her know that we were aware of her. Her behavior became erratic and overtly anxious. As we got off at the next station, I began to search for other potential targets and shadowed them.
As we approached the escalator (it was rush hour), we took the stairs. Here I noticed something more suspicious going on. There was an average dressed man standing right behind an elderly German couple on the escalator. He pulled out a large map, but not for its conventional purpose. This man was using it to cover other people’s view while he rifled through the poor old woman’s backpack, and he wasn’t working alone. Behind this thief, there was a very well dressed man and you would never think they are associated in any way. The first thief’s job was to pickpocket the goods and then subtly pass them on to the well dressed guy behind him. The former would then run off if/when suspected, while the other seemingly innocent would be able to escape with the stolen property unnoticed.
As I am not a police officer, I was content at stopping the crime from occurring (I was on a short holiday after all) and continued to observe the two pick pockets as they got off the escalator. At this point, I intervened to prevent the theft from happening. I simply reached across to the map and said “Hey, what are you doing?” The thief got scared and before he managed to steal or pass anything off to his accomplice, he took off. My wife was impressed too.
I remained aware and awake to my environment for several hours after the incident and was able to observe the pick pocketing system throughout the city, including the drop off point at the corner of a side street off La Rambla, the city’s main thoroughfare.
I have been surprised at how much my situational awareness has grown since the Systema Camp this summer. I feel as if I had been wearing blinkers before. What is more, I have also become more conscious of how many people are oblivious to their surroundings and engulfed in their own thoughts and internal conversations. They become deaf, dumb and blind to the actions and intentions of other people in their environment. I attribute these positive behavioral changes to my continuing practice of Systema tension and relaxation exercises which allow me to develop conscious awareness of my body whilst stilling the mind and emptying it of unnecessary thoughts. This, in turn, has helped me to develop a relaxed alertness of what is happening around me at any given time. To me this is the essence of self-defense, remaining awake and developing a relaxed vigilance of your environment, avoiding the stories which your subconscious mind is attempting to lure you with, for example, that the extremely attractive girl in her mid 20’s is flirting with you because you really are that attractive… Always remember, as Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote: “True nobility is exempt from fear.”