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A Guide to Self Defense

Violent and aggressive acts are becoming a regular activity in America and around the world. Utilizing my background in counterintelligence, I thought I’d write a guide to personal protection and how you can take control of your safety. Not only will I discuss the do’s and don’t’s of everyday activities, but I’ll also dive into protecting yourself on the internet and social media.

Rule #1: Create Distance

In any real-world altercation, your first move should always be to put as much distance between yourself and the threat as possible. This also means you should not stick around to "defend your honor" or whatever bullshit you can think of to justify willingly staying for a fight. If the conflict is brought to you, however, and you are not able to get away, you need to be able to defend yourself enough to return to rule #1 of creating as much distance as you can.

What does this mean in practice? Let's say, for example, you are in a parking lot, and someone is walking down the aisle of cars, hollering and carrying on about how they couldn't get a closer spot since everyone else took them. You're minding your business, walking with your cart, when the person starts yelling at you. It doesn't matter what they are saying; your move should be to vacate the area immediately. If this is a busy shopping center, try getting closer to other people. If you feel you are in enough danger to warrant immediate assistance, point to someone and ask them to call the police or insist they help you get away from the person yelling. I say to "point" to someone to avoid the bystander effect, which refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. The more people in the area creates a diffusion of responsibility, so you are more likely to get help from someone when you point to them and ask them directly for assistance.

Rule #2: Understand your strengths and weaknesses

If the situation should turn physical, it's essential to understand what attributes you can rely on to help you in a fight and which are harmful. For example, I'm a larger guy—I don't want to stand up and have a fistfight with someone because they might be faster than me, which could deplete my stamina. However, if I have to, I will take it to a ground fight as soon as possible. On the ground, it's far easier to leverage my weight to assist me in the tussle for dominance. This might not be the best course of action for everyone, but it works for me. Find what works for you and capitalize on it in your fight. Again, your goal in the situation should be to subdue or injure your attacker long enough to create your distance.

If you are smaller than your attacker, it might be best to try to run away (rule #1), but if they've grabbed hold of you, you must first work to get them to let go of you. If the person attacking you is a male, your first move should be to go for his testicles. This will be the most sensitive part of his body, and a hard enough hit will incapacitate him long enough for you to make an escape. When dealing with a female attacker, you must shed the cultural myth that you "can't" hit a woman. For purposes of self-defense, you can legally hit a woman just as you can a man. Whatever you would do to get away from a man, you can also do to a woman.

It's vital to end the physical altercation as quickly as you can, and one way to do this is to strike, using the heel of your hand or your elbow, vulnerable locations on the body, including:

  • Eyes

  • Throat

  • Abdomen

  • Groin

  • Knee

  • Shin

  • Foot

If you are grabbed from behind, either headbutt the attacker by slamming your head back into their face. This will hurt you, but it will hurt them far worse. Additionally, you can use your elbows to strike the attacker behind you. If they grab you by the arms to restrain you, use your legs to kick their shins and knees. Also, never underestimate using sound and motion to your advantage. If you start screaming blue murder, flailing about, and creating as much of a raucous scene as possible—you may be able to draw attention to your situation.

Rule #3: Use Your Resources

There are tons of personal protective equipment you can find on the internet that can be beneficial to keeping you and your family safe. I don't have any specific recommendations because it's up to you to decide what you're comfortable using. Also, it's essential to check your local ordinance to ensure you're legally allowed to carry and use the devices. Some ideas for products could be:

  • pepper spray

  • taser/stun gun

  • baton

Another tool that can't be ignored is a personal handgun. I have a concealed carry permit, and I legally carry my firearm everywhere I go. I suggest concealed carry instead of open carry because you don't want to advertise that you have a gun. While it could undoubtedly ward off a potential attacker from seeing you as an easy mark, it will also put a target on your back as someone an attacker might want to take out before they begin their main attack. Crazy people are going to do crazy things. A deadly weapon is something you want to only use as a last resort. In the event you have to use your gun—shoot until the threat stops.

Unfortunately, some states have unconstitutional laws restricting who can possess a concealed firearm. Look up the laws in your state and adjust accordingly. If you're a person who is hot-headed and in need of emotional intelligence training, I'd suggest not carrying a weapon because you might abuse the tool in an unworthy moment of anger.

Continuing with using your resources, if you're in a situation where you need to get away from someone and the only way for you to do that is to fight your way out of it, then use anything that is on or around you to assist you in your mission. If you have a heavy handbag, you better get to swinging. Rocks in the vicinity make excellent smashing tools, and sticks or branches can be used to stab and cut. At that moment, your mind should be engaged in figuring out how to get you out of that situation as intact as possible. Deal with the consequences after.

Rule #4: Be aware of your surroundings

Surprise is the number one reason people react badly to being attacked. Most people's first reaction to an attack is shock that it's happening. The shock can last a couple of seconds, just enough time for an attacker to rob or physically hurt you. To borrow a phrase from the military—keep your head on a swivel.

Since the advent of the smartphone, most people in public have their faces buried in their devices, thus making them unaware of any potential danger. While in public, it's best to keep your phone safely in your pocket rather than glued to your hand. Scan your field of vision frequently and note anything peculiar around you.

Most people believe you should give others the benefit of the doubt when interacting with them in public—I disagree entirely. Anytime I walk into a building with people I don't know, I enter into investigative mode. While I don't see every single person as a potential problem, I'm adept at spotting people who appear unstable, which could impact my safety. From this day forward, try to make it a habit to look for the most irregular and dangerous person in the area. If you're with someone else, point out that person to them and tell them to avoid them at all costs. Watch the person's behavior and be on guard against them. Always remember rule #1.

Rule #5: Don't share personal information

The concept of sharing personal information in a public setting should be a no-brainer. Still, I often see people broadcasting the dumbest things online with the potential to make them easy prey. I want to share two quick anecdotes about what I'm talking about:

Anecdote #1:

I had a friend that was leaving for an overseas trip to France. She was so excited to share her experience that she posted a picture of her plane ticket to her Instagram. This ticket included her airport of departure and arrival, her full name, and travel dates.

She gave away a place she would be in the future, creating a potential for someone to find her at that location, and she also told everyone who knew her that her house would be unoccupied for two weeks. I kindly advised her of everything I learned from looking at the picture (I'm sure it sounded creepy), but she took the picture down and changed the wording of her announcement. I could write another article about traveling safety, but I'll digress for now.

Anecdote #2:

I was traveling home for military leave and drove halfway across the country. I knew friends of mine were staying at the beach in the Outer Banks, so I decided it would be fun to surprise them. I didn't want to call any of them because it would give away the surprise, so I did the next best thing. I got online and checked their social media activity. My friend Sarah is notorious for giving away too much information, so I took this opportunity to knock two birds out with one stone. Not only did Sarah post about her day on the beach, but she geotagged her location. When I arrived in the general vicinity, it took me less than twenty minutes to find their chairs on the beach. Don't be like Sarah. Never share your location publicly.

Social Media Don'ts:

Everyone should know this by now, but never share any personal information with anyone online. It will seem extreme to some people, but here is a list of what I would keep off your social media:

  • Your full name

  • Where you work and your title

  • Any location information (except for maybe your state if you feel it's necessary)

  • Phone number/email

  • Geotagging (yes, I'm bringing locations up again)—I'm including "checking in" at restaurants or other places on Facebook, asking for recommendations of locations, et cetera.

  • Photos of your children unless you have a secure page that only certain people can view

  • Full date of birth/other identifiable information

  • Pictures of your driver's license, passport, social security card, or credit cards

  • Travel/vacation plans

Don't talk to strangers:

I'm putting this under the "Don't share personal information" section on purpose because it needs to be reiterated for the folks who still don't get it. Whether online or in person, don't chat with people you don't know. This is a personal preference, but I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about it. The likelihood of a person on the internet trying to scam you out of money or security is incredibly high. If you don't know them in person, avoid them. From my time in the intelligence community, you'd be surprised how quickly I can get someone to tell me personally identifiable information, which is easily exploited.

I know that this can make online dating a challenging venture to navigate, but remember to be cautious. Suppose you are meeting someone you've only known online. In that case, it's essential to have the meeting someplace public with accessible egress routes and let a friend or family member know your location, preferably live on your phone. A friend of mine was riding in an uber once and felt uncomfortable vibes from the driver. He texted me his location and where he was going and said he'd text when he got there. He rightfully wanted someone else to know he was nervous about his situation and gave me the necessary information to find him should he not text me when he arrived. Commit to making this a habit.

Rule #6: Be your biggest advocate

Some people are afraid to advocate for themselves, but that is something we all need to get over quickly. Once I was walking in a parking lot when a man started walking directly toward me. He had a little piece of paper in his hand, and as he approached, it looked like he wanted me to look at it. This is a common tactic used to distract someone on an approach. They'll direct your eyes to something else, so you don't realize what's happening. When he was about ten feet from me, and I was sure he was trying to talk to me, I loudly stated, "No, thank you, please leave me alone." The man immediately put the paper in his pocket and kept walking.

The simple act of me paying attention to my surroundings and loudly advocating for my personal safety was enough to have this man avert his course. This is where not giving people the benefit of the doubt pays off. It sounds like a cynical way to live, but I'd rather be seen as cynical than dead or injured.

If you live in a rural community as I do, the police may not get to where you are fast enough in an emergency. We once called the local sheriff's department because of trespassers, and the deputies showed up a half hour later—advocate for yourself by doing what is necessary to get you out of immediate danger.

Rule #7: Remain Calm

If you've read my writing before now, you'll know I continuously advocate for strong mental health and emotional intelligence. I do this because it's crucial to living as a healthy human being in society. So rule #7 is to remain calm because slowing your heart rate down in a stressful situation might be the difference in making crucial decisions. Fight, flight, or freeze are not just ways to describe how people react to adversity. These principles are based on the chemicals that rush through the brain during moments of increased anxiety.

When faced with a situation affecting your health or safety, your eyes and ears send signals to your amygdala—or the part of the brain that involves processing emotions. If the situation before you is catastrophic enough, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. You can think of the hypothalamus as the crisis command center, talking to other parts of the body through the nervous system, which is broken into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system boosts energy (or epinephrine) and cortisol (the stress hormone) to aid you in confronting any perceived dangers. In contrast, the parasympathetic nervous system helps to calm you down after the event.

This brief anatomy lesson is only to show you how the body works through a situation and how to disrupt the flow of cortisol to assist you in taking control of your emotions and actions. While it's a complicated technique to teach, learning to control your breathing while continuing to fight your way out of a situation is paramount.

For this section, I have two suggestions. First, start to do thought experiments with increasing levels of emotional complexity. The purpose of a thought experiment is to allow yourself to feel the emotions of a situation without having to experience it in real life. Having stressful situations play out in your head can slightly trick your mind into thinking the problem is happening—people who read fiction or have colorful imaginations will find this task much easier. It takes a certain level of personal awareness to complete.

My other suggestion is to meditate. I'm sure I've lost some people at this point, but that's okay. Meditation not only calms your mind, but it does wonders for your physical body as well. If you learn to settle yourself through the practice of meditation, you will find it easier to remain calm when you're faced with an unpredictable scenario.

Final Thoughts

In the coming years, we'll likely see more and more violent acts as our society inches closer to collapse. It's an unfortunate predicament, but you can prepare by starting with the rules I've created for this article and expanding on them to incorporate situations from your own life. My list of rules is not exhaustive and should be used as a jumping-off point. Of course, when a serious incident occurs, your body will rely on basic instincts, but you can train those instincts to give you a better shot at a positive outcome.

Training could be the difference between life and death. If you've never been in a fight, I recommend taking boxing classes or sparring with someone with some fighting experience. I'm not telling you to go out there and get punched in the nose, but you need to understand the emotions that occur when you're in a fight. When the adrenaline is pumping, you want to have complete control of your thoughts and actions.

The most important thing to remember is rule #1—create distance. I keep harping on it because it's critical to getting yourself out of a bad situation. Continually go back to the first rule when asking yourself how to handle an adverse event. Right now is the time to secure yourself, your family, and your property because there are bad people out there who wish to do you harm, and with ever-increasing cataclysmic world events, they will become brazen in their attacks. Above all else, take care of yourself and your loved ones. I don't know where we're headed, but I hope we all get there safe and sound with our mental health in check.

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