DISENGAGE THE ATTACK, PT I – Teja Van Wicklen

“Decide to be your own bodyguard.”
~ Lori Harman Gervasi, from her book Fight Like A Girl and Win

Since we can’t count on the cavalry riding in or on our attacker’s ineptitude for our survival, we need a plan, preferably one that is tailored to us. The only way to do this, is to learn what options we have for stopping a person or people who are willing to cheat, and who probably outclass us in strength and fight experience, and piece together our own best strategy. But the plan begins with how well we know ourselves, our situation and our reactions.

I write for regular people and families, so what follows is not for martial arts competitions or face-to-face encounters, necessarily. It is a break down of what average people might want to know about physical fights, including the mental aspects.

At least some of what I am about to lay out here should be common information for most people of a certain age. The fact that it isn’t, is a testament to how cut off we have become from our own ability to protect ourselves from bodily harm. Girls most of all should grow up knowing some of this stuff. Most boys know how to throw, and run by the age of eight. By ten many have a basic understanding of fighting. Young human children, like other predators, play-fight constantly, or, at least, they want to. Games like dodge ball, red-rover and tag are meant to exercise and exorcise the primordial need children have to explore their physical world and test the boundaries of their own strengths. These days animals are more likely to need those skills than we are most of the time, but contact and physicality are still necessary and healthy. They teach appropriate distance and contact, boundary setting and consequences much better than stern faces and finger pointing ever can.

“Social Animals build bonds by playing together,
testing their strengths and limits, and in doing so, they learn trust.”
~ from the TV Show, Nature: Odd Couples

One of the best ways for kids to learn about physical self protection is through their parents. That means we need to learn about it so we can direct our kids towards a healthy and realistic approach to the physical exploration of violence, danger and safety. I am not by any means encouraging you to share all the information in this multi-part article with your kids. But if you have a big-picture view, it follows that you will make a better guide.

Some amount of play fighting as kids or martial arts and self defense training as adults is crucial and empowering. Preparing for life-threatening emergencies wakes up a part of our brain we rarely use, sharpens thought processes and prepares us for all manners of adversity. The thing about violence is, it is somehow a microcosm for everything we do. It is so much a part of our world that understanding it slows time and allows us to see things we didn’t know were there. A person who understands violence is at liberty to strategize and make bold choices in life. Exploring these landscapes will help make you more effective in any situation that requires you to make split second decisions with lasting ramifications.

So here you are. Someone you may or may not know has targeted you. Or, more precisely, he (remember that he can mean she or the dreaded they) came up with a plan to do something or get something (Intent); he then tested you to see if you would make it easy or hard (Interview); he invited you to a party, waited for you outside your office or lured you to his car (Position); now you’re at ground zero and the Attack is imminent. Let’s make the stakes high – severe bodily harm or death. We want to make an impression on our brain so this information sticks.

Here are some ideas that have been percolating for a while:

The Grand Dilemma

You may very well have to use deadly force to get away from an attack due to strength, leverage and weight discrepancies between you and your attacker or attackers. You are certainly going to have to use every ounce of smarts you are in possession of. And just to make it worse, your maximum force and smarts may not even be enough. He may not be bigger or stronger – he may be a she – but she may have a weapon, be in the throws of a psychotic break or drug induced euphoria, or all of the above. Each set of circumstances is different. There is no one size fits all solution to self defense no matter what anyone tells you. A kick will not always work, neither will pepper spray.

To complicate things further, there are things you can only do legally under threat of death or severe injury, but if you wait to find out what his plan is it can easily be too late. To do or not to do. To kill or maim or to die. These are the decisions we, in a civilized society have to juggle. This is the grand dilemma–what you have to do to survive versus what is legal. To add insult to injury you will probably have a miniscule amount of time to make an educated decision that impacts the rest of your life.

The more information you have and the more decisions you have made ahead of time, the better your position will when you have no time to think. At least, in theory based on books and accounts by people who have been through some serious shit.

Willing and Able

Someone has chosen to hurt you because you are at a disadvantage. You are smaller, weaker, distracted, too nice, have a baby with you, are wearing clothing or shoes you can’t move in. He is, in short, fighting very dirty. He is picking you because he knows he can beat you. Whether or not he turns out to be right may well depend on just how dirty you are WILLING to fight and just how dirty you are ABLE to fight.

Check in with yourself about the following three points:

What do you have to live for? Who do you have to live for? How important are you to yourself and to others? Are you important enough to yourself? And the similar question: If you were in a life or death situation, what could you think of that would give you the strength to do the impossible? A person. A goal. Something else.

What specific lengths would you be willing to go to to survive? Could you kill someone if they were willing to kill you and you knew it in your soul? Could you damage someone irreparably? Poke out an eye? Would you sacrifice a limb to save your child? To what lengths do you think you are willing to go to survive?

Fighting, contrary to Hollywood movies, is very messy stuff. There are bodily fluids, gore and overwhelming emotions that weigh you down and clog your head with black goo. When we see our own blood, or any blood, we freeze in fear, afraid to do anything in case the next thing might be even worse.

It’s alright not to be sure. There isn’t even any data on whether exploring the ugly stuff will really help you in the event of an emergency. But there is a lot of conjecture by military and law enforcement experts that it helps greatly to have some understanding of these preliminary issues to avoid freezing and doing nothing in the event of a catastrophic emergency. And doing nothing in an emergency situation is almost always universally considered the worst thing to do.

If you ever have to make a life or death decision regarding yourself or someone you love, give yourself permission to do whatever you need to do to survive. Make your peace with it now so you don’t stop and question yourself when every second counts.

You may or may not be capable of brutality, but you may need to consider it and give yourself permission to do whatever it takes to protect yourself and your children. Fighting for them means fighting for yourself even when they aren’t with you. You need to give it everything you’ve got unless you want them to have to endure a knock on the door by the police at 3AM to tell them Mommy isn’t coming home tonight, in fact she’s never coming home again. Unless you want your husband or mother, or grown kids to have to identify your body, you’re going to need to fight with everything you have, and not give up, no matter how much blood you see. Besides, the blood might be his.

If you look to the animal kingdom you will find plenty of instances of tiny animals scaring away or fighting off larger predators with Attitude and Determination. These are two things you will need in spades. The more of it you have, the more the other guy’s resolve will falter. And you want him busy second-guessing his choice, because it will help take the wind out of his sails, turn the tables and give you the upper hand. You may need a trigger for this. Think about it now. Your trigger may be the thought of your kids and this guy daring to try and take you away from them. It may be the pure rage of absolute indignation and incredulity. It could be hearing the music from Rocky in your head. It’s all good.

Kathy Jackson teaches women to understand and handle guns. Kathy has six children. She knows that we often protect others with more ferocity than we protect ourselves and she begins her workshops by making eye contact with each woman individually and telling her directly and in no uncertain terms, “You do not need permission from anyone else. You do not have to have someone else to protect or stay alive for. Your life is worth protecting with everything you’ve got. Your life is worth protecting. Period” She makes eye contact with each woman individually and repeats this mantra, because she knows women need to embody it.

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