“Battles are won or lost before they are fought.” Sun Tzu

Battles are lost or won by preparation. This is as true for sports like dragon boat racing, a sport I enjoy and compete in, as it is for self-defense. We can increase our chances by daily training on a mental and physical level and by making daily choices that further our goals, whether the goal is winning a competition or staying safe.

Here are three attributes of effective preparation:

  • Develop a positive mental attitude and enjoy mental training.
  • Hone your physical skill sets through realistic, hard physical training.
  • Adopt a daily routine of making conscious choices.

Mental training is key for self-defense. As in sport competitions, mental preparation is key for success in self-protection. Self-defense should start long before any physical action. Personal safety management, de-escalation, risk awareness, risk reduction, and risk avoidance are a huge part of self-defense. This is especially true for anyone who doesn’t boast 250 pounds of lean muscle and solid fighting skills honed in long-term training.

Mental training starts with developing and nurturing a positive attitude towards yourself and your abilities. It helps to like and to value yourself in order to want to protect yourself. As in sports competitions, in self-defense it helps to believe in yourself. Of course, such beliefs should be based on competence and training. Delusion and self-deception about one’s abilities can be dangerous.

My mental self-defense training includes reminding myself regularly to be aware of myself and of my environment. I ask myself periodically, “How do I feel? What do I sense? Where am I? What am I doing? What should I pay attention to right now?” This type of metal training has probably increased my safety more than my time in the gym. For instance, it has kept me safe numerous times when I was driving and when my thoughts drifted off to things other than the traffic and the road conditions around me.

Avoidance is Best. Avoiding violence is more effective self-protection than any other self-defense. It protects you not only from physical and emotional injuries and doctor and therapy bills, but also from potential civil lawsuits and the inevitable legal fees, even if you were totally justified and were never prosecuted criminally. While you may consider legal prosecution for excessive force a remote risk, especially if you are a woman, you still need to consider it as a potential risk of any physical counter-attack.

Physical training needs to be realistic. Physical attacks happen when avoidance has failed. Physical attacks are often brutal, fast, and continuous. Vicious close-up violence does damage. It hurts, and without proper preparation, and sometimes even with it, it can debilitate you before you have any chance to counter it. A physical attack is nothing like a sparring match in a boxing ring or a martial arts octagon . It’s not a fight between two matched competitors. Any person who is being attacked, especially people who are smaller and have less mass than their attacker, need to counter-attack immediately, ferociously, and on proper targets. If you have to fight for your life, you may have a better chance if you fight “dirty.” Targets and techniques that are illegal in sports are often essential when you need to counter-attack. Training for self-defense needs to be based on the realities of criminal attacks, not the niceties of sports competitions.

It helps to be able to see valuable targets like eyes, throat, groin, knees, or ankles. You’ll want to train how to use your natural weapons effectively and how to inflict incapacitating damage to these targets. You should also practice using improvised weapons. A rock or an iron bar can do more damage than your hammer-fist alone.

When your attacker outweighs you by 100 pounds, you may benefit from deception, distraction, and disruption. You’ll  want to know how to shut down or at least seriously impair, systems like sight,  how to break a knee joint or damage a wrist or ankle. But “knowing” isn’t enough; you’ll need to be able to dish out violence without hesitation and with full commitment. Not everyone is able to switch instantly from their civilized mindset to an a-social attacker mode necessary to shut down a threat. Think about what it would take for you to make that switch. And thinking about it isn’t enough. At the very least, you may want to do some training on a body opponent bag.

Physical training needs to be realistic. Training from positions of disadvantage and a focus on good body mechanics and on ending any attack as quickly as possible are important elements of such training.

Make deliberate choices regarding your safety. The choices we make every day increase or decrease our risks and our chances of remaining safe, not just from criminal attackers. Sometimes we make conscious choices to take risks, for example when we go white water rafting at extreme water levels, or when we travel or work in geographic areas with a high risk of terrorism, crime, or other violence.

Sometimes, people take other risks, like remaining with a violent partner. For some people, these decisions aren’t real choices due to economic, social, familial, legal, or other factors.

But the more we can choose deliberately, the more we can consciously weigh the risks and benefits of our choices, the more effectively we can manage our safety risks.

It’s important to have fun, and sometimes that means making a conscious choice to “live dangerously.” But at the very least, make these choices fully aware of what you are risking and gaining.


Flip at Triple Hole

Flip at Triple Hole

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