Freezing nights and hot days didn’t bother the scientists and crackpots gathered for the annual Science and Consciousness Conference in Santa Fe – a small city in the middle of the New Mexico desert.
As part of the research I was doing for my PhD in Science Communication, I attended a talk by a well-known professor from Cambridge University. His research was in morphic resonance: a controversial hypothesis that many scientists were calling pseudoscience; while some religious extremists considered his ideas to be dangerous.
He talked for a while about his experiments that were trying to prove humans can sense when we are being stared at. Then, he got us members of the audience to participate in some experiments to see if we could sense whether the person sat behind us, was staring at us or not. As a group, we actually got statistically significant positive results.
During the break, he invited anyone with a question to come down to the stage and approach him. I had a question, so I walked down to the front. He was still up on the stage, leaning forwards as he chatted to a middle-aged woman who was standing by the front row. Behind her was a younger woman waiting her turn, so I lined up behind them both and waited for my turn.
Moments later, a young Japanese man in a hoodie approached us and pushed past me to get to the front. ‘That’s a bit rude,’ I thought to myself, ‘the end of the line is back there, buddy!’
Before I had a chance to tell him that, he pulled a knife from his pocket and lunged forwards aiming for the professor’s torso up on the stage. The knife missed his upper body but sunk into his thigh near the groin area. He twisted it and then jerked it out, as blood spurted from his femoral artery like a scene from a horror movie!
The attacker then staggered back a couple of paces towards me. I wasn’t sure what he was going to do next. Would he stab the professor again or turn and attack one of us? Time slowed right down for all of us watching. Surely the burly American guys wearing cowboy hats who were stood nearby would overpower him, but they were frozen like statues.
I had never had any training in self-defence or any kind of combat, so what could I do? The attacker, still with knife in hand, began to turn around. I was a father of two babies, not a have-a-go hero.
In one swift action, without thinking, I grabbed him from behind, sliding my hands under his armpits, quickly bringing them up and clasping them behind his neck; this forced both his arms upwards as he tightly clung to the blood-stained knife. Everyone backed away.
Without thinking, I took a step or two back causing him to be dragged downwards to the floor. Totally intuitively, I flipped his body around as it fell, so he landed chest first with both his arms spread outwards and used my body to pin him to the floor.
By now, there were a hundred or so delegates in a large circle around us waiting to see what I would do next. My Japanese prisoner, although still holding the blood-covered knife in his right hand, was no longer struggling.
Calmly and clearly, I said, ‘Let go of the knife, now.’
To my surprise, he gently released it and then whispered to me in a strong Japanese accent, ‘It’s okay, I no going to hurt anyone, I got man I came for!’
At that point, a tingling sensation ran through my body, and a sense of awareness returned, as if I had just come out of a trance.
What had I just done? I could have been stabbed to death! Where did those moves come from?
While sitting on top of the attacker for what seemed like an eternity, I turned around to see a woman, who I later found out was a nurse, placing a tourniquet around the professor’s leg.
When help finally arrived, I was able to climb off the attacker, who was then frog-marched out of the hall by two uniformed security guards.
Several witnesses and I were bundled off into a side room where we had to wait for over an hour for a police investigator to interview us one by one. By the time we came out of the building, there were reporters waiting to interview us, but I had no interest and quietly slipped away to my hotel.
The story still made the front page of the local newspaper the next day. It reported that a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ character from Down Under had saved the lives of a hundred or so academics by wrestling a crazed Japanese tourist to the ground. It also said the attacker had spent the night in jail and was being deported back to Japan on the next available flight.
A few weeks later, I received an email from the wife of the professor thanking me for saving her husband’s life and asking me to call in if I was ever in Cambridge, but I’ve not been that way since.