This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.
I learned a new word recently: parallax. It has become one of my favorites.
Parallax is the visual difference we perceive in an object’s position when we change our own position in relation to the stationary object. It’s why we get the most accurate reading from a standard dial when we view it directly. Tilt your head from one side to the other, or close one eye and then the other, and the dial’s needle will appear to give you a different reading each time. The reading itself doesn’t change, but our perception of it does.
So we’re going to chat today about using the parallax principle in a self-defense context.
It isn’t a revolutionary concept. Think asymmetric warfare, where one side has all the fire power and the other side has… whatever they can find. It’s easy to assume the Big Fire side can inflict horrible destruction on the Whatever side with impunity, and quickly win the day. Easy, and wrong. Rather, the first part can be correct, but the second doesn’t automatically follow.
The parallax, in this context, is mentally shifting one’s own perspective to see the unchangeable from a different angle
So let’s apply this to self-defense.
First, if you’re targeted directly, it’s usually because your attacker has done a quick survival-based calculus and determined you are on the Whatever side, while they are on the Big Fire side. Thousands upon thousands of words can be written about how to project Big Fire rather than Whatever, and they’re all valid to a degree. But even if you perfectly project I AM BIG FIRE DON’T MESS, there will always be someone who decides they’re Bigger Fire, or who will misjudge you completely. And really, any Big Fire attack that assumes Whatevers are easy targets can be proven wrong in ways they can’t imagine. (Because, honestly, if they had imagined, they wouldn’t be attacking.)
But the bottom line is this: unless you’ve been told in advance to expect an attack, the attacker will always have the advantage of surprise.
Second, get used to thinking creatively now, while you’re reading this article in safety, rather than in the middle of a crisis. Give your mind a chance to practice such creativity. Create the neuropathways for your synapses to follow, the emotional response pattern for fear and panic to fall into when things go sideways. Let self-defense creativity become a habit rather than a special event.
A decent starting place is to look at the weapons you are not permitted to carry under most circumstances, and determine what traits make those weapons weapons in the eyes of those banning them for safety purposes.
For example, it’s illegal to carry the keyring pictured above onto an airplane, and it’s illegal to carry it on the ground in many places, because it’s considered akin to knuckle dusters. And yet, the principle behind its use is no different from the “standard” self-defense advice to hold your keys in your fist… with the keys sticking out.
The first one is considered a weapon dangerous enough to outlaw. The second is just something you carry around in your pocket or purse.
Knives? Right out in restricted settings, because people fear (with good reason!) being stabbed. But pencils, Uniball fine point pens, hair sticks, fondue sets, knitting needles… Well, for awhile those last two were indeed banned from airplanes as “dual use” items. But can you imagine everyone tossing out our pens and pencils as well before boarding a plane? Maybe, under the same “BAN ALL LIGHTERS AND BULLWHIPS” craze from a few years ago. The point is, there’s a point. A sharp point. A sharp point that can stab. And the sharp point is shared by many items folks don’t consider weapons because they haven’t shifted their perspective.
I could bring along a six-inch screwdriver on any U.S. flight, whereas a seven-inch one is considered too dangerous—odd, since no one needs a full seven inches to penetrate an eyeball. Also permitted are under-four-inch scissors that have blunt, rather than sharp, tips… which ignores the fact the slash of a sharp edge is almost always more deadly than the stab.
The reality is a weapon is anything that helps you defeat your attacker. It’s why twenty people and four planes can alter the course of an entire nation without once engaging that nation’s powerful military. It’s why fertilizer sales of large quantities are monitored. It’s why a calmly raised voice in a professional situation can stop a harasser from putting hands on your body. And it’s why those TSA lists of banned items sometimes seem ridiculous. Once you start down the mental road of possibilities, the “safety” that comes from banning certain items becomes increasingly brittle. That’s the parallax, my darlings.
So let’s play a little bit:
I’m at a restaurant. I have at hand the items pictured below. It isn’t the best picture, so I’ll tell you want I have at hand. From left to right: heavy glass salt and pepper shakers, ceramic sugar-packet holder that fits in the palm of my hand, multi-page bound menu with soft metal corners, silverware wrapped in a large cloth napkin, the computer cord, my drink (vodka tonic), a lightweight candle holder and candle (unlit), and the computer. How many of those things are weapons?
All of them, in some context or another, though a couple might take a bit of MacGuyver-ing than others.
The silverware is an easy go-to, whether it’s fork, knife, or spoon. Each can be effective, depending on the target. But the napkin is also a weapon. If I need a non-finesse move, I can throw it in the face of my attacker to gain a second of time. If I want to get all fancy (and therefore more risky), I could dunk a corner in my drink and snap the attacker’s eye with it.
As for the drink, I could toss the contents in the attacker’s face, too. While it’s tempting to consider the glass itself a weapon, think through what it would take to make that a weapon that wouldn’t also slice up my own hand. Possible, certainly, but again more risky. If I had enough distance, I might throw it, though. The little candle holder, or the ceramic sugar packet holder, would actually make the better blunt striking weapon.
The salt and pepper shakers will work for that purpose, too. But if the situation allows nine seconds* to spare—and that’s a really long time in most self-defense contexts—I’d rip the tops off each shaker. Salt in one hand, aimed for the eyes. Picture starting the strike with a closed fist, then splaying the hand open right before contact. Sure, the salt will burn the eyes, but it’ll also scratch them, causing vision impairment that doesn’t depend on a pain threshold.
Pepper goes in the other hand. This time, picture a palm strike, driving upward, to deliver that pepper directly into the nose or mouth. Again, this sort of thing will be… uncomfortable, shall we say, but it’s the impaired breathing that’s truly the desired result. Inhaling a tablespoon of black pepper in the middle of a fight is not conducive to victory.
That multipage menu is stiff enough that it would cause a little, but not much, discomfort if I struck someone with its metal corners. But folded up, it could slow a knife-stab were I really good at keeping it between me and the attacker. If I’m lucky (and holding the menu far enough from my own body) the knife would penetrate the menu, which could allow me a moment to yank the knife from the attacker’s grasp. In that way, the menu is actually a better shield than the computer, as most strikes would bounce off the latter.
And as I’m writing this, I’m realizing I’d have to be damned desperate to put my computer in harm’s way, let alone risk swinging it against someone’s head. I know that’s stupid—I mean, Yay, Carbonite!—but there it is. I now know I’ll hesitate to damage my computer. Good job, silly subconscious!
Ahem. Moving on.
The computer cord is most certainly a weapon—as a strangle-cord, if nothing else—but that does require an up-close and personal aspect, not to mention the need to maneuver behind my opponent to put the weapon to good use. The better use, if I want to maintain distance, might be double it up, with the heavier power pack hanging free to swing it at my attacker. I wouldn’t consider that very effective, though, unless my purpose were to distract before my actual attack.
I admit I’m at a total loss on the sugar packets. I’d love to hear your parallax on that one, my darlings.
One last thing on the parallax: It is all about you, and what you choose to see. It’s all about taking a step to one side or the other, or seeing the subtle shift that can happen when you use but one eye instead of two… and that leads to the final lesson.
You need two eyes to achieve accurate depth perception.
You need two views to understand self-defense.
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