Friday, July 22, 2016

Fighting for Something - Thoughts on Self Defense

I've written more than one post on self defense for women. I thought of it that again today, as on the news was a heartbreaking story of a young women in Ohio, abducted off her bicycle in a farming area.  Her boyfriend,who had been her best friend since age 10, had ridden with her part of the way home while on his motorcycle, but in this rural area, where little kids ride their bikes un-escorted, he waved and headed back when she was within sight of her house. She was found dead, allegedly killed by a man with prior prison time for attempting a kidnap a young woman on a bike.  He served only 3 years.

What was so sad as they searched for her was her mother on the news saying "she HAD a self defense class."  It takes SO much than that to keep us safe, so that's why I'm posting this.  It's long but if it saves one young lady, it will be worth it, and the points are applicable to ALL ages and genders. - Brigid
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.  Almost weekly ,it seems, I read of a young woman missing, another one found, but too often not alive.

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've had comments in the past from women that were highly offended that I stated that women are not as strong as men when it comes to men vs. woman in an attack.  Look, it's physics and it's about a lot more than weight difference.  We're just built differently (and in more than the obvious way).  Men, carry more muscle and carry more of it in the upper body.  The result is that if you compare a man and a woman of the same height and weight (such as my husband and I) I couldn't beat him in an arm wrestle if I tried even doing serious cardio and weight training regularly.  He simply has an upper body strength advantage based on physiology. 

So in this case I was "dead" and 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?).

Had that "weapon" been in a purse or underneath a large, thick coat I would have been toast again. Going for a firearm in a big bag is not going to be "Bang" it's going to be "let's see, mag. chapstick, OH - SKITTLES!, brush, firearm".  But even a holster isn't going to help if he's right on top of you when the threat is revealed. In the second or two while I fumbled to fire (darn Rice Crispy Safety, they moved it!) he had my arm to my right, and then applied a movement to my arm, surprise, I had a simulated broken elbow and was NOT going to be able to shoot with that arm. It didn't hurt me at all, intent not pressure, but I was glad for a moment that I can eat Rice Crispy Treats left handed. If you MUST go to the weapon, you, it, concealment garment, and holster must all be perfectly aligned.  Practice how and with what you carry, and make sure it is as seamless as it can be.

The good news, you're likely not going to be up against someone that's a former Ranger, trained in those types of maneuvers. Your weapon will have a trigger in the right spot, not blue packaging material. Your attacker may be buff but he is as likely to be as out of shape as the average Joe. But there is also a good chance he recently spent time in prison, where at taxpayer expense he worked out, built more muscle, all while exchanging crime tips with his buddies when he wasn't initiated or defending himself against attacks for his "non buddies".  Add street drugs in the mix, and unarmed you don't have much of a chance.
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.
I remember my first day in sub zero temperatures at the local range when I moved here.  Pretty much no one was there but the officers who were range officers. But Tam showed up, which didn't surprise me, as well as a couple  of others. We shot with bulky gloves.  We shot with bare hands. There, it warmed up to all of 30. We took some pictures, not as "selfies" but to see later-- our stance, our grip, our posture, to be reviewed later, to learn.

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.   You need that, a perimeter and what Gavin de Becker called "the gift of fear".  The perimeter is vital as it may buy you time to deal with the threat, or if you are lucky, avoid the whole situation by "getting out of Dodge NOW". 

Keep those ear buds out of your ears, don't be texting and walking or hunting Pokemon 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, not even if it's "just down the block". I don't do it armed, without someone else armed with me,  you shouldn't do it unarmed.
Concealed Carry -  If you choose to carry conceal, make sure you have a functional firearm that you have lots of experience with.  Don't carry grandpa's heirloom weapon.  If it's all you have, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but older pieces require regular care and if it's been sitting in a cabinet or safe for months or years, it's NOT the piece you bet your life on. If you are going to use any piece that's been in the safe a while, take it to a competent gunsmith and have it cleaned and checked if your own skill set is such you haven't learned how to do that yet yourself.

Also, think about HOW you carry, because carrying improperly is as risky to your person as any threat out there. For concealed carry, there are a variety of holsters. I have a Dragon Leatherworks holster for my primary weekend carry piece and Dennis's holster fits that firearm well and distributes the weight evenly.  But holsters notwithstanding, 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.  The gun manufacturer's don't pay me or give me freebies to write reviews and I doubt any of them will read them. I'm a better shot than much of the population, I'm a worse shot than a lot of my readership, I'm sure.  I've demonstrated proficiency in the basics.  I keep practicing the basics.  As such, I 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 like my friends on and off the net-- Lynne F. Keads and Bill at Eastern Iowa Firearms Training  and get some "dual" on it as  we pilots would say. My long time friend Dann at God Gals Guns and Grub, with his wife, an avid shooter herself, have a business in Central Ohio offering on site firearms training specifically targeted to the beginner, and especially women (their college bound daughter is a Champion 4-H shooter).
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 was a volunteer at a family violence center for a few years. It's not necessarily a pleasant task at times, but one that needs to be done, by those that care or who have seen it firsthand. That type of violence doesn't just happen to the poor, the uneducated the needy. We see women of all walks of life in there that just share one thing in common, that they have been scared for so long that they just get used to being that way. Sometimes you'd just find them in their room in the warm and cozy shelter home, in the dark. You can feel people in a dark room. You don't need to see them. Sometimes they're just asleep, catching up on that precious commodity, sleep where you know someone who cares is watching over your safety.
They don't sleep well, for years, violence going to bed with them each night, often drunk, normally angry. They'd lay there in the bed, trying not to move, trying to make themselves smaller and smaller so not to be noticed. Trying not to breathe for when they breathed they could hear them, hear that dark mass of anger sizing them up for what is only one persons idea of fun or a fight. They could feel the blood in their veins, the little involuntary twitch at the corner of their eye as they're shut tighter and tighter as if by doing so you will not see what you know is coming. It takes a long time to sleep well after that.

So, there in the safety of the shelter, if their bedroom door was not blocked you'd just knock and say a soft hello and tell them you'd wait outside. They'd sit there in the dark of their ruined life, sometimes with a chair propped up against the door, afraid that even in this refuge they would be found. But soon they would come out, into the light, amazed that with tools and training, they could learn to live a life of comparative inviolation.
Violence can wear the hand of a family member, but we deal with that, with what we can. But it also 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 thirty years younger than he 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. Having the physical skills to evade may provide the time to present the weapon that you might not have otherwise.  That may involve less than lethal tools such as pepper spray, but if you have pepper spray in our pocket and your firearm is buried in your purse - Use it as a delay tactic.

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. The only "app" you should be using wen you are walking alone is the "I'm aware of my surroundings" app.  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.  Remember that perimeter.

When I've counseled women who have lived with violence, without exception, they saw the behavior early on. Control. Restricting their movements, reading their mail or monitoring their phone calls. Possession Anger. They know now how to see those signs and run. 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!)
Carefully at your thoughts and actions - people who are victims do NOT believe they are. It's what a very astute person I know  referred to as "Pride and Prejudice".

Pride?  That is what you learn to set out of the way so the gut feeling that there is something not quite right with a situation comes through loud and clear. You are NOT invincible.  I don't care if you are the incredible Hulk with a Howitzer - if you have that feeling, change your plans, bug out, and do it decisively and right now.  I have done that at least once and the "threat" turned out to a raccoon the size of a VW Bug lurking in the shadows with the garbage cans.  I'd rather feel foolish than dead.

Prejudice?  I believe in the Biblical concept of  "love one another" but I don't trust anyone until they've proven they are worthy of it and that's done over time.  Set aside your assumption that everyone sharing the planet with you has basic good intentions and can be handled with honor and reason. Sure, the overwhelming majority can, but there are more than a few really bad animals, the problem is, they may look just like everyone else.  Think sharks with nice shoes. 

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, as that alone may save your life, 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