In the parking lot behind a local Sainsbury's I'm sat with my feet on the dashboard, in the passenger seat of a Panda, waiting for Jay to come back with our lunch. I don't really have any reason for having stayed in the car, other than complete, abject laziness. I suppose I was fiddling with the MDT when we pulled up, but really, that could have waited. Besides, I quite like to have someone else buy my lunch for me. Jay, especially – he's had a vegan girlfriend for a while, a relationship that fell apart a couple of weeks ago, and he's been trying to take revenge by eating as many cows as possible. If you ask me, it's not the greatest way of getting back at an ex, but as long as it makes him happy, who cares.
"Mike Delta two-four receiving Mike Delta" the radio buzzes. I look down lazily, before reaching for the in-car hand-set. It's one of those ancient, enormous squeezy-button-microphone ones you see in American cop shows a lot. We never use it – we've got small microphones and fancy push-to-talk buttons, but I guess I was in a retro mood.
"Ten-four, Mike Delta", I say, in my worst American accent. Incidentally, that's also my best American accent. I never did have much of an ear for languages. I also don't really know what ten-four means, but fuck it, if I'm going to be talking into an ostentatious gray chunk of plastic the size of the shift-skipper's ego, then I may as well go all out.
"You free to deal with an assault?"
"Yeah, why not. Send 'er over"
"Done. Thanks. It's on an S-grade."
I'm reaching for my phone. The call is a Sierra-grade, which means we have an hour to get to the location, but it can't harm to get going, so I call Jay up on his mobile. It's possible to call people directly radio-to-radio, of course, but the user interfaces on our radios is very Motorola circa 1995, which means it takes a rocket scientist to figure out how to program numbers into the phone book etc. So I just went ahead and called him on my iPhone instead. At least that's usable.
Jay finished up inside the shop, and hopped into the job car. From the second he opened the door, a delicious smell wafted in.
"What'd you get", I asked, as I strapped myself into my seat with my seat belt.
"Chicken. Roasted. Whole", Jay replied. I looked over. He grinned back, only barely able to stop himself from salivating. "Where are we going, then?"
"Church street", I reply. "It's a weird one, actually, we've been called to a boxing ring about an assault, I think – we're meeting a Chris there, who has been assaulted, apparently."
"M'okay", Jay says, and takes us out of the Sainsbury's car park with his blue lights on. Since we're not having to get to our destination for another… I check my watch… 45 minutes, there's no real reason for the blue lights, but it's certainly an effective way to find a gap in traffic. Once we've joined the flow of cars meandering through the east end of the borough, Jay flicks the blues back off.
"Tut tut", I joke.
"According to the Ways and Means act of 1943, that was perfectly acceptable", Jay fires back. Ah – the Ways and Means act. Of course. How could I forget. Okay, so perhaps Jay bent the rules a little, but dammit, what's the point of having blue lights bolted to the roof of an Astra if you can't use them every now and again.
We made it to the gym in pretty decent time.
"This", Jay observed, "Is not a boxing gym".
He was correct – we were standing outside a narrow and deep building that had lots of Japanese writing on the outside. A martial arts Dojo, in other words, and a much fancier one than the community hall where I train Jiu-Jitsu twice per week.
We were met by a paramedic.
"This way", he said, without seeming to be in a particular hurry. That's good news, at least, I thought, as we were led into a café-looking thing near the front of the dojo. An advanced session of some martial art I didn't recognize – it looked a little bit like Taekwondo – was in progress in the dojo itself. The session as visible through the large glass wall, and looked rather impressive.
In the Café, we found someone in a martial arts costume, sitting on a chair, as another paramedic was checking his pulse and blood pressure.
"What happened here, then", Jay said.
Chris opened his mouth to answer, and it was clear he had recently had a tooth knocked out, in addition to the other injuries to his face – and the arm in a sling that he was clutching close to his body.
"He beat the shit out of me", Chris said.
"What is his name?"
"Where is he?"
"In there", Chris nodded, turning his head to look through the glass wall, but then flinching in pain as he tried to turn his neck.
"Right. So what, exactly happened?"
"We were training, and I landed a punch a little bit too hard."
"So you punched him?"
"Yeah, I suppose, but I didn't mean to."
"Forgive me if I ask a stupid question," Jay started, "But isn't punching people the point of martial arts?"
"Well yeah – but we don't go full contact without a lot of padding. Normally, we just mark our punches, and I guess I miscalculated, and put a little bit too much into my punch."
"Does that happen a lot?", Jay asked
"I suppose it's not uncommon to leave a session with a few bruises here and there."
"Right. And then what happened?"
"He paused for a second, pointed at me, and without saying anything, started beating me up"
"And this is the Instructor?"
"I see you're wearing a green belt"
"With a blue stripe", Chris replied, holding up the limp, blood-splattered end of his green belt, to show off a thin length of blue fabric that was attached to the belt.
"Whatever. What does that mean?"
"Does that mean you know what you're doing?"
"I suppose it means I'm about half-way to my black belt", Chris replied.
"And the instructor… he is a black belt?"
"Yeah. I don't know what Dan, though."
"Dan?" Jay turned to me… "Matt, you know this stuff, don't you?"
"I dabble", I said. "Not in this sport though."
"Are injuries common?" Jay asked me.
"Not in Jitsu." I reply. "Bruises, mostly."
"Yeah, same here", Chris said.
"So, he just went for you?" I asked Chris.
"Yeah. I hit him in the front of the shoulder. I suppose I may have hit his clavicle. He just lost his shit and went for me. I think he only got about six strikes in before the others dragged him off, but the doc, here, thinks he busted my arm. He broke one of my teeth, too, and I'm definitely going to have a bit of a shiner as well. He kicked me in the head."
"Did you fall down?" I asked.
"No, I remained standing."
"But he still kicked you in the head?"
Chris just laughed.
"Kicking someone in the head when they're standing up isn't that hard", he said.
I muttered something in return. In Jitsu, we don't really bother with kicks above the belt level: If you're going to give up that much balance, you may as well get in close and break one of their joints.
"And his name is John, is it?" I ask.
"Yeah. He's the tall, bald guy," Chris said. "The one with the black belt".
I looked over at Jay. He looked back, and shrugged. "Let's do this", he said, and unfastened the pushbutton that secures his CS gas, and loosened his baton in his holster. I shook my head, and did the same.
We both walked into the Dojo.
"What is this?" John the instructor bellowed. "Get those filthy shoes off our mats!"
I completely get where he was coming from – in Jitsu, the mats are a place of respect: You bow to enter the dojo itself, then you bow again to walk out onto the mats, then you bow again when you face an opponent… And again when you leave.
When we both stepped back off the mats again, he made no move to come join us.
"Can you come over here for a moment, we need to talk to you", Jay said, resting his right hand on his handcuffs, at John to come closer.
"Can it wait?" John said, glancing at the clock above the door we had just entered through. "We are finished in about 40 minutes."
"'fraid not", Jays said. "Now, please."
"Seriously, 40 minutes," the instructor said, visibly annoyed.
"No." Jay said. "Now."
The instructor still didn't appear to want to come over.
"Look, I really don't want to step on your mats again, but if I have to, I will. I need to talk to you, and we're going to do that like civilized people, not with five meters between us and fifteen people looking on."
"They all saw what happened, they'll back me up", John replied.
"My friend", Jay started, "You have ten seconds. I'm going to go out into the café now, and you're going to join me."
"Am I fuck. I'll be there when the session is done", he replied.
I walked out onto the mats, and Jay followed.
"What the fuck do you think what you're doing? Do you have no respect?" John howled, in a tone of voice and a level of indignation that would have usually have been reserved for incidents more akin to stomping on his kitten on our way to spray-paint swastikas on his daughter.
"My friend, you're swearing at a police officer in your own Dojo", I hissed, "Don't talk to me about respect".
Jay and I were standing about a meter away from John, and I was acutely aware of the 15 blue- and brown-belts standing behind their instructor.
"Get off my mats", he shouted.
"We will, when you come with us."
"I'm not coming."
"Yes you are."
"You can't make me."
"Yes we can."
"You think?" he laughed, and took a defensive stance, before shouting something in Korean. The dozen-and-a-bit-strong troupe of people behind him all took a pose that I assumed was the start of some sort of training exercise.
"Use your brain", I said. "Of course you guys can beat us up, there's only two of us. But if you do, we'll be back, thirty of us. Fifty. A hundred. And you'd all go to prison for a very long time. All I want to do is to talk to you about what happened to Chris."
"Put one hand on me, and I'll fuck you up." John said.
"Are you preventing me from doing my duty as a police officer?" Jay asked, innocently.
"Damn right I am."
"Fair enough." Jay said, and reached for his radio.
"Mike Delta receiving 483?" he transmitted.
"We're going to need BSU support at our last assigned. We're being threatened by sixteen pajama-clad ninjas."
"Received, stand by", the CAD operator said, before firing off some commands over the airwaves.
"In about five minutes," Jay said, "we are being joined by a minibus full of riot police." He turned to the people behind the instructor. "I strongly recommend that if any of you don't want to get arrested, you get the hell out of here now, before the riot guys show up. They don't play nice."
Three people left immediately, to loud protests about loyalty from their instructor. As soon as the first three had started walking toward the door, another half of the remaining group peeled away, and finally, several others did, too. Only two people remained standing behind John.
"Mike Delta?" Jay transmitted.
"We are now only being threatened by three ninjas."
"Received", came the response after a few seconds. Even through the bad reception, it was clear that the CAD operator was laughing.
Since the room had emptied out, we figured we might as well try and get some talking done.
"There has been an allegation that you assaulted somebody", Jay said.
"Don't be fucking ridiculous." John said. "Look at where you're standing."
Jay made a point of looking around the Dojo.
"England," he concluded, after a long pause. "This is still England, isn't it?"
"That's what I thought. Definitely England. Which means that English law applies."
"Don’t' be daft, this is a dojo. People come here to learn how to fight. Sometimes, you get slapped around a little, that's just how it works. You can't get assaulted in a Dojo." John concluded.
He had walked straight into Jay's trap. I quite pride myself in knowing the law, but Jay is a walking encyclopedia of law, especially any part of the law that is linked to use of force. I guess he would have to, since he had spent a significant proportion of his time in the Met with a Tazer and Glock strapped to his leg and a MP5 sub-machine gun over his shoulder.
"Actually…" Jay started, just when the door to the dojo slammed open. Six officers, dressed top-to-toe in padding, wearing riot helmets, holding yard-long batons and holding up the smaller, round shields, had just burst through the door. They stood behind us, shoulder to shoulder.
"Nice of you guys to join us," I said. "We're just having a nice little chat with John, here."
"Hey", Jay said, talking to the two remaining pajamas behind the instructor. "If you wanted a good excuse to leave, there's six brand new excuses standing behind me…"
The two students sheepishly walked out of the Dojo. The riot-clad borough support unit cops blocked their way.
"It's OK, Nick", Jay said to the team sergeant, who nodded in response, and stepped aside to let the two students past.
"Right, as we were saying", I started, but Jay interrupted me. There was no way he was going to let me take the lead on this arrest.
"So, John, I've been trying to talk to you as nicely as I can, but you've just been an insufferable troublemaker. You had your chance to talk, but I'm tired of you. So, I'm going to arrest you under suspicion of assaulting Chris."
"It can't be assault!" John started
"You are referring to consent; that consent extends only to activities within the expectations and rules of the activity in question. There is an allegation that you supposedly attacked one of your students, inflicting injuries that are vastly beyond what are normally sustained during practice. In addition, he was your student, and you were in charge of him. On top of that, you're a black belt. The very least your students expect of you is that you can keep your cool if they make a mistake. So yes, I am going to arrest you for assault."
"Fuck you." John spat.
"Really? Is that really how you're going to play this?" Jay laughed, and took a couple of steps back. I followed his lead.
"Right, mate", I said, "You have two choices. Either, you lay down on your front with your hands on your back so we can handcuff you…"
"Fuck off." John said, revealing a drearily limited vocabulary.
"Or we are going to ask the six fine gentlemen behind us to handcuff you for us, and you can add another assault to your custody sheet", I completed.
John just stood there.
"Fellas, would you mind?" Jay asked, and stepped aside.
In perfect synchronicity, the six officers placed their left legs ahead of their right, dropped their centre of gravity down by bending their knees, lifted their batons, and held the shields out in front of them. Left foot first, they took a shuffling step toward John. Then another. Then another. Then another.
John took up a defensive stance for a fraction of a second, and then changed his mind: He must have decided that no amount of black belt was going to stop him from being arrested by six heavily padded officers with batons and shields. He did as we had originally asked, and laid down on his front, with his hands behind his back.
"Spread your legs," Nick, the BSU skipper commanded. John did what he was asked. "Further!"
It was the best possible outcome, really; with a suspect on their stomach, legs apart, and arms on his back, they are essentially incapacitated. There's no way they can jump up or harm any of us without signaling what they are going to do (Try it: Lay face-down on the floor, legs wide apart, hands on your back. It's impossible to get up without moving your hands or legs quite a lot – which would give me plenty of time to jump away from you and get my baton ready). It was certainly a preferable situation than the alternative, which would have been an all-out brawl between six riot police and a load of pajama-clad martial artists.
Once he was handcuffed, the BSU guys wrapped up John's legs with leg restraints as well. I'm not completely sure that was necessary, but given that this guy could obviously kick people in the head, it seemed like a good idea. It was also entirely worth it, just to see the faces of the people in his class, when four of our padded officers carried the instructor out of the Dojo, into the waiting caged van
Matt Delito is a pseudonym for a policeman working for the Metropolitan Police. All Notes from the Frontline are not entirely “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” due to the sensitive nature of the business, but are all based on actual events. These days, he’s on Facebook and Twitter as well.
Matt has a book based on his Notes from the Front Line column out now - you can get it from Amazon, in paperback or on Kindle.
If you missed his previous columns on Giz UK, check them out over here.