of Non-lethal Combatives, Mar 2003
By Ron Mottern
Copyright © Ron Mottern 2003. All rights reserved.
The cardinal rules of self-defense
Avoid confrontational situations.
Avoid becoming easy prey.
Stop! Look! Listen!
Unless we are policemen, convenience store clerks, or little league
coaches, most of us probably wonít be violently attacked by strangers.
(Relatives, schoolmates, and co-workers, sure, but not strangers.)
Consequently, you donít need to develop a nervous disorder and constantly
think that you are going to be attacked to practice effective conflict
avoidance. However, to make these avoidance behaviors effective, you do
have to make them part of your daily life; performance must become automatic.
Automatic performance requires time and effort, but the benefits are
worth the exercise.
Avoid confrontational situations
Nature has ingrained in us what is known as the "fight or flight" response.
When confronted with danger, we choose to fight our way out of the situation
or we choose to flee from the situation. This response is the product of
evolutionary pressures that have ensured our survival as a species, and
when faced with danger, we will choose one or both of these physical responses.
However, if you avoid the situation, you wonít have to deal with it.
By analyzing and avoiding potentially confrontational situations, we neednít
depend on either fight or flight responses.
Thus, self-defense is primarily mental.
Avoid becoming easy prey
Violence is swift and sudden. It occurs suddenly and is over swiftly.
If you act like a predator, you are less likely to be taken as prey.
Criminal predators prey on the weak and the weak-minded. Like the rest
of us, most criminals donít like confrontation. Confrontation requires
an excessive expenditure of energy, that is Ė work. If criminals wanted
to work, they would be at regular jobs, rather than trying to rob and steal
The possibility of injury to the attacker is also inherent in any confrontation.
The reason that great white sharks roll a nictitating membrane over their
eyes and use a "bite and spit" attack behavior is so they are not injured
by a struggling sea lion.
Confrontation also exposes the criminal to possible identification.
This is why they prefer to watch, wait and strike when you are at your
most vulnerable, i.e., when you arenít paying attention to what is going
on around you (e.g., looking through your purse for keys, thinking about
an upcoming presentation, etc.). They attack quickly and incapacitate you
with as little effort as possible. If you are alert, you reduce the chances
of being attacked. The criminal will let you pass and prey on another victim,
one who isnít as alert as you.
In self-defense, much depends on little. Criminals donít usually carry
Mensa cards, but they do know something about statistics. You want to do
everything you possibly can to place the odds in your favor. You want to
be more alert than the person behind you. The criminal will pick the easy
prey. The victim will be the person who presents the least risk. The victim
will be the person behind you, who isnít paying attention, or the person
in front of you, who didnít take the necessary precautions. But it wonít
be you. Self-defense is the practice of increasing the risk to others (both
potential victims and attackers) and decreasing the risk to yourself.
This reminds me of the story of the bear that attacked two campers.
While the bear was tearing its way through the tent, one of the campers
stopped to put on a pair of running shoes. The other camper yelled at him,
"You fool! You canít outrun that bear, even with running shoes." The first
camper responded, "I donít have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun
Stop, look, and listen
These rules helped protect us as children. Thatís why weíre still around.
It seems silly, then, to abandon such successful strategies simply because
weíve become adults.
If you watch nature shows on television, especially shows about the
big cats, youíll notice that they too follow these rules. Thatís why theyíre
still around and at the top of the food chain. Before you do anything outside
in the world at large (and that means anything, as I defy you to come up
with a situation where these rules donít apply)
If we donít STOP and allow our conscious mind to assess the information
provided by our senses, we may regret it. The above examples are everyday
actions where STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN behaviors can protect our property
and our selves. These same behaviors can be applied to potentially confrontational
STOP and assess whatís going on around you. What do your senses
tell you? If you just walked out of your house, do you smell something
strange? Does that smell like smoke? Is something burning nearby? Is it
dangerous and might it affect you or your property? Do you think that you
should take a moment to try to answer these questions? If you just got
out of your vehicle, do you smell something strange? Does that smell like
electrical wiring, rubber belts, oil, or transmission fluid? Is your vehicle
in need of repair? Will it stop functioning while you are on the freeway,
in a bad section of town, or in one of those places out West where it says
60 miles to next services? Do you think it would be worthwhile to make
a brief inspection of the vehicle or ask someone you know to look at it
for you? Is that alcohol you smelled as that person walked past you in
the parking lot? Was that person drinking and might s/he be drunk? Do you
think it might be wise to wait a few minutes before following that driver
into traffic? How important are the few minutes that you take to analyze
the situation? Are a few extra seconds or even a few extra minutes worth
your health and well being?
LOOK whatís going on around you. Do you see smoke near your house
or coming from under the hood of your car? Do you see fluid underneath
your car? Does the person in the parking lot fumble with her car keys and
appear to be unstable?
LISTEN to what is going on around you. Do you hear sirens? Could
it be emergency vehicles? Are they headed toward you? Is your vehicle making
strange noises as you drive or after you have turned off the engine? Is
the person who smelled of alcohol mumbling to himself or herself or slurring
Hypothetical situations and survival strategies
Visualize the following scenarios. What would you do? What should you
How many different situations and variations can you devise? Devise scenarios
and variations of your own. Rehearse them frequently.
You are walking from the mall (restaurant, office, etc.) to your car. As
you step outside, you notice a stranger milling around the parking lot.
What should you do?
You are unlocking your car door when you are accosted, and told to get
in the car. What should you do? (Hint: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER get in the car.)
You are accosted. You resist, and are forced into a car anyway. What should
You have your children with you when you find yourself in situations #2
and #3. What should you do?
As you are driving, another motorist indicates that there is something
wrong with your vehicle and that you should pull over. What should you
A stranger knocks at your door and asks to use your telephone. What should
You are walking (or jogging) down a darkened street in your neighborhood
when you see a gang of youths approaching you on the same side of the street.
What should you do?
You are stopped by a man with a knife (gun, club, etc.) who demands your
wallet (watch, jewelry, etc.). What should you do?
These days, most of us spend a lot of time in our vehicles. Many of
the following tips are concerned with self-defense while in or around vehicles.
Travel in groups. There is safety in numbers. That is the reason
both predators and prey animals travel in groups. Fish shoal and swim in
schools. Birds fly in flocks. Wolves move and hunt in packs. Herding behavior
is an adaptation to predatory pressures. Form groups at the office and
walk to your cars together. If you have friends who leave work at the same
time as you, try to park together. If you canít park together, leaving
in a group may still allow you to keep an eye on each other. If someone
in the group gets detained Ė wait for them. Are the few extra minutes that
you have to wait worth your life and the lives of your friends and co-workers?
Forming groups and looking out for each other is beneficial to all. Golden
mongeese do it. Follow their lead. Avoid being cut out of the herd and
letting others be cut out of the herd. You will benefit by looking out
for your companions. This isnít altruism. Itís self-interest and self-preservation.
Packs are more successful than individuals. Groups can work cooperatively.
Also, be proactive and act like predators Ė be keenly alert and interested
in all thatís happening around you. If you are seen as a predator, you
wonít be mistaken as prey.
Know where youíre going next, and where youíd go to if that proved an
unsafe position. For example, have your keys in your hand and ready
to unlock your car (house, shop, etc.). STOP before leaving the safety
of your current position and locate your keys. Find the key you need to
admit you into your house (car, shop, etc.) and have it ready for immediate
use. When your attention is diverted from what is going on around you (while
you search for your keys) and you have to linger in the open, you become
easy prey. It is the lingering wildebeest that is pulled down. It is the
zebra which falls behind the herd that is seen as weak and tagged for lunch.
Take precautions. For example, lock your doors as soon as you get
in your car (house, apartment hotel room, etc.). This should become a habit
and second nature to you. As soon as you are inside your destination, LOCK
THE DOOR. This mean locks the door as soon as it closes, not after you
have placed your coffee in the cup holder, adjusted your mirrors, removed
your coat, or set down your groceries, bags, etc., in the house. Some other
Keep your windows rolled up when you are driving in traffic. Open
windows allow easy access to both you and your vehicle. If your air conditioning
is out, it probably wonít kill you to sweat a little. However, you have
increased your risk of being attacked if you present opportunities such
as open car windows to criminals.
Leave lights on. Lights allow for easier identification of criminals
and criminal activity. Before you go out, turn on the porch light. Leave
a light burning in the entranceway of your house. The few pennies that
it costs in electricity will be worth the safety. Besides, if you check
with your electric company, sometimes youíll find that they even give coupons
good for a few dollars off long-life, low-energy, fluorescent bulbs.
Always park in well lighted areas. Donít park in the dark.
Always leave enough space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front
of you to go around. If you can see the bottom of the tires in front
of you, youíve got room to maneuver. This includes fast food drive-through
windows. You are especially vulnerable at these locations, as you usually
have the window rolled down, and are usually blocked in the front and rear.
Meanwhile, you have cash at hand. In an attempted car jacking, you may
have the doors locked and the windows rolled up, but unless you have some
room to maneuver, you are a sitting duck. A lead pipe to the window will
allow the car jacker access to your vehicle. It doesnít matter if youíre
blocked on both sides and behind. This space will give you enough room
to move forward and back. (If you are attacked in this position, you can
be reasonably sure that the car jacker is after more than your car. He
wants you. If he didnít, he would jack a car easier to get at.) Your car
insurance will pay for damage you cause to the cars around you. NOTE: In
this case, You should attempt to cause damage to the cars around you. Many
people may mind their own business or choose to call the police, even if
they see whatís immediately going on, but if you damage someone elseís
vehicle, they become personally involved in the incident.
Carry valuables such as purses, briefcases, and laptop computers on
the floorboard of your car. Valuables placed in the seat are easy targets
for thieves who may smash your windows and be off with your goods before
you recover from the initial shock. Items placed in the floor are harder
to spot, and if spotted, harder to reach. (Remember, someone ahead of you
or behind you wonít take the time and effort to do this simple thing and
subsequently will become prey. The criminal doesnít have to expend the
effort to get to your hard to reach items. Sooner or later, as easy victim
will drive by.) And, even if you arenít attacked, things on the floor are
less likely to become missiles in the case of an accident.
If you find yourself in imminent danger, think for a moment before doing
something stupid. In some recent nightclub disasters, scores of people
were trampled to death as panicked patrons tried to pile out of too few
exits. Sometimes, it may be safer to be near the back of the mob. That
said, if your avoidance techniques have failed, consider how to draw attention
to your plight. Attention means witnesses and possible identification.
Yelling for help may or may not be effective. Many people donít want to
become personally involved in the incident. Itís none of their business.
They donít want to or donít believe that they can provide assistance. They
may call for the authorities to help, but they wonít directly intervene,
and by the time police arrive at the scene, they may be too late to offer
anything but medical assistance. Cries for help are lost on such people.
Yelling "Fire!" however, may prove effective. Fire spreads. And if thereís
a fire near, it may spread and damage the property of those previously
unconcerned people. By yelling "Fire!" you have provided them with an immediate
and personal interest in whatís going on around them. However, please donít
spray MACE in the crowded night club and then yell, "Gas! Gas! Gas!"
I canít close without reminding you of the Scout Motto, which is always
useful, but especially so in self-defense situations Ė BE PREPARED.
One method of preparation is to review your preparation plans often, and
talk with others about the ideas suggested. Violence occurs suddenly. Predators
do not give their prey advanced warning. Self-defense must become an ingrained
habit of mind. Be safe, be aware, and be prepared!
AVOID CONFRONTATIONAL SITUATIONS
AVOID BECOMING EASY PREY
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
About the Author
Ron Mottern teaches
martial arts in Elgin, Texas.