How many of you think twice before taking a walk because you are afraid of being confronted by a stranger? Especially if you are a female? How many of you feel vulnerable, especially when you are alone, because of your advanced age and/or because of a physical limitation?
Last month, I attended an introductory self-defense class for women in my neighborhood taught by black belt instructor and president of Comprehensive Survival Arts Martial Arts and Wellness School, Jen Lake. Beyond being a terrific neighborhood bonding experience, the class was downright fun, and Jen empowered us to make smart choices.
Jen, who is an instructor at the JCC and in our community for over 25 years, is passionate about teaching self-defense and making it doable for everyone. I would like to share just some of the many invaluable safety tips and self-defense techniques I learned from her.
Jen emphasizes that the goal of self-defense is not about fancy martial arts moves. It’s about survival. Effective self-defense is based on the principle of least resistance. Jen gives an example: “The best way to not be caught in a bad situation is to not put yourself in a bad situation,” she advises. “However, if you do find yourself in one, whatever works, works.”
A lot of the fear, Jen says, comes from the unknown. And the easiest route to safety is simple awareness techniques. “I look at it from the big picture – not only do we have to take care of the external enemy but even the internal enemy, stress. It’s when you have so much going on around you that you can miss something happening right in front of you – being so busy that you have trouble focusing in the moment. It is then that, all of a sudden, you are faced with having to employ self-defense against an external enemy.
“Any one of us can walk into any situation at any point; we have to be a step ahead. We need to be aware of our surroundings at all times, starting with our homes. The weak points around our homes include doors and windows,” cautions Jen. “Look around the house as if you were the criminal and ask yourself whether and how you could break in. Do you store ladders outside your house? You might as well put a sign on it that says, ‘Use this to come inside my house, please!’ If you can find a way to break in, criminals can, too, so make changes. Alarm company signs, cameras, and “beware of dog” signs are good deterrents. It is important for neighbors to look out for one another, as well. If you see your neighbor’s door open, and that neighbor never leaves it open, walk up to the door and check to see that everything is okay. Go with your gut instinct; if something doesn’t seem right, it likely is not. ”
Jen stressed the importance of writing down the license plate number and taking a picture of a car that you have never seen before in your neighborhood. Also, if you walk up to your house and open the door and something is a little off, don’t go inside; go to your neighbor’s house, instead, and call 911. Don’t be afraid of putting out your neighbor or the police. If you see something, say something. Police advise us not to look at color, age, gender, race, or other such factors, but rather, to go with our gut. If you don’t feel right about somebody, it’s okay to walk the other way and call for help.
Subterfuge and Common Sense
Some helpful techniques to avoid becoming victimized include pretending to be on your cell phone, even if you are not; calling out to someone in your house, even if no one else is home; buckling your children into your vehicle after getting in and locking the doors; looking out your windows and screen door before walking out of your house; taking a quick look around your car before you approach it; and getting off an elevator at the nearest floor, if you don’t have a good feeling about someone on it.
If we should ever find ourselves confronted face-to-face with an intruder, however, we discussed how to stand, what to do with our hands, how and where to strike, while simultaneously shouting a word, such as “No!”
“Break whatever is in their mind with the unexpected,” suggests Jen. True case-in-point stories of how people successfully warded off victimization were shared by the group. When a couple taking a walk on a dark, desolate street saw a suspicious-looking person coming towards them, the husband threw him off guard by blurting out, “Hey buddy, how are you doing?” In another instance, when a would-be attacker got extremely close to an elderly woman who was waiting alone at a bus stop, she pointed at him and questioned, “Don’t I know your mother?” He fled.
It is a good idea to let people know where you are going, especially if you are going by yourself. Even if you think it is as minor as going to the store to pick up something, call, email, or text someone to tell them. Always keep your phone on, keep your GPS on, and make sure your family member and/or friend has every app to find you. If you are taken from the area, chalila, hide your phone in your clothing, for example, so you can be tracked.
Lastly, if you have a limitation, don’t look at it as being doomed to be a victim. Find ways around it, instead. “Often it is those with limitations who need self-defense the most, but they can be intimidated by the physical aspect,” says Jen, who customizes classes for all ages, levels, and abilities. “If you use a cane, you can hit someone with it; if your knees are weak, use your elbows; if your arm is bad, use more kick.
“Make the most of what you have and keep yourself as safe and comfortable as possible. Think about self-defense, practice it, and talk to people about it. The more we do this, the more it becomes a part of us. In many of my classes I talk about how many crimes and accidents happen within a five-mile radius of our homes. It makes perfect sense to teach a class in someone’s home. It was wonderful to have a group of women discussing how to take control of their safety through better awareness and preparation.”
Sara Leah Kovacs was just one of the neighborhood class participants who gained tremendously from Jen’s class. “The upbeat can-do atmosphere reminded me of childhood fire and civil defense drills,” shared Mrs. Kovacs. “Even though it is scary to contemplate dealing with a potential attacker, chas veshalom, when you practice safety routines it becomes a social activity. You are focusing on the action, not the fear. Any time you feel you have coping tools, it helps you face the reality, even though when faced with a crisis, your strategy may be totally different.”
Women are invited to join Jen’s two-part Northwest Citizens Patrol (NWCP)-sponsored self-defense workshop at the JCC-Park Heights on Wednesday, August 3, 7:30-9 p.m. (discussion and some activity) and on Wednesday, August 10, 7:30-9 p.m. (practice of skill and techniques). A self-defense class for men, taught by Nadav Korman, will take place on Monday, August 8, 7:30-9 p.m. (mainly practice of skill and techniques) at the JCC-Park Heights. There is no charge for the classes but registration is required and is on a first-come-first-served basis.