An Idiots Guide to Self Defense
Nathan Corliss, Idiot #486, is a black belt in ITF style Tae Kwon Do. He also earnedbelt rankings in Judo, Jujitsu and Serrada Escrima. He has also completed over 50 hours of instructor / coaches training in JeetKune Do. Nathan has training experience in Krav Maga and law enforcement defensive control tactics.
I enjoy training in various martial arts. To be a better martial artist, I’ve picked up and enjoyed running. The martial arts, just like running, are full of accomplishments, setbacks, injuries, and humbling experiences. If anyone can understand the masochistic mentality of a martial artist, it is a runner. For many, running is also our chance to escape, be with our thoughts, and an opportunity to accomplish things we never thought possible. Since life tends to get in the way of our training, many runners squeeze in those miles whenever they can. Unfortunately those miles come at odd times or at isolated locations. Also unfortunately, evil exists in this world. The time we are using to escape from real life can make a runner susceptible to attacks.
Before I delve into the subject, I must state I am not an expert in martial arts, self-defense, self-defense law, or law enforcement. Just like running, there is so much to learn, different distances to train, faster and better people. I am a perpetual student always trying to better myself. Both running and martial arts are humbling. Just as I’ve gotten to learn from some of the most genuine Idiots out there, I’ve been fortunate to train with a variety of fantastic martial artists. Many were world champions in their respective arts; others worked in law enforcement and understand violence dynamics. There are many knowledgeable law enforcement Idiots in this dumb little club who could contribute to this topic. So feel free to critique or comment. This is not about I’m right or wrong, but how do we help protect each other.
There is such a varying difference in opinions, practices, tactics, techniques and strategy when it comes to self-defense. I will never say what is the right or best self-defense strategy, only my personal recommendations and what I believe is best for me and my family (I will be heavily “borrowing” information from those I highly respect in the industry). What works for me may not work for others. Every strategy, technique, or tool has their own benefits and risks. Understanding those risks is a huge part of developing your self-defense plan. I will not talk about specific techniques here, but will discuss principles. If you understand principles, you can work on your own techniques that work within your own limitations. When it comes down to it, violence occurs fast, when seconds count, help is minutes away. You and you alone are responsible for your personal self-defense.
Although this “Idiots Guide to Self Defense” is directed at our running community, the skills can cross over in all aspects of our lives. The next two sections I will be borrowing information from Officer Kasey Keckeisen. He is a swat team coordinator in Minnesota. His blog is excellent and can be found here – practicalbudo.blogspot.com.
Understanding Violence- I am not a criminal expert, but if you want to understand the type of situations and how to react, you need to understand the types of violence. Violence can be broken into two groups, social and asocial.
Social Violence – Social violence can be best described as establishing dominance in a social setting. Think rams butting heads, lions fighting, or bears wrestling to establish the “alpha” in a pack. Human’s play a similar dominance game. A hard stare, aggressive approach, adrenalized actions, lowered jaw, fists clenched, squaring off, followed by the shove and some big looping punch (typically a right haymaker, unless you get some weirdo southpaw) It is easy to let your ego get in the way and get sucked in to this chest beating event.
This is the majority of violence most men will see. Although women are just as prone to this “queen bee” game, in general, most women are smarter and tend to stay out of these situations better than men. This violence is the most unnecessary and easiest to avoid, however, these are difficult to walk away from when you let your ego get the better of you and you’ve already took part in escalating the situation.
Asocial Violence – These are predatory attacks. Predators see you or your stuff as a resource. Sometimes this resource is a need to fulfill their dark urges to do harm. Once you encounter a predatory attack, the predator has decided what you have is more important than you itself, whether what you have is your stuff, your body to fulfill sexual needs, or your life. As Officer Kasey so eloquently puts it, “Who you are carries no more emotional weight than the wrapper a taco came in.”
Predators will use all of their tactics to get what they want from you in the easiest and safest manner. A predator will use speed, ferocity, and surprise to prevent you from responding. The attacks happen fast and difficult to respond to. Asocial Violence can be broken down in the hierarchy below.
Base survival level – (Survival right now) Think of someone fighting off a wild animal or an accident victim in shock and fighting off a rescuer.
Panic / Primal – (survival right now) Drunk, drugged, deranged, disturbed individuals may also respond like they are being attacked by wild animals. In those types of instances they may not be able to surrender or recognize that the victim has surrendered. Pain compliance may not work or someone who is drugged or deranged.
Security – (Survival tomorrow) Resource Predator. A resource predator wants something you have and will use violence to take it from you. A resource predator situation can be resolved by giving up what you have;
car, purse, wallet, etc. Are they worth dying for?
Process Predator – (Self Actualization) for the process predator, the act of violence is the reason itself. The Crime is the goal. Resource Predators have self-identified with their crime. They are no longer someone who has committed rape, but a rapist. Not someone who has killed, but a murderer. Process predation requires time and privacy to “enjoy” the process / act of violence. They will attempt to isolate victim: come to you in a home invasion, catch you in an isolated location like on a running trail, or take you to a secondary crime scene. These are things worth killing / dying for, your life, not being maimed, not being raped. Do whatever is necessary to end the situation and get away.
Great, so we all realize there are bad people in this world. Some who want to show off and those who want to do great harm, so how do we protect ourselves from them? How can we fight, protect, defend, and come home alive?
Situation Awareness Of all the tools, strategies, and techniques I’ll discuss, awareness is the greatest and most important tool in your self-defense tool box. Awareness is something you always hear, “you must always be aware of your surroundings.” Well, duh. That is like saying, “You should always run fast and get a PR”, and then never train to improve. That’s just lip service. Awareness itself is a skillset that must be trained. How do you train awareness? Many will say, “I’m always aware.” Are you? Do you notice peculiar behavior? Do you pay attention to where a person’s hands are? Or what’s in their hands? Do you notice that person who seems to get closer in a crowd, the person next to you? Did that person look at you when you entered the elevator? Do you notice everyone at the gas pumps? Below are just a few things to help you practice building your awareness:
- Make eye contact frequently and acknowledge. A friendly nod. Let them know you are aware of them.
- Head on a swivel, you can make it look like you are taking in the environment, but you’re scanning everything for something that stands out.
- Every place you enter, automatically look for all available exits.
- Continually watch entrances as new people enter, pay attention to their attire, mannerisms, and body language.
- Pay attention to people’s hands, where are they, what are they holding; if you can’t see their hands you can assume they are carrying something.
- If you were an attacker, where would you setup camp to surprise someone?
During our training, we play a called “assassin”. It’s a fun game for kids too, but you can change the name to whatever you want. The “bad guy” gets a clothespin. The object is to attach the clothespin to a “victim” without them noticing you. Basically, sneak attacks. If you get caught in the process, the bad guy loses. If a victim is tagged, they become the bad guy and must find a new victim. We’ll play the game while going through our normal training regimen (daily business). The game helps both adults and children to develop and practice awareness skills. Several good lessons that apply to in real life:
- Bad guys would wait for a distraction or confusing times to strike.
- Bad guys would attack when you are vulnerable and can’t defend yourself. I was face first on the mat, with a partner on top of me practicing a technique; I got tagged where I couldn’t do anything about it.
- Bad guys would use another person to setup a victim.
- Bad guys loved crowds of people when they were herded together.
- The easiest victims went about their business like normal, even knowing there was a higher risk.
- The hardest victims stayed outside of the crowds where they could watch everyone.
- The hardest victims would use their friends to watch out for strange behavior.
If you are able to go through life and avoid violent confrontations through intuition or recognizing potential bad situations, then your self-defense is perfect. First and foremost, you must recognize the situations you put yourself into increase your risk of a violent encounter. Avoidance of these places greatly reduces your risks of violent encounters? But wait, are you saying I should stay home and never go out? No, I’m not saying that at all. Go and pursue your happiness. Although attacks can happen at all hours and all locations, most bad things happen in predictable places:
- isolated places
- dark locations
- odd times
- anywhere mobility or escape routes are limited
- places where young men gather
- places where territories are in dispute
An attacker will attempt to find the easiest method and location to ambush a victim:
- The victim can be distracted
- Mobility is limited
- When the threat can safely get close enough
- Escape routes are limited
Many people say, “I should have the right to go where I want, when I want, without fear of being attacked, we should stop attackers, not prevent ourselves from going where we want.” Yes, I agree. Everyone should have the right to travel freely with no fear of attacks. However, reality indicates this utopia doesn’t exist. I don’t like victim shaming, but you have to know your risks of attack are greater when you put yourself in places or situations to make it easier for predators to attack. I live in St. Louis, Missouri. This city is known for its violence. As much as I believe in the right to go where I want, I am not going to go run in certain locations at 3 a.m. it’s not wise if you wish to avoid violence.
Just a few basic thoughts to help keep your awareness up and not show an attacker you are an easy target:
- Don’t be glued to your phone.
- Don’t zone out with your earbuds.
- Trust your gut; if you are uncomfortable don’t proceed. If you must proceed, place yourself in an ultra-heightened state of awareness.
- If strange people or vehicles are near where you are going, it’s ok to turn around.
- It’s ok to ask a business for an escort.
- Don’t post your location on social media.
- Don’t post your run results and routes on social media.
- Change up your routine, predators love patterns and will plan around them.
There may come a time you find yourself in a social violence situation, if you are not able to escape and evade, you may need to deescalate the situation before you need to respond with violence of your own. Using a calm voice try reasoning with an aggressor to calm them down while keeping your own distance and your hands up in a passive manner. You may have to swallow some pride and keep your ego in check. I’ve been called a “six” many times and agreed with them, simply to let them think they won. (If you are not familiar with what a “six” is, ask David Murphy for his general guidelines.)
When establishing your self-defense plan, keep this conflict strategy in mind:
- Better to avoid than to run.
- Better to run than to deescalate.
- Better to deescalate than to fight.
- Better to fight than to die.
Situational awareness and verbal judo are your base foundation for a solid self-defense plan. Avoidance and awareness may be enough to prevent a violent encounter. However, no matter how aware one is, there is always the potential for violence to occur and you will need to use other tactics to get home safe.
As I continue further I’m going to sound like a broken record when it comes to training. Whatever means you decide to use to defend yourself, be it awareness, weapons, martial arts, you need to train and train often. Do you go out and run a few miles to prepare for a full marathon? No, you train to get your body accustomed. Self-defense skills are just as perishable. You need to train and test these skills often. By testing I mean simulated pressure situations. You will find that once the pressure is ratcheted up and adrenaline takes over, your thinking and motor skills go out the window.
Defensive Tools / Weapons
So maybe you’ve decided you want defensive weapons as a means of protecting yourself. Before we go any further you need to understand that any weapon, whatever you choose, including a firearm, is not a guarantee.
Disclaimer: Check your local laws to determine what legal restrictions and laws apply to your tool of choice.
(Stepping up on soap box). I’ve met too many people whose automatic answer is, “get a gun, carry pepper spray”. Many of these believe once you are carrying any weapon you are now safer and develop this false sense of security. This will sound extremely cold, but even those professionally trained and required to carry firearms far too often have made the ultimate sacrifice. That weapon didn’t guarantee their safety.
Carrying a gun or any weapon only slightly improves your chances. More frustrating is people will purchase these tools, stick them in a bag, purse, whatever, and never train to use them. Use of these requires skills that need to be trained often. You must also be prepared for your tool not working, not available, or taken from you by the attacker.
You must also be mentally prepared to use said tools to potentially take another person’s life. This is easier said than done. Many people say they can but froze when the moment presented itself. You have to really train your mind. I’ve come to terms and peace with myself that I will take a life if I need to survive or protect my family. This is not something I take lightly and it took a long time to get there.
Defensive tools and weapons are just that, tools. They are an extension of your own abilities and training. Each tool has their pros and cons. I chuckle when I hear the phrase, “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.” Yes, true, but most attackers aren’t advertising they are carrying a knife until they are on top of you. Can you react in time? Personally, I’m more scared of a knife attack than anything else. I like to have this conversation while I’m poking my partner in the gut with my finger. They ask, “What are you doing.” My answer, “I just stabbed you 4 times, where is your gun?” I don’t view one tool better than another, each has their own purpose.
Gun –Long and short distance tool. Requires training to develop precision and motor skills. Only one line of attack. May be bulky and difficult to carry depending on your model and holstering ability.
Knives – Short distance tool. Multiple lines of attack. Not a lot of training needed from a very basic defensive position, but someone trained in knife fighting can be very deadly. A bit easier to carry.
Batons – Short distance tool. Multiple lines of attack. Similar to knives from a training standpoint, but again, someone trained can be more effective. A little easier to carry than a gun, but kind of bulky.
Stun Guns – Short distance tool. Single line of attack. Limited effectiveness. Stun guns are not effective on the extremities and most effective center body mass.
Pepper Spray – Short or long distance tool (depending on spray distance). Single line of attack. Not effective on all people, smaller target range (face) you need to hit.
These are just the most popular and talked about weapons available, but anything you carry or have on you can be an improvised weapon. Your purse, a bungee strap, your hydration belt, anything can become a force multiplier. Some states have restricted carrying items for the sake of self-defense or creating harm / injury. I believe Murphy’s rule #2 states to carry a baseball bat if rule #1 doesn’t work. Yes, good tool. Just be sure to have a baseball glove with you, your lawyer will thank you.
My personal believe is one must have open hand training to help you escape. There is a good chance your weapon may not be readily available, malfunction, or get taken from you. What then? You’ll have to fight. I take to heart the philosophy of non-escalation, escape, evade. You have two rules when you are fighting for your life 1. Don’t stop, 2. Come home alive. If you can avoid a fight, do so at all costs, run away. My stuff is not worth dying / killing someone else over. What is worth dying / killing for?
- You or your family’s life
- Getting maimed
- Getting raped
If you find yourself in those situations you need to muster all energy to get away from that situation. Do what you need to do to end the situation. Victims dragged to a second scene end in over 90% fatality. Nothing good will come from being dragged to a second scene.
I am a big believer in using techniques that do not escalate the violence. What does that mean? A rapist doesn’t hate you, they only view you as a resource; however, kicking an attacker in the groin doesn’t quite work like it does in the movies. Now you just pissed off your attacker who may turn a rape into a murder. You can employ techniques that frustrate, stop, keep an attacker from advancing and give you an advantage to escape. That is easier said than done, there may come a situation you need to escalate your own defense to incapacitate an attacker. Do what you must; understand the risks of escalation of violence. Again, don’t stop, come home alive.
I’m fortunate to cross train in different arts and try to be as well rounded. I will not say one art is better than another, just like weapons, they all have their advantages and disadvantages. I will not discuss specific techniques as it is damn near impossible to visualize what I’m trying to say. There are just as many videos and technique variances as there are millions of running groups on social media. I will share a few concepts / principles to keep in mind and play around with, these are basic essentials you can tailor to your own physical abilities:
- Attackers grips are always weakest at the thumb, apply your force where the attacker is weakest
- Hips generate power, don’t just use your upper body (arms / shoulders) use your whole body to move.
- Your legs are the largest muscle groups, if you are on your back, your legs can push on an attackers hips or knees.
- Body mechanics is critical. Just changing a grip from a close fist and open hand engages different muscle groups to provide additional leverage and strength.
- Don’t fight force on force. The strongest person will eventually win. This is also tiring. If you attacker is pushing in one direction, you deflect and go the opposite direction.
- Protect the triangle (chin, temple, mastoid) those are you’re off switches. Cover up, protect vital areas.
- Hands up to react, cover your head.
- Action is always faster than reaction.
Not everyone is built the same, what works for me may not work for others. My body has limitations on what it can do so I work on improving the weaknesses, but focusing on what I’m comfortable with and train that the most. The more you train, the more your body will automatically react. When an attack happens, there is a good chance your mind will not react as you hope, or downright freeze. Find a simple protective technique and train it often. This ambush response can buy you a few seconds for your mind to kick in, realize the attack, and react to what techniques you decide you wish to employ.
Self Defense Law
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on this subject. Any time you have to use force to end an attack, you need to understand the fight will not end there, but good chances you’ll be explaining your actions in a court of law. You need to use your awareness skills to read the situation and apply the appropriate amount of force. If I use the same amount of force on some drunken bar patron as I would on someone trying to kill me, I could be facing my own assault and battery charges. As justified as you may be when someone tries to hurt you, your response to those attacks can be deemed excessive.
Each state has specific laws for civilian use of force. As an example, here is Missouri’s . Basically, most laws indicate you need to use the minimum amount of force to stop a threat. However, this is not legal advice, I suggest you study your respective states or consult a self-defense attorney. Be advised the court will determine if force was even necessary and if the appropriate level of force was applied. This is a sticky situation and you need to be consistent with your statements. Criminals are cunning and expert liars. They will say anything to make you look like the aggressor in a situation.
A former bouncer gave me this advice. The police will come to the scene and try to gather the facts and determine the situation. They will look at both you and the criminal objectively to determine what really went on. Before you give your official statement to the police, ask for medical attention to give you time to calm down, adrenaline subside, and gather your thoughts. This will help keep your statements accurate and consistent.
To prove force justification, you’ll need to articulate a few factors in a court of law:
Intent – Did the attacker have a desire to do something harmful? Was this articulated in any way?
Means– The threat must have the ability to carry out intent. A person threatening to shoot you must have a gun with them to be an immediate threat.
Opportunity – The threat must be able to reach you with the means.
Preclusion – If you do not have a duty to act, should you be engaging? More often than not, unless you are protecting a third party (police officer, soldier, security guard) if you have time to ask yourself if you should be engaging, most likely the answer is no.
Let’s evaluate a few scenarios. Drunken guys bumping each other and shoving match ensues. The macho / ego show starts up. Both parties show intent and both have means to fight. Both these guys could have left at any time and ended the conflict. One guy decides to leave, but the other follows and continues the conflict. The person trying to leave turns and strikes the person pursuing. In this instance, you can articulate preclusion. Because the aggressor continued to pursue after your attempts to flee, you can argue that you had a duty to act and have a legitimate claim of self-defense.
Let’s look at this other situation. You are in your own home; an aggressor is on your front lawn threatening to shoot you. The aggressor has a gun. There you prove intent and means. You walk outside and shoot the aggressor. Is this a legitimate claim of self-defense? Probably not. The threat did not have the opportunity as you were locked inside the home. If the aggressor then broke into the home and came after you, then you may have a more legitimate claim.
Some of you might be saying, “But castle doctrine and stand your ground protects me, they were on my property!” You could argue that, you’ll have to have a good case to explain to a judge why you left the security of your home to shoot an aggressor who didn’t have the opportunity. If an attacker cannot reach you, call the police and let them deal with aggressor. You will stay safe and avoid a potential criminal case against you.
I highly recommend speaking with your local law enforcement or self defense lawyer. With all that being said, I don’t want the possible legal repercussions make you hesitate during a violent attack, you will need to be fast, don’t stop, and if need be, use as much violence yourself to escape the situation. Just like running, these skills are perishable, if you don’t train often, you’ll lose it. If anyone wants to talk further in depth about self-defense or recommendations on a good martial arts school, feel free to send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay safe, come home alive.