When we delve into the discussion of self-protection, while there are truths, each truth must be tailored to an individual's needs. While a jab is always a jab, a choke is always a choke, and a throw is always a throw, the ways and situations these individual tools end up being applied are vastly different for the law enforcement officer, the soldier, the young man out for a night with his mates, and the young woman watching Netflix with someone who had up and until this moment otherwise seemed like a friend and a good man. A police officer grappling with a suspect must always keep in mind that there is at least one firearm involved in the altercation, the soldier likely has his squad mates close by with multiple firearms to assist him, and the young man is more likely to encounter another young man who will grab and swing on him than slip a roofie into his drink. So these factors must all be kept in mind when the specific question of self-defense or martial arts for women is asked.
As a martial arts instructor specializing in women's self-protection, it's a question that has often been asked of me. Normally, my reply is a quick and easy one, recommending either Maryland Jeet Kune Do's Escape to Gain Safety program or Annapolis Defense & Security's Fight Like a Girl program. However, the other day a friend of mine from out of state asked for recommendations in her area. Unfortunately, I knew no one in her state I could recommend, so after some thought, I came up with these guidelines to recommend what she should be looking for.
We would love to hear from other women involved in teaching self-protection. What are your experiences, good or bad? What lessons have you learned that you want to share with other women? What can we do to help?
It’s sad that the martial arts business can be so cut-throat, because we are in business of helping people feel better about themselves, feel safer, and give them the skills they need to be empowered to live healthy, protected lives. So, anything that meets those goals really should be something we embrace and encourage.
I’ve been lucky to have the examples of my mentors; Sifu Harinder Singh and Kuya Doug Marcaida. Both of them have created organizations that bring in some of the best instructors in the world and encourage their students to study not just with them, but with the best instructors they can find. In following their examples, I have forged relationships with other local Maryland instructors to help hone my own skills and build the martial arts classes we offer here at the Maryland Jeet Kune Do Academy in Odenton, Maryland. Some of these instructors are so close you would think they could be seen as competitors. They aren’t. Together, we make this community stronger.
John Fitzpatrick has been one of my longest training partners and students. He has nearly two decades of study in Japanese Jiujitsu, as well as years of experience in Brazilian Jiujitsu, Jeet Kune Do, and Kali. In addition to being an Apprentice Instructor at the Maryland Jeet Kune Do Academy, he is also the head instructor at Charm City Combatives in Ellicott City, Maryland. John is one of the most intelligent and analytic men I know, and his students benefit from his ability to explain a given concept or technique from all angles.
Alan and Anthony Sanidad are the Wonder Twins of the Filipino martial arts community here in Maryland. Their school, TryUmph Academy of Martial Arts is located in Gambrills, Maryland. Alan and Anthony are students of Kuya Doug Marcaida and are the flagship school of Marcaida Kali here in Maryland. They also offer great childrens Taekwondo classes, fitness kickboxing, and Brazilian Jiujitsu.
Monroe Hall is one of the top names in Brazilian Jiujitsu here in Maryland and teaches at Baltimore BJJ. He is a consummate coach and just training with him has taught me a great deal about how to interact with students and encourage them. In addition to training champions, he himself is a two-time Pan-American champion and one time runner up. Coach Monroe isn’t just a great example of a Brazilian Jiujitsu competitor and coach, he is a great example of a martial artist. Not content with competitive Brazilian Jiujitsu, he has begun looking at how the integration of edged weapons can affect BJJ for self-defense, working with me to learn the fundamentals of Kali.
Joe Lynch of Annapolis Defense & Security rounds out the list. Joe is the top tactical firearms instructor in the state of Maryland. He is a combat veteran of the US Army, a decorated infantryman. His knowledge of firearms, from military-grade semi-automatic rifles to handguns, is absolutely unparalleled. He provides a level of knowledge that many martial arts instructors neglect, that of modern firearms training. Unwilling to rest in what he already knows, Joe has also trained alongside me with men like Fred Mastro, and continues to advance his knowledge of personal protection.
They say that if you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen. These men and their schools are in my opinion some of the best instructors I have ever had the privilege to work with. I would recommend them without reservation. Their influence is seen in every class and program we offer here at the Maryland Jeet Kune Do Academy.
Last year, during the riots in the Ukraine, one of the top martial arts news websites interviewed me for their podcast on self-defense in a riot situation. The advice I gave was generalized, but I had no idea at the time that the strategies I had for the streets of Kiev would today be needed here on Lombard Street, in the city of Baltimore, the city I have come to call home. I’ve provided a transcript of that podcast here, as well as a link to it. Just a head’s up, while Bullshido is a news & investigative journalism website, it does have an Onion-esque humorous aspect to it, so I do crack a few bad jokes in here that are not meant to be taken as serious advice. Any comments regarding “If you’re planning to a riot” were said in sarcastic jest, because from my point of view, no sane, law abiding, rational person to whom I would speak this advice to plans to go to a riot. All of this is advice for innocent third parties like those trapped at Pickles. I also say “um” a lot.
Awareness is everything. If you start to see a bunch of police massing in their full on SWAT outfits and shields, get out of there. Any time you see a mass of people who don’t look like their enjoying a nice sunny day, get out of there. Your best bet is going to be to try to avoid the situation, to escape.
If you find yourself surrounded, try and get to somewhere where you can get to a wall so at least you can have your back to a wall and edge by the crowd rather than going through it. If you have something you can use as a shield, a purse, a backpack, a small child, you know, something you can use to keep people away from you. Improvised weapons are great, but remember, you’re now in the middle of a riot, and if you’re trying to escape, you don’t necessarily want to be the guy the cops think is the problem. You want to draw as little attention to yourself as possible. Yeah, so get your shield, whatever you can, use that as a wedge to try and move. If you have, fight your way out, but again, you don’t want to go there because you’re in the worst case mass attack scenario. You start punching rioters, and now you’ve got all of them to fight. So it’s not going to go in your favor anyway. Do what you have to do to get out of there.
Pepper spray is probably the best defense in a situation like that because it is something that can affect the entire area, which all brings up something else I wanted to touch on, which is what to do if you have to deal with pepper spray because if you’re in a riot it could actually happen. Pepper spray, tear gas, riot control agents, called RCA, any of you guys ever been pepper sprayed?
JB: I recommend it, just to see what it feels like, if you are in any way, shape, or form interested in self-defense. Georgette, it can be used against women who are going to be attacked. I know we’ve discussed rape defense on the podcast before.
JB: You may think that you can fight through it. The reality is you’ve got about five seconds before it feels like you’re getting stabbed in the eyes with a billion pins & needles. You lose your balance. The process is pretty much the same across the board, where you’re going to slam your eyes shut. You’ll shake your head, and then you’re going to go to your knees because you don’t have any balance anymore. True, it doesn’t affect every body. My self-defense instructor, who had the pleasure of spraying me, was a SWAT team leader and talked about going in on a guy who was resisted, so they pepper sprayed him. He just wiped it off his face and said, “I put worse shit on my eggs in the morning.”
If you’re planning on going to a riot, bring some No More Tears, bring some half & half, that will help. It also irritates the hell out of the skin, the pepper spray. If tear gas or pepper spray is launched by the police at where you are, run in the opposite direction as fast as you can because it will fill the area. If it’s inside a building you’re screwed. Get out, because it’s going to be a very high concentration in a very small space. The various tear gases and everything are heavier than air so if you can climb a building or run up a hill, get higher. They will go up and they will come down. Get a bandana, a T-shirt, something like and soak it in apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and use that to cover your mouth so you don’t inhale it.
Georgette: Now why does that work?
JB: Yeah, ask MacGyver, I don’t know.
Georgette: The wonders of modern chemistry.
JB: It has something to do with the wet cloth keeping you from inhaling the particles. Again, if you’re planning on going to a riot, don’t wear sunscreen because sunscreen increases the absorption rate of tear gas.
Chris: That’s terrifying.
JB: Yeah, the pepper spray, and they are two different things, tear gas & pepper spray. For those of you who have had the misfortune of seeing me in person on Bullshido or somewhere else, you know I have no hair, so when I got sprayed, yes I got sprayed in the eyes but I got it all across my face and my scalp turned a lovely shade of red, so keep that in mind. That said, pepper spray is a great tool for self-defense and if you are in a riot it’s probably a far safer thing than grabbing a baseball bat, but again, do what you have to do to survive.
Chris: What about like an improvised respirator or gas mask, like, you know, wadding up wet clothes for your mouth? I mean, I have a painting respirator. Do you have any idea how effective those are against like tear gas? I mean it’s kind of like one of those 3M filtered ones. It doesn’t have any eye protection. I’ve thought about getting like on Amazon, you know they sell like the $100 full face plate ones with the respirators and various coils and stuff. It looks so cool.
JB: Anything with a filter is going to help you to a degree but again, a lot of these sprays will affect your eyes and will affect your sinuses so you’re still getting affected. If a vinegar soaked wash cloth isn’t going to help you I don’t think a respirator will either. It’s not designed to filter out the gas.
Again it all comes down to preparedness. You know me, I’m a paranoid idiot. Think about where you’re going that day, what you’re planning on doing. There’s a reason the State Department tells you what countries not to go to. You can imagine the Ukraine is pretty high on that list right now. I know you’re a photographer and you loved going down and taking pictures of the Occupy people and things like that and that crowd was not very violent, but this urge for people to go see these things is not really a good idea. Let’s go see this melee battle they’re having in the Ukraine. It sounds like it would be a good time. So if you know there’s going to be some political protest going on in your community or something of that nature and you have the idea that it might get violent, don’t go into town. If you live in that area, spend the weekend at Mom’s or something. Preparedness is definitely, definitely a big thing.
You guys were talking about riot police tactics. They are very, very good at what they do. They shunt people off onto side streets and things like that, so it’s very easy to be caught up in a crowd. So where ever you are going, have an escape route. Don’t just be depending on Google Maps or your cell phone to get you where you’re going. Have an idea where you’re going, have three ways to get there and three ways to get out. Have a plan. Have your own pepper spray. Have shoes that you can run in if you have to. No high heels, Chris. I know you like to dress up sometimes.
Chris: Oh, I can run in heels.
JB: Yeah, ok. I don’t need pictures of that. Have your everyday carry items. Have a good knife, not necessarily to stab people but you never know. There are other uses. Have your tactical flashlight, all things that in the event of an emergency, you can use.
Chris: Yeah, when I go into the city myself, I do switch up my EDC, cuz my EDC is maybe a little bit aggressive for city life, but yeah, my smaller knives I take. The flashlight is great. You can always have your flashlight with you. I’ve never had anybody give me grief for a flashlight.
JB: Yeah, and you do have to be careful. Again, part of being prepared is knowing the local laws.
Chris: Yup, Washington, DC…
JB: Yeah, I had a very nice DC police officer, he probably, I don’t know what he did with it but he liberated me of my Emerson CQC-7, I don’t need to tell you that was a beautiful knife and it was a couple millimeters over legal length.
Chris: Oh, that sucks.
JB: Yeah, and this was back when they were just coming out so, you can get them know for 90 bucks, but it was like $300 back then.
Back to riot protection....Oh yeah, stay away from storefront windows.
Chris: Oh, yeah!
Georgette: Why’s that?
Chris: Bricks. They’re brick magnets.
JB: Yup, brick magnets. If it’s the kind of riot where it’s really political, you might not get much looting, but the LA Riots were heavily about looting. If you want to really start talking tactics, we can talk about the Korean shop owners in one of the best uses of the Second Amendment, who stood up on the roofs of their stores with hunting rifles, AR15s, whatever they could get their hands on, because the police essential abandoned Koreatown during the LA Riots, protecting other neighborhoods, and were basically willing to let that burn. So the shopowners and young men in the community were not going to let that happen, but that’s a much broader topic.
Chris: That’s easily a much broader topic.
JB: And yes, shooting at the rioters would not be a good self-defense move. If you are in a car, do not try to drive through the riot. In fact, if you can’t back out, get out of the car and leave it. One fact common to a lot of riots is that you pick up cars, turn them over, and light them on fire and use them as barricades to slow down the police. The police will be setting up their own barricades, a well-organized group of rioters will do the same.
Chris: Yeah, that is definitely a part of the images coming out of Kiev; burning buses, burning cars, burning tires. Everything is just a giant wall of smoke and snow. Oh, something I wanted to mention earlier when you were talking about police using tear gas and pepper spray, another common weapon employed by police, well not that common, but they will occasionally employ water cannons, a pretty powerful jet of water, knock people over, drive them back out of a particular area.
Georgette: Didn’t they just say they were going to start using water cannons in Kiev even though it’s sub-freezing temperatures?
Chris: Yup, that is exactly what I was getting at. The government in Kiev has decided to rescind their own ban on using water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures and there is the possibility that they could be firing the water cannons at protestors in sub-freezing temperatures.
JB: Just a couple other things, as I mentioned, get off the street. If you can, go into a building. Get inside the nearest retail store, office building or whatever and try and use the building to cut through. Find the rear exit rather than trying to run through the riots on the street. If you’re inside a building, lock the doors, stay away from the windows and don’t be a lookiloo trying to get great pictures to put on Instagram of the riot because again, rocks, bricks and as actual violence breaks out, bullets. If you are at your house or apartment or whatever, again, you should have been prepared and you should have developed an emergency escape plan. Watch out for fires as the tend to spread.
Chris: So yeah, a lot different things to keep in mind and try to stay safe in a really terrible situation that hopefully we and our listeners will ever have to deal with.
When I was studying Korean Zen, we had a different term for this sort of intellectual honesty, Choshim. Choshim can be translated as the original intent, or more frequently, beginners’ mind. No matter how much we learn there is always more. No matter how good we are, there is always someone better at what they do. Why claim to be more than what we are, when we can keep learning, growing, and sharing?
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