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Self Control before Self Defense

iStock_000009007982XSmallJust the other day at church my five-year-old told me that another kid punched him in Sunday school class. I don’t really remember the reason, something about who was first in line…whatever, they’re five it doesn’t matter. Anyway, my next question was “did you hit him back?” He said he did not, that instead he told the teacher and I told him that was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t used to think that way and in years past when my older boy had similar issues my response was a bit different – and I found out that in your mid-40s you can still be called to the principal’s office.

I like to think I’ve learned a few things over the years and certainly my boys have – they are both in Tae Kwon Do and they are taught self-control before self-defense. I myself have learned that while fighting can be fun (yea, sometimes, sorry), it is best done in a controlled environment with a ring, a ref and some gloves, where everybody can get a little hurt but nobody really gets injured – in fact, that’s when it is fun. On the street and in the bar, you never know what’s going to happen and who, if anyone, will be there to stop it if someone really starts injuring someone else. I have learned that the best way to win a fight is to not be there when the fight starts. But the blog series this week is NOT about a little skin-on-skin action with the schoolyard bully, or dusting it up with the barroom badass.

See, in my kids’ class, the instructors are training kids in Martial Arts and they don’t want them to start beating the crap out of their classmates. Kind of like Mr. Miyagi used to say, you don’t learn karate to fight you learn Karate so you don’t have to fight. But what what about when you must fight or be killed?

Tim Larkin addresses the various serious subject of self-defense in his book Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self-protection. But Larkin does not take the traditional approach of teaching how to block and counter a move – he teaches that in order to save your life you must transcend the psychological threshold that allows you to do serious damage to an individual – not just any individual, someone who is trying to harm or  even kill you, or the very least could care less about your well-being as long as he gets what he wants.

Larkin cites some sobering statistics:

  • Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined (Larkin viii).
  • The World Health Organization discovered that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60% of women and the majority of offenses are committed by someone the victim knows or at least recognizes (Larkin viii).
  • A rapist is likely to victimize 7-9 women before he is jailed (Larkin viii)
  • The national Institute of Justice found that fighting back does not mean that woman is more likely to be injured, it is in fact the best way to survive an attack is to fight back. An estimated 1.9 million women are physically assaulted in the United States every year, however most self-defense training advocates cooperation or screaming not fighting back (Larking xi).

Probably the biggest challenge most people have in self-defense, particularly women is, unless it is happened to them before, they do not think it will happen to them. We would all like to live in a world free of violence and intimidation, but unfortunately that is not the world we live in. The fact that we live in a “nice neighborhood” or that “nothing bad ever happens around here,” does not mean we are immune from a violent encounter. In another study, 50% of all rapes/sexual assaults occur within one mile of the victim’s home.

And most of Larkins’ book is dedicated to helping women get over the psychological barrier of believing that it can’t happen to them, and the second barrier of being able to injure another person.

In the short period of time I did Krav Maga, I learned many valuable self-defense skills and I’m grateful to my instructors for their time and dedication. Unfortunately, most people will never take that level of self-defense or fighting training and have the time to be able to maintain proficiency. I will say that Krav Maga’s skill set is easy to remember, even years after the training but there are a lot of people who just aren’t going to do it.

Larkin has some useful approaches, but what it all comes down to is the willingness to do violence when confronted with violence. What I appreciate about Larkins’ book is that the techniques of injuring somebody are fairly simple and easy to remember. In fact, most of us could probably identify the tactics without reading the book. Kick someone in the groin, poke them in the eye, put a forearm to the throat and you have your most basic tactics. So why don’t more women fight back?

Larkin believes that the biggest challenge is that most of us, particularly women, don’t think like a predator. But, humans are designed as predators and we were born with the tools to tap into the power to damage another human when necessary, we just need to give ourselves the permission to do it (Larkin 3).

Before we get into what works, lets discuss what doesn’t typically work (Larkin viii):

  • Reasoning with the attacker (really?)  (Larkin viii)
  • Screaming or blowing a whistle (this depends on someone hearing it and being willing to intervene)  (Larkin viii)
  • Pretend your husband or boyfriend is nearby or on the phone with you (if he’s on the phone he’s unlikely to be around anytime soon).  (Larkin viii)
  • Mace or tear gas (ever see the folks in the military go through that drill where they get tear gassed? Yes, they can still function. I’ve been tear gassed myself and even though I thought I was choking up a lung and puking, I could still manage to move. Plus, mace or tear gas or pepper spray or really strong perfume or whatever, is dependent upon you being able to access it — most violent encounters are either over within 5-10 seconds, or you’re out of commission by then.  (Larkin viii)
  • Do nothingMaybe his love of humanity will save you. Hmm, I suppose if he loved humanity he wouldn’t be trying to rape, rob or kill you.  (Larkin viii)
  • Block his moves and counterstrike. Most people, including me, can rarely predict a strike, where and when its coming and if you’ve caught one in the jaw, the game is almost over by then.

Many of us have been taught these techniques and in some cases, they may actually work. But for them to work a number of factors must be in play, such as your own perception of the situation and the motives, thoughts and desires of the individual who is thinking to attack you. Fortunately, women are much better at reading body language than men and can often interpret nonverbal cues such as posture, expressions and tone of voice (I will cite Larkin here (p2) but in all of my teaching of body language, this fact has been cited repeatedly by numerous authors). Therefore, women can often read right away whether this is a potentially violent encounter or not. In fact many women, after a violent attack, have said that they were able to pick up on the signals that this was not going to end well. That is where Larkins’ perspective comes in.

Larkin makes it very clear that he is not out to teach people how to beat the crap out of each other because of some road rage incident or some affront in a bar. The tactics here are about saving your life by hurting the attacker until he can no longer hurt you. Fortunately, the tactics work with kids too – with the tragic kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of Jessica Ridgeway last year, just a few miles from our house, I’m always on the lookout for something that I can teach my kids to help them protect themselves.

If you don’t think a five-year-old can drop you, you’re wrong. Just ask my son who smacked me in the groin with a plastic baseball bat one day (yea, I’m bummed it wasn’t on tape, I could have sent it to Funniest Home Groin Shots or whatever that show it). While I wasn’t down for the count for long it would have been enough time for the kid to put some distance between us, or even butted my nose with his head if he wanted to, if it was a real situation. Even a baby can put a grown man to tears with an inadvertent head butt to the nose or jaw.

No, the tactics of injuring someone are really quite simple. What is not simple is allowing ourselves to believe that there are psychopaths and dangerous people out there who could care less about our well-being. You also have to get beyond the hesitation to fight back with the intent to seriously injure our attacker. If you cannot get past that, all the techniques in the world will not help you. But if you can accept reality and take action, the life you save may just be your own.

Larkin, Tim. Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women’s Self-protection. New York: Rodale, 2013. Print.

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