Self Defense Pays Off – Andrea Harkins

I went to the gym the other night and when I was working out on the weights a man approached me and asked if I was a martial artist. He had noticed me wearing my gi and black belt earlier in the evening. After we spoke for a few moments he said he wanted to share a story with me about how important learning self-defense really is and how it paid off, for him.

He travels frequently for business, often out of the country. On one particular trip, however, he was in the States, in Atlanta, Georgia. After a day of work he was walking toward his parked car with a briefcase in his hand. Without warning, someone jumped him from behind. A couple of months earlier, he would not have known what to do. Since he travels so frequently, he decided a few months earlier to take an intensive self-defense course. I believe he said the course took a few weeks, with varying lessons. He knew that someday his luck would run out with the frequency of his travels to unknown places.

When attacked from behind, his self-defense instincts took over. He remembered how to throw someone over his shoulder who was grabbing from behind, and with one quick movement he successfully threw the culprit over his shoulder to the ground. The unfortunate thing is that this attacker would not easily give up. Even though he clearly hit the ground with force, he got back up and started running toward this victim. Again, self-defense instruction took over and he barely had to move, other than to stick his elbow straight out and strike the attacker thoroughly in the chin with the point of his elbow. He heard a cracking sound and was sure he broke this guy’s bone, but again, the attacker did not give up.

As my gym-mate ran and got into his car, the attacker actually jumped on his car window, as if thinking he were Spiderman, and tried to cling on. When the car abruptly started and took off, the assailant fell to the ground. Not knowing if the perpetrator was dead or alive for a moment, my friend sped off, but finally saw in his rearview mirror the man get up on his feet again. He said that if not for the self-defense training, he would have never known what to do.

I know that often we think of this type of training for women, but the truth is that these few techniques probably saved his life. The attacker had no boundary for pain, was probably on drugs, and didn’t care about the outcome. This is the most dangerous of situations. Then, he explained that his self-awareness defenses kicked in dramatically after that.

When in Paris and entering a train through a turnstile, he was again attacked from behind and pushed through the turnstile without warning. He turned and proceeded to fight back with all his might. When he was on top of the attacker ready to throw a final punch, a group of people stopped him. They explained that often people who do not have money for the fare will push foreigners or visitors through the turnstiles simply to get a free ride on the train.

Since then, whenever in Paris, he actually watches for such people and allows them through the turnstile with him. Still, there was no way he could have known this when the event first happened and because of self-defense training he knew he was not ever willing to compromise his life through an attack.

These stories are interesting because for those of us, like me, who have never been attacked, it is a good reminder that it can happen at any time and when you least expect it. A person with no martial arts training or no self-defense training is going to languish in these types of impacts.

As martial artists and instructors, we should feel compelled to at least emphasize the importance of this type of training to everyone. What would they do, today, if grabbed from behind without warning? Clearly both men and women need this type of training. For women, the problem with training seems to be two-fold. The most evident issue is that they are normally smaller than men and so they need this training just to be able to contend with a larger sized attacker.

The other, almost more important issue, is that women do not attend self-defense classes and the root of this problem really should be examined. Is it fear of what will happen in the class? Is it worry that they will look foolish? Is it concern that they have never tried it before and don’t know what to expect? I think some of these reasons are possibilities.

In order to get them to attend, instructors need to think outside the box. Free classes don’t seem to pull women in any better than those with fees. Classes with female instructors sometimes get more attendance than with male instructors, but not always. What is the key? I’m still trying to figure it out myself, but I know one thing. Traditional marketing does not seem to get a big enough response. Can we bring self-defense to the schools, the workplace, or the universities? Can we somehow showcase self-defense in a more modern approach, or make it more prevalent in the media?

All I know is that if we want more people to learn how to defend, just like my friend at the gym, then we still have a lot of work to do. One step of importance is learning to teach in a way that shares, motivates, and even slightly entertains students in order to pique interest or keep them engaged. There are a slew of options we can examine on how to successfully get both men and women to learn self-defense. One thing is for sure, though. Whether classes charge a fee, or are free of charge, Self-defense pays off.

What If….? – Andrea Harkins

What If….?

What if you are attacked?

What if someone sticks a knife in your back?

What if you don’t know how to defend yourself?

“What ifs” are terrible.  They are projections of situations and scenarios that may never happen. They increase fear and make you anxious and leave you feeling uneasy all the time. There are many ways to teach self-defense and many angles from which you can draw information and conclusions, but none include the elusive “what ifs.”   

I’ve been a “what if” person for a long time.  It just comes naturally.  “What if my car breaks down? What if I can’t afford to pay that bill?  What if I get sick? What if I get lost?”  

Finally, one day, I realized that I was projecting a great amount of fear and negativity into my life by thinking about events that were just in my mind.  In some cases, I think I even subconsciously jinxed myself in order to achieve my relentless, contrived negative prophesies and predictions. Negativity can work that way.  It starts to impose on your life and builds up so much momentum that before you know it, you know no other way. Your guard is down.

Another way that “what ifs” work against you are examined in the questions I posed in the beginning of this article.  These are self-projections that are not set in fact or fiction, but in fear.  When you struggle with fear, you automatically lower your defenses and expose your vulnerabilities.  People do not realize that “what ifs” create undue fearful emotions that hinder real self-defense.  These “what if’s” strategically replace awareness and self-confidence with worry and anxiety.  I can tell you right now that neither worry, nor anxiety, has ever saved a person’s life in an attack situation.

Think about how you feel when you are scared; or, even more importantly, how you look.  Your face contorts almost unknowingly.  In the eyes of a perpetrator, you become the perfect victim.  You’re “what ifs” that you thought were preparing you, were actually bathing you in fear and working against you.  A perpetrator can use this to his advantage because fear is noticeable, and he will immediately target you as a potential, easy victim.  

Those self-absorbed with fear have difficulty standing their ground when the time comes.  Emotions and thoughtless reactions work in unison to welcome defeat; the better equipped individual is the one who takes action to eliminate unnecessary fear, and strengthen his awareness. Instead of injecting fear or playing out scenarios that may never happen, it is best to take control of vulnerabilities by doing something that makes sense.  

Take action.

The actions that can take place, that will better prepare someone for defense than “what ifs,” are many.  If you are an instructor, or someone who just cares about solid safety values and a strong mindset, here’s exactly what you should share with all who have not thought through how to be prepared through “actions” and not “what if’s.”

  1. Take a Self-Defense class.  Self-defense is inherently different from martial arts, although some martial art techniques may filter through.  The difficulty with self-defense classes is that women are afraid of them! Yes, they are fearful of not knowing what to expect, so if the class can be entertaining, refreshing, and right on point about true defense, a woman is more likely to attend.  These generally attract non-martial artists, so fitness levels, interests, and reasons for attending vary.  This is number one on the list.  Fear can be decreased through the actions involved in learning a viable self-defense system.

2. Try a martial art.  Yes, they are different than self-defense courses, but they do offer some valuable tools and techniques.  I’ve been a martial artist for twenty-six years and also teach some components of martial arts that include grabs and escapes.  I can kick high, if I want, but true defense only needs a good kick to the knee or groin.  Discerning where and how to kick, if that is part of your defense strategy, has nothing to do with height or speed, but more to do with accuracy.  Wrist locks, head locks, grabs, and other offensive holds all have escapes that can be learned.  Plus, martial arts training helps with self-confidence factors and resilience, both of which mean a great deal in defense situations.

3. Utilize Resources. Direct your friends, students, and families to resources that you trust. There may be websites, books, or on-line materials that you’ve read and with which you agree. There is a plethora of social media outlets these days where questions from simple to complex can be asked and answered.  Everyone has an opinion so no need to accept everything as fact, but something might just make sense for exactly what you need.  Don’t hoard.  Give up your great tools and resources to others who can really use them.

4. Practice.  Even if you have taken a self-defense or martial art class, they can be for nothing if they are not practiced.  Self-defense courses can be short, maybe even a few hours.  A refresher each year is a must.  A martial art takes a while to really learn. Movements and gestures only make sense after a while of application.  The key to strengthening defense here, is practice.

4. Read Inspiring Tales. Nothing hits home like reading a true story about someone whose self-defense saved their life.  What happened? What did they think? How did they react? What kind of confidence erupted? Learning from others, being inspired and motivated by their situations, can quickly kick-start self-defense thoughts into action.

Final words of advice to share:

Take action and remove the crazy “what ifs” from your life.  Arm yourself with simple but strong self-defense concepts.  By increasing self-confidence and controlling fear, you become more aware of who you are and of what you are capable.

I don’t know how you plan to proceed, but my goal is to eliminate “what ifs” from my thoughts.  They are detrimental and stifling and don’t allow me to clearly see the opportunities I have to learn more about self-defense and awareness.  If you are an instructor of self-defense or a martial art, you have a responsibility to give your students a fighting chance.  Help them to know that real concepts, real actions, real defenses, can help them; but, “what ifs” will always hold them back from understanding awareness and self-protection, and maybe even prevent them from saving their lives. Instead, do the one thing that will really help.  

Take Action.