I was reading a blog post recently that talked about the gap between the “feel-good” messages some self-defense instructors teach and the on-the-ground reality of violence. There’s lots of goodness there, but I wanted to pick up on one particular lesson today.
The author writes, in part:
…[Y]ou say…that we can prevail, and you’re teaching us stuff that we ought to be able to work, stuff that some of us can do here and now. And I think that’s great, but here there are no consequences to messing it up. If I fumble my joint lock or don’t punch hard enough it won’t mean a difference between life and death. You are telling us nothing about risk avoidance or damage control. You are telling us nothing about how to pick our battles and when to admit defeat. With you it’s just fighting until victory or death.
There’s more there, and I’ll let you read it, but this is the point I’d like to talk about: You can do everything right, practice situationall awareness and avoid going to “stupid places with stupid people” and deploy your unarmed defensive skills and even your weapon. You might do all that and still lose the fight. And you need to be ready for that eventuality, and you need to have made some decisions about that situation ahead of time.
To be clear, I’m not advocating the kind of fatalistic surrender that some of those who choose not to own their own defense, and who would make the same choice for the rest of us, preach. I’m not suggesting that the fact we may lose the battle means we shouldn’t fight it with everything we have. If you’re a regular reader, you know how far from the truth that idea is. You know how strongly I believe in avoiding trouble when we can, and on being able and prepared to respond to it if it finds us despite our best efforts.
But the reality of life is that we may, in that absolute worst case scenario, find ourselves in a situation where avoidance, evasion, escape and defense all fail. We may find ourselves in a situation where the predator wins the fight. Pretending otherwise is clinging to a dangerous, even potentially fatal delusion. Facing reality means asking ourselves exactly what we’re willing to do to survive, and it means making those decisions ahead of time under rational reflection rather than in the heat of trauma.
So, what exactly would you do, if it meant survival? This is a difficult question to answer, and each of us must make our own decisions. As for myself, if I must choose between being hurt and being killed, I choose not to die. If I had to choose between being raped and being killed, heaven help me, I would choose the first. I’d rather neither, of course I would, but I’m willing to do what it takes to survive, whether “what it takes” is avoidance, escape, aggressive defensive action, or even compliance. Not surrender, never surrender (and I’d never stop looking for an opportunity to escape), but compliance beats death, hands down.
I’ve survived rape before, and I could survive it again. Death, not so much.
Commitment to survival also means making decisions about what not to do. For example, I will probably not attempt a complicated knife disarming move such as that taught by some self-defense systems. Although my quest to lose some weight and become healthier and more fit continues, the reality is that there are some things that my nearsighted 40-year-old body, with an ankle weakened by an old injury, simply cannot do. The young, fit, ex-military self-defense instructor, whose size and strength easily outstrip mine, might be able to execute those maneuvers perfectly in the controlled boundaries of a classroom. He mgiht even be able to do so in a real fight, though that’s not necessarily certain. But I’m not him, and survival means working within the parameters of my physical capabilities and not his.
This is why my defensive efforts are aimed first and primarily to awareness and avoidance and evasion, and second to the pistol in my holster which, should I ever have to use it, is the only tool I know to equalize the disparity of force that a middle-aged woman (and how did I become that, anyway??) faces against a younger, stronger attacker. Or against a group of them. But my choice to do what I have to in order to stay alive doesn’t end at the place where those efforts fail. Even then, perhaps especially then, I choose to survive, because leaving an encounter with a predator battered and traumatized but alive still beats leaving it in a body bag.
What do you think? Where do you draw these lines for yourself? I know this is emotionally tough stuff to contemplate, but I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.