“Found weapons” is a common class topic.  What do you have in your pocket, your purse, your backpack, that can be used to help fend off an attacker?  A common response is “keys.”  Yes, keys can serve as a self-defense weapon.  However, most students show me a very awkward way to hold them, poking out between fingers like brass knuckles or Wolverine (the superhero) claws.  A better way to hold keys is how you’d open a door — it’s more stable and easy to aim, more maneuverable, and less likely to injury yourself.

I’ve heard that, in the right hands, anything can be used as a weapon (good chance you’ve watched the same bad movie and heard that too).  So watch this video (from my Facebook Live of 10/14/2020).  I do use some technical terms, such as “pokey” and “thwacky.”  These, along with “projectile,” describe different types of weapons.  Look around you, and pick up an object.  Is it pointy and fairly rigid?  Maybe it can be used to poke someone in the eye or throat or other soft tissue.  Does it have heft?  Maybe it can be used to hit someone.  Can you throw it?   That would be a projectile.

Now pick up an object of your choice and try to use it on an inanimate object (such as pillow or box).  Does it slip out of your hand?  Maybe find a better example, or alter your grip.  While it’s great to have an idea and even an object for a weapon, trying it out a couple of times is even better.

This year is winding down, and I’m considering my class schedule for the beginning of 2021.  Anything you’d like to see?  Contact me.  Or check back to see what’s currently online.  Maybe we’ll have a short session on found weapons.

In self-defense we talk a LOT about saying NO and STOP and BACK OFF!!!  But more often in our routine lives saying YES could be the more satisfying option.  What if the request is coming from a stranger?  Here I’m going to describe one instance of my process.

This happened to me only a couple of years ago. I live in a little house in the part of Seattle called Beacon Hill, which is south of downtown and even south of the baseball and football stadiums. A quiet residential area, except for the nearby highway and airports, which can be a bit noisy in a droning sort of way. Not exactly a cul-de-sac, but limited cross-streets and little traffic. That nearby highway is Interstate 5, and I could just cross the street, walk a few feet to the fence, go through the gate, and I’m a hop, skip, and jump from the road.

It was middle of the afternoon, middle of the week, in the summer.  I had arrived home after teaching a morning class, pulled up in front of my little house. Got out of my car, locked the door, and turned to go up my walkway. From the corner of my eye I saw a person. Now my neighborhood sees few pedestrians, especially in the middle of the day, so a pedestrian is noteworthy. Especially one carrying what looked like several gallon plastic jugs.

He called out to me, “Miss, hey Miss!”  I turned. He was on the sidewalk in front of my little house, and I was half-way down my walkway (so there was quite a bit of distance between us). He said his car’s radiator sprung a leak, and he asked if he could get some water.

I could have run into the house and locked the door, but like most humans I prefer to be helpful.  Saying YES would fulfill that, and how could I make sure I stayed safe at the same time?  I noted he did seem to be stressed. Could have been from his car’s breakdown, or considering that if I said no he may have to knock on doors which would be more stressful. Perhaps he didn’t have access to AAA or other roadside assistance. But the most important clue was that he stayed on the sidewalk. He did not try to get closer by coming onto my walkway, and seemed mindful of boundaries. So I said YES.  I would bring out the garden hose and he could fill his jugs. He asked if it were OK to come back a second time, and I said sure, just let me know when he was done. And I got the hose, brought it close to where he was and still kept over 10 feet of distance. I left him to his refilling. Of course I watched periodically as he filled jugs, left, returned, filled them again. When I figured he was done I went to my doorway, we made brief eye contact and he thanked me and left.  He even smiled! He looked less stressed. After he crossed the street and disappeared onto I-5, I retrieved the hose.

If you’ve taken any of my self-defense classes, you may remember that all attackers need both a target and an opportunity. If you short-circuit either, you’ll be safer. Signs of opportunities, also called red flags, I could have been looking for would be distracting chatter, self defense using your voice saying yesquestions of a personal nature, or questions about my neighbors that feel intrusive.  And simultaneously trying to stealthily move closer. Because any attack depends on proximity. That was my key indicator then, and it in this instance it worked out well.

Keep in mind this was MY response at that time. It does NOT make it the best response or the correct response.  I believe the thought process is far more informative than the specific decision.  And while I made a decision, I did keep the young man on my radar and was ready to re-assess that decision should the situation change.  Saying YES is an important choice, one which we should be able to consider.

And that’s all for today. Stay safe, live life.

Red flags. Those warnings that something is amiss. Also called trusting your gut feelings, listening to your intuition, paying attention to your instincts. That’s recognizing boundary violations, which is why we feel uncomfortable. We know what that feels like, and we also sometimes try to sweep those feelings aside. Have you ever ignored red flags? How does that usually turn out? Why do so many of us ignore them?

I think a large part is that most of us do want to get along with most people — neighbors, co-workers, family, clients, coaches, acquaintances, friends. A lot of us also feel that the red flag in question, the words or behavior that jolted us into this questioning mindset, is so small it’s insignificant. And besides, different people have different boundaries, right?  That’s just their particular boundary, right? Not everyone with different boundaries means harm — most don’t! Though some do, and how do you tell the difference?

In the beginning, you don’t. It’s hard to determine if that slight boundary bump was inadvertent or a deliberate boundary test as you’re getting to know someone. However, what you can rely on is that feeling of discomfort. That’s what’s important. And you are entitled to have your own boundaries.

In my self-defense classes I often ask students what they are currently doing to keep themselves safer. Most answer along the lines of not going out alone at night, or parking their car in a well-lit space, or locking doors and windows, or carrying pepper spray, or keeping their keys in their hand at the ready. Most actions that people take to keep themselves safer involve threat from strangers. Yet women are far more likely to be assaulted by someone they know, someone who’s done boundary testing to make sure you’d be a good victim.

How do you stay safer with people you know? By setting your boundaries when you feel the red flags. That might seem Self defense class red flagsuncomfortable. You have boundaries with everyone, even your family and best friends, that’s healthy. Even small ones. In a matter-of-fact manner, with confidence. Manipulators hate having boundaries set. You might experience a bit of pushback, to see if those boundaries are real. So keep them real as you set them. And set them

You can use your voice. It is a really good idea to verbally articulate your boundaries. Use your body language. Your voice and your body language should work together. Take up some more of your space bubble. Use your arms and hands to take up that space — you can talk with your hands. Stand up straight. Good eye-to-face-contact. And when you’re setting a boundary you don’t have to smile at them.

In my classes I also ask students who they want to smile at. Responses generally are family, friends, pets, small children, people I like. People I want to encourage. If you are setting a boundary to discourage a specific behavior, you probably don’t want to smile at that person! It can send a mixed message, with your words saying no but your tone saying maybe or try harder or even yes if you convince me. You want your words and body language to be congruent, to work together.

Use your feet! Control the distance between you and the other person. If someone is standing too close during a conversation, you can step back and use your hands, talk with your hands, to occupy that space.

Sometimes students are worried about making the other person angry, or losing the relationship.  I think of it this way. If someone told me that I were standing a bit too close during a conversation, I’d feel a bit embarrassed that my action made someone I care about uncomfortable.  How about you?  That being said, sometimes setting new boundaries in old relationships will come with some pushback and discomfort, as the other person may be left wondering what’s going on and feel at a loss. It may take some emotional effort, some back-and-forth, communication of intent, and even some justification. But as a result, you may have better boundaries and better relationships.

Have you ever been out walking, for errands or exercise, and felt something amiss?  And you realize the same person seems to be consistently behind you?  Perhaps as you’ve glanced back it seems like they’re suddenly looking away.  You wonder, are they following me?  And you search your brain for your safety skills.

That’s happened to a lot of my students.  It’s happened to me.  This video is about that incident, almost 40 years ago.  Way before I began teaching self-defense, even before I realized that self-defense was a thing.

I still remember it in detail, even though this happened so long ago.  I occasionally wonder how it influenced my later choices, who I consider trustworthy, or my foundations of personal safety and safety skills.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his recent book Talking To Strangers, proposes that unless it’s super obvious, we give people we just meet the benefit of the doubt and some of our trust.  After a while, it gets hard to change our minds about them, even when they begin to violate our boundaries and eventually cause us grief.  In fact, he infers that people who are  NOT inclined to trust others are lonely and unhappy paranoids.  (I reviewed this book on Facebook Live a few months ago.)  Not surprisingly, many students who doubt another’s intent express concern that they are paranoid.  Well, if that other person is pushing your boundaries and not listening when you correct them, you’re not paranoid.

In this story, a stranger does push boundaries.  A common response is to ignore that person, which is more likely to work when there is greater distance between you and them.  That tactic did not work in my case, and I moved on to others.  And one of the indicators of more likely success in self-defense is having a few tricks up your sleeve, and switching them until you find which works.

You’ll learn quite a few tricks in these self-defense classes, which currently are all online.

I’d have a few concerns. But I’m not a mom of a girl going away to school, I just teach personal safety skills to girls whose moms are concerned as their girls are growing into independence.

Recent headlines tell us about a young man at one of America’s elite prep schools who engaged in the school tradition of “senior salute.”  How that particular encounter turned into non-consensual sex and a rape charge.  The young man was convicted by a jury of one count of using the internet to have sex with a child, and three counts of misdeameanor sexual assault and child endangerment.  He was acquitted of the more serious charges of felony rape.

According to CNN’s legal analyst Sunny Hostin, “the jury did not appear to believe the former prep school student’s claim that there was no intercourse, but it also seemed to dismiss his accuser’s testimony that it was against her will.”

My focus, as a self-defense teacher, is less on the legal issues and more on what we’re teaching girls, explicitly as well as implicitly.

This article from the New York Times details the young woman’s testimony.  She describes a mixture of emotions during and after the assault — of politeness and pain, then secrecy versus standing up for herself.

“I didn’t want to come off as an inexperienced little girl,” she said. “I didn’t want him to laugh at me. I didn’t want to offend him.”

Afterward, she said, she felt physical pain and utter confusion, and blamed herself for the events; it took several days for her to tell anyone, in full, what happened.

“I feel like I had objected as much as I felt I could at the time. And other than that I felt so powerless,” she said, adding, “I was telling myself, ‘O.K., that was the right thing to do, you were being respectful.’ ”
This girl’s feelings of powerlessness are common among teens in this sort of situation.  Girls encounter a host of contradictory messages.  They should be polite, nice, and certainly not rude — while at the same time keeping themselves safe.
I believe respect is a very important social grace, and it should not trump safety.
My concerns include:
  • The jury’s verdict indicates that many adults still don’t believe girls could be telling the truth about rape.  These jury members are also community members, and could very well be among those from whom a girl seeks advice and help.
  • The girl not being aware of other tools at her disposal to discourage and perhaps prevent the rape.
  • The girl’s feelings of powerlessness over her own body.  As noted sexual health educator Amy Lang says, she should be the boss of her body.

Not only should any girl expect to have her “no” respected, she should have other options in case it is not.  That’s what I teach, and in self-defense classes we practice skills when unfortunately “no” isn’t enough.

Attention Parents of Tweens and Teens: wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season with your children. During this school recess, between visiting and feasting and caroling and skiing, make some time to have one or more meaningful conversations about sexual consent (and sexual assault) with your children.  Make it your New Year’s Resolution to keep on engaging in conversation

Perhaps you remember “the talk” from your own youth, and you’re cringing. For some help, take a look at  P.O.P!, a project of King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and their 100 Conversations programs.

P.O.P! (Power of Prevention) is a group of young people who reach out to other young people in their communities by incorporating social media, video, written material, and face-to-face conversations. Their goal is to create healthier communities and end sexual assault by dispelling myths, encouraging positive attitudes and behaviors, and increasing access to resources like KCSARC.

I particularly like two features of their conversation lists. First is the emphasis on understanding what boundaries are, how to find yours, and how to communicate them to others. Second is the social nature of behavior, how others affect what you do, and activating bystanders to do something other than stand by helplessly. BTW, these are two essential topics I cover in my self-defense classes.

As with any other meaningful topic, safety and consent and sex cannot be a one-time conversation with those you care about. Check out the list of 100 topics on the P.O.P! site to help you keep it going, and not fall by the wayside as do most New Year’s Resolution.