Electricity Does Not Apologize

I was sent on a service call one day to repair a coffee brewer that had lost power at a coffee shop in Northern Virginia. When I arrived, I approached the counter and was met by an average sized black man with a slight accent. He told me that the brewer had no power and that the problem was an internal short inside the brewer’s plug itself. Confused by his certainty, I asked him how he knew that the problem was with the plug. He told me that he knew the problem was with the plug because he had already disassembled the outlet and it was fine. Now, I was slightly annoyed. I scolded him for taking the outlet apart and explained that what he did was very dangerous and that it was my job to troubleshoot and repair the equipment, not his. Very matter-of-factly, he replied, “In Ethiopia, I am an electrical engineer. Here, I am a supervisor at a coffee shop.”

After doing my tests, I concluded that he was correct. The coffee brewer was fine and so was the outlet. The plug on the brewer needed to be replaced. I completed the repair and filled out my paperwork and then asked him for a signature. As I was leaving, he asked me how he could get my job. I explained to him that he could not have my job specifically, but that we might have an opening in the near future for a technician in his area because I was looking to get transferred closer to home. I took his information and eventually a spot became available. He applied, interviewed, and got the job. He and I eventually became very close and have even kept in touch years after we were laid off by the corporation we worked for.

While we worked together, we spent a lot of time together in our workshop, testing and rebuilding equipment and talking shop. One day, I was testing a piece of equipment, a steam boiler for an espresso machine. I pressed the power switch and was immediately hit by a shock from the live 208VAC circuit. Apparently, water from another piece of equipment had sprayed onto the power switch and, when I touched the wet switch, the electricity transferred from the circuit, through the water, to my hand. Luckily, I was not injured, but it definitely hurt and made me jump. My co-worker watched this all happen and, with utter sincerity and concern said to me, “Robert, please be careful. Electricity does not apologize.”

When working on the same equipment day in and day out, it is easy to become so comfortable with it that you become mentally lazy and take for granted the inherent danger involved. Driving in a car is no different. We become so familiar with the vehicle and the roads we drive on that we lose sight of the fact that a mistake made in a two ton piece of metal moving at 65mph can result in tragedy. We must be careful because it will not apologize.

In martial arts as well, if we do not face actual real-world violence on a daily basis, and thankfully, most of us do not, it is easy to forget that our training is intended to represent a possible life and death encounter, wherein the winner gets to go home to his or her family and the loser does not. It is easy to become mentally and physically lazy, enjoying the playful self-improvment aspects of training and to forget about the fragile razor’s edge of mortality we all live on from day to day. It is easy to forget that we must remain focused and vigilant, both mentally and physically, taking our training seriously because a true violent predator will not announce himself before he strikes and he will not apologize.

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

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