Archive for the ‘self defense’ Category

Time Over Content?

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

The other day, I received a call from a young woman representing a small women’s group here in the city. The members of the group had expressed an interest in learning self-defense; could I teach them? Absolutely, I replied. As we began discussing potential dates and times for a Saturday or Sunday (their preferred days), the caller stopped me. “Just what all is involved in your class, and how long do you need to cover it?”

I explained that we taught how to recognize a dangerous individual before it’s too late, de-escalation techniques, blocking and parrying, various hand strikes, proper punching and kicking techniques, as well as how to break strangle holds, wrist grabs, bear hugs, etc. And that we cover ground fighting and rape reversals, among other things.

“Well,” the group leader said, “that certainly is… a lot of material.” Yes, RAD Women’s Basic Self-Defense is a very thorough course. It has to be to effectively combat the broad spectrum of violence perpetrated against women in our society. But it was more than the caller and her group wanted. She asked how long I would need to pass all this information on to her group of 12-15. After all, “it’s important to keep in mind that they’re taking time out from their busy lives for this class.”

“For a group that size, we can offer a one-day workshop. We will complete the course in 6 hours. Three hours for the first half, maybe a short break for lunch, and three hours for the second half.”

“I see,” she replied. “That might be more time than they’re able to give. Keep in mind that a lot of these women are moms. They have to run the kids to team practice, piano lessons, etc. And some of them work on weekends. What can you teach them in two hours?”

Two hours? “Yes,” she stated firmly. “Time is more important than content.”

Rather than answer her question, I had to ask one myself: “With all due respect, ma’am, do the members of your group want to know how they can save their lives in case of an attack by a violent criminal? Or do they just want to pretend they know? Because in 6 hours, we can teach them how to break a hold, neutralize an adversary, and escape. In 2 hours, we can’t teach them anything, but they can kid themselves that they’re safe.”

When it comes to self-defense, there are no shortcuts. We’re happy to work with people, to set up classes around hectic schedules; to break up classes into multiple meetings if necessary. But knowing how to punch and kick with maximum effectiveness, to be able to rely on muscle memory to execute the technique… these are not skills that can be grasped by reading a book or watching a video. Nor can they be learned in a quick demonstration class. They have to be done, and done again, and again. Not slowly, and not against an imaginary “Bad Guy.” RAD understands the importance of dynamic impact–striking the specific targets of a padded attacker or martial arts dummy at full force, full power.  And we give each woman in the class personal attention and instruction to hone her technique.

I know you’re busy. You’ve got work, the kids, the house, your life! And learning how to fight for your life takes time and practice. But it’s not about giving us more time than you can spare. Give yourself  the time; we’ll bring the content.

Your Cell Phone is Fooling You

Monday, September 30th, 2013

I taught a class of bright young college women over the weekend. They were smart, strong, and aware that sometimes, the best defense is a good, well, defense. What impressed me most about this group was just how inseparable they are from their phones. When I talked about how to keep safe while walking through the city after dark, one young lady assured me she had this situation locked up: “I talk to my mom on my cell phone the whole time. That way, nobody will mess with me!”

When I asked her to explain how this keeps her safe, she explained that, should anything happen to her, her mother would know where she was (approximately) and would immediately dial 911. “And then?” I asked. Then, she went on, the police would come and the attacker would run away.

That would be great–if that’s how crime and crime-fighting actually worked. However, this scenario she has imagined is not only giving her a false sense of security; it’s putting her in danger. One thing muggers, rapists, and others who prey on women look for is someone who is distracted. Chatting on the phone with mom, recalling the events of the day, this young woman was not looking around her, checking the reflections of store windows to see if anyone was following her, glancing about to see if anything looked amiss. She made it easy for someone to walk right up behind her and grab her.

And what about that grab? Let’s say she had just finished telling her mother, “By the way, I’m walking past the ice cream shop on Main Street now. So, can you believe what Roger said to me today…” Next, her mom hears her scream, or maybe she just hears the phone drop on the ground. She takes a few seconds, trying to figure out what’s happening. Could her daughter really be in some kind of trouble? Maybe she just tripped on uneven pavement, and the phone slipped out of her hand… But she’s not coming back on the line. Suspecting the worst, mom calls 911.

The dispatcher answers on the first ring, questions mom about her emergency, and notifies the correct authorities. The local police are on their way–speeding to the last known location of the young woman: the ice cream shop on Main Street. Sirens blaring and lights flashing, they get there in under two minutes, jump out of the car, and look around for our student.

But where is she? Would the attacker follow her for blocks, close the distance behind her, sneak up and clap a hand over her mouth, grab her and then… stay there? Would he remain in plain view of the public, or would he forcefully take her to an isolated spot, a place where he can be free to perpetrate whatever crime against her he favors?

The police in this scenario arrived on the scene within 2 minutes of the initial attack, which is pretty darned fast. But as I asked the student, “What do you suppose would be happening to you during that time? Those might just be the longest 2 minutes of your life.” She realized that, while it would be reassuring to have a continuous live connection to Emergency Dispatch, 1) she never really had one to begin with,  and 2) she created more danger for herself talking on her phone than had she simply looked around as she walked.


Other thoughts on Cell Phones and “Safety”:

Another girl in this class said that she didn’t chat on her cell phone while she walked, because she knew she could be distracted. Instead, she kept her finger poised over the setting she had for 911 on Speed Dial. She wanted to know if I agreed that she was well-prepared for an emergency. I did think she was wise not to talk on her phone as she walked, and told her so. But I asked if she’d ever pocket-dialed anyone, or accidentally called the wrong number on speed dial. She had, and understood how keeping a finger hovering over “911” could be problematic. Then, I asked about a deeper issue: if she was so concerned about her safety that she felt she needed to keep her finger a centimeter away from calling for help, might it not be a better, safer plan to find a different way to get home from work every night? Your cell phone can’t protect you from danger. Instead, take the bus, walk with friends,or maybe change your shift. If you feel that the only thing keeping you safe is luck and a speedy connection to Emergency Dispatch, your brain is telling you that something needs to change.


Marketers seem to enjoy playing on the fears of young women. Several of the college girls boasted to me that they had locator apps on their phones. We had just concluded a segment on date rape and how to prevent being victimized this way. One student proudly explained to me that with this app they all have, “The whole group of us can go to a party, or out to a club, and we always know where each other is. We just check the app and can tell if everyone is still at the house where the party is, or still at the club!”

When I pointed out that what they were actually finding was the location of their friend’s phone–not necessarily their friend–their faces fell in realization. Relying on cell phones to stay safe is a dangerous mistake. No app can take the place of sound judgment and caution–and, if needed, a well-placed strike to a vulnerable body part.

In Case of Rape, Throw Up??

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Has Colorado lost its collective mind? First, Democratic State Representative Joe Salazar warns that women should not carry firearms for personal protection because, wait for it… they might shoot someone. “[I]f you feel like you’re going to be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, then you pop out that gun and… pop a round at somebody.”

He would have us believe that he knows what women are thinking and whether they are really in danger, even if the women themselves don’t. In a life-threatening situation, he wants us to wait for others to come save us, recommending we make use of call-boxes, whistles, and ‘safe zones.’ In other words, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head, missy. You just wait for a big, strong man to come riding in on a white steed and rescue you from another man who wants to bash your face into the sidewalk, rip your clothes off with a blade, torture and maybe kill you. Heh, heh.”

As if that insult to women’s intelligence and judgment wasn’t bad enough, earlier this week, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs posted a 10-point “safety list” entitled What to Do If You Are Attacked. They refer to these so-called techniques as “crime prevention tips,” but the fact that they are all reactions to being attacked, rather than proactive measures to avoid an attack illustrate their lack of effectiveness in a rape/mugging/domestic violence situation.

Topping the list is “Be realistic about your ability to protect yourself.” This patronizing warning tells women they just aren’t smart enough or strong enough to defend themselves against an aggressive male, hell-bent on harming them. It’s also downright untrue. Hundreds of thousands of women realize that they have more than enough power in their bodies and minds to save themselves in an attack. They understand, first and foremost, that they are not weak, helpless waifs whose lot is to suffer simply because some criminal has chosen to mess with them. They also know that a solid punch, kick, or elbow strike to certain vulnerable targets will put a dent in an assailant’s plans and afford them an opportunity to escape.

Also recommended as “survival techniques” on the University’s list are vomiting and urinating, to convince the attacker to leave the intended victim alone. So, seeing a woman doubled over, hurling in the bushes, he might think… what? “Oh, gee, she’s having a bad enough time already. I’ll go ruin someone else’s life.” Not likely.

Also, I must point out that it is difficult to force oneself to vomit or urinate on demand–especially in a life-and-death situation such as a rape attempt. Not to mention, while one is trying to accomplish these acts, one can neither fight off the attacker nor run to safety.

Two of the tips on the list actually contradict each other: “Yelling, hitting, or biting may give you a chance to escape. Do it!” is immediately followed by “Understand that some actions on your part may lead to more harm.” In other words, little lady, let him do whatever he wants. Don’t try to fight the Big Bad Man or you’ll just make it worse for yourself. The US Department of Justice reports that women who actively defend themselves against a rapist are more likely to minimize the attack and/or escape than women who don’t fight back. And, they are no more likely to be injured than women who don’t fight back. Note: in some instances, compliance may be used as a survival technique. For example, women who have been told by a rapist with a weapon, “Just be quiet or I’ll hurt your kids” have used compliance to save their lives and those of their children. However, compliance as an option is not the same thing as making yourself helpless in the face of sheer hell.

There are quite a few women’s self-defense classes available on college campuses, at martial arts dojos, in cities large and small throughout the country. Most are good; some are excellent. The instructor who developed these so-called “survival strategies” is not someone I would want teaching my sister, my daughter, or my friends. These tips would seem to teach how to become a victim rather than a strong, empowered woman.



RAD Womens: Going Off-Script

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

We were about halfway through a Women’s Self-Defense class, and had stopped for a break. As we sat down and sipped from water bottles, I asked the participants how they felt about trusting their intuition, going with their gut feelings, and did this play a role in keeping them safe. Most realized that, however it worked, their intuition helped them make wise choices and avoid trouble. One woman, however, wasn’t so sure. “Sue” said that her job of being a nanny to two very young children (while taking care of her own toddler at the same time) was so demanding and stressful that she didn’t have time to pay attention to gut feelings. It was hard enough just keeping the baby and 2 toddlers under control; how was she supposed to think about her own safety, too? To check that no one was hiding in the backseat before she opened the car door… to make sure the stairwell in the parking deck was clear before bringing the kids through. The techniques I was showing her were nice to know, but she worried she wouldn’t be able to use them in a real-life situation if, heaven forbid, one actually developed.

I was reminded of a story I’d read in Gavin deBecker’s book, Protecting the Gift. He related how a mother was able to fight off an attacker as she held a child in one arm and another behind her back, shielding him with her body. She yelled, kicked, and chased after this man until he turned, ran to his truck, and drove away as fast as he could. deBecker’s advice: Do not try to attack a woman with her children. Her Mother Bear instincts will come out and you will lose.

RAD techniques, when done correctly, should alleviate a woman’s fears and increase her confidence. But that wasn’t happening for Sue because of her worries. So, we went off-script for a bit and created an exercise based on her concerns. We gave her a gym bag to carry in one hand, to represent the car carrier she uses to transport the baby she cares for. Then, two other women in the class held hands with her, becoming the “toddlers.”

We developed a scenario that was familiar to her: “Okay, you’re in a parking lot and you want to get into the store. But, there’s a guy coming toward you. He sees you’ve got your hands full and your attention divided. He thinks you’re an easy mark. What are you gonna do?”

Having spent the previous two hours learning about the various vulnerabilities of an attacker and the personal weapons she has at her disposal, Sue realized that having both hands full of children was not a problem. She yelled for empowerment and strength, and also to bring attention to her situation. Then, she fired off a series of hard, targeted kicks–and basically beat the heck out of me, my assistant, and the protective pads we were using.

No longer concerned that she won’t be able to use what she has learned, Sue found that the Mother Bear instinct is, indeed, alive and… kicking. (Sorry.) She knows that, if she ever has to defend herself or her little ones, she has all the tools she needs.

RAD Women’s vs. Martial Arts

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

When I started teaching RAD Women’s Self-Defense, a male friend who is a black belt in karate good-naturedly joked that he would sit in and watch one of my classes so he could tell us what we were doing wrong.

I joked back that statements like that were the reason RAD Women’s has a “No Men Allowed” policy. We both laughed, and the conversation moved on. But his comment bothered me because I think his viewpoint—that taking up martial arts protects a woman better than a self-defense class geared specifically to her needs–is shared by a lot of people. So, I’m going to clarify that issue now.

There is a reason why RAD and other women’s self-defense programs were developed—and that’s because martial arts training isn’t enough to protect a woman from a rape attack. In fact, the techniques developed specifically for women, capitalizing on women’s strengths (as opposed to men’s), and utilizing positions women are likely to find themselves in during such an attack, were created in response to the rape of a female black belt.*

Martial arts are about fighting. The participants understand that. They approach one other as equals although, of course, each will try to defeat the other. There are moves and countermoves. Opponents spar.

A rapist isn’t looking for a fight. He has no intention of moving against his target, then watching to see what maneuver she might counter with. His goal is to subdue her immediately so he can continue his violence against her. There is no sparring in this kind of attack, no give-and-take. He certainly does not consider his victim a worthy opponent. His desire is to debase, humiliate, and grievously injure (or kill) her. He wants nothing less than total domination of her.

Just as the purpose behind the confrontation is different, so are the positions within it. Martial arts are fought mostly from a standing (vertical) position. Even when jumps and rolls are used, participants return to an upright stance to regroup and prepare for the next move. The rapist, on the other hand, knocks his victim to the ground quickly, and uses violence and threats to keep her there. Knowing how to fight on her feet will not help a woman who finds herself in an unfamiliar, horizontal position.

Also to be considered are the facts of human physiology. In the majority of cases, men have greater upper body strength than women. A woman fighting a man in a standing position will simply not be able to match, much less overcome, his more massive arm, chest, shoulder, and back muscles. However, this does not mean that women are weaker. We’re stronger in our lower bodies—our hips and legs. And this is why we’re so dangerous when we’re on the ground. When a woman has been taught how to direct her strength in a ground fight, she focuses her power effectively against her attacker. His first surprise is that she fights back; he targeted her because he thought she would be an easy conquest. His second surprise is that, used to fighting standing up, he doesn’t know how to approach a ground fighter. He can’t get close enough to counter her moves, or execute his own.

There’s one more very important difference between martial arts and RAD Women’s training. RAD takes into account that women in our society have been taught from childhood to “be nice, be polite,” and not to hurt anyone. Many women have internalized this idea to the degree that they would rather let someone hurt them than stand up for themselves. Such unhealthy thinking prevents them from realizing their full power and potential. It keeps them afraid. RAD Women’s programs teach a new way of thinking, empowering women to overcome the societal conditioning that tells them they’re weak, frail, and unable to fight back successfully against a man–thinking that rapists take advantage of.

*See The Evolution of Martial Science,

And Strangers Aren’t All Bad Guys

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

In my last blog entry, I talked about how the Bad Guy isn’t always a stranger. So, teaching kids about Stranger Danger and painting anyone they don’t know with an “evil” brush doesn’t help them as much as parents might think. First, as I mentioned, it becomes confusing if a neighbor or “friend of the family” takes indecent liberties or otherwise tries to hurt them. The child doesn’t think, “Stop touching me; I don’t like it and I’m going to tell!” but rather, “This person is our friend, so this must be okay.”

Second, it doesn’t prepare a child to look for help outside of a known circle of adults. What if your young son or daughter is in an open, public place—the movies, a playground, even a store—and the accompanying adult steps away momentarily? Maybe they want to make a call, go to the restroom, or ask the salesperson a question. And what if your son or daughter is then approached by a predator?

Your child may be able to run away. But who will he run to for safety? Who will she tell to call 911?  Kids need to be taught how to pick a safe stranger out of a crowd, especially if they’re alone or just with other kids. Having their own cell phone isn’t the answer. Having sound judgment and knowing how to make smart choices is.

There are ways to choose whom to go to for help in a crowd. They’re simple and clear, and kids understand them. We teach them in radKIDS because knowing who to go to for help can help save a kid’s life.


Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
One of the first things my supervisor told us when we showed up for radKIDS Instructor training was, “We’ve had 31 saves. Thirty-one kids who took the radKIDS class later found themselves face to face with an abductor. Each of them used what they learned in radKIDS to escape and get help.”

In that training class, I learned that within the first few hours of a kidnapping, a child is most likely injured and sexually abused. Before 24 hours has passed, that child has probably been killed by his or her captor. So, it’s not a far reach to say that what those kids learned in the radKIDS program helped save their lives.

That was 2 and a half years ago. radKIDS is now happy to report 62 documented saves from abduction, and thousands more from molestation, abuse, and violence. This makes me proud but, even more, grateful. I’m proud to be a part of a program I consider a gift: to parents, to children, to everyone who loves children and recognizes how special they are, how full of potential, how vital to our hearts, our lives and, of course, our world.

But more, I’m grateful to have something tangible to offer parents and kids–something that’s proven, that really works. Thanks to the police officers and child safety experts who designed this program, we’re able to empower kids to trust their gut, make smart choices, and know that no one has the right to hurt them. Because when they know that, they can use what they’ve learned in class to escape from danger and get help. To save themselves when no one else can.