sparring-is-not-fighting

Sparring is Not Fighting

Amateur and professional sports events such as Mixed Martial Arts, boxing and professional wrestling, as well as Taekwon-Do, Jiu-Jitsu, Karate and other martial arts classes, have led the general public to view these sporting matches as “fights.”  These talented professional and amateur athletes also contribute to the misnomer, hyping the events with rivalries, wagers and taunts.  However, there are several important differences between these sporting events or tournaments and actual fights.

Athletes have weeks or months to train for the event.  They know the day, time, and location it will be held.  Athletes know who their opponent will be, and have agreed to meet that opponent in a fair match on equal footing. They know what the stakes are – a title, a belt, a medal, a coveted match with a specific contender, or even a hefty payday. Athletes know which weapons, if any, will be allowed in their competition. They wear required protective gear such as gloves, mouthpieces, and groin protection, and can rest assured that a referee will be watching for illegal techniques and assessing penalties for infractions. Athletes know that the event will last only a specified amount of time, and that in the event of a serious injury, their coach or the medical staff can stop the match. Athletes know that the event will be held in a well-lighted area, the rules won’t change mid-event, and that no bystanders will join in to gang up on them.

A fight may occur in any place, at any time, and for a myriad of reasons. There may be multiple opponents, with makeshift weapons or even knives or guns. The attacker(s) may be angry over a perceived slight, impaired by drugs or alcohol, or simply thrill seekers out to prove their dominance or increase their standing with their peer group. There In many cases, only one person knows that the fight is about to happen.  There is often no one to intervene, offer assistance or call police until the fight is long over. Fights are not fair. Sand is thrown, hair is pulled, eyes are gouged.  Any possible advantage is taken and exploited.

Avoid a fight if you possibly can. If you can’t, protect yourself (and your loved ones) as best you can, and escape as soon as you can.  Don’t waste time thinking,”This can’t be happening,” or rationalizing your attacker’s reasoning.  The altercation could be over by the time you make sense out of the situation.  Trust your instincts and take action, whether that means running, taking cover, arming yourself, assuming a defensive stance (hands up, body turned sideways to be a smaller target), or striking out at your assailant.

If there are bystanders, ask for their help: “You in the red shirt! Call 9-1-1!”  Clearly and loudly communicate your desire to avoid a fight by saying, “I don’t want any trouble,” or even, “Don’t hit me!”  Your words may figure heavily in a lawsuit or police report if bystanders are asked what they remember.

If you can’t avoid an attack, be sure to go get checked out afterward.  You might have a concussion or internal bleeding if you’ve fallen or been struck.  Worse, what feels like a hard punch or kick could wind up being a stab wound. Don’t take chances…and be sure to file a police report as soon as possible.

Stay safe!

online-safety-identity

Is It Really You?

Fortune tellers do it.  Identity thieves do it. Phishers do it. Salespeople even do it, to a certain extent.  Taking a little bit of existing information and making an educated guess, trying to establish rapport and “fill in the gaps” is a common practice.

We give away information about ourselves all the time, and unscrupulous individuals can find a way to take advantage.  Knowing who you’re dealing with is absolutely essential in today’s online world!

I recently received an instant message from a longtime friend, and it just didn’t feel right.  She had never IM’ed me before, although we frequently exchange phone calls, text messages and even snail mail.  We exchanged greetings, then I asked, “How is your new puppy doing?”

When her response read, “Great,” I knew immediately that I was not talking with my friend.  I was expecting something more along the lines of, “Have you lost your mind?  I don’t have any pets, let alone a puppy!”

The person on IM kept chatting, and I played along, staying engaged until I found out what he/she wanted (bank info) before “outing” them, whereupon the message window closed and the account itself disappeared.  I called my friend immediately to let her know about the hacker so she could take the appropriate steps.

There are many ways to hide behind a computer screen, and many scammers trying to take advantage of those who are uninformed, unaware or overly trusting.  Take a moment to review your privacy settings on your social media accounts. Make sure you actually know who is seeing your posts and photos, and keep your private information private.

Stay safe!

Stop Giving Away Information!

It is impossible not to give away information about yourself.  The way you talk, the clothes you  wear, the vehicle you drive, and even the conversations you have in public tell others who you are.

Think of all the things you can surmise about a 20-something woman who gets out of a Prius with a college parking sticker on it, wearing an OU Sooners sweatshirt, worn-out jeans and a silver necklace.  She’s carrying a Coach purse, talking on an iPhone and has manicured nails.

Someone who wants to earn the trust (however brief) of a potential victim may need only to distract her a moment for a theft or assault…or might attempt to forge an “acquaintance relationship” by complimenting the target or enlisting her help.

Possible opening questions:

  • Your nails are gorgeous! Where do you have them done? (Where’s that? Are they gel? Is it expensive?)
  • I love your bag! My mom gave me one just like it, but zipper on the inside pocket broke immediately and I had to exchange it.  Is yours okay?
  • Hey, I think that guy just dinged your car door! You’d better go check.  I’ll get his license plate.
  • Is that an iPhone 6? I have a 5, but I’m thinking of upgrading. Do you think it’s worth it?
  • Can you tell me where Murray Hall is? I’m supposed to give a speech there but they didn’t give me directions and I’m late.
  • I’ll bet you get amazing gas mileage, don’t you? I’m thinking of trading…is it worth it?
  • I think you dropped $20 (either pointing to where it was allegedly dropped, or holding out a bill) when you got out of your car.
  • And the easiest one of all: Do you know what time it is?  (You look away, at your watch or phone, giving a stranger a moment of opportunity.)

Remember, context is everything.  How long have you known the person in question?  How did you meet?  How well do you really know him or her?  Consider these things when you let someone in your personal space, your car, or open your door to them.  When you engage in a conversation with someone, remember that it is a two-way street.  If you feel like you’re giving a lot of answers but not learning anything yourself, it may be time to cut that conversation short.

It’s become a cliché that we “open up” to certain people and share things we generally wouldn’t:  hair stylists, bartenders, seatmates on airplanes, and as a general rule, “people we’re never going to see again.”  Why do we do that?  Perhaps we’ve built rapport (or they have), we’re attracted to the person, our inhibitions are lowered due to alcohol, or they’re a “friend of a friend.”

Watch your words.  Keep your private information private, and don’t give away important information like your travel destination, hotel name or room number, children’s names, where you bank, your pets’ names, or where you went to school.  It is your personal information, and your choice whether or not to share it with a stranger.  Why should they care what your kids’ names are, or what grade they’re in?  (Honestly, I don’t even give my own name when asked in a restaurant.  The hostess or cashier doesn’t care, it amuses me, and I don’t have my name announced publicly for all to hear.)

Be careful when you encounter someone new with whom you have something in common.  Just because you both share a passion for the same type of music, you’re reading the same obscure book, or you’re on a flight to the same place doesn’t mean they’re not still just a “familiar stranger.”

Listen to your intuition, and remember your context.  Until next time…stay safe!

The Difference: Target or Victim?

Although you may be the target of an attacker, a stalker, a mugger or a rapist, you do not have to be a victim!  In many cases of self defense, those who escape a violent assault exhibit two traits:  a) they are cautious and aware of their environment, and b) they are mentally and physically prepared to put up resistance.

What makes a potential target desirable for an attacker?  Unless the attacker is a predator stalking a specific target, he (or she — although for the sake of convenience, I’ll use the male pronoun) likely will seek an opportunity with a high likelihood of success. He may be seeking a person who is unaware of his or her surroundings, seems meek, hesitant, lost, distracted, shy, impaired in some way, gullible or overly trusting.  A person who acts or reacts predictably may also be a desirable target for an attacker.

Success, for an attacker, could be anything from intimidating you into giving up your purse or wallet to isolating you so he can beat, torture, rape or kill.  While you may not know the type of level of threat you are facing, it is important that you realize the potential for your situation to escalate dramatically.  Attacks and abductions happen in seconds, not minutes.

We are taught from a young age to be polite and courteous, and these are important social skills.  However, these very habits can put you — women and children especially — in a compromised position if you aren’t vigilant.  Fear of embarrassment, hesitating to draw attention to yourself or ask for help, and denial, thinking, “This isn’t happening to me,” can put you in a very dangerous situation.

Be aware, stay alert, listen to your intuition and act on it.  If you find yourself the target of one or more potential assailants, act quickly!  Use your wits, your voice, and then your physical skills.

Stop checking in!

I like social media as much as the next person, and I use it both personally and professionally. However, when I see someone “checking in” on Facebook or Foursquare, or live tweeting from a concert or other event, it truly bothers me.

Why?  Because anyone  — from angry exes to angsty crushes to absolute strangers — can see where you are…and where you’re not!  Checking in at a restaurant, club, hotel or event gives away a lot of information.

If you use social media as part of your business, that’s one thing.  Check your privacy settings, know who your connections are, be aware, trust your intuition and get on with your life.  But if you’re sitting at home alone and you’re bored, don’t complain about being lonely on social media.  That knock at your door may not be a friend.  And if you announce publicly that you’re away from home, you are creating a golden opportunity for burglars, vandals and more to take advantage of that situation.

Excited about going on vacation?  Don’t do a countdown on Facebook, check in at the airport, check in at your hotel, check in at the ski lodge…you get the picture.  Not only will your friends wonder why you’re spending your lovely vacation time with your smartphone in your hand, but anyone with an ulterior motive can easily find out exactly where you are and what you’re doing.

Wait until you get home from vacation to post your photos and tell your friends about what a wonderful time you had. Those closest to you will already know where you were, and be looking forward to hearing about it and seeing your vacation pics!

Take 5 minutes to check your security settings on your social media accounts (public? friends? friends of friends?), to limit who sees your posts and avoid being tagged in statuses, posts and photos without your approval.

I am not suggesting that you stop posting on social media; it is a wonderful tool to keep in touch with friends and family who are spread across the state, the country or the globe. However, please take into consideration the potential dangers of letting so many people — friends of friends, ex significant others, and even the general public — know where you are and what you are doing.

I have heard stories ranging from people taking a “sick day” off of work, then checking in at the State Fair and posting photos of themselves having a great time (OF COURSE they got in trouble with their employer), to others posting that they were going away for a long weekend and their house being robbed while it was unattended.  Why “check in” and give away your exact location when you could simply post a status or photo of whatever it is you really want to share?

In your online interactions as well as your “IRL” (in real life, for those over 40) interactions, be aware, stay safe, and stop checking in!

pepper-spray-hot-topic

Pepper Spray:  a Very Hot Topic!

During my self defense seminars, someone invariably asks for my recommendations regarding Mace/pepper spray.  My unequivocal recommendation is this:  pepper spray is great, if you HAVE it and CAN USE it when you NEED it.

If you’re going to buy pepper spray and let it roll around in the bottom of your purse for 6 years, don’t bother.  If you get a keychain canister, but don’t carry it because it’s big and inconvenient, forget it.  If you go for a run but have your pepper spray zipped up in a pocket or otherwise stashed out of reach…you get the point.

Some common objections:

 “I don’t know what kind to get.”  True, you have a lot of options.  There are large canisters, which are more often used by law enforcement, or to deter animal attacks.  Keychain canisters are much smaller and more convenient for carrying on a regular basis.  Some have breakaway clips so that, for example, if your key is in your car’s ignition, you can quickly and easily disengage the pepper spray without turning off your vehicle.  Pepper spray is available with a belt clip as well.  There are pepper spray containers that look exactly like a tube of lipstick, if you’re self-conscious about carrying it or need a very compact size.  Some canisters offer a retractable cord so you can attach a clip or button to a purse or pocket and easily find and deploy the pepper spray if needed.  Consider how you’ll be carrying it and how you want to deploy it in a self defense situation.  Do you want something with a “safety” on it?  A button on top you can easily depress?  A switch you can slide forward?  The bottom line:  Get something that YOU are comfortable carrying and using.

“I don’t want people to think I’m paranoid.”  I get that.  A potential rapist or abductor doesn’t want you to think about fighting back, either.  Pepper spray and other personal defense items exist for your personal defense.  Carry them when appropriate (not in the airport, please), when you’re prepared to use them (test-fire, anyone?), and don’t let social pressures sway you.  Better safe than sorry!

 “I don’t know how to use it.”  Well…pepper spray is very affordable, and available at almost any sporting good store.  Buy one or more items to test fire.  OUTDOORS, PEOPLE.   It is important that you know whether it sprays, streams or shoots a gel…and what the range is.  If you already own pepper spray but haven’t test-fired it, do yourself a favor and clean the nozzle before doing so.  If the nozzle is blocked, you’ll get to “enjoy” the blowback when you test-fire it.

Like any item with propellant (hairspray, sunscreen, WD-40), it has a shelf life and an expiration date.  The pepper spray you bought 10 years ago?  Please replace it…you wouldn’t trust a can of corn that was a decade old, so don’t trust out-of-date pepper spray either.  It’s a small investment that can pay off big time.

My longtime friend Janis Tanksley is president of Defense Angel LLC.  I recommend their products;  they offer four kinds of personal defense sprays.  Check them out here!

What are YOU willing to die for?

I ask every student, whether in a private lesson, a Taekwon-Do class or a large self defense seminar:  “Make a list of all of the things you are willing to die for.”  Five seconds later, I ask if they need more time to make their list.  No one ever does.  In all of the years I’ve asked this question, I have received only three different responses:

  • Family, loved ones, friends (sometimes including beloved family pets)
  • God, Jesus, my faith, my beliefs, my church
  • Patriotism and love of country

The next obvious question:  Why would you risk injury or death to keep someone from taking your purse, your wallet, or even your car?  Why would you put yourself at risk to avoid offending a stranger, to keep from appearing rude, or to gain the approval of someone who clearly does not have your best interest in mind?

If someone tries to take your purse or wallet, use your best judgment.  Don’t risk your life to save your “stuff.”  Is your assailant armed? Are there multiple assailants?  Is help available?  If you’re going to give up the item, toss it away from you and quickly go the other direction.  If the assailant grabs the item and leaves, call the police.  If he advances on you instead, you will know instantly that you have an entirely different problem.

If you’re alone in an elevator and someone gets in who makes you feel uncomfortable, get out!  Trust your instincts and take action!  You may briefly delay their progress, or appear rude…but your “radar” is going off for a reason, and you likely will never see the person again.   When someone comes to your door, you are under no obligation to open it.  Don’t give an opportunist the chance he seeks.

In every situation you face, remember:  take care of yourself, for no one else can.  Use your wits, your voice, and your physical skills to avoid/deescalate a conflict, escape a possible assailant, or fight for your life.

Stay safe!