4 Myths About Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

Self-defense is one of those topics where everyone thinks they know what it is, but can’t seem to agree with each other. I’ve heard some pretty wild assumptions about self-defense, both directly and indirectly. Let me address some of the myths and assumptions I’ve come across.

1. Self-defense is about beating up an attacker. Um. No. At least that is not the purpose. The purpose of self-defense is keeping yourself safe. Sometimes an attacker gets beat up, sometimes he doesn’t. As long as the person remains hostile, you can continue pounding back. Once he stops (i.e. he is no longer attacking you), you have to stop, too; otherwise it becomes assault, not self-defense.

2. There are no shades of grey in self-defense. I’ve heard people say that self-defense is either necessary, or it’s not. I disagree. People tend to think of self-defense as a verb; an action that stands on its own. Self-defense is an attitude, not a verb. As with any attitude, there are degrees in how forcefully you pursue it. For example, it is certainly possible to focus on awareness training to the exclusion of physical training.

3. If I am attacked, the law will be on my side. Actually, from the law’s viewpoint, you and your assailant are citizens with equal protections under the law. It is not unusual for someone to be prosecuted for knocking out an assailant. In fact, if you find yourself in a situation where you physically need to defend yourself, expect to be taken to both criminal and civil court–especially if you defeat your attacker. When police arrive on the scene, more than 90% of the time, the person still standing was the aggressor. Even if your assailant swung first, if you’re the only one standing when the police show up, you’ll be suspect #1.

4. Once the fight is over, I’m done with the situation. I’m afraid not. Surviving the situation is only the first part. Then you have to survive the criminal and civil courts. Whether you succeed or fail in the courts, you also have to come to terms with what you did in order to survive. Being assaulted is a traumatic experience that essentially rewires your brain. Most people relive the experience for months or years after the event.

The “Benefits” of Situational Awareness

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Folks, contrary to what your big brother or prima dona drama queen friends taught you, driving is a COOPERATIVE activity. Especially in the rain.

–Something I posted on my Facebook page

A while ago I posted a few articles I wrote on self-defense. Situational awareness plays a large part in keeping yourself safe, especially in everyday activities like driving. Seeing someone edging closer to the dashed lane stripes can give you an important clue they’re about to jump into your lane…even if they don’t have a turn signal on. (I always laugh cynically when they jump into my lane THEN activate their turn signal for about four blinks before turning it off again. Yes. I know you wanted to switch lanes. Thank you.) It’s also critical to knowing where your escape points are. (i.e. where other vehicles aren’t)

Today it rained. Sometimes hard, sometimes soft, but nearly constantly. So when out driving, I put a little extra distance in front of me and keep a sharper eye on those around me. It was during one of my area scans that I noticed it: the guy behind me had a very…odd…look on his face. The fact I could see his expression told me he was too close to begin with, and I wondered if he was paying attention. Keeping that in mind, I put checking my rear view mirror on my “check frequently” list.

Over the next mile or so, his expression changed occasionally, but he never looked anywhere but in front of him. No checking the mirrors. No checking the lanes. I could almost see the tension in his neck. If he was that caught up in something, or zoned out…. I put even more distance between me and the car in front, in case the guy behind me needed more reaction time.

Just before my exit, I checked one last time. In the second or so it took me to be sure of what I was seeing, a woman sat up.

Really? Talk about slippery surfaces. And in traffic.

4 Self-Defense Concepts from Defensive Driving

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I’m too tired to come up with something original today, so here’s a reprint. *Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

If you look, you will find that a lot of our lives have self-defense concepts built in. Defensive driving is probably one of the most obvious.

1. Sight Distance: This involves not only what you can see, but what you CAN’T see. Knowing where your blind spots are helps prevent freezing in surprise at a critical moment.

2. Exits: I’m not talking about getting off the highway. Have an escape plan. In defensive driving, if you know where the holes in traffic are, you know where you can go if you need to dodge the tailgating accident in front of you. In self-defense, if you know where your safe areas are, you won’t have to spend critical time trying to figure it out.

3. Situational Awareness: Complimenting the idea of exits is situational awareness. Situational awareness is about knowing what’s going on around you. Exits is about knowing where danger is NOT; situational awareness is about knowing where danger might be.

4. Obey the Signals: Guess what folks, there are almost always precursor signals prior to an attack. Pay attention to them. If you run a red light, you might get in an accident; if you ignore the signals of a threat, you will most likely get into physical conflict.

4 Easy Things for Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

1. Know Your Area: If you know your area well, you’re much more likely to be able to escape an attacker. What do I mean by “know your area well”? This is not, I can find my way home from work or shopping. Know your area means knowing where the dead-ends are. It means knowing where the hiding places are. Know which neighbors you can run to for help.

2. No Doze: When traveling, or even walking to the corner store, stay awake and aware of what’s going on. Watch for people who try to remain unseen. Watch for nervousness in movements. Listen for footsteps and breathing (not your own). Look behind you using reflections from windows. Be aware of shadows.

3. Make Friends: Get to know people in your area. Your best defense is people greeting you by name. If you’re being social, you’re building up a defense network. Joe down the street may have noticed a car circling the block several times. Mary across the street may have noticed the same car stop in front of your house for several minutes before driving off. If you don’t speak with them, you might not find out someone’s scoping out your house until it’s too late.

4. Don’t Flash. Nice things are fun to have. They’re great to use for special, or at least specific, occasions. Don’t wear your nice jewelry to the mailbox. Showing off can be fun. Showing off in the wrong place can be dangerous.

4 Basic Boundaries for Legal Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

As I mentioned in a previous article, whenever there’s a fight, the police nearly always hear “self-defense” from both parties. There are, however, 4 boundaries that enclose what may legally be considered self-defense. You break any of these boundaries, and you’re likely to end up in jail for assault at the very least.

1. Physical Danger

The danger to you must be physical. This means someone slandering you or spreading libel is not a legal justification for responding physically. This also includes such provocations as: making fun of your mother/sister, spitting, or sleeping with your spouse. There are other remedies for these. Ask a lawyer.

2. Imminent Danger

Imminent danger means that the punch is on its way. This also applies to near certain probability, such as you just saw someone wipe out 5 people in sequence. Then he approaches you the same way he approached them. It would be considered a reasonable assumption that he’s coming after you next.

What is not included in “imminent danger” is the suspicion that someone is about to attack you without visual and recognizable proof (as in the example above). Somebody turning to the side and reaching inside a coat is NOT imminent danger unless you know for a FACT that he has a weapon there AND he intends to use it on you. For all you know, he may be cradling a broken rib.

3. The End is The End

If the attacker retreats from the field of battle, you may not continue the fight. Once the person is no longer an observable threat, any further attack becomes assault. Whether he turns his back to you to run, or raises his hands, he is no longer legally considered a threat. Does this mean he is ACTUALLY no longer a threat? No. Watch for a renewed attack. Be ready in case he comes back. If an observable threat manifests, you’re in a self-defense situation once more.

4. Don’t Provoke

Even if your attacker actually swings first, if you played an observable part in escalating the situation, the law will take a dim view of your assertion of self-defense. Does this mean that you should cave in to an aggressive person? No. But remember that direct confrontation is usually considered escalation to most people. If witnesses can testify that you stayed calm and tried to redirect, you have a much better chance of successfully using the “self-defense” defense.

Please note that many people will say they understand these boundaries, but when emotions are high, it is easy to become provocative. It is also very easy to misinterpret a surrendering movement for reaching for a concealed weapon. Remember: This is SELF-DEFENSE, not self-preemptive-strike.

The 4 Lines of Self-Defense

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*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under a different name a long time ago.*

The cry of “Self defense!” is common among those who get into trouble for fighting. Often this is heard from both parties, which makes the statement suspect. The phrase “self defense” in essence means to protect oneself from harm by striking an attack or attacker so that you are not harmed. Self defense is a complex concept. The defining the word is the easy part. In terms of cultural and legal meanings, it gets even more confusing; however, the purpose of this article is to examine what goes into self defense, rather than what comes after.

There are four major concepts within the topic of self defense: knowledge, attitude, awareness, and skills. Each concept contributes to your personal safety. If any one of them is left out, the danger to yourself increases dramatically.

Knowledge

Simply put, Knowledge is knowing what’s out there. You may see on the local news that there was a murder two blocks over. You may read in the newspaper that there have been a string of robberies targeting convenience stores. You may hear on the radio that there is a major storm approaching quickly. These are items that serve to catch the attention. You now know that they took place and that finding yourself in a dangerous situation is an increased possibility.

Beyond the attention grabbers used by the various media, look at the details of the incident (or approaching situation). The murder victim was a reclusive man. He was killed when he surprised a burglar in his house. The convenience store robberies all took place in the Westlake area between the times of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The approaching storm is predicted to be the worst storm the city has seen in 50 years. These details tell you that the murder was an incidental killing and not done by a serial killer, it’s probably a good idea to stay out of the Westlake area convenience stores between 9:00 in the evening and 3:00 in the morning, and that covering the windows and making sure you have enough supplies for at least a week after the storm hits is a smart idea.

Attitude

Most self defense courses and workshops will tell you that attitude is how you present yourself. Many will even tell you some basic body language to use: head up, shoulders back, relaxed gait. What is often left out is that attitude is as much internal as external, as much mental and emotional state as posture. This is not to say that such workshops ignore the internal aspect, just that they tend not to explicitly state it. In many ways it is easier and faster to fix the outward appearance. Since workshops rarely last more than half a day, the decision (a wise one in my opinion) is to spend more time teaching knowledge and skills.

The internal aspect of attitude should not be ignored, however. Confidence and mental readiness take longer to build, but will withstand more scrutiny on the streets. Most support groups have some form of the phrase “Fake it ’til you make it.” In essence, that is what one shot workshops teach in terms of attitude. By faking the appearance of confidence, you may prevent a possible predator from thinking of you as an easy target. That shell, however, is very thin. Those more observant will see the slight hesitation in the footsteps, the unusually fast breathing, the flickering eyes. With an internal framework of confidence and mental readiness, the exterior presentation is not a shell, but a natural byproduct.

Awareness

If you closed your eyes right now, could you list off all the exits to the room you’re in? Could you tell which is the closest? Could you tell which would be the fastest to get through? Awareness is knowing what’s going on around you. Of all the components of self defense, awareness is the one that uses all five senses. Perhaps more so than attitude, having an active awareness takes work. It is also one of the hardest aspects to train. Though few instructors of self defense deny the importance of awareness, almost none bother to attempt to teach it in workshops. Most of the workshops I’ve attended merely give lip service to it. “You have to be aware. Be aware of people around you. Be aware of traffic.” After that, they move on to a different topic. No advice on how to be aware. Not even a short mental checklist for when you enter a room. To most people, awareness is passive. While there is a passive element to it, effective awareness is active.

When you walk into a room, where are the exits, where are the obstacles, who are the people, and what can be used as improvised weapons in the worst case scenario? A simple four item mental checklist allows people to feel in control of the situation. A person with a sense of control has more confidence than one who does not. An active awareness affects attitude. It also lets you know when something is wrong with a situation.

Skills

The last line of self defense are your skills. By skills, I don’t just mean fighting ability. Skills are your actions. They answer the question “What are you capable of doing?” A few of the self defense workshops I’ve attended focus on three or four release type skills and spend the rest of the time on learning how not to need them. Defusing a confrontation is one of the most valuable self defense skills a person can have. Successfully defusing a situation prevents the need for fighting. Having the people skills that allows you to avoid a confrontation in the first place is even better. If you end up with violence, all your other self defense skills have failed. It is only at that point, that you need to have a strong grounding in fighting skills. Conversely, and somewhat paradoxically, by having a strong foundation of fighting skills you provide the framework on which to build your knowledge, awareness, and attitude.

As an analogy, look at a play. Knowledge sets the stage of your day to day living. Knowing what the stage looks like is vital if you don’t want to trip over the props strewn about. Awareness is understanding the plot of life’s play. Once the ebbs and flows of the plot are determined, you have the opportunity to rewrite your part. If knowledge is the stage of living and awareness is the plot, attitude is the actor. Attitude sets the patterns of thinking and behavior. Skills are the acting in a play. They are what determines what happens.

Although Shakespeare was speaking of the stages of human existence in his famous soliloquy in As You Like It, we can use it to summarize the lines of self defense.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

Knowledge, attitude, and skills are in the first three lines. Awareness, as life’s plot, is outlined in the subsequent 24 lines. To defend oneself is to prevent harm coming to you. Through knowledge and awareness, you can analyze any particular situation. Through attitude and skills you can change the situation. In all cases, self defense is very much an active, rather than reactive, event.

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