Foundations of Self-Defense

Foundations of Self-Defense

As published in the Ottawa Citizen: March 3, 2014

Rounding the final corner, Natalie methodically scanned the gathering darkness. Her heart jumped slightly when a large shadow flitted across the periphery and she slowed her breathing, straightened her posture and moved to the road’s centre; cellphone in hand. Sensing no danger; Natalie relaxed slightly and mentally prepared for the evening’s self-defense class.

This scenario illustrates the common experience of women and girls who acknowledge the possibility of sexual assault and act to enhance their safety. Of course, everyone should be free to walk in peace but until violence disappears; sensible precautions and education will reduce the possibility of sexual assault. Ottawa’s recent series of attacks against women necessitates some clarification about the reality of self-defense against human predators. The foundation of personal safety is the fact that everyone has the right to defend themselves from any and all forms of violence.

Personal security is primarily an intuitive process which may be enhanced by consistent training until the habit of situational awareness becomes automatic. Situational awareness is a trained extension of humanity’s powerful instinct for self-preservation. As well, intentionally avoiding dangerous places and people reduces the possibility of confrontation and physical violence. Physical force is actually the final stage of a self-defense continuum that involves risk acknowledgement, education, tactical training and the habitual practice of situational awareness.

Any physical assault, especially sexual assault; is violence perpetrated by predatory individuals who derive gratification from controlling, humiliating and injuring mainly women and children. These individuals may be intoxicated, mentally disturbed and physically powerful, so it is hazardous to underestimate their willingness or ability to hurt or even kill you.

Many sexual assaults are committed by men known to their victims. This familiarity complicates self-defense options because a person’s natural sense of intimacy and trust creates dangerous hesitations in situations requiring decisive action. While most sexual assaults by strangers are planned in advance; these attacks are easier to perceive as overt violence. In such cases, the defender’s judgment is unclouded by personal sympathy and they are freer to act decisively.

Sexual predators that target strangers will employ surprise where possible; mainly targeting distracted or vulnerable-looking people. Walking with purposeful confidence is an excellent tactic for deterring human predators. If vigilance fails and you are attacked, immediate and vigorous resistance is imperative. It is wise to assume that a person who attempts to control and sexually assault you is utterly ruthless, so surrendering is risky unless false compliance is employed for tactical advantage. Under no circumstances should you permit yourself to be bound or placed in a vehicle for removal to a secondary location.

The matter of actually using defensive techniques against an attacker is complicated by the fact that most people rarely experience the shock of physical violence. A sexual assault is not a fight but an ambush by a predator that may be experienced and determined. The greatest liability to a person in danger is hyper-vigilance; a fear-induced state of paralysis. The risk of hyper-vigilance can be reduced by learning and practicing self-defense techniques against the sort of violent attacks that precede and facilitate sexual assault. These attacks include limb seizes and strikes, shoves, chokes, bear hugs and threats with weapons.

Martial arts schools that clearly concentrate on reality-based training are the obvious choice for practical self-defense. Credible instructors will be open about their credentials and professional affiliations. Their curriculum and fee structure will be clear and you will usually be invited to try a free class or two before making a financial investment. Above all, you will be treated with courtesy and respect, even when the training becomes rigorous. The classes will concentrate on gradually building your ability to confidently manage the stress of a wide variety of violent scenarios.

The main advantage of long-term group training is peer support and motivation. Alternatively, taking an occasional seminar class works well for those individuals fortunate enough to have friends or family members for practice. Whether you train in a formal school or in a private setting; the key to results are realism, intensity and consistency.

Many women carry cell phones, whistles or personal alarms because the first goal in a risky situation is to attract attention. The sexual predator is seeking a quiet, cooperative victim and the threat of exposure might be enough to deter them. Successful defenders have summoned help by shouting, whistle blasts, triggering car alarms or even breaking residential windows. Pepper spray, while certainly effective; is illegal for use on humans and weapons may be turned against you.

Unlike law enforcement officers, private citizens must wait for an attacker to actually initiate an assault before physical force may be employed in self-defense. Under Canadian law, a defender’s pre-emptive strike may be considered criminal assault. Only “reasonable” force may be used to protect you or another person so, ultimately; pre-empting violence through awareness is the safest strategy.