Several of my Aikido teachers referred to a famous 1980s study in which felons convicted of murder and/or assault were shown videotapes of random and diverse people walking on the street and asked who they would pick as their victims. The muggers were asked to rate the videos on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of “muggability,” one being (in their own words) “a very easy rip-off,” six stating “could give you a little static” and ten warning to “avoid it, too big a situation.” The study found that “the prime difference between perceived victim and non-victim groups…seems to revolve around a ‘wholeness’ or consistency of movement. Non-victims have an organized quality about their body movement, and they function comfortably with the context of their own bodies. In contrast, the gestural movement of victims seems to communicate inconsistency and dissonance.” The study concluded that their findings were consistent with previous students which found that “people participate in their own victimization through the situations in which they place themselves. The results reported here extend these findings to include movement as an important component of victimization. A nonverbal dialogue seems to exist between criminal and victim through the victim communicates his or her vulnerability to the criminal…” (A quick Google search reveals that this 1981 study is not alone in its findings.)
In other words, muggers will rarely choose people who have some kind of physical, athletic training, especially martial art training, as evidenced by their bearing, stride, and vitality. Why? Because they’d be too much trouble. Why pick a victim who has obvious physical awareness and confidence, focus and presence? They’d be too hard to unsettle and unbalance. Why not pick on people who are much easier prey? Go to any campus and you’ll see students and teachers tranced into a stupor by their cell phones. Or their computers, as I was one day at the college computer lab.
Quick story: He must have noticed that I was falling into a computer trance. You know what I mean—falling into the glow of the screen, nudging the mouse here and there, surfing mindlessly, tuning out the rest of the world, leaving your body and floating off into cyberspace. We do it all the time. I can’t even tell you what I was checking on the computer, but whatever it was, I was engrossed by it, and that’s what he noticed. He also noticed that my small blue-jean purse was on the counter next to me, and that I was sitting relatively close to an exit which led to a quadrangle and the street. And he must have noticed my graying hair. I was undoubtedly profiled, but in hindsight, I’m certain the key factor was that he could see that I was headed toward a mild state of disembodiment.
I caught his movement with my peripheral vision. He was thin, fast, and motivated. Probably a meth-head. He snatched my purse and was out the door like a dust devil. I stood up stunned and said something brilliant like “Hey, that’s my purse!” but he was already out the door. What he didn’t count on is that I snapped back into my body and gave chase, yelling as loud as I could, “Stop him!! He just stole my purse!!”
I say I gallantly gave chase, but this guy was fast and I’m no track star. A few paralyzed onlookers gawked like they were watching us on TV. Lucky for me, three things happened. First, a campus police car rounded the corner. He must have heard me yelling and spotted the running man, because he hit his lights and gave chase. Second, a man on foot and a person on a bicycle also heard me, sized up the situation and gave chase. Last, a friend showed up and was happy to go log out of and turn off the computer where I’d been working and recover my coat, which I had left on the chair. By the time I caught up with the police car, the thief was cornered against a building, panting with exhaustion, and the young man who had caught him handed me my purse. Nothing was stolen, and luckily no one was hurt. But had I been paying attention to my body back in the computer lab, I’m certain the thief would have chosen someone else.