Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Women's Self-Defense information...

Looking around the Internet to see what kind of self-defense information is available to people, I came across the following, posted in February 2010 on The Survival Spot. My comments will be interspersed with the article.

Don’t Mess With Me: Self-Defense Tips and Tools:

By: Sage Romano

I used to bartend at a rough-and-tumble, punk-rock dive bar whose patrons specialized in energetic brawls and other combative physical exertions. While a bouncer was often on hand to manage these situations in a far more intimidating manner than the average girl bartender could, I still found it necessary to adopt an attitude that let the rowdiest customers know that the smallest divergence from good manners and basic human decency would result in an ass-kicking they wouldn’t forget. And in the event that said attitude proved an insufficient deterrent to bad, bawdy, or ill-mannered behavior, I made sure I had some bite to back up my bark.

My biggest showstopper was a simple punch to the face. I was learning how to box at the time, and I relished any opportunity to use my pugilistic skills on deserving drunken fools who stepped out of line. A simple right cross to the bridge of the nose had a wonderfully dramatic and effective fallout, what with the blood burgeoning out of nostrils, the yelp of pain from the offending party, and the thrall of the witnesses (none of whom would ever, ever again think of being less than sweetness and light personified to every bartender they should encounter). This move was guaranteed to shut down any untoward behavior and generally keep peace in the bar for the rest of the night. While not every woman is comfortable throwing punches, we should all develop at least a basic knowledge of preventive and aggressive self-defense tactics.

The first thing that occurs to me is that she is lucky that she had backup in the form of bouncers nearby, and that she obviously worked in a pretty well-controlled bar. (Her description of “rough-and-tumble, punk-rock dive bar” notwithstanding.)

1) If you throw a punch at someone, you had better make sure you are able to follow it up. In this case, she seems to be saying that one simple punch in the nose not only stopped everything, but also kept the “peace in the bar for the rest of the night” which means that most people really weren't interested in fighting. The person that she punched apparently wasn’t, (merely being obnoxious) nor was anyone else—including the guy’s friends. She never had to follow up at all. The idea that this in any way actually relates to women’s self-defense is laughable, at best.

2) “I relished any opportunity to use my pugilistic skills on deserving drunken fools “ is a real indicator of someone who knows they can act with impunity, and without repercussions. This sort of attitude is extremely BAD in terms of self-defense, and her comment about how all women should develop at least a basic knowledge of preventive and aggressive self-defense tactics, while true, make it seem like her actions are a part of that—and they aren’t.

3) Her comment about how her attitude and manner told customers not to step out of line, or it would “result in an ass-kicking they wouldn’t forget” is either bad writing (due to overly flamboyant hyperbole) or really, really bad self-defense tactics. According to her our words, her best showstopper was merely a single punch to the face---which doesn’t correspond to any definition of “ass-kicking” I know of, unless it is on an elementary school playground. Most people actually engaged in a serious self-defense situation find that a simple punch to the nose might buy them a couple fractions of a second (and because of that, it can be a very effective SD technique) but it certainly doesn’t equate to escaping the situation safely.

Overall, just in the first several paragraphs she demonstrates that she doesn’t actually understand what self-defense is about—both in terms of tactics, and techniques.

The First Line
Prevention is the best and most effective self-defense tool; there are loads of simple, commonsense actions you can take to minimize the chance that you will be on the receiving end of a harassing or violent attack. The short version: do not look like a victim. What does a victim look like? Let’s try a little role-playing. Pretend you’re a mugger or rapist or pervert of some kind and you’re trolling for your next mark. Who is going to look more appealing to you? Note the self-assured woman striding down the sidewalk with a look of cool, determined confidence, holding her handbag snugly under her arm and her head high, her eyes actively observing the surrounding environs and taking stock of possible pitfalls and problems, such as you—the skeevy lowlife waiting to pounce. Now note your other victim option: she’s drunk, teetering on her stilettos, her purse dangling from her wrist as she staggers down the sidewalk, chatting on her cell phone about the ungodly number of Cosmopolitans she just consumed. Who’s the easy target here?

Don’t be stupid. Take note of your surroundings and behave accordingly. Avoid strangers offering help and favors. Keep your personal possessions close and untantalizing. Don’t distract yourself with phone calls or texts if you’re making your way through a less-than-fabulous part of town. Steer clear of anyone or anything that gives you the heebie-jeebies. Don’t try to navigate city streets (or any streets) alone when your faculties are compromised by any chemical concoctions. Let yourself be a little paranoid, trust your instincts, and remember that it’s always best to wear shoes you can actually move in. Not to say you have to trade in your Marc Jacobs pumps for a good pair of running shoes, but think of this next time you’re cruising Zappos.com.

Some good stuff here. The writing style is highly annoying to me, given the large amount of overly emotional descriptiveness going on (this person was an English or Philosophy major in college, wasn’t she?) but the basic information is good. Maybe the writing style works better on other people.

Be Ready for Anything
Okay, so you’ve got your big-girl, don’t-mess-with-this attitude on, you know where you’re going, and you know what you’re doing—you’re not being stupid. Sadly, this does not necessarily preclude the stupidity of others, and anyone who’s got a criminal yen for your purse or your person is a sandwich or two short of a picnic, meaning that sometimes you can’t avoid confrontations, despite your best efforts. In the unlikely and unfortunate event that you find yourself compromised, be ready with an arsenal of moves and/or tools to fend off your attacker and hopefully do some damage in the process.

[sigh] “Don’t-mess-with-this-attitude” --why do many people confuse assertiveness with aggressiveness? As a comment, many types of predators, particularly ones who focus on females, often take aggressive behavior as a challenge, one that they will focus on even more strongly. (And more violently.) Assertive behavior, on the other hand, does not set up a challenge, but tends to literally cause you be to dismissed by many attackers, who think either “not worth it” or “not a challenge to me.”

Several different tactics could have a mitigating effect on the situation. Good old-fashioned dirty-fighting maneuvers, such as eye gouging and hair pulling, can be wonderfully useful, but it never hurts to have some practiced moves on hand as well. A wide range of resources both on the Internet and in real life can guide you in your quest for these skills. Your community will certainly boast a martial-arts school of some kind; from tae kwon do to karate to judo, you don’t have to earn a black belt to have the kind of know-how it would take to stop an attacker from doing any real damage to you. In several states, there are Fear Adrenaline Stress Training (FAST) courses that condition you to respond confidently and deftly in such a situation. One such course, Model Mugging, offered in twenty-six states, hones these skills through role-playing.

The idea that Model Mugging would simply be described as “role-playing” is telling. Both FAST courses and Model Mugging use adrenaline-based scenario training to help students learn how to deal with emotionally-charged situations, and allow them to understand how their techniques actually work. Saying this is merely "role-playing" completely undervalues the effectiveness of the training.

There is also a BIG difference between this sort of thing and your neighborhood TKD school. Don’t get me wrong—you can certainly learn self-defense from a martial arts class, provided it is taught correctly. However, FAST and Model Mugging classes are focused on one thing, and one thing only---and they are very good at it. The self-defense training you can get from either of them will strongly overmatch any gotten from a similar amount of time in a martial arts class. (And this is from someone who teaches martial arts.)

The most obvious criminal-deterrent options, of course, are weapons. Nonlethal tools like Mace or pepper spray and Tasers can be effectual, but they’re best used in close quarters and you will run the risk of having your weapon turned on you. A firearm, while wholly intimidating, will almost always cause more problems than it solves; most self-defense authorities advise strongly against carrying a gun. A Kubotan key chain is a handy tool; otherwise known as the “instrument of attitude adjustment” by the LAPD, it’s a cylindrical, high-impact plastic rod with grooves for grip and a tapered end for hitting nerve-filled, bony places like the knuckles or solar plexus, or softer pressure points like the groin or neck. Its versatility can be daunting, though, so have a clear idea of how you’d use the Kubotan if you had to.

This entire section is just—wrong. Mace or pepper spray shouldn’t be used at close quarters, Tasers (as opposed to stun guns) are distance weapons also.

“You will run the risk of having your weapon turned on you.” Possible, yes, but according to statistics, highly unlikely. Even more unlikely if you have actually trained with your self-defense tools. I have yet to ever see any good statistics supporting that people’s weapons were “turned on” them, and yet many people keep parroting the same old thing.

“A firearm, while wholly intimidating, will almost always cause more problems than it solves; most self-defense authorities advise strongly against carrying a gun. “ And this says that the author has not researched her topic at all, and doesn’t understand the use of self-defense tools. Statistics have consistently and continually shown that people who defended themselves with firearms have a much higher success rate than people who did not. I agree that a gun is not useful much of the time—a firearm is a self-defense tool that is applicable and useful in a very narrow range of situations. That being said, in those situations it is by far the best tool currently available.

“Self-defense authorities advise” ---what SD authorities would this be? Because every single one I know, that actually knows about self-defense, has paid attention to the statistics on self-defense, and has experience with self-defense situations, says that given a committed, resolved person who took the time to train with it, a firearm is by far the most effective self-defense tool they could have for serious situations.

As for the Kubaton—either you are holding a stick in your hand when you hit someone (and a roll of quarters works just as well) or you have taken the time to train in other applications of said stick—and if you have that kind of time, why not train with something that extends your reach?

The simplest self-defense tool is the personal alarm, a device that can be carried on a keychain or a lanyard and that, when activated, emits a head-splitting, 120-decibel screech. The last thing any criminal wants is having attention called to his unsavory actions, and nothing gets people’s ears to perk up faster than an electronic scream that you could hear over the loudest speed-metal band. Though the personal alarm is passive and nonlethal, it’s a good means of distracting your villain, allowing you a chance to run away or bring someone to your rescue.

This is almost complete nonsense. How many people pay attention to car alarms anymore? When you hear a loud obnoxious noise outside, do you go find out what is going on? What is more likely to get your attention, screaming or yet another alarm? I also find that anything marketed as a self-defense tool that can be disabled by throwing it on the ground is ridiculous. In addition, how does “a really loud noise” stop an attacker?

Does the author have any statistics showing that a personal alarm is useful in stopping attackers? I confess I’ve never even heard of one situation in which it helped. (I suppose that means I’ll get emails with anecdotes from people who “heard from a friend” or something. [sigh])

A loud noise is not a defense system. Matter of fact, in many places, it will just annoy people more.

I have lived in San Francisco for almost eighteen years. I have walked the length and breadth of the city at all hours of the night, have ridden buses full of nefarious-looking folk, and lived alone in the Tenderloin for eight years. Touch wood, I haven’t once had any sort of violent encounter while navigating my life in the city. But I do not forget myself and my surroundings. I am aware at all times, with my headphones on or not, in three-inch heels or sneakers, on well-lit busy streets or in musty dark alleys. And I still know how to throw a mean right hook.

If you are wearing headphones and they are playing something, you are not aware. If you are walking in musty dark alleys, you are not making good choices. If you are walking “the length and breadth of the city at all hours of the night” you apparently are oblivious, or actively searching out trouble.

The fact that you “haven’t once had any sort of violent encounter” means nothing other than the odds never caught up with you. When they do, your “mean right hook” merely means the guy is going to be angrier when he hits you repeatedly.

People who are looking for self-defense information: Please, PLEASE make sure you look around and find self-defense instructors who know what they are talking about, who won’t give you wrong information, who will train you in the right tactics to keep yourself safe.

Nonsense like this---is just wrong. And it’ll get people hurt, who attempt to follow its advice.


Ardi said...

Yikes. There's so much wrong with that it's just ridiculous. About the only thing she said that's true is that you should be aware of your surroundings.

S said...

While I agree with most of your points, and laugh agreeably at others, I must say. Someone who has never met you, or does not know your mannerisms, would take one look at this and think: 'Yes, he makes valid points, but at the same time, pointing out the author's mistakes and bashing them, what does he hope to accomplish?'

While I doubt you have been proven wrong many times, I am confident that someone else could find a number of flaws in your own teaching, and while you are only human (most of the time), that is to be expected. Other than righting a few wrongs, I cannot see the point of this 'tearing at and examining every little mistake' teaching method.

Thomas said...

"S" was kind enough to initially email her comment to me, and I wrote back an answer--after which she graciously agreed to post her comment publicly so I had an excuse to post my response. :)

Here is what I sent her:
One of the most common problems with self-defense is the fact that there is so incredibly much bad information out there. I’ve written posts in the past lauding various authors regarding their fact-based comments or teaching---and in a similar fashion, I think it is important to spend time commenting on the wrong information out there.

It is certainly true that if a person spends all of their time just bashing other people, not only is that not useful, it tells you something important (and negative!) about that person. This, however, is different from truly trying to make sure that people don’t make their self-defense training decisions based on extremely bad writing or commentary.

If I _really_ think it is important that people learn to effectively defend themselves, then it is important that they understand what effective self-defense _is_--which means sometimes, you have to speak out against people who not only give poor information, but phrase it in a manner that actually will cause someone else to make decisions actively detrimental to their safety.

I actually don’t care about the author of that article, per se---I don’t know them, and I have no axe to grind. (Matter of fact, I don’t even recall the author’s name.) The _information_, however, is something that really does need to be refuted, part by part---because there were so _many_ things wrong. If I just point out a couple, people might assume that other parts are okay since I didn’t comment on them.

I also note that I have commented on various people’s writing where I didn’t agree with their conclusions---but thought that their facts were valid. In cases like that, I tend to state my own conclusions (based on their facts) but leave it to the reader to make their own decisions. After all, *I* don’t know _everything_ there is to know about _anything_!

I do know a little bit about the facts behind criminal statistics, human psychology, and self-defense situations in the U.S., however. If I am going to keep my self-respect as an instructor, I think it is important to make sure that if I see a really BAD commentary on “effective self-defense,” I need to make sure someone understands that following those instructions might get them hurt.

You are certainly correct---it wouldn’t surprise me at all if people could find flaws with my teaching. However, I welcome commentary on my teaching, and more importantly, I welcome logical arguments about the self-defense facts and statistics behind what and how I teach. After all, keeping people safe is what is important, not be “being right”---so if someone can give me better information from which to teach, I’m all for it!

Please actually add this as a comment on the post---you make a valid point, and an important one. Why _am_ I making so many critical comments about what someone else thinks will work? Because I think it is important that people get the right information so they can make good decisions about their safety.

And as I said, she agreed to post her comment, so I can give my reasoning. Thanks!