Tuesday, January 21, 2020

a force with which to be reckoned-

yup, super excited about this movie
A force with which to be reckoned - 

This is not a “down with patriarchy” conversation. Important to say that because it might be easy to drift into the polarizing feminist narratives in the words that follow. Easy to fall that way to disagree and easy to fall that way in support. There is a gender bent to the words and I am clear this is not unilaterally a gender based dynamic.

Here we go.

There is an abiding social script, an unspoken expectation in martial and combat arts reflecting the rules around achievement. When a practitioner reaches a milestone, we take a picture with our certificate, our talisman (belt, patch etc.), and our instructor. The pictured instructor may be a high ranking Sensei, a Master, someone representing an international team and/or the local instructor. It may be all of these if they are the same person or the roles may be represented by multiple people. 

This is a benchmark moment. Hard training, hours-days-months-years on the mat create this moment. Failures, falls, bruises, struggles, frustrations, dusting it all off to try again. And again. Then it clicks. We fight for this milestone and we earn it. We take this picture and we share it in whatever media format we choose. 

In the sharing we give thanks where thanks is due. We write a comment or a hashtag and we express gratitude to our instructors who fought for and with us as we drove our minds and bodies toward this achievement. Thank you to the Master, the Sensei, the instructor for believing in us, for providing the experience and wisdom offered during our journey. Gratitude for guiding us, for not giving up on us … all the things. 

When we see a picture of the guy with his new belt, stripe, or rank he is smiling, sweaty, and weary standing next to the strong confident presence of his instructor/master/sensei. We appreciate the gratitude and the humility. If he posted the picture and said “fuck yeah! I KILLED that test. I rock. My hard work got me here…and oh yeah, thanks Sense…” we might twitch a little. 

Martial arts and arrogance have a love-hate relationship. We love to hate arrogant students and grind our teeth at Masters who express arrogance and love them anyway. The humility is the script. Give credit to all those instructors, be thankful for the awarded v. earned rank and avoid hubris.

This is not a bad thing. In Alpha-Land humility helps hold the tribe together. In this script, the instructor will often reply with an ‘atta boy. A hearty congrats mentioning the hard work etc. of the student. But we don’t need the instructor to do this. We look at this man who has earned this accomplishment and we know he put in the work. We can see his strength, his power and his drive. 

When she makes this post nothing changes. This is the script – thanks and gratitude. This is the way (sorry, couldn’t resist). Below the public script there is also something sneaky and risky and contrary to the point. 

When we look at her picture, do “we” have the same response as we do to his? Does the instructor? Does the instructor take more credit for her accomplishment? I doubt it’s conscious when it happens – or at least that is my hope (because I have seen it happen more than once). And this isn’t about the instructor or master, it’s about her. Does she embody the same sense of personal accomplishment? The guy on-script doesn’t say:

“fuck yeah! I KILLED that test. I rock. My hard work got me here…and oh yeah, thanks Sense…”

-because he’s not supposed to and inside of the gratitude, he knows he earned this. But does she? I know women in the martial arts world who give all the credit to their instructors. I don’t just mean when they earn the title or rank. 

It’s a challenge for this woman to own her achievement. It’s easier and perhaps, in some martial cultures expected that the women remain beholden to those who raised them up and statistically, that’s likely going to have been a team of male instructors.

And it’s a dance. Her instructors may also subtly reinforce this undercurrent script. Reminding her she has “more to learn” when she expresses strength or confidence. The instructors may say “she worked so hard, I am so proud of her” and this is likely honest. And the ‘atta girl may have a sneaky undertone of …. I helped the damsel become a warrior – instead of – the warrior found her way –

The script is what it is. The undertone is a byproduct of a centuries old male-oriented tradition in which accomplished women were rare birds; and all that the metaphor implies. It doesn’t happen everywhere or with everyone or with the same person all the time, necessarily. It does; however, happen. Changing it doesn’t mean becoming a beacon of hubris. That would have a remarkable and unfortunate backlash. Gratitude for the education is appropriate. 

The change must come from within. With each woman who experiences the accomplishment, that she looks in the mirror and gives herself that nod. The nod that says “fuck yeah – you KILLED it!” 

And then, when she gives her measure of gratitude across the social universe, she can also acknowledge SHE did the work. SHE put in the time. SHE accomplished the goal. It is her journey afterall – nobody else’s; and this is one of the places gender is moot. 

So sister, if you’re out there and you have forgotten the real reason you can have all that gratitude is because YOU stood up and said I will do this, then take a moment and acknowledge who you are. When the next generation of women steps on the mat, they need to see you – they need to see they too can put in the work and become a force with which to be reckoned. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

1387 Words Toward 2020

Naïve Trust – an infant’s trust. A trust without consciousness that betrayal is even a possibility. The baby who cries and is held to be comforted, changed, fed. And then cries at night for companionship and eventually the parents say…let him cry it out. She needs to learn to sleep through the night.

While little punkin’ is in there sup-supping there is a betrayal of this naivete. They will not ALWAYS come when I cry. Sometimes they will let me cry. The world shifts. The tiny human recalibrates power. Well. If I can’t get them in here when I cry because I’m bored or lonely or just want to see the cause and effect….what will I do with this? And choices are made. 

Naïve trust is frail and fails when tested. There is no experience to back up the faith, no evidence to give proof. In an infant’s case naïve trust is an expectation born out of necessity. You made me, if I am to survive you have a few promises to keep, human.

Blind Trust is a more sophisticated variation. It evolves when in a relationship, there is a consistent promise and it is consistently kept. He is a man of his word. If she says she is going to be here, she will be. Time and consistency create this blindness. But blind to what, exactly? Blind to the humanin this dynamic. If my friend is always on time and there is the day when not only is she late … but she just doesn’t show; I feel betrayed. Crushed maybe, or angry. In blind trust, our emotions, our monkey brain takes command of our thoughts. The broken, albeit perhaps unspoken, contract shreds at our connection (membership), our pattern of mutual respect is violated (status), and the rules themselves – that unspoken contract – are left in tatters. 

The only four social/relational contexts for conflict left unaassaulted is territory. But I can argue that territory violations are in the mix if we get a bit esoteric. 

Blind trust is an evolution of Naïve trust. It’s an evolution because it doesn’t trust as a matter of course per se, it has evidence trust is warranted and then it is all.in. And there’s the naïve part. Blind trust never looks back, it ignores everything but the social contract thus far created.

Is there another option? Yup. Conscious Trust. I’ve also seen this described as Mature Trust. It looks like this:

I know the people I interact with are humans with emotions and unruly monkey brains. The friend who blows me off? I bet there were signs. Indicators of something…a little cold-shoulder behavior recently? More stressed than usual? If this isn’t “like her” then something is afoot. But more than the tells in her behavior, bigger than that, Conscious Trust tells me … this violation isn’t all about me.

Maybe her pipes burst and her home is flooded. Right. Now. When we are supposed to be having lunch. 

Well, why didn’t she call me? Really? Would I call me under those circumstances? Probably not. Not until water had ceased the spontaneous baptism of my earthly possessions. 

Conscious, human level trust allows me to take a step back from the raging sense of violation and consider possibilities. It also helps me realize, like the frustrated toddler left to his own devices (all personal needs being met), I am not powerless in this violation.

This goes deep when the violation is sharp. When it’s a partner, spouse, a close friend and the violation is bleeds out over our lives. 

Years ago, I had a friend and colleague who helped me launch a project. He’d have given me the shirt off his back if I needed it. Over a period of 2-3 years, he periodically slipped a wheel off the tracks. He’d ignore a decision or an instruction in front of colleagues. He’d argue with me in front of staff. We’d talk about it – he’d apologize for what was noted as open disrespect because he had the utmost respect for me. 

Part of him did. The rest of him though was driven by a myriad of personal struggles and at the end of the day, he did not do well with women in positions of authority. I knew it. We talked about it. So why was I spun half-way up a wall and two kinds of sideways in the final blow? The whatof the circumstances isn’t important. What IS important is I worked hard to keep my human brain in charge of everything except acknowledging the reality of how he showed up in his life where women were concerned. He’s not a bad guy. He wasn’t ‘targeting me’ in any way. 

On behalf of my organization I called to apologize to the affected parties. One of those phone calls went out to a retired NYPD officer who said… you’re too nice. A byproduct of me explaining I should have seen this coming and I was truly sorry the mess had impacted him.

If you know me, you know I’m not that nice. The little disaster wasn’t because I am nice, it was the result of me slipping back into a type of blind trust after enough time would go by between events (see? he’s really trying…)

The human-conscious level of trust would have been me taking stock much earlier in the timeline of events. Questions like, am I up for this happening periodically ad infinitum? Is having him on thisteam worth the cost of periodic open disregard for the leadership of the team? Can I take it in stride when I am cleaning up the fall-out?

If I had taken stock and answered those questions with a yes then two things would have unfolded in what became the Last Straw. I would have known it was coming given the precursor events and therefore, would not have been surprised. I would have been aware of my conscious choice to have him on this particular team regardless, and I would not have felt personally betrayed.

There is power in that. 

It’s not what I did. Instead, I called one of those friends who I consciously trust will call me on my crap and proceeded to lose my mind. He let me vent. Then listen as I came to terms with my blindness. After a couple of days of cleaning up my internal chaos and the external fall-out of my colleague’s actions, I finally did what I could have done a couple of years prior. I came to terms with this:

I trust this is a consistent, if not frequent, reality in his life. I trust it will happen again. I trust I will spend hours of precious resources cleaning up the fall-out. I trust he is unconscious enough he can’t help himself (and even if he is conscious – he doesn’t help himself). And I’m not up for it. 

We had coffee. I fired him. It came at a cost. As the months followed, I saw him around less and less. His stated understanding that our friendship superseded his disagreement with my decision was well-meaning and his personal pattern was predictable. Eventually he just disappeared from my circle and I did not pursue him.

So why 1100 words plus about definitions on trust? The story about the fired friend isn't earth shattering, I have a few of those. I'm guessing so do you. 

I’ve been reading something lately that reminded me of Tim Levine’s research and what he calls a Default to Truth. As a whole, when we don’t have an overabundance of evidence to the contrary, we assume Truth. We default to blind trust. Even with that overabundance of evidence, at times we will still assume truthfulness in someone’s words, intentions, behaviors, persona. 

Levine says we need this. He’s right. It goes to the need for tribal survival and if I’m going to survive, my tribe has to survive too. If we wake up every morning and presume everyone is out to get us… all the time… yeah, doesn’t typically end well.

This Default to Truth doesn’t need to blind us though, and its ballast doesn’t need to be extreme paranoia. A little conscious, or mature, trust goes a long way. And because we aren’t particularly good at it on our own when the violation is personal, it helps to have a close tribe who is committed to calling your monkey brain out so you can reign it back in.

If you don’t have that, cultivate it. This type of tribe is worth more than can be counted and as I stare down a new decade, I am extremely grateful for these people in my life. I’m certain I will need them.

Friday, December 20, 2019

The D Word


Diversity in hiring policies. Diversity in schools. Diversity in our neighborhoods. 

One of the things I appreciate about our current geographical community is the diversity our youngest has grown up inside of. He waded his way through middle and high school with one of the most culturally diverse populations I could have hoped for – Subcontinent, Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Eastern & Western European all represented in his school and community. The value of this is already evident in his perspective on the world (and himself) and he isn’t yet out of college. 

Diverse opinions in industries and professions help us grow and expand our world view. Diversity keeps us from becoming stagnant or from positioning into “we’ve never done it that way” attitudes creating gradual, if not sometimes imperceptible, decay. Often the decay inches forward at a glacial pace and no one experiences the creep until the entire ___________ is frozen and dead. The company just locks the doors and walks away. The relationship disappears into a dull void. The organization fizzles out until it is an organization of one. 

Is there a point; however, in which diversity hurts? I don’t mean hurts our feelings, or injures our belief systems. Sometimes that’s valuable. And I think we generally agree that lobbing insults or an Ad Hominem approach to disagreement unquestionably fails to create valid, useful diversity. 

This is more a question of…when we hold starkly different opinions on A Thing, can it create more problems than it solves? 

It depends – like most things in self-defense, the It Depends answer applies here as well.

There is value to having a stand we take on A Thing. To know our own minds enough to state what we believe and do not believe, but an ALWAYS answer in self-defense is risky. In this vein diversity is critical in self-defense. 

One of my early instructors taught with profound certainty. This technique when done correctly will always work. And then it didn’t. To his credit (and I truly mean that), he spent the better part of 15 minutes with me one-on-one with my training partner trying to solve where I had it wrong because the technique was clearly NOT working for me. 

Turns out the attacker had subtly adjusted his position and had remarkably changed his Center of Gravity to Base ratio and there was no way in hell I was going to be successful with the prescribed technique. It took swapping out partners to discover the problem. The instructor cast subtle blame on the training partner rather than addressing the adjustment needed to the technique. This level of certainty and uniformity comes with a steep price I have become unwilling to pay.

And then, there are dissenting opinions that I wish we could all get over ourselves on. Platforms in which a large degree of diverse opinion I think may be causing more harm than good. Another well-known author/trainer in the self-defense world has been noted to say women should not be taught prevention – women’s self-defense should always be physical. …… ???? ....

Let’s back that out of gender and apply it in general: humans should not be taught prevention in self-defense, the education should all be physical.  

I’m authentically curious about this stance but not because I think it has merit. I’m curious because I can’t figure out how one might hold this belief with logic holes you can drive a truck through & there are many people falling down this prescribed rabbit hole.

Or this one: (using a play-based approach to learning the physical aspects of self-defense like we do at VioDy) the Mr. Rogers approach to self-defense is uselessthis is serious material and should be addresses as such. There’s a difference between taking the subject matter seriously and instilling unnecessary anxiety in folks who want to learn personal safety. I am categorically opposed to terrifying students who are there to be LESS afraid. 

Even the “it depends” approach has dissenting opinion. I read a quote somewhere from a fairly well-known individual in the martial/combat industry that said something to the effect of: if your instructor ever answers with it-depends, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Our commonalities create tribe. Belonging and being in a room with people who hold common beliefs is comforting. Variance from tribe-to-tribe creates the necessary diversity for life to expand and adamantly held, this same diversity drives us to war.  

It’s a continuum. I recognize the extremes help us all find balance in the variance. Once in a while though, I grow remarkably weary of the diversity in the self-defense conversation.
·     Prevention is critical. 
·     Avoidance is the highest order win. 
·     Formal techniques work if the physics work … regardless of the name tag attached or country of origin.
·     Play is freedom and freedom allows the brain to let the body adapt. 
·     Adaptation is the difference between survival and extinction. 
·     Making people afraid does not make them safer.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Fuel. Not Food. (a response to Virginia SB 64)

Emotions are not evil. They are; however, easily profoundly misapplied. 

The previous 48 hours my text messages, IM, and FB feed have been peppered with posts warning and inquiring about the new bill proposed in Virginia's Senate.

The bill is supposed to outlaw all forms of martial arts. Outlaw teaching your family member how to fire a gun. Teaching anyone anything that could be construed or utilized as a paramilitary activity. Posts like Tyranny Alert and Did you SEE this??? And what will you do? Mirror to the reactions.

People who are students at our training center, have been in the past, or are martial colleagues have been blowing up my feed. I cross their minds, they think of me and it's a nice boost to the old ego that I'm remembered by people who don't see me every day.  And - this is a misapplied use of how emotions serve us best. Emotions are fuel. Energy. E (energy) + Motion = energy for movement, Fuel.

Emotions make a shitty compass and an inaccurate source of hard data. Here's the hard data as best I understand it.

SB64 is a proposed amendment to a law passed in the late 1980's. A few word tense changes and an additional paragraph adding in verbiage that makes it criminal to march as a unit with the intention to intimidate other folks (can you say backlash to Charlottesville?). A link to the current legislation is posted at the end.

Do I agree with it? Nope. Does the existing legislation make a ton of sense? Not really. Loosely worded - open to a ton of interpretation and that marching business...who decides intent? Who determines whether or not someone was victimized by intimidation? Open for corrupt application? You betcha'.

Are they outlawing martial arts? Well. Here's the thing. The language being interpreted to mean Krav Maga, BJJ, even Tai Chi will be illegal to teach and learn has been law prior to 1990. Do you know how many martial arts programs are in Northern Virginia alone? I live in the McDojo Mecca.

Is the attitude behind the proposed amendment worth watching? Yes. In an effort to protect our freedoms, our freedoms are at risk. The down side to living in a country that gives you the right to worship as you choose, speak what you believe and peaceably assemble to discuss your beliefs means people who believe in things I don't like get to do the same.

Freedom shares a trait with Truth. It cuts both ways.

My training center, Kore Self-Defense & Krav Maga, is not about to be illegal if the bill becomes law  because that part of the bill is already law and no one is putting me in pretty silver bracelets.

Take this emotion, this fuel, and use it as energy to drive your commitment to our freedoms. Drive the commitment, the intelligent research, the honest dialogue, the power of debate, and the capacity we possess to disagree.

Hold the fear for when Fear is duly warranted. We don't make great decisions in fear. Be conscious. Be aware. Be alert. Be alive. Be passionate even, But when emotion becomes the source of our cognitive resources we become firecrackers; a bright, beautiful big BANG gone more quickly than ignited and as ineffectual.

(oh - and I'm fully conscious I am talking to myself as much as to anyone else - this is a human struggle and none of us are immune).

here's that legislation: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?201+ful+SB64+hil

Live well - Live Fiercely,

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

Friday, August 30, 2019

what makes an expert?

Good question.  Don't really have an answer. This post is about the off-balanced nature of how we play with the word because it doesn't mean now what it used to mean.

I guess we get to acknowledge first, that "expert" means a lot of things. It can mean someone particularly knowledgeable in a particular arena, someone granted personal respect, someone with demonstrated skill sets that seemingly outmatch their peers -

It used to mean just "experienced". But that usage is now deemed obsolete. Too bad. A momma who's raised 9 fabulous kids is a freaking expert by experience in my book, and I know one such momma.

Expert has evolved into one of those words that changes in definition as swiftly as the context changes. Here's what I mean:

I've been designated for "expert testimony" in a couple of court cases over the years. Two criminal, a handful of civil, and one IDEA mediation (that one was a really long time ago)  and my testimony ranged from nodding my head yes to a judge in family court to a 7 hour deposition in a civil suit. Cases addressing a bunch of different situations - mostly human behavior...except the IDEA case - that one was an assessment on accessibility. Long story that,  based on my first career as a Deaf Education teacher.

I earned an Expert I rank from Krav Maga Global following a week-long grueling physical training camp in Israel followed by an equally brutal physical skills test. I survived - earned the patch and hung up my rank-testing goals. When just about everyone testing undercut me by a minimum of ten years, (and months of recovery to their weeks) I turned my physical training goals on to different objectives.

People have called me an expert on any number of occasions mostly around the field of self-defense as it relates to our psychology and human behavior - and self-defense specific to women.

Who's right? The courts? The mediation officer? The judge? My combat art system's rank evaluators? The IDEA attorney? My friends and colleagues?

It's not a title I claim and I have openly shunned it until I'm blue in the face - and it gets used my direction anyway. I'm not a fan of the word - but not because of the word itself. I don't like how easily we fall under the authoritative spell cast by it.

Case in point. Just because some folks label me that way doesn't make it true. There are so many people out in the self-defense world with more experience both as practitioners & as instructors than I will ever have. But the E word is sticky and once someone wipes that sticky goo on you, it's damned hard to get it off.

There's a logic fallacy called Appeal to Authority. It's when we reference Experts to give our words more weight in an argument or, a good natured debate (and that seems to be a dying art -but check out Randy King's new podcast for  dose of fresh air on that one). Humans like to appeal to higher powers for a host of reasons, mostly, I think it's because there's a degree of personal abdication...a little back door that gets creaked open when we say an Expert told us so-and-so. Then if shit goes badly, we have someone else to blame. The Expert told us...therefore...it's the expert's fault...certainly not our own! Back door...

I think we like Experts too because they get to be windmills for the Don Quixote's among us. Something, or someone to rail against when we feel otherwise ineffectual. We can write scathing reviews, blog posts, IG comments - from afar we are the brave warrior for truth and justice and again - back door exits because few people will reach to have open honest dialogue anymore. Particularly around disagreements (or worse, offense). I have an Expert I don't like - at all. But I know a metric ton of people who do like this particular Expert. When I feel like jousting I'll grab my steed and lance and do my thing. But I do it quietly, with friends who are going to laugh at me for it because jousting at windmills is...well jousting at windmills.

So, what IS an expert? My spouse, for starters. In his area of expertise - a sought after guy in his domain. He's an expert. In my world, he's stunning. I know there are people who don't like him and in his domain would not call him an expert. Okay-dokey. I get to see him how I choose.

As much as there are people who slapped the sticky expert goo on my back and use the term with respect, I know there are folks out there who completely disagree. Good. They get to do that too.

The cautionary tale around the word Expert lies in the credence we give it. No one is a true expert. That's because somewhere, someone else taught the Expert who was then just a student. And that teacher was taught by someone before them, etc. And - more importantly, somewhere there is someone who is keener, more skilled, sharper minded than anyone slapped with the Expert label. We may never hear about them - doesn't make it less true.

Whether we seek an authority in curing an illness, healing a broken bone, in deciphering early English Literature, self-defense skills, in torte law...it is essential to remember Expert is a designation, not a fact. The best possible gift you can give yourself when you meet someone who's been tagged with that sticky label is to decide for yourself...then let other folks do the same.

(And I'll be the first to tell you there are other folks out there who far more earn the designation than I ever could.)

If you really like the work of a particular person, you respect their ideas and feel they are a benchmark in their field - okay. You can share this sentiment with your friends and some may buy it while other's do not. Good, accept it and move on.  Not a great platform for proselytizing.

The inverse is also true.  Have a friend or colleague who designates someone as an Expert that you don't much care for? Okay dokey.  Remember, it's an assigned value of esteem, not a universal fact and you both get to believe as you choose. Really. There's enough room.

And if you turn assigned value into a battleground (whether for or against) you are playing deep in the Appeal to Authority fallacy and here's the rub, it is unnecessarily divisive. Unnecessary  because it doesn't matter. It's a label with such a profoundly fluctuating meaning the term itself doesn't carry any authentic value.

I like my Expert and you decidedly do not. You and I kick up a storm over a worn-out, echoic paper doll of a term...to what end? Who is served? Who's life is now the better for it?

Here's an option. We evaluate an Expert's position and message as it relates to our personal experiences in life. If the words and music line up, if the message resonates and it adds value to your life, own it. It's your life (not the Expert's), take the message that moves you and let it become your own. If in this evaluation you do not find value, leave it. Move on. There is something thread-bare and weary to the gestures we make against the messages we reject.

We used to burn people at the stake for this sort of thing. Physically. We're still doing it metaphorically. Think about what amazing creativity could replace obsessive hostility against a meme, message or ideology you reject?

And this goes deep. Let's take an ideology like racial/ethnic supremacy. I personally find it abhorrent. I can march against it, carry signs, shout at rallies, exchange blows with those who support such ideology. Who have I helped? Is my neighbor happier? Are my children healthier? Are the hungry fed? Is the justice system suddenly woke?

We get really spooled up over our Experts and experts. We pit one against the other and hide behind keyboards - which feels a little self-convicting at the moment since I am, in fact, at my keyboard...and we throw poisonous darts because we feel better for it?

I don't think so. I don't think anyone actually experiences resolution in these ideological hunger games.

So no, I'm not an Expert. I have been called one, labeled one, introduced as one at a speaking engagement. I have stopped stomping on the term when thrown my way because I don't get to decide what other folks think. Much as I'd like to - and because my energy is better spent where something may be created v destroyed.

It's a silly word, anyway.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Old Problem + Brainstorming = New Program

This article was originally posted by Daisy Luther. She is the "host" of the program, handling registration etc. - and essentially the reason this got created...

As a therapist, I have worked with hundreds of people across a nearly 30-year career.  Many of these people had been/are survivors of violence. Here’s an example:

Kelly (not her real name), was a 30-something mother of two. Lived in an upper-class suburb with a husband who made a good living. With both kids in school, Kelly took a job at a major department store working part-time during daylight hours.

The store is a major national chain and anchored one of the “better” malls in the area. As her shift ended in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day during non-holiday peak season (think – safe, low threat environment), Kelly walked confidently toward her car…which was parked fairly close to the building.

She was abducted at gunpoint in the parking lot of the store.

Two men drove her around for 12 hours. They alternated between threatening to kill her and debating each other on their options regarding how they could ‘use’ her (everything from sexual assault to ransom). Well into the night, they pulled over to the side of the road so one of them could get out and pee.
She asked one of her kidnappers if she could do the same. A nonverbal interchange gave Kelly the feeling he might let her go. She ran. He fired shots at her as she took off through the trees. Maybe to cover his ass with his friend, maybe to frighten her, maybe he wanted to hit her…we don’t know, the case was never solved.

Fifteen years later, Kelly still struggled with a pervasive experience of anxiety and hyper-vigilance. Can you blame her? Statistically, very few people survive this type of abduction.
What would have made the difference for her?
Learning to disarm a man half-again her size, stripping the gun from his hands? Not that those skills are bad to learn but think about what that really takes. How many hours of practice? And even if Kelly had those sweet skills, do we want to tell her facing down an armed man in a parking lot – grabbing his gun and stripping it from his hands – is her only option? 

Do you want it as your only option?

Yes, I am trying to make a point. The answer here is no.
What else can we offer Kelly and everyone else who doesn’t ever want to be in Kelly’s shoes?
We’re not teaching prevention in women’s self-defense.
If we teach Kelly her best bet for avoiding the therapy couch and battling devastating anxiety is to avoid the encounter, we give her a superpower.
But are we also victim-blaming? No. It may sound that way, but no.

If the only options we give people, particularly women, are options for the worst possible situation, then we are reinforcing a centuries-old belief: women are frail damsels and they will be targets

Right now, women are targeted for violence more often than men, statistically speaking.

In part, this is because when we teach women’s self-defense most programs teach the last line of defense. We teach how to hit, kick, defend a grab, poke an eye out. We teach the fight, the physical encounter.

To use these skills effectively, you need to pay the financial and physical costs of training. The “bad guys” know the majority of women aren’t training. If we disconnect the social/criminal expectation that women are generally unprepared, we get to look at another problem in women’s self-defense programs: when the fight is the focus.

A physically violent encounter is never without consequence. I don’t wish this on anyone; male or female. So why is that what we always teach?
I say we because I was guilty of this too. I was taught this way; I was trained to teach women’s self-defense by teaching responses to getting choked or grabbed or dragged by your hair.

This approach is generated by a profession created by men, originally, for men.

The male warrior culture is permeated with a powerful message. Stand. Draw your sword and fight in the face of insurmountable odds. Retreat is defeat. Flight is cowardice and cowards are punished.

If we gather the cavalry and top the hill to find a fighting force outnumbering our ranks 10 to 1, leaving cuts deep. It tells tales of unprepared, unworthy warriors and failed leadership.

If we avoid or leave a fight, we are bad, and we are wrong, and we are unworthy of respect.

Intellectually we know the smart thing is to avoid the trouble. But human intellect is not often a committee member when these decisions are made.
The majority of men I meet who teach self-defense to women are good guys with an intense passion for helping people to become stronger and safer. They bring with them centuries of socially constructed rules governing their behavior, just as women do.

Generations of stories rewarding valor as bravery in battle inform how self-defense instructors see the world. We don’t pin medals on people because they turned the corner when they observed a potentially dicey situation up ahead. This mindset, for good or bad, has been the foundation of the self-defense industry.

So of course women’s self-defense will focus on the fight. 

Now let’s take this deeper. It was the rare woman who grabbed a sword and rode into battle. Rarer still for her to do it openly as a woman. It wasn’t allowed and many of the women in many of the warrior cultures became successful warriors only because they were disguised as men.

In 1991 the U.S. made its first move toward allowing military women to be combatants. In the grand timeline of human culture, 1991 was yesterday.
Prior to 1991, the U.S. culture refused to allow a woman the right to defend her people. This message is powerful. The purpose of a soldier on patrol is to detect and prevent the battle from escalating. To hold a line and a host of other missions. All of the military mission objectives focus on one primary goal: protect the home front. If a woman isn’t capable of this militarily, how can she do it as a civilian?

She can’t. Her only option is to wait until the battle comes to her. She is only capable of responding as a victim. If you are female, you will be targeted and you will be attacked. This is the hidden, unspoken message of women’s self-defense programs when the curriculum targets only physical defense against assault.

It is also categorically incorrect. Here’s the equation

  Women (until recently) are not permitted in battle.
+The only noble action in battle is to cross swords.
  Divided by the belief that women are natural targets
=The current state of women’s self-defense programming.

Don’t misunderstand.

I firmly believe women are both capable and should be given the opportunity to learn the physical aspect of the “fight” in the timeline of self-defense. It is a good day when the embers lurking behind her eyes burst into a bright flame when she realizes what, in fact, she is capable of doing.
As an industry, using the term loosely…
Teaching women’s self-defense without teaching avoidance and prevention is like teaching your teenager to drive cross-country without teaching her how to put the car in gear.

There were situational cues to Kelly’s abduction. Signs and tells given off by the two men who were waiting for a victim to present. If Kelly had known what to look for and had the training to override her social programming to be nice, helpful, and obliging, she might have avoided those horrible 12 hours.
I have to say might because you and I were not there. We don’t know how this knowledge would have actually shifted the events, only that it holds the potential to do so. 

This is the kind of thing I’ll be teaching on September 21 if you are able to attend my course. Learning how to shift events in your favor.
Be careful how you analyze this. This is where the risk of victim-blaming begins to lurk in the shadows. There is a distinct demarcation between blame and learning how to prevent a physically violent encounter. Please don’t confuse the two. It is remarkably disempowering.

You have to learn about violence to avoid it.

If you want to prevent violence, you have to learn more about it. If we want to learn about it, we have to keep our visceral emotional reactions in check and recognize it for what it is – our nature. This is something that I want to speak more about in person with you during my course.

Women’s self-defense is typically taught as a set of physical skills designed to help women survive a physical attack. It neglects an authentic and extensive dialogue on prevention and avoidance. It lacks this conversation because the industry evolved through men.

The industry evolved this way because culturally, men were allowed to learn the skills of battle and women were not. Men have been indoctrinated to believe avoidance and just leaving a potentially violent situation is cowardice.
And as a result, we focus on the battle. The fight.
If we are ready to dive into the deep end on prevention, we must also be ready to have an open and honest conversation about humans, violence and our capacity to be predatory. We need to have this dialogue without shock and awe effects, and we need to shake off the historical warrior mythos in which valor is won only in the bloody battle.

We need to get over our cultural sensitivities forcing prevention into the category of victim-blaming and we need to understand one, critical fact: Women are wired to put random pieces of information together into intelligent packages of meaningful data.

This means women are instinctively talented intelligence analysts. When we hone instinctive talent into functional skill. If and when life explodes, we are unleashed into who we are capable of becoming, unrestrained by the social mores catalyzing the paralyzing paradox of battle earned valor and the forever damsel in distress.

You are a force to be reckoned with. If you will own it.