Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fights For a Life

Fighting for something. We fight for status, position. For tenure and safety. Some people take it to the next level with physical fighting skills, not just cerebral ones.

The thought of physical threats is never a pleasant one. Some people would just as soon close the blinds and pretend the danger does not exist. But you only have to look at a few law enforcement blotters and missing persons reports to get you thinking about the dangers that women carry with them, the dangers that men bear just by walking on a predator's turf.

A former neighbor, a young Pharmacist in her late 20's was a black belt and an instructor at a local studio. When she first moved in, we'd sit out on one of our decks with a cold beer and compare scars, both of us new to the area and not dating anyone.  I taught her how to cook, and she taught me some advanced karate, to enhance my quite amateur skill level and some of the philosophy for that mind set.

I earned the kind of belt that, definitely wasn't black, but it kept my shirt from falling off. Some of my team, and friends, are former special ops. My squirrel partner is also black belt. When I was hanging around one of them one day, off duty,  I asked him to test me on my defensive skills against someone determined to hurt me, to see how badly my skills had degraded with age and a promotion which meant a lot more "desk" than "field". I trust him, we have to in the field, or we can get hurt.  So I figured I might learn something. Size wise, he was a only a couple of inches taller than I and about 200 pounds to my 164 pounds. Not a tremendous size difference, right? Wrong.
We didn't use an actual weapon, this was more for the purpose of timing my response, as to my draw.  If you're going to do something like this with real firearms, you better be training with the pros. in a proper environment.  So, a simulated weapon (Rice Crispy Treat) went into my holster to see how fast I could "draw" if that was more prudent than fight or fighting back. Again, it was NOT an exercise of my gun skills, simply my reaction/defensive skill degradation after too much desk time.

We started up close and a few feet apart, strangers that met on say, a jogging path. In this case I played "blissfully unaware" of his intent and had my hand away from my holster. When he sprung, he was on me before I could even get my hand to my holster. In a nanosecond he had one hand on my chin/mouth area and other grasping my head, and I got a very delicate but firm little twisting movement, and a "surprise, I just rent your vertebrae, you're on the floor dying". It didn't hurt me at all, but I definitely felt the pressure and incredible strength behind those hands and knew that he could have done it, easily. I hadn't even touched the rice crispy yet. All Righty Now. Let's try something else.

Then we did the "come up from behind" scenario. (No way was this man getting near my nasion or my philtrum). There I am happily walking along that "walking trail" and I got a knee against the back of my knee. I go forward and the simulated Gerber Mark II (a finger) had stabbed into the right side of my neck and then forward (at which point I started laughing as it tickled.). Again. Dead. I still was open mouthed as how quickly he closed the distance.
So much for handling the surprise attack at very close range. We did another one where I might have a chance. I went about my business around the rooms, crispy treat in the holster, covered up with "the house is 65 degrees outer wear" which I might wear running errands or out for a Fall walk.  It was a simple sweater type jacket with long sleeves, but not bulky.  He got past me and about fifteen feet downwind and then made his move. I got the .45 acp rice crispy treat out before he got to me (how do you move that fast?).

Not every threat has tactical training.  The thing is YOU CAN NEVER ASSUME. You MUST practice, keeping those hard earned skills up and you must be aware of what your situation is so that your weapon is easy to access, and you are ready.
I learned one thing--my limited martial arts training does me little good if I don't keep up with it. And if I don't stay focused to a threat and where my hand is when that threat is around and what my "outs" are, I'm only going to come out ahead if my attacker is a yard gnome or a rapist wheeling his oxygen canister.

It was an eye opener. Shooting a 1 inch group at a stationary paper target isn't going to help me if I haven't practiced in six months, in varying conditions, using my non dominant hand as well.

Shoot when it's hot, when it's freezing, with gloves and with cold, cold hands. Draw and shoot from the holster (check with your range as to rules on such practice), draw and shoot from low ready.

But, practice or not, a gun won't help you if you're weighed down by an overly large, bulky coat or too many shopping bags, etc. Having some basic shooting skills for the attacker isn't going to help you if he has training on how to take your gun and you don't. Even if you think you are big and strong, remember, mass is everything. A guy that outweighs you by even just 20 or 30 pounds of muscle (about 10% more than your muscle mass) can easily take you down.

And nothing is going to help you if you let your guard down and don't stay on alert to behavior around you. If there ever is a point I will beat with a stick it's this.  Situational awareness is everything. Keep those ear buds out of your ears, don't be texting and walking alone, stay sober and alert if you must travel alone, especially after dark. Call a friend, call a taxi, but don't wander the streets at night alone, ladies.  I don't do it armed, without someone else armed with me,  you shouldn't do it unarmed.
Concealed Carry -  I carry a 1911 as my concealed piece,  there is info elsewhere on this blog on selecting a holster for it but there are three basic ways to carry this firearm (a 1911) concealed.

Door #1 - The hammer is down and the chamber is empty.  This means you have to manually cycle the slide before you fire it.  Then, to return the firearm to its previous carry position you have to drop the magazine, empty the chamber, drop the hammer, and reload and reinsert the magazine, all without doing something stupid that's going to put a hole in anyone, including you.  You might as well carry a two and a half  pound hammer as a self defense tool.  It's likely quicker.  Carrying for quick self defense with an empty chamber poses more of a hazard to you than the criminal who is coming right at you.
Door #2 - The chamber is loaded with a round but you must you cock the hammer with your thumb prior to firing.  If you've fired a single action revolver with a large hammer whose purpose IS be cocked by your thumb, you're familiar with the concept and it doesn't feel odd.  Still, this requires that you pull the trigger carefully and lower the hammer over a loaded chamber prior to re-holstering the firearm.  Not only is that an extra step between the bad guy and the defense of your life, but this condition can be quite unsafe in that you have a hammer down on a chambered round which can lead to an unexpected discharge if the firearm is dropped or struck on the rear of the slide hammer.

Door #3 - The one that makes the Eek - Point at Firearm! People™, old ladies and small yappy dogs shudder in their shadow and that, my friends, is cocked and locked.  This means the hammer is cocked, the chamber is loaded with a live round and the thumb safely is ON.  This means that the weapon is ready to fire NOW. All you have to do is click the safety down, pull the trigger while maintaining your grip and click it back up after the threat has the prerequisite hole in it. That's something that Barkley could even manage had he opposable thumbs.

But remember, when  the gun is cocked and locked, the sear is blocked from releasing the hammer. Further, unless a firing grip is on the pistol, the thumb safety swept off, and the trigger is pulled, the gun will not go off.  In my opinion, for a trained responsible firearms handler, that's safer than the carry condition of some firearms.
Again, it's a personal choice,  and it is MY personal choice but I prefer Door #3.  Instant readiness.  If that door opens and a bad guy rushes in, intent on harming or killing, you can react in an instant.  That is why I carry a .45 for self defense in this manner.  Not to be considered cool in the tactical sense, nor to balance my somewhat forward center of gravity, but to get the firearm in action when my life may depend on it, NOW, with the fewest opportunities for mistakes.

Some armchair gun enthusiasts like to say that you shouldn't carry a 1911 cocked and locked "because it requires more training than other guns".  I humbly disagree, at least for this particular model.
I'm no expert.  II can say that I found the operation of this particular 1911 cocked and locked IS instinctual and functional. And I SO did NOT miss that very long and dreaded trigger pull on some double action autos that is like waiting at the doctors for that "you'll just feel a little pinch".

Again, my opinion, for me and my firearm and some info to discuss with your , shooting partner or instructor.  And as I tell anyone that reads here, for a new firearm, simply because it's been a long time since you went shooting, OR you are new to shooting in the first place, get an experienced NRA instructor.
I learned a lot of things with this, the most important being that although I risk having someone take it from me, I risk far more by not carrying a weapon . For I'm too aware of the world that is out there in the shadows.  Perhaps it's because of my education, both in and out of the classroom. But the world is NOT a safe place, and it won't be by ignoring it. Being in a small town may reduce the odds but it doesn't protect you.

You may go the rest of your life and not meet up with evil, someone bent on hurting you or killing you. If you don't, what have you lost by this mindset?  Nothing. Not your innocent belief in all that is good. I lost that in 2011, a few weeks after I took a solemn oath, upon my flag, my God and my Country.
But if you do meet up with evil, and you are not prepared, you will have lost something. For, if you live, you will be looking back, to that parking lot at the bank or library or grocery, back to the untainted time and smell and taste of when you HAD that choice, of where you walked and what people you let into your space, when the denial process won out over the actuality of human nature. Back before you were a victim. And you will ask yourself, over and over again, in long, lonely silences at night, when you've lost a part of yourself you will never get back. WHY didn't I see the signs? Why didn't I take action before it was too late?

I've lived long enough to know that violence exists in the city.. But it also lives in small towns, shops with us, drives with us, peering at us from a van in the shopping center parking lot, or from over their shoulder as they bend to tie their shoe as you jog on past, down that blind canyon of trees from which you will not return.

A few years ago, there was a talented young woman who was kidnapped by someone she struck up a conversation with her in a national forest, a kindly looking old guy who then went on to terrorize her and kill her. She was young and very strong. She was a Black Belt. It was a sobering revelation.

Martial Arts is a wonderful tool, but it's naïve to think that is a representation of street self defense, in that you obviously aren't going to execute pre-planned patterns of memorized movements against an attacker. And if you learn it you must keep up the practice and skills. It's not just a force. It's a tool, a habit pattern of strength. It's a pattern of practice. It is a mind set. The teachers will teach more then the moves. They teach you mental discipline. Some of the instruction to me at first seemed silly, balancing something on my outstretched hands, etc., but that was to teach me humility, not so that I would consider myself a lesser form, but so myself, or the other male students, would not feel the need to "prove" ourselves. Just because you can kick some one's butt doesn't mean you're better OR bulletproof. I've spent many a afternoon compiling what remained of those that thought they were bullet proof.
You need to be proficient and you need to anticipate. Anticipate the unexpected. I also personally think you need to have a plan "b" when just blocks or jabs are not going to deter what's staring you in the face.

I am glad I took the martial arts training I did. But what I got out of it was the knowledge that it was not to turn me into Chuck Norris (I'm more like Chuck E. Cheese) but rather, designed specifically to get rapid, combat-useful responses built into my reflexes. The constant motions and endless repetition of the same movements become incorporated into my muscle memory, there waiting to be used instantly in a reaction, completely or nearly completely without specific conscious direction. THAT is an invaluable tool whether you carry a concealed weapon or not.

But for someone my size and gender, that may not be enough to help me if I have an arm full of groceries, my gun is buried somewhere in my purse, and a guy is walking towards me with a weapon I may or may not be aware of. Just something to think about.

Your choices for protection are yours. I won't preach to you further on why you should carry; I will only tell you why I do. My family is all, male and female alike, law enforcement, defense or military. Strong people made of strong stuff. Some of that rubbed off. But I will tell you that there is no mind set, no background that will protect you if you do not look, be aware of your surroundings, and practice.
Here are some basics:

Listen: dump that MP3 player or phone. Not only will it help alert you to Mr. Mugger it will alert you to Mr. Oncoming Bus.

Look. Look up, look at people. REALLY look at people. Sit or stand up straight and look them in the eye. Criminals are predators and they will normally exhibit predatory behavior in preparing to attack. They will look at their intended victim far more and for longer periods of time than social norms. They will move when the prey moves. They will stop and look around for witnesses. They may make more than one pass by you, be it walking or jogging to see how you react or get a layout of how they will strike. They will move with you, around you. Think sharks with shoes on.

Do you know the signs out in public that you are being targeted by a stranger?

Stay with people. Under no circumstances let yourself be taken somewhere, for where you are going has a name. It's called the "secondary crime scene", where your worst nightmare will enter your soul. Do NOT get in a vehicle, do NOT walk around the building into the alley, stay where others will see you, if you can't flee to safety, drop to the ground. Let him PICK your dead weight off of the ground, and if he tries, fight like hell. If he says "don't scream or I'll kill you", he's probably going to kill you anyway, don't go out quietly. He doesn't want to get caught. He LIKES this. Run, crawl out a window, go to lights and others. Make noise. If you are in a car and being followed do NOT drive home, drive to your nearest fire station (staffed 24 hours) or police station (though they may not be open 24 in 7 in all jurisdictions) and start honking your horn. DO NOT get out of your vehicle until the threat is removed.
If he's a viable threat, and safe removal of yourself from the scene is not an option, put a hole in him, and cease firing immediately when the threat is removed.  Self defense is your right, don't be afraid to exercise it.

Block. Barriers are good. doors, windows, STAY IN YOUR CAR. Put the muzzle of a .45 between you and his hands. The more likely he is to be discovered or injured the less likely he will be to continue. . 
Train: Whatever you are comfortable with to protect yourself be it physical conditioning and maneuvers or the use of a firearm by the law abiding, practice, learn, watch those with experience, learn from professionals. It isn't about you on film with your latest gear or some great tactical geat on. It's about staying alive. What you are looking for is "Practiced Proficiency” where the draw and point of the weapon to kill becomes second nature.

Use your strongest weapons against their weakest targets. Practice this regularly. If you are female and are going to learn martial arts, don't take 4 lessons in "rape prevention" and call it a day. There are many forms. Don't go to the first place that has a fancy store front and sign up. Talk to a master, talk to others who study that discipline. If you are going to get training to use a gun, get proper training, full spectrum training to include retention techniques. As competent retention techniques wander into the realm of unarmed hand to hand, you will find any martial arts muscle memory skills may assist you. (but only if you practice!)
There will be a lot of discussion on this post, pros and cons. All I know is what I am comfortable with, given my age, training, profession, size and gender, all of which influence my thinking.  I will watch and I will listen, but to me the choice for self defense is obvious. A gun in the hands of a proficient user, hanging on that belt that just keeps my pants up.
 - Brigid


  1. I read this, took a breath, and sent it to my wife.

    Thank you.

  2. Very wise words. I never go anywhere without my concealed weapon and I practice monthly. I do not let the fact that I am an excellent shot lull me into a false sense of security. I am always aware that my situational awareness and my trust for intuitive warnings is what keeps me safe LONG before I pull a weapon.
    Young women brighter and stronger than I are missing or dead. Paranoia is unnecessary but calm alertness is key.
    Thanks for this post, Brigid.

  3. Male, 6'1", 300 lbs, but 70 years old. I carry a Charter Arms Bulldog .44 Special. The DA trigger pull has been worked on by a competent gunsmith.If I can't get the job done with five rounds, reloading another five probably wouldn't matter.

    Regarding women vs men physically. Once had a former Air Force Academy dropout get angry and attack me. Presumable by her third year she had some training. It hurt, but didn't disable me. Lucky for her I only blocked her punches and kicks.

  4. In re. physical strength, there's a lot more going on between the sexes than just the weight difference. We're built differently. Men, weight for weight, carry more muscle and carry more of it in the upper body. The result is that while a man and a woman of the same weight probably have similar lower body strength, he will have an upper body strength advantage of between +50% and +100%.

    In other words, when doing drills with your colleague, to him you had the strength of a man of 80-105lbs, vs. his 200lbs. To you, he had the strength of a woman of 300-400lbs, vs. your 165lbs. It's like fighting a giant.

    This is a point I like to make to the "Guns are bad, mmmkay" crowd, something I have to deal with quite a lot being British and trying to change attitudes to firearms over here.

    I work in an office with three female colleagues of 5ft or below, one of them significantly less. I doubt any of them weighs more than 100lbs. There's simply no way in hell that any of them could defend themselves from a reasonably determined 200lb male attacker, regardless of how much physical training they had.

    The only thing that could even the odds for any of those women would be a firearm, carried on their person. Luckily for any would-be attackers over here, carrying a weapon of any kind is illegal in the UK, so British rapists and muggers can breathe a sigh of relief.

    I shoot regularly (the UK has a surprising number of rifle and shotgun clubs, if you look) but it's of absolutely no use to me in a self-defence scenario. The law here is so structured as to make use of a firearm in self-defence an act of premeditated murder in most cases.

  5. Great info, sending it on to my grands. Situational awareness is so important!

  6. My trainer is also one of my closest friends. Sixth Dan in Chayon Ryu, multiple tours with the IDF and firearms trainer to the local LEO and Base Personnel before MS hit. It is amazing how difficult it is to face a well trained opponent, even one with MS.

    We do a lot of the type of training that you speak of. Since we are both full size 1911 guys, we bought a plastic airsoft one for retention drills and such. I learned a lot drawing that during a tussle, and often missed the first shot.

    Definitely forwarding to my bride. For what ever reason, your views and opinion, as a woman, often drive home and reinforce things I have been trying to teach her better than I can. Thank You!

  7. Oh yes, please get rid of the earbuds and whatever it is you are listening to at such decibels that as I ride up behind you on my bicycle and ring-ring-RING the bell and shout, and SHOUT again, and you still have no clue that I or anyone else is moving up upon you. And save the texting for when you are doing something other than walking around in the open. Heck, when you're texting you don't even know people are in front of you!

    Thanks for the post. Will share with my bride and daughters.


    My life would have been different (perhaps) had this been my mantra,
    specifically on three previous occasions.
    I 'faced the elephant' on a couple of them, and paid dearly one time.
    I was extremely lucky on the other.

    I'm fond of intoning 'go and hug those you love and tell them you love them'. Because you never know.
    If you PAY ATTENTION, you might get another chance!

    Excellent post, as always, B.


  9. Always enjoy reading your articles. Our Sportsman's Association sponsors events such as woman's self defense, beginners handgun and a woman's day in which we do hands on shot gun, rifle, hand gun and archery. Our last woman's day had 57 of 60 that signed up on a cold Spring day. I am proud to be a part of that.

  10. I recently sent a similar (but not as well written) email to my kids in the wake of a beating downtown. Six guys on a guy and a girl.

    I'll be sending them this post so they'll know I'm not just a paranoid old man.

    Thanks for the great post.

  11. Situational awareness and mindset. Without them you are hopeless and helpless.


  12. Amen to every comment and Alleluia!!! to the original post.

    This comment resonated with me: "Have the physical skills to evade to provide the time to present the weapon if you must. That may involve less than lethal tools such as pepper spray, taser, ect."

    Thanks for posting this essay.


  13. Thank you all for adding such good bits of information and personal insight to this. As expected, it lost me a few followers "eeek guns!" but this started out as a gun blog, but unfortunately my personality took over and next thing you know you have essay, goofiness and bacon. I'm not going to be something I'm not to be popular, here or anywhere in life.


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..