Periodically you see posted signs with large type, bolded lettering at the top: NOTICE! Sometimes this lettering is underlined or italicized in an attempt to raise it from mere prominence to attention-grabbing radiance. The sign writer seems to believe that this simple written command will seduce its reader into paying extra attention to the message. Every now and then it even works; but when it does, commanding attention is the least of the posting. There is usually also an action component. NOTICE: report finding lost items to campus police. NOTICE: The Astronomy Club is looking for new members, inquire with ______ (president) or _______ (faculty advisor).

Paying attention to things around you is a good idea in general. But understanding the implications of what you’re seeing and then ACTING on those implication is even better. Simply “noticing” is not enough. One of the best examples of the difference between noticing a fact and understanding a fact I’ve seen so far is within one of the first few chapters (chapter 4, I think) of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The scene I refer to is when Delauney asks Phedre to describe what she’d observed about the carriage and horses she’d just arrived in. She gives a very good description of them and thought herself very observant when Delauney praised her. Then Delauney asks Alcuin (who’d only seen the horse and carriage long enough for Phedre and Delauney to disembark and Delauney to pay the driver) to describe what he’d observed. Instead of describing the physicality of the horses and carriage, he describes that the unmarked carriage meant a livery stable, that matched white horses were rare and thus valuable (so that the stable was probably prosperous), that the driver had the mannerisms of someone country-bred but had been in the city long enough “not to bite the coin given by a gentleman”, and thus it would not be too difficult to trace the coachman if he needed to be questioned.

The more information you have in your mind, the easier and faster it is to do this. Also the ability to make connections between multiple disciplines is a good skill to train. (For instance: The reason why stars are dimmer than our sun follows the same principle why we do not bleed out every time our heart beats.) It’s one reason I love learning. Every time I find a connection between disciplines, I feel like I’ve pulled a gem from a bog. This is what I try to impart in my “running woman” exercise.

I’d been trying to get my students to think in this manner for many years before Kushiel’s Dart was published. I’d been giving my students a simplified example and asking them to come up with possible scenarios for what they see. I start with something like: “You see a woman running. What’s going on?” I usually address newer students first and rarely get anything other than “She’s running from someone.” Occasionally, I get “She’s out exercising.” Given that the “running woman” exercise is done in the context of a martial arts or self-defense class, the answers are understandable. If no one asks clarifying questions, I start adding details: “She’s dressed in slacks and a nice blouse.” There goes the out for a jog explanation.  “She doesn’t look back and her head is up.” Probably not running from someone. And so on. Depending on how quick the students are, I may end with “She has nothing in her hands, but everyone else on the street is carrying a closed umbrella.” If they need something a little more obvious, I throw in “The sky is filled with low, black rainclouds.” So instead of running from danger, she is trying to get home before she gets soaked. Depending on the level of interest and the number of light bulbs I see going off above people’s heads, I take it further into possible habits and thinking patterns.

Unfortunately, this sometimes gets me into trouble. As a very shy extrovert (not really a contradiction), I spend a lot of time around people without directly interacting with them. I also tend to score very high on empathy. Since I tend to think in sensations rather than words, it’s not difficult for me to see someone in distress and get “sympathy pangs”. It’s also very easy for me to get sucked into their problems. This is one reason I’m not a therapist despite many people telling me I have a talent for making people feel comfortable and safe; until I get these responses under conscious control, I would get burned out too fast be of use to anyone. I recently told someone, “If I see someone in distress, I can’t not respond.” As I said, seeing, understand, and responding sometimes gets me into trouble.

Seeing a NOTICE! sign, or posting one, is all well and good, but it is rarely sufficient to the underlying reason why the sign was posted in the first place. A notice sign calls for understanding and action. A paper posted on a bulletin board is usually about a matter simple enough to understand and act upon. But paper notices aren’t the only notice signs out there. Many of those notice signs are hidden beneath other things, and in order to see them you have to understand the implications of what you’re seeing on the surface. “Reading between the lines” is often hard enough in print. Graduating from the two dimensional of text on a page (or screen) to the four dimensional world of life is much harder, but it can be done.


4 Elements of Self-Defense from Nature


I haven’t done one of these in a while. Here’s a short list of self-defense techniques and concepts that you can get from a nature walk.

1. If they can’t see you, they can’t eat you. This idea is pretty self explanatory. In nature, camouflage is rampant because everything is trying to eat everything else. If a predator doesn’t register your presence as prey, you’re not likely to be eaten. What makes this a difficult concept to follow, is that often, predators are ALSO camouflaged. Why?

2. If they can’t catch you, they can’t eat you. A camouflaged predator is more likely to be able to catch its prey. This means you. If you can see the predator approaching, you have a better chance of running away. The corollary, of course, is that you can outrun your attacker in the first place. Practice your wind sprints. Practice sprinting even when you’re tired.

3. You’re more likely to survive in a group. In nature, a 1 in 100 chance is much better survival odds than a 1 in 4 chance of being eaten. This is one of the main benefits of herd behavior. Incidentally, in groups, humans have a tendency to support each others’ weaknesses.

4. Someone will always call your bluff. Bluffs are decent in single instances. They are not a good idea as a general survival tool. This means, among other things, that if you carry a weapon, you better be willing to use it. If you’re not, it will be taken from you and used against you. It also means that even if you succeed on bluffing your way through a potentially dangerous situation, you may not be so lucky next time. Can you actually punch someone with intent to do damage? It’s not an idle question. Many martial artists can’t, though they fool themselves into thinking they can.

There are many more lessons to be taken from nature, all you have to do is look. There are even lessons different from what I’ve gathered from the samples I saw. Self-defense is an attitude and a life style, not an if-then flow chart. Nature is an excellent example of this concept. Take a walk in a state or national park and see for yourself. Ask a naturalist.

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.