Finding an Edge

In a previous article, I wrote about how your initial reaction to some of the increasing types of very bad situations will be fear. Whether this fear is one to result in paralysis or a hiccup of action where you need a moment to decide what to do is going to be based on how resilient you are and what your unique life experiences are. Here I will be looking at the moments after the fear rush, and how we can find an edge to use to our advantage.

Your training needs to have a solid base in understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. You have to play to your strengths whenever it is possible to do so. It is my sincere hope that your strengths include the following:

  1. Training
  2. Awareness
  3. Psychological Advantage

I will take a look at each of these and explain why I feel that they give you an edge in a situation of unforeseen violence.

Training

For training to be of any use, it must be based on at least some realism. The betrayal of martial arts in the 20th century was a turning away from reality and a rush to financial gain. The cash cow of having five-year-old black belt programs and such was too much for some instructors to reject.

But if you have a training that is real-world based, with an understanding taken into consideration of the actions which are legal for you to take, as well as an understanding of the actions likely to be taken by the aggressor, you have a good base.

Training should also be based more on gross body movements because of the way adrenaline plays with fine motor skills. The gross body movement skills will (possibly) still be  available to you in a time of crisis.

Awareness

In this instance, of course, I am including situational awareness, but I am more concerned with your own awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.

If you are a manager or in a position of leadership in a  building that is involved in an active shooter situation, you need to lead, because people will be looking to you. It is human nature. Some people are leaders, others are followers. The responses of; escape if you can, hide if you cannot escape, and fight if you must are standard advice because not everyone is a fighter. The facts are really pretty simple. You cannot help anyone at all if you are dead. There is no cowardice in running out of a building where a person is murdering everyone they see at random. Get out and call Law Enforcement.

If leadership is your strength, get others to escape as well. Especially if you are a manager or person with authority in the organization, people will follow a leader. But even if you are a peon, but you know what to do and where to go to escape, tell others what to do. In a crisis, followers will simply follow. This is how terrorists get people to do what they are told to do. If you are a leader, be a leader.

If you have an easy escape, and you tell others to follow, but they refuse – leave them. You can only do what you can do, and you have to make your decision and follow you best instincts.

Know your strengths and play to them.

Psychological Advantage

Although it is commonly taught that adrenaline works against us in a crisis, the active shooter or the terrorist is under the influence as well. If we are trained, and if we are not strangers to the adrenaline dump, we can use that to our advantage.

One of the basic pieces of advice in active shooter training is the value of having a plan. When was the last time you heard of a child dying in a school fire? There isn’t one in recent memory because schools practice what to do. When the real thing happens the kids and teachers do what they have practiced.

The active shooter does not always have a detailed plan. These actions are random. Their plan consisted of selecting the where. The what and who are made up as they go along.

If you have a plan, you have a psychological advantage, if you are trained and practiced enough to use it.

Having a plan does not mean becoming the paranoid hyper-ninja. Take a look around your office or place of business. Ask yourself how you would escape the room if you needed to. Find at least two avenues of escape. Next, imagine that those escapes were unavailable (the exact why is irrelevant to this exercise). Where could you hide? Is there a way to barricade yourself inside of the room, or a room nearby? Lastly, figure out what nearby objects can be used for weapons. Having a plan is a good step. Actually practicing that plan is an advantage.

Those are some thoughts on the subject. If you haven’t visited my training page, please do so. Even if I am too far to help you, I am certain I know someone who can provide the training you want or need. If you are ready to get started use this form:

Do You Have a Reason to Train?

There is a stark contrast between people who have a clear purpose for training and people who are thinking about training. I see it time and again. People say they would like to get in shape, or think it would be good to be able to protect themselves. But these people never have that follow-through. At the first easy excuse, they take the offramp and are never seen or heard from again.

Other people have a clear reason, a purpose for training. They work in a gun-free zone and worry about an active shooter. Or they have a stalker or an abusive ex. These people have a clear and precise reason for seeking out training, and they will typically follow through on it.

So I would advise that if you are on the fence and thinking about seeking out training in martial arts, personal safety or self-defense, take a moment and think about your reasons for wanting this training. If you define these reasons early, you will increase the chances of actually showing up for training and paying enough attention to truly learn something.

I would also advise being specific in these reasons. “Get stronger” is a reason, but very vague. And there are many methods one might use in order to become stronger.

If you are seeking out training in martial arts or self-defense, why are you doing so? Is it something immediate (stalker, abusive ex, recent series of break-ins in your neighborhood)? Or is the threat more general (I see society becoming more violent with active shooters or there is an increased threat of terrorism within our Nation)? Or possibly something more benign (I want to compete in tournaments).

When you get specific with your reasons for training, you can get specific with the type of training you are seeking.

I hope this is helpful!

Initial Reaction

A recent conversation prompted this post.

There is a common saying for when things go wrong; “Sh*t got real”. 

There is a lot that happens at that moment when things “get real”.

Whether the situation is a mugging, carjacking, active shooter, ambush assault, or riots (strangely called protesting by our modern media) your first reaction will be to pause in fear or confusion. For some people, this pause is going to be a very brief moment where they are going through a WTF moment and gathering information. People who have been in bad situations enough times already understand when things are going sideways, they just need enough information to decide what they are going to do about it. People less experienced in the fine points of bad behavior might be stuck in that WTF moment for much longer than a moment.

No matter who you are, there is still that reaction of fear. Some deny it, but just like your belly-button, deny all you want; it is still there. When something other than expected happens, we have a period of uncertainty, until we reassure ourselves by knowing what to do.

People talk a lot about rising to the occasion, but in a crisis, we will sink to the level of our training. The person who has no training at all is only slightly worse off than the person who has trained in fantasy garbage. The main difference being that, while both are going to screw things up, the fantasy trained person is going to screw things up with confidence.

But if your training had some basis in reality, you will be better off. Did all of your “self-defense” training involve an attacker standing in front of you? Were you standing also? That isn’t self-defense, that is fighting. Different animals. The guy fighting you, that you are fighting against, that stuff is mutually agreed upon conflict. Either one of you could walk away if you wanted to. And the main point as relates to our topic here – neither of you are surprised that you are about to fight.

The active shooter, the mugger, the ambush, the gang assault – you don’t walk into that stuff knowingly. If you do, you need to rethink your entire decision-making process. These things occur in moments of distraction, weakness and/or fatigue, they come from disadvantageous angles and come with that hideous mix of fear and pain. There is a surprise that really could be called shock. Unless you are a total legitimate badass, you might even be bleeding by the time you know something is wrong. None of these are fun or games. They are real. Your training should take this into consideration.

Proper training can help you to shorten the fear/confusion stage of the event, and move into the action stage. Whether your action is to run or fight, do it with all the ferocity of a supernova. You probably only have one chance. Make it good. If you want to train, I can help, get started here:

Escape, Hide, Fight: Is There a “Right” Answer?

As a follow-up and a way to answer some of the questions that have come in since I made my last post, I am going to  look at the three main ideas of what to do in the event of an active shooter/terrorist shooter* situation.

There are three standard responses taught regarding the bad guy with a gun scenario; escape, hide, fight. It is taught that we should escape first because we are of no use to anyone if we are dead. It is further taught that we should hide if we cannot escape because we need to be out of the way of the professionals when they arrive. And we are also taught that we should fight, and this is even taught in the Federal courses, only as a last resort.

Working in this field, the question always turns up regarding which response is the best one.

The fact of the matter is that there are two big issues that will determine which answer is right. These factors are who are you and what are the circumstances. 

Some people need to escape because that is the way in which they can do the most good. Others will need to escape because, although they may be a person capable of taking the fight to the bad guy, and making him suffer dearly for his bad decision-making, they are very out of position to do so. They could take cover and wait for a better moment, but the thing that has to be remembered in an active shooter situation is that people are being shot while you wait. That is a pretty costly decision when you understand that seconds count, and you are waiting for a better hand. Tough call.

Hiding is another tough option because once you lock a door and begin the process of barricading it, there comes a point where you cannot open the door, even if you are certain the person begging for help out there is not the shooter.

Fighting is taught as a last resort. And for many people, this is probably sound advice. Many people in our time are not really fighters. Watching MMA on TV does not make one a fighter. For some people, though, fighting is a viable first option. Obviously, provided that they are in a position to do so. But what would have been the outcome in Orlando if every able bodied man in the room rushed the shooter? Even using a conservative estimate that only twenty people in the room were capable of fighting and subduing a person, how differently would that story have ended?

We cannot know.

I always advise people to play to their strengths but to also be able to see the situational factors that can change the effectiveness of their base plan. I may have a base plan to attack the active shooter, but if the situation is that I have to bridge fifty yards without cover or concealment, I would probably need to escape or hide instead.

The idea of escape, hide or fight is not a perfect plan. But that does not mean it is not a good plan. Given the different types of people I have taught and the widely varying mindsets of different people, it is probably still a good starting point. Which option is the best? The one that fits the person and the situation.

In the end, the choice is yours to make. You will make it based on all available information and you will sink to the level of your training. Make that training as good as you can get. I can help you find quality instruction when you are ready to start:

*I do not draw a distinction between the two, but they were separate categories in the emails I had coming in after the last article. When viewed closely, the guy shooting up a place because he was fired, and the guy shooting up the place because his Wife is cheating on him and the guy shooting up the place because his religion is telling him to are no different, except in motivation. At the time of the shooting, their individual motivation means nothing. What matters is to stop the threat. 

Revisiting the Terrorist Threat

A while back I took a look at the threat of terrorism from the standpoint of personal safety.

I said what I had to say on the subject, and I really had no plans to address the issue further. But attack after attack, and some of the attacks come close to home for me, living in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where five Police Officers were murdered and another eleven injured.

And then there were so many emails asking advice on all of these different situations, I felt that I should revisit the topic. I will try to keep things focused on the main idea of personal safety, but due to the nature of the subject, some people may end up getting their poor widdle feelings hurt. All I can do about that is apologize in advance.

We had the Islamic terrorist attacks in San Bernadino and Orlando. We had Police Officers murdered by domestic terrorists in several states in the U.S.A. Europe has been hit repeatedly by Islamic extremists. The day of this writing, Islamic terrorists stormed a Catholic Church in France and beheaded an 84 year old Priest during mass.

All of this is enough to make my blood boil.

But my anger means nothing. Neither does yours, unless you are in a position to give orders to end this nonsense.

So we must act on those areas that are under our control.

I teach all people who are interested in personal safety that it starts with ourselves. We have to first come to the realization that safety is our responsibility. We cannot count on the Government. Look at the response to the Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill and then honestly ask yourself if you really think the government can even find its own butt with both hands. Currently, the government is overly concerned with how their response will look and this causes a paralysis preventing any real action.We cannot count on Law Enforcement to save us from everything, and they will probably be minutes away when the SHTF. And we all know that in a crisis, we might not have enough seconds to add up to the minutes we will need to wait for help. When the Police get there, they will do the heavy lifting. They are professionals, and so when they arrive, get out of the way. But until they are there, you have to do what it takes to stay alive, and if possible, to stop the threat.

This means training and learning to identify the options.

If there is an attack of the type in France today, terrorists storming a Church (or any other public venue), your options are pretty clear-cut.

  1. Run
  2. Hide
  3. Fight

We all make decisions every day. While taking responsibility for our personal choices seems to no longer be in fashion, we will still ultimately be held accountable. If you run or hide or fight, you hold no guarantee of safety or survival. But a choice must be made.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these choices. When a tiger jumps out of the bushes, it is not cowardly to run. Each option needs to be based on your own individual strengths (or at the very least a knowledge of your weaknesses). Example; I am old and have bad knees and a bad back. I really cannot run. I am also six and-a-half feet tall and weigh 255 lbs., and that makes hiding a challenge. So, the OODA Loop does not really come in to play for me. Know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses and play to your strengths. And be smart. If you have access to getting out safely and thus opening the chance to notify authorities more quickly – do it. This might save lives. If you are in a position to stop the threat before further loss of life, or better still – before loss of life at all – do it.

Stay aware. Since the Dallas attack I had been a virtual turret-head every time we leave the house. My Wife noticed and has kindly asked me to stop. I have noticed everyone and everything, except the good things. I have probably looked a bit like the hyper-ninja that I warn my students about becoming. I have toned it down. You can stay aware without the “I’m watching you! And you! And especially YOU!”

If you opt to run, escape, get somewhere safe and notify the authorities. It is human habit to think that someone else already has made the call, but what if no one has? Make the call. It is much better to be one more person giving information to Law Enforcement, especially if you consider the fact that you might be able to tell them something that saves the lives of potential victims or Police Officers.

If you hide, you need to understand the difference between cover and concealment. Concealment means you are harder to see. Cover means the bullets will not reach you. Sounds like a small difference but they are worlds apart. If your hiding place is a different room, you may need to barricade the entrance once you and whoever was with you are inside.

But even this is not enough. Barricades can be breached given enough time. You need to be prepared for this. Find whatever you can to use for a make-shift weapon. Anything heavy will create impact trauma. Scissors are sharper than most of the knives in your kitchen right now.

But keep your wits about you. When the Police do arrive, they will be coming in. They will be on an adrenaline rush like you wouldn’t believe, and they will have weapons drawn. The language will probably not be PG either. Follow their commands, do not make sudden movements, and please do not point.

Obviously, if the terrorist detonates a bomb, none of this matters except to parts about calling for help, if you survive the blast and are coherent enough to make the call. But we need to all understand that there is a point where we have to fight back. And sometimes the decision is made for us. When a person wants to kill you over an ideology, you really have your choices boiled down to a very simple two; die, or fight. We can be the most peace-loving people on earth, but we need to stand ready to stop those who would destroy those we love. I am all for peace, love, and food on the table. But if I have to fight to make those three possible, then I will fight.

None of this is recommending paranoia.But anyone can look around and see that things are not good right now. Until national leaders decide to stop the threat posed by terrorism, we all need to be prepared to do our part should the need arise.

Have a plan, be ready and aware, and hope for the best.

A “New Normal”?

The phrase new normal kept popping up in news articles lately. There was something about it that I didn’t like, but it wasn’t clear to me before coffee.

Then it hit me, after coffee, of course.

The articles were focused on the rise of violence in our time. We have terrorists abroad murdering people over what is at base a difference of opinion.

Then we have groups here in the U.S.A. who have started murdering Police Officers.

As to the first issue, the terrorists killing over opinion, when I am speaking to adults about how to handle disagreements, I often note that it is childish to come to blows over a difference of opinion because it shows that you are not secure in your argument and stance on the subject matter.

How much more so when you murder people who do not see things your way?

Regarding the murder of Police Officers, what precisely do these domestic terrorists think they will accomplish? The road to improving relations with the Police certainly doe not involve shooting.

So we have a violent time in our world. This is not new. The world has never really been 100% safe, but for most of my life, I have been able to get through each day without resorting to violence at all, and I can go even further and state that I have more often than not had no need to even resort to the threat of violence.

In recent months it seems that the headlines have been going from domestic terrorists attacking, then foreign terrorists, and repeat and repeat.

But what is this new normal they keep writing and speaking about? And why did it irritate me so much?

The new normal is this wave after wave of terrorist attacks. It irritates me for a simple reason. Calling the current state of affairs a new normal is clearly a surrender. It is a subtle push toward the option of throwing up the hands and saying the cause is lost and violent extremism is here to stay.

I do not recognize the authority of “news reporters” to tell me when the cause is lost. I do not accept that there is now a world where I must grow accustomed to the murder of Police Officers or citizens of any nation at the hands of extremists of any ideology. I will not give up and say that the bad guys win.

There is good and there is bad. Right now we are seeing a violent lashing out of the worst that humanity has to offer. And, especially if you spend a lot of time glued to news outlets, it can be easy to see the situation as hopeless and fall for this “new normal” BS.

But it is BS. There is no new normal. There are just a lot of bad things happening at the same time. We are so connected to information that it can overwhelm our brain. The thing they seem to be actively avoiding is the way to get these issues resolved is going to be a hard road with a lot of work involved.

Here are a few points to consider.

First, think about when that scumbag murdered five Police Officers in Dallas. The next day, did Police Officers across the nation refuse to go to work out of fear? Nope. They went to work protecting and serving like they do every day.

Did Dallas riot and burn and loot? No. We mourned.

Think about the people around you every day. Do they kill people who disagree with them? I’m willing to bet they don’t.

You are surrounded by good people because there are more good people of every race and creed than there are bad people of any race or creed. And those who protect the good people still show up for duty in spite of the fact that their lives are on the line for doing so, now more than ever.

I want the senseless killing to end. I am against murder and hate. I am for peace and love. I think most of us are the same in that regard.

So, what are you to do?

Train to protect yourself and others. Be prepared to fight if the need arises. If you are not a fighter and not willing to engage the enemy, then do what you can to either shut down or cut out the extremists in your group. Every group has them. When you are silent about, or even worse – when you offer excuses for – the behavior of the worst in your self-identified group, you further the cause of violence and death.

We do not have to accept this chaos and mindlessness as normal.

Five Tips to De-Stress in Stressful Times

In our time it is easy to get distracted and lose sight of he facts. Fear mongers on both sides of every issue spin every minutia possible into something to support their claims. As a self-defense instructor it is bad for business for me to openly state that you are safer than you think. There are threats out there, deadly threats that you will be defeated by if you refuse to acknowledge their existence and end up facing them. But most of you will never face them.

I want to take a moment here and let you know that there are five simple steps you can start using today to lower your stress levels and start to see things more clearly. No voodoo, no tin hats, just simple steps that only require the initiative on your part to begin.

1. Do not get your news from social media or any other single source.

If your social media newsfeed is anything like mine, you see posts from people on both sides of any issue claiming doom and gloom if the other side wins.

Give yourself a break from that.

If you get all of your news from a single source, you are going to be subject to their spin. No matter the source, they have an agenda and they will use emotional manipulation to keep you coming back.

The internet news sites do the same thing. Cable channels as well. Whether you are looking to Fox News or MSNBC, you will be subjected to their take on the issue. Use a mix of sources and learn to see the facts and identify immediately when you are being emotionally strung along.

2. Look for the good.

I don’t buy into the garbage that is heaped on me that all people who liberal or conservative are evil. I have close friends of both political viewpoints. I love guns, and some of my friends are terrified of them. I love bacon, and some of my friends have never had it due to religious reasons. I don’t tell them how to live because their views and opinions and way of life, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”. If you look at your friends you will see that a person can disagree with you and still be a good person. Instead of focusing on the differences, look to the good qualities that your friends have. You just might be able to tone down the angry rhetoric.

3. Build confidence through training.

If there is something you are afraid of; terrorists, muggers – whatever, find training to make yourself strong enough to stop being afraid. Addressing fears, facing them, is the only method to overcome them. Then if it comes to a point where what they are doing picks your pocket or breaks your leg, you will have the tools to stop them. Since this is not a commercial, I will move ahead.

4. Stay aware.

In my daily commute, at every stoplight I find myself surrounded by other drivers who cannot seem to stop staring at their own crotch.

In their own brand of  group cleverness, they think that no one knows they are looking at their phones.

But when we are glued to the tiny screen on our phone, there is a whole world going on around us of which we are totally unaware.

Awareness is more than seeing the bad guy in the shadows. It is also seeing the elderly woman smiling as she makes her way into the store. It is noticing the good and the beautiful and the right, as well as the bad, and the ugly and the horrible.

There is so much more out there than what we see on our phone screen. Can you really enjoy an event when you force yourself to view it through your phone? Or would it not be better to see it as it is, as it happens?

5. Find time daily to center.

Some people call it meditation. Others call it prayer. Still others call it centering. I don’t really care what you call it. Do it. Every day.

Take some time to shut off the chatter inside your skull, and just be at peace.

We spend so much time thinking of another day, or year, or point in life where we will be happy. We stress ourselves to no end over what could go wrong before we get to this mysterious there and when we do get there, if we are lucky enough to live that long, we feel a tremendous let-down, because we missed the entire journey.

In many parts of my Country, you will never even meet a criminal, much less a terrorist. In the U.S., our criminal class tend to hurt each other almost exclusively. If we focus only on the criminals or the terrorists, we lose a big chunk of our life worrying over a threat that will, for most of us, never materialize.

In short, be prepared, yes! But live your life. There is no do-over.