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Self Protection Corner

Our monthly newsletter contained a Self Protection Corner column. There was some useful information in that column which we've collected here rather than lose it to the email archives.

 1: Don't forget your KEYS
 2: Heed the warnings
 3: What are you looking at?
 4: "Strike quick and surprise your opponent"
 5: Pre-emptive striking and the law
 6: “Stop, stop! He's already dead”

Don't forget your KEYS

Awareness is the key to Self Protection. We don’t teach children how to survive being hit by a car. We teach them the safe cross code so that they don’t get hit in the first place.

Developing awareness for self protection is easy. Just remember your KEYS (Keep Evaluating Your Situation). When driving you have a narrator in your head describing the road ahead and the potential dangers of the other road users. Engage this narrator when walking. Have them look out for potential danger areas, such as doorways or the entrances to laneways, and for potential threats. After a while this constant assessment becomes second nature and, far from being paranoid, just means you are always switched on and a less attractive target for criminals.

Heed the warnings

Awareness leads to Evasion. After all, there's no point in being aware of something bad and then walking straight into it.

Gavin De Becker, author of "The Gift of Fear", tells a story about a man in the US who walked into a shop and was immediately hit with an overwhelming feeling of fear. Without pausing to seek out the source of the fear he turned and left the shop. Later he read that a police officer was shot during a robbery in the very shop he had left, just after he left it. When asked what made him leave he could not initially explain it but the more he thought about it the more obvious it became. He remembered a car sitting outside with the engine running. He remembered the guy behind the counter barely looked at him where he would normally size him up. He remembered the guy behind the counter was totally focussed on another customer at the counter. He remembered the customer at the counter was wearing a bulky coat, despite the hot weather. These were all signals he had picked up without realising but which his subconscious recognised and triggered an alarm.

We pick up signals like this all the time, unless we're walking around staring at our phones of course. The trick is recognising the signals and, most importantly, reacting to them. If something feels wrong it probably is. Don't let your ego overrule the part of your brain that you inherited from your prey ancestors. It may not be a bear or a lion but that doesn't mean the threat isn't real. If you sense a disturbance in the force, get out, turn around, walk away, close the door or do whatever is necessary to avoid the threat.

“What are you looking at?”

So we missed it. We didn’t see it coming, or we spotted it but couldn’t avoid it in time and now some aggressive idiot is in our face. Luckily it hasn’t kicked off yet so we have a chance to try and De-escalate the situation.

We’ve all heard the old adage about sticks and stones but the truth is words can hurt, just ask Khabib Nurmagomedov. He was so hurt by Conor McGregor’s words in the build up to their fight that, even after beating McGregor in the octagon, he climbed out of the octagon to start a fight with someone else and picked himself up a $500,000 fine to go with a nine month suspension. Ouch!

We all have our triggers and, in the right mood, we can be hypersensitive to some angry stranger shouting insults at us, especially if they inadvertently hit on the right words.

The first, and hardest, part of de-escalating a situation is detaching from it. When I worked as a doorman I had to quickly learn that people shouting abuse for not being let in, and proving the decision was correct, were not angry at me. They were angry at this idiot doorman. It was the job, the uniform if you like, that they were shouting at. Not the person doing the job or wearing the uniform. So if they’re not really shouting at me then there’s no need for me to let it get to me. I certainly don’t need to get my ego involved. Instead I need to remember the first Wing Tsun motto and free myself from my own force by keeping my ego in check.

The second Wing Tsun motto is to free myself from my enemy’s force and that fits in nicely here as well. With my ego in a box all their ranting and raving just washes over me and that means I stay calm and watchful in case they decide to get physical.

Being calm means I can control my responses and engage in some “verbal judo” to avoid the situation getting physical. We’ll talk about how to do that next below.

"Strike quick and surprise your opponent"

“My final advice on boxing is: be civil to all, and never seek a quarrel, but if one is forced on you, strike quick and surprise your opponent” - Colonel Thomas Hayer Monstery (1824-1901), Self-defence for gentleman and ladies.

When I was a much younger man I studied Karate. At the time there was a very prevalent theory that in Karate all strikes followed a block which, since Karate was for self defence, seemed to make perfect sense. All the films at the time showed punches and kicks being blocked with ease, leaving room for powerful counter strikes, which reinforced this theory. Even better, the sparring we did in the club and in interclub and intervarsity competitions, showed blocking to be essential to victory.

The theory was, of course, utter nonsense.

In a real world situation the best option, if a situation is about to turn violent, is to be the first to strike.

"The bottom line is, if you have no other option open to you, ask the assailant a question, hit him while his brain is engaged and then run away. It's that simple." - Geoff Thompson, The Fence

There are a number of reasons to strike first but let's just look at the first and most obvious one. In those Karate tournaments you had two practitioners of the same art lining up to attack each other with the same techniques and the same rules. It doesn’t take much to recognise an incoming roundhouse kick or reverse punch when that's what you've been training, and these were techniques with blocks and counters drilled against them repeatedly. In that situation, blocks worked really well.

Seamus Scumbag won't play by those rules. Facing up to a drunken moron or a would be mugger we have no real reference as to what their opening attack will be. We can look at the statistics and make a reasonable guess at their opener being a jab or a haymaker or a head butt but do you want to bet your ability to get home safely on a guess?

On the other hand, if we attack first, while poor misguided Seamus Scumbag is still getting ready to, then it's up to him to see what's coming and react to it. That puts him on the back foot straight away and that's always a good start. If we're lucky, and it's funny how often those who train hardest get lucky, our opener will not only pave the way for a follow up or two, but will launch an adrenaline dump into his system which leaves him looking to duck, cover and run.

We'll talk a little more about pre-emptive striking and particularly how the law (in Ireland) feels about it below.

Pre-emptive striking and the law

“One with the law is a majority” - Calvin Coolidge.

If you ever break up kids that are fighting, verbally or physically, the line they'll immediately trot out is blaming the other party for starting it. Our social conscience seems to believe that we are justified in any action as long as we are reacting to an assault of some type. There are still plenty of people who believe that, in order to qualify as self defence, we have to let the other party strike first. Indeed the only fighting advice my father ever gave me was "if someone hits you hit them back but hit them back harder."

Like so much else around Self Protection, this is nonsense.

In Ireland, violence between peopIe is covered under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act and this is the point where I say that I'm not a law talking guy so don't jump up in front of a judge and say that I said it was grand.

Right, disclaimer intact on we go. Section 18(1) of the act reads:

"The use of force by a person, for any of the following purposes, if only such as is reasonable in the circumstances as he or she believes them to be, does not constitute an offence - (a) to protect himself or herself or a member of the family of that person or another from injury, assault or detention caused by a criminal act"

The act goes on to state, in section 20 (1b):

"A person shall be treated as using force in relation to another person if - (i) he or she threatens that person with its use"

In simple terms, if you believe that you, or a family member, or another person, are about to be assaulted you do not have to wait for the assault to happen before laying the smack down.

The key thing to remember though is that your use of force must be reasonable and the Act goes into this in a little bit of detail under section 20.

"(3) A threat of force may be reasonable although the actual use of force may not be.

(4) The fact that a person had an opportunity to retreat before using force shall be taken into account, in conjunction with other relevant evidence, in determining whether the use of force was reasonable."

In other words, you may be justified in telling someone you'll bust their nose if they don’t stop doing something but not in actually busting it. Also, if you have the opportunity to leave the scene before it becomes violent, but choose not to, then you're on less solid legal ground. This is where we go back to our de-escalation.

There's no black and white here and people who tell you that they'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6 have clearly never sat in court and watched two barristers, far removed from the emotional overload of a violent encounter, play the legal game of who can tell the best story with the same facts.

Back there in Section 18(1) the act makes mention of force “such as is reasonable” and just what is reasonable is the topic we’ll be looking at below.

“Stop, stop! He's already dead” - Random kid, The Simpsons.

Reasonable force is a tricky one. Let's be clear, if you are using force then the situation has already become pretty unreasonable. As discussed previously, the law (in Ireland) covers us when it comes to using force to protect ourselves from injury, assault or detention by a criminal. That force must be "only such as is reasonable". It hardly seems fair but even when some moron attacks you with the intent of hurting you, stealing from you or worse, the law expects you to remain calm and act in a rational manner. That sentence continues "in the circumstances as he or she believes them to be" and that gives us some wiggle room.

If what constitutes reasonable force is determined by what we believe the circumstances to be then who's to say what we believed was wrong? If I say I believed that Seamus Scumbag was about to stab me then who can prove I didn't believe any such thing? This sort of grey area is the domain of the legal brains and it's not a good place to play. Remember that in court it's not the truth that counts, it's which side can tell the most convincing story using the same evidence. A reaction that seems perfectly reasonable to you in a situation may look completely different when a Barrister starts spinning their tale for a jury.

So how do we avoid getting caught up in a legal sideshow? The safest option is less is more. Do as much as you need to in order to keep yourself safe and no more. If a punch to the head results in an opportunity to escape then take it. Remember the goal of Self Protection is not to win a fight. It's getting home safe. If there's an out then take it. Always.

Especially when you consider that the law says "The fact that a person had an opportunity to retreat before using force shall be taken into account, in conjunction with other relevant evidence, in determining whether the use of force was reasonable."

Granted, it says "before using force" but I wouldn't want my freedom to depend on one barrister's interpretation of that.

If they're stunned and you can run, run. If they're down and you can run, run. Tempting as it will certainly be to treat them to a close up inspection of your shoes, sticking around not only muddies the water legally but also gives their mates time to arrive and even affords you the opportunity to make a mistake and leave yourself in a much worse situation.