Close quarters with Paul Cale

The power of the mind — and the effect our training has on its development —
may only become clear when tested under extreme circumstances. 

CloseQuarterPaulCale
Extreme situations are ultimately a test of mindset.

Late one night I walk into a room of a building where I worked at in the mid-’90s to be confronted by a stranger, a man who had arrived before me only moments earlier. He was clearly intoxicated and had anger in his eyes. He reached to his waistline with his right hand and pulled out what was a hidden weapon, a knife that had been modified and shaped to allow for easy concealment.

We stood looking at each other over a distance of no more than one-and-a-half metres. He held the knife low by his side and just stared at me, saying nothing, preferring the situation to speak for itself — and in hindsight, the situation was not ideal for me in any way.

I was working in a small country town sober-up centre as part of an Indigenous program in conjunction with the Victoria Police. I had many friends within the police force, as my wife at the time was a senior constable, and I also had many good Aboriginal friends who were training with me in BJJ and knockdown karate.

I had been involved in several programs prior to the sober-up centre, mostly to do with education of young people, and I used martial arts as a tool to help me connect with youth with great success. From the positive outcomes of the first project I was involved with, I was asked to be involved with more things over time and I was happy to help, as the local Aboriginal community and I built friendships that are still strong to this day.

I was on call when the phone rang late in the night and I made the short drive to the sober-up centre. The police had already arrived and had a man with them, who I didn’t know by name but had seen once or twice during my time living in town. One constable escorted the man to the sign-in room while his partner relayed to me the background behind the pick-up from the street. As far as the police were concerned, all seemed to go smoothly with getting the man off the street and to the centre, so they departed and I went into the sign-in room.

Now, as I faced the man and his knife alone in the centre, I assumed that may have been the reason why the weapon had been missed during the earlier body search.

At that stage of my life I had been in the army for close to 10 years, but had transferred to the Army Reserve some years prior. I had a Blue-belt in BJJ and Black-belts in karate, taekwondo and aikido — less than half of the martial arts experience and qualifications I hold now, and even less when it comes to the military.

I had not, at that stage, re-enlisted back into the regular army and I had not been to war or had any combat experience whatsoever. But the crises in life do not tend to wait for us to be ready to experience them, so there I was, ready or not. But as it all played out in front of me, I did feel ready; I felt the confidence that I feel to this day.

We stared at each other for what seemed like a long time, but would have only been a few seconds at most. In that moment, no thoughts went through my head; I felt no fear (as foolish as it may seem in hindsight), just an overwhelming sense that I was going to have to kill this man. With that realisation, my mind began racing through the reasons for what I was about to do, to ensure that it would be a ‘good kill’ — a term used in war to confirm that a killing was justified and legal.

I have no idea of what my would-be attacker saw in my eyes that night, but can only assume that he was looking for fear and didn’t get what he needed. His confidence was not given the fuel it required for him to continue. Without either of us moving or saying a word, he dropped the knife and began to sob. As he apologised over and over again, I snapped right back into social worker mode and said, “No problem, mate, let’s get you cleaned up and into a bed for the night.”

I learned something about the power of mindset that night.

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