Thursday, 25 April 2013

Safety in the City Pt. 1

 A number of women have asked me to write about ways to stay safe during your day-to-day activities, because let's face it, those are the times that you're most likely to encounter someone you don't know, or who might make you feel uneasy. I'm going to write a few things on this over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, let's start with some basics to keep in mind: 
  1. Make Use of Your Senses - that means not having your iPod earbuds in, and not having your eyes down on your phone as you text, especially if you are by yourselfTo the predator, these are automatic and highly visible signs that you are disengaged from your environment, that you're not paying attention, and above all, that you are an easier target because now your attacker has the element of surprise on his side. Maybe you didn't hear him sneaking up behind you, or maybe you didn't see him walking towards you because you were texting your bestie. Trust me, your texting and emailing can wait until you are safely at your destination, or in a well-populated area. 
  2. Purse - Do not travel with your purse open. I see countless women who don't pay
    attention to their bag and just keep it open to make getting at their phone or other purse-contents easier. Safety is about minimizing your chances of being victimized, and nothing is more inviting than an open bag.Your purse can also serve as a handy self-defense tool, and you've always got it with you. Most women carry quite a few things in their purse (myself included), and swinging that sucker around to smack an attacker in the face will definitely hurt.
  3. Weapons - I do NOT suggest that women should carry weapons with them EVER. Any weapon that is ever introduced into an altercation can be potentially used against you. I'd also like to point out that pepper spray, mace and switch blades are illegal in Canada. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't really effective things that you can use for self-defense. 
    1. Rolled up magazine - A rolled up magazine is a pretty common thing to find in many women's bags, but the surprising thing about them is that the bottom of a rolled up magazine is extremely strong. If you hit someone in the temple, across the jaw, in the throat with one of those bad boys, trust me, it's gonna hurt. 
    2. Kubaton - These handy tools were initially invented by the Japanese Police Force and were introduced to the LAPD for use by female officers. They inflict a surprising amount of pain, but with non-lethal force. I have a kubaton on my keychain, and am always glad to have it with me. I have it handy when I'm out alone at night. It's great for penetrating any soft surface on your attacker (eyes, neck, behind the ear, zyphoid process, etc.) . Kubatons are available at most martial arts supply stores and some martial arts schools, but they're also easily ordered from or, and range in cost from hardly $5-$15. 

      These are but a few suggestions. Do you have any tips or suggestions of your own to add to our list? I plan to continue growing it, and input is always welcome. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Importance of Learning Self-Defense & How to Choose a Reputable School

It always surprises me how many women scoff at self-defense, or how many women think that they don't need to learn some basic techniques. Are you guilty of thinking any of the following as reasons for why you don't need to learn self-defense?

I'm too old/young
I live in a safe neighbourhood/city
I don't dress fancy or have anything someone would want to steal
I've never seen anything bad happen to me or anyone that I know
I'm too weak 
I don't have any martial arts experience, so self-defense would be hard for me to understand
It's not interesting to me 
I don't want to be taught by a man 
I don't want to be in a class with big, sweaty, rough men 
I don't think that I should have to learn it 
I don't put myself into dangerous situations I'll be fine
If anything happens, I'll just hit him in the groin  

If any one of these thoughts have crossed your mind in regards to your own personal safety, then it's time for a rude awakening, because violence is everywhere and it makes no sense to not take charge of your own personal safety. 

The only person in charge of your safety is you 

While that might sound trite and overly obvious, it's a sad fact that women worry about their safety regularly, though do very little to ensure or improve it. We spend years worrying about walking through underground parking lots by ourselves, walking down the street when it's dark outside, or feeling anxiety when we see groups of males in proximity to us, and yet, many women never take any steps to alleviate this anxiety. 

The first step to making a change is deciding to take up self-defense. At a minimum, women should take a self-defense course or seminar every few years in order to stay sharp. Self-defense skills are like any other skills: you don't use it, you lose it. If you take one French seminar, your French skills will quickly improve, though will sharply decline without regular practice. You will undoubtedly retain some vocabulary, though you will be a far cry from fluent; in fact, it may take you a few minutes of thinking to think of the word you were trying to recall. Self-defense is the same - you will be surprised what you will retain (even years later), but these techniques and skills ought to be practiced and maintained. 

How to find a self-defense school or instructor:
1. Look for a reputable martial arts club or instructor in your area - How long has the instructor been training? What are his/her credentials? Have they been teaching for long? 
 2. What style of self-defense do they teach? This is an important question. Not all styles are made for the type of self-defense we are talking about here. Some styles that won't be particularly helpful in terms of learning self-defense are: karate, taekwondo,  Capoeira, kickboxing, Tai Chi, Judo, Ninjitsu, etc.*  Instead, look for instructors and schools that teach jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga, Hapkido, or other styles that are meant for close, hand-to-hand combat, and that employ techniques that are based on body mechanics rather than strength (joint locks, scenario-based techniques). 
3. Are there other females in the seminar/school? - A club should be female-friendly, especially if they're trying to offer women's self-defense calsses. It's nice to have other females to partner with, and to look to for help. It's particularly nice to have female instructors.
4. Prices/Time - expect to pay for a self-defense seminar. Seminars can run anywhere from about $30 to as much as $150. Ultimately, it depends on who is teaching it and the duration of the seminar. 
5. Location, location, location - Anyone who is serious about keeping women safe and is interested in teaching women how to defend themselves should have a school located in a reasonably safe neighbourhood, which is public transit-accessible, on a well-lit street and have closeby parking in an equally well-lit lot or street. 

 Go try a few classes, and see how the school feels to you. Check your local paper and online for upcoming women's self-defense seminars. 

Above all, go and try schools and seminars with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and put 100% effort into trying everything that you learn. If your instructor asks you to hit a pad, HIT IT! Train like you mean it, ladies!

*Note: these are perfectly fine styles, and I personally hold rank in a couple of them, but they aren't great for the average woman with no martial arts background who is looking for a few effective techniques to add to her arsenal.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Techniques to Try: Escape from Wrist Grabs

There are so many techniques out there, though not all of them are equally effective or practical. When it comes to teaching women's self-defense, my motto has always been, "It has to be simple, effective and easy to remember." Many martial arts schools demonstrate techniques that are overly complicated, and great for the martial artist, though essentially useless to the average woman with no martial arts background. I am hoping to de-mystify some techniques, and I encourage women to try out some of these with a friend. 

Release from a Wrist Grab:

This video looks at two types of wrist grab: inline (attacker's left hand grabs woman's right hand), and cross-arm (attacker's right hand grabs woman's right wrist). 

Inline Wrist Grab

Cross-arm Wrist Grab 

Key things to remember when performing this technique:
1. No extra movement - keep your movement small and efficient. Don't waste extra energy with big motions because it lessens the efficacy of the technique, and makes it easier for your attacker to fight your intention. 

2. Escape must happen where the fingers meet the thumb - this is the weakest part of the grip. 

3. Keep turning your wrist - just as a rolling stone gathers no moss, it is difficult to hold onto something that is turning.

Some other thoughts: 
These techniques are not enough on their own. They ought to be preceded by a distraction, followed by some sort of counterattack, and then once you've disengaged, just run away to end the encounter. 

Now go find someone and practice! 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Intuition - Pt. 1

Intuition comes from the Latin tueri (to see, protect, watch). The sole function of intuition is to protect you, to watch over you, and to uphold your safety. Women's intuitive senses have been honed and fine-tuned over several millennia, though the modern woman has, unfortunately, lost sight of her most precious gift in an age that values technology, logic and reason. 

In the days of our cave-dwelling grandmothers, intuition was a powerful tool. While men could rely on strength and speed, women had different options: a) rely on male protection (partner, family); b) rely on strength in numbers with other women (we see evidence of this still today when teenage girls band together, and in the fact that women are significantly more social than men. See Louann Brizindine's The Female Brain). Also helping our intuitive senses is the fact that women can read facial expressions and subtle visage changes up to 400x more accurately than men. 

With all these advantages, it is not surprising that women's intuition is so strong - it has to be because it's a survival mechanism. 

Why does your intuition act up?
Your intuition activates for one of only two reasons:
1) There is reason to 
2) To protect your safety

That's it. If your intuition is acting up, there is generally good cause. With intuition, there are several levels of alarm:

With curiosity, your brain is identifying that you need more information, though as your intuition brings you closer to FEAR, this is a blaring signal that your brain is identifying that there is an immediate threat to your safety. 

Your conscious brain spends a good deal of time filtering out many of the things that it sees everyday; if it didn't, we would be on sensory overload all the time. Your intuition kicks in when your subconscious brain has picked up something that your conscious brain hasn't yet (maybe a shadow, a small noise, a look, some body language). 

Intuition vs. Judgment
Unfortunately, we've learned to override our judgment, sometimes with costly effects. Often, women think, "oh, I'm in a safe city/neighbourhood, nothing bad will happen" or "he doesn't look dangerous" or "I'm older, no one will bother me." That's the exact opposite mindset to have. In fact, when we are more open to the possibility of danger, we can be better prepared. We cannot afford to be in denial or to simply dismiss our intuition.

Can you imagine an animal sensing danger, and then dismissing it and going back to grazing peacefully? It doesn't happen. 

Bottom line: If your intuition is acting up, LISTEN TO IT AND RESPOND APPROPRIATELY. 

Recommended reading:

de Becker, Gavin. The Gift of Fear. New York: Delta Publications, 1997.
Brizindine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: Broadway Books, 1996. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

INVICTA Spotlight: The Gulabi Gang

Northern India - The Gulabi Gang started in 2006 by Sampat Pal Devi, and has turned into a remarkable women's movement concerned with pressing issues such as domestic violence, child labour, child marriages, and dowry demands. The group is based out of the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, one of the poorest areas in the country; it is marked by "a deeply patriarchal culture, rigid caste divisions, female illiteracy, violence against women"(1), and many other unsettling practices against women. 

The group is popularly known as The Gulabi ("Pink") Gang due to the bright pink saris that members adorn. However, this 'gang' fights for justice; members consider themselves champions for equality who oppose all forms of domestic violence and spousal desertion. The group was initially founded with the intention of punishing oppressive men who refuse to end the cycle of violence. They would accost these offenders, and press them to see the error of their ways; more serious offenders were publicly shamed when they refused to abate their malicious practices, and the Gulabi Gang would beat these men into submission with bamboo sticks. The formation of the gang stemmed from one seminal event: "One day when Sampat Pal Devi... saw a man mercilessly beating his wife. She pleaded with him to stop but he abused her as well. The next day she returned with a bamboo stick and five other women and gave the rogue a sound thrashing."(2)

Today, the Gang has tens of thousands of female members, and also boasts several male supporters, with numerous successful interventions to their credit. The scope of their focus has expanded to include "ensuring proper public distribution of food-grains to people below the poverty line, or disbursement of pension to elderly widows who have no birth certificate to prove their age, or preventing the abuse of women and children."(3) 

The gang's mission is to "Support and train women to enhance their basic skills to become economically secure and develop confidence to protect themselves from abuse through sustainable livelihood options"(4)

Violence against women is widespread, and certainly a global phenomenon. It is encouraging to think that even in the poorest areas of the world, where women have considerably fewer rights, less education, and are forced to live in a culture that reinforces a significant gender gap, women are fighting back against injustices. If these women can learn to stand up, and emphatically declare that enough is enough with both words and actions, then surely this ought to be the case for women elsewhere. Hopefully The Gulabi Gang's message of empowerment and strength will reach women around the world, and encourage them to not only start making changes in their neighbourhoods and cities, but also in their mentalities. 

For too long, women who have endured hardships have resigned themselves to a defeatist mentality, thinking that their plight cannot be alleviated due to any number of obstacles, from lack of education, to lack of funds, to lack of support. Let these women in Northern India stand out as a shining example to other women across the world, for they are indicative of what we are all capable of, no matter the circumstances into which we were born or currently find ourselves in. Change begets change, and it only takes one person to get things started.

(1) The Gulabi Gang.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.