Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Awareness - Intent versus ability

Readers of this blog will know that I believe awareness is the single most important part of self defense.

Now, I exist is a slightly more vigilant state than most.  It's not quite paranoia, but I am always scanning my surroundings, scanning for potential threats. Military people, police and security can often be identified just by the way they scan any new bar, restaurant, store, subway car etc, that they are entering.  I am guilty of this.  My buddy called me on this not long ago when we were out at a pub.  He got a kick out of observing me observe others.  He wanted to know what I was looking for.  He understood about exit points, potential weapons and that sort of thing, but wanted to know what I looked for when I scanned people.

That part is a bit trickier.  In the example above, there were several dozen people in a fairly small pub.  It wasn't too crowded but there weren't many empty tables.

So how does someone scan 30 people in a few seconds?  I have, after all, walked out of an establishment based on a five second scan.

There are two things I try to hone in on. One is the overall energy in the place. No matter what you want to call it, if the place has a bad vibe or bad energy, I'll go somewhere else.  I think most people have walked into a place and felt bad energy.  Something about the place just didn't feel right.  I say trust this. Unless you have to be there, leave.  Trust you gut.  Call it your sixth sense if you want.

The second thing I look for is intent.  I scan each person briefly to try to judge their intent.  I can't guess at any one person's ability, so the only sense I can get from a quick look is intent.

If I'm scanning a room, my mind and my eye easily 'rule out' most people as a threat in an instant.  It's those individuals that give off bad energy or intent that I take a second look at.  I could walk into a bar filled with martial arts masters of the highest calibre and would most likely rule them all out as potential threats in a heartbeat, providing they were there with good intentions.  That's the difference between intent and ability.  The masters would have the ability to be a threat were they so inclined, but if they don't have bad intentions, I would skip right past them on my 'threat-o-meter'.

I can usually tell the few people who are in an establishment with bad intentions.  The ones whose energies aren't focused on the positive around them, be it food, company or entertainment.

I might 'flag' a guy standing at a bar.  I might think that he might be threat.  If I had to drill down and explain why, it might be that every time someone walks by, they tense a little bit and stand a bit further back possibly hoping someone will accidentally bump into them.  It might be that they are giving mini 'stare-downs' at those around them.  Or they might fixate on someone not known to them or inappropriately stare at someone's girlfriend or partner.  They might make rude comments to be overheard by others.  They might deliberately stand in someone's way, making the other person ask them to move.  Their eyes may be cloudy or the pupils might be large, a possible indication of an intoxicating substance.  They might clearly be drunk, and loud etc.  There are dozens of little things, that when combined, get my hackles up.  And while clothing and appearance play a role, they are far less reliable indicators than actions and attitude.

It is actually harder to break down all the different things that combine to give you a good or bad feeling about someone than it is to make the overall assessment.

With the exception of certain professions, it isn't even necessary to break it all down to explain it.  Your brain processes all this stuff for you.  The neat part is that it's a skill that can be used and improved by anyone in any walk of life. It can even be fun. Make a game of scanning the room wherever you go. Look for bad energy or intent.  What's the worst that can happen? Nothing.  The best?  Maybe you avoid being present for an unpleasant situation, whether or not the bad intentions ever get aimed at you.

And remember, predators watch for victims that aren't paying attention.  If they see you paying attention, they'll move on to easier prey.

Be safe.  Have fun.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Nature of Violence - Bad Habits

This is really one small part of a larger area of concern for me, one that I hope to flesh out in upcoming posts.

As martial artists, we have some bad habits.  A biggie is that we very rarely practice any technique from an inferior position, one where we're off balanced, have received a surprise attack or some sort of a shock.  Sure we practice a grab from behind, or a bear hug, but we still kind of know what's coming.  And our opponent very rarely really tries to knock us down or bowl us over.

I read some of Rory Miller's work and he made a simple but important point.

He said "Fights are painful, unfair, dynamic, chaotic, cluttered, and you don't get into them, as a good guy, unless you start out losing."

I agree with Mr. Miller on the whole statement, but the last part is very important. "Unless you start out losing."

In all your experience, how many times are you aware of someone being attacked in a face to face encounter?  The criminal element almost always initiates an attack using the element of surprise.  This is why it's important to work on awareness skills just as much as raw technique.  Criminals very rarely target martial artists (or anyone else) who are paying attention. 

So, how much time are you spending on defending from a losing position?  The reality of the situation is that if you get in a real fight, the initial flurry of attacks will have caught you off guard.  If you were aware of your surroundings, chances are you wouldn't have been attacked in the first place.

We have a bad habit, as martial artists, of sort of skipping over this reality in favour of fantasy-land thinking that we'll always be aware of our surroundings so we'll just drill what we're used to doing, a face to face anticipated attack.  That is not reality.  In real life violent encounters, you've already been hit, knocked off balance, or had a weapon used on you.  Your attacker may be one or many.  

We need to train for that reality.  We need to mentally prepare for the ugly, upsetting, painful, disorienting nature of a real attack.  We need to learn to fight back from that position, and get away.  No easy task, but definitely something we need to think about.

Food for thought.

Train realistically, and safely.

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6 - A rant

Most people, especially martial artists, have heard the expression "It's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6".  What this means is that it's better to survive an encounter and be tried in a court of law than to lose you life and be carried by 6 pall bearers.

I heard it again last week.  Then I heard it in a women's self defense setting not long after.  In fact, I've heard it said in a variety of reality based self defense seminars, in traditional martial arts clubs, and even on t.v.

"It's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6"

Well, yes it is.  So why a rant?  

Because most people who say it are being irresponsible.  Most people use it as a blanket statement to avoid answering legitimate questions over the reasonable use of force in self defense.  In one 'reality-based' women's self defense seminar, the statement was used when someone was hesitant to throat stomp their attacker after throwing multiple strikes to the face and legs. The attack on her was a wrist grab.  Instead of answering the question, the instructor fell back on the good old 12/6 response.  That was irresponsible and misleading. 

Women in the class would either come out thinking any amount of force is fine in self defense, or would still question what is reasonable, which could translate into hesitation in an actual encounter.  Actually, neither outcome would be desirable.

This is but one of the examples.  In a life and death situation, when your own life is in imminent danger, the statement hold up.   If you can't get away, fight with everything you've got.  Let the chips fall where they may afterwards.  

The problem is that the statement is rarely examined or broken down.  And usually it's used as an 'out' for an irresponsible instructor, or by one that doesn't have a clue about the law.  Sadly, these 'teachers' are often providing instruction to impressionable beginners who believe they are qualified to provide accurate and responsible direction.

In my Mind the Gap series, I talked about how your motivation, goal, or desired outcome in an attack should be to get away.  The question of using force was the subject of one of the posts.  Basically you can use as much force as you need to in order to negate the threat enough to allow you to get away.  

Knowing that, be cautious of any instructor who tells you "It's better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6" when you have questions or concerns.

In truth, this is but one part in a larger rant I have on the state of women's self defense instruction,  but that's a post for another day.

Train responsibly.

Welcome new readers and followers of my blog.