Enjoy a happy and safe 2018!
For me, 2017 brought big changes. Moving forward has been good. In the coming year, at Three Rivers Defense, we’ll focus again on wellness, healing, and violence prevention.
Self-defense and violence prevention are serious subjects. Harassment is obnoxious. Sexual and other assaults can be terrifying and traumatizing. But self-defense training doesn’t have to be scary or tedious.
People learn and retain information more easily and effectively when they are relaxed and have fun. That’s why we strive to have fun when we are training.
Real self-defense is also much more than just punching, kicking, or other physical techniques. It goes way beyond that. Self-defense starts with self-awareness: checking in with ourselves. It includes noticing our emotions and the sensations in our bodies. It includes paying attention to how we feel about someone or a place or a situation. Self-awareness is the basis of any situational awareness and any effective self-protection.
Self-defense also includes exploring what or who makes us happy and what or who bring us down.
For me, self-defense on an every-day basis includes making time for fun, eating well, and drinking water (not my favorite). For example over the last few days, I spent time laughing with my daughters over old photos and skiing powder at Bridger Bowl.
I hope you have time for some self-care, whatever that means for you in the coming year. Happy 2018!
Enjoy a happy and safe 2018!
Behavioral medicine, neuroscience, and evolution all support mindfulness as an essential foundation for effective self-protection. Risk awareness and violence avoidance, as well as effective defense and counter-attacks, are all grounded in mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? The essence of mindfulness is to be fully present in the here and now – to perceive the present reality without bias, preconception, judgment, or projection. Simple, right?
It isn’t simple for me. Even though I teach mindfulness in my self-defense classes, I’m easily distracted. I’m often preoccupied with thoughts about the past or the future. Rather than paying attention to what I smell, hear, see, taste, or feel, I catch myself thinking about and judging what I perceive, and often my thoughts wonder. I have to make continuous conscious efforts to be fully present with the people I interact with.
Smart phones and computers provide constant connection and information and also constant distraction. I know I am easily distracted by my cellphone, alerting me to new messages, emails, or breaking news. At times, my eyes are glued to my Smartphone and the Internet engrosses me to the point that I forget to pay adequate attention to my surroundings.
An extreme example of oblivion involves a shooting on a municipal train in San Francisco. All of the passengers appeared to be focused on their cell phones and tablets. None of them noticed a man with a gun until he shot a university student, Justin Valdez. The passengers apparently didn’t pay any attention to the gunman even though he repeatedly drew a .45-caliber pistol, pointed it across the aisle, and then tucked it in his side again, before he eventually shot Valdez in the back. The shooter even lifted his hand with the gun to wipe his nose, and no one noticed him. Describing Closed Circuit TV footage, District Attorney George Gascón said, “These weren’t concealed movements — the gun is very clear.” The passengers were in very close proximity with the gunman, and nobody saw his movements or the gun.
Did dozens of train passengers fail to notice a gun because they were hyper-focused on their digital screens? Maybe that’s too simple an explanation. Crowd dynamics and other human factors may also have played a role. But the constant demands of phones, computers, and media on our attention and perception make it difficult for many of us to remain mindful – self-aware and aware our environment.
Constant immersion in digital worlds may not only affect our abilities to notice people around us; it may also erode our skills to perceive emotions even when we do “see” a person who poses a potential threat. Lack of face-to-face interaction may decrease our innate threat-detection abilities. Without enough practice, our competence to sense and interpret gestures or facial expressions, especially split-second-long micro-expressions, may deteriorate, and we many not note fleeting signs of anger, disgust, or contempt, even when we “see” another person. For instance, a brief sneer, signifying contempt, may alert you that a new acquaintance doesn’t respect you. Without sufficient practice in mindful face-to-face interaction, you may miss the sneer and other expressions or gestures. You may also miss subtle changes in pitch, inflection, tone, or volume of someone’s voice. Maybe you have progressed farther than I have in being mindful, but if you are as easily distracted as I still am, you may also benefit from mindfulness training.
Awareness and mindfulness can be trained. Even as you sit at your office desk, you can start with simple exercises like listening to sounds such as the humming of traffic outside. While grocery shopping, you can practice observation by consciously noting the hands and facial expressions of people around you. Sitting in a commuter train, you can experience sensations of touch, for example your forearm resting on a plastic armrest. You can also practice interoception, perceiving your body’s sensations, such as tenseness in your jaw muscles or queasiness in your stomach.
Chocolate – Practicing noting sensations and feelings
A favorite awareness and mindfulness exercise of my course participants is engaging all five senses while tasting chocolate.
Listen to the sound of the tin foil as you unwrap the chocolate bar. Hear the sound of breaking off a piece. See the piece of chocolate and note its shape, color, and texture. Smell the fragrance of the cocoa. Put the piece of chocolate into your mouth and feel its smoothness on your tongue. Sense the change in its texture as the chocolate piece melts in your mouth. Taste the flavor and intensity of the cocoa.
Now tune into yourself. How do you feel? Content? Happy? Satisfied? Disappointed? Frustrated? Sad? Anxious?
If you don’t eat chocolate, you can do this exercise with any other food, like a blueberry, a raisin, a piece of cheese, or with a sip of water, coffee, tea, or wine.
- Increased ability to sense how another person makes you feel. Meditators have better abilities to determine whether other people present threats to them. Their interoception is more acute.
- Increased ability to detect new stimuli in the environment. For example, a person who regularly meditates might have noticed the gun in the San Francisco commuter train.
- Increased ability to focus.
- Better ability to regulate emotions and to use cognitive thinking under stress.
- Better ability to relax and recuperate from stress.
 Source: SFGate.com
 You don’t even have to actually be around another person to practice. Programs on sites like humintell.com or paulekman.com allow you to practice and train your ability to read facial expressions online without face-to-face interaction.
Predators need proximity to attack their victims. They generally gain proximity through two basic methods: surprise and ambush or charm. Using their charm and manipulation, predators often test and then violate boundaries.
By definition, every criminal attack is a boundary violation. Sexual assault, stalking, rape, intimidation, and other attacks are all boundary violations. We have physical boundaries. We also have mental and emotional comfort zones.
Not every boundary violation is a crime, but criminal attacks often start with gradually increasing boundary violations. Aggressors often test potential victims to find out whether and how they set, enforce, and protect their boundaries and where they are vulnerable.
In addition to, or combined with, boundary testing criminals often employ manipulation and control techniques based on the target’s personality traits such as kindness, credulity, eagerness to please, or cravings for acceptance. When criminals test a potential victim’s boundaries verbally, we sometimes call this process criminal interviewing. This is one interview that you want to fail.
Self-defense begins with risk awareness, reduction, recognition, and avoidance. Effective risk management includes setting, protecting, and enforcing your boundaries.
Boundary setting isn’t only important for violence prevention against criminal predators. Self-care in every day life also includes setting and enforcing healthy boundaries at home, at work, with friends, and with acquaintances throughout your day.
My next post will make some suggestions for recognizing boundary violations that may begin with subtle encroachments, at times disguised as flattery and admiration.
Have a happy and safe 4th of July!
Next week, we’ll have a free return-and-practice self-defense session.
The training will take place at our studio at 612 W Griffin in Bozeman on Wednesday, July 12th from 7:00pm –8:30pm. Everyone who has trained with us in the past is invited. You are also welcome to bring a friend.
Come and join us, refresh your skills, and connect with former training partners. To sign up, please email Brigitte at email@example.com by Monday, July 10th.
After a month in Germany and then a brief dragon boat race excursion to Canada, Brigitte will be back in Montana in July.
Three Rivers Defense self-defense training in Montana will resume in July.
We’ll also have a free return-and-practice self-defense session on the second Wednesday in July (7-12-2017) from 7:00 until 8:30pm. Everyone who has trained with us in the past is invited. You are also welcome to bring a friend.
Come and join us, refresh your skills, and connect with former training partners. To sign up, email Brigitte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brigitte Schulze and Three Rivers Defense will do a self-defense workshop on how to free yourself from grabs and holds.
Attacks against women often start with attempts to restrain them – holding, grabbing, or pulling them. We’ll learn how to break free quickly, and how to counter- attack as necessary to escape to safety.
We are looking forward to training with the women of the Montana Farmers Union and everyone else who joins us for some training, soaking at Chico, and inspiration for cultivating our potential. The conference is open to anyone.
Join us! Everyone is welcome!
Denial of violence is a powerful psychological defense mechanism, easing anxiety and lulling people into believing they live safe, idyllic lives. They don’t want to think about the possibility of violence. Negating the possibility of violence makes them feel more secure and comfortable. They often proclaim to be strictly non-violent, abhorring violence as universally bad. They like to say that violence never solved any problem. But denial comes at a price because it dulls our awareness and our risk management abilities.
Denial also works in other ways when people deny what real violence is.
Some people confuse self-defense with martial arts or training drills in the safety of their gym or dojo. Self-defense against a criminal attack is nothing like sparring in the dojo. Even boxing matches and mixed martial arts, Muay Thai, and other sanctioned fights have strict rules, aimed at preventing severe injuries and civil and criminal liability. For example, there are illegal targets, like the eyes; illegal weapons, like eye gouges; and illegal weapon/target combinations, like stomping a fallen opponent on the ground. Fighters are matched up by experience, weight, and gender. They begin and end fighting with the bell. Referees make sure that the fighters spar according to the rules, and time limits determine the length of each round. Ambulances stand by in case anything goes wrong. Contenders consent to mutual fights at agreed upon times, dates, and locations. They study their opponent and train for the fight to be in the best possible shape on fight night.
Predatory criminal attackers on the other hand generally choose their victims based on the victims’ perceived vulnerability, surprise, and lack of preparation. Attackers rely on their own superior strength, size, and power. They choose the time and the location of the attack, preferably isolated places with easy access and escape for the attacker, and no witnesses. The environment may be a dirty hallway or a bathroom stall, not a comfortable training gym with clean, padded floors and water-filled ergonomic heavy bags. Instead, the ground may be asphalt or cement, littered with broken glass. The attacker may reek of sweat or alcohol, and have oozing blisters.
In an ambush, you may be hit first. You may be injured, in pain, and blinded by blood or tears, while trying to recover and defend and counter-attack. Real attacks cause stress reactions, like freezing, tunnel vision, and auditory exclusion. You may experience decreased pain, increased strength and speed, but also loss of fine motor control, and of the ability to think, plan, and act strategically.
The more you deny the realities of violence, the greater the costs you will pay in a real ambush by a predator. In situations where you have a chance to think and choose a course of action, for example in imminent partner assaults, you also need to weigh potential legal consequences of exceeding force justified under the circumstances. This is especially true in altercations that are more appropriately termed fights rather than attacks, such as bar quarrels. When you have a chance to de-escalate or walk away, any violence you use may ultimately be considered assault, or aggravated assault or even attempted homicide if you for example cause internal injury.
Think about denial and be honest with yourself. Do you have the attitude that you live in a safe community and that your chances of encountering violence are slim to non-existent? Do you have a realistic appreciation of your risk profile and of your ability to de-escalate or defend against and neutralize threats? Do you fantasize about counter-attacking physically, putting your attacker in the hospital with hardly a scratch to yourself, and being welcomed by the community as a local hero? Do you have illusions about your ability to flip the switch from civilized person who usually relies on persuasion, negotiation, or appeasement to asocial fighter ready to seriously injure or kill another human being?
Being mindful requires you to be as realistic about your risks and as honest about yourself, your capabilities, and your attitudes, including your hang-ups and your fantasies, as possible. Watch some videos of attacks from Closed Circuit TV cameras to see how fast and brutal some attacks are. Talk with some emergency room nurses or doctors to learn more about the type of injuries they encounter. Violence can be bloody, painful, debilitating, and expensive. You may need to pay bills for doctors, hospitals, physical and other therapy, as well as potentially staggering legal bills if you are charged or sued in a civil law suit. You may lose income. In addition, you may suffer emotionally and mentally as a result of having been attacked or having injured or killed someone in self-defense. For all of theses reasons, the best defense is avoidance whenever that is a safe option.
Sometimes, unfortunately, avoidance is no longer a safe option.
When you need to fight back to save your life, it helps to have basic skills in using the tools of violence for your protection.
 See for example, nothingtoxic.com
When people think of parking lots and self-defense, they often immediately think of predators lurking in dark spaces. But for most people, danger from distracted drivers or from being distracted themselves is much greater.
Based on National Safety Council statistics, 1 in 5 accidents happen in parking lots. A false sense of security is one contributing factor. Lots of people, both drivers and pedestrians, are talking on their phones, texting, or otherwise preoccupied. But even crashes at slow speed can kill or cause significant injuries.
During this the Holiday season be extra-careful in parking lots, both when driving and when walking.
Physical, mental, and emotional self-awareness are crucial components of self-defense. Many predators are very adept at assessing people’s vulnerabilities and needs. Hardening yourself as a target starts with an honest, objective self-assessment.
Personality can be described as habitual characteristics of behavior, temperament, and emotions. Think about what you project about yourself to others. How do others generally perceive you? Do you come across as assertive? Shy? Demure? Compliant? Quiet? Cooperative? Trusting? Suspicious? Domineering? Strong-willed? Weak? Insecure? What personality traits make you a soft or a hard target? Are you easily flattered, impressed, or otherwise influenced by other people? Which type of people or under what circumstances?
Your current mood and constitution
Predators are also generally attuned to their targets’ vulnerabilities due to their current moods and physical constitutions. When you are lonely or sad, for example after a recent loss or break-up, you may be more susceptible to someone’s charm, manipulation, or faked solicitude than when you are physically and emotionally healthy and strong. The serial killer Ted Bundy was a master at tuning into his victims’ physical and emotional conditions. For example, one of his victims had just broken up with her boyfriend. Another one was preoccupied with exams.
Your passions – how people connect with you
Also think about your passions. Do people use your social, political, recreational or other interests to attempt to manipulate you? Predators sometimes fake shared interests to gain their targets’ trust and make them let down their guard. Obviously, most people enjoy social interaction with others who share their interests. A lot of us do. But be careful when new acquaintances try to use your passion to force trust or to manipulate you into doing things you wouldn’t do otherwise.
Your current focus
Make a habit of asking yourself, where is my focus? For instance, as you are running in the early morning hours with few people on the trails and your thoughts wander to your work or kids, train yourself to return your focus to your surroundings.
Throughout the day, whether we are driving on a freeway, walking down a city sidewalk, or enjoying our morning run, our thoughts digress. For instance, you may be worrying about an exam, a presentation at work, or your sick dog. You may be fatigued or worn out by a nasty cold. You may be upset about an argument with your spouse or a friend. Pre-occupation with thoughts about the past or the future often diverts our attention from our environment. Thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, for instance pain from a sore throat, can all distract us from sensing and processing signals from the world around us. One way to harness your situational and environmental awareness is to make it a habit to refocus on the present moment.
At a seminar at the annual Martial Arts Industries Association conference in 2014, a presenter suggested that we should ask ourselves periodically, “Where am I? What am I doing? What should I pay attention to right now?” This is good advice for business; it’s also a good habit for safety. It’s so easy to tune out as we are driving or walking or doing anything else throughout the day. This simple series of questions can bring us back to the here and now. And that is where we need to be so that situational awareness can protect us against ambush as well as accidents.
Awareness of your physical self: gait, posture, and demeanor
Mental and emotional self-awareness is your first step to hardening yourself as a target of opportunistic predatory violence. Another crucial step is physical self-awareness.
Researchers Betty Grayson and Morris Stein conducted a classic study on victim selection with prison inmates convicted of violent crimes like armed robbery, rape, and murder. They showed the inmates videos of pedestrians walking down a busy New York City sidewalk and asked them to identify people they would pick as targets. The criminals’ answers were remarkably uniform even though they couldn’t articulate their criteria. Analysis of the videotapes showed that the inmates’ victim selections were based on perceived vulnerability and lack of environmental awareness rather than other criteria like size or gender.
The preferred victims’ postures, gait, body language, and general demeanor were similar in that they signaled timidity and weakness. For instance, their posture was slumped and their gait lacked “synchrony” or fluidity and wholeness. Shuffling, a short or awkward stride, and a general lack of athleticism and of awareness were seen as signs of vulnerability and weakness. The Stein/Grayson study suggests that people demonstrating environmental and situational awareness and athletic, fluid body movements are less likely to be targeted.
You can project more assertive body language by practicing these postures and movements:
- Roll your shoulders back and straighten them.
- Lift your chin.
- Look around you with a relaxed demeanor, rather than looking down.
- Walk with a comfortable, fluid stride.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets and unencumbered.
- Engage in physical activity that you enjoy and that helps you become comfortable with you body and with movement.
Awareness of your voice and how it’s perceived by others
Our voices also communicate assertiveness as well as insecurity and vulnerability. You can train yourself to sound more assertive. Start by becoming aware of the tone of your voice, and its rate, pitch, and inflection. Work on developing a calm and confident tone. Talk with a moderate rate, not too fast and not too slowly. Listen to the pitch of your voice. Practice for a moderate pitch, neither too high not too low. When we are suddenly afraid and the autonomous nervous system activates a sympathetic nervous system response, our voice changes and becomes high pitched, raspy, and fast. We can counter this effect by slow breathing: breathing in slowly, holding our breath for a second, breathing out even more slowly, and then repeating the sequence. Slow breathing can calm us physically as well as mentally.
It’s especially important to note the inflections at the end of your sentences. If you raise your voice at the end of a sentence you’ll sound unsure. For instance, when you tell someone, “I’m not interested” or “Leave me alone” and raise your voice at the end, you may well be perceived as asking a question or making a plea, rather than giving a command. If your inflection stays at the same level, the voice signals a willingness or invitation to continue interaction. You may also be perceived as being unsure of your intent. When you watch national news with experienced broadcasters, listen to their use of inflection. As long as someone’s presentation is continuing, they’ll also continue with the same inflection. At the end of their statement, they will lower their voice. Practice lowering your voice at the end of the sentence when you give a direction, and you’ll instantly sound more assertive.
Good self-awareness is a great way to start hardening yourself as a potential target.
I have some reservations about the safety pin movement that I wrote about in another post. With those caveats, here are some suggestions for situations where you notice that someone is verbally harassing another person:
- Assess the situation for physical risk to the harassed person and to you. Ask yourself ahead of time, do you have any skills assessing risk? If not, you might educate yourself about risk assessment.
- Do you have de-escalation skills? If not, you might want to educate yourself, and practice.
- What if the harassment escalates to physical violence? Do you have a plan on what to do?
- If the harasser is threatening to hurt the person physically, your best option might be to call 911. I say “might” because the harassed person might not agree that law enforcement is the best option.
- If your assessment is that there is no immediate physical danger, you could start by asking the targeted person if there is anything you can do for them. Don’t make assumptions.
- You might ignore the harasser while you support the targeted person by simply standing with them or engaging them in friendly small talk, such as talk about the weather. In some situations that might be the safest and most effective action to take. More effective and safer than engaging with harassers. The harasser may leave. On the other hand, ignoring harassers can also empower them. They also may turn their aggression to you. Are you prepared for that possibility? How?
- You might support the targeted person by being a witness which might cause the harasser to stop. Sometimes, people take video to deter harassers, a strategy that may or may not work, and that may also put you at risk.
- Again, don’t assume that you know what the targeted person needs or wants in the situation. Don’t escalate a situation based on your need to assert yourself.
- For situations that are clearly non-physically threatening, you might remember NNSS for NOTICE harassing behavior, NAME the behavior, tell the harasser to STOP, and SUPPORT the targeted person. But this is a simple framework, which may be appropriate only for relatively benign situations.
- There is no panacea for verbal harassment; support the targeted person in a way that respects them and feels safe to you under the circumstances. Again, redundancy intended, don’t assume that you know what the targeted person needs and wants. And remember, what “feels safe” to you may not be.
- If a targeted person is visibly upset, you could ask if you can call someone for them or do anything else for them. Respect the targeted person’s autonomy.
- Sometimes there are creative indirect ways to support a targeted person. For instance, a woman heard that a person at a sandwich shop asked that the sandwich be made by the white guy, not the Indian man. She made a point of asking that hers be made by the Indian man.