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Thursday 2 April 2009

Ramblings on attitude from a recent self defence course

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I taught one of my corporate courses this week and, once again, got challenged by an ex-South African prosecutor. I don’t whether it is something to do with their education system or the general collective temperament of the country, but South Africans to seem to love argue. I encourage scepticism and criticism in my classes. This, along with accepting no absolutes, helps prevent my method of self-protection/defence, cross-training and mixed martial arts from becoming a dogmatic system or style.

I was challenged regarding my definition of attitude – be confident, be proactive, keep focused and never give in - and how it applies to self protection. The prosecutor, who incidentally sold a car to my cousin’s husband, Brian, said that attitude didn’t matter a jot in South Africa. He used an example of a woman who was trapped between two cars, raped and shot. It’s a common tactic in South Africa. She could do nothing, he argued. How could she take control in such a situation? In another incident a woman was shot and killed in an almost deserted petrol station. Another episode, he cited, a couple were ambushed out walking their dog. The man was held at gunpoint whilst he wife was raped in front of him. How could he take control? Surely giving in was the only option he had.

I countered that for a start there are no absolutes. No one has a tailormade solution to every situation. You can get so far and your chances of survival become very slim indeed. The brutality of South Africa is a stark wake-up call to most citizens of the developed world. Many foreigners often get killed, robbed and raped in South Africa by making the big mistake of not taking local advice regarding personal security. Nevertheless, people have got out of situations where incredible odds have been stacked against them. People have disarmed gunmen, have survived gunshot wounds and used psychology to turn around situations where they were at a seemingly hopeless disadvantage. Even when he was deprived of everything in a German concentration camp - his personal liberty, the lives of his entire family, his work, food and his dignity - Viktor Frankl found a means to develop an attitude of proactivity. He was able not to be consumed by the camp, but used it as a means to strengthen his mental resolve. Viktor Frankl is testament that a person can take charge when, on the surface, it would appear he has control of nothing. Then there was the case of the child who was kidnapped by a serial killer. She was put through hell, but ended up using a type of reverse Stockholm syndrome. She talked to her kidnapper, cooked for him, cared for him and all the while kept planning her escape. Eventually she seized her moment and made a successful break for freedom. In a shorter variation of this, the last victim of Jeffrey Dhamer also used a similar method to pacify his kidnapper who was almost certainly going to kill him.

I explained to my sceptic - who incidentally was a friendly and knowledgeable individual - that for a start none of these incidents “just happened”. Often when people replay incidents they talk about how quick it all happened. I admit hindsight can be a pompous and self-righteous luxury, however, how can we learn without looking for better alternatives to being raped and murdered? And there are alternatives. The two cars did not just beam down in front and behind the woman. Early awareness or prior knowledge of the area may have given her better avoidance strategies. Boxing someone in on the motorway is not an undefeatable tactic. Watch any number of police shows and see how long it can take using this tactic even with more than two cars in contact via radio, and in some instances how a pursued vehicle can even evade this situation. Another question: why wasn’t the woman armed? It is South Africa all, the land where “Freeze!” isn’t in a gunman’s vocabulary. As for the woman in the almost abandoned petrol station, there were surely some similar even more straightforward solutions here. Why pick an almost deserted petrol station? Why wasn’t she armed? The man held at gunpoint may have done the right thing. After all, he and his wife did survive. However, and I appreciate this is much easier said than done, gunmen have been talked down and even disarmed. My uncle made front page headlines in Northern Ireland when he disarmed a gunman and chased the wannabe robber and his accomplice off.

This is all easier said than done, but so is criticism. What is the alternative to my definition for an effective self defence attitude? Be unsure of yourself, be reactive, let your mind wander and give in. While you are still breathing there is hope. If you don’t believe me I will show you case files of children who fought off attempted abductors – despite my critics’ assertion that you cannot teach children self-defence – I will show you documented stories of people who survived numerous stabwounds (ask Eddie Quin of “The Approach” and Karl Tanswell of the “Straight Blast Gym” for a start), I will point you towards accounts of old age pensioners who fought off muggers and, due to my circus background, I have a list as long as my arm of incidents where men have survived being savaged to death by wild animals through true grit and determination. The truth is there is no perfect answer to dealing with real life violence, but at least through developing a strong and decisive attitude you can be better prepared to increase your chances of survival.

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