Think Like a Secret Agent

by Jonathan Moxness


So like every good boy who has watched movies during his lifetime, I’ve taken note of how to be a better undercover secret agent and every now and then I get the opportunity to exercise my mad spy skills.  Before I regale you with the awesome account of ass-kickery, I want to remind you of the scene in “The Bourne Identity” where Jason Bourne is talking to his soon-to-be lady-lover about counting steps as he enters the building and other ways of thinking like a deadly killer on a second to second basis.

I want you to imagine you are walking down a city street late one night, there is a snow on the ground, but none falls at the moment. The air is crisp and the snow muffles the few sounds the city makes at such a late hour.  This area of the city is familiar to you, you pass the pizzeria (closed, but light comes from the cooler holding canned soft drinks) you pass the tattoo parlor with bars on the windows, and as you turn the corner you know the next stores you will pass are the condominium sales office, the alleyway, a vintage clothing store and then finally the transit hub where you will wait before being whisked home.  As you turn the corner the expected sights are joined by an unexpected one, a man, taller than you, walks towards you.  He is 25 yards away, but at your walk rate will be upon you within one minute.  He is dressed in dark clothing and at this hour, the reptilian compartment of your brain starts to fire.  “Who is this?”  “Why is he out so late on the street I’m walking on when I haven’t seen anyone in the past quarter hour?”  “What would I do if I was forced to defend myself against him?”


Step One : Assess your opponent

He’s taller than me, has the advantage physically and is wearing a coat that could conceal a weapon as small as brass knuckles or as large as a sawed off shotgun. That doesn’t narrow it down very much.  My opponent is mostly an enigma to me, so I assume he is trained and capable, always better to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Step Two : Assess yourself

My possession include a wallet, keys and cell phone. I have less than 60 seconds, and don’t know how to Macgyver anything useful out of those.  That’s okay, I’ve got physical training, I’m likely quicker than him.  My leather jacket could be wrapped around an arm to help defend against a knife, but the weight of it would slow down my blocks.  I’d be dead to a gun, unless I can get the jump on him.  Unless I can get the jump on him…

Step Three: Assess the Environment

We both have clear line of sight to each other which is to his advantage.  The ground is snowy and slippery and the cold air makes fingers less dextrous.  I know there is a dumpster in the alley just ahead, right near the alley entrance, I’d get there just before him, but how to use it?  In a flash of insight, it all comes to me, playing out in my head like Kasparov’s chess games.  

Step Four : Develop a plan of attack

I will walk casually towards him, turning into the alley giving me approximately 4 seconds out of his sight, I can walk past the dumpster and jump into it, making sure one of the two top lids of it is closed.  He will follow my footprints in the snow and expect me to be just behind the dumpster.  I’ll watch for wisps of his breath as he passes, and as he turns his weapon to where he expects me to be, I can grab the sides of the dumpster and pull myself up and out of it high enough to come down on him, wrapping my legs around his head.  We will both crash to the ground but I will have him in a leg choke, as he swings the weapon up towards me I can switch my hold and catch him in an arm bar, break his arm at the elbow, knock the weapon away, and in one calculated and accurate punch, knock him unconscious.   All that remains is to walk casually out of the alleyway and adjust my cuffs.

Step Five : Execute the plan

I’m steps away from the alleyway when the man pulls out his phone, reads an incoming text, and J-walks across the street.


As he fades into the cityscape you resume your walk home.  Arriving at the transit depot you pay for and collect your proof of fare payment, and as you wait for the bus, a figure dressed in black turns the corner and begins to approach you.  You look at him, possibilities firing through your mind like neutrinos through heavy water.  Step one….


Jonathan Moxness

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