Women’s Self Defense Krav Maga Style
Part 3 – The “Switch” (The Attack and Your Response)
Authors Note: This article deals with the situation where you are being threatened with violence or actually being physically attacked by a predator. By this point your Situational Awareness has been outmaneuvered and you are being threatened or you are taking damage. The opportunity for avoidance is lost, your reaction time is compressed, the fight is on. Many experts offer opinions on whether or not victims should fight back or comply with a predator. I do not presume to decide for any person which course of conduct is “best”. That is your decision. I do offer my own philosophy that if you are going to fight there are two thresholds to consider seriously: If a predator tries to bind your hands, or if a predator tries to move you to a second location. In my experience, neither of these scenarios has a good ending. This article concentrates on the final 10% of the Attack Cycle – the actual attack. Now only luck or fighting skills will save you.
Once the predator has initiated his attack much of his dirty work has been done. He has selected his prey, closed on his target and launched his assault. It could be a physical threat (brandishing a weapon, verbal threats of violence), or a blitz attack (blindside punch, bearhug takedown, etc). His goal is to submit his victim through fear or physical submission and gain what he wants as expeditiously as possible. Real-world violence is different than what most of us think it will be. For the uninitiated, the concept of violence is based upon media depictions and imagination. Most people have a lack of experience with violence, and form opinions of what it will be like based on inaccurate information (primarily through movies and TV shows.) Real violence is more immediate, more ferocious, and more damaging than it is in fiction (just think of any action movie where the hero is shot in the shoulder and in the next scene he is being bandaged by an EMT while sitting on the bumper of the ambulance before he continues to fight for truth and justice – as opposed to the bouts of intensive surgery, extended hospitalization and permanent debilitating injury that typically follows a real-world gunshot wound). That is why so many people are shattered by violence when it occurs and haunted throughout their lives constantly re-living the attack in their minds. The reality is not what we expect.
Most of us have heard of the Flight or Fight Response. It states that when threatened or attacked, animals (us included) will either run away or fight back, especially when cornered. In reality, we have a few more possible responses when attacked. A more accurate assessment of possible responses is: Freeze, Posture, Flight, Fight. Most of us can think of situations where we have seen animals or humans fight or flee. If we give it a little more thought, most of us have also observed freezing and posturing. We have seen animals freeze when surprised (think squirrel, rabbit). We have seen bears posture by standing on their hind legs to make themselves larger to adversaries. Humans engage in these behaviors too. Freeze? Victims of violent crimes often describe not being able to move, as if they were frozen in their shoes. They describe an almost out of body experience. Posture? Have you ever seen a bar fight? Alcohol fueled combatants (almost always male) will get up in each other’s faces with their arms extended to their sides, groins exposed, chest to chest (horrible tactics), while questioning each other’s lineage. It happens every time. Predators posture also. The goal of posturing is to convince your adversary it is in their best interest to submit rather than fight. The predator’s goal during the initial phase of his attack is to render the victim powerless by inducing a panic/injured/submissive mode. This can happen to any of us. As I pointed out in my previous article, a punch in the face can overwhelm even trained fighters. This is why we focus so much of our attention on our Situational Awareness. To keep us from this point. To avoid. But for various reasons, here we are, being attacked, taking damage. Frightened, maybe injured, our mind is racing as it searches for logic in an illogical situation – “This can’t be happening to me. I didn’t do anything to this person. This must be a bad dream. Why? Why???” We are frozen with fear.
Forget The Why
The first thing we need to do when attacked is Forget The Why. Invasive thoughts designed to figure out why we are being attacked are counterproductive in violent situations. Our search for information to understand all the social, economic and psychological reasons that this individual has garnered as motivation to attack us are irrelevant. The ONLY information we need is the realization that we are being attacked, and how best to terminate this attack and prevent any follow up. We need to develop what we call the Combat Mindset. I tell my students that if they are ever attacked their first thought should be “FORGET THE WHY!” They need to REACT NOW! There will be plenty of time to talk about the why over beers later. Right now you need to engage the How. How can we stop the aggressor? How can we stop taking damage and mitigate any immediate threat posed? How can we stop any follow up attack by the predator? (note about Threat vs Attack: When we are being threatened with violence or a weapon we are not taking damage. Many predators will use the threat of violence to get what they want because there is less risk to them as well. We can use those seconds to formulate a plan. Even if it is only a few seconds, we train our students to consider options. This is different than the blitz attack where you are taking actual physical damage and must react immediately to stop the violence). How do we forget the why? The first thing we need to do is prepare ourselves mentally beforehand for the possibility that someday violence may come to us. This simple acknowledgment is the first step in moving along the continuum from unprepared victim to hard target. From sheep to Sheepdog. If we understand that sometimes good people are attacked for no good reason, we can eliminate one of the big mental sticking points that causes people to freeze. Next, we need to work through the other mental freeze points we can expect when attacked. We should think through the moral, religious, intellectual, emotional, philosophical and legal implications of using violence to defend ourselves. We must decide what our personal line in the sand is. Realistically assess what we are capable of. What are my physical capabilities and limitations? Could I hit another person? Could I use a weapon to defend myself? How do I reconcile these possibilities with my deepest beliefs and values? The time to have this internal dialogue is not after the punches (or bullets) start flying, but when all is calm and right with the world. Each of us should work through the cerebral underpinnings of violence before the need to engage in it arises. If we wait till then, these questions will cause us to freeze, or at least delay. And time is damage when we are being attacked. If we don’t sort through these issues and at least accept the possibility that some day we may be attacked, we are living a life of denial. And although denial may be comforting on one level, on a deeper level we will have the gnawing doubt that we are not as prepared as we might have been when the Wolf is at the door. At the very least, we all should accept the possibility that evil may visit us some day. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones and even each other to not be sheep. A little editorializing here: I firmly believe that every able-bodied adult should have some basic self-defense skills, emergency medical skills, and weapons handling skills. I am not saying that we all need to be SWAT Operators, but we all should know some basic strikes (Palm Heels, Hammerfists, Knees, whatever); how to stop arterial bleeding; perform CPR and have some basic firearm handling skills (engage a safety, clear a stoppage). You can disagree with me (many do), but you ARE reading MY article so you have to at least hear me out. I just believe that without some attempt to learn these basic skills I would be haunted for the rest of my life if someone I loved was hurt or killed and I was powerless to try to prevent it because of my unwillingness to accept that violence was a possibility and my unwillingness to prepare for that possibility. Again, my philosophy. You need to decide yours. For our female partners, that is only half of the equation. Females are also taught from an early age that they are nurturers, not protectors. To develop the Combat Mindset they must work against a lifetime of socialization that molded them in to nurturers. I’m not saying that we do not want our ladies to be nurturers, I am only pointing out that when you come under attack, you need to put that instinct away (flip the switch) and reveal your claws and fangs. When I grew up, males were taught to be protectors. That instinct was encouraged (not so sure as much today). It was ok for boys to protect themselves and others. We played cops and robbers. Not so much the same with our sisters. However, in many parts of the animal kingdom it is the female of the species that protects the young or hunts food. We have socialized that out of women. Philosophical arguments aside, if you are being attacked it is ok not to be a lady. It is ok to scratch and claw and bite if need be. You have a divine right to protect yourself.
Okay. We have worked through the mental sticking points of violence beforehand. We are moving along the continuum to becoming Sheepdogs. Now what? Now we train. We train to “Flip The Switch” from Surprised-Injured-Terrified to the Combat Mindset. We train to develop striking skills and self-defense skills to counter the attack. We do this by practicing strikes so that we can deliver as much power to our adversary’s most vulnerable target at the point of his greatest imbalance. Our philosophy is simple: strike the bad guy when he is least ready, as hard as we can, where it hurts the most. Use your closest weapon against his closest target. Do not get bogged down in technique obsession. It is better to practice a few basic strikes regularly, than try to learn too many techniques. In Krav Maga (our fighting system) we believe that aggression can make up for a lot of deficiencies in a street fight. We have a saying in our classes: “If you screw up, then screw up violently”! The idea is to not worry about performing the perfect technique against an attack, but to hit hard with the best technique you can. Or put another way, an imperfect technique aggressively executed is better than the perfect technique timidly executed. We use Contact/Response Training to help inoculate ourselves from stress and the resultant hormonal dump. By exposing ourselves to the stress-induced chemical cocktail (adrenaline) in a training environment, we are less likely to freeze from fear when bad things happen on the street. We did not invent this practice. This training strategy is used across military and law enforcement training platforms because it works. It de-sensitizes participants to the stress of violence. We start light and build slowly. I am not talking about full contact sparring, but something as simple as holding a pad for strikes or practicing choke defenses with a partner. It gets us over the person-to-person contact phobia that many people have. I see this play out all the time. When we teach women-only seminars, everyone starts off not wanting to touch each other. By the end of the seminar, all participants are sweating and hitting pads as hard as they can. De-sensitized to contact. This is a good thing in training.
Another philosophy we adhere to in our training is that on the street, there is no such thing as a fair fight. Our goal is not to “win on points” but to end the threat/attack as quickly as possible to avoid damage and create an opportunity to get away. But sometimes we are attacked without warning and we are injured. If you are ambushed, struck and injured, that does not mean the fight is over. That means the fight is on. You need to overcome the initial shock and react. Injured is not dead. There are many examples of people fighting back despite gunshot wounds, stab wounds, broken limbs. I say this, not to scare you, but to empower you. I have seen injured people fight with tenacity and resolve. Realize that you can also.
Takeaways: Accept at least the possibility that violence may visit someday. Prepare. Forget the why. Flip the switch. Train. Use any weapon of opportunity, any tactic, any distraction to come out alive. It is NOT about fighting fair. It is about odds and tactics. I believe these strategies equip us best to come out alive. Be the Sheepdog. Claws and Fangs.
Stay tuned ladies for more on Women’s Self Defense Krav Maga Style. In the next article we put it all together.
About The Author: Ed Raso is a retired Major from the New York State Police with 32 years of law enforcement experience. He is also the Chief Instructor for Krav Maga New York’s Orange County location and the Leader of Krav Maga New York’s Force Training Team.