Self-Defense For Normal People

by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." -- Helen Keller

Keeping this quote in mind, self-defense is mostly about awareness and anticipation. There are two good reasons for this.

First, you can learn all you want about physical or gun combat and still have your ass handed to you if you don't learn to pay attention to what's going on around you, anticipate and avoid danger. Even a green beret or navy seal who spends a lifetime training for combat will get taken if they're asleep on their feet (they won't be, of course, not if they're the kind of people who end up becoming green berets and navy seals :-).

Second, criminals do not generally operate according to a master plan, unless it's the master plan of "impulsively take advantage of easy opportunities." Let's face it, generally an honest life is a lot less risky and usually more profitable. But you have to have the forethought to notice that and the discipline to practice it. Criminals don't go down a row of brand new parked cars, pick one, then work at it until they get the lock open. They go down the row of cars until they find one with the doors left unlocked. Car theft statistics show a sharp rise in thefts during the summer - because it's easiest just to bash the window in and then drive with the shattered window rolled down.

You don't have to be the toughest dude around; criminals will choose the easiest target, so don't be the easiest target. Or, as the old joke goes:

"I don't have to out-run the bear, I just have to out-run you."

You might want to take some self-defense courses. Certainly, I feel that most folks ought to learn some basic personal combat skills, armed and unarmed, just like basic gun safety, basic first aid, basic driving skills (in the US at least), etc. You may not need them on a daily basis, you may never need them, but the cost/benefit ratio for at least basic training is pretty persuasive. Also, I suspect that some physical training will alter your presentation and body language a little, which will make you look less like a victim. But the real payoff will be in developing awareness.

The best way I've found to describe this is:

Train yourself in habits of awareness.

Remember the Helen Keller quote above; none of this means you should go through life feeling fear and being paranoid. That's why they're habits instead of an activity to which you devote your waking hours.

First, you need to acquire the knowledge to understand where the risks are. But then you need to practice the techniques until they become habits of thinking - you need to look around you, you need to habitually analyze the self-defense risks around you. At first this requires you to actively analyze things, but after a while you can develop the habit of noticing, understanding, and taking steps to minimize self-defense risks.

Here are some simple examples, but I'm not trying to teach a self-defense course here; first of all, for god's sake, if you want to learn self-defense, find a real self-defense course and instructor. Second, I'm just trying to illustrate some principles. You should focus not on the action, but on the principles that drive the action.

  • Always sit or stand with your back to a wall; okay, so this one is kinda paranoid-sounding, but the general point is to pay attention to your sight-lines; get in the habit of noticing whether or not somebody could come up behind you without you seeing them. Watch for whether somebody could enter the room/restaraunt/bar/whatever without you seeing them. Oddly enough, an easy way to develop this habit is to try to sit or stand with your back to a wall at all times. What's nice is that it's also the root of all self-defense - paying attention.
  • If you're reading the newspaper on the subway, read it with the newspaper held low, not held up in front of you and blocking your vision.
  • Don't wear headphones while walking, riding your bike, or driving. Oddly enough, in most jurisdictions it's illegal to wear your headphones while driving or riding your bike. Go figure.
  • Don't walk between parked cars unnecessarily. This goes for any constrained space where your freedom of motion will be limited.
  • If you're walking with your children, make sure your children are always walking in front of you where you can see them. If you have two adults present, tend to keep one in front and one behind (especially when going through doorways and similar changes of environment).
  • When you approach a blind corner, make sure you're not going to come into view abruptly. For example, don't walk along a building an inch from the wall; step a few feet out on the sidewalk, and devote a little extra attention to that direction as you come up on the corner.
  • Don't keep your hands in your pocket when you're walking. It makes you more vulnerable and it makes you look more vulnerable. When you're going somewhere it's especially risky because by definition you're going to be constantly moving into the range of new risks.
  • (for men) when you use the restroom in a strange place, always use a stall, and always lock the door, even when you just need to urinate.
  • Pay attention to where you put your hands, to how you stand or sit or lean against something, and how that affects your freedom of motion. Don't cross your legs, don't fold your arms in a situation where you can be easily and suddenly approached by somebody(like on a subway).
  • Make a habit of noticing where people are, and what's in their hands.
  • Make a habit of noticing the ways in and out of wherever you are - you don't necessarily have to search the place, but pay attention.
    See original (unformatted) article


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