Welcome to Part II of the apocalypse/disaster survival guide! (For Part I, click here) Now that you have what you need to be prepared for the worst, are you prepared to defend it against all the other knuckleheads who didn’t read my blog?
Important Disclaimer: I do not advocate nor encourage fighting, using weapons, or hurting other human beings for any reason other than self-defense. I can’t even squash bugs without feeling bad (I leave that business to my kitty, who takes an undisguised joy in killing and eating them). The only time it is acceptable to employ self-defense methods is when verbal diplomacy has failed and there are no other options besides getting hurt or getting tough. It is your right as a human being to keep yourself and those you love safe; however, it is your responsibility to know when it is appropriate to fight, and when it is better to back off.
The majority of us aren’t lucky enough to be a bad-ass Scarlett Johansson ninja-assassin- or have perfect hair after hours of fighting. However, dangerous situations can happen to anyone, whether they’re dressed in a versatile skintight catsuit or jogging shorts from 1983. Visions of a post-apocalyptic existence aside, there are plenty of normal people who spell trouble- a.k.a. muggers, murderers, or scam artists looking to take valuable resources for themselves. Even if you’re not prepping to survive some huge disaster, there are basic safety techniques every man, woman, and child should know to survive everyday life.
First on the list is a simple but obvious rule: trust your intuition. Call it instincts or just a gut feeling, most of us know when something doesn’t sit right. And when the facts don’t add up to anything good, your body’s fight-or-flight mechanisms are your best friend.
However, in order to listen to what your brain is telling you, you need to be tuned in to what is going on. A sharp intuition won’t do you any good if you’re plugged into an iPod or yapping on your cell phone. You need to read the signs of your environment.
Patrick Asay’s blog, Applied Martial Arts, outlines how easily an average early morning can escalate into a deadly encounter. A woman’s ex-boyfriend broke into her sister’s house, located in a small, cozy town where she was staying with her and her ex’s young sons. He then proceeded to shoot everyone in the family, burn the house down, and commit suicide. While this sounds like the typical random act of violence we always hear about on the news, there were several factors that could have made this crime preventable. Earlier in the day, her ex had been sending her “the most delusional psycho-crazy manic” text messages, indicative of his violent past. According to the woman’s coworkers, the man was highly abusive, and threatened to kill her if she ever left him. She had prior knowledge and experience of the man’s hateful actions.
Ok, but it’s not her fault he came to her sister’s house and murdered her, right?
Absolutely not. However, given his “violent past” and the threatening text messages, she could have taken more preventative measures. Basic ones, like notifying the police of harassment and locking the doors at night. I’m also from a small town where no one locks their doors or cars and you have a better chance of hitting a deer than being robbed. I understand that feeling of “we’re safe here, this is a nice neighborhood.” But when you’re dealing with a possessive and obviously abusive ex-boyfriend who is sending you ugly messages, you need to be more careful. Although both women might not have been able to overpower their attacker, they left themselves much more vulnerable by not acknowledging the warning signs. Their best defense would have been taking steps to prevent the violence in the first place.
Asay’s breakdown of this crime proves that even the average person untrained and unskilled in martial arts or the use of weapons can greatly improve their chances of survival by simply avoiding survival situations altogether. Remaining tuned in- not paranoid- and cognizant of your surroundings will allow you to switch from relaxed and aware (or as my brother the future Marine would say, “yellow”) to alert (“orange”), concerned (“red”), or, in the worst of cases, on the defense (“black”). You can’t do that if you’re “in the white,” completely oblivious to what’s going on.
I still remember the most important self-defense rule I ever heard: “don’t run away from danger, run towards safety.” Again, most people think this is a fairly obvious rule, but all you have to do is consider the numbers of kidnapping, rape, and murder to see that this is definitely not the case. In my own survival situation back in my senior year of high school, this was the rule that probably saved my life. Jogging along a lonely country road, I was understandably more aware of any cars that happened to go by then if I had been in a busy city environment. A white van drove past going in the same direction as me, continuing on down a steep hill. I thought nothing of it until they turned around and passed me again, this time traveling back the way they came. Ok, I thought. They are probably looking for someone’s house and got lost. After all, GPS systems had just recently become more common. Most people still relied on maps to get around. However, I wasn’t stupid. I knew that even in my sleepy country town, the world wasn’t as safe as it should be. Now on high alert, I continued my jog, looking over my shoulder every so often to see if the van came back. As I began to descend the hill, the van came barreling past, coming to a screeching halt at the bottom. A man leaned out of the passenger side window, waiting for me to catch up. I immediately turned around and ran as fast as I could back to the nearest house, a good half-mile up the road. I didn’t stop until I had collapsed in the middle of a neighbor’s driveway, legs shaking from fear that the van would return before I could get home.
That hill seemed like the steepest, most insurmountable road I ever climbed. Looking back, I realize where I had gone wrong- running by myself on a deserted road, even a road I had traveled many times before, I should have turned around after the van made its second pass. I was lucky that my iPod was on low, the men didn’t stop closer to me, and even at my young age, I was paying attention to my surroundings and my gut instincts. I have little doubt that I would have been kidnapped or worse had I continued down the hill that day. However, I’m still whole and healthy because I not only ran away from the van, but to the safety of another house.
Think back to all those kindergarten safety classes and seminars you had to sit through your first few days of college. What was the recurring theme? “Don’t talk to strangers, travel with others, be aware in a strange environment, and when something doesn’t feel right, you need to leave.” All very basic and valid security details, with one major flaw- they don’t actually tell you how to survive. Why? These tips only help you to AVOID danger. But what if danger comes to you? Anyone with realistic sense knows that bad things often happen to good people.
So when your prevention plans have failed and you’re in a potentially life-threatening situation, how do you deal with it? I’m certainly no expert on guns, martial arts, or tactical defense. My knowledge comes from my life experiences: extensive worldwide travel, living in the 34th and 47th most dangerous cities in the U.S. (Cleveland and Cincinnati, respectively), and of course, Girlscouting. So while I can’t speak to firing anything other than a hunting bow, the following tips are methods I’ve used in my own life or have learned for those just-in-case moments (may they never come).
1. Fight to get away. Don’t be looking to prolong or “win” the fight. Don’t move in close if you don’t have to; try to stay out of reach of your attacker. There is no shame in walking or running away from a fight when you are outmatched; your main goal is to achieve safety.
2. Just say no. Verbally communicate with your attacker. Legally, and if you’re lucky, physically, you will be in much better shape if you give no doubts about your intentions.
3. If you cannot avoid confrontation:
–Keep your limbs and body free from containment as long as possible. It is much easier to defend yourself when you have a chance to run away or inflict more damage on your attacker.
–Target the vulnerable points of their body. The places you hit will depend on where your attacker is, how close (s)he is to you, your level of skill, etc. Eyes, nose, neck, and knee are the basic ones. For close encounters, gouge the eyeballs with nails or fingers or use the heel of your hand to strike the nose upward. If they grab you from behind, using your elbow to break or bruise the nasal bones will usually cause the desired effect. Elbows or fists to the hollow of the throat with the weight of your body can incapacitate an attacker for a minute or more, giving you enough time to run away. The knee is perhaps the best place to begin your attack, since it is vulnerable from every angle and reachable from farther away, your ideal defense location.
–When throwing a punch, do not curl your fingers around your thumb. That’s a good way to break it. The smaller the surface you use to strike, the more concentrated the force to the target. This is why many martial arts moves use only the first two knuckles to strike. Using all four knuckles provides greater stability and less strain on the wrist, which may be better for a longer encounter. Strike fast and hard, and aim for an imaginary point about an inch or two beyond the actual target, which will give you more driving force. Punching with your entire body behind your fist lends your attack more power; for example, pushing the ground with your legs and twisting your upper body gives you more torque. Always guard your head with your arms and try to pull back from an attack quickly, so your opponent cannot grab you. If you want to give yourself a better edge in a fight, consider some basic training you can do at home over a couple of months. Simply punching tough objects with light force and softer objects with heavier effort will greatly toughen your fist, increasing the bone density of your hand by causing miniature fractures that heals even stronger, and therefore gives your punches more force.
–Know how to use any weapons you own or carry with you. Carrying a taser or gun won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them or don’t maintain your skills. Most non-lethal weapons run on batteries- is your device charged? Most stun guns need direct or close contact to incapacitate an attacker. Pepper spray expires, and doesn’t do any good unless it can be directed at the face. If you keep these devices in your purse or on your keychain instead of in your hand, recognize that they can easily be unreachable in a time of crisis. Any of these items can be taken away from you and used against you by the assailant. Always be prepared to fight without their aid.
–Make noise. Scream loudly, yell, try to intimidate them. Alert others who may be in the area. Some, but not all attackers will lose interest or leave more quickly when witnesses are present. Having more people on your side makes you less of a target.
–Always watch for a weakness or opening. You can never be completely prepared for this type of situation. The weather, the skill of your attacker, the location of the fight- all of these things contribute to your success or your downfall. The best thing you can do is take advantage of any mistakes your opponent might make or any resources your environment presents you with. An open door, a passing car, or a momentarily slip can make or break your survival.
And finally, while it is your right to defend your life or another’s from attack, you need to always be aware of the consequences of your actions:
1. Killing or hurting someone changes you, forever. Obviously, in a zombie-fied world, massacring the undead is your only option if you want to stay alive. However, we all have a natural aversion towards killing our own kind, which is basically the only reason we can coexist in such large human populations. Even Rick from the Walking Dead showed hesitation in killing his first zombie, the half-eaten corpse affectionately dubbed “Hannah,” regardless of the fact that she tried to munch on his feet. Quite obviously, defending against a cognizant, uninfected human being is a different matter. Even if you are completely justified in taking drastic measures to protect yourself, the memories of the encounter will probably remain with you the rest of your life. Always try to verbally reason with an attacker first, even if you only have time for a single “no.”
2. There are physical and emotional consequences to fighting. As Patrick Asay from Applied Martial Arts says, “violence wouldn’t be violence if somebody didn’t get hurt.” Someone- you, your attacker, innocent bystanders, the person you are defending- will get hurt in an escalated scenario. At the very least, a violent encounter will take an emotional toll. Reaching out to close friends, family, or a professional after dealing with such a situation is a necessary part of the coping process.
3. Expect the worst, aim for the best. Just look at the news almost every day- violence and crime are always unpredictable. After all, if criminals followed statistical patterns 100 percent of the time, law enforcement would have a much easier job keeping crime rates low. Does this mean you need to be pessimistic about your chances of survival, should you be forced into a dangerous situation? No, I would say that your survival depends on striking a balance between being realistic about what is happening, and doing your best to tip things in your favor. Think Liam Neeson in the awe-inspiring movie Taken: even though his daughter was kidnapped while he was talking to her on the phone, he kept calm and was able to prevail over crazy, probably unrealistic odds in order to get her back.
Don’t kid yourself. The situation is what it is; you may end up dead or worse. The survivalist will stay alert and take every opportunity to change the factors to help them come out on top.
4. Cover your butt. As a (hopeful) future law student and part-time law clerk, I’ve seen how easy it is for perpetrators to turn things around on their victims. If you are lucky enough to survive an attack, always, always, ALWAYS go to the authorities in a timely manner. Clearly and coherently document what happened from the moment the situation began. Defense lawyers are very good at their jobs and will use any inconsistencies in your story to their client’s favor. And don’t forget the most important issue of legality- verbally communicate to your attacker that what is happening is NOT ok (again, even a simple “no” will do). In a very interesting article on how to classify rape, Time Magazine showed that while the definition of rape is still up for debate, the perception of most people: that an adult woman must say “no” for a sexual encounter (even a forced one) to be considered unlawful, remains the same for most women, men, and even children. In any situation where you are being threatened or attacked, one of the best things you can do to avoid sticky legal issues is to communicate, even if it does not deter their actions.
This is by no means an exhaustive guide to self-defense. I believe I’ve covered the bare basics: beginner fighting techniques, real-life applications, and tips to avoiding danger in the first place. If you want to learn how to increase your self-defense skills, consider taking some martial arts classes or earning your concealed carry license. Remember- even the most well-trained attacker can make mistakes; your best chance at survival is to be aware, keep your cool, and always look for an unexpected advantage.