By Diane Walls,
In all self-defense arts, the question comes up in discussions among practitioners, “Am I ready for a real-world situation where I need to use what I know to defend my life or the life of another innocent?” Defensive firearms students ask this question, too.
As with any subject, that of self-defense is more complex than it might appear on the surface. If we look closer, we can see that it is a multilayered thing, always changing with experience, situation and over time. To those who choose the gun for defense, that firearm is always visible to the inner eye, as it rests at the pinnacle of the defensive structure, but much beneath this point needs to be addressed.
The use of a firearm in self-defense should be a last resort, the ultimate reaction to a situation in which life and death hang in the balance. But many situations exist that don’t require the use or even the threat of deadly force. As responsible citizens, we should have other options available. A layered approach is best for building a set of useful tools to make up a defensive kit that can cover a wide array of situations and maintain our security before it gets to the point where a gun is needed. Just as we take precautions to avoid having to use the fire extinguishers we keep in our homes, we can do much to avoid putting ourselves in danger of needing to use that gun we’ve made the decision to carry around with us.
Thus we come to the foundational layer of the self-defense package—acceptance. To have any self-defense toolbox, first we must accept the fact that we need one.
It’s human nature to not want to think about bad things happening to us. Most of us reading this lead comfortable, relatively safe lives where it is not a daily struggle simply to acquire the necessities for basic survival, and thinking of ourselves fighting just to live is very disturbing.
Yet, at some level we all know that we could lose our comfort and safety. It is, after all, the basis for virtually any human spirituality to acknowledge the dual nature of the universe around us as good and evil, light and darkness, positive and negative forces in some way. Still, it is difficult for those of us that choose to live our lives seeking the positive and the good to accept that others might want to hurt us without cause for reasons we don’t understand. Often, this denial is the sticking point for people. Even though, in this information age, we frequently see examples of evil behavior, accepting that it might happen to us personally is a huge hurdle to get over.
Hand in hand with acceptance is the need to educate ourselves about defense. This includes understanding the behaviors of the human animal that good people think of as criminal and violent. A human predator uses tactics and strategies to prey upon other humans in ways that reduce risks and maximize gains for the predator. If the prey understands these tactics and acts to counter them, the predator will often move on to choose easier prey. Much
insight can be gained by studying the written works of authors that understand criminal behaviors and human behavior in general. Rory Miller of Chiron Training has several books on the subject that are excellent. Marc MacYoung of No Nonsense Self Defense is another writer with a unique perspective of human behavior gained from a lifetime of experience on both sides of the spectrum of human interactions. An opportunity to take training from either of these gentlemen is worth the price of admission many times over. A realistic understanding and acceptance of criminal behavior can go a long way toward preventing negative encounters or defusing them before they become problematic. The best fight is the one we never get into in the first place.
Throughout the process of education, honest self-evaluation will be needed. Firstly, we look at how we conduct our daily lives and the ways we may be making ourselves vulnerable to victimization. Do we give out too much personal information over social media that is open to inspection by the public? Do we allow ourselves to become impaired by alcohol or drugs and become separated from our friends at public or private gathering places? Do we always lock our cars and homes, even when we are in them? Do we avoid becoming distracted to the point of not paying attention to our surroundings when we’re out and about? In this busy and often chaotic world, staying plugged in to activity around us is not always easy. Consistent practice in staying aware and noticing anything outside of normalcy will be necessary to make it a habit. Once engrained, though, engaging with your surroundings can be very interesting and rewarding. The real world is the greatest show of all! Anyone that looks engaged in the when and where of their environment looks a lot less like a victim.
With an understanding of the behaviors of ourselves and others we can start reducing our risks. But there are no guarantees that we can remain safe no matter how careful we are. The first thing to develop is our presence.
Rude and confrontational behavior is encouraged these days and presented as a source of entertainment far too often in all media. Drama is interesting. Drama leads to trouble. Don’t encourage it in your own interactions with others. Being courteous and respectful, even in the face of belligerence, can reduce tensions before they become explosive. By all means keep in mind your personal lines of demarcation, however. Before allowing anyone to get into a position where they could get their hands on you when they are being hostile, develop a plan to create distance and remove yourself from the situation. Make it a habit to find the exits anyplace you might find yourself. Be ready to switch from calm and respectful to no nonsense calling attention to your plight with loud, firm and confident command voice the instant your instincts tell you it’s necessary. Think of it as channeling your inner parent if that helps. It will startle the aggressor and call in attention from anyone in the vicinity, giving time to increase your safety margin and creating witnesses to the event.
The next thing we need to ad-dress is the possibility of someone getting hands on us despite our efforts to avoid it. Some quick, reliable methods for escaping from grabs would be a very good thing to know. Training is widely avail-able for these types of self-defense applications. Look for instruction that doesn’t require memorization of a lot of detailed movements. The best defensive training techniques use a very few skills to effectively handle a wide array of common problems. Ask reputable trainers what they recommend and where you might find such offerings in your area. It is also very smart if you carry a gun to learn some techniques for retaining that gun in your possession should someone try to take it from you and, in conjunction with this, learning what to do should someone hold a gun on you. Again, do your research. Ask reputable trainers what they recommend and talk to others that have taken any training you are considering.
It isn’t always practical or legal to have our gun with us. It’s always a good idea to have other options for defensive tools available. Keep in mind, however, that there are legal considerations for all weapons, and it’s the responsibility of the user to know what’s legal to use wherever he or she might be. Pepper sprays and gels are not heavily regulated most places. Electronic stunning devices like the civilian Taser® may have more restrictions. Bladed weapons such as knives are considered deadly force options and are subject to regulation. Any improvised devices that may be used as bludgeons, while not regulated, will still be looked at with deadly force in mind through the eyes of the law.
Keep in mind that any defensive tools require training to be effectively used. Understand the positive and negative effects of the deterrents you choose. Pepper sprays can affect both the attacker and defender if used improperly or in an environment where air currents could shift. Stunning devices have to make positive contact with their target. None of these defensive tools can be realistically expected to be 100% effective all the time. Not even the gun can claim this.
Knowledge of human anatomy is vital to effective defense. Know where to strike for maximum pain and debilitation to discourage an attacker. It is important to know what will be most likely to cause death or permanent damage to the human body as well. When deadly force is called for, knowing where to hit to stop the threat in the shortest amount of time is important. Equally important is knowing where not to strike when deadly force is not justified. To the law, it doesn’t matter if deadly force in your defense was inflicted with a gun, a knife, a bludgeon or your hands. All that matters is whether you were justified in using that force in your defense.
Arm yourself with a good understanding of the laws of self-defense. Be ready and able to articulate clearly to first responders what crime against you was the cause of your defensive action. Always call authorities as soon as is safely.
If you choose a gun as your defensive option, training is crucial. Seek out defensive training specifically designed to teach you skills you will need to successfully fight with a gun. More than accuracy and speed are needed. Training that offers opportunity to make decisions under stressful conditions can give your mind practice at switching from normal to fight mode quickly. Scenario based training can help you understand when it is appropriate to shoot and when and how to negotiate your way out of a bad situation when it isn’t. Keep training and exposing yourself to new skills, such as shooting in low light conditions, shooting from disadvantaged positions and shooting with your non-dominant hand and with either hand alone. Practice the skills you learn regularly, especially those that you find difficult to master.
Lastly, develop your personal resolve. Resolve to value your life and all life and protect it if neces-sary. Resolve never to give up the fight for your life. The human being is an amazing creature. Even the least powerful among us can withstand an astonishing amount of force if we set our resolve to it.
It’s important to keep in mind that you won’t get to choose when and where you get involved in an incident that requires use of your defensive knowledge. Always be ready and always have your tools at hand. This doesn’t mean living in a state of fearful paranoia. It means being actively engaged in your life and the world around you. That’s a pretty wonderful place to be.