Reflexes Reactions and Conditioned Responses – Jari Peuhkurinen

This material is quite scientific in nature and direct application to self defense training might be lost to some of the readers, but it is my opinion that as an instructor one should always know the science and principles behind human behaviour under stress. Other thing is that I strongly believe that understanding helps to comprehend principles and concepts behind action faster and this directly affects how fast one is able to absorb new skills.

Selective Attention; Vigilance

By using selective attention an individual is able to pick out the most important information for processing from all the information that is received by the senses. Selective attention is regulating memory information and information picked out by our senses and deciding what to bring to our consciousness. This is also called cocktail party -phenomenon, meaning that when you are surrounded by lot of people talking, you can still pick out the important words for you, for example if you hear your name mentioned.

Life would be surprisingly difficult without the selective attention. In a noisy train station it would be difficult to hear the announcement when you train is leaving, if we could not consciously guide  our attention to the information we want to. Same goes for recognizing a friend in a crowd, if you could not pick out the information needed to recognize a friend and compare it to the memory information that you have about him or her, think about that for a second.

So we can guide our attention consciously, but if there is a stimulus that surprises us or stimulus that needs our attention, even when our conscious mind is not at that moment concentrating on it, it will be guided to our attention. This is called the Orienting Reflex or Orienting Response.

Reflex, Reaction and Response

Before going into details I need to define a couple of terms used in this article. I do not like Wikipedia definitions so much, but I will use them here to make a difference between these terms;

A reflex (lat. reflexus < reflectere = bend back) is an involuntary and nearly instantaneous movement in response to a stimulus. It recurs in similar way each time. It is fast and automatic. Some of the reflexes and inborn and some are learned. Scientific use of the term “reflex” refers to a behaviour that is mediated via the reflex arc; this does not apply to casual uses of the term ‘reflex’.

A reaction (lat. reactio) refers to response to other event. In psychology reaction is a response to stimulus, in physiology it is a change that happens in body.

Reflex and reaction is often used concurrently and for the clarity of this article I will use the word reflex to describe responses to stimulus that is not activated by our conscious mind. In my mind reaction is somehow more conscious than reflex. Reactions can also be natural responses to different stimulus, but reactions can also be chemical and reactions can be also acted consciously. For example reacting to bad news received in phone. Reflex in its essence is something more unconscious, something we do not decide to do. Only important thing here is that you make the difference and are able to tell apart action that is conscious and unconscious.

Orienting Reflex

The orienting reflex is an autonomic reflex, this means that it can not be controlled consciously. It guides our attention to stimulus that come to our conscious mind despite of all the other stimuli affecting our senses. The orienting reflex is very primal reflex and is part of the behaviour of most animals, this reflex has been programmed to our genes since very early in our evolution and its main function is to keep us alive. It literally grabs our attention, it is our inbuilt early warning device, the creak on the stairs in the night, the new smell that we do not know.

Think about situation where you are in middle of training and talking to students and suddenly a window or door closes loudly. Everyone’s attention shifts to direction of the noise and whilst the overall responses to the stimulus might differ a lot in a group; everybody has a shift of attention at minimum. Some may merely glance in the direction of the sudden noise others may adopt a  kind of startle response, where hands come up and head goes down and at once the direction of the stimulus, it is a spectrum but there will be a response.

If the door or window closes frequently, there will be familiarization to the stimulus and responses will not be that strong people will allow the noise to become background. In the end of the training it might be that there is no shift of attention at all. The stimulus that results in the orienting reflex is sudden and unexpected, if there is preparation and expectation the reflex is not so strong or it will not appear. If there is no preparation the reflex is strong, just try slapping your focus pads together unexpectedly during a training session.

Stimulation of the orienting reflex will abort any ongoing task. That is its function. It forces our attention to shift to possible threat and at the same time the amygdala will initiate the flight or fight response. All this happens in milliseconds and our human brain has not yet have time to process the information for us to even know what the stimulus is. Is it something that is threatening our safety and life or is it something harmless? Once the information from the stimulus is processed and it is recognized as not life threatening, one will experience the feeling of relief. We can feel it in our body as the stress hormones are standing down and preparations to fight or flight will cease.

From the point of view of self defense this is meaningful reflex to understand. This can not be unlearned, at least not completely, but getting used to unexpected stimulus during a confrontation will reduce the time for us to consciously understand what is happening, allowing us to recover faster and process our thoughts and actions more effectively.

Protective Reflexes

The protective reflexes are closely related to the orienting reflex, while the orienting reflex shifts our attention in the direction of the stimulus and is more psychological in nature, the protective reflexes will protect us physically. We can separate out two distinct functions  two parts of the physical response that protects us.

The first is the well known startle reflex that is a universal response to threat stimuli. It is most clearly seen when the direction or the source of the stimulus can not immediately be identified. This is a primary reflex, where shoulders go up and protect the neck whilst the head and chin go down and basically whole body tries to go to fetus position when standing. The hands come up to protect the head and when this happens our lizard brain has got the lead and human brain has not yet had  time to process the information to realize what is going on. This is our primitive response of the oldest part of our brain, the amygdala automatically triggers the preparations for fight or flight.

The protective reflex is the physical movement of body and hands that  follows the startle reflex. It happens when the direction of the threat is recognized. Recognition can happen through seeing the threat, hearing or feeling it.

The protective reflex is not so universal in its nature it as the startle response, it varies from person to person, from one situation to another. It can be strong or weak, it can lead to freezing or sudden action, the power of the stimuli can be an influencing factor, if a dog attacks you, would you react the same if it were a toy Poodle or a Rottweiler?

Usually the reflex promotes symmetrical movement where hands move the same line forward or backwards towards the head. However,this is not fixed it can be that only one hand is pushing forward, while other hand protects the head. The main thing is that it does not matter how much one has trained to develop a certain response to a threat the automatic protective reflex cannot be overridden by training, we may alter it but rarely will we eradicate it.

What we can train for is how fast we are able to start productive action after the protective reflex has occurred.

In Training

From training point of view it is important to understand that even when training helps us make use of these reflexes and training helps us to get used to different stimulus that normally produce strong uncontrollable reflexes, these responses cannot entirely be shut down. If and when the stimulus is strong, autonomic reflexes will reappear. Not all reflex responses can be transformed into something tactical. Sometimes it can be that reflex makes you take a step backwards. This has to be taken into account when training the action after protective reflex has occurred.  What we need to think about is how fast can we get back into the game?

My answer, it depends. After we orientate towards the threat and the protective reflex occurs it then depends on many variables how fast we are able to make the conscious decision to go forward against the threat or retreat as fast as possible. How strong is the pressure created by the stimulus? How close to the reflex is our trained response? Training can make a difference but we need to know what is happening.

It is also a question of how early in moment we are able to pick out the stimulus. The earlier we pick out the incoming stimulus the more we have time to process the information, the less the pressure created by incoming stimuli will be.

The more simple, more symmetrical, more close to the original reflex our trained response is the more able and faster we are able to make it into something tactical.  When training it is important to train conscious action after the stimulus has been created by a strong protective reflex. This training cannot be done by deciding that now I will make protective reflex, it has to produced naturally.

Reflexes can not be omitted in training by thinking that all it requires is more training to make them go away or manage them tactically. Reflexes need to be taken as something that are within us and will stay within us, no matter how much we train. We can use them to our advantage and we can experience them in training and practise getting into action faster after such reflexes appear. Exposure and experience will make these reflexes our friends.

Many times I have heard, and also trained myself, using the natural reaction of human being to defend against an attack. The principle is sound. Techniques and tools, based on the movement of natural reflexes is good. It can be moulded by training into something tactical and usable in real life situation. However, if you really think about the original, the ultimate purpose of these reflexes, it is something that is out of our hands. They are unconscious reflexes produced without our frontal cortext, our human brain,  processing the information or selecting the logical response. Nobody decides to have an reflex, it is decided for us by the lizard brain, the amygdala.

Intention – Beginning – Movement – Hit

One needs to train for different stages of response to threat stimuli  and how to react and respond to them.

  • Intention of an attack: This means simply that when attacker shows intention of attacking by closing distance  the defender will go into action.
  • Beginning refers to beginning of the movement, where the pressure of the attack is weakest, the pre-contact cues.
  • Movement means training against the actual attack which is already on its way to target. This is the most common stage of practising against attacks. This is most likely stage of producing autonomous protective reflex.
  • Hit, refers to situation where defender has not been able to defend and the attacker hits its target. This is also important thing to practise. If consciousness is not lost, the defender needs to be able to get back into the game asap. An attack that hits will produce some form of reflex, may it be just psychological momentary freeze, before the defender is able to burst into action. This depends on the training and experiences.

Operant Conditioned Responses

Operant conditioning responses to certain stimuli is the method most commonly used when training animals. It is also method used when training self defense. The purpose of conditioning is to produce desired response to a stimulus that triggers it. In training, response is either rewarded with success when the defender is able to thwart the attack and evades being hit. Or it is punished by failing to produce desired response, what results in being hit. Positive experiences make the behaviour more likely to repeat, whereas negative experiences reduce the behaviour.  

Operant conditioning is best produced by repetition. The desired response is repeated again and again in response to a certain stimulus, in different situations, so that it will become the most likely action taken when the stimulus is identified. We literally programme the brains response to the stimulus.

This brings us to the main point of operant conditioning. Conditioning can be  universal in nature, for certain stimuli, for example being hit produces psychological and physical response of attacking with an offensive attitude to gain upper hand in a fight. Conditioning can also be more specific. A straight punch attackwill be conditioned to produce certain defensive response and circular punch will produce another response and a knife attack downwards a third response and so on.  This is the most common way of training MA/SD, it is what we do.

The problem with this type of conditioning is the identification of the stimulus  before an appropriate response can be triggered. If the conditioning is specific to the attack, then the need for identification and proper response selection from memory needs to happen before action takes place. This is where OODA -loop comes into play, if the stimulus is something general in nature, for example the identification of pre-attack indicators like in a monkey dance then the response is also something general in nature such as adopting a defensive stance.  Here the trained response is easier to perform and more likely to succeed in real life. No need for specific identification and no need for selection from multiple attack specific responses.

However, if the conditioning is more specific, for example a defence against straight punch, the movement itself needs to go through the identification process before action can be taken. This brings the attacker already so much closer to hitting his target that active, forward moving response is really difficult to produce. Here the protective response is more likely to kick in not trained responses, because the lizard brain will take charge from the human brain once the threat (the punch) is seeing coming towards the face.

It is important to understand that no matter how well conditioned we are to respond to a particular stimulus, it is something that will not erase the protective reflex. If the stimulus is sudden and takes us by surprise the protective reflex will dominate. Too many times in conditioning training, these protective reflexes are seen as a mistakes, rather that opportunity to train productive action after the reflex. This is itself a major mistake, think about how you train!

Operant conditioning is is a great method of training and some form of conditioning always happens when training. It just depends on what we are training to condition ourselves to. Think about this and re-read the Intention – Beginning – Movement – Hit paragraph again.

Performing – Robert Frankovich

I had a student ask if he could learn the next section of a pattern that he had for his next test. I asked him if his other four patterns were test ready. He replied that they were, so I told him to use them as a warm-up before going further on the current pattern. About half way into the second pattern, he stopped. “I don’t remember what’s next.” was his comment as he walked away. I told him “I guess it needs more work.” If the previous patterns are truly test ready (no pauses, no glitches, no forgetting), then more could be worked on. When he heard that, he chose to get a drink and sit at the table. As this was all prior to class, I left it alone.

Just the other week, I had a student tell me that he doesn’t like when certain students are in class. When I asked why, he responded that they don’t work enough even when told to. When asked how it affected him, which he said it bothers me when they’re standing around. He seems to think that he gets more work done when they aren’t in class. Does that mean he needs people to follow? Maybe his discipline and focus are lacking.

I was watching the forms divisions at a tournament and noticed that many of the competitors appeared to be merely performing the movements in their patterns. Their eyes had no focus, the strikes and kicks moved to places instead of targets, their Kiaps (yells) were timed but without energy and intensity. The precision over intensity and focus that these local athletes have learned shows in international events.

I’m not a competition person, so just performing seems odd to me. I’ve been influenced but the practical side of training that has more focus and intensity. So this isn’t Taekwondo but notice a difference?

The acceptance of rewards for performing has lead to the lack of actually seeking to learn. It is not different from receiving participation medals because you showed up. When more is required than just doing, many lack the discipline and focus to continue. The necessity of working on your own is becoming a lost concept.

There has been a growing trend toward thinking that today’s educational system is based on preparing students to take tests that are irrelevant for their future in any career. The pressure to perform well seems to have driven out the idea of studying for knowledge. The idea of “do it this many times” outweighs the “look inside what you’re doing as you practice”. Once they understand what studying and knowledge can offer them in the way of finding enjoyment and careers, knowing how to study and learn should be able to cross over into many subjects for the same reasons.

This can come down to having a positive purpose. If you are doing something or avoiding something solely for the outcome, then you are missing a great deal! What do you want and why? If the answer is based on an internal purpose, you can have great success. If it based on an external purpose (wanting attention, wanting money, avoiding debt), then you may be missing a good portion of your life. Yes, I very much shake my head when I hear someone say that they don’t care what their job is as long as they can afford to rent a bedroom and aren’t in debt to play video games when they aren’t working. The purpose in life is to play video games? I must be old!

Nine Basic Strategies – Rory Miller

There are seven natural ways for living creatures to deal with conflict and danger: Freeze or Hide; flight; fight; posture; submit; hunt; and gather intelligence.

Everyone has heard of the “Fight or flight” response. The supposed animal response to immediate danger. Biologists call it fight, flight or freeze. That’s not the natural order, however. Generally animals freeze when confronted by a danger, only flee when freezing fails and only fight when flight fails.

1. Freeze or Hide. One of the best strategies in the natural world is to never be noticed by the things that might want to eat you. Predators key on motion, so freezing is a natural reaction. Freezing is often presented as the bane of self-defense instruction, but it works a large percentage of the time. There is a reason why it is still the first instinct when surprised or overwhelmed.

In the natural world, hunters see motion. And predators, whether human or animal, often have an instinct to chase the things that flee. So, in nature, the tiny spotted fawn relies on stillness and natural camouflage to not be seen by the coyote. In the modern social world, freezing often works. In a social challenge, sometimes one of the participants will freeze. Under the freeze, the person doesn’t say or do anything that would give the other the social excuse to attack. It works. In property crimes, there is rarely a reason to injure a passive victim. Freezing works.

Until it fails, and then it fails catastrophically.

Freezing is often involuntary. Hiding is the conscious corollary. Hiding keeps the predators from finding you. Until they do. Again, hiding works until it fails and then it fails catastrophically. This is one of the dangers of “lock down” policies in schools. If there is an active shooter and all the kids hide in a locked room they are safe. Until the shooter decides to kick down that door. Then, well, there is a reason why “shooting fish in a barrel” is a cliché.

2. Running is the second natural strategy. In prey species it tends to trigger only after freezing has failed. And it can trigger in you as well. When you are stalking people or scouting, it can sometimes take immense will not to break and run when the enemy gets too close or is looking right at you. Sometimes our own instincts make the freeze fail.

In self-defense, if you have no duty to act, getting out of the danger zone is almost always a good idea. Run early and often if that option is available. The biggest inhibitor to this good choice is our own egos. Someone too proud to run will get stuck with the third natural strategy, the fight.

Freezing is a zero-cost option. When it works, there is no downside to it. You are not harmed, you haven’t expended energy. Running is a very low cost strategy. When it works, you’ll be a little out of breath, but there are no other costs– no injuries, no paperwork.

But, like freezing, when running fails it tends to fail catastrophically. When you are caught, you will have your back to the threat and most people, psychologically, can do more damage if they can avoid seeing a face.

3. Fighting. In nature, fighting is the last option. It has the highest cost and is the least certain. Fighting is the worst option in almost every case. It’s losses will be catastrophic, but unlike the previous two, fighting also offers the possibility of a catastrophic win. You may prevail, escape and lose too much blood to survive.

Fighting is a valid option, but a poor choice. If it is all you have left, fight with everything you have. But if you have time to think of another option, take it.

Freeze, flight and fight are the defaults outside our species. If a tiger came in the door right now, you’d freeze. If he advanced anyway, you would run. And when he caught you, you would fight with desperation.

Within our species, we have different strategies– Posture, submit and negotiate. There are some crossovers, in that certain people will run or freeze or fight when presented with a social challenge. And people have used or tried to use posturing, submission and negotiation outside their species.

4. Posture is the attempt to get the threat to back down by looking big or mean or dangerous. In a Monkey Dance you will see both fighters square up and get up on their toes, trying to look as big as possible. The appearance of size may decrease injury by heading off violence and the poor base decreases injury should the encounter turn violent.

For the most part, in any serious conflict, you are trying to break the other person’s will, not their body. Posturing is designed to do that without injury. It is the essence of the “Presence” level of force as described in “Scaling Force.”

Posturing is part of the threat display and usually a sign that there is little immediate danger. It is completely incompatible with hunting and the hunter’s mindset (see below). Even in nature, predators try to NOT be seen.

Occasionally, posturing does work cross-species. Being big and loud, moving, especially rhythmically and in groups, tends to frighten away dangerous animals.

Posturing can be successful, and can fail. When it fails, the consequences can range from mild to catastrophic. I have postured (as a 5-foot, 95 pound sixteen-year-old) on a group…and they responded by laughing and leaving. It is also possible to posture and trigger an epic punishment: beating, rape or murder.

My personal policy is rarely to posture, only when it has a good chance of preventing a force incident, and never to posture without the skills to back it up. Bluffing is dangerous. Getting your bluff called in a violent situation can be deadly.

5. Submission is acquiescence. Sending a signal that you are no threat. It can range from passive to truly groveling. Like fighting, even the wins can be catastrophic. This is hard to write, because our society has so fully indoctrinated people to the idea that violence (fighting or hunting) is evil, that… welll, I’ll just straight up say it:

Fighting may be bad, but submission is worse. There are times. When facing overwhelming force by an honorable enemy who follows the law of land warfare, there is no dishonor in surrendering to save the lives of your men. If you are lucky enough to meet an honorable enemy that follows the rules.

Without that, as a group, slavery is the best of the possible results of submission.

When dealing with predatory crimes, if the man with the gun demands your wallet, that’s a negotiation. A cost/benefit analysis on your part. If the man with the gun demands that you go with him, that would be submission and there is no good outcome.

Understand that sometimes the cost of refusing to submit is death. Don’t ignore that. But sometimes death is the cost of submission as well. And in some cases, death is far from the worst option.

Submission, as a general strategy also has two bad long-term effects. The first is that submission becomes a habit. Some evil people are careful to cultivate the habit of submission in their victims, punishing any attempt to take a stand while rewarding signs of obeisance. Soon, victims become victims down to their core.

The second effect is that submission encourages exploitation. Tactics of non-engagement or appeasement empower the vicious. Man, as Maslow pointed out, is “the perpetually wanting animal.” Giving a bad guy what he wants does not decrease his desire, it merely emboldens his actions.

There are two other strategies that need to be discussed.

6. The first is simply walking away. It is flight without fear and disengagement without submission. Immature and stupid people see walking away and running away as the same thing. Experienced operators walk away from every fight they honorably can. It’s not a game, it’s not fun and there is always the possibility of dire and unpredictable consequences.

7. The second strategy is negotiation. It is the basis of the modern world, whether political discussions or trade. If there is one thing that has increased the possibility of peace, it is the fact that we can get things that used to be won in battle– land and goods– by trade, and do it more safely. And trading partners are more efficient at making our lives better than slaves. Trade, capitalism, commercialism, whatever you want to call it, has done more to make peace possibly that all of the altruism and activism in human history.

Negotiation has become so successful and prevalent that many people assume it is part of the natural order of things. It is not. It is a human innovation and takes will and foresight to work. It works because the alternative is force. If one side of a negotiation has no line where they will be pushed to force, it is not a negotiation but merely a drawn out, formal, act of submission.

If both sides cannot imagine a mutually beneficial outcome, if, for instance, one side’s definition of a win is to see the other side broken, bleeding and begging (or dead) there is no “win-win.” In that case, negotiation is futile, unless you use it as a ploy to buy time to prepare for the inevitable.

There are two other natural strategies for dealing with conflict: Hunting and Gathering Intelligence.

8. Hunting is the most pro-active of the strategies, in my experience the most effective and often the safest. If and only if it is badly bungled will it turn into a fight. What is hunting? In this context it is giving the target absolutely no chance to respond.

You gather your resources, choose your time and place and execute. You give the target as little warning as possible. Slaughtering a steer, hunting a deer, sniping, or putting someone on the ground and cuffing him while he is still deciding to resist are all examples of hunting.

This mindset is very difficult for amateurs. Their default is to think of hunting and fighting as the same. They are not. There is no element of game, sport or contest. You do not fight, you execute. And a hunter will take a fighter almost every time.

9. Gathering Intelligence is unique of all the strategies because it can be combined with any other. Freezing/hiding and gathering intelligence is the essence of scouting. Every second of a fight should be giving you information about your opponent.

Unlike any other strategy, there is no failure, no downside to knowing more about what you face. Learning should be a basic default of life.

Never Go Anywhere Without Your Kitten – Teja Van Wicklen

I saw a clip on Facebook a few months back called Kitten Therapy. Self-proclaimed stressed-out people were invited to remove their shoes and experience a guided meditation in a large transparent room in the middle of a busy square. These unsuspecting victims donned headphones, closed their eyes and listened to the sounds of purring kittens…. When asked to open their eyes they found, one by one, a slew of rowdy grey and white kittens squeezing into the meditation space through a series of kitten-sized panels. Sudden relaxation and joy ensued like a chemical experiment gone right–take stressed humans, add kittens, stir.

Too bad the thought of conflict management techniques, self defense knowledge and intrapersonal skills don’t have the same effect. Self defense just isn’t fuzzy enough.

But, there just might be another kind of stress-relieving kitten that doesn’t require emptying cat litter.

Ten or so years ago when I had my son I found I was often foggy and forgetful from sleep deprivation. I began carrying a small assortment of necessary items to help me offset and placate my anxious mommy-brain. More recently I began calling this assortment of approximately ten things a Ten-Kit or KitTen (I’m pushing the metaphor, I know).

My KitTen is about the size of a woman’s make up kit or a pencil case and it holds what I consider to be my most urgent daily items. Which is to say, mostly first aid stuff (says the EMT and Mom) with a few other helpful nuggets thrown in for good measure.

As a Conflict Manager Magazine reader (or contributor) the concept of preparation is already an integral part of your lexicon. So what is your EDC (Every Day Carry)? How much time did you spend figuring it out? How many websites did you consult? How often do you check your supplies? Every conflict manager needs an EDC. If you haven’t thought about this yet, some suggestions follow.

As an instructor of Protective Offense and an EMT, but especially as the mother of a nine-year-old, there are some contingencies that are really more like eventualities – cuts, stomach aches, headaches, hunger fits, splinters, etc. It’s amazing how quickly the fun of a vacation or even a movie ends when a kid is uncomfortable! But what about being locked out of your car or house? What happens when you forget your wallet or get lost?

These kits can become overwhelming, so we need to keep them paired down to the bare minimum. To each her own, so modify where needed.

Begin by making a list of the people in your family and especially any unusual or critical medications they take. Now add any other special items you already consider a necessity (besides wallet and keys). Finally, think about the kinds of situations you have encountered over the last few years and the things you wished you’d had.

If you live in the country, on a boat or in the Australian Outback, your list will be different than someone who lives in the desert or the city.

What follows is a list of the top ten average-day items I (almost) never (let’s be really honest here) leave the house without, and a few extra things I sometimes bring along or substitute or that you might like to have for your family.

Start with a makeup or pencil-sized bag you can fit in your purse or everyday carry bag. My “purse” is a small backpack, my KitTen is a small square-ish Le Sports Sac thingy (no I don’t get a kickback). If you can find a fuzzy makeup case you’ve really maximized the kitten metaphor. Now you can get down to business.

Here’s what I carry:

Pointy tweezers are good for many things besides splinters. Ticks and beestings are one example. Flat household tweezers are not what you want. A fine point makes your KitTen tweezers useful for more things like ticks and beestings.

Miscellaneous-sized Bandages – Water-proof ones are good to have around as well, especially if you’re at the pool or beach! These are the things you will need to refill most often if you have kids. Throw in one or two gauze pads for good measure.

A Small role of first aid adhesive tape and/or duct tape can be used for many things, including fixing shoes. Tape is indispensable for creating make-shift splints for small body parts like fingers. You can remove the cardboard holder and wrap the tape tightly around something smaller, like your finger, so it takes up less space.

Safety-pins are great for making a sling for a broken arm out of just about any kind of material. They are also great for keeping important things attached to you in case you need your hands free and for fixing clothes among other things. Bring a few of different sizes. You can save space in your KitTen by attaching them to the zipper.

Alcohol pads and/or alcohol gel sanitizer (avoid Triclosan, which is an Endocrine disruptor and generally nasty chemical. There is some evidence that effects children’s learning and enhances allergies). What you want is the ability to disinfect almost anything, wherever you are. There has been a kickback of late against hand sanitizers. At home use simple soap, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury.

A mini multi-tool is absolutely indispensable. Get one preferably with scissors and pliers, and both a flat head and phillips screwdriver. Victorinox or Leatherman-type tools are available everywhere, including Amazon. Cheap ones can’t always be counted on, the joints and screws can break when you need them most. Get something with some sort of reliable guarantee.

Medications. Pack 1 or 2 of each pill or individual packet, more of what your family uses most. Try to find small packs and mini size ointment and cream containers or buy small containers, clean them well and fill them. You might also want to have a medicine cup or spoon if necessary.

Aspirin and non-aspirin pain relievers (you may not want to give children and teens aspirin. There may also be issues for young children with Tylenol)
Antibiotic ointment
1% Hydrocortisone Cream
Over-the-counter oral antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (still the gold-standard for allergy emergencies)
Anti-diarrhea medication
2 antacid tablets
Activated charcoal (only if instructed by your poison control center 1-800-222-1222)
any prescribed medications that don’t need refrigeration, including drugs to treat known allergies, such as an Albuterol inhaler or epinephrine auto-injector, insulin, etc.

Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) – It’s not organic and it’s not good for your skin, but it can keep the bad things out in a pinch and it lasts forever. PJ protects skin from sun and cold weather chapping, lubricates just about anything and is flammable – so it will help you start a fire if you’re freezing to death. It can even act as a makeshift bandage to slow minor bleeding. You can buy tiny jars or tins, and fill them yourself.

LED Flashlight, a small headlamp, or both. Flashlights are indispensable. Until you need one, you have no idea how important they are. If you have room, bring a few extra batteries for whatever flashlight you have. If it’s a small disposable one, check it often or carry an extra. Extras don’t have to go in your KitTen, they can attach to keys and zippers.

Secret Stash of Cash, an extra credit card or both. $20 should do.

Here are some suggestions of extra or substitute items I have found helpful:

I like to have an extra car and/or house key either in my KitTen, bag or stashed in a (really smart) hiding place (not in the plant by the door!).

Feminine pads and/or Tampons. If you are a woman between 11 and 55 you never know when having an emergency supply of these might come in handy. It’s also nice if you are with friends and are able to come to the rescue. As it turns out pads and tampons also work for heavily bleeding wounds, liquid spills and as tinder for making a fire! But that’s another post.

Medical consent forms are helpful if anyone in your family has specific medical
needs. These forms can be loaded on to a flash drive, labeled and kept in your kit or printed in a small font, folded and enclosed tightly in a zip-lock bag and taped shut to keep it safe from water.

Medical history cards for each family member, with blood type (you can print these very small and laminate them so they don’t have to be folded and bagged), are a very good idea. Keep them in your kit or your wallet. Or you can have your blood type and allergies tattooed on your body like one person I know.

Emergency phone numbers, including contact information for your family doctor and pediatrician, local emergency services, emergency road service providers and the regional poison control center can also be laminated and kept in your KitTen or wallet.

Simple First-aid instruction manual – you can also have a first aid app on your phone.

Quick Clot is an emergency clotting agent for major bleeding (including arterial) that needs attention sooner than traffic may allow. Some CPR training facilities and gun ranges offer classes on how to use it though it’s pretty cut and dried. Pun intended.

A Mini Sewing Kit with 2 needles a small amount of thread and fishing line can be helpful for fixing clothing, suturing emergencies, fishing and making traps – although you’d have to learn how to do these things. But I love every day tools that cover more than just the one most likely scenario.

Water-proof Matches, a torch-lighter (works in wind) or a flint and steel. Seems silly but fire is such a crucial thing to have access to. If you’re trapped in a snow drift over night in your car, the ability to make a fire could save your life. And the spare tampon and Vaseline you have in your KitTen will serve perfectly as tinder. Toby Cowern taught me that!

2 Non-lubricated Condoms – Not what you’re thinking (although you never know). For carrying water in an emergency, because they take up no space. Even just to flush a wound. I’ve heard you can even boil water in them if you have to. I haven’t tried this, but apparently the water keeps the rubber from melting. Get confirmation before counting on it. The details are pretty specific.

A couple of rain poncho packets. They take up no space and keeps you and your kids dry in a downpour.

Heat blanket packet. You never know when you or your kids might get really cold. I’m told these work, though I have never had the occasion to use one. They come in a tight, flat pack. You may have seen them or been the recipient of one after a Marathon.

Mini Sharpie and/or Pencil for taking and leaving notes and making directional signs on trees and rocks if necessary.

Snack/Water: Whether in your purse, bag, car or KitTen, you should always have some sort of snack with you–a bar, some nuts and raisins. Never get caught without food or water, especially if you have kids, or low blood sugar. Waiting on line for a movie can become a crisis without this stuff. If you are off the beaten path or plan to be, I highly recommend having a few water purification tablets. They take up no space wrapped in a small amount of aluminum foil. You have to have a container and you must wait around a half hour before drinking. A water purification straw like the LifeStraw, filters dirty water from a puddle in an emergency and takes up a fraction of the space of other water filters. It is still too large for your KitTen though and is more likely to live in your car.

(Picture: Notice the mini pill case. This works for me because I get to choose what I put in it. Or you may prefer the tiny one-use packets you can buy in bulk.)

Give Your Kit a Regular Checkup and Other Suggestions

This is your everyday kit. Take care of it. Replace items, check expirations on prescriptions at least. I’m not so worried about expirations on OTC stuff. They tend to work fine decades after they expire, or so says my Father-In-Law, the Professor of Biochemistry and Immunology, and a few articles I’ve read. But make sure crucial drugs like nitroglycerine or epi-pens are up to date. Don’t take my word for it. Always do your own research, but you probably don’t need to throw away your five-year-old aspirin. Donate the extra five bucks to charity or put it in a jar.

Consider taking a first-aid course through the American Red Cross. Contact your local chapter for classes. Find a buddy and make it an event.

Prepare children for medical emergencies in age-appropriate ways. The American Red Cross offers a number of helpful resources, including classes designed to help children understand and use first-aid techniques.

I’ll Never Get Around To It:

If you need someone to build you a KitTen, contact us at We can collaborate on it. It will cost about $150 to $200 for quality products, depending on the items you select (we’ll send you a PayPal invoice). We agree on the price before any work gets done.

If you DIY it, expect to spend about $75 at the very least, depending on the quality of products, especially the MultiTool and Headlamp if you include them, and you should.
Make one for yourself and others in your family. They make cool, thoughtful, personal gifts.

I’m actually more of a dog person myself, but who can resist a KitTen.

Jungles, Tigers and Dragons – Garry Smith

Certification is not the answer, credible certification is the answer. The MA/SD world, to say nothing of all our affiliated fields, firearms, survival, you name it, abound with training opportunities complete with certificates. If you choose carefully you can soon wallpaper your whole house with them. You can sign up to more certificate baring course than you can shake a stick at, just think of how your portfolio will grow, your customers and potential customers will swoon to see just how qualified you are. Or will they?

Well there are different schools of thought on this of course and I will nail my colours to the mast early on here, for me its quality not quantity that counts. Personally I look at the validity of the awarding body not how many tigers or dragons are on the certificate. Certificates of attendance or of no value to me unless they count towards ticking off Continued Professional Learning hours and even these do not signify that any learning has occurred, just that you filled some space for some time.

I once attended a course where strict conditions were laid down regarding qualifying. Pre course reading was required, every person must deliver a presentation and perform to a certain standard. Many did not achieve the set standards, some fell embarrassingly short, everyone passed, some had no presentation and ad libbed very badly, they all qualified as instructors. I felt sold short having put a lot of effort in and felt that the qualification, and the very nice certificate, were not worth having despite the course being good in every other aspect.

I have taught for years in Further and Higher Education, I have marked thousands of essays by pre university and undergraduate students. We had standards, the had to be adhered to and if you did not meet them you failed, end of, and yes I failed people. Of course I gave them the constructive criticism to help them address the failings and resubmit but if an essay failed to meet the mark I failed it, not the student. Having said that one student submitted after the deadline, despite numerous reminders, the essay he submitted was completely plagiarised, I went through it with him and he went from absolute denial to admitting it via many gradual changes. I failed it, he never went to university, sad but if you draw a line in the sand you have to keep the right side of it.

So for all the subjectivity involved in marking academic papers and it is inevitably there, criteria exist and they have to be applied to all. So it should be in any system of certification but as we know, the unregulated nature of the martial arts world together with its many factions, styles and politics makes this virtually impossible. If I wanted to I could qualify as an instructor online with no end of organisations as long as the cheque does not bounce. I can take courses without verifying who I am or where I am and print off the certificate afterwards, I am reduced to being a url and a visa payment.

To be honest even the Sport England coaching course I completed with a recognised governing body lacked any academic rigour, I together with colleagues submitted short essays, never received a mark and not a word of feedback, none, but we passed. A vindictive person would see the course as a money making scam, especially when you have to re-take the same qualification every three years? Really, Good job I do not have to retake my degree every three years. I put a lot of work into that course, then for the test we were all left in the same room with no invigilator to happily discuss our answers, not cheating, we would not do that.

You see in the MA/SD world there is a complete absence of anything approaching a goldstandard, it is a jungle out there and whilst there are undoubtedly some great courses there is a lot of utter rubbish too. Often we cannot see the trees in the jungle so dense is the growth. The cult of personality is strong here too and often that is what sells, reputations, however hard won, together with black belts, regardless of the number of dan grades, do not a teacher make. Here is the killer though, of those who can teach, how many can design a curriculum that provides a coherent learning package, how many understand the need for and value of academic rigour? Well, anyone have any answers?

Well I do, sort of, or at least I am working towards one with people I trust. There is a need for a generic instructors training programme with teaching and learning at the core. Style, system and politically neutral, accredited as a programme of work based continues professional development and with a rigorous quality assurance system completely integrated throughout the course. This programme should be based on work based learning and include time limited online examinations, ongoing specialist tutor support and have a credit system that is equivalent to certificate, diploma and degree level study. This may be too much for some but a series of vocational qualifications from entry level to masters degree level can provide accompanying units and the step ladder onto the main programme.

This would necessitate bringing together academics and violence professionals in a collaborative partnership so that we can cover all the bases. This is a teaching qualification open to all regardless of rank and association. It is a stand alone qualification intended to professionalise standards, its value lies in the fact that it is externally accredited by a leading university that specialises in teaching and learning, the certificate, is far from a wall hanging and has international currency.

CRGI has the network of violence professionals and then some, we have the link with the faculty of teaching and learning, talks are at a very early stage but there is focus on building a model that is robust and attractive. The best thing is this is a student centred model with an incredible knowledge-base already established, we are already piloting leaning packages in bite size chunks. Also we are not in uncharted territory, I certainly have been here before and the university in question has similar programmes already being used for major organisations so the model exists.

The question is a simple one, is the industry we are in ready to grow up, to evolve and step clear of the jungle. Will people be able to resist the pull of the tiger and dragon infested wall hangers and the accompanying cult of personality? Well they are not mutually exclusive but if I were looking to create my unique selling point that distinguished me from all those who pass a belt, however skilled they are, the are not qualified as teachers and that is what we do, we teach and our students learn and the vast majority of people out there, with the very best of intentions, are winging it.

It is time we made some changes.

Intervening with Youth – Jeffrey Johnson

Crisis Intervention with youth is far too vast a topic to do justice to in a short article. There are too many anecdotes, too many rules and laws to remember, too many configurations of teams in so many diverse programs and schools that do this kind of work to really cover it all adequately here. Instead, I will try to give a rough overview of the topic to give the reader a decent framework to begin operating from as he or she approaches this kind of work.

You Must Care

This is hard, often thankless work that most people don’t get fairly compensated for. If you signed up to work with young people who have major emotional and behavioral issues, you have an important job that can be highly stressful at times, and highly rewarding at other times. You will hear, see, and experience things most people have no frame of reference for understanding. You will meet people who have been through a lot of really horrible traumatic circumstances, and who may have committed horrible acts themselves. You have to care about the young people you work with, and you have to put your pride aside and make sure that the right thing happens every time. And you have to accept that the right thing doesn’t always happen every time.

When you are threatened, or even assaulted (being spat on or kicked for example), you have to remember that you have a job to do and people to keep safe. Taking it personal and not learning to cope with stress and emotions will lead to making mistakes, and a split second bad decision can lead to people being injured, property being destroyed, and you being handed your walking papers. Or worse. Lawsuits and jail time are not out of the realm of possibility. If you have become vindictive, careless, or are lying to cover your ass, you are making huge mistakes that can be costly.

My best piece of advice is to align yourself with whomever is a veteran of the program you work in who is ready and willing to show you by example the best way to do the work. I was blessed to be around a lot of people who knew very well how to do their job and I had a lot of support from coworkers and administrators.

Know Your Environment

You need to understand where you work. When you are part of a team you have backup, a closed in environment, and hopefully some consistent plans and strategies for preventing aggressive outbursts and dealing with unsafe situations as they come. You also have state and federal laws (HIPAA is an example), company policies and ethics, and the professional culture of your setting. Are you in a hospital setting? Partial-hospitalization? A behavior unit of a public or private school? A detention facility? You need to understand the setting and the options and limits you have when confronted with crisis. Otherwise, what you do could prove disastrous for you professionally and physically, and may have consequences for your co-workers and the young people you are responsible for.

Next you have to know the physical layout of the place you work in. You need to know where youth are allowed to go, where they aren’t allowed to go, where they like to hide or where stolen items might be stored, etc. You need to know what doors are kept locked at all times, where utility closets are and what is in them, and you need to be aware that objects that are available to be used as weapons may be. In my experience, the vast majority of occasions where a chair was grabbed or a stapler was held it was just a threat, but there have been times where the improvised weapon was used. Keep scissors in drawers if they are not being used, and be mindful of who is using whatever implement to participate in whatever activity.

Know Your Team

This makes or breaks everything. A good team always assumes that a solution is possible, that there is always room to improve, and that supporting each other is absolutely crucial. A good team consists of people who will put quality of work before any ego or recognition, and are always ready to help whenever possible. A good team builds rapport with each other proactively, getting to know each other and probably considers each other to be friends as well as work colleagues. They will listen to and protect each other, and will verbalize regularly that they are available to help in any way possible. Anything less means that “the inmates will run the asylum.” And if that happens, your job will become nearly impossible.

Synergy with team mates means we can communicate with non-verbals, we can predict each others’ intentions and actions, and we can monitor each other and step in and switch-out with someone to make a bad situation calm down. A lack of synergy means that we make decisions that undermine each others’ authority, and can show clients that we are not a unified front. Once that happens, there will be some who exploit the gaps in our cohesion. The manipulators are the ones that exploit these holes the most, and that creates more disunity within a team.

Team building exercises, retreats (we used to have a program wide camping in-service), and simply meeting after work for food and shenanigans can help a team build rapport. Joke, smile, and laugh whenever there is time for it.

Know Your Clients

Your setting may call them clients, consumers, students, or whatever term is most appropriate. In any case, knowing as much as you can about them is very helpful. New intakes are especially tricky if you have never read any of their information, and you have to be ready to deal with a client that behaves in a way that is totally inconsistent with what has been reported. Sometimes the previous staff who worked with a client, or their parent or guardian, has such a bad relationship that all they write is negative, and the client turns out to be genuinely good hearted, polite, and desiring to make positive changes. Other times someone will have completely omitted that the client has a history of sexual predation, a key piece of information that can completely change how he/she is monitored. I had teaching partners who had worked with adolescent sex offenders and were able to spot problem behaviors that were invisible to me at first. I heeded the warnings. It pays to listen even if you don’t always see what someone else is seeing. It probably protected some vulnerable clients.

For small children, crisis episodes tend to be high frequency, low intensity. This means that you may have to deal with lots of instances of verbal and physical aggression, but due to the size of the client, it presents a relatively low amount of danger (Danger is still danger. A 6 year old can still stab me with a pair of scissors). In adolescents, crisis episodes tend to be low frequency, high intensity. This means that the instances of verbal and physical aggression are low compared to very young clients, but are typically much more dangerous and volatile. These kinds of situations are the ones that may result in police intervention and can have a lot of spill-over into and from the community (i.e. gang related issues, neighborhood conflicts, etc.). This is a range of averages, and not any kind of perfect predictor of behavior in an individual young person. Read the files, talk to parents or guardians, and familiarize yourself with different behavioral profiles. A sexual predator has a certain list of personality traits and behaviors to look for. So does a neglected child or one who was beaten severely by an adult. No 2 clients are exactly the same, but you will see variations on themes if you stay with this kind of work long enough.

To understand the type of client that ends up in a program that deals with severe behaviors, whether this is a unit within a school or a residential facility or a youth detention facility, one has to have some background on the causes of the behaviors. The clients I worked with typically had a brutal trauma history, lived in economically depressed areas, and experienced marginalization due to cultural and racial factors.

As a result, the world in their experience was a small place where yelling, cursing, and aggression are cultural capital, and not being able to communicate with at least the threat of violence could and would lead to being bullied, jumped, robbed, and otherwise ridiculed. When we professionals are coming from very different environments than this, it can be difficult to understand the clients we serve. And understanding is key in helping them.

Cultural capital is a big deal. Most of my clients came from inner-city Cleveland, and most were African American. I came from the suburbs and was at least 7 years older than most of them when I started. I had to listen and observe them a lot to get a handle on the slang they used, the body language that told me that a fight was on (pulling up pants was an indicator that a fight-or at least grandstanding like tough guys-was about to happen), or what type of intoxicant they might have used before coming to school that day (this can be key, because what they used may have had some serious physical effects as well as mental.

An assumed increase in blood pressure and heart-rate due to drug use can change how we approach a physically aggressive person. A physical restraint could have dire consequences if a heart is already abnormally pounding out of a client’s chest). You have to piece together a puzzle sometimes. On client looks quizzically at his peer while another laughs at him. Another asks “you gone of that lean, ain’t you?” The client in question seems amped up. Is he high? What is our protocol when we suspect drug use in a client?

As you can start to see, lots of different kinds of knowledge and pieces of the puzzle begin to come together and overlap each other, and you have to gather all of this info in a short amount of time and already have in mind the policies and procedures for handling situations legally and ethically, all the while doing your best to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Other things to be aware of…has the client had neighborhood issues? Domestic abuse issues? A history of sexual or physical abuse? How stable is the current home environment? Has the client and his/her family had to move recently or frequently? Are there siblings or other family members living with the client? Are there any intellectual delays? Is the client currently medicated? What medicines is he/she on? What are the medicines for? And on and on…

Self-Defense “Moves”: The Good, Bad and the Ugly – Erik Kondo

Popular movies such as Miss Congeniality have given the idea of self-defense “Moves” popular appeal, particularly among women. In the case of the movie, the Hollywood “Moves” targeted S.I.N.G. (Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin). Generally speaking, men are more interesting in learning how to “fight”, while women are more interested in learning self-defense “Moves” to repel sexual assault.

I am going to focus on the Good, Bad, and Ugly of instructing self-defense “Moves” for women.

The BAD of Some Self-Defense Moves

  • If you are using a self-defense Move, then you are being attacked. Knowing Moves don’t help you prevent from being attacked in the first place.
  • Moves assume that the victim will actually “fight back” as opposed to being frozen in fear.
  • Learned Moves are subject to the Forgetting Curve meaning that most of what is “learned” will soon be forgotten anyway in an exponential manner.
    Knowing how to do a Move, doesn’t mean you know when to do the Move and when not to do it.
  • The implication of an instructed Move is that it is better than an instinctive response. Therefore, the Move is intended to replace instinctive actions. According to research, 80% of women who actively resist in some manner are successful in stopping the assault. For the instructed Move to be reliable and worthwhile, it needs to have an even higher success rate than instinctive actions.
    Learning a Move, doesn’t mean you know what to do if the Move fails to work as intended.
  • The instruction of Moves tends to lead students to believe that there is a single right way and many wrong ways to act as opposed to better and worse ways of responding.

The UGLY of Some Self-Defense Moves

  • Learning these Moves, gives you false confidence, and makes you think you can do things that you really can’t. This false confidence encourages a tendency for you to put yourself in risky situations that you might have otherwise avoided.
  • These Moves place you in more vulnerable position if the Move fails.
  • Instruction of these “killer” Moves promote the misleading impression that all assaults come from strangers and are life and death situations.
  • These Moves when used without judgement are likely to escalate situations as opposed to de-escalating or providing the opportunity to escape.

The GOOD of Some Self-Defense Moves

  • Good self-defense Moves are not really Moves at all. They are effective responses in certain situations.
  • Good Responses are modifications of instinctive actions that you are likely to do anyway.
  • Good Responses are taught to beginners through the use of conditioning as opposed to rote instruction.
  • Good Responses are taught to beginners in manner that is more about the experience of the instruction and less about what is actually learned. Experiences tend to be remembered while instruction is not.
  • Good Responses have a higher probability of making the situation better and a lower probability of making the situation worse.
  • Good Responses encourage “breaking the freeze”.
  • Instruction of Good Responses “gives permission” to act and break out of socially conditioned scripts and reactions.
  • Good Responses encourage critical and dynamic thinking.
  • Good Responses take into consideration a person’s potential emotional, psychological and physiological state.
  • Good Responses incorporate ethical and legal considerations.
  • Good Responses can deal with both of the scenarios described below:

In the following two scenarios, the factors are the exact opposite which is an illustration of how much variability is involved in assaults.


  1. The assailant is a stranger. (creepy guy, dangerous serial predator)
  2. He attacks from an ambush. (surprise attack)
  3. The attack occurs in a public place. (parking lot, public park, sidewalk, etc.)
  4. The attacker forces victim into secluded area. (dark alley, behind a bush)
  5. The attacker uses a weapon and/or high physical force. (knife, gun, hard strikes, strangles, etc.)
  6. The victim fights back unsuccessfully. (flails, kicks, screams, etc.)
  7. The victim reports the crime to the police. (right after the attack)


  1. The assailant is known to the victim. (friend, date, boyfriend, acquaintance, family member, co-worker, boss, etc.)
  2. There is a buildup to the assault. (interview, boundary testing, etc.)
  3. The assault happens in private area. (apartment, dorm room, private vehicle, etc.)
  4. The victim went voluntarily to the assault location. (wanted to go, was manipulated into going)
  5. The assailant doesn’t use a weapon, uses coercion or minimal force.
  6. The victim doesn’t fight back. (frozen in fear, incapacitated by drugs/alcohol, didn’t want to make the assailant angry, unwilling because of existing relationship)
  7. The victim doesn’t report the crime to the police. (doesn’t tell anybody, or only after a long period of time)

The notion of Self-defense “Moves” is ingrained in the public and in many self-defense instructors. Since it is unlikely that this thinking will disappear any time soon, effective “Moves” should focus on the GOOD and avoid the BAD and UGLY.

Self-Defense And The Art Of Motorcycling – Randy LaHaie

Riding a motorcycle has been used as a metaphor for all kinds of things: philosophy, living in the moment, dealing with fear, freedom, independence and the list goes on. In this post I’ll list my top ten guidelines for safe motorcycling and draw the comparison to how those same principles can be applied to self-defense.

Whether you ride a motorcycle, used to ride, plan to ride or think that any one who rides is “bat shit crazy,” these pointers are intended to make you think. Principles are principles… Its how you apply them that determines whether they are useful to your particular situation and goals.

I’ve ridden motorcycles and studied self-defense all of my life. Over the years, I couldn’t help but notice that the concepts and strategies needed to anticipate and deal with interpersonal violence parallel those needed to avoid wipeouts and collisions.

Let’s see if you agree.

1. Adopt A Proactive Mindset

Motorcycling: Riding a motorcycle is a blast! That being said, if you’re going to ride, you need to acknowledge that motorcycling can also be a dangerous way to travel.

Riding a motorcycle is an enjoyable, exhilarating activity. But it’s not without risk. People who ride need to balance their desire to live life to the fullest with taking responsibility to deal wit threats and hazards along the way.

Self-Defense: The statistical probability of being mugged, robbed or the target of a violent crime is low. It’s easy to adopt an “it-will-never-happen-to-me attitude,” and go on about your life in a state of ignorance and complacency.

Self-Defense starts with the decision to accept full responsibility for your personal safety and to implement thinking and behaviors to allow you to do that. The key is to adopt safety-related “habits” that become second nature.

2. Master Your Technical Skills

Motorcycling: A proactive biker is always working on his or her riding skills. The operative skills of the bike should be practiced and improved deliberately and continuously. Braking, cornering, and collision avoidance don’t improve automatically just by collecting clicks on the odometer.

Don’t rely on that long-forgotten motorcycle safety course (if you took one) to teach you all you need to know to ride safe and respond to emergencies. You need to continue learning and practice to improve your riding skills.

Self-Defense: How proficient are your self-defense skills? Are they something that you practice on a regular basis, or are you relying on the fact that you “used to” take martial arts or self-defense classes?

Do you assume not only that you’ll know what to do in a volatile situation but also that your actions will be effective? How often do you practice your combative skills?

Skills and conditioning are NOT permanent. They erode unless you invest time and effort on an ongoing basis. If you’re serious about self-defense, training should be a part of your lifestyle.

4. Constantly Scan Your Environment

Motorcycling: Riding a motorcycle “connects” you to your environment. Straddling “a motor on two wheels,” and riding it at a high rate of speed, exposed to the elements, only inches off the pavement is a visceral experience. You’d BETTER be tapped into what you’re doing and what’s going on ahead, behind and beside you.

Obstacles on the road, potholes, patches of sand, gravel and ice are a constant. The chance of an animal, a pedestrian or another vehicle crossing your path is to be expected. You need to balance your enjoyment of the ride with a continuous assessment of your environment for potential hazards.

Self-Defense: In self-defense training the term “always be aware of your surroundings,” is so overused that it becomes a redundant cliché. As legitimate as that advice is, you will constantly catch yourself being distracted, pre-occupied and often oblivious to what’s going on around you.

I’m not suggesting that you adopt a state of fear and paranoia, but rather a calm and alert attitude and the cultivation of “awareness,” which I define as:

Knowing what to look for.
Disciplining yourself to actively scan and pay attention.
Matching the degree of your attentiveness to your current situation.

The quicker and more consistently you’re able spot a potential problem, the more options you have to deal with it and the more successful you are likely to be.
5. Dress For Success

Motorcycling: Ever seen some goofball on a sport bike riding in shorts, a muscle shirt and flip-flops? He was probably the one weaving in and out of traffic, showing off and going faster than he should be. Here’s a tip: Don’t be that guy!

A responsible biker is deliberate about what he or she wears while riding. A biker’s wardrobe is intended to protect her from a spill or collision and to shelter her from the elements (heat, cold, rain, sunburn, dehydration). She anticipates the inherent hazards of the road and dresses accordingly.

Self-Defense: What you wear in a self-defense context is also important in two ways: response capability and victim selection.

Does your clothing allow you enough traction and freedom of movement to fight or flee from a violent encounter? Dressed the way you are, can you move, kick, strike or run effectively even if the ground is slippery or uneven?

Does your clothing draw attention to you or make you stand out in a crowd? Could what you are wearing make you look out-of-place, wealthy or like a tourist? These types of signals can attract predators.

6. DON’T Mind Your Own Business

Motorcycling: Bikers have to accept the fact that they can be the most responsible, proficient and safety-conscious drivers on the road and STILL be at risk of a catastrophic event. It’s not all about you.

Roads, streets and highways are proliferated by tailgaters, impatient speeders, distracted drivers, drunks, reckless jerks and generally bad drivers. You’re going to have to take that into account.

You’ll have to be constantly on the lookout for “the other guy.” Watch for cues and patterns of careless behavior and do what you can to steer clear.

Self-Defense: You can go through life minding your own business, living a responsible and considerate existence and STILL end up on the receiving end of a predatory, threatening or violent situation.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, criminals, drunks, bullies and more recently, extremist nut jobs are out there. Learn to recognize the cues and behavior patterns associated with these characters and be prepared.

7. Expect The Expected

Motorcycling: A safe rider knows the most common hazards. For the most part, the most likely threats are predictable. If you know what they are and make an effort to look for them, you’ll be way ahead of the game.

An approaching vehicle turning in front of you, a motorist racing to beat the red light, travelling in the blind spot of a driver about to change lanes… these are some of the situations that happen on a regular basis. Watch for them.

If you do your homework, the potential threats are NOT endless. They can be boiled down to a handful of common, reoccurring events.

Self-Defense: There are also patterns and recognizable behaviors associated with criminal, predatory and violent incidents. Some of the obvious ones include: someone following or watching you from a distance, someone trying to distract you by asking for the time or for change while invading your personal space, someone looking around while approaching you… just to name a few.

Statistically, some things are much more likely to happen than others. Know what they are, watch for them and you’ll be able to predict behavior.

8. Steer Clear Of The Beer

Motorcycling: Many people envision motorcycling and guzzling “frosty fermented beverages,” to go hand-in-hand. I’m not about to get all preachy on this point. I enjoy a couple cocktails as much as the next guy. But you’ve got to be smart about it.

It’s a no brainer that having too much to drink and driving a motorcycle is a recipe for disaster… and yet people still do it. Too much booze in your system will impair your coordination, reduce your awareness, lower your inhibitions and mess up your decisions.

If you’re going to drink, save it until you park your bike for the night and fill your boots… preferably in the company of trusted friends and in a safe place.

Also keep in mind even if you don’t drink, OTHER people’s drinking can cause you all kinds of grief. Many bikers avoid riding at times when the bars are closing and there’s more likely to be drunks on the road.

Self-Defense: I don’t have to tell you how often booze is involved in volatile, aggressive and violent situations. If you’re the kind of person who likes to go out in public and get “polluted” on a regular basis, the chances of you becoming a victim increase dramatically.

When booze is involved, you need to be aware not only of your own consumption, but you also need to consider those around you who are drinking. Even if you don’t drink yourself, being around people who are pounding back the brewskies increases the odds of a confrontation.

To ignore the booze factor in your self-defense game plan is a big mistake.

9. Ego Kills!

Motorcycling: Far too often ego is a source of bad behavior and catastrophic errors in judgment. An “ego gone wild,” on a motorcycle can spell disaster: showing off, driving beyond your capabilities or the conditions, or “battling” with other drivers for space on the road are just a few examples.

If you’re going to ride, leave your ego in the garage. Be humble and use common sense. Wear your safety equipment, control your speed and drive responsibly. It’ll go a long way towards years of crash-free riding.

Self-Defense: In a self-defense context, ego is your enemy. Far too often, people are killed or seriously injured fighting over something that’s not worth fighting for. Feeling that you have something to prove, refusing to back down or acting like a tough guy can have dire consequences.

As a retired police officer, I can’t begin to tell you about all of the tragedy and heartache that I’ve seen as a result of someone’s misdirected sense of pride clouding their ability to make intelligent and mature decisions.

Regardless of how “combatively capable” you are, you’ll save yourself a ton of physical, emotional and legal headaches if you can set your ego aside and deescalate or disengage from a confrontation.

There’s an old saying in law enforcement, “Nobody ever wins a fight. The loser goes to the hospital, the winner goes to jail.”

10. Enjoy The Journey

Motorcycling: This is another one of those over-used clichés that people throw around in relation to just about everything. In the case of motorcycling however, it’s literally what you should do.

Travelling IN a vehicle, usually involves wanting to get to your intended destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. (“Are we there yet?”)

On a bike, the focus is NOT as much on getting there as it is about enjoying the ride. Bikers will take their time and go miles out of their way to enjoy a more scenic route, a historical site or a stretch of twisty roads.

More times than not, you’ll head towards one destination and end up changing course because of time, weather, circumstances or maybe just because you changed your mind and decided to go somewhere else. That’s just the way it works.

Self-Defense: This is a great analogy for your martial arts, combative fitness or self-defense training. Too many people rush to learn new skills, get in shape or earn that next belt. They risk burnout, injuries and a loss of interest by chasing quick fixes, short cuts and easy results. (which for the record, don’t exist)

Training is about enjoying the process and letting results come as a natural byproduct of repeated actions taken over and over again with seemingly little or no immediate benefit. Over time however, those “insignificant” actions add up to significant, life-altering results.

There is no “finish line,” where health and safety are concerned. Training should be seen as an ongoing, never-ending, life-long process. Enjoy the ride!


So there you have it… my top ten riding tips and how they apply to self-defense. I hope this post got you thinking. If you have any questions, opinions or feedback, please feel free to fire me an email at or you can reach me through my blog at .

Bio: Randy LaHaie has taught thousands of people over the course 40+ years as a self-defense, combative fitness and confrontation management instructor and consultant. He’s a retired policeman with experience as a patrol officer, detective, SWAT team member, shift supervisor and full time defensive tactics and use-of-force trainer. He’s a court declared expert witness and subject matter expert in various aspects of dealing with volatile, violent and dangerous situations. Randy shares his knowledge and opinions on the “Toughen Up Self-Defense Blog,” at .