The Element of Surprise

470636_85894802If you are ever the victim of a crime, I can make this prediction with some certainty: Whatever happens will catch you off-guard. You will be taken by surprise, and you will have to move through the reaction loop before you can respond to it.

This news is probably not a surprise, but there are implications to this that bear thinking about. But first, we need to talk about why you won’t be ready for the criminal assault.

[Read more…]

More Than Just Self Defense

The students in my basic pistol classes are usually too overwhelmed with new information to ask many questions, but I often get good ones from the intermediate and conceal carry students. This last week I got an exceptional one, and it caused me to consider rewriting a part of my book.

We had been going over situational awareness, and she asked if I had any suggestions, beyond the exercises in the book, to help practice for that. We discussed some, and then went on with how that could contribute a lot to other areas of our lives, giving us both the motive and opportunity to actually practice it all the time.

The implications for self defense are important, obviously, so that we may be aware of danger as early as possible and can avoid it or respond otherwise as appropriate. We agreed that it was very important to teach this to children early, since they are even more vulnerable.

So, in what other ways would the constant practice of situational awareness benefit us and those around us?

We can become much better, safer drivers. Now this might seem contradictory a little, since distraction is a major cause of accidents and we are proposing to be aware of a great deal more than we might otherwise be, but if we integrate that awareness into other safe driving habits, consciously weeding out the irrelevant things that are so often distractions, it only seems logical that we become a better driver. We train ourselves to observe what we see around us, the actions of other vehicles and pedestrians, and assess them for potential problems. We also would be thinking of simple plans to avoid problems. The key is to be aware and prepared, rather than surprised when danger strikes.

By the same token, we become much safer pedestrians.

We can become better shoppers. I had not thought about this before, but it seems clear. If we are practicing being aware of our surroundings, why would that not extend to examining, assessing and evaluating the things we propose to purchase? Did you ever get home with a rotten potato in the bottom of the bag? Did you determine to lift the bag and LOOK for one next time? Cracked eggs? Out of date milk? Dented cans? A tear in a shirt, or a missing hook on a boot after you got the items home? I’ve done them all at one time or another, but I’ve done that far less often since I began to practice awareness… and I wasn’t even thinking about it that way. It was just a part of the whole process.

Might we not become far better friends and neighbors? Before I began to carry a gun, I could not have told you much about the normal happenings in my neighborhood to save my life. I literally was not paying attention. After several years, and consciously practicing the drills, I can actually look out my windows and  spot a car, truck or person that doesn’t “belong” because I’ve invested the time and effort to know who and what does belong.  That doesn’t mean the stranger is up to no good, obviously, but they are worth a second or even a third glance. If I see a stranger hanging around, with no evident purpose, I’ll watch even more closely. And my neighbors commonly do the same now since I suggested it to them years ago. I live alone, and one neighbor has called me many times when strangers drive up here, just to be sure I’m OK.

Now, some people might not appreciate that part, and in a crowded neighborhood it would be impractical, but it works out well here. Another neighbor called once this summer to let me know my sneaky horses had gotten out on the other side of my property. I would not have known about it until I went out to feed otherwise, and they might have gotten into real trouble by then. So the exercise of awareness can help to build safer and more friendly neighborhoods.

Obviously, you don’t want to become a nosy parker, and interventions like the phone calls would be reserved for serious situations or questions, but the very practice of observing and assessing is what is most important for your own development and safety.

We came up with a good list, I think, but I would be very glad to get your feedback so I can add as many practical suggestions as possible to my teaching material. How would you go about expanding your own practice of situational awareness, and how do you think it would it affect your family, neighborhood and safety? What might be a downside or problem with those listed here?

[The book, “I Am NOT A Victim” is still available free to anyone who sends me an email and asks for it. Please let me know where you saw the offer. I am sending it only in pdf format now, so if you can’t open a pdf document for some reason, or would just rather have something else, let me know that too.]

A Flashlight on Your Gun?

Two posts at Autrey’s Armory, What’s the Deal with Tactical Flashlights? and How Do You Hold This? sparked a dialog, and then some serious thinking on my part as well.

I start, as always, by considering my own place in the self defense continuum, and any potential hazards. Not every technique, piece of gear or tactical idea is right or necessary for everyone, but most of them are certainly worth considering. I won’t be repeating anything much that is in the articles, so please do read them if you would like to join the discussion here.

First, then, is thinking about potential attacks in your home or during the evening or nights when you are out and about. Close your eyes and imagine as many as you can. And I mean real possibilities. Nobody can anticipate everything.

In how many of those potential attacks would having a light be imperative to locate, identify and aim at your target? How might using that light make you MORE vulnerable, more of a target? If you have not been to a comprehensive tactical class, you might want to consider taking one because a lot of these questions are covered.

Of course you don’t want to put yourself into the position of possibly shooting anyone unnecessarily or, heaven forbid, a family member, so the second consideration is making sure your plans for lighting are integrated with all of your other self defense necessities: barriers, alarms, and so forth. The neighborhood drunk going into the wrong house isn’t going to be a problem for you if you always lock your doors. The family member, guests, renters coming home late at night would have a key, turn on lights, and convey agreed on signals to demonstrate that he/she is not an intruder. Children who can’t be trusted to do the same probably shouldn’t be going out alone at night anyway, I’d think.

Where light would be an absolute imperative, can you think of anything besides a flashlight that would do the job and not work against you? Motion detector lights on entrances, with smaller ones (and/or regular night lights) in hallways would be good if you have people wandering around at night.

If you must be out of the house at night, either in the car or walking, what precautions could you take to minimize being alone in the dark? Where would you need a flashlight, and would there be any way to avoid that place and time? If you had to draw your gun, would you have time or presence of mind to draw a flashlight as well? If you had the flashlight already in your hand, could you draw and fire without hesitation or fumbling? See an older article of mine to consider the necessity of being able to shoot well with one hand.

One suggestion in Autrey’s article is to mount a flashlight on your carry or home defense gun. She goes into the problem of that making you a greater target, of course. My contention is that I would not want, ever, to point a gun at someone before I had identified them as a threat; as one I would be willing to actually shoot. Some folks might be more comfortable with that possibility than I am.

Holding the flashlight in the other hand is the subject of the second article. Lots of good ideas and plenty of expert input there. Try them all, and see how they might fit into your own self defense program.

Lots to think about, and plenty of things to try. What would you do if you found yourself in a situation where you needed to be holding both a flashlight and a gun? Or, even better, what has worked for you so far? Any real life experiences to share?

Strengthening Exercises for Hands

A reader posted an excellent suggestion in the comments to “On The Other Hand” for strengthening hands. I thought of several others, and continued to look into it, so it seemed a good idea to write more about it. My left wrist is still very sore, and I’m being cautious about how much I use it, but I certainly don’t want the left hand to become weakened.

As always, there’s plenty of information available on the internet, and I found two sites especially with detailed instructions and photographs of hand exercises used by physical therapists. Total Orthopaedic Care hasn’t been updated since 2005, but the pictures are very clear and the directions timeless. Livestrong.com is up to date and contains much more detail, with lots of other health related things that might be interesting, so I’ve bookmarked it to look into more later.

After reading all this, I was thinking of our busy schedules and how difficult it is to work in MORE exercises, or much of anything else, and began to wonder if much of this couldn’t be integrated into our normal routine doing other things. Just as the continuous practice of situational awareness is actually part of our “dry fire” program – or should be – strengthening our hands, and keeping them strong, must be part of our everyday living.

Most women used to have hands nearly as strong as men, before the advent of dishwashers and all the other convenience appliances and services. Nobody wants to go back to the 1800s, of course, but it might be smart to take a look at our daily routine and find at least a few things we could do physically with our hands to improve their strength and flexibility.

I don’t have a dishwasher, and wash mine by hand each day. Lots of opportunity to do flexing and grasping exercises, and it is clearly even better to do those exercises in warm water! Folks with arthritis or old scar tissue would find this especially beneficial.

Many ordinary household chores offer similar opportunities if you think about it. The trick is to be aware of what you are doing with your hands, and incorporate some of the necessary exercises into the action required to do the jobs. Sweeping, mopping, shoveling snow, and many others come to mind.

Gardening is a wonderful way to exercise your whole body, and pulling weeds is certainly a process that can contribute to stronger hands. Careful attention to body alignment, posture and reach will improve the effect and reduce the fatigue or potential for injury. As with anything, stay aware of your goal and the steps needed to reach it.

Knitting, crochet, sewing and other crafts also present us with good exercise for our hands. These things are of more use for retaining flexibility, of course, since most do not involve muscle resistance to weight, but there are likely many hobbies and crafts that would include those things as well.

The trick is not to zero in on one thing, requiring only one or a few motions. That would tend to strengthen only SOME muscles, but not give the balanced results of a more rounded program.

Luckily, just regular shooting (both hands, of course) and dry fire gives our hands a great work out. And with the ammunition situation increasingly optimistic, there’s no reason not to keep this one at the top of the list.

Preparing for Self Defense – The Next Steps

We’ve talked about why a person needs to defend themselves, and more recently we’ve covered quite a bit about gear and dry fire exercises. But there is so much more.

Those who own a gun, and especially those who carry it for self defense, need to do at least the minimum necessary to develop and keep skills relevant. A comprehensive class and no less than one range session a month is seriously minimal, but I doubt many even go that far.

Owning a gun makes you ready for self defense about as much as owning a horse makes you a cowboy.

First, have you made up your mind that you WILL survive, that you WILL fight as long as you can breathe, and that you can and WILL do whatever is necessary to the criminal in order to stop the attack. Have you decided that you are NOT a victim?

No matter how well (or how often) you shoot at targets, your gun will be of little or no use to you if you don’t develop the other skills needed for self defense. If the bad guy gets his hands on you, gets close with a gun or other weapon, or grabs your children… you have lost any advantage the hardware might have given you.

Tactical training is another step in learning gun handling. You get a physical work out, and a much better idea what it is like to be in a shooting situation. The ideal tactical training would include possible situations in your home, office, shopping and other aspects of daily life. I’ve only been to one such session and, I’m afraid it was more geared to things MEN and cops might encounter and wasn’t too helpful to me. So I had to come up with my own. In any case, few of us could afford either the time or money to attend one of these expanded classes very often, yet the skills are no less perishable than shooting accuracy. They need to be practiced at least some every day or as often as possible. So, even if you enjoy such classes and participate often, you might want to consider this practice on your own.

Are you ready?

Situational awareness

Are you aware of your surroundings every day, every time you hear a knock on the door, and especially every time you leave the house? Have you taught your children and others about this vital skill? Or is it simply an intellectual acceptance of an idea, but not something you practice seriously? I’ve covered the subject in detail at the link. Take some time to read it and come back.

First do the drills outlined in the Situational Awareness instructions above for a while. This will give you the basic idea and some experience doing this kind of drill as you go through your ordinary daily activities. As good as a “tactical class” might be, and as terrific as it is to go to the range, real life attacks will be very, very different… they will come out of the blue, when you least expect it, and while you are doing other things. So, it makes sense to prepare, to practice your responses WHILE you are going about your everyday life. And, since you are not apt to get much warning under the best of circumstances, you need to be prepared with as many options as possible.

Possible home invasion is probably a good place to start. You are familiar with your home, its strengths and weaknesses. You are comfortable there, and the actions of an intruder and others who might be involved are easier to imagine than they would be most anywhere else. It’s a learning process, so take it slow and build as you go along.

Think about the power of visualization.

Can you remember the dress you wore to your first Prom, your wedding, or other memorable occasion? Can you remember what you did or didn’t do? If you made a major goof or were embarrassed, I suspect you remember it and all the moves you made very well. And, if you think about it, your mind uses those memories to help you avoid similar negative experiences later.

You can use the power of your mind, the very real benefits of your imagination and memory, to prepare yourself for self defense situations. It is important to plan this some, to avoid becoming obsessed or paranoid about it, of course, but it can be used as a very effective training aid.

So, think about the way your house is laid out, access points, physical barriers and any cameras, alarms or other security measures you have. Oh, you were not thinking that they could do the job alone, were you? Time to rethink all of those things if you’ve been counting on them to keep you safe without having to be a vital part of the whole. These things can be very good, but are no earthly use without serious human involvement. And, as with all tools, they may fail. It’s important to have a backup plan, and a backup plan for that one.

Start with an easy one. Just imagine that you hear glass breaking in the back of your house. You are home alone, it is night, and you don’t expect anyone to come until morning.

What now?

Do you have a “safe room?” (Send for my book if you don’t know what that means.)

Briefly, a “safe room” is one with a reinforced door and deadbolt locks that would resist an intruder.There should be something solid and heavy you would stay behind, in case the intruder fired a gun into the door or the lock.

In that room, quite possibly your bedroom, you would have a gun (if you don’t carry it), ammunition, a cell phone, some water and other things that might be needed if you had to stay there a while. You might want to have a spare gun and ammunition in that room, even if you carry all the time.

If you don’t have a safe room, and can’t think of any way to create one, what would you do if you saw or heard signs of an intruder?

Either way, imagine what an intruder might do. You also need to think of what you might do in each case, his possible reaction, and what you might do next. What might he do that would cause you to shoot? Why wouldn’t you shoot? What would make the difference? You absolutely must have thought about this and practiced it. A mistake in the midst of an emergency could be costly, or fatal.

What would you do next? Imagine it going many different ways, concentrating on what you think might happen and how you might respond. And don’t neglect to imagine that you had to shoot someone! How would it look? How would you feel? It’s a shock and horror to any normal person, but you can’t let it destroy your awareness or your caution. The person you shot might be “playing possum” and overwhelm you if you got too close. He/she might have an accomplice or four, just waiting for you to be distracted and overcome with emotion.

And don’t lose sight of the fact that your attacker could be either a man or a woman, a teen or any other age. Imagine having to confront and defend yourself against even the nice seeming neighbor down the street, the little group of teens with their baggy pants and snotty attitudes, the lady who says she just needs to use the telephone, or almost anyone else.

Do you have a cell phone? Where is it right now? Do you carry it in your purse? Is the purse in the kitchen now? Where might an intruder gain entrance? The kitchen? That plan needs some work, doesn’t it? When would you call 911? Most areas are set up for 911, but some still are not. Do you know for sure about your location?

I don’t have a cell phone (too deaf to use one), and an intruder might cut the land line telephone first thing. I have specific plans made for that possibility. I don’t rely on getting help from outside anyway, and calling 911 FIRST is not something expected here, but it may be very different where you live.

Then, if it was possible, when would you call? What would you say to the dispatcher? Should you tell them you have a gun? The answer to all of those might be very different in various places. You need to know what is best to do long before you need to do it. And you need to practice doing it so you won’t miss things, do things to increase the risk, or say things that would hang you later.

Think about why TV and movie plots are a very poor thing to base this practice on.

Next time we’ll take to the streets and parking garages with our imaginations. But you don’t have to wait for me. Tell me about the imaging you do to prepare for self defense.

Awareness and Exertion in the Backcountry

20130304-104540.jpgYes, I admit it: That is my oversized butt hiking up the side of that valley. I spent the weekend backpacking with friends, although we stayed in a campground (of sorts) this time. But we did go for a hike in Sunday morning. It was my first REAL hike, so we did things semi-easily for me: I didn’t carry a pack, and we kept the distance relatively short and the pace relatively slow. We hiked about two miles down the side of a valley, made lunch atop a slab of limestone at a flat spot in the trail, and hiked back. Round trip, including lunch, was maybe four hours.

Notwithstanding all of that, the experience was an eye-opener for me on a number of levels, and I came away from the experience with a number of lessons that I think apply to armed citizens as well as they do to new backpackers.

[Read more…]

Your Most Important Tool

20130218-143007.jpgMy friend and I picked our way carefully down the hillside toward a small clearing. The sun was setting, and the air was becoming chilled. As we walked, our eyes and flashlights swept our surroundings – there were plenty of holes and pieces of fallen brush to trip us up if we weren’t paying attention, and we could hear the first plaintive yips of a pack of coyotes further up the hill. We’d also seen the tracks of a wild pig, and though we’d not caught sight of the animal, we knew it was likely close by.

Between us, we carried some 50 pounds of gear and supplies – warm down-filled sleeping bags, tents, a pair of butane-powered stoves and the fuel canisters that go with them. We each had a half gallon or so of water – plenty for the overnight camp out we’d planned. A gallon Ziploc bag in my pack held an assortment of food – noodles, instant potatoes, dried blueberries, coffee, and more.I had a knife in each of my front pants pockets on this trip; my friend carried two more blades and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. (Six hours after I got home from our trip, she’d call me to report that, while out on a short walk, she’d had to shoot a juvenile rattlesnake that had been inches away from striking.)

But despite what the outdoor products industry would have you believe, the most important tool in our survival arsenal wasn’t our gear, our food, or our water. It wasn’t anything we carried, nor was it something you can buy. But whether you’re facing natural hazards or human ones, it’s absolutely essential.

[Read more…]

Backpacking and Common Sense Prepping

20130213-210443.jpgLet me start out this post with a disclaimer: I’m using the word “pepper” here, but I don’t intend it to mean what a lot of people think it means. I’m not stockpiling guns and ammo against the coming zombie apocalypse. I don’t think the earth’s magnetic field is going to suddenly flip on its axis, and I doubt the UN troops/BATFE/black helicopter guys are going to be landing in my back yard without some advance warning that they’re coming. When you see the folks on the TV show Doomsday Preppers, digging underground bunkers to wait for whatever apocalyptic catastrophe they think will bring about The End of the World As We Know It? That’s not me. I don’t own a tinfoil hat, and I don’t expect an unannounced apocalypse tomorrow.

However, this is what I do believe: It is probable that at some point I could experience a crisis – be it natural or manmade – that would have the potential to disrupt my life for a period of time, and being able to function autonomously and to provide for my basic needs will help me through that crisis.

[Read more…]

Training and “Unusual Attitudes”

20121231-112334.jpgI’ve been thinking lately about the way some of us practice our defensive skills: We draw from our holster (which rides exactly at our preferred spot) with our strong hand. We aim at a target placed chest-high at a range of 7 yards or so and put our shots downrange. We re-holster carefully. Then we do it again. When we dry practice, we exercise the same skills – some of us do it until we can get a blazing fast draw, because that helps us in IDPA.

And, as far as it goes, this kind of repetition is hugely important. There’s no question that these fundamental skills do need to become automatic, actions we can perform without having to consciously think about them, because seconds count in a lethal force encounter. Sometimes tenths of a second count. And it takes hundreds or thousands of repetitions to ingrain those automatic movements.

But there’s something else I think we ought to be practicing, and I’m labeling it with an aviation term I learned recently: We need to drill our responses to “unusual attitudes” too.

[Read more…]

Excuses

20121117-212741.jpgI awoke this morning not too long after dawn, to a gray sky and a hammering rain. I packed my range bag, made a mug of coffee, and picked up a friend. Together, we drove for more than an hour to the range we shoot at.

When we arrived, it was still wet and gray and cold. The wind whispered through the trees and licked at the corners of our targets, past the places where the staples held the paper. We trekked downrange through a gloppy, sticky, rock-laden mud to erect those targets. My friend unbagged firearms while I loaded magazines.

We stayed out there and shot for nearly two hours. My friend plinked with his revolvers, while I worked methodically through the skills I’d identified that I wanted to drill during the session. I shivered just a bit beneath my jacket, despite my usual tolerance for cold weather. I had to stop shooting several times, to wipe the film of fog and mist from my glasses so I could see my target.

[Read more…]