Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Art of Self-Defense

     About a year ago, we started Jaren on martial arts—not so much for self-defense or even self-confidence, but more so for discipline and body control. It's a non-violent martial art form, not at all like kung fu or karate with its kicks and attacks, but it is interactive requiring partner work unlike tai chi. It's also non-competitive, which for us was essential (see my prior Competitive Sports essay for reasons why).
     We've liked it not only because he's quick to learn (they promoted him to orange belt, skipping yellow belt entirely) but also because he now sits still quietly without fidgeting for longer (when required) and in general is less frazzle-headed and always wanting to do something (such as annoy his siblings), instead entertaining himself during free time reading, playing make pretend with toys, riding bike, practicing soccer, and running laps around the house. Even at school, he's been getting less notes sent home from teachers for misbehavior (although we'd still like to see that reduced to zero).
     When I told Norm (a karate black belt instructor) about signing him up, he said, “I hope it's not one of those fufu clubs...”, meaning lacking real-life practical application possibilities. I stayed quiet because yes, by Norm's definition, it is a fufu, work together, always help your partner out, do it right so no one gets hurt type of club. The older youth in particular do a fantastic job mentoring the lower ranking youngsters and Jaren will one day get to do likewise when he gets older and better. And what's wrong with that? I wondered. Isn't that even more valuable than a “beat the crap out of 'em even if they're bigger and stronger than you are” type club? After all, our world hardly needs more violence.  
     Norm, short and slender as a youth and now rotund, has always been prepared for a fight, even carrying a buck knife everywhere for awhile (perhaps he still does), so machismo certainly shapes his view of what makes a good martial arts club. Whereas, I, by contrast, though taller and sinewy-looking with some measure of athleticism (or so I delude myself), view fight as absolute last resort and the carrying of weapons as counter-productive (for as statistics show, gun owners are far more likely to get shot than non-gun owners. Though knives aren't guns, pull a knife on certain assailants and they'll go for the kill rather than run—not a smart self-preservation tactic. Norm owns several firearms, by the way.)
     I saw a terrific women's safety program on TV decades ago in which a long-time police veteran said that women's number one safety tactic should be avoidance (stay away from sketchy situations, trust your gut, know your surroundings, be alert, look people in the eye, appear strong and confident, go out in groups, avoid drinking with strangers, and always drink responsibly). If tactic number one fails and a non-physical confrontation occurs, tactic number two should be flee (run toward others; shout, “Fire!”; and don't believe anything the aggressor says.) Finally, if the above fail and physical confrontation occurs, tactic number three should be fight to escape (stomp the sole of a shoe on the aggressor's shin and foot; kick; scream; shout No! Stop! Let me go!; bite; shove thumbs deep into the aggressor's eye sockets; grab the aggressor's privates and pull unrelenting; and urinate/defecate if undressed—anything to get away). Upon escape, flee and avoid (back to tactics number two and one).
     I liked what he said and shared it with my sister Joan (who freaked over it for awhile—good, if it got her to act more prudently) and other women in my life. One of the key take-aways for me was that self-defense is not about out-fighting an aggressor but about outsmarting him and not being the next victim. And what's true for women's safety is true for anyone.

Other security tips he shared:

When shopping, don't wrap purse straps around appendages that could get broken or dislocated in a tug-of-war against a 250 pound thug, rather unzip the purse, wrap its straps loosely around the purse's body, and hold the bundle like a clutch. If a thief grabs it, it'll explode open sending its contents flying. No thief will bend over to search the ground for the wallet that contains the cash he wants. He'll flee and possibly drop the purse when he realizes it's empty.

Keep a wad of rolled up $1 bills with a $5 bill showing on the outermost layer in the purse. If alone and confronted with an aggressor with a weapon who demands money, show the wad, say “This is all I got,” throw it over his head so it lands far behind him, flee in the opposite direction and scream, “Fire!” He'll go after the money he wants and let you go.

     The officer started the program by saying that statistics show one in three women will be assaulted during her lifetime but that each woman can reduce those odds against her by doing common sense things mentioned in the show. Perpetrators always hunt for the easiest mark they can find. Be a tough target and they'll give up and look for someone easier. He also emphasized that past victims should not feel the least bit responsible for what happened to them, no matter what they did or didn't do, because it's always the perpetrator's fault. And that violent crime happens every day and will continue to happen, sometimes even to the most careful, prepared, and physically imposing person, so all anyone can do is his or her best to avoid being the next victim—vigilance and preparedness being key to reducing those odds.

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