Imagine that you are driving your taxicab alone in the early hours of the morning. The streets are deserted and you stop to pick up your last fare of what has been a long and busy night.
Four middle-age people enter your cab, two male and two female customers. They give you directions and you think no more about them because they just seem your normal type of clientele.
It’s starting to rain and your only real thoughts are about ending the shift and getting home to bed. You’re trying to make the usual polite conversation until you reach your customers required destination.
You slowly pull over and stop to let them out, politely informing them that they owe you £7.20 for the ride. Three people get out of the car. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly the last remaining passenger thrusts a sharp object into the back of your neck, you realise that its a knife, quietly the man whispers in your ear – “you don’t want the money that bad do you“ – what do you do?
Well of course the most obvious and sensible answer is ‘you don’t do anything’ – just hold your hands up and let them go on their way.
Today, hundreds if not thousands of Taxi drivers face this type of situation every week and the violence and rate of attacks on cab drivers seems to becoming increasingly worse.
The situation that I have just described was a relatively rare experience 17 years ago, but that’s exactly what happened to a young taxi driver named Kevin Cullen, in the seaside town of Lowestoft, Suffolk. An incident that left him so shocked and distraught that he would not leave his home for at least two weeks afterwards.
It has often been said ‘that out of the depths of despair something positive can emerge’; and that’s exactly what happened to our cab driver Kevin, not realising at the time the total shock of this attack would lead him to change his whole outlook on life.
At this particular time, Kevin by his own admission was totally unfit and grossly overweight, weighing an incredible 23 stone. The most exercise that he ever performed was struggling to get in and out of his cab. He was nicknamed by his mates and the other local cab drivers as ‘beefy’ or ‘big Kev’ for obvious reason.
Being overweight was only part of his problem, his real issue at that time was his general lack of self-confidence and self-esteem and today he strongly believes it was a contributing factor to his attack. Kevin says, “I might as well have had the word ‘victim’ tattooed across my forehead, I believe that I was viewed as being rather vulnerable and an easy target”.
Several months after the assault a close friend and neighbour suggested that Kevin might like to go along with him to a local martial art club that was holding classes just a few streets from his home. Kevin with nothing to lose, with the exception of a few pounds from his pocket and possibly a few pounds in weight, thought it might be a good idea.
On his initial lesson Kevin recalls struggling so much that his instructors and fellow classmates were worried that he was about to have a heart attack, his face turned purple and he was on his knees with exhaustion. But despite those early struggles, Kevin persevered with the training, knowing that what he was learning might one day save his life, in more ways than one.
Working his way systematically through the belt ranks, he slowly began to lose weight and was becoming very proficient in the application of self-defence techniques, more importantly his confidence and self-esteem began to increase as well.
Looking back Kevin now realises that if he hadn’t started taking those classes who knows where he might have ended up. Although the training regime was rather challenging, he somehow knew that it was doing him good, both physically and mentally.
These days Kevin is a shadow of his former self, at the age of 43 he’s now slimmed down to a mere 16 ½ stone. In combination with his martial art training, he also spends considerable time in the gym and often gives students half his age a good run for their money as far as fitness is concerned.
Instead of being called ‘beefy’ his new title is Pu Sa Bum Nim Kev, and he is now a respected 3rd degree black belt in the traditional Korean martial art of Kuk Sool Won, which he has consistently practised for over sixteen years.
Kevin’s partner Toni is also a second-degree black belt and his son Ryan is a 1st degree Kuk Sool black belt as well. Together all of them practice at the Lowestoft School, where Kevin is also the main instructor for the children’s classes.
When asked, if he has he ever had to apply any of the techniques in an actual self-defence situation in his cab, Kevin is a little reluctant to share his experiences. He explains there have only been three major incidences since his initial attack.
The first was when a young man kept pulling on his hand brake while he was driving, which resorted in himself applying a painful joint lock to his passenger, until order was restored.
The second was when someone tried to run off without paying, but unfortunately he couldn’t get out of the car quick enough before Kevin applied another restraint technique, and finally the third he prefers not talk about, but hints that the other person will always think twice about ever upsetting a cab driver again.
Kevin adds, he rarely has to use any type of physical force anymore’, he believes his awareness and perception have now developed to such a degree that he can spot trouble a mile-off and deals with it appropriately by speaking confidently and directly to any would-be troublemakers.
Currently Kevin is the co-director of his own taxi–firm and has often been asked by other cab drivers for lessons in ‘taxi-driver self-defence’. However Kevin is reluctant to teach them, knowing that sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He stresses that it’s more than just learning a few simple self-defence techniques; it’s about totally immersing yourself in the concept of the martial arts so you exude self-confidence and awareness throughout.
Finally, when asked how would he deal with the knife situation today, Kevin’s answer – “If it ever came to it, I’d probably do exactly the same thing as I did before, lets face it, it’s no good being a dead hero/taxi driver and like the guy said all those years ago – I don’t need the money that bad, do I.