A number of people come to the martial arts for self defense. The arts are a good way to learn how to protect yourself while getting a good workout. I have studied martial arts off and on for many years, and while at Eastern Illinois University, I participated in self defense classes – first as a student and then as the attack dummy. The recent attack of a jogger in Forest Park has me thinking of my philosophy with regards to personal safety.
I’ve read a lot about this subject over the years, and I can’t pinpoint from where I pulled the following philosophy, but I’m sure it’s somewhere on the web or in someone’s library. For me, there are three aspects to effective personal safety; I’ve labeled them as self awareness, self preservation and self defense. They are not really distinct areas but they allow me to group my thoughts.
First, let’s discuss self awareness. This just involves paying attention to yourself. The easiest question is how do you feel? Are you in a situation where you feel uncomfortable? Self awareness can be as easy as paying attention to the number and type of drinks you’ve had at a bar or a party. Or paying attention to whatever chemicals you choose to ingest. (While drugs have no interest for me, I acknowledge the reality that some people do use them recreationally, but I do not condone their use.) It’s also about how you present yourself as well. Are you walking with good posture and with your head held high? Confidence makes you seem like less of a target. Are you angry? Are you letting your ego control what you say and do? Self awareness is basic knowledge of who you are and what is going on in your body. Ideally, self awareness allows you to walk away early from situations that have the potential to end negatively.
Psychology enters in here as well. Master Whitson talked about this at the last seminar I attended. He quoted from Ed Parker’s book that we had to accept that violence happened. It seems like in every news story that you hear “I never would have thought it’d happen to me.” Unfortunately, violence happens; it is an ugly part of human nature. It is important to accept the fact that violence does happen and could affect you. Self awareness is also knowing that you’re worth more than your stuff. If you’re being robbed, you’re worth more than your purse, your wallet or whatever. In the event that the worst happens and there is a physical confrontation, it’s important to know your motivation for defending yourself. Is it to get home to your loved ones? To see your kids? Because no one has the right to do what they want with your body? Having a motivation will help you do what needs to be done to get you home.
Next is self preservation; I tend to think of this as paying attention to your external circumstances. For example, are you with your hothead friend who gets in a lot of fights? If so, you might have to defend yourself. Simply being mindful of your surroundings is part of self preservation. Do you have to walk across an empty, poorly lit parking lot by yourself or can you ask security or a friend to walk with you? The old phrase “safety in numbers” falls into the self preservation category. It’s also important, when at bars or parties, to know who made your drink and to have people around you trust. I think that self preservation is also knowing when to ask for help. It is running into a crowded place if being chased; it is finding a police officer if possible. It is talking to a bouncer if being harrassed at a bar or club. Self preservation, at its extreme, can seem like paranoia, but paying attention to your surroundings, who your with and being able to ask for help when needed do not have to consume your thoughts.
I think the biggest thing a person can do to work on self preservation is to jog or get some type of cardio workout in case you have to run. My very first lesson in martial arts all those years ago was to run; I thought it funny at the time, but it is the best piece of advice. It may bruise your ego to run away but that is a smaller price to pay than hospital bills or legal fees or worse.
Finally, we come to self defense. I tend to think that self awareness and self preservation are the main parts of staying safe with self defense coming in at the very last. Violence is a terrible thing and should only be used when other options have been exhausted. Self defense is martial arts; it is also carrying and knowing how to use pepper spray; it is conceal and carry weapons (in states where that’s legal). Self defense is the last resort; it is necessary when walking away doesn’t work. In my philosophy, the best self defense isn’t necessarily putting the ‘bad guy’ down. I think that the best self defense is getting myself away from that situation as quickly as possible. In Counterpoint Tactical Systems, we have the number 3 in our system’s crest. Zach put that there so that we’d think about three attackers. As a by-product, this means we deal with the attacker in front of us fast SO THAT we can keep moving and keep escaping. (On a side note, I’ve really enjoyed learning the different pushes that Master Whitson is teaching. The pushes are an excellent way of creating distance to run.)
Of course, this is just a starting point for dicussing aspects of personal safety. They are categories that allow me to organize my thoughts for easy discussion with people, and as I continue to learn, this philosophy will evolve and deepen These concepts are helpful for staying safe, but they are definitely not an assurance that you will. They help minimize the odds but do not reduce the probability to zero.