NOTICE!

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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.

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4 Elements of Self-Defense from Nature

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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 Differences Between Martial Arts and Self-Defense

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

Lots of people associate martial arts with self-defense, and for good reason. Many schools advertise as teaching “self-defense” whether they actually teach self-defense or martial arts. There is a societal link between the two that has become so strong, that the two are often used interchangeably. Unfortunately this can cause, and has caused, problems. There are many differences, of which I’ll discuss four.

1. Realism in Techniques. No matter how “realistic” a particular school teaches its techniques, there are boundaries which are not crossed. I have yet to see a martial arts school that actually allows, much less encourages, techniques to be practiced as they would actually be used. If they did, they would have to allow at least six weeks between classes so that broken bones had time to heal, at the very least. What about eye gouges or strikes to the throat? Needless to say, in order for a student to learn, the techniques have to be pulled and carefully controlled. There is nothing wrong with this. What is often missing, though, is the realization that the techniques are *purposefully* made less effective in order for students to practice them. Too often what happens when a technique is needed is the student performs as they did in class…and stops short of actually harming their attacker.

2. Pain. Many techniques are based on pain, or–even worse–the assumption of pain. A broken nose will not stop an attacker. When an attack happens, a cocktail of endorphins and adrenaline hits the system. Many techniques that are based on causing pain won’t even be felt. This is not something that comes out in class because, even if a student has some adrenaline in the system, the amount is not even close to how much will be in the system during an attack. As such, pain-based techniques performed consistently and effectively in class rarely, if ever, work when you actually need them.

3. Purpose. Many schools try to sell martial arts as self-defense. This is far from the truth. If you break down the phrase “martial arts”, you come up with “the arts of war.” So how is this different from self-defense? As the name implies, the purpose of martial arts is eliminating the enemy. As much as a student may learn and change internally, mentally or emotionally, the expression of a martial art is always expressed on an outside target. Self-defense, on the other hand, is about keeping yourself safe. Rather than eliminating an enemy, the purpose of self-defense is to make sure that you continue living. The common protest to this viewpoint is that eliminating an enemy and keeping yourself safe are two sides of the same coin. In some cases, this may be true. However, if you’re at the point where the only way to keep yourself safe is by eliminating the enemy, you’ve already missed several opportunities to avoid such a risky situation. This is why I say that self-defense is an attitude.

4. Location. Most likely you will not need to ever use your physical self-defense techniques, but if you do, the chances of it happening in a martial arts school are exceedingly small. As such you probably will not have the amount of space you’re used to moving in, nor will the space you do have be conducive to the techniques you learned. Barring mental instability, most attackers are going to make sure they hold as many advantages as possible, and that you hold as many disadvantages as possible. One of the unmentioned assumptions in most martial arts schools is that the training area is a realistic representation of the places you’re likely to need to use what you learn. I say this assumption is “unmentioned” because most people don’t even realize they’re making it. When said outright, the fallacy is obvious. I can count the number of times it’s actually been said to me on one hand.

It may sound like I’m bashing martial arts. I’m not. What I’m trying to do is draw a line between martial arts and self-defense. Martial arts can be useful in many types of situations, including self-defense. Saying martial arts and self-defense are the same thing shortchanges the potentials of martial arts and limits the concept of self-defense.

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.

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.