February 10, 2012

On Self-Defense

So, this is a continuation of my thoughts on self-defense that I started yammering about in, "Sensei Obvious." It assesses the concept in terms of three guiding principles:

1. Activate higher levels of awareness by threat assessment of location, lifestyle, and activity
2. Create countermeasures to known/unknown vulnerabilities
3. Consistently train physically to protect others, for one's own resistance and escape

However, the piece has gone long and I’ve decided to break it into two parts.

But first, an editorial:

Which of the principles above is the most important? Three. Period. Consistent training has the ability to habitually calibrate us in ‘activating’ ways provided it is uncovered in the training itself. This recognition of “oughtness” to oneself and others is by far the most important aspect in training, surpassing even the acquisition of raw skill/ability.

Not sure? Who would we rather back us in a fight: a martial artist with 30 years training, but who's an avowed pacifist and refuses to fight for any reason, or our untrained best friend, who’s willing to die to protect us? Duty, obligation, a feeling of “must/ought/should” - this ‘activating’ quality matters; it is central to wisdom.

Without the obligation of the heart/will/spirit to intervene when such intervention is needed and necessary for ourselves and others, the training itself cancels out. Imagine training the compression and breathing techniques of CPR merely as a set of compartmentalized physical skills, but divorced from their design to be used to save lives. Without that crucial information to calibrate and attune CPR’s usage, why exactly have we learned it? In other words, what is the point of learning to do something, if we are incapable of recognizing when such learning may be applied? It’s like having solution to a problem we don’t even know exists – even if we encounter it, we remain ignorant to any contribution to resolve it.

Martial ability alone does not change us for the better, only grants us opportunity to do so, provided it is moored to its ‘activating’ (ethical) design. Unless students are compelled to reflect on training’s inherent responsibility, then in my opinion the training’s potency is diluted from beneficial – virtuous - calibration to mere selfish endeavor. And when training gets too selfish, it can grow dark – quickly – and soon everyone is a potential enemy, everyone is suspect. Instead of becoming a happier, healthier, more attractive person – a brighter light to the world – we dim, obscured by shadows of our own making.

This is the biggest problem I see with most training - reliance on techniques is symptomatic of the excessive focus upon the self; the continual satisfaction of the relative needs of the ego. Perhaps you’ve heard martial arts destroys the ego, but this is silly - we need a healthy ego to thrive in this world. Training is meant to temper the ego through recognition of human nature’s inherent “self and others” value, balancing our prideful wants with humility from the Natural Law’s universal truths.

Martial training requires this ethical reflection, just like in learning any ability that has the potential to do oneself or others great good or great harm (what’s more important: knowing how to use a gun or knowing how to responsibly, justifiably, use a gun?). Spiderman’s Uncle Ben was right – “With great power, comes great responsibility” – and I would argue it is the acceptance of this responsibility – leadership, even - that one should ultimately recognize and consent to in any martial journey.

The reason is clear: if we seek highest development, we have to teach. We have to become a teacher - and yes, a leader - for ourselves as much as for others.

‘Nuff said.

1. Activate higher levels of awareness by threat assessment (potential) of location, lifestyle, and activity.

Assess the safety of loved ones

Honestly and critically asses threats to the safety and lives of your loved ones and your property. I say others here, because we tend to take our own lives for granted and we are naturally more critical of the safety of those we care about than we are of ourselves. So, you need to assess yourself, but be sure to include the critical eye of someone who cares about you. Do this as a favor to yourself as much as to them, they'll appreciate you for it.

Location, lifestyle, activity

First off, break these terms down:
Location: "where you live life."

Lifestyle: "what you do in life."

Activity: "how/when you do what you do in life."
Take a perspective as an intelligence analyst might – the more information you generate about your interactions with the “where,” “what,” and “how/when” the greater your chances at assessing threats.

"Location" should include up-to-date crime stats, demographics, and even traffic patterns, lest you had to make a hasty evacuation. Where is the nearest hospital, fire, and police station? Where are the crime-ridden areas? Are they areas you frequent? Tape up a map of your city or town to your wall and mark them out. Download a map app of the city on a smartphone if you have one. How easy is it to catch a cab? What are the schedules for public transportation? Where can I get gas – at 2am? Have there been any robberies at that location? Check the crime stats.

Here in Chicago, the Tribune Red Eye Homicide Tracker is a terrific resource: http://homicides.redeyechicago.com/  It’s nearly a real-time log chronicling the where, when, and what of violence and criminality throughout the city - a kick in the ass by reality and a great way to contextualize one’s area.

"Lifestyle" includes everything from job, to hobbies, to values, and attitudes that impact choices to do or not do something. What kind of work do you do? What hobbies do you enjoy? Are you politically active? Religious? Be honest – could your choices directly impact safety for you or loved ones?

"Activity" is the most important of the three, for it's the actual way - how and when - one does something, in a certain place, at a certain time; it physically triangulates us. We are always engaged in some activity - we are always some where, doing some thing, at some time. And most of the time we are probably in centralized locations for most of our days, as with work, or being at home (including the time we sleep).

Any and all information is useful in answering these questions. In fact, just the act of gathering the information will produce all kinds of questions and answers one might never have thought about previously. But having the information is not enough, we have to do something with it. One of the best ways to do this is to play a game; I call it the "Find cover - now what?" game - a means to practice thinking tactically.

Find cover – now what?

Something happens: find cover - now what? This is to practice thinking tactically (the plan itself is not the issue, mind you, but forming, making, and deciding a tactical one). It should be based on whatever scenario we can imagine using our daily routine as a backdrop or wherever or whatever we happen to be doing at the time.

There is one rule and it’s right in the title – find cover. This means physically taking cover – actually doing what you believe will work to immediately safeguard yourself or loved ones or whomever from whatever threat you have imagined. The reason is twofold: the world can look drastically different from unconventional perspectives (hiding under a car, from behind a dumpster, etc.) and the other reason is one should train to do it. Don’t just think about what you would do – actually do it as best you can (just don’t call me if you’re arrested for climbing a fire escape or something).

At the mall or school? An "Active Shooter" walks in with an AK-47: find cover - now what? At a baseball game? A drunken riot breaks out next to you: find cover, now what? Pay attention to the news - hear about some horrible story? What would you have done differently? If we want to add another layer to it, we can start timing ourselves, family, or friends. Begin with a one minute countdown right after they take cover, then reduce the time by 10 seconds each successive round. Act as “dungeonmaster” here - answer their questions and walk them through what is happening so they can form a cogent plan.

But the plan needs to be tactical, which means executing it and maneuvering through it to completion under the circumstances. If one is facing a shooter, one has to move from cover to more cover – cover stops bullets, concealment does not (not every part of a car will stop bullets, but the engine will). However, the drunken riot may require escape in some unconventional way paying attention not to get trampled by everyone else who will also be trying to escape.

This aspect leads to an important distinction: focusing on the threat alone is a mistake – we have to step back far enough to be able to see how the threat impacts everyone and everything around us. In other words, don’t focus on the change (the threat) in our midst - you’ll wind up being late – learn instead to see the “potential” for change.

On “potential”

Raising awareness isn’t just about looking for specific threats, or even training against them, but taking the view from 40,000 feet: where, how, and when does the potential exist for threats to manifest (just like Taijutsu)? And once they have occurred, how are they impacting our options?

This is what I mean by “unknown” vulnerabilities – the most dangerous, the one’s we don’t even know are threats. It asks the question: how can we proactively protect ourselves against something we aren’t even sure we should be protecting ourselves against? Good question. Answer: proper physical training prepares us to recognize, interpret, and adapt to not just specialized threats, but the potential for change itself.

When we train are we simply looking to defend ourselves against the punch, the kick, the knife? Are we simply looking to be able with a variety of martial weapons? Is training just resistance against possible victimization by some “bad guy?” If so, this misses the big picture. Statistically speaking for the majority people, the chances of being attacked are remote. Having to defend oneself is not implausible, but the probability it will ever occur does not even lay decent odds for betting. So, then, why train?

Well, there are lots of good reasons to train, worthy of lengthy discussion. But my short answer is physical training offers far more than mere defensibility. It offers us the opportunity to raise our level of awareness (perhaps even our level of consciousness) by learning to see the world differently. Change happens everyday, all around us, all the time, and Taijutsu seeks to connect, ‘tune in,’ if you will, with the potential for that change. For in the potential lies all manner of threat, malicious and non-malicious, like accidentally being hit by a car. By comparison, "bad guy" threats would occupy only the first chapter in an infinite-volume set on the "variable."

So, think of it like staying healthy: we aren’t trying to treat a specific threat (doctors do that), but instead create enough well being throughout our system to stay aware of the potential that something is amiss; unhealthy people are usually not as ‘body conscious.’ Set the conditions, or make ourselves aware of conditions - real-time, forth-coming, or imminent - and the better our chances will be to adapt to change when it impacts us, like knowing the weather as a good indicator of how attentive we need to drive.

Once one chooses to broaden their view, it’s hard to go back. Looking ahead can illuminate much, and if we can learn to key in on the potential for these moments, we can create countermeasures against them.

I'll post the next part when it's done.

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