Thursday, March 19, 2009

self defense

If you think you'll ever be threatened by physical violence (and odds are many of us will) and you've never hit another person you probably should. I don't mean that you should punch the next person that walks by or that you should take up inflicting physical violence as a hobby but I believe everyone should know how to defend himself or herself. And part of that process means getting comfortable with your body and with the other weapons that might make up your self defense strategy.

I suggest learning how to use your body to defend yourself in the same manner I suggest that people who own a gun should learn how to handle it. The human body can be used as a very effective weapon of self defense. You don't need to master any particular form of martial arts to be able to defend yourself but just as with a gun you do need to learn techniques and practice them to increase the likelihood that you'll be able to defend yourself safely and effectively if attacked.

It seems that whenever I talk to other people about defending themselves with their own body specific situations tend to come. "Well what if someone surprises you in a dark alley or a small band of thieves with knives breaks into your home in the middle of the night?" I think I can keep from getting overly mystic and still suggest that learning the art of self defense is a journey, not simply information you can download from the Web. In my opinion everyone should take self defense classes but you're not going to learn how to successfully defend yourself from that band of knife-wielding thieves during week one. It's a process.

Most introductory self defense classes will start by teaching you ways you can begin to use your body to defend yourself as well as weapons you can carry to handle situations you are not yet able to deal with using only your body. For instances, it's fairly easy to learn how to break another person's nose. A properly thrown punch will do the trick even if the attacker is a big man and the person being attacked is a small woman. The great things about a broken nose (or even a bloodied nose) from a self defense standpoint is that it floods the face with blood and tears. Even an enraged attacker (and the big man with a broken nose is going to be angry) won't be unable to see well enough afterwards, let alone operate through the initial pain to be able to chase down the small woman who threw the punch.

*HOWEVER*, the very important question to everyone, including all of the small women who are reading this post is, can you successfully throw that punch? This is where self defense training is useful, not just as a way to learn how to throw that punch (and what to do if you fail to land it on target or with sufficient force) but also what weapon might be appropriate to carry if you are not in fact certain you could throw that punch.

This is especially important to people who have disabilities or for other reasons are not able to physically defend themselves. Learning how to defend yourself isn't just about learning the proper technique or weapon to handle particular situations but rather it's like outfitting a toolbox with all the tools necessary to reliably handle any task that might come up. And it will be specific to each person and their individual needs.

The great thing about this approach is that once you stock your self defense toolbox with a particular tool, you will be able to pull it out at any time in the future and use it. At the risk of taking the metaphor to far it is possible to lose tools, to forget a significant part of a particular self defense strategy but if you properly learn to throw a punch or handle pepper spray it's likely to be an experience there for you to call on if the need arises in the future.

Some tools, like screwdrivers are a useful when taking on any number of tasks. Learning how to throw a punch and how it feels to land it or learning how to responsibly carry and use pepper spray are nice screwdrivers to have in your toolbox. Other more specialized tools like learning how to handle nunchucks are useful but in fewer situations and the consequences of using them improperly could mean greater bodily harm to yourself or others. If you throw a punch incorrectly (the thumb stays outside the fingers when making a fist) you could break your own hand. If you don't properly carry or know how to use your pepper spray you could wind up disabling yourself. This necessity of training is especially true of guns where improper storage or handling could likely lead to death. It's best to start with simple techniques and with strategies that you can safely control and work your way up to more rigorous forms of training and weapons that can do greater harm.

Training to be able to defend yourself with your own body also has other great benefits. Tai Chi is a martial art practiced primarily for health benefits. It's wonderful exercise along with the endorphin release that accompanies any physical activity. It and other forms of physical self defense training will also help you develop balance, flexibility, strength and reflexes. These are useful in situations in which you need to defend yourself but they are also useful in everyday life.

I also don't want to disqualify weapons including guns as effective means of self defense. They can be properly used not only as tools of self defense but also for fun (target practice, shooting skeet) or as a way to hunt for food. Guns are like any human tool, only as useful and as dangerous as the hands in which they're held. I suggest everyone concerned with their own self defense start by training those hands and learning the skills of fighting back with your body. It's training you hope never to need but cold prove priceless if violence threatens you in the future.

Actionable Items:

1. Sign up for a basic self defense class that bills itself as a broad education in what's available.

2. Use this opportunity to explore a self defense system you've always been interested in like Boxing, Kickboxing, Tai Kwan Do, Kung Fu, Goju Ryu, Karate, Judo, Jujutsu, or Aikido.

3. Take up training with a particular weapon like pepper spray, the bow, nunchucks, knives, or a gun.

4. Get a friend, spouse or partner to take a class and train with you. Practice safely on each other.

5. Remember that physical violence is dangerous and that when faced with a confrontation you almost always you have other options. Talking, walking or running out of a dangerous situation are all thought of as cowardly in our culture but they are actually very intelligent choices.


Matriarchy said...

My family takes Tai Chi and Wing Chun Kung Fu classes together. Wing Chun is an excellent discipline for women and other folks of smaller stature and strength. I am a fat middle-aged woman with bad knees. Tai Chi has helped me become stronger, improved my balance, and made me more physically confident. I have a clue about how to defend myself and my family. I also feel better about sending my DD15 out into the world - I know she can kick someone's butt if need be.

Something a lot of people don't think about until they take a martial arts class - we live in a society that generally discourages us from touching strangers. Being inside someone's personal space, being very close to someone you don't know, touching someone's body - none of that happens much for women, since we don't have as many contact sports as men. I can pick up children all day, but it was distinctly weird, at first, to handle adults I had just met, and have them touch me to guide my motions. At first I kept thinking, "Is my breath bad? Does my butt look fat? I should use hand lotion more often." But that avoidance of touch could interfere with your ability to take action to defend yourself, unless you get over it.

Know what it *feels* like to grab some aggressively, to feel your fist hit live flesh, to use your own muscle and weight to take someone's balance and make them fall down. Also know what it feels like to *be* hit, how to recover from falling down, how to push someone off you on the ground, how to keep moving even when you are hurt. Otherwise, in a real emergency, the sheer shock of being smacked in the face could stop you cold. This is especially important if you have a history of being abused, where threats or violence could trigger an anxiety attack or other uncontrollable reaction. You need to regain the ability to think in the face of a threat. Practice, with other people, is what gets you there.

Chile said...

I would highly recommend Krav Maga. The basic moves are easy to learn. You can just learn the basic stuff or continue advancing a long ways. I've been out of class for over a month now due to some injuries and really miss the practice.

Apple Jack Creek said...

I don't think I could use violence against someone else - I'm sure that there are circumstances where I might by reflex or instinct, but it's not on my list of 'options of choice' (I am a Quaker, and a small, not-very-strong female to boot). So, since learning or practicing ways to inflict violence effectively and 'safely' isn't one of my options, I do have to think about other things: if I am in a situation where I think I might be in danger, what could I do to protect myself and my kids and my property?

My choices are different, but they still need forethought and planning. The same way you need to prepare to defend yourself effectively with martial arts or weapons, you also need to prepare to defend yourself with words or non-violent actions. Where could we hide that would be safe while someone rummaged through the house? Where should we run to if we needed to get away in a hurry? What kinds of things could one say to a threatening person that might talk them out of violence?

I'm focused on your point 5: always have options other than physical violence. I think I'll put some more time into contemplating some practical alternatives.

Jennie said...

Nice post Aaron, I'm a big fan of marital arts training for people of all walks of life. The health benefits can be really exciting, beyond that, the knowledge that you can defend yourself puts the world in a new light.

If I can put forward a small bit of constructive criticism, this post could have used a round with the spell checker. Parts were rather garbled.

nulinegvgv said...

Thanks for all your comments. And Jennie wow were you right. I'm not a great speler but somehow this one slipped through without any spell check at all. I have remedied that.

Kory said...

I'm kind of in the same boat as apple jack least as far as violence in a struggle. I would definitely recommend Tai Chi.

I've spent the better part of my adult life around martial artists and its true that a good one will win a fight but a great one will win without fighting.

great post aaron