Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tactics - Play to Your Strengths

While looking something else up I came across an interesting news story about the great magician David Copperfield. This April he was in the Palm Beach area after the last of six shows. Four young robbers with guns approached him and two of his female assistants. The women gave over their money, cellphones and passports. When the criminals went for Copperfield he showed them his pockets and concealed his valuables by sleight of hand. The robbers drove away. One of the assistants got the license, and the malefactors were captured soon afterwards.

It's a funny story. It has some important lessons for self defense.

First and foremost, the magician and his companions kept their cool and didn't do anything to escalate the situation. It would have taken very little for four teenagers with guns to turn it into a bloodbath. The bad guys got what they asked for and left. That's about the best you can hope for in that situation. Yeah, they were taken off guard at first. They thought the robbers wanted autographs. But they recovered well and didn't panic.

Copperfield's act has included mentalist tricks. Many of these rely on the ability to remember things seen only fleetingly. It would be reasonable to assume that this helped them catch the license number.

Even more important was pitting his strengths against their weakness. Copperfield is a world class illusionist. He put what he is good at - sleight of hand and playing to an audience - against their mental weakness. He captured their attention and used his professional skills to control the situation in an unrehearsed, completely improvised act with a hostile audience on a stage he didn't prepare. Not many performers have chops like that. The article doesn't say so, but I'd be willing to bet that he used his abilities at handling an audience to de-escalate the situation.

This wasn't self defense as most people think of it. There's a lot more of Her Wits About Her than Put 'em Down, Take 'em Out. It wasn't dramatic. The robbers weren't heroically disarmed until the police caught up with them. It was a brilliant success accomplished with the best tools at hand. I'm only sorry he wasn't able to pull a rabbit out of his pocket and make the robbers disappear.

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