Sunday, September 19, 2010

Self Defense: Learning Not To Be A Victim

I struggled a little over which blog to post this on, but this one is my slightly more serious of the two and this can be a serious subject, so I chose this one.
Self Defense, what is it about?
Being a victim, how do you avoid that?
This isn't about never being a victim, this is about learning to do everything you can to avoid becoming a victim, about learning what you can to minimize what happens if you are attacked. And, no, this isn't just for women, although I seem to focus my questions on the female perspective (well... I am female, after all!). Men can end up in situations where they become victims, too. We just don't talk about it because, well, they're men!  Men should automatically be able to take care of themselves. Right?
Wrong! There are some very evil people in this world and they go out of their way to come up with ways, plans, and means to victimize others and they don't care if the victim is male or female (though it seems women are more victimized, but maybe because it's more often in the news).  Sometimes, it's psychological, sometimes it's emotional, but the one most people end up facing is physical and that's the discussion we'll be having today.  I've had some jobs where the managers brought in police officers to give us advice on personal safety when, say, walking from a building (work, grocery, doctors' office, etc.) to your car in the parking lot.  Some of it is (to me) fairly obvious and common sensical; don't be digging in your purse for your keys as you walk, have them already in your hand (keep a couple of them between your fingers and the rest fisted in your hand, this provides a pretty good make-shift weapon), be aware of your surroundings, keep your head up and be alert, the idea being a mugger or other attacker is less likely to go after someone who's alert and aware. Whenever possible, if you're walking from an office to your car at night for example, go with a co-worker or ask a security guard to escort you and make sure your car starts before leaving you.
These are some common sense things we can all do to lessen our chances of  becoming victims, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. So. What will you do should it happen to you?  Well, I've got a few ideas. I've got friends who were in the military and have pointed out that, a) no matter how muscular an attacker may be, his throat is never protected by said muscle. It's vulnerable to a sharp blow of any kind and strength, the gag reflex alone could make him loosen his grip. Of course, that's assuming you're lucky enough to be facing said attacker.
And, b) knees and the instep are vulnerable to a good kick or stomp. But, again, that's dependent on several factors. Not the least of which is that you can keep your head and think about how to react to an attack in a way that will help you escape.  And that's where the problem comes in.  Most of us don't spend time thinking about how we're going to react if we're attacked by a mugger or, God forbid, a rapist.  We think about what we're going to do for lunch at work the next day, brown bag it or buy?  We think about how we're going to deal with traffic and which is likely the best route to whatever our destination is.  If we have a husband and kids, and happen to be that busiest of women, a stay at home mom, we're thinking about what our kids need to eat, when we need to pick up our husbands' dry cleaning and whether or not it's worth driving that extra 15 miles for a sale (it usually is!). We're not spending any of that time thinking about "By the way, what if, while I'm at that sale that's an extra 15 miles away, I'm attacked by someone intent on dragging me into a dark alley? What should I do?"
Well, here's a suggestion, take a class in self defense. Yes, learn to fight! Taking self defense classes ~ or even learning martial arts ~ is not about learning how to be violent, it's about learning how NOT to be a victim.  There is a difference. And it teaches your body muscle memory. What you learn in a class will translate into an actual confrontation automatically, whether that's how to avoid it or how to deflect it. Your mind and body have already learned in a safe, classroom situation what to do and how to do it. In that not-so-safe real world situation, the reaction of personal safety is automatic and unthinking and it takes an attacker completely by surprise because he was expecting a frightened, frozen victim and not a fighting, ferocious defender!
And, what about your children, if you're a parent?  What do you teach them about what to do if someone should want to grab them? This actually happened to me when I was about 12, at a time when it was somewhat safer for kids... someone wanted to get me close enough to grab and pull into his car... thank God my parents had talked to me about what to do, run away. But, what if he'd decided to chase me down instead of driving away as fast as I was running away from him?  What would I have done?  At 12, I had no knowledge of how to defend myself except to kick and scream and maybe try to bite.  That might have been enough.  I'll never know, and thank God that I didn't have to find out. 
But, what if I had? 
What if your kids have to?
What will they do?
What if you do?
What will you do?
Martial arts, and even self defense classes, teach you how to avoid, deflect or confront that violence (even a kid, to some degree, and that will be covered further into this particular lesson).  But, the only thing most of us know about martial arts is what we learned from Mr. Miyagi in "Karate Kid" or Jackie Chan in anything that's come out in the last five years!  There's more to martial arts than comedy or "breath in through nose, out through mouth!"  Fortunately, I not only have known a few people in the martial arts community over the years, I recently got reacquainted with one I hadn't seen since college and he agreed to be my "expert" and let me interview him about martial arts (didn't know what he was getting into! haHA!)  Good news/bad news: Good news is, I asked a LOT of questions and he (poor man) took the time to answer them all. Bad news, I asked a LOT of questions and he (poor, poor man) answered them all so there's a LOT of information and I'm going to have to break this into at least two blogs since I have NO  intention of editing out any portions of his answer. 

Teaching a student how to retain their
weapon when attacked
Richard Ray has been practicing and teaching martial arts for over 25 years. He has owned or operated half a dozen schools and has taught thousands of students of all ages and abilities. He currently holds a sixth degree black belt in karate, a fifth degree black belt in kenpo, and a kyosei menkyo (instructor certificate) in kenjutsu.
 Mr. Ray is a former police officer, a current licensed Personal Protection Officer (bodyguard), and a tactical firearms instructor. He has conducted operations and training in the US, Mexico, and South America. He currently teaches martial arts privately, civilian firearms courses, and is a subject matter expert on training private security and executive protection specialists.

In your opinion, is there a difference between "self defense" and "martial arts"? If so, give me a synopsis of what that would be.

In our culture, “martial arts” generally refers to a cataloged system of offensive and/or defensive movements with some kind of reward to mark achievement (the most recognizable of these rewards is a black belt). The vast majority of schools or clubs teach martial arts as self-defense or as a sport, although you may find a few who teach traditional movements as a cultural exercise, a philosophy, or for health benefits.

By strict definition, “martial arts” means “war arts”. Technically, war and self-defense are two very different concepts; war is “kill or be killed” and self-defense is using enough force to stop an aggressor but no more.

So, the answer to your question is yes, there is a difference, but I am splitting hairs. For the purpose of this discussion, the only difference would be whether or not the “martial arts” school emphasizes sport techniques or actual confrontation techniques.

Many women are going to look at the "fighting" in martial arts and say "Oh, I could never hurt someone" or "I think fighting is wrong" or even "something like this just encourages violence." What is your response to this type of thinking?

“I could never hurt someone" – Really? Imagine for a moment that someone attempts to kidnap your child…the difference will not be in what you believe, but in what you are capable of doing.

“I think fighting is wrong” – I have yet to meet a victim of violence, woman or man, who believed this. When people say this, I think they mean, “lashing out physically from anger or frustration is wrong”. I would agree with that statement.

"…something like this just encourages violence." - Since Cain killed Abel, violence has existed on Earth. Abel did nothing to provoke Cain, yet Cain became jealous and killed him. Violence does not go away because one abhors it; pretending otherwise will certainly condemn this person to being a victim. Given that violence exists and that we cannot make it go away, the question is, how will we deal with it? You have three choices: avoid it, deflect it, or confront it.

Granted, violence is not always the best answer, but it is the final answer to aggressive confrontation. Ask David, as he set out to confront Goliath

How about children? Do you recommend an age limit for how young they start martial arts or is it more of an emotional maturity?

Mr. Ray's student performs
a round house kick

To be sure, emotional maturity is important. Equally important are the quality of the instructor and the involvement of the parents. Children are never too young to learn discipline, respect, and manners; however, there are certain self-defense moves that are best taught as children mature, and some only suitable for adults. Parents must monitor the actions of their kids, encourage them to follow the principles of the martial arts, and conference with the instructor should there be any indication of poor behavior.

I have taught kids as young as four years old, but I prefer them to be at least five years old, and even then they should be in a separate class from older kids, and have an age-specific curriculum.

I can hear some mother somewhere saying "Not MY son! I don't want him to turn into a brute who settles things with his fists!" Your response to that?

See above paragraph about Cain and Abel – tell me truly, if Abel was your son, would you prefer to watch him be killed, or would you prefer he stand up for his right to life and well being? Many people, including me, started learning martial arts out of fear – there was no desire to be a brawler or bully. Living in fear cripples your life and your ability to enjoy it. Also it is important to understand: the more your aggressor understands your willingness to confront violence, the more likely it is that you can avoid or deflect it.

I once heard of a woman who stated girls "learning to fight" (as in learning martial arts) turned them into "she-hulk-wanna-be's with something to prove." Do you think that's what happens?

No. I have never witnessed this in over 25 years of training thousands of students of all ages. I have, however, seen young girls and women transform from victims with low self-esteem into strong, confident women who know that they do not have to be a victim any longer. These women radiate feminine strength and beauty; most people they meet do not know why, but they can sense it.

I suspect that women who make the “she-hulk wanna-bes” statements are using that as an excuse; I suspect that truly, they wish they had the knowledge and ability to be self-reliant, as my students have.

You once said "kids should eventually train with adults, once they have the skills to deal with kids their own size." I know what's going through the "not-my-kids" Mom's mind, so can you be more specific about what you mean by "deal with kids their own size."

Perhaps I should have said, “… bullies or attackers their own size.” And to be clear, the context of that statement was specifically about learning self-defense. Why would a child need to learn self-defense? Because of bullies or aggressors their own age/size, or adult predators. It is not reasonable to think that a six year old can physically fight off an adult male. However, he may be able to out smart him, draw the attention of other adults, and it lays a foundation for future training as an adult. If your goal is for your child to avoid or escape adult predators, they should practice with trained adult participants.

Sticking with kids a moment, do you have an opinion on when kids should start learning to handle (as in use) weapons?

Mr. Ray teaching kenjutsu
(Japanese sword) to students
  There is no need for kids to learn weapons for self-defense. However, traditional martial arts weapons practice can teach coordination, strength, speed, timing, and focus. Kids should not train with sharp weapons and should always be supervised when handling practice weapons. Usually by the teens, they are mature enough to learn weapons.

(end of part 1 of interview... part 2 in a few days)

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