Monday, January 20, 2014

Pre-self defense...using my words and knowing when to act rude

So much of jiu jitsu self defense deals with situational awareness. We train for worst case scenarios, but for X to actually happen (when X = terrible, awful, shit gone terribly wrong scenarios), a lot of little things often go wrong along the way. In the eloquent words of Kurt Osiander, when you find yourself deep into a disadvantageous position, "you fucked up a long time ago."

If I am truly aware of my surroundings, then I will hopefully never get to the point of using Gracie self defense techniques. I'm not saying that women never get jumped unexpectedly while running on trails or while walking to their cars in a dark parking lots. But, while these occurrences garner media attention, they are actually pretty rare. Self defense confrontations more often have some kind of lead up...and that is where I am learning that my preparation breaks down.

I feel confident in my ability to hold my own in a physical confrontation. I have purple belt level self defense skills. Physically, I am strong as shit from grappling grown men on a daily basis. And I have intstincts to react violently when I think someone is trying to hurt me.

But here's the problem...I have a really hard time being rude to strangers. Even when those strangers are creepy or otherwise inappropriate. So I question my ability to stop a confrontation before it escalates to a bona fide self defense situation.

Take last weekend. I was in line at Walmart (I hate Walmart for many reasons, but I am trying to eat clean this month and eating clean is damn expensive, so off to Walmart I go). I was checking my email as I got in line and began absentmindedly unloading my goods onto the conveyer belt.  As I looked up, the middle-aged man in front of me leered in my direction and asked me where I got my boots. I felt uncomfortable but mumbled something about the store and what a good sale they were having. (This guy probably was not interested in shoe sales, but in my brain talking about the sale legitimized the interaction and made it less creepy). I scooted backwards down the aisle, turned away, and refocused my attention on my email.

I maintained as much space as possible between me and the stranger in front of me, but as he finished paying, it was time for me to quit stalling and unload the rest of my groceries. The guy then turned to me and asked how high the boots went up. Now, clearly the correct answer here was NONE OF YOUR GODDAM BUSINESS. But like I said, I'm just not rude. Instead, I gave him the honest answer that they were only ankle high and tuned him out while I paid the cashier. I waited a few minutes before leaving the security of the store. Then, I remained on high alert as I walked out to my car.

Luckily, I turned out to be in no physical danger from this interaction. But as I drove home, I kicked myself for allowing this creep to take up so much space in my head. In hindsight, I should have told him off from the get-go, made it clear to those around me that I was uncomfortable, and cut off any further interaction with this guy right away.  

Failure to speak up for myself and use my "verbal jiu jitsu," extends to other realms of my life as well. I work in a job that has me going into homes to work with young children. Every once in a while, I go into a house in which the adults are acting inappropriately -  yelling obscenities, screaming insults at each other, or walking around inadequately dressed. None of these issues puts me in direct physical danger nor are they illegal. However, they could all be early links in a chain that might ultimately spiral downward to threaten my safety. But instead of speaking up, it is my tendency to find myself a quiet, hidden corner to work with the kiddos as best as I can. I shrink back and hide instead of confront. Again, I allow my hesitancy to offend others to give them the power to make me feel uncomfortable.

I have several jiu jitsu resolutions for this year. There are techniques that I want to become proficient at. And there are certainly competitions that I want to win. But my other resolution is to act proactively in situations that make me feel uncomfortable, thereby confronting and diffusing situations before they have a chance to escalate.

Something else happened to me this week, this time ending on a more positive note. I was between sessions at work, doing some paperwork at a cafe, when a woman approached me, holding her daughter's hand. They were ready to leave the building, but there was a group of men sitting outside who made the woman feel nervous. Listening to her instincts, she pointed her car out to me and asked me to watch them as they walked out. Now, this woman had no reason to believe that I trained martial arts or was any type of a badass - it was the middle of my work day and I was dressed like a pretty regular lady. I was just another body who could yell for help or call the police if something went wrong. Through the window, I watched the pair get into their car without an incident. I thought what a smart lady! This is exactly the kind of precaution I should have taken while leaving Walmart.  


  1. Well as someone who lives in a country where women are objectified daily by men, I wouldn't have done anything differently. Although, I am not purple belt BJJ trained. Anytime I walk anywhere I get stares and cat calls and whistles. Not because I'm hot, because I'm a woman. It gets to the point that if I walk somewhere and DON'T get a cat call I'm like "damn, do I look *that* bad today??!!" I've learned to avoid the situations. When I drive alone, I keep the windows rolled up- something that has only recently been available since we got the AC fixed. (guys still try to talk through the windows, but I do the "I can't hear you" sign and they usually leave) I now have a path where I walk my dog to avoid most of the creepy guys. When creeps do find their way to me I usually say "thanks" or just give a smile and get the hell outta there. Also a new trick I've decided to play is "No ha-blo es-pan-olo!" So, while I believe you should stand up for yourself and not have to feel uncomfortable, when I am alone I do nothing but try to get out of the situation ASAP. And that normally means as little confrontation as possible.

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