thoughts on self defense and safety

We’ve had a number of traumas and tragedies strike the college community in the last few weeks, and so I want to make a quick post about safety and self defense. I will come back to this again in the future, because it is a huge topic and is something I think about regularly, but for now I’ll say the bare minimum:

Sometimes there are dangerous people in the world, and I wish that every single one of my students would sign up for, take, and internalize the lessons from a self defense course.

I want this for both my male and female students, because knowing some self defense skills can help you walk through the world with more confidence. I especially want it for my female students, though, for the very basic reason that the statistics about sexual assault on college campuses–which are grim–tell us that females are more often the victims than males.

Assault is something I think about because, as a college professor, I come face to face with the consequences of assault very regularly. Students come to me in crisis. I keep the contact information for on-campus support services, counselors, and victim advocates close on hand. (By the way: the Clery Act outlines the responsibilities of those who serve as an “official of an institution who has significant responsibility for student and campus activities” with regards to the reporting of crimes. My understanding is that as a professor here, if I hear about something then I *must* report it. I am obligated by law. I cannot protect anonymity. I voice this immediately to anyone who comes to me, and direct them to people who *can* protect anonymity if that is desired. Anyone who knows more about the ins and outs of the Clery Act are welcome to chime in in the comments.)

What I have heard time and again from people who come to me in crisis is that they feel there might have been a different outcome if they had been prepared, in any way, for what happened to them.

This is NOT–and should not be misinterpreted as–any commentary on who bears responsibility for an assault. In my world that is not even a question to be discussed: the perpetrator does. The end. 

The fact is, though, that many of us walk through the world unprepared for a situation in which someone else compromises our physical autonomy. Preparation may or may not influence future outcomes: whether it will is un-knowable. But truly, how many of us have thought about what to do in a scary or threatening situation? How many of us have spent time considering questions like:

  • What if someone approaches me in what feels like a threatening manner, but might not be? Do I trust my instincts? (YES, ALWAYS.)
  • Do I make a fuss when I might be mistaken about someone’s intentions? (YES, ALWAYS. Better to make an unnecessary fuss than to be abducted.)
  • What if someone grabs me? (More complicated, and here training will REALLY help, but even if you have no other training you can still YELL. Don’t scream; YELL. Yell NO, repeatedly and with as huge a voice as you can muster. Screaming can be interpreted as playful; someone repeatedly yelling NO is not playful.)
  • What parts of my body can I use as a weapon?
  • What parts of an attacker’s body are really vulnerable?

Et cetera, et cetera.

I’ve thought about these things because of krav maga. Krav is an Israeli hand-to-hand combat technique, and it is billed as being an excellent form of self defense.  I am a novice, with a lot to learn, but I took krav for perhaps 12 months and I feel both stronger and safer in the world because of it. (I’m not taking classes now, but will again when I am in a place where I can find a school that I like. I miss it–it’s just not feasible for me at this point in B-town.)

What I can attest to is that I have never been stronger, safer, or more fit than when I was doing krav. (Bonus: I was drowning in graduate work when I started krav. Turns out kicking things and throwing elbows is an excellent stress reliever!) I find the below video mortifying, and anyone with real knowledge will see how sloppy my technique is, how winded I get, etc., but I’m going to share this anyway because it does give a sense of some of what I learned when I studied krav (click here to see the video on youtube).

I recommend Krav to anyone and everyone, and if you have young or college-aged daughters then it is definitely something you should check out.

I would love to see my students take years and years of krav maga (or any other martial art): I would love for them to develop so much physical training that they could simply respond, if thrust suddenly into a dangerous situation.

I hope they never need it, but the reality is that shit happens. I don’t know what the future holds, and I hope I never have to deploy what I learned in krav or in any other self defense course. Certainly bad things could happen, and what I learned might not be enough to stop them. But knowing that I have spent time *thinking* about it: knowing that I have developed some muscle memory that makes me snap into a fighting stance if threatened: knowing that my body  knows how to react if someone grabs me from behind: all of these things increase my odds if I ever do end up in trouble.

More than that, though, they make me walk taller. I feel safe in the world. That counts for a lot.

This gets back to mental preparation: the truth is that we do not know what the future holds, but I am mentally prepared in a way that I wasn’t before. I have thought about what I will do if someone tries to compromise my physical autonomy. I have given myself the benefit of some training–not enough, but some.

To that end, I encourage anyone who wants a little bit of training but cannot (or does not want to) enroll in regular martial arts training to consider a RAD course. RAD stands for Rape Aggression Defense. The basic self defense course is just 12 hours, usually taught over 4 days (3 hrs each on a Tues/Thurs of 2 consecutive weeks, for instance.) The course is an excellent blend of mental and physical preparation, and participants learn some very basic but very effective self defense techniques. Check out the RAD homepage here, and the site for the basic self defense course for women here.

Check it out. Learn some things. Investigate krav for yourself, your daughters, your sisters. For your sons, your brothers, your friends.

Be safe in the world.