Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Just Yell . . .

There's been a bit of buzz lately about what to yell if you are being assaulted.

This takes as a given that using your voice is you most critical single weapon against an assailant. The question is what to yell.

One option that's gained some popular traction is to just yell fire. Even an FBI spokesperson has suggested that on national TV. (Your local fire department, however, may not appreciate it, as they are not the police.)

So far I have seen no evidence that yelling FIRE! is any more effective than yelling PIZZA!

What I recommend to my students is that you yell direct commands to the potential perp. Monosyllables and short phrases, like:



or even

DIE!!! (favorite of one sexual assault victim's advocate I know)
Violence needs silence. Take charge! Perps are looking for victims they think will be scared and intimidated into silence. WHAT you yell is far less important than THAT you yell. Just YELL.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kickbox as you are . . .

Say you were flipping through an adult continuing education catalog, looking for a cool class to begin the new year. You narrow your choices to three: a fitness class consisting of mixed cardio-kickboxing, yoga and dance; a boxing class; or a self-defense course. Would you expect the same material, teaching style, or focus from all three?

Appears that at least one person has some association issues. In yesterday's Washington Post, columnist Paula Span questioned the language used in the kickboxing element in her morning fitness class. You can read the whole article here:

Span wasn't complaining of "bad" language. "Jan," the peace-loving fitness instructor, uses what Span calls "girlie" language to describe specific kickboxing moves. So, rather than describing a hook punch as impacting the side of a jaw and dislodging teeth, she'd tell her students to visualize clearing off the top of a dresser. What a more fighting-oriented class would call a knee to the groin move, Jan evokes the image of gardening, of breaking branches over your knee. And, according to Span, these descriptions work. They build on what the students, mostly middle-age middle-class women, can relate to and mimic physically. And it makes them feel comfortable.

Span's question is this: Should she be bothered by what she describes as a "sissy" approach? Her eventual answer is no, she's fine with not visualizing violence, there's already too much out there. Who cares if it may appear "sissy," as long as she and the other students are getting their workout?

Who cares, indeed? Which class is Span taking? Fitness kickboxing is, well, fitness-oriented. From what I can tell, Span signed up for a fitness class, not a boxing (sport) class or a self-defense class. Jan the teacher is thinking creatively of ways to get her students to execute the moves correctly. That's part of excelling at teaching: she understands her students. She builds on what her students already know to extend the physical skills to the fitness class. This makes for comfortable, effective, good learning. If she's seeing the appropriate results, great for her.

Now, if Jan was a self-defense instructor, then I feel she'd have to extend. She would have to ask her students to move beyond their comfort level. But by first connecting the physical motions to what her students already may know and can relate to, she's developing a rapport and trust with them that should make it easier for her to ask them to go past their comfort zones, and they are more likely to follow her to that scary place because of that groundwork.

However, she's not teaching self-defense. More's the pity, she seems like a good teacher.

I'm sometimes frustrated in how some (too many) women are so reluctant to consider self-defense as a set of critical life skills (other women have noted the same in other fields, notably Barbara Stanny and Mikelann Valterra on personal finance). However, that's what is. To paraphrase a famous Seattle band, students come as they are, not as I want them to be. My job as a self-defense instructor is to increase their awareness of self-defense situations and options, including physically fighting. Not all students will be gung-ho fighters; in fact, virtually none of my students are. My niche is encouraging these peace-loving women to acknowledge their own power and stand up for themselves and for those they love. Fighting skill, a critical tool, is not the only tool. Don't fight who you are, fight as you are.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tough love in reporting domestic abuse?

The (online news from Central Indiana) ran an article today on domestic violence and law enforcement cases. The focus is on the difficulty of prosecuting abusers if the victim refuses to press charges, or recants her allegations. Read this article here. Law enforcement in some Indiana counties is working on new strategies to prosecute abusers, even if the victim later turns uncooperative.

One proposed strategy to is to penalize those who first report assault/domestic violence, and then later recant. "Those who actually recant earlier allegations of battery will likely find themselves the target of a criminal investigation, facing the possibility of charges ranging from obstruction of justice to false informing," according to this article.

Other parts of the plan are to have responding police officers compile more evidence and extensive reports, and any victim who later wishes to have the charges against her abuser dropped would be required to take a 10 hour class on the cycle of violence and abuse.

What do you think about possibly prosecuting victims of abuse who later recant and thus prevent prosecution of their abusers? Is this just further re-traumatizing victims? Will it lead to fewer reported abuse instances? Is this holding victims accountable for following through on their actions? Take a short survey here, results will be reported later on this blog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dating Violence Resources

Do you have a teen (or tween, or college-age) daughter? Do you know young women? Here's some great resources for them:

Lindsay Ann Burke was murdered by her boyfriend. Her family began a memorial fund, and their website is awesome in the resources it contains for young women and their families. Visit them at today.

Ann Burke (Lindsay's mom) has become a tireless advocate for young women and against abusive relationships. She's helped form a national coalition (sponsored in part by Liz Claiborne Inc. and Redbook Magazine) to advocate for all middle and high schools to teach a curriculum about preventing dating relationship violence and abuse. Read their press release at

Are there teen girls in your life? Please don't wait until someone you care about is killed. What can you do to create a safe environment in case one of them needs help?

Monday, December 08, 2008

These Shoes Were Made for Whopping

An article in today's Palm Beach Post reports that a woman used her high heel shoe against an assailant. Read here:

I've heard over and over again by well-meaning self-defense instructors and law enforcement officers that women should wear "sensible shoes" in case they need to run. From what I've seen, very few women pick their footwear for safety reasons. I think most women also believe they'd be hard-pressed to outrun many assailants, regardless of footwear.

Rather, I believe a more useful suggestion is to know how to use what you've got. Acknowledge that you won't break any speed records in high heels, but if you have to wear them at least know how to quickly slip it off and what soft squishy targets to aim for.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Yet More Seasonal Safe Shopping

I'm writing this from the Aloha State, yes Hawaii. Often sunny yet often (like today) rainy. I'm here for a karate tournament (the All-Hawaii Championships, in which I won 2 gold and 1 bronze medals), and further training from the head of our organization (the International Karate Federation of Sensei Chuzo Kotaka). So, since today is damp, I have some time to post another blog entry. Yes, more on shopping safety tips.

• Bus riders, be careful what you’re carrying. Some Seattle bus routes have become a hunting ground for robbery, especially among teens. Don’t flash you expensive electronics. Look around at who else is on the bus, and more importantly who else may be taking a good look at you and what you’ve got. And don’t get so engrossed in listening to your music that you lose attention to what’s happening around.

• Carry only what you need. Don’t bring all your credit and ATM cards with you. In fact, I separate my cards and wallet from other forms of ID, and keep my keys separate from both. If you keep everything in one bag and it’s all stolen, you run a risk of not only identity theft but also burglary. Generally I’ll keep a wallet in my bag, my driver’s license and a credit card in a jacket pocket, and my keys in my pants pocket. Don’t have pockets? Maybe it’s time to shop for new clothes.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Portrait of a Con Artist as a Self-Defense Instructor

A recent article reported that a purported self-defense instructor is being investigated for fraud. See the two articles here:

Apparently David Portnoy, the "instructor" in question, has gotten around. Here's an article from Depauw University several years ago:

And David Portnoy made it into, the hoax-busting site. They say that if statements attributed to him are so, then he "should be characterized as a fear merchant vending false information to those anxious to feel safe." See for their whole article, which is very worth reading.

Apparently his approach is to offer a free self-defense seminar, then use scare tactics and manufactured assault and rape statistics to sell over-priced pepper spray.

And the moral of this story is to yes look a gift horse in the mouth. Or at least through the internet. If those who booked Mr. Portnoy had done their due dilligence, he would not have gotten in.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Close Encounters of the Virtual Kind

A few weeks ago I received an email from a former student. A man she knew from an online interest group had been arrested for sexual assault. Several members of the group ended their involvement, possibly over fear of who else in the group they did not know.

The thing to remember about online communities is that you often really don't know the other participants all that well. You come together because of one common interest, which is only one slice of any individual's life. Yes people sometimes go on to become good friends (or even spouses) having met online. For the most part, it's like any other community where you're only engaging with a subset of your self -- except in online communities you lack the visuals of body language to better assess the person.

It's easy to forget that individuals who commit rape (and other crimes) can also present as nice, cool, intelligent, charming, witty, fun people. And they may be all those things, in addition to being an assailant.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burdens of Self Defense

One question that comes up constantly in my self-defense classes -- and it will become more pertinent as the holiday shopping season sneaks up on us and you'll be scrambling for those last-minute gifts at the local mall -- is how to defend yourself if your arms are full of bundles of holiday cheer.

The traditional answer from self-defense teachers is to never carry so much that both your arms are full. That is one good strategy. If you are overly burdened you do present a more inviting target.

Another option, if you do find yourself carrying way too much, is to recognize that you can DROP your stuff. Yes, drop it all and YELL at the top of your lungs.

And another is to consider what among the packages you've burdened yourself with would make the best weapon.

Still another option is to go shopping with a friend or two. Not only are you less likely than a lone person to be assaulted, but because you'll have to also accommodate the friends' plans you'll probably end up buying less stuff and won't be quite so burdened.

Or have stuff shipped home. But as you do, read the prior entry in this blog for security tips on ensuring your goodies get to the right recipients.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Seasonal Safe Shopping

Halloween is past, elections are over, and before you can blink Thanksgiving will be bearing down upon us and the holiday shopping season will officially open. Although the peak season for stealing is during the summer in most neighborhoods, this time of year we generally see an increase in theft. More of us are out shopping for gifts for our family and friends, carrying more cash and credit cards, and often not mindful of our belongings. Here are three tips to reduce your risk of a seasonal setback.
  • When you order merchandise, do not have the package delivered to your house if nobody is home to receive it. Eleven out of 12 months you can usually get away with it. But in December -- and I found this out the hard way -- when more of us are having gifts shipped, some enterprising thieves realized they could just follow around UPS and FedEx trucks and collect left boxes. Merry Christmas for them!
  • Even though this tip seems obvious, I am often surprised when I see what people leave in plain view in their cars. It does not take much time at all to break into a car and clean it out of interesting contents. Don't make a thief's shopping spree so easy! If you are driving to several locations to shop, store all packages out of sight in the trunk, even if you think you'll only be gone "a couple of minutes."
  • This one is so basic, I'm amazed when I hear how many students in my self-defense classes do not lock their doors. As a former New Yorker, locking one's door is just obvious, even natural to me. Apparently not so here. So many thefts -- and sometimes assaults -- happen where the perpetrator can just walk right in.
A corollary for those of you moving into a new home, condo or apartment is to change your locks right away. If you are a renter, your landlord is obligated to have it done immediately. A friend of mine was unpleasantly surprised in the wee hours one morning when several intoxicated young men used a key to open her condo's door! The men left when confronted by her boyfriend, claiming they thought it was another friend's unit. Needless to say, she changed her locks.
Of course, if you see anything or anyone suspicious, call 911 right away. Just a few extra precautions can help you avoid lost time, gifts and possessions. Just a couple of extra moments of awareness can keep your holiday season cheery and festive, for you and the people you care about.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Are 90 Percent of Experts Crackpots?

My laptop computer's hard drive just stopped driving Sunday evening. Fortunately I'm a fanatic about data back-ups, and had faith that the Apple geniuses would get me up and running on Monday. So on to the local mall on Monday morning.

As I waited for laptop to be repaired, I did something I so rarely get a chance to do these days: browse a brick-n-mortar bookstore. The B&N is just down the mall from the Apple Store, I figured it was a good place to kill an hour. Before online shopping I haunted bookstores, and I looked forward to reliving my old relaxing pastime.

One new book caught my eye (and I've seen it also online). The Cult of the Amateur: How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today's user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture and our values, by Andrew Keen. I admired the yellow and blue cover as well as the typography, and my eye wandered away.

I have not read this book, nor do I intend to.

I recall a time when experts in law enforcement told women that if faced with assault they should not fight back or they'd "get hurt worse." We now know this is untrue. How did we find out it's untrue? Other experts did the research, prompted and motivated by the wave of amateurs (those feminists) who were sure that women had options other than quiver in submission. [For those of you interested, a good place to begin reading is Pauline Bart's work.]

Another example, before my time. Used to be conventional wisdom in the medical establishment (late 1800s through early 1900s) that exercise would damage a woman's reproductive capacity. Never mind that lower class and immigrant women worked at hard labor, and their reproductive capacity didn't seem diminished (which worried members of elite society at that time). Some of my suffragette foremothers fixated on learning to ride a bicycle. Francis Willard, for instance, learned to ride at the age of 53, and marveled at her freedom and power. Of course, current conventional wisdom is that, save for very extreme (and rare) training, exercise is GOOD for women.

Battered women's shelters and sexual assault relief agencies are now managed by professionals mostly, and rely on government funding and grants. But in the 1970s ad 1980s, when they were just emerging, they were grassroots organizations fueled by dedicated volunteers (amateurs all), often at odds with the legal justice system. Those women saw a need, and worked to assauage it.

When I was a young adult, Sturgeon's Law was "Da Rule." Theodore Sturgeon, science fiction writer, was renown for saying "90 percent of everything is crap" in response to literary critics' attacks on science fiction. Sturgeon's point was that if you intended to denigrate a specific genre you'd specifically focus on the worst instances and would of course find plenty of ammunition.

No doubt there's lots of blogs, videos and sites along the Information Superhighway. I take as a given that 90% such internet diversions are crap. However, I'm not so inclined to give the average "expert" much more credit.

Experts are also human, have their own perspectives and prejudices and peccadillos. And often their own interests. Before relying on an expert, do check into not only their credentials but their stake in your well-being.

Fortunately, my laptop's hard drive was readily replaced, and I was on my way with a few new books, though not Keen's. The experts at the Apple Store did their job well, and I'm likely to return. Steve Jobs was once an amateur, bucking the then conventional wisdom on home and business computers. Oftimes it takes that "amateur" or outsider perspective to create that quantum leap.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The only thing faster than the speed of light

Is the speed of dark.

Really, though, dark isn't the best descriptor. Darkness covers slumber and stillness and serenity. Darkness is rest and regeneration. Darkness and the moon and romance stroll hand-in-hand.

Darkness, however, is more often viewed as scary. Dark-skinned people have historically stood for sinister people in the American collective imagination. Dark days describe depression, and other similar aphorisms dot our language. As primates whose primary sense is vision, darkness isolates us. Darkness raises fear, which agitates and unsettles us. Our imaginations run away in the darkness, literally and figuratively.

Researchers and marketers assure us that negative messages carry more weight than do positive ones. We will react more against fear than towards growth. Particularly in times when we are feeling overwhelmed with the economy, a country at war and divided, and escalating media attacks, we intensely feel a lack of control over our lives.

A large part of really being safer is your ability to take charge in your environment. This year we've been deluged with a political marketing tsunami. Massive ad campaigns are intended to alarm us into pulling that lever for the candidate who claims to have solutions to what may or may not be real problems.

OK, you really can't control what interest groups with specific financial interests choose to scare you with (except by turning off your TV). You can control how you interpret marketing bait tossed at you. Here are some websites that can help you sort out fact from factoid:

Fact - Checking sites:

(thanks to Lorraine Howell of Media Skills Training for these resources)

Urban Legend Sites:

And, I probably don't need to tell you this, please vote. Participating in public discourse is a critical tool in creating a safer environment, for you and your loved ones, as well as just about everyone else.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It's October!

Even after almost two decades living in Seattle, I miss real seasons. Back in my home town of New York the sweltering summer turns into an apple-crisp autumn, which in turn is clearly distinguished from winter's deep chill. Here, in Seattle, weather waivers back and forth, and then BAM! it lurches forward. October 2 was sunny and warm October 3 was blustery and rainy. Summer to fall overnight.

September 30 to October 1 was another transition, from summer to Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Many times abusive relationships can feel like Northwest seasons, one minute calm and the next stormy. Even though October is drawing to a close, it's not too late to consider how domestic violence has touched your life. And not let another season go by without doing something positive. Visit this King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence web page for suggestions.

Friday, August 08, 2008

If a Man is Murdered and he has no Community, Does it make a Ripple?

Danny Westneat's recent column in The Seattle Times was about the discrepancy in reporting murders. Who makes the papers, who doesn't. A young Caucasian woman killed by a homeless, deranged stranger is in the spotlight for months. An older male homeowner killed in an unlucky encounter gets a couple of weeks. A troubled older male drifter killed by an unknown shooter in a dark alley gets a sentence.

Westneat quotes a colleague of his at the Los Angeles Times who wrote about homicides in LA. Whose got covered, whose did not. She concluded that "the people and places most affected by homicides are least likely to be seen, while the safest people are inundated with information about crimes unlikely to ever touch their lives."

No kidding.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Cupidity ---> Stupidity

The Word of the Day is cupidity. It has nothing to do with matchmaking.

cupidity \kyoo-PID-uh-tee\, noun:
Eager or excessive desire, especially for wealth; greed; avarice.

What does this have to do with your safety?, from whence the Word of the Day arises, gives sentences using the Daily Word. Here's one of my own:

If not for his cupidity, he would have indeed given weight to the "salesman's" shifting eyes, rstless posture, and overly-personal questions, rather than to the allure of self-generating wealth.
Many would-be assailants, those who take the time to deliberately groom their victims, depend on their targets' cupidity. On their targets' ignoring gut feelings or verbal inconsistencies or body language cues. Sad part is many of these targets do recognize that they are discarding warning signs, but continue because of some leading promise.

Real risk assessment means never having to eat cupidity.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Life is Dangerous

"Being alive is hazardous. Dangerous, even life-threatening, situations are all around." Thus begins KUOW's Weekday of Wednesday, July 9, 2008.

This show was totally a call-in, where listeners told of their most dangerous encounters. A mixture of natural disasters, war, thrills gone awry, and yes assault and self-defense. An excellent show -- listen by going to the KUOW website here.

Dangerous times all around, right? Not so fast -- Manuel Eisner, in an article published in The British Journal of Criminology (vol 41, pp 618-38, 2001), cites documentation that over the eons homicide has drastically declined in frequency. Indeed, that murder is far less common than it used to be is now considered a given by crime historians. Which may be why fewer incidents make more news, and agitate the general public more. But that's for another blog entry . . .

Monday, June 30, 2008

De-Greening the Emerald City

One way that gang activity and violence is changing the face of Seattle for everyone. A friend bought a condo on South Jackson and 28th Ave. Until this spring, there were trees on the street. Now there are stumps. She found out that the trees had recently been cut down because gang members were using them for cover in shootings.

This effects everyone's quality of life, particularly as gang activity has proliferated over the last couple of years and occasionally pops up in unexpected locales such as Queen Anne and Northgate. Recent news reports have also made a point to link our greenery to increased risk for assault.

SD with PMA , PMS, and WTS

There are a lot of folks out there who really do believe that women just cannot effectively defend themselves. So it's somewhat refreshing to see this article about a veteran police officer, Captain Kirby Lee Maybush, teaching women to defend themselves. Self-defense needs a positive mental attitude (PMA), which you get from your physical, mental and spiritual strength (PMS) and the will to survive (WTS). According to the article, "being called to hundreds of crime scenes -- from domestic violence to rape or physical abuse -- motivated him to teach women not only how to defend themselves, but empower them to believe they can do it. . . [F]ear is paralyzing; knowledge about what to do in a threatening situation is empowering -- even though it offers no guarantee of a safe outcome."

The good: Strong emphasis on awareness and prevention, and how you carry yourself physically. Also recognizing threats, including your own state of mind.

The not-so-good: Examples of women who got rid of men harassing them at bus stops by peeing herself, or by picking her nose and drooling. Evading assault by disgusting the potential perp? On the one hand, in self-defense there are no real rules and whatever works is great. On the other hand, a woman may have to do some mental juggling to construe these tactics as empowering. Regardless, if it makes you more powerful, do it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Feel the Fear, it sells

Tonight's TV news reported a rape in Seattle's Dr. Jose Rizal Park, near Beacon Hill.

News reporting is on a tight timeline. Details deemed insignificant don't make it in. This report included two details that gain significance because they were included.

First, there are trees in the park (duh!!!). Perpetrators can hide behind trees. And I was left dangling with possible implications. Am I supposed to want to chop down all the trees, or avoid greenery?

Second, adjacent to Rizal Park is "the jungle," a greenbelt that some of Seattle's homeless call home. This news report pointed out both the park's proximity to "the jungle" and it's connection to homeless people. Is the implication that the assailant was likely a homeless man? The report gives no real reason why it should be a homeless man; this area is also home to drug dealing/use and gangs. I'm willing to go out on a limb and assert the report is quite deliberately playing on prejudicial fear.

Details such as these round out a story, giving it the appearance of more substance and veracity. Don't be sucked in by dangling innuendos. Don't buy the fear.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Harder than finding Nemo? Try finding a good self-defense program

What do you look for in a self-defense class?

One woman shares the results of her search here. She found slim pickins--most of her web search turned up fight-driven, dominance contest "training" or sites that aim to "educate" the reader by scaring them witless. It's hard to find a good class, but she did find Wenlido, a group teaching self-defense in British Columbia since 1976. I don't have any personal experience with them, but they have a great reputation.

Guidelines for selecting a good self-defense class were drawn up by the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault and can be found here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

That "Second Location" Quandry

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a new crime blog. Here's the most recent entry:

Seattle police are investigating an apparent rape in Dearborn Park.

Officers were called to the Beacon Hill neighborhood park just after 4 a.m. Sunday after a caller reported hearing a woman screaming for help.

The woman told police her attacker accosted her at about 2 a.m. near a payphone at the Renton-area video store. He threatened to hurt her if she didn't get in his car, which she then did.

He drove into Seattle, stopping at Dearborn Park. There he pulled her from the car and sexually assaulted her in the park before leaving the scene in his car, a silver or gold Honda Accord. according to a police report.

While there are very few hard and fast rules in self-defense, this comes the closest: Never allow yourself to go to a second location. Even if the guy threatens to hurt you. Guess what--he intends to hurt you anyway. Sad how many women don't realize this, and could keep themselves safer if they did.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A little TOO proactive?

Say you're a mother of young children, and a level 3 sex offender moves into your neighborhood. What would you do? Would you do what Tammy Gibson did? She confronted the young man who'd recently moved into a nearby trailer park and began beating him with an aluminum baseball bat.

Not surprisingly, she is now facing criminal charges. Tammy Gibson, trying to keep her children safe, is now charged with second-degree assault and felony harassment.

Read all about it here.

Sometimes there's a fine line between self-defense and vigilante action. Sometimes that line becomes a canyon. Ms. Gibson proactively built a bridge to cross that canyon. Sometimes it's better to stay on your side of the line.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Every Breath You Take . . .

Those words open that old Police song. Creepy in the way it romanticizes stalking. I've been doing some reading on stalking, especially in the year after Rebecca Griego's murder by her stalker ex-boyfriend on the University of Washington campus. The UW has taken some administrative steps to improve it's response to this sort of incident. I went to one of the trainings, and found about twenty other UW personnel in a 300+ person lecture hall.

One of the articles I found online illustrates the use of high-tech equipment for a prime stalker activity -- surveillance. Stalkers often not only watch their targets, they let that target know that they know where they've been. Maybe even who they talked to and what they said. Other online resources can be found at the National Center for Victims of Crime's Stalking Resource Center, the National Institute of Justice, and the Stalking Victims' Sanctuary.

All this information is great, but only if people read it and take it seriously. In the first paragraph I noted that a training about violence on campus was attended by only a handful of people. The National Institute of Justice website lists obstacles to prosecuting stalking as a crime (including law enforcement not recognizing stalking behavior).

Talking about the police (rather than The Police), YOU are the only person responsible for your safety. Even though stalking is a criminal offense, it is more apparent to the justice system in hindsight.

Three suggestions gleaned from looking over these resources:
  1. Trust your instincts,
  2. Ask other people for help, including letting others know you're being stalked, and
  3. Recognize and believe that you are not responsible for the stalker's actions.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

When is an Assault Not an Assault?

I heard this story first on KUOW (Seattle's NPR radio station) this morning, and thought it wacky enough to look it up. For more background, here's the story just the week before the jury rendered their verdict. Both articles are in The New York Times.

Two men are in a spin class in an upper east side gym (in New York City). Mr. Carter the stockbroker finally has enough of Mr. Sugarman the investment partner, whose loud grunting and exubarant vocalizing during class are annoying him. When asking the class instructors to ask him to quiet down doesn't work, when yelling at Sugarman doesn't work, Carter lifts the front end of Sugarman's bike and lets it drop, while Sugarman is still on it. Sugarman sees doctor, is diagnosed with injuries, and presses charges. Carter was just found not guilty by a jury. Why? Because there was some reasonable doubt that the injuries were caused by that incident.

To me this is wacky because while Sugarman was presented as rude, obnoxious and not exactly truthful on the stand, I did not read any contention that Carter did not commit the actions that landed him in court. Where's the accountability for his actions?

My favorite quote from this article, given by one of the jurors:
B. J. Tormon, a 21-year-old nursing student whose thick biceps indicate that he has spent some time working out, said confrontations in exercise class were common. “Stuff like that happens in the gym,” he said.
"Stuff like that happens" because people can get away with it. And don't call it "stuff," call it what it is: violence. Carter got away with violent behavior.

When I was in elementary school, two wrongs did not make a right. Two wrong still don't make a right, especially when committed by middle-age men acting like children.

I teach classes where students learn life skills like de-escalation, productive confrontation, assertiveness and self defense, so that violence like this is less likely to occur. Stories like this remind me why I'm still in business.

Have you ever encountered someone so annoying, so grating, so rude that you felt you needed to put them in their place? What did you do? Email me your story (, or add a Comment to this blog.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Humiliating Enemies, and other forms of Self Defense

The internet has accelerated the promiscuous proliferation of all sorts of opinion masquerading as expert advise. The scariest ones are those with just enough conventional wisdom to hook the listener and lead them to believe that the rest is likely true. Here's the one I've found today. Note that I'm not creating a clickable link to this, as I don't want to lend it credence by association (or higher Google rankings by external links).

The title of this page is "Get Tips on How to Humiliate Your Enemies Right Here with Female Self Defense Techniques."

As a self-defense instructor, I am all in favor of everyone having the skills to defend themselves and their loved ones in case of assault. However, I have a few issues with this particular presentation.
  1. Start with the title. If you're concerned with "humiliating your enemies," this is no longer self-defense. In a court of law, that could make a big difference, and not in your favor.
  2. Again, the title. There's really no such thing as "female" self-defense techniques. Yet many writers continue to ascribe gender: "punches" are male and "pinches" are female, for instance. Fighting skills aren't male or female. In reality, skilled fighters of any gender know which techniques work for their strengths.
  3. According to this article's intro, you should learn self-defense because the rate of violent crime has purportedly increased "500% in the last 20 years." No. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of violent crime across the United States has gone DOWN in the last 20 years, not up.
  4. Finally, as a self-defense teacher, I can tell you the 3 points listed here are easier to say than do. Keeping calm under duress often requires practice, finding nerve centers on a moving person takes practice, and getting the speed and coordination to execute a quick arm lift and kick takes . . . you guessed it . . . practice. As any teacher of anything will tell you, telling ain't training and training ain't performance.
Few things are more humiliating than trying to execute a "sure-fire" knockout and finding your opponent not just totally unaffected, but laughing as he slams you to the ground. At that point, however, humiliation is probably the least of your worries. Readers, do yourselves a favor. Take a class. Practice.

If you're in the Puget Sound area, I've got some classes coming up in July, or view this listing any time for what's upcoming.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

This sad news article tells about a Marine who was on leave home when he was killed.

He had heeded the advice of commanding officers, "that a Marine on leave might be seen as a prime robbery target with a pocketful of money, so he only carried $8, his military ID card and a bank card." He was waiting at a bus stop with his girlfriend when they were indeed accosted by robbers. "The robbers took his wallet, turned his pockets inside out, took what he had and told him since he was a Marine and didn't have any money he didn't deserve to live. They put the gun to his neck and shot him."

The vast, vast, VAST majority of the time, robbery attempts such as this do not end in murder. This young man was prepared for those vast, vast, VAST majority of times. His plan fell through.

As a self-defense teacher, I'm always asked how best to avoid street crime, or if necessary deal with it. I give options, not answers. Even the best plan has holes, even the best defense has weaknesses. Always think "what next, if . . .?"

Plan, or be planned for.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Victims of Sex Trafficking are in need of Your Support

Empower the Natashas is a non-profit University of Washington student project created by Heather Baldwin that is aimed at supporting, rehabilitating and preventing victims of sex trafficking in Belgrade, Serbia. Heather is putting together a silent auction to be held on Sunday June 8, 3 - 5 pm. at the home of a local donor.

From the auction publicity info:

Women who are trafficked for sexual exploitation are mercilessly beaten, raped, tortured (mentally, physically, and emotionally) and recklessly killed. If the women are discovered and “rescued” by the authorities, they are usually deported back to their country of origin as “foreign trash” and re-victimized. After repatriation, these women are back where they began except that in addition to their low socio-economic status they are now strapped with anxiety and depressive disorders, disfigurement, social stigma, a sense of powerlessness and possibly HIV.

The Project Auction to support the Empower The Natashas Project, organized by a Masters in Public Health student at the University of Washington, is the project’s largest fundraiser. The proceeds from this event are used to supplement travel expenses, project supplies, volunteer room and board, and project beneficiary stipend. The Project Auction to support the Empower The Natashas Project is not a 501(c) (3) entity as it is a local student project. Donated Auction item(s) are not tax deductible but they are greatly appreciated and necessary to raise funds for this worthy project.

Among the donated items are a self-defense class (contributed by me, of course), wine gift basket, Aveda 90 minute facial, truffles from Cafe Flora, a month of karate training, cleaning services, and others too numerous to mention.

For more info visit the Empower the Natashas blog. Make an online donation. Attendance is by invitation, so contact Heather at if you'd love to attend.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

June Self-Defense Classes

Strategic Living is giving only 2 self-defense public workshops this June. One is for women only, the other for teen girls only.

Self-Defense for Women:

Most women who've defended themselves against assault have never taken a self-defense class, never trained in martial arts, and certainly have never swum with Navy SEALS. How did they do it? Can you too learn their secrets? Yes, when you know how to use the five keys to safety:

Awareness of the people around you, of your state of mind, of your social shortcuts that can get you in hot water;
Intuition, your early warning system that you often ignore;
• the vitality of your Voice;
• setting Boundaries and testing them; and
• using Leverage to physically enforce your boundaries if necessary (and to give you the confidence to use all the other tools in your kit to keep safe because you've got Plan B).

These five keys unlock all the safety strategies you'll ever need. You will learn how to use them in this class. Recognize assailant ploys and manipulations, and how to thwart them. Assess your risks, and plan around them. Come prepared to challenge yourself--emPOWERment doesn't get more fun.

Sunday June 22, 10 am til 1 pm. Cost: $65.

Register now online here, or phone 206-920-8882 for more information.

Self-Defense for Teen Girls:

This three hour course will provide young ladies the education and awareness to avoid and escape potentially dangerous situations. Course will cover dating violence, how assailants target and test potential victims, personal safety and much more. Students will learn physical techniques, strikes and releases to safely remove oneself from dangerous situations. It is a great class to take with a friend.

Sunday, June 22, 1:30 til 4:30 pm. Cost: $50.

Click here for more information and to register.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Serial Exposure

A man is going around certain SeaTac aparment complexes exposing himself, and more recently groping women. The youngest woman was 11 years old. Read the King 5 story here for the assault sites.

I have 3 suggestions for women who encounter this sort of assailant:

1. Use your voice. Yell and attract attention. What should you yell? Yell directly at the offender, and tell him to go away, get lost, back off, let go. Give him a strong direct command.

2. Back away from him. Keep a few yards distance.

3. In the less likely event that he try to close that distance, remember the best targets for strikes are eyes, throat, groin and knees. If you need to physically defend yourself, give it 110%.

Please take this kind of offense seriously. Flashers such as this who get bolder and escalate their attacks are on the path to rape. Help the police get him before he gets there.
Last week a man's body was found in a Seattle construction site. Today's paper had a summary of the sad story (click here to read). The victim had a history of mental illness. He apparently stopped taking his medication and was challenging others to fights. He was obsessed with the movie Fight Club. What makes this story truly tragic was that 2 other men, apparently egged on by others, saw fit to take him out.

From what I've read, these 2 others had no history of mental illness, nor did those who encouraged them. One of these men is in police custory, the other being sought. The one in custody is blaming the second man for delivering the excessive force.

There's been a lot of local focus in the media about the mentally ill as dangerous. As this story (once again) illustrates, we should be more concerned about regular joes taking group dyanamics to its lowest common denominator.

Seven Simple Safety Skills (take 2)

This past weekend (April 19 and 20) was King 5 TV's Healthy Living Expo, and I was invited to present on self-defense. Here is the mp3 file of my 20 minute talk, Seven Simple Safety Skills. My previous blog entry had a link to an audiofile that worked only on Quicktime on a Mac, and I'm deleting that.

Monday, April 14, 2008

TV's New Vampire

This year's TV writers' strike had some interesting effects. For one thing, it showed me that Jay Leno really doesn't need writers, but that's not the point of this blog.

One show that migrated over from Showtime to fill the broadcast void is called Dexter. It begins with the premise that the protagonist, Dexter--a serial killer, a psychopath totally incapable of empathy--is indeed capable of "correctly" targeting other homicidal psychopaths as his victims.

One of the core traits of psychopaths, as described by Dr. Robert Hare (the foremost authority on the subject), is that lack of empathy. Many psychopaths do learn to at least minimally fake that emotional expression to blend in. However, another core trait is intense self-centeredness, which works against the idea of a Dexter having any inclination whatsoever to kill only other other homicidal psychopaths. I've read some other blogs that denounce the Dexter writers and producers for portraying this sort of violence in a heroic light, and I cannot disagree with them.

But to me that's like criticizing vampire stories and fairy tales, which is what this is. And the real point of such stories is to make a point of some aspect of the human condition. Dexter, in his improbable existence, highlights the kind of masks, emotional coverups, that we all do, thinking we'll get by better in our social interactions. Every character on that show has a dark side, has something to hide. Ironic that the psychopath is the one who is portrayed as the least self-absorbed.

But do you really want to feel safer? Just turn off your TV. Including Dexter.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Risk: Not Just Another Board Game

Like many other Seattle residents, I've followed the news reports on the New Year's Eve murder of Shannon Harps and its aftermath. My thoughts and condolences go out to her family and friends; she seems to have made a great impact on those who knew and loved her, and her death has left a gaping wound that can never completely heal.

Shannon Harps' death also made an impression on many who never knew her. Local self-defense instructors have seen an increase in inquiries and class size. There's a new groundswell of concern for personal safety, especially in the Capital Hill neighborhood.
You are no more or less safe now than you were on December 30th. Really.

Risk and risk perception are different animals. Risk perception is what influences you to take action. The closer your risk perception to your actual risk, the better. Right?

Maybe. For most of us, real risk of a stranger assault is small. So small that when that murder out of the blue does happen, it has an emotional impact of a 9.9 earthquake. Most of us do not recognize the luxurious safety we really live in. You can walk down most streets here in Seattle chatting on your phone, or bopping to your music, or engrossed in conversation, and MOST of the time NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. Real risk seems about as real as a board game.
But then that rare bad thing happens. Many will consider taking a few more precautions when going out, for a few weeks. A few will envision the potential for ambush waiting in every doorway and alleyway, and let their fear overwhelm them. And fewer will take the event as a wake-up call for more long-term change, be they personal or political.

Life doesn't come with a guarantee. While we (at least some of us more privileged folk) assert the right to live free of violence, that will never mean violence won't reach out for us. It means we have social remedies, legal recourse, criminal prosecutions. After the fact. And if we are believed, if we are taken seriously, if we have the resources.

While I'm encouraged that more women have signed up for self-defense classes, I'm sorry that it takes the rare tragic event to trigger recognition of risk, no matter how remote.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Judicious Juxapositions

Interesting juxtaposition of articles in January 29th's Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Kevin Miller, Executive Director of the Men's Network Against Domestic Violence, wrote an opinion piece saying that men should own up if and when they've been abusers. And that other men need to hold them accountable. Read it here.

The P-I online has a Soundoff, where readers can comment on articles. The comments on Miller's opinion, by and large, indicate we have a long ways to go to hold abusers accountable.

In the meantime, the P-I is publishing a series of articles this week describing how the University of Washington Husky football program, at the height of it's success, was protecting players who basically were felons. Paragon of accountability.

Why do some people abuse others? Because they can. No consequences.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

It stops bad guys, but wait that's not all (Part 2)

Today's Seattle Times reported that a man got just under 4 years jail time for using a stun gun on his 18 month old son.

Read it here.

Shockingly, the man's defense attorney said the man believes the mother done it, and accused the dad because they had argued earlier in the day and she wanted to make him sorry.

Sounds like a sorry excuse for torturing a toddler.

Financial Infidelity?

Last weekend's Seattle Times (1/20/08) ran an article about money secrets and intimate relationships. In a nutshell, money secrets are bad. They can erode the trust that forms the foundation of any marriage (or marriage-like relationship). The author cites studies that say 40% of all divorces are due to money issues. This is a form of infidelity.

[Money counselor Ruth] Hayden sees many forms of financial infidelity in her practice, most of it harmless — at least at first. She says women, in particular, are often advised to keep a secret stash of cash on hand "just in case."

"There's a Yiddish word, 'knipl,' for little pots of money that have been used over the years by women," she says. "That's why when you clear out the house of an old woman, you go through all the pockets of all the coats and look through all the important books like the Bible, because there are little pots of money everywhere. Somehow, there is the illusion of safety if I can tuck away a $20 here and a $50 there."

Funny that my mother, decades ago, advised me to make sure I always had a bank account in my name only, just in case. (No, not squirreling away bills in books and coat hems.)

As a self-defense instructor, I have to tell my clients that they need control over financial matters in their lives. Probably the MOST liberating change of the last century was women becoming legally able to own property and keep their own earnings. Abusive spouses very often work hard to gain control over all financial resources. So, until you're sure that the live-in boyfriend or husband is not an abuser, keep that separate account.

To read the article, click here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Life's Little Ironies

This January, thanks to a couple of highly-publicized attacks and killings, more and more people are contacting me (and others) about self-defense and community safety training. All the more ironic that Seattle's mayor and police chief announced that the rate of violent crime is the lowest it's been since 1968.

You can read the identical article (from Associated Press) in both The Columbian and the Seattle PI.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It stops bad guys, but wait that's not all!

Taser unveiled a new stun gun holster at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. So now not only can your stun gun come in designer colors, your holster can play music.

Read this MSNBC article for more info on this holster that also is an mp3 player.

Taser also introduced 3 new colors for it's personal protection line for women: Leopard Print, Red Hot, and Fashion Pink.

I don't know about you, but if I'm feeling like I need to carry a Taser, I don't think I'll be distracting myself (not to mention projecting that "not paying attention" aura) by bopping along to my latest music downloads.

Personally, I'm waiting for the bottle opener/mp3 player combo. In Electric Blue.