Every morning I get up, make a cup of tea, and sit down to do my morning reading. One of the things that comes across my desk (well, my iPad screen anyhow) is a Google Alerts search for the term “self defense”. I get quite a few news stories in that feed; the most common type are criminals claiming self defense for killing a drug-dealing rival. Wonder why self defense claims are met with some skepticism by prosecutors AND defense attorneys? Just look in my news feed!
The second most-common category of self defense story tends to be “tips for self defense” (usually aimed at women, for some reason.) A tip is a bite-size tidbit of information to give a person something actionable, something that will achieve a result without a large investment of time and effort. That’s good, right?
Sometimes little things are just little
Tips are ostensibly intended to help people stay safer, but I think they actually do more harm than good because they encourage a shallow way of looking at personal security and self protection. Telling a woman to keep her keys in her hand, pointing out through her fingers to be used as a weapon, doesn’t do anything to help her avoid a confrontation; doesn’t help her spot the precursors of an attack; doesn’t impress on her the necessary will to protect herself; and doesn’t give her any targeting or implementation information, let alone practice.
A decade or so back the most common “tip” was to carry a small can of pepper spray on the keyring. Usually housed in a leather carrier, no mention was made of practicing to deploy the material efficiently or to learn the strengths and limitations of the spray or even what its dispersion pattern was. Many — probably most — women ended up with that canister rolling around in their purse having never once practiced with it. I’ve known more than a few to whom that description applied.
I don’t want to seem like I’m picking exclusively on the ladies in the audience, for men are no saints in this area — it’s just that their hardware is more expensive! I’ve run across many men who went out and bought a gun for personal protection only to keep it in the glove compartment or console of their vehicle. Training? Practice? As the saying goes, ain’t nobody got time for that!
So what are you supposed to do with these tips?
Some of the tips are so vague as to be nearly useless. Take the perennial favorite, “always be aware of your surroundings.” What does that mean, exactly? How does one go about that? What should one be looking for? What does one do with the information taken in by this mystical awareness — what things are more important? Which indicate a potential problem? Without some guidance the reader won’t know what to do, won’t build the habits necessary to use it on a daily basis, and is likely to quickly forget the tip itself.
Tips are the ultimate in “checklist safety”: people read them and then check the self defense box on their mental to-do list. Don’t think it happens that way? I’ve had many conversations with people about these kinds of articles, people who were convinced they didn’t need to read any of the books I offered to loan them because they were already prepared. After all, they had tips from an “expert”!
The path to real security
My goal, simply put, is to help people live safer lives. I want the average person out there, woman or man, to be able to understand and do what they need in order to keep themselves and their family safe from harm. If bite-sized tips did that, I’d be all in favor (plus it would make my job a lot easier — a list of ten self defense tips is easier than writing a book!)
I’d love to be able to tell people, in a couple of short sentences, what they could do to forever keep evil or an accident from visiting their lives. I can’t do that. Personal security requires more knowledge than that if it’s to be meaningful and useful. That doesn’t mean that you, the practitioner, needs to have the same understanding of it that I do, but it does mean that I have an obligation to help you understand not just the “what” but the “why”. That’s what leads to true security.
It also requires your active participation. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend every weekend doing hardcore tactical training, and in fact (as I’ve said many times) I think that would be counter-productive to personal security in the world you and I inhabit. It requires a bit more than reading some tips in a magazine, however!
It all starts with a plan. More to come…
– Grant Cunningham
Title photo by Sam Wheeler/unsplash.com
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