Erik: I am interested in your opinion on female runners and personal safety. What are some of your thoughts on training women to deal with their fears and concerns?
Angela: My first response would be, don’t run, train in Martial Arts and Self Defense instead. BUT I spent many years as an outdoor runner and even ran a marathon at one point (which was not the best decision for my body).
This is a serious issue and there have been several incidents where I live, in Washington DC, where female runners have been attacked, especially early in the am.
I think first and foremost, trusting intuition and that “gut” feeling of safety/unsafety is key when dealing with outdoor running as a woman. For instance, I remember many years ago when I lived in AL. I was running during the day on a trail in the middle of nowhere. There was a part of the trail that paralleled with a small highway. As I ran by the highway, a truck with 3 men hastily pulled off onto the shoulder. There were no other cars or people around. They got out of the car and started walking towards the trail. For a split second I thought, “Ang, they probably just have to go to the bathroom, don’t freak out,” But in the next split second, I started sprinting for my life. I did not care what I looked like, I followed the fear in my gut. As I started to sprint, they realized it was probably not worth it to chase me, and yelled things like, “We just wanted to talk to you.”
I reiterate, when we are talking about Self Defense, we are referring to winning moments in time. I won that moment in time, but I just as easily could have not.
I have many women ask about carrying pepper spray while running. My response to that is, “If carrying something makes you feel safer, do it, but unless you’re trained in using pepper spray, keys or a tazer, the reality of being able to access and use properly in a moment of “fight or flight” is slim. Using weapons, takes just as much training as defending weapons and this is where I always default back to the real work of Self Defense, especially when we are specifying women. Learning to fight is key, instead of being “weapon-centric” one must learn to fight on a deeper level and always look for exit strategies, weapons in a real-life environment, and the ability to use our bodies as natural weapons. We must begin at the preemptive, psychological, sociological patterns that are deeply ingrained in us and it’s all connected.
Erik: In think that you brought up an interesting issue here.
On a statistical basis, I think that the majority of women are on some level effected by Fear of Violence while running and a smaller proportion are effected by verbal harassment and threatening behavior. And a very small proportion are effected by actual physical assaults. But the consequences of these assaults are severe.
Therefore, regarding Fear of Violence, carrying a weapon may have a soothing effect. In that case, the weapon provides a benefit. It also may help them in terms of verbal harassment since the person many feel less vulnerable and be more assertive, but, a major problem occurs in the event that they actually have to deploy the weapon.
In that case, not knowing how and when (legally and tactically) to use the weapon may have the effect of worsening the situation. In addition, they may have false confidence regarding their weapon’s capabilities which may encourage them to take more risk than they would without having a weapon. And of course, there is always the issue of not having the psychological will to use the weapon. Not to mention, the practical issue of carrying it.
Then again, there are always those situations, where having a weapon available may become the determining factor for safety.
Therefore, I think it can be reasonably said that carrying a weapon has both positives and negatives associated with it. The factors will vary from individual to individual, from environment to environment, and from incident to incident.
Reviewing what you said “We must begin at the preemptive, psychological, sociological patterns that are deeply ingrained in us and it’s all connected.”
These are deep issues that cannot be resolved in a few hours of instruction. Neither can the ability to learn and execute physical technique be learned in a few hours.
Therefore, for a one-time class with women who are unlikely to take additional classes, what do you feel is the most important aspect to focus on? In other words, do you think it is more important to focus on problems that are more likely to occur, but have less physical consequences, such as verbal harassment and sexual coercion. Or problems that are less likely to occur, but have greater physical consequences such as violent stranger assaults?
Angela: A big YES to all you said. I am learning so much from your questions and deeply grateful for the process.
When I teach Women’s Self Defense workshops (or any “once off” training) I make sure they understand:
They are only dipping the tiny tip of their baby toenail into the vast waters of “Self Defense”.
There is nothing I am about to say/teach in this class/workshop that will guarantee a magical shield of safety. I also tell them if they hear teachers who say, “these 3 techniques will make you safe.” Run. Fast. In the other direction.
It comes back to the importance of boundary setting. I think this is the first vitally important shield to owning your own body and space. Women being verbally harassed, sexual coerced, or violently assaulted are symptoms of our culture. They happen. Sometimes really often. It’s disgusting. It’s not right. And in no way is it a women’s “fault”. That said, we as women, can start to make personal choices to how we want to show up in the world. Do we say we are sorry, just because we are apologizing our existence away, or are we really sorry for something? Do we giggle, because we like to laugh and have fun? Or does aggression and confrontation make us uncomfortable? Are we not able to yell because we really don’t have the capability, or are we so self-conscious about how we come across? Do we always take care of others because we really want to, or are we just programmed that way?
I think this is the most important aspect to focus on. Through an intense, uncomfortable, physical experience, how do I as a teacher, shed light on everyday habits and engrained belief systems, that keep them from being a fucking powerhouse? Awareness is key. If I can just plant a few seeds that will take root quickly or grow over a long period of time, I have done my job of making a woman safer. I will never know when or if the seeds will take root, but I’ll try like hell to sew them.
I do think it is VERY important to acknowledge that every woman is different and there not a cookie cutter answer.
I had an experience the other night. I was sleeping alone and thought someone broke in the window of my apartment. I struggle from pretty severe anxiety. It shuts me down, especially in a moment of primal fear. I went through all my self Defense 101 checkpoints. What could I use as a weapon? Where are my exits? What will I do to get out quickly and where will I run? The process was legit and proactive…but the real problem, was, can I actually do this? My body feels shut down in fear. I “know” all of these things intellectually but can I do them? It’s not an easy answer and I think we are doing a disservice to all women, when we give pat answers.
So to reiterate, I think the most important thing to start teaching women from day one: Bringing awareness to how they move through their everyday world. Does this way serve them and make them safer and stronger?