“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.

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.

Here are a smattering of #selfdefensesuccess stories that have across my screen these last couple of weeks.

Important to remember: I’ll bet none of these women ever took a “self-defense” class (though at least one had military training).  The two most critical factors in successful self-defense are (1) the belief that it can be done, and (2) trying one tool after another until something works.

From Louisiana, a 72 year old woman routes armed attacker with nothing but her steely instincts and a fire extinguisher. Woman’s son later describes his mom as “a pretty strong old fart.” Yeah, that’s how I’d have described my mom too.  http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20131231/ARTICLES/131239885/1320?p=1&tc=pg#gsc.tab=0

Now going north to Ohio:  woman uses voice, attracts bystander attention. Bystanders call police. Police arrive in time to see the woman running out of the house, followed by man with knife. Man is subdued and arrested!  http://www.springfieldnewssun.com/news/news/police-man-attempted-to-rape-woman/ncZbw/

Some self-defense stories are more graphic than are others.  This one is graphic.  Let’s jump across the globe, to Bangladesh.  In this instance, a woman fights back against an acquaintance by cutting off his penis and bringing it to the police.  http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/woman-cuts-penis-man-attempting-rape-her  The wanna-be rapist then claimed that he was the real victim, because they had been having an affair, he refused to leave his wife and children and move with her to another city.  So, he claims, she cut off his penis and is pressing rape charges to retaliate.  This attempt to deflect responsibility is a common tactic among rapists.

And now back to the glorious Puget Sound, the last one for today is from former student “E” who relates a self-defense success years earlier:

“When I was a young college student, I often passed through New York City to get from my parents’ home to my college in upstate New York. On one such visit, I was walking down a street and felt like I was being followed. I made the decision to act irrationally: singing to myself, walking with a twitch/jerking motions. I tried to act like a mentally unstable person. After a while, the man stopped following me, and I’m certain that if I hadn’t, I would have been attacked.”

Do you have a story to share?  Contact me!

Do you want to learn some of these skills that proved successful for others?  A plethora of six week Self-Defense 101 for Women courses are about to begin in the next week.  Visit the page and register today.

Phoenix Jones himself.
Read the Weekly article for yourself.

A few months ago The Seattle Weekly published an article on “Phoenix Jones” and his group of Rain City Superheros. Jones, the group’s de facto spokesman, calls himself the “Guardian of Seattle.” His goal is to keep us all safe by fighting crime in a superhero costume. Just like in the comics.

So, according to this article, he and his cohorts roam around Pioneer Square and Belltown as the 2:00 closing hour approaches, helping the party-hardy stay out of fights.

Jones seems aware that his costumed approach, while garnering press today, will eventually wear thin. “The goal is for the people to be inspired by what I do. The goal is to inspire people to not put up with petty crimes.”

So there is some discussion about whether or not he actually does help solve crimes, or keep our streets safer, or is he a total wack job running around in a rubber suit. That’s not the discussion I’m interested in.

While Jones and his colleagues are roaming around downtown city streets, most assaults against women are committed in their homes, or in someone else’s home. Where Jones and his cadre of superheros are not. All the superheros on the streets will not protect you against the abusive boyfriend in the bedroom. So, at times, many of us will have to be our own superheros.

If you were to be a superhero, who would you be? What would be your super power? Who are you sworn to protect? I’ve been asking students in my self-defense classes that very question. Let me know. Evil-doers need not apply.

On Jul 19, 2009, two women were attacked in their home in Seattle’s South Park. Both were repeatedly raped. One of the two, Teresa Butz, died. Isaiah Kalebu is now on trial for these crimes.

Eli Sanders of The Stranger wrote a touching and compelling article about the survivor’s court testimony. The title is The Bravest Woman in Seattle. He describes the grace and tears with which this woman testified about her life with Teresa, and their hopes and plans for the future. And then about the events of that night, which took all that away. At times Sanders ventures into details nobody would want to read, and spares us graphic depiction of the worst. The survivor relates how they understood what was happening, and why they made the safety choices they did.

This is important. Over the past 2 years I’ve been approached by students (and others who know I teach self-defense classes). Usually this isn’t during class time, but afterwards. In quiet tones, they ask about what they, if ever in that situation, could do. They don’t want to appear to be victim-blaming, but they wonder why the two women didn’t “succeed” in fighting back against only one assailant.


These people should read Sanders’ article.

Each person, when faced with assault, has to make their best choice. Sometimes the choice is between bad and worse. It’s simple to look in from outside, after the facts and feelings, and decide what somebody else should have done. Personally, after reading this account from the survivor, I can’t say that I would have done differently. After reading this account, I doubt you could say otherwise.

It can be easy to forget first things first. In self-defense there’s so much emphasis on the “bad guys,” like recognizing them, avoiding them, confronting them, defending against them, etc., that we put aside why it’s important.

Which is to enjoy daily life with more confidence and less anxiety. For me, this time of the year, that means the backyard barbecue.

Sitting outside on my deck, dinner fresh off the grill, glass of wine . . . what’s not to like? This time of year it’s all about the salmon and the asparagus. I do very little with them: some olive oil, salt & pepper. That’s all we need. The salmon should be able to stand on its own, without additional dressing. Sometimes  toss the grilled asparagus with balsamic vinegar and grated manchego cheese.

I’ve also tossed whole potatoes on the grill, again first tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. The starchy ones come out light and tasty. Purple Vikings are nice, small russets would also be good.

Two weeks ago we grilled tri-tip steaks. I like them rubbed with spices and grilled quickly over direct high heat. The spice rub this time was ground cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, crushed Sichuan peppercorns, and salt. You don’t need a lot of the Sichuan peppercorns, and the unusual flavor adds an intriguing and playful dimension to the cumin and oregano combo.

So get out there and enjoy.

As I wrote 4 days ago, there are no “rules of engagement” in self-defenseThese are tools you can use to keep safe, and they work. Most of the time. Your mileage will vary depending on the situation and your skill level. And this is the most important tool of all.

Use your voice. Use it early and often.

This is your single most critical weapon. Assault is a battle of power and control. When you use your voice, you command power. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve seen this before. If you’ve taken a Strategic Living self defense class you know the importance of your voice and practiced using it.

Yell direct commands at the assailant. Words like “no” and “stop” and “back off” and “let go” give the message that you are taking your power and using it.
 
Afterwards, find supportive people to tell. This can include family and friends, crisis clinic hotline or sexual assault advocates, and law enforcement. Your choice, your voice.

As I wrote 2 days ago, there are no “rules of engagement” for self-defense.

Once you begin fighting back physically, keep going until you’ve cleared your escape. You can think of this as fighting until your assailant is either on the ground, stunned, or running away (do NOT run after them). In most cases, this is 1 or 2, up to about 5, good techniques. Do NOT pause in the middle – you would be giving your assailant the time they need to recoup and remount their own attack. Stay in motion. Keep at least one of your weapons (hands/feet/elbows/knees) on the assailant at all times.

Take their balance.
If the assailant is off-balance, they will have difficulty continuing their attack. Remember to find where their “kangaroo tail*” or “third leg*” should be. Use your hip check* to send them downwards into that point.

You will be too close for your comfort. Most likely you will want to get FAR AWAY from the creep. Yet in a fight you will very likely be in hugging distance. Yes, that is where you want to be, and it will be unsettling. This proximity will give you your best position to fight back effectively.

Practice you physical moves so that they are smooth and reflexive.

And remember that all the smooth moves in the world are useless if your brain is denying  that somebody is in the process of harming you.

*Learn how to do these and more in Strategic Living’s self-defense classes for women.

When can no “no” = yes?

When someone does not clearly communicate a lack of consent to sexual acts. At least under the law, according to the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

I don’t closely follow sports, but you’d have to be living under a rock in Seattle to miss the story of UW basketball star player Venoy Overton allegedly providing alcohol to two 16 year old girls and engaging in sexual acts with them. 

You can read the Seattle Times’ story of his arrest for providing alcohol here: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014433742_overton09m.html. Please note that he has not been charged with sexual assault, because:

King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Carol Spoor called the case “highly problematic” because the girl participated in sex acts under “situational pressure.”

State law, Spoor wrote, “places the burden on the victim to clearly communicate a lack of consent to the suspect, which she did not do.”

Most of the articles on this incident focus on the loss to the team of this player, at least for the Pac-10 tournament.  However, UW basketball coach Lorenzo Romar is quoted as saying he’d put Overton back on the team roster should they be invited to the NCAA tournament (otherwise known as “March Madness”).  Because his guy made a mistake, and this is a teachable moment.

As a teacher, I’m all for the teachable moment. Some mistakes, however, are more far-reaching than are others, and I am also all for appropriate consequences. For the girl who feels coerced, this experience will likely be deeper and longer-lasting than any repercussions felt by either the Huskies or Overton.

Every teenager and young adult will face “situational pressure.”  (Heck, EVERY person will face situational pressure, over and over, in their lifetimes.)  These instances can feel like being stuck between a rock and a hard place: the choice often seems to be between going along with the group or not having friends. How do we help young people recognize what they want for themselves, honor that, and still live fulfilling social lives? 
This should be a teachable moment for young people, male and female, about consent.  But we won’t be seeing that in the sports pages — or any other media pages — anytime soon. Sexual assault is the social-issue wolf disguised in the individual-sheep’s-problem clothing.

Madness, indeed, is not limited to March.

PS – Learning to assert boundaries is sadly lacking in too many teen girls today. This kind of sensible savvy is practiced in Strategic Living’s For Teen Girls Only Self Defense classes. Next session will be April 2 in Burlington WA, and then April 9 in Seattle on the UW campus.