written by Diana Rathborne
We all take measures to assure our personal safety on a daily basis. Most of us wear our seat belts, lock our car doors, lock our house, dress for inclement weather, wear shoes that will be appropriate to our environment, and have fire extinguishers in our homes. We all know the difference between uncomfortable and unsafe when it comes to our footwear, and don?t wear spiked heels on ice, sandals in the snow, snow boots on the beach, or go barefoot in a parking lot. We have seen numerous news programs on missing children, battered wives, date rape, date rape drugs, pedophiles, serial rapists/murderers and we?ve watched many dramas about the same. As a result, we are often afraid of a myriad of threats to our person. Some are realistic and some are not.
The good news is that we can change our lifestyle to make ourselves safer and less likely to be the victim of personal violence. We can become a ?hard target? by first eliminating the risky behaviours and unsafe areas in our lives, and then by getting self-defense training.
The first action is to take a good, honest look at your lifestyle. The big areas to assess are your home and work environments. How can you get between them and your personal socializing habits with both strangers and people with whom you are familiar? Some brief questions to ask yourself are:
1. Do you have anyone in your life who is a threat to you? (If the answer is yes, go to the authorities and a women?s crisis organization and get help TODAY!)
2. Do you look like a ?profitable? target? (Do you carry easily removable belongings or items of obvious wealth?)
3. Could you quickly get out of your home and your workplace in an emergency?
4. Do you keep a full, or mostly full, tank of gas? (You never know where you?ll run out of gas.)
5. Do you drink too much or use drugs? (If the answer is yes, do you have friends who will look out for you and help you ?stay safe??)
6. Do you park your car in a safe place? (A well lit spot near an exit is best.)
7. If someone makes you uncomfortable, do you move/stay from him?
8. Do you have the ability to physically defend yourself if necessary? (There are a number of books and videos on the market that can help you assess your lifestyle and any inherent risks in it. I?ve listed a few at the end of this article.)
We all know that ?we should? go to a class and get self-defense training, but many of us only do it after something happens to us, a friend, family member, or something appears on the local news. We want to believe that a martial arts aerobics class will give us self-defense skills, and that one strike will do the trick. The facts are, unless you get lucky, one shot probably won?t do the trick, and an aerobics class will not give you self-defense skills. (An aerobics class will help you get in shape to run away, which is essential.) While the topic of self-defense training is uncomfortable, and many of us have chosen to do anything else instead, it is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health.
If taking a self-defense class is too intimidating for you, try taking a martial arts class first. If even that is too much, take a class on assertiveness. Learn to say ?NO.? Even something as simple as firmly saying, ?No, thank you? to an unwanted drink, or, ?I?m sorry I can?t help you, I?ll call 911? to a stranger asking for help, are huge steps toward your personal safety. Learning self-defense will free your mind and your life from the fear of physical attack by preparing you to deal with it. It will not make you more masculine. It won?t make you paranoid, and it definitely won?t discourage you from doing what you like to do (unless drinking until unconscious in an unfamiliar, all male environment is on your list). It will not create a situation where you need to defend your life. Living with the fear of personal physical violence is unproductive and time consuming. Learn to defend yourself, and you may make new friends, boost your confidence, and find a new freedom in your life.
What to look for in a self-defense class:
If you want to take a self-defense class, look for a course that emphasizes the following:
1. Awareness and avoidance: The emphasis should be on behaviours and sills that enable you to avoid any situation that calls for you to defend yourself. The importance of increasing your awareness of what goes on around you cannot be overstated. Once you know what is going on around you, can you identify ?danger signs?? Danger signs fall into two broad categories: environmental and human. An example of an environmental danger sign would be any dark, isolated place with which you?re unfamiliar. ?Human? danger signs are mainly behavioral: a targeting glance, a stare, gestures, body language, verbal harassment, or people in a group. Remember, the goal of any self-defense course is to help you avoid risky situations. It is not to put you into situations so that you can fight your way out of them.
2. Simple skill set: the class should teach skills that anyone can do. The curriculum should be simple and effective. A spinning heel hook kick to the head takes too much repetition, timing, and leaves you with only one leg on the ground for a long time. An eye jab is quick, direct, towards a vulnerable target, and enables either follow-up or escape. A reverse punch to the solar plexus is hard to land and may not cause enough damage to allow you to either leave or follow up. A solid slap to the ear or groin may open up other target areas for follow-up and/or escape. Your follow-up strikes should be able to make someone unconscious in a short time. Evaluate the mechanics and the target area of the skills taught to see if they meet these criteria.
3. Body, mind and mind-set: the class should teach you to use your voice, your mind, and your body. Your body is your most effective weapon, and it should be able to deliver a forceful offense. Your mind should be able to command your body to keep going while constantly looking for an avenue of escape. The focus of you going home ? no matter what you have to do ? is essential. The class should help you create and install the mind-set that you are going to go berserk on an attacker in a focused, forceful way and continue until you can go home.
4. Pressure testing the skills: The class should provide you with an opportunity to try the skills safely ?under pressure.? The pressure can be created in a number of ways: a verbal barrage: (envision military basic training), a physical assault (being pushed, slapped, attacked by someone padded), peer pressure (the entire class watches while you attempt the techniques) or exhaustion (sprint, kick, push-ups, etc. before having to do the skills required). Obviously, look for a class that will be in your comfort zone. If you know that you are afraid to leave your house, don?t like strangers and don?t do much physical exercise, the physical assault or verbal barrage may not be the ?pressure testing? method for you.
5. No weapons or ?one shot? solutions: Be wary of any class that gives you a one-strike answer, or advocates carrying a weapon. If you are going to carry a weapon for self-defense, you need to do A LOT of training. Every day. Everywhere. In every manner you can conceive of (getting in your car, from your bed, in the middle of the night, in the grocery store, at the mall, in the bathroom, at the bar, and everywhere else you go). If it takes you more than 3 seconds to get it out and usable, it will be useless to you. Research the legal ramifications of using your weapon in self-defense. Find a certified trainer and go through their beginner?s course. Practice what you learned and go through their intermediate course. Practice what you learn and go to another course. (There are instructors for every weapon category: mace, firearms, expandable baton, edged weapons, tasers ? you name it, there are instructors for it.) If you don?t think you will do the training necessary, DO NOT carry a weapon for self-defense. If you carry a weapon, there is the possibility that our attacker could take it and use it against you. Remember, if you can?t defend yourself without a weapon, you may not be able to defend yourself with a weapon, and you damned well will need to defend your weapon. Do some soul searching on the immediate and final nature of using a weapon. If you think that you won?t use it, DO NOT carry it.
6. Your instructor should have credentials in self-defense training, not just aerobics, personal training, or the martial arts. All of those areas are a part of self-defense training and skills, but the nature of self-defense is that a smaller, weaker person can use the skills quickly and effectively in a short period of time. Your instructor should be able to work with women, children, and the elderly, as well as the very fit professional athlete or solider.
Self-defense is an enormous concern for everyone. For women, self-defense is especially worrisome. If you haven?t taken a class, go. If you have taken a self-defense course, encourage your friends who haven?t. For the men reading this article, I hope it motivates you to get your female friends and family to go to a class. If you are teaching women?s self-defense, I hope this article helps you to evaluate your curriculum and approach, to ensure it is everything you would like it to be. Remember the best self-defense training should enable you to AVOID ever needing to use your physical skills.
Here is a short list of my favorite books and videos.
- Defensive Living: Attitudes, Tactics and Proper Handgun Use to Secure Your Personal Well-being, by Ed Lovette and Dave Spaulding (This book has a great awareness and avoidance section, and it?s an easy read.)
- The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, by Gavin DeBecker (This book discusses why you should always trust your instinct. It?s a really interesting read and full of great information.)
- Protecting the Gift, by Gavin DeBecker (Every good parent should read this one.)
- The Collins Gem SAS Guide to Self-defense (small book and has great pictures of simple, effective skills).
- Ladies Self-defense by Phil Norman