Sunday, April 10, 2016

Awareness

My self defense philosophy is based on three tenets; awareness, avoidance, and action, in that order.  This post will focus on the first tenet: awareness.

99% of self defense is awareness.  Proper awareness can stem most if not all potential threats by recognizing warning signs and getting out of the area as soon as possible.  Good awareness starts with good security habits.  A few examples: 

Minimize Distractions - No using the cell phone while you’re on the move (walking, driving).  If you absolutely have to take a call or text, make sure you are in a good tactical position.  That means pull over and stop if you're driving, with doors locked.  If you are out walking, find somewhere that you can stand with your back to a wall with good visibility.  Make it fast, then put the phone away and get to your destination.

Dress for SuccessChoose clothes that won’t hinder movement and shoes you can run in.  That doesn’t mean you can’t look nice; there are plenty of beautiful clothes and shoes that are also practical.  Also choose bags/purses that actually secure your belongings and wear them in such a way that it is not easy to steal them from you or pickpocket you.

Pay Attention - When you walk down the street, keep your head up, look around, be engaged.  Know where your exits and cover are.  If you see something suspicious, calmly change course, find a better position or leave.  

Secure Your Belongings - Do not leave your purse in a grocery cart or on a counter in a store or coffee shop while you wander off to look at something.  I see this all the time and know people who have had their purses stolen because of this.

Intuition - A key aspect of awareness is what you do with the information you have.  Following your intuition is crucial to maintaining your safety.  Women in this culture are pressured to be nice, even at the risk of their own safety.  Both women and men, including law enforcement professionals, have been attacked and said afterward that they felt something was off but rationalized it away.  I say this not to judge anyone, quite the opposite.  My point is that it can happen to anyone, even with the best training in the world.  But you can greatly improve your chances of staying safe if you make it a habit to follow your intuition first and ask questions later.  That doesn’t mean you just go off the rails and attack someone.  What it does mean is that you pay attention, gauge your situation, and place yourself in the safest position possible while continuing to asses the threat. Here's an example from my own experience:

I was walking my dog in the evening.  I was living in a gated complex, and as I exited the gate, my hand slipped and it banged closed a split second before I saw movement across the street.  It was a person with a shopping cart.  When he heard the gate his head snapped up and he looked at me.  Because I was paying attention, I noticed this and just kept an eye on him.  Sure enough, as I started down the street, he started moving the same way.  He was across the street, so I had some distance.  I turned left, and started walking a little faster to gain some more distance.  When I checked, he had also turned left but was still on the other side of the street.  At this time I decided he was a potential threat, so I made a plan to lose him.  I was very familiar with the neighborhood, and I knew there was a restaurant just around the corner that backed up against my complex, so I quietly and efficiently walked around the corner, into the restaurant, told the waitress I was being followed, and she let me go out the back of the restaurant, right back to my condo.  If he was indeed following me, all he would have seen is that I went around the corner and disappeared.  Was that guy really following me?  Was I really in danger?  I don’t know, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out!


How can you increase your own awareness?  First, give yourself permission to listen to your own intuition.  Your body knows how to read signals and your subconscious can process information way faster than your conscious mind.  I highly recommend “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker.  It’s not a new book, but it’s the best I’ve ever read about intuition and avoiding violent situations.  


Second, start paying attention to your surroundings.  Play the escape and evade game in your mind.  Look around, find the exits and cover and ask yourself, if someone came in the front door what would I do?  If they came in the back door, if they approached me at my car, etc etc.  Don’t let it scare you, treat it like a game of hide and seek with your kids.  

Third, try and implement some of those security habits and be consistent with them.  Just doing those three things will greatly increase your chances of staying safe. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Not Your Ordinary Karate Story

When I was a child, I was taken from my mother and placed with my grandparents after a short stint in foster care while they worked out the details with the court.  I don’t know if it was state mandated or what, but I remember one day a nice lady came to the house and played some games with me, then went and talked with my grandparents.  Years later I found a letter that made me remember that day.  She was an IQ tester.  The report said that I had an above average IQ but that my social skills were lacking, most likely because of my family situation, and that they should endeavor to help me increase my social skills by encouraging my interaction with other children.  A logical suggestion, but children aren't always the kindest teachers of social skills.  I was always awkward in elementary school but managed to have a few close friends and was generally happy.  My troubles started in seventh grade.  Due to a pituitary condition I was born with, I was very scrawny and nerdy and was quickly a target for the bullies.  Interestingly enough, this was about the time I started training in TaeKwonDo.  I learned to do push ups and kick and yell “yes sir!” and “no sir!” but my brain wasn’t developed enough yet to translate any of this to my real life problems.  As I trained in TaeKwonDo, even earning a black belt, I was mercilessly berated and physically abused by kids at school.  The psychological abuse was worse for me than the physical abuse.  Kids I was supposed to do projects with would say cruel things to me and sabotage my work, and the teachers never seemed to catch on.  Looking back now, I find it hard to believe that a teacher can be that obtuse, but it wasn’t just one.  There were a host of adults who through their lack of knowledge or incompetence allowed the bullies to operate and even blamed me much of the time.  There were red flags all over the place, my grades, my behavior, but no one seemed to put two and two together.  

Why am I telling you this story?  Not to say “poor me,” but to dispel the myth that a black belt magically gives you super powers or that training alone makes you tough or teaches you to defend yourself.  Don't get me wrong, I encourage everyone to train, but you must train for the right reasons and work with the right people.  That finally happened for me when I got to college and I met a Kung Fu instructor who changed my life.  I trained with him, helped build his school, and met a host of incredible people along the way.  I truly believe it was in that period that I transformed from a wimpy kid with a black belt to a woman who could stand up for herself.  I trained harder during that time than I ever have, before or after, and that training still serves me to this day.  Since then, I have tried other styles on and off mostly because of a knee injury.  My motto is "you can take the girl out of the martial arts but you can't take the martial arts out of the girl," and that is the attitude that has kept me going even when injuries prevented me from training.  I tell my students that not being able to train was the hardest training I ever did.  It forced me to find other ways to grow and look critically at my body to see what I really can do and adapt my self defense strategy around my own strengths and weaknesses. And that is why I believe that self defense is for everyone, regardless of your physical capabilities.  Self defense is mostly in the mind, and you can build a strategy for any body type.  

So where does that leave me now?  I am currently training in Krav Maga with another excellent instructor and planning a trip in August to take an escape and evasion class, which I am greatly looking forward to.  In the meantime, I will keep posting about relevant topics in self defense and general preparedness.  I hope it helps you in your own journey.