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Fundamentals of Self Defense

Sunni Maravillosa

Anyone who's living outside the system to some degree needs to give careful consideration to security. Not only do such individuals want to avoid any encounter with govgoon thugs, there's the practical matter of dealing with potential injuries resulting from encounters with them or freelance thugs. Death is as inconvenient as things get, but injuries can really hit the budget hard, and there's the consideration of time invested in healing yourself. If you're hospitalized, a lot of the privacy you've worked so hard to get could also be a casualty. Avoiding the whole unpleasant mess is a much smarter strategy. In order to make yourself an unattractive target, you first need to invest in some serious thinking geared toward your individual situation, and then once you formulate a plan, invest the time needed to make it happen.

Attitude is everything

When it comes to defending yourself, the best defense is a good offense. And nothing is more important than your attitude. By "attitude" I mean your general demeanor. Do you look like a potential victim--do you walk with a hesitant gait, looking as if you're unsure of yourself, or do you avoid eye contact with those you pass on the sidewalk? Or, do you stroll along like a tourist, blithely oblivious of potential threats? Being preoccupied and generally unaware of your surroundings makes you a likely target, because such a person is easier to catch unaware. An unaware person is less likely to be able to defend himself. Numerous surveys of muggers and rapists report that they choose their victims primarily based on how they carry themselves; someone who looks like they're unlikely to struggle or call out is a prime target. This goes for men as well as women.

Don't count on your own self-evaluation of your demeanor to be completely accurate; most people have a positively-biased view of themselves. Ask someone you trust, and whose opinion you value, to do an "attitude check" for you sometime when you aren't expecting it. Even better would be some video of yourself, in a variety of contexts and again, when you aren't expecting it. You will see what a potential bad guy sees--all the little mannerisms that add up to, "Iím an easy mark!", or "Donít you even think of messing with me", are amplified on video. Seeing the bald truth can make it easier to set specific goals for attitude change, and for you to monitor your progress in meeting those goals.

And how does one go about reworking an attitude? Well, there are lots of ways to accomplish that, and lots of self-help resources available. I canít go into all the possibilities here, but I encourage you to check them out (a Web search for assertiveness training is a good place to start). Nathaniel Branden has written several books that relate in some way to this topic; two examples are Taking Responsibility and How to Raise Your Self-Esteem. For many people, simply realizing that your attitude doesn't match how you feel is enough to bring about a change. For others, thinking about the crime rates and the inability of "law enforcement" officials to protect citizens helps (but for others, this can lead to fear, and make things worse). Some people get angry when they think about a potential bad guy coming their way to harm them or their loved ones, and that's enough to turn the tide. Many find that carrying a small piece of metal manufactured by Sig Sauer, Colt, Glock, or others does more to straighten their spines than an iron back brace. If none of these suggestions seems to work for you, probe your mind until you find something that provokes a defiant, "I ain't taking that shit!" feeling, and use it to project that attitude whenever it seems appropriate.

Preparing for the worst

Once you have the attitude that you aren't going to roll over for any thug who menaces you, you need to have skills to back it up. As I said above, attitude goes a long, long way in keeping bad guys at a distance, but some of them just aren't that bright, or they're really desperate, or perhaps their judgment is clouded by some substance... so you may still find yourself on the receiving end of some unpleasant attention. Being prepared to take countermeasures increases the likelihood that you'll walk away with little or no harm done, and that Mr. Thug will be either hobbling away, holed up in a hospital, or in the morgue, thwarted in his attempt to take what is rightfully yours.

Before buying any equipment or taking any kind of action on this subject, you need to think long and hard about what you are willing to do. You also need to assess your physical skills and limitations realistically. It makes no sense to decide that you're going to defend yourself with martial arts if you are very overweight and have arthritis--your body just isn't going to be able to do what's necessary for this approach to work. As much as possible, try to plan for changes too--a woman may become pregnant, for example, or anyone can break a bone, and aging affects the body in predictable ways. Staying physically fit helps reduce the chance of many potential physical changes, but planning for obstacles makes your strategy stronger from the outset.

Would you prefer to use your body as a weapon, or to carry some kind of weapon to protect yourself? There are advantages to either approach. Frankly, I think that a combination strategy is best. If you're trained in personal self-defense using evasive and stopping maneuvers, you don't need to rely on a piece of equipment that may or may not be on your person when it's needed. Being able to defend yourself in this way helps develop the confidence that's a big part of the attitude I spoke of earlier. Having some kind of weapon on hand offers additional insurance of stopping a bad guy, and may give you the advantage of keeping added distance between yourself and him.

Self defense training

Many organizations offer various kinds of self defense training, including police departments, universities, women's groups, and paramilitary groups. The quality varies enormously, as can the price. Before deciding on a course, think about what you want out of it. Do you want to learn general physical moves that temporarily incapacitate a bad guy, such as throws, use of pressure on sensitive points, and the like? Or do you want a more full-scale defense strategy, such as martial arts training can provide? Do you want to learn about what the laws in your area say about self-defense approaches, and what your liability might be? Would you be more comfortable in a same-sex setting, or doesnít that matter? Do you want a brief, concentrated learning environment, or are you willing to invest months, possibly years, in honing your self defense skills?

If your primary goal is to learn self defense without having to endure any proselytizing on related issues, I suggest you stay away from police and other special-interest group presentations. Obviously, the police are going to have a bias toward you cooperating with them and following the local laws--something most readers of this article probably aren't particularly interested in. Rolling your eyes at every other sentence or laughing at some of the suggestions are not going to endear yourself to the instructor or your classmates, and more importantly, it won't help you to learn what you're there to learn, either. Better to avoid known flash points.

If you're a rationalist, you can run into similar difficulties trying to learn martial arts from instructors of Karate, Judo, Jujitsu, Aikido, and so forth. Many of the teachings are excellent, but come wrapped in a mystical eastern philosophy that can make it hard to concentrate on learning self defense. If you're still interested in pursuing this option, check out the dojo and Sensei carefully. Also, not all martial arts are equally suited for self-defense; for example, Karate is frowned upon by some defense instructors for being more about fighting than defending yourself. These two are greatly different. You want to find someone who will concentrate on teaching you how to do whatever it takes to stop a bad guy with minimal risk to yourself, in a variety of situations. Martial arts can become a serious investment of time and energy over years of training; this isn't necessary to become familiar with the basic moves, but is a possibility a prospective student should be aware of.

Generally, the physical education department at colleges and universities will offer a basic self-defense course. The price is generally on the low end of the scale, and scheduling is flexible. Depending on the college and when you want to take the course, you may find yourself in with mostly undergrads, or nontraditional students seeking the same training you are; if it matters to you, ask. The quality of instructors can vary too, so if you can, ask around to find the instructor who will be most likely to meet your goals for the course. The training tends to be basic, and for someone with little or no knowledge or training, it can be a very good start. A good college course will offer pointers on attitude and evasive action, as well as specific self-defense techniques. Many departments keep instructors' syllabi on file, so calling there to ask questions is a good way to get a lot of information efficiently.

If you want hand-to-hand combat training, seeking out what I'm very broadly calling "paramilitary training" may be more appropriate. A good place to start is to look for names in some of the more respected reference books--if you're not sure which ones to look in, you can try reading book reviews in related magazines. An online search is another way to find groups that offer this kind of training. Again, quality can vary a lot, as can price, so be sure to ask who will be doing the training, what that person's background is, and how rigorous the course will be. Generally, the better the quality and the more trained the instructors, the more the course will cost, but it should still be worth the investment. Warning: many of these courses and involved people are coming increasingly under feral scrutiny, and if you value your privacy, you'll probably not want that kind of attention.

Whatever approach you choose for your defense strategy, I highly recommend starting with some kind of course first. Not only will it give you valuable information and ideas, but the course should begin to spur your thinking with respect to the issue of self defense. Knowing as much as possible about your comfort zone before investing in equipment is essential.

Choosing your weapon

Increasingly, some kind of weapon is an important element of self defense. As criminals become more desperate, or are under the influence of substances that blunt their judgment and responses to pain, evasive maneuvers and some other defensive tactics may become less successful. This doesn't mean that you should simply buy the most powerful tool you can think of for your defense. Yes, it's possible that just the sight of a big knife or gun will be enough to scare off a bad guy, but do you really want to take a chance on that? I haven't seen any statistics on the subject, but my guess is that in the cases where a weapon is taken away from a person and used against himself by the bad guy, it's because the person thought that showing the weapon would be all that was needed. No gun, no matter how powerful or teched-up, no knife, no self-defense tool will be worth a shit if you arenít prepared to use it.

So, the first thing to consider is what you are willing to do to stop a bad guy when he's coming after you or yours. Are you willing to kill to accomplish that? Is your goal just to stop the guy? Or would you rather escape without a physical confrontation? (If this last is your preference, you need to think long and hard about the reality that you might not have that choice, and what you'd do when pushed past the point where that's no longer an option.)

A number of devices are geared toward stopping a thug without long-term harm. Pepper spray and other chemical irritant sprays, stun guns, and similar devices fall into this category. As some of these are getting wider use, bad guys are finding ways to counteract them. For example, a tolerance to pepper sprays can be developed with repeat exposure, rendering them ineffective as defensive tools. More simply, the effects of chemical irritants can be diminished or eliminated by wearing glasses or other protective gear. (They can also affect the user, particularly if s/he doesnít make sure the spray nozzle is pointing the right direction, or it's windy.) Some jurisdictions have outlawed the use of such substances, which means that should you choose to ignore the law and use the "contraband", you might find yourself in more trouble with the law than Mr. Thug! Know the law in your area, and make an educated choice about using these devices.

Many people carry knives for self defense--a good choice if one is trained in their defensive use. Just having a knife isn't sufficient, though; you need to know how to wield it properly, and how to use it, for it to be most effective. While knives can be potent stoppers, their primary disadvantage is that they require close contact to be used; this can give your attacker an advantage over you, even if he doesn't have a knife or other weapon.

More creative choices for self-defense weaponry abound. Have you considered carrying a lighter? That may sound silly, but think about it: would you like to have a flame thrust under your nose in a confrontation? When I was teaching at a university in a rough neighborhood, I'd carry my big wad of keys as a weapon. I poked two or three keys out between each finger, and held that at the ready as I walked to the parking lot. One good swipe with that across the face of a would-be thug and he'd think twice about coming at me again! If you don't have a lot of keys, consider getting a bulky, heavy key chain that can be used as a weapon. Other everyday objects can be used in similarly creative ways, and offer advantages. They're likely to be on your person already, and they're highly unlikely to be illegal to carry or to use in a self-defense situation. If you're trained to respond appropriate to a threat, additional preparation or training in using these creative tools is generally minimal, too. Personal Defense Weapons by J. Randall is a good starting point for considering both conventional and creative weapons.

When most people think of self-defense weapons, firearms of some sort come to mind. This isn't surprising--they can offer the best means of protection around today. You don't have to let the bad guy come close enough to touch you to use one, and even a few minutes of very basic training can make someone with a gun dangerous. But they're also increasingly regulated, and therefore not always conducive to privacy. (So far, private sales between individuals don't require paperwork and waiting periods; I strongly urge buying a firearm through such channels whenever possible.) Just having a gun on hand won't protect you--you must be able to use it safely and under stress. And you must choose your firearm wisely--if you're a petite woman with little upper-body strength and no experience, that 12-gauge shotgun you inherited may pummel you worse than the bad guy if you fire it.

The gun or guns you choose for home defense won't necessarily be the same as the ones you choose to carry for personal defense, and people's needs and preferences vary widely. Many excellent books on these topics are available; one of my favorites is Boston T. Partyís Boston on Guns and Courage. I'll limit my comments to "carry pieces"--firearms you keep on your person for personal defense.

First, semi-automatic handguns offer some important advantages over revolvers. You can fire faster with them, reload them faster, and they generally have a smoother profile (no round cylinder poking out), meaning you can get them out of a purse or bag more easily. (However, I highly recommend having a good holster for your firearm, geared toward how you want to carry it--as a sidearm, under clothing, or in a bag. That way there's no fishing around for it when you need it.) If you're unfamiliar with firearms, go to a good gun store and educate yourself--tell the clerk what you're doing, and most likely he or she will be happy to help you learn. Handle lots of different handguns, practice sighting with them, stand in a shooting posture for a while to see if your arms can take the weight of the gun, and ask questions about the guns you're most interested in. Important things to consider include: weight of the gun; reliability; cost (and cost of ammunition, accessories, and parts like spare magazines); concealability; stopping power of the round the gun fires; how the gun feels in your hand; and how it feels when you fire it. If you're going to rely on this tool to help protect your life, it's worth a few hours of data-gathering to get the best tool for your needs.

If you're a woman, it's an unfortunate reality that some gun-store employees still have outdated ideas regarding women and self defense. You may hear "advice" such that you don't need a gun (you should rely on your boyfriend or a baseball bat, etc.), or that you need a small caliber gun (because youíre weak). If someone starts to hand you this crap, just leave. They don't have your best interest at heart, and there's little point wasting your time with such nonsense. You sure don't want to support such Neanderthal ideas by buying from such a place! Generally, gun shop owners and employees are sympathetic to women who want to be able to defend themselves, and will counsel women wisely.

There are some serious matters to consider on the topics of gun size and caliber. One can buy very small handguns that handle large calibers (which will beat up on your wrists), or huge guns that shoot less-powerful rounds (great for target practice, but tiring to hold up for long). Generally, the larger the caliber of the round, the more energy discharged when you shoot it, and therefore, the greater the stopping power it will have--and the greater the recoil you'll feel.

Don't bother with firearms that shoot .22 caliber or 9 mm; they don't have enough stopping power unless you make a precise shot to the heart, knee, or some other highly vulnerable place. The minimum I suggest you consider is .40 Liberty caliber (formerly known as .40 Smith & Wesson)--it has sufficient stopping power, but won't necessarily bang your hands around like larger ones can. A .41 Magnum packs more power than a .45 ACP, even though the shells are slightly narrower--you can't go by size alone. Ask if you aren't sure about the stopping power of a particular caliber. Do not sacrifice stopping power for small size or concealability--you don't have to! For example, Glock makes some great "minis" in .45 ACP.

Related to your ability to handle the gun is its size, and how it's constructed. A heavier gun will generally absorb more recoil, and some handguns absorb more recoil than others by design. Generally, longer barrels make the gun easier to aim, but they can add weight, too. Again, handle different makes and models, and ask questions. Once you've narrowed your choices down to a few models, try to find friends with them, and ask to go shooting. Shooting the gun is the only way to get a good feel for a gun's ergonomics, and to see if you can handle it.

After you've bought your firearm, become familiar with it. Practice disassembling and reassembling it until you're fairly skilled at it. If you aren't familiar with guns, have someone you know and trust with firearms teach you proper safety techniques and use. Practice shooting your gun regularly. If the gun can handle it without harm (ask to be sure), dry-fire it regularly to keep from developing a twitch or pull.

Once you're comfortable with your gun and a decent shot with it at routine target practice, take a shooting course in order to get specific training in the defensive use of your gun. It's one thing to be able to peg a target at 50 feet when youíre relaxed and have all the time you want to sight in, and another thing to be in an emergency situation where your heart's pounding and you're scared or mad. Many private shooting ranges offer such courses. Places like Thunder Ranch are another option for some of the best tactical courses currently available to civilians.

No matter what plan or tools you have for your defense, the most important aspect of self defense is using your brain. Being aware of your environment, your options for evasive action or engagement, and your own strengths and limitations are imperative. Your safety is your own responsibility, and although others may provide support for you, no one else can take your safety as seriously as you do. It's up to you to develop the attitude, learn about the options, and choose the best strategy for your own needs.

(c) 2000

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If you would like to browse gun manufacturers online, below are links to several reputable handgun manufacturers' Web sites. This is only a partial listing!

American Derringer
Dan Wesson (not related to the sellouts, Smith & Wesson)
Glock (site under construction)
Sig Sauer
Heckler & Koch

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