Friday, 27 June 2014

Learning How Not to Fight to Defend Yourself

Four of the pillars of any effective self-defense system should include rigorous fitness and strength training, technical and tactical training, learning how to fight and how not to fight.
The latter of these pillars may raise a few eye brows but the fact is that the most effective self-defense training involves learning how to avoid a fight or confrontation or in other words, prevention. 
Prevention can take many forms of course but let’s face it, it isn’t sexy, it is difficult so it requires training and as a result it isn’t practiced or discussed widely enough. Here are a 4 reasons why we should all learn how not to fight.

Walking and Running Away is hard

It is not easy to swallow your pride, take your ego out of the equation and walk away from a
confrontation. In fact, it takes a lot courage, discipline and self-awareness to walk or run away from a bad situation.  For instance, walking away from a confrontation with an aggressive person in social situation, such as when at a bar with friends and when there is alcohol involved, can be hard.  A situation like this requires you to take responsibility for a situation and see the bigger picture. This requires training because such a high level of self-awareness is not always the natural response and requires some self-confidence to know that ‘losing face’ in front of others is not the issue.  A person has to have the self-confidence and training to modify their behavior when confronted with a difficult situation, especially when their natural impulse is to react first, think later.

Decision making is key

The stress of being confronted often makes people to act irrationally or without thinking and this can often lead to poor decision-making. Thinking straight in a stressful situation requires practice and training.  For instance, when walking or running from a situation, you must know where to run and how to appeal for help. It isn’t always a case of just running from a situation, you have to ensure that you are running towards an exit, toward a common object you can use to defend yourself or towards help. When confronted with a bad situation, this can easily go wrong which another reason why prevention is difficult and requires some training.

Knowing when not to get involved

Civic responsibility allows modern society to function but we cannot all put our lives on the line for the sake of everyone we meet, every situation we witness or confronted with.  This is not to suggest you should not ever get involved merely that every responsible citizen has a threshold of tolerance and different sensitivities when getting involved in a situation that could result in you getting hurt. However, preventing an attack on someone else requires you to read a situation, know your own boundaries as well as getting out of it.  Training can help improve your instincts but learning how to read body language, watching for weapons and knowing when and how to defuse a situation by merely talking people down as a third party.

How to train your gut

Instinct, otherwise known as your gut reaction, could be the weapon that saves someone’s life. 
Recent research supports two-system method in the brain for making decisions: left vs. right brain.  The left brain controls systematic processing, which involves assessing all the available information before making a conclusion, whereas the right brain activates heuristic processing, which involves a quick, "intuitive response." This is the kind of processing we use when faced with an unexpected threat.
Of course, there are times when the left brain should take over (like when deciding on your 401(k) contributions) but in sudden, unexpected and potentially life-threatening situations, there is no time for complicated analysis.  Gut instinct has been proven as a successful basis for tests, trivia games and other situations that require a snap judgment.  So if your instinct is so important in making life-saving decisions, how can you hone it?   Part of that is confidence in your judgment such as trusting that you can defend yourself should you have to.  The reason most survivors survive is that they believe they can. 
This is not to suggest that the skills and tools you require to defend yourself are less important and prevention is the most important issue as just as often as not, prevention is not possible. However, prevention is the first issue in any timeline and it is the most effective tool available.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Self-Defense and the Law

I think that any discussion about self-defense should also include a brief foray into the legalities surrounding it. While it is always important to defend yourself, I get the impression that there are people who are confused as to what actually constitutes "self-defense" in the legal sense of the word, and what is necessary in order to (hopefully) successfully put a self-defense plea forward in a court of law.

Some things to keep in mind: 

  • Claiming "self-defense" is an affirmative defense, meaning that you are agreeing with the facts of what you did. It's important to remember that if your plea doesn't work, you've essentially pled guilty. 
  • The burden of proof is on the defense (that's you!). You need to show beyond a reasonable doubt that your course of action was appropriate for the circumstances in order to safely resolve the situation.
  • Beyond that, you may have to explain why lesser actions would not have worked, why you felt threatened, and why any reasonable person would have believed that they were in danger if you have to go to court. 
  • If you stayed when you could have left after a verbal challenge or an argument, it wasn't self-defense.
  • You must be able to articulate that this person was a threat to you in three specific ways: 
    • Intent - that the Threat indicated to you (and you must be able to explain how you knew) that he/she wanted to harm you 
    • Means - he/she must have the means to carry out their intent (sometimes simply their size, their demeanour, their fists, etc. will suffice).
    • Opportunity - he/she must be able to reach you with the means (if someone shows intent and means, but are yelling at you from the street while you are inside your house, they do not yet likely have the opportunity to carry out their act of violence against you). 
  • After  you articulate how this person was a threat, you need to be able to demonstrate preclusion -- that you didn't have any other viable option (you couldn't leave, you couldn't talk your way out, you couldn't call for help, or help wouldn't arrive in time). You must be able to explain why force was the one option that would safely work. 
  • Self-defense situations change quickly the longer they go on, which means that the intent, means and opportunity will change, too; you may no longer be defending yourself at a certain point into the scenario. The goal is to end these situations as quickly as possible, and to seek help at the first opportunity to do so.
  • If you are surprised, this often automatically justifies a high level of force. 
  • If you are losing, then you aren't using enough force to resolve the situation safely for yourself. 
  • At the end of the day, it's important for you to get home safely. A police officer friend of mine once said that he would rather be judged by twelve than carried out by six, meaning that he'd rather face the courts for his actions than be dead and not even have the opportunity to do even that for not defending himself properly. Do what you have to do to survive any assault against you, but the key is to make sure that your response is appropriate to the attack (i.e. someone punches you in the arm and you go shoot them in the leg - that's not a proportionate response). 
I am not a lawyer, and this post is not intended to give you legal advice, but it hopefully will get you thinking about self-defense and the law. Every country and province/state therein have different rules when it comes to self-defense, so I strongly suggest that you read up on them and become familiar with the laws where you live.  

For further information and an interesting read on this topic Miller, Rory. Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected. USA: YMAA Publication Centre, 2011.