Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, Mar 2003

Self-defense Concepts

By Ron Mottern
Copyright © Ron Mottern 2003. All rights reserved.



The cardinal rules of self-defense

  1. Avoid confrontational situations.
  2. Avoid becoming easy prey.
  3. 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 from you.

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 you!"

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 situations.

Hypothetical situations and survival strategies

Visualize the following scenarios. What would you do? What should you do?

  1. 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?
  2. 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.)
  3. You are accosted. You resist, and are forced into a car anyway. What should you do?
  4. You have your children with you when you find yourself in situations #2 and #3. What should you do?
  5. As you are driving, another motorist indicates that there is something wrong with your vehicle and that you should pull over. What should you do?
  6. A stranger knocks at your door and asks to use your telephone. What should you do?
  7. 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?
  8. You are stopped by a man with a knife (gun, club, etc.) who demands your wallet (watch, jewelry, etc.). What should you do?
How many different situations and variations can you devise? Devise scenarios and variations of your own. Rehearse them frequently.

Safety tips

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 examples:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Always park in well lighted areas. Donít park in the dark.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!




About the Author
Ron Mottern teaches martial arts in Elgin, Texas.
JNC Mar 2003