Tag Archives: self-defense

Putting “Run Away!” In Its Proper Context

This article originally appeared for patrons only at Patreon.  Because they’re wonderful patrons, they support making the articles on self-defense and fight scenes available to everyone within a month of the original posting.  So if you like it, thank the patrons, or consider becoming one yourself!

 *  *  *  *

Run away when you can!  First rule of self-defense!100_2182

Hang around martial arts and self-defense instructors long enough, you’re bound to hear this advice given over and over.  Some would tout it as the most important advice, but it’s most akin to, “Major in engineering (or whatever is financially lucrative),” or perhaps “Always eat organic foods.”

The temptation to make “run away” the foundational principle of self-defense lies in its simplicity.  But since the advice is usually given rather than taught, its limitations are rarely considered, and how to use it as a successful and integrated portion of an overall strategy isn’t much discussed.

The most important piece of self-defense advice is actually, “Avoid the fight, or make it as short as possible.”  That’s the defining strategy to avoid harm to self and others.  “Run away” is but one of many possible tactics in support of that strategy.   But the conditions under which it’s the best  option are limited, and teaching it as one’s primary technique is as responsible as teaching everyone in the world to take the stairs instead of the elevator in order to improve their health.

Since most self-defense instructors were taught by—and teach, and are themselves—people of a certain baseline fitness and physical mobility, the assumptions behind “run away” aren’t always examined.  So let’s take a look at them, and narrow down the circumstances under which running is indeed the best option.

First, understand running away is not a passive act.  It is resistance.  It is an escalation.

Continue reading Putting “Run Away!” In Its Proper Context

Advertisements

Where the Boundaries Are Drawn

 

(This article originally appeared on These Certain Musings in July 2012.)

This story troubles me greatly.  It’s taken me awhile to pinpoint exactly–beyond the obvious–why.  During this morning’s karate class, I think I figured it out.  Now to see if I can articulate it.  I’m using a bunch of newbie-author italics and bolds.  Oh, well.

The decision made by the Readercon board says to me that harassment happened, and that witnesses backed it up.  It says the behavior was not acceptable–but it was excusable.  A short-term banning says the boundary-crossing–which I understand included physical contact, correct me if I’m wrong–was determined to be not nice, but not a big deal.

But there’s another notion I want to discuss–a related tangent, if you will–that this situation triggered for me.  I don’t think it’s anything new, and it incorporates what others are saying, but I decided to post it anyway.  While the situation I’ve read of is the jumping-off point, I am not talking about that specific situation.  I’m talking about generalities and probabilities, not specifics and certainties.

Statistically, the larger danger is not the creepy stranger lurking in the bushes, waiting to pounce.  It’s the family member or acquaintance who keeps his behavior just inside the lines of what society tells us we should expect to accept, the level of behavior we should treat with subtlety and civility, until he’s ready to attack.

But the primary danger is where society puts those lines.

Alas, many acquaintance attacks begin with the same behavior that many would deem “mere clueless rudeness.”  But following from place to place, invading personal space, seemingly casual touching, refusal to stop–all are behaviors we know can lead to a life-threatening attack.  We know this at a deep and primal level.  That’s why it makes us uncomfortable.

And society as a whole has agreed we may not take defensive action until after the aggressor has attacked.  In other words, it’s perfectly cool for the man to say he misinterpreted a woman’s actions, even though the woman is left fearing for her physical safety.  But if the woman takes definitive and physical action to stop an attack before it escalates, she is usually blamed for overreacting.  Shamed for being rude.  Castigated for embarrassing the one who is crossing boundaries.

Y’all know I teach self-defense.  One thing we discuss and practice at length is the correlation between distance, time, and safety.  The greater the distance between you and danger, the more time there is to react.  The more time you have, the greater the likelihood of reaching safety.

But the good manners women are taught draw the lines of “appropriate” response inside an average person’s reaction time, inside the point of likely success.  It isn’t the man’s superior strength or size that is most dangerous.  It’s the fact we’re not permitted to take action against him until he’s already gained the advantage.

If society wants the woman to take defensive action only after she has been isolated, restrained, or struck, society is placing the woman’s right to protect herself far behind the man’s desire to avoid being embarrassed by his own behavior.  Clueless or intentional–I don’t care.  The aggressor’s feelings are given a higher value than the woman’s safety.  And frankly, it’s the ones who claim cluelessness who are more dangerous.  If they claim they don’t understand, “Please leave me alone,” they can’t be trusted to understand, “I don’t want to have sex with you,” either.

There is one thing I try to hammer home–for myself as much as for my students–in an attempt to override that societal conditioning:  If someone places an unwanted hand on me, that person has forfeited the right to said hand.  If it is on my body, it belongs to me, to do with as I think appropriate for the situation.  That might mean a pointed but low-key removal of the hand from my shoulder, or a blatant and painful pinky-finger twist, or something more aggressive.

(If my intuitions–which should be trusted–are telling me the man isn’t going to comply with my words, I hope to all that’s worth hoping to I’d do what I’ve been trained to do.  Saying with complete conviction that I’d do X would really be nothing but bravado.  We all hope we’ll know what to do, but it’s after you’ve faced a confrontation that you realize how unpredictable it can be.  Anyway.)

My actual response isn’t as important as knowing, deep down, that a person who harasses me, touches me, and tries to corner me has forfeited the right to polite words and civilized reactions.  I don’t need to be his teacher first, and verbally remind him to be a man rather than asshole.  If he hasn’t already learned, that isn’t my problem to solve nor my fault to bear.

If you tell a woman her “appropriate” boundary is within an unwanted hug–when her ability to strike is impaired, her ability to flee gone, and her body possibly at the mercy of another person’s strength and mass–you’ve decided you’d rather see her come to harm than upset the “civilized” nature of an event.

Really think about that for a moment.  Consider the term “acceptable losses.”  Now put faces to those losses.  Put that in context of what price we’re willing to pay to keep those lopsided and threatening situations from being an “embarrassment.”  The physical and emotional wellbeing of the person  is of less value than the feelings of a man who may choose to pursue a woman who tells him to leave her alone.

Distance = time = safety.  No amount of training can compensate for a societal requirement that the woman wait until she is hurt and restrained before fighting back.

I can’t speak to what Readercon’s decision means to those who are involved or those who have faced similar situations.  That’s for others–who have more con-going experience than I–to explain and discuss.  It’s just this little sliver of self-defense I’m addressing.
Notes:
1.  All of the above applies equally to men who have been assaulted by men or women, and women who have been assaulted by women.  I struggled with what pronouns to use, and decided to default to the genders specific to the Readercon situation for the sake of clarity.

2.  I’ve had women ask me some variation of, “But what if it’s one of your husband’s friends, and he’s drunk, and he doesn’t mean any harm?” My response is some variation of, “But what if the next time he cops a feel, it’s your teenage daughter?”

3. Yes, it’s possible to turn an unwanted hug to your advantage, but not for the average person.  If that nitpick is the best response someone can come up with, I expect it to be followed by, “So let’s give everyone a year’s worth of Krav Maga training!”

Fights for Fiction, Self-Defense for Real Life: The Patreon Goes Live

It’s a day of, “Finally!” mixed with a bunch of “Already?” and an expected amount of “Gulp.”

Patreon is a new and exciting platform for me. It’s a bit like Kickstarter for on-going creative work, and gives me a chance to make the creative process into a community endeavor that invites readers to step into experience.

PatreonHeader

The individual rewards for my patrons range from first-eyes access to all self-defense articles to receiving my feedback on your own fight scenes and becoming a character in an upcoming novel. The community milestones range from creating print editions of the novels to my commitment to offer self-defense and/or fight-writing seminars at different conventions.

So if that alone is enough to convince you to investigate, go forth and check out the rest! Maybe if we hit a certain goal by a certain time, we’ll have a whiskey-fueled Twitter party.

If you’d like to know more (about the Patreon, not the whiskey) before committing to that click, read on:

***

At a recent convention in Colorado, I sat on three panels: how to write great villains, exploring violence in fantasy literature, and writing engaging fight scenes.

Do we detect a theme here, my darlings?

I’m Blair MacGregor.  The fiction and non-fiction I write goes a long way toward explaining my participation in those panels.  Reviewers describe my fantasy novels as brutal, gritty, character-driven,  and realistic military fantasy.  Even my most well-intentioned characters must choose between what is good and what is necessary… then live with the consequences of their choices.  You can find more information about the novels here.

The non-fiction my readers love most explores self-defense and martial arts—sometimes with applications to storytelling, and sometimes with applications to real life.  To give you the most dynamic information possible, I draw on over fourteen years of martial arts and self-defense training, twelve years of teaching, and more than a little bit of life experience.  The articles challenge perspectives, debunk myths, call out dangerous claims, and provide factual information.  Here’s an example of the articles I write.  Here’s an example of why I write them.

By becoming a patron, you’re supporting the fiction and the non-fiction.  The characters who must decide if their cause is worth the consequences.  The real-life people who deserve to know how best to protect themselves from the bad guys.  The storytelling that benefits from understanding when, why, and how violence is effective, and when, why, and how fighters make their decisions.

So I’ve put together appreciation levels for individual patrons and milestones for the collective community.  Individual appreciations range from “first-eyes” access to all self-defense articles to being “cast” in one of my stories to direct personal feedback on your fight scenes.  Community milestones include fight scene analysis, interviews, and more.  (Someone mentioned videos, so maybe… )

These will evolve and expand and diversify as we get to know each other better, so feel free to make your suggestions!   Above all, my darlings, thank you so much for your interest and investment.  Your feedback is always welcome.

***

Read more details here! Thank you to everyone in advance for the support and encouragement.

And just a little reminder that I’ve an infrequent newsletter as well.

#SFWApro

 

 

Self-defense and Fighting Articles — All Together Now!

By request, I’ve gathered up my fighting and self-defense related articles onto one link-y-filled page.  The page is also listed on the menu now for folks to find more easily.

It isn’t quite complete yet, so I’ll be adding and updating along the way.  And, uncertain how wide a net I wanted to cast, I didn’t include everything that touched on any part of fighting, self-defense, and martial arts.  So if your favorite post isn’t on the list, and you think it ought to be, please let me know!

 

#SFWApro

Keeping Our Men Safe

After writing on camping-while-female, I wondered where to find statistics on the relative dangers of men who dared to venture outside the home. It looks like folks in Australia have collected some data on the matter. (The linked article includes links to source material as well.)

In short, the article points out that men who engage in risky behavior–leaving the home, attending an entertainment venue, things like that–are many times more likely to become victims of violent crime than women who engage in the same behavior. Men are, by statistical fact, much safer at home.

If we follow the same logic that has been applied to women, we should immediately begin cloistering our men and boys for their own protection.

What Does Blair Bring to the Woods?

In my recent post on camping while female, I mentioned I bring weapons that are legal and that I’m trained to use. Out of curiosity, I asked what folks envisioned those weapons might be. Most of the answers involved firearms.

Before I say more: THIS IS NOT AN INVIATION, NOR AN EXTENSION OF PERMISSION, TO DISCUSS OR DEBATE GUN CONTROL AND RELATED TOPICS IN THIS SPACE. ANY COMMENTS THAT CROSS THE LINE—AND I DETERMINE THE LINE, DARLINGS—WILL BE DELETED.

Guns are the default, truly. When we hear armed, we think “gun.” When we hear weapon, we think “gun.” When we watch crime dramas, we see “gun.” When we watch the news, we see “gun.” So it’s natural to assume the discussion of weapons concerns guns. And, for anyone familiar with and comfortable with guns, it’ll seem odd to hear I am, too, but have made the decision to leave them behind when I camp alone.

So here’s why:

One-Mississippi.

Say that as fast as you can while you pretend to draw a gun from your holster (or shoulder a rifle), disengage the safety, take aim at a moving predator, fire, and hit the target.

Certainly there are people who could not only accomplish that skilled feat, but could also count on their single shot dropping the hurtling creature at their feet. Certainly that number is much, much smaller than the number of people who think they could do it.

I do not count myself as one of those skilled people. I don’t spend enough time with a firearm in my hand to count my knowledge as “skill.” And the more I gained actual skill in other areas, the more I realized the limitations of both the firearm and my ability to wield it as anything but a weapon of desperate and last resort in most circumstances.

It seems logical to want a firearm in bear country, but only if the actual nature of bears and attacks aren’t long considered. Many bear attacks happen under conditions of mutual surprise: the bear is startled by the sudden appearance of a human, and so startles the human by charging and mauling. There is a great deal of speed, a great deal of mass, and a great little smidgeon of time involved.

The same is true when it’s a mountain lion, but without the smidgeon of time. I mean, if a mountain lion wants you, it’ll stalk you from behind or drop from above and bite the back of your neck to kill you. A good thing it is mountain lions aren’t much interested in adult humans.

So once I put that information together with the actual cumulative likelihood of being attacked by a bear or mountain lion (it happens to a total of five or six people in Colorado a year), and with the knowledge of what I can do to further reduce the likelihood (safe and simple actions often not taken by folks who are attacked outside city limits), bringing a gun along didn’t seem all that important. In fact, some of the research I looked at seemed to point to bear and mountain lion attacks bearing a striking similarity in setting to sexual assault: wildlife attacks are more likely to occur on one’s home property than in the wilderness.

But there are indeed well-trained and experienced gun carriers who could pull off the shot, and quite a few more who are certain they could if properly motivated.* Are you one of theem? Try it with a stationary target. Then simulate the live attack by having a friend toss a 300-pound sack of unsheathed daggers at you when you least expect it. One-Mississippi.

I mean, absolutely the right gun in the right hands will stop a bear or mountain lion. I don’t dispute that. But the absolutely comes into play only in the presence of the those two “rights.”

So how about two-legged predators? The ones who lie in wait along remote mountain paths in anticipation of a lone victim out for a five-mile hike? Or the ones who cruise through campgrounds after dark in search of a lone victim asleep in a tent?

Well… those are almost non-existent. The hiker or camper is far more likely to be attacked by a bear or mountain lion than a skulking human. Yes, it happens. But we’ve discussed the actual likelihood of a woman being attacked before.  Searching Colorado news reports for the last year—imperfect, but what I have time to do—I find one report of sexual assault in a Colorado campground. It was, heartbreakingly, a crime against two children camping with their parents.

But let’s put the data aside completely. Let’s assume that, no matter the statistical risk, I want to be prepared for the worst case scenario. The rare horrible thing.

I still am not going to reach first for a gun because, as I mentioned above, the more I understand about how attacks actually go down, the less effective I see the gun as a defensive weapon in my hands in most scenarios.

One-Mississippi.

Just as with wildlife attacks, folks consistently underestimate how quickly a human attack happens and overestimate how quickly they can respond. If I’m going to be jumped by someone on a trail, the attacker would have to give me—at my skill level with a gun—about three Mississippis… which means I’d have to count on being attacked by an incompetent attacker suffering from a sprained ankle and a fever.

Or perhaps we’ll go with the creepy nighttime attack, the attacker who will attempt to silently unzip my tent and creep inside before I awake. Do I need a gun to stop that person? Only if I’m unwilling to move from my sleeping bag. And honestly, from the perspective of someone who has camped in Indiana, where many popular camping areas involve sites that are quite close to their neighbors, I wouldn’t want anyone firing blindly through a tent wall within fifteen feet of where my kid was sleeping in an RV.

So what do I bring along? What do I consider part of my self-defense?

My dog. Even though he has the appearance of a dog who could be a weapon, he absolutely is not. He is a defensive tool. An alarm against all attackers, and a deterrent for two-legged attackers. He has given warning of Something Scary Is Ahead during our hikes. He has growled deep in his chest when something walks past our tent in the middle of the night. I’ve watched people give our campsite a wide berth once he stands up to stare at their passing.

I don’t expect him to attack any creature that comes to attack me, but I know I can count on him to warn me, and a heeded warning can be a lifesaving thing. And in some instances, a big dog makes a potential target seem to be just too much trouble to mess with.

Bear spray. This is something I added since moving out here. I’ve carried pepper spray before, but never much worried about it while camping in Indiana because that state doesn’t have the wildlife population of Colorado. Unlike a firearm, I don’t have to be concerned with fantastic aim and slamming stopping power. Bears don’t like this stuff. Bears run away. I don’t think mountain lions would much like it, either, and am pretty sure a human getting a noseful of it will desire to be elsewhere at a rapid pace. Yes, there is a risk of spraying myself. As with any weapon, practice pays off.

My bo. It’s about six feet of hardwood, of a diameter that fits firmly in my fist, and I’ve spent far more hours with it—striking stationary and moving targets—than I am likely to spend with any firearm. It lets me strike and thrust at a distance or at medium range. It can be a shield against attacks at medium or close range. It’s in my hand when I hike, either as a walking stick or in an “at ease” position at my side. It leans against my chair when I’m beside the campfire. I can’t swing it inside a tent, but I can darn sure ram its end into the face of someone trying to sneak in. That would really hurt.

And please—please—understand that bo-as-weapon is nothing like bo-as-baton-twirling. I mean, I can twirl a bo to amuse my instructors, and there’s a whole tournament scene where people compete in bo twirling and acrobatics. But y’all know I’m likely to point out the difference between what flashes and what works. I prefer Yamanni Ryu.

Knife. I’ve a couple I trade off wearing, depending what I feel like. My preferred is better for stabbing, though it’s sharp enough for cutting. One is better for cutting, but can certainly stab as well. One is quite heavy. One is light. But no matter which I have, I know if I’m using it against an animal—four-legged or two-legged—I’m also like to be in the process of being injured myself. A knife is an up-close, personal weapon. I’d be perfectly content to go through life without testing my capabilities with one.

Like a gun, a knife takes time to draw. But, unlike a firearm, I feel perfectly comfortable sleeping with one at my fingertips, even with my dog tromping and rolling around in the tent, as the accidental discharge of a blade is highly unlikely.

There are other things I bring along should the fancy strike me, and a multitude of camping accessories that can certainly be utilized should the need arise, but the four things above are as about as complicated as I’m likely to get. I didn’t feel any more or less safe for the presence or absence of a gun. Others will feel differently, and I respect that. Others will have different skill sets and abilities, and I most certainly respect that.

Should circumstances change, my preferences might change as well.  (I might feel safer, reasonably or not carrying during springtime hikes, when bears have cubs to protect.) But I’m good for now.

And really, more than anything, I was just curious what most folks thought I carried into the woods. 🙂

*This is the same magical thinking that happens with folks who have a few years of martial arts training. “I know how to score in a sparring match, therefore my punch will stop an attacker.”

Five Things To Avoid When You Want To Learn Self-Defense

Martial arts is crammed with egos.

If you don’t believe me, see how many practitioners will try to disprove that statement by claiming superior humility.

100_2182

I don’t claim to be exempt from that, either. Heck, at a recent gathering, after a woman asked for my opinion on a self-defense situation, another person interrupted with advice of her own and I felt my muscles coil. It wasn’t just that the unsolicited advice was totally inappropriate for the woman speaking with me (and, my darlings, it was so terrible!). It was also the fact I’ve little more than a score of martial artists in my style to whom I defer because of rank. I’m certainly not accustomed to random people barging into my instructional conversations. My ego indeed caught me off guard.

But ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the demonstrated confidence in one’s ability coupled with the social confidence to claim competence in front of others. Despite what some cultural conditioning and the oddly-lauded “Tall Poppy” philosophy tries to claim, confidence is a good thing. It’s that sort of ego that says, “I matter, my skills are strong, and I’ll meet you on equal ground.”

But sometimes those egos get in the way of seeing and admitting limitations and inexperience. And nowhere in the world of martial arts is that more apparent than when it comes to discussing self-defense.

Continue reading Five Things To Avoid When You Want To Learn Self-Defense