Twenty-two years ago my girlfriend asked me how work was the night before. I had to think for a second since I had just woken up. “Hmmm, I had some guy’s head on the hood of a car and then the police showed up to take over,” I said. Not a sentence everyone can say about their job.
At the time I had been working as a nightclub bouncer in New York City and San Francisco. This gave me invaluable insight into the psychology and physicality of the martial arts. I had been a martial artist since I was 10, though more seriously since I was 16. This was and has been my life’s work. Not all martial arts stories are about how you defeat someone through one-on-one combat. The following is a story about how I dealt with a car chase through the streets of San Francisco one late weekend night.
When I drive, I’ve always found that my martial arts training applies to how I deal with the road and other drivers. I had one very unforgettable high speed chase in San Francisco in the early nineties. Martial arts strategy helped me out-drive a group of four guys trying to do me in.
This was the era of wannabe gangsters, thanks in no small part to the popularity of gangster rap. What the music inspired at the time was every middle and upper middle class kid thinking it was cool to go around threatening to shoot people or giving “threatening” looks outside of the window of a car. Having grown up in New York City and known actual thugs, this looked ridiculous to me. Here is what followed that night in San Francisco.
One night a group of four young very suburban clean-cut types, probably on the swim team, drove up on me. The passenger of the car starts mad-dogging me, and seeing him with his blonde hair and baseball cap, I couldn’t help it. I started to laugh. This was my one mistake.
As I drove off, I heard their car start to speed up behind me. Sure enough, I had given them all the reason they needed to pick their fight with me. I heard them start to pass. Unsure if they had a weapon or not, I told my girlfriend calmly that I might have to crash her car into theirs.
“I told my girlfriend calmly that I might have to crash her car into theirs.”
They drove up past me and one of them started to reach out the window with his whole body. Something was in his hand but I couldn’t tell what. I swerved the car slightly to the left, knocking into theirs on the tail end. Something hit our windshield from the thrower. Their ultimate gangster move was to toss a cup of liquid from a red plastic tumbler.
Things then took a more serious note as we started to get into a high speed chase down Church St. in the Castro District. I decided to apply some jujutsu to my driving and lock them into a side-by-side engagement, speeding up my car so that they would match my speed. I then suddenly slammed on the breaks, sending them flying about 50 meters in front of us before they were able to stop.
I sat and waited as one of two things could happen. They would either have to drive back to me or they would get out of their cars can try to chase me down on foot. For all I know these kids are now successful doctors or lawyers. However, their decision to get out of their car and chase me on foot wasn’t exactly the smartest move. I waited until they were about ten feet from my car then I swerved around them and took off.
“The other car eventually caught up with us and threw a tire iron out their window.”
I asked my girlfriend if she could think of the nearest police station. The other car eventually caught up with us and threw a tire iron out their window. I found a police car before reaching a precinct. With the police present it was comical to see the gangster façade on my “assailants” fade. I was even able to give one of the young men my card (“Martial Arts Instructor”) and ask them to call me so we could work out the damages. That call never happened directly. Instead, the driver got his mom on the phone to speak with me.
Alessandro Ashanti is a lifelong martial artist and instructor. He hails from four generations of writers. He is the author of Full Circle: Life Lessons Learned on the Martial Path. Available on Amazon.