Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Difference Between Teaching Women's Self Defense and Martial Arts: Part II: Use Only As Directed

What a shock the last couple weeks have been. Hurricane Katrina and the complete hoseout that followed have made this blog seem pretty insignificant. I think it's the future for everyone living in low-lying coastal areas, but that's a subject for a completely different essay.

Where were we? Oh, yes, martial arts and women's self defense. I'm going to take a detour into assumptions and the limits of what's normal. It's not exactly women's self defense. It's applicable to anyone.

There's an old joke about training.

An Arab general was talking to an American colleague about the ongoing hostilities with Israel.

"I don't understand it. We have just as many tanks and airplanes. We have more men, and they're very brave. Our officers had the best training the Soviet Union offered. But we still keep losing."

"That's interesting. What did they teach you?"

"Pull back and wait for winter."

Most of the emergency preparations are of two sorts, short term emergencies and the total breakdown of civilization.

The first scenario includes acute problems. The power outage in the Northeast a few years back, a bad fire season in the West, ice storms, most hurricanes, the Santa Cruz earthquake, epidemics that don't stretch public health past the breaking point.

The second sort is the domain of classic "survivalist" literature from 1950s bomb-shelter manuals to Backwoods Home. Living off-grid and permanent self sufficiency are the hallmarks of this approach. There is much to recommend the lifestyle if you can manage the tradeoffs that go with it. Many people in the survivalist community have an Apocalyptic view of the world in which nuclear war, military occupation, plague, famine or the Christian End Times destroy society for years.

Let's leave the long term survivalist scenarios out for now. They are certainly worth considering, but right now I'm more interested in things on the level of Hurricane Katrina. The dislocation will probably be a matter of weeks, possibly months. Normal order will be restored eventually.

Consider two very important sorts of training - first aid and self defense. What do most instructions assume? When do these assumptions hold? What happens when they don't?

Most first aid courses teach triage, maintenance of vital signs, and stabilization. This is all very good. Under normal circumstances emergency medical services will show up in reasonable time and transport the patient to a hospital. Your job is to keep him or her alive until they get there and take over. What happens when the EMTs and the medevac helicopter aren't going to show up? Direct pressure on a wound or a tourniquet are great when they only need to be applied for a short time. They aren't permanent solutions. Cholera can kill rapidly. Immobilizing the fracture is a good start. Sooner or later it has to be set. These fall outside the parameters of normal emergency training but are very near fetched in a an intermediate-term event.

Some of the solutions also fall outside the law. Many of the measures in Where There Is No Doctor, Where There Is No Dentist, Ditch Medicine and Survival Nurse: Running and Emergency Nursing Station Under Adverse Conditions are full of useful material. Much of it would come under the heading of practicing medicine without a license in normal times. If there is no regular health care available it could save lives.

The list goes on. For minor incidents having a cell phone as well as a landline may be enough. When things get bad we rely on heroes like The Interdictor, who kept the OC3s running and got the real uncensored Truth out of New Orleans during the disaster. If the situation goes completely wahoonie-shaped the nearly forgotten but absolutely essential Amateur Radio Relay League never fails to keep vital traffic going. How many people have Ham radio licenses these days? I'm studying to get mine back.

Then there is the defense of your home, your loved ones and yourself.

What does most training assume?

Most people in the industrialized world can count on the existence of police. They won't show up in time to save you, but they will arrive later, take control of the scene, investigate crimes and collect the witnesses. They are responsible for upholding the peace and enforcing the law. Most of the time they are more interested in upholding the peace.

At its root self defense is what you do to keep a crime from happening. You need to keep yourself safe until the authorities show up and stabilize the situation.

This is reflected in the underlying lessons in most good self defense classes. Students are taught to use all necessary force to make themselves safe but no more than is required. Many or most places have duty to retreat provisions; if you are in a public place and you can leave a confrontation safely you should do so. World renowned courses like Massad Ayoob's LFI-1: Judicious Use of Deadly Force teach an excellent operational plan for defense of one's home.

  1. Get your family members to a safe-room in the house
  2. Take up a defensive position
  3. Contact the authorities
  4. Defend yourself if and only if the intruders approach the safe room
This makes a lot of sense under normal circumstances. You expose yourself to no un-necessary risk. The bad guys have to come to you. There is no good reason to risk your life over any sort of property. You have the advantage of whatever cover and concealment your home provides. Sooner or later the police will show up. If the criminals are still there, too bad for them.

What if the assumptions that make this a good strategy no longer apply?

If civil order has broken down as it did in New Orleans the police will not arrive, possibly for or weeks. When they do they may be more interested in disarming you and turning you out of your home than in protecting you from outlaws. In NOLA the police, National Guard and Blackwater mercenaries (unlawful combatants if the word means anything) have been doing just that. They've said that nobody will be allowed to have weapons except the authorities. Defending the disarmed population seems to be a relatively low priority.

Even if the police were there to do their normal job there may be no way to contact them. Telephones and the police dispatch system may not work.

If supplies are short your food, water, weapons, vehicles and medical supplies become a matter of life and death for you and your household. As Robert Heinlein said "If you don't think someone will kill over a can of tomatoes you've never been hungry".

Follow the normal procedures and you retreat from the street to your house. The intruders enter your house. You retreat to the safe room abandoning the food and water you need to survive. You try to call law enforcement. There is nobody to talk to and no phone service to talk to them on.

Clearly, the plan needs to be reconsidered.

If there are no authorities to help keep you safe, not that they have the means or any legal obligation to do so, you have to rely on yourself and the people around you. Organizing your friends and neighbors for mutual support in times of crisis makes survival much more likely for everyone. If nothing else it gives everyone a chance to sleep. More prepared people can do more by dividing the work. If there are children or casualties some can care for them while others stand guard, and still others do important day to day chores. If criminals show up they are more likely to be deterred by an organized group than by a single person no matter how well prepared.

I realize that the next bit may cross the line from legally safe advice to something on the wrong side of the law. No matter. The purpose here is to look at possibilities, not plan particular actions.

Even if your area's laws include a duty to retreat you have to weigh that against your safety. The further away from your final retreat you can stop a dangerous situation, the better off you usually are. If there is no law you will have to weigh possible future legal consequences against choosing a defensive perimeter that gives you the most safety. Menacing is a crime. Under extraordinary circumstances like the recent ones on the Gulf Coast the risk of a future arrest may pale compared to the reduced chance of being victimized by being visibly organized and armed.

A large portion of defensive tactics concerns taking control of a suspect and holding him until the police arrive. If that arrival could be a fortnight away you will have to modify them to take the realities into account. I leave the contingencies and responses as an exercise to the thoughtful reader.

Sooner or later the rule of law will be re-established. If you've been rounding up undesirables and hanging them from lampposts pour encourager les autres there will be consequences that you will not like. The common sense guideline still applies. Do what you need to to ensure your safety and health. Don't go out of your way to cause trouble.

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