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Realistic Self-Defense and the Armed Citizen, Part II

Realistic Self-Defense and the Armed Citizen, Part II

by Curt Bolding

Curt Bolding is a 16-year police veteran with experience spanning four jurisdictions in Illinois. Still active in his chosen profession, he currently serves as both a street officer and as a police control and arrest tactics instructor.

In Part I of this work, we discussed what options exist for the citizen who has chosen a firearm as a means of self-defense. As I pointed out at the end of Part I, we cannot realistically expect to be armed with a firearm at all conceivable times when the need for self-defense might arise. We will now explore what realistic options exist for the citizen who is assaulted when he or she is unarmed. You will need to find out exactly how the law reads in your own state, but most likely it’s very similar to Illinois in regards to the Citizen’s Use of Force (again, see Part I).

First let’s look at a potential victim through the eyes of Manny the Mope, local mugger and all-around malcontent. Manny keeps a sharp eye out for the local constabulary, and has a pretty good idea of how often a police patrol cruises through his favorite hunting grounds. All that remains is to select suitable prey, and wait until there are a minimum of witnesses (preferably none) before he makes his move. Enter stage right: tonight’s guest victim, Milton Milquetoast.

One of the first things to consider when pondering the aspects of self defense is how you appear to a potential criminal. Milton is 5’8”, 150 lbs. soaking wet, walks with his shoulders hunched forward, and peers around himself nervously a lot. Not exactly the picture of manly confidence, is he? Manny doesn’t mind; this is exactly the kind of pigeon he’s looking for. Now, we don’t really know what Milton’s thinking, but from his body language, it’s a safe bet that he’s not real happy about having to walk down Slum Street at midnight because his car broke down.

What can Milton do about his appearance in this situation? First, he doesn’t need to peer all around him like a first time tourist in New York. This action conveys nervousness. You can and should pay close attention to what’s going on around you all the time, but you don’t want to do it like Milton is. You can use your peripheral vision to keep watch on things just fine, unless you’re alerted to something behind you, in which case you obviously want take a sharp look. The idea here is to show anybody that’s looking at you that you’re paying attention, but that you’re confident while you’re doing so. Milton needs to work on his posture some, too; get those shoulders back. Hunched shoulders also convey nervousness, or at the very least a lack of confidence. A good posture indicates physical ability and confidence. I once worked with an officer no bigger than Milton, but he projected such a physical presence that when he arrived at a call, there was no question who was in charge. Almost anyone can cultivate this strength of presence.

The most important quality to have, by far, is a combat mindset. If you don’t read any of the rest of this article, read this. If you’re going to successfully defend yourself you must have the right mental attitude for survival. First you need to know what the law expects of you and how much force you’re allowed to use in defense of your person. Take a look back at Part I of this article for an example, then take a look at your own local statutes. Next you need to know how to properly articulate yourself. This is absolutely necessary because when the fight’s over, you’ll probably find yourself talking to a cop who’s trying to figure out what’s happened here. Was the guy following you for several blocks? Did he want something from you (your wallet)? Did he touch or grab you? Did he make any kind of statement (give me your wallet or die)? Or, (this is the big one): did he make you fear for your own safety and did you feel that it was absolutely necessary for you to use the reasonable amount of force needed to defend yourself from harm? The answer to that one better be YES, and you then need to be able to describe what he did, and what you did to defend yourself.

The combat mindset is your tool for staying alive and in one piece. You must be ready, willing and able to inflict severe physical harm to an assailant at any time. Your attitude must be that once this mope crosses the line, you then attack with full force and take him out. You do not “defend.” Get that word out of your mental vocabulary. What you want to do is wait for this guy to hang himself by crossing over the line. What is this line? Well, it’s like the kid in the schoolyard who challenges another. He draws a line in the sand and says to the other kid, “step over that line.” If the other kid does it, he gets walloped. This is the same thing, but it’s an imaginary, symbolic line. Incidentally, I use this same concept to teach the combat mindset to veteran police officers. Here’s how it goes:

Billy the Bum comes up to you on the street. “Hey, man, got a quarter?” “Not today,” and you walk away. “Hey, come on, not even a quarter?” and he starts walking along behind you (mistake #1). You ignore him but are still highly aware of his physical presence and movements. You’re preparing for combat mode. “Hey man, I know you’ve got some change,” and he steps around in front of you (mistake #2). “Get back!” you say in a commanding voice. “Hey, f*** you, man,” and he pokes you in the chest or grabs your lapel (mistake #3). He has now crossed the imaginary line in the sand. He has harassed you on the street, and begins following you. He steps around in front of you, detaining you illegally. Finally, he has touched you in an insulting or provoking manner, which would lead a reasonable person to believe that you must now “defend” yourself. And defend yourself is exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to describe the situation when you’re questioned about the incident. But that’s not your mindset, which so far Congress hasn’t been able to create any legislation against.

The guy might do more things than three before he gets to the imaginary line, or less. It doesn’t matter. You can see in the example above where the imaginary line is. And now, with mistake #3, Billy has just stepped over it. Why do I tell you all this, instead of just telling you to defend yourself? Because the biggest advantage of the combat mindset is in knowing that your actions are necessary and legally justified. Many conflicts take place in which at least one of the participants isn’t totally sure about what he’s doing and wondering if he’s going to get in trouble or not. Your chances of successfully “defending” yourself are vastly increased when you’re not hindered by thoughts of whether or not what you’re doing is justified. When you know that you’re justified, you will act without hesitation or any second thought. Therefore, you wait until he crosses the imaginary line, and then you attack full throttle.

When questioned, you were defending yourself. But in your own head, when Billy steps over the line, you are attacking. He solicited money from you, then he followed you, then he made physical contact. You are now satisfied that you are in reasonable apprehension of receiving further physical harm (by his touching or grabbing you) and you can articulate the circumstances leading up to the encounter, in which you did nothing wrong or unreasonable, and in fact tried to avoid the altercation. Your frame of mind is now that you attack him and take him out. Many martial arts schools teach you to deliver solid, telling techniques to your assailant, then run and get the hell out of there. I advocate the same thing, but make sure your delivery leaves your assailant incapable of attacking or pursuing you. Get away from him. Go to the nearest phone. If he is capable of pursuing you and does so, go into a public place if possible.

This is the combat mindset. Do not think to yourself that you will “defend” yourself. Think to yourself that if an assailant’s actions are enough to make you fear for your safety (a good phrase to remember), and he steps over the line, you are then going to shut his lights off. The reason I advocate martial arts training of some kind is that you want to be able to clobber him good with just a few fast, highly effective blows and get away. Lots of continuing, ineffectual blows make you look like the assailant to any witnesses who may be around. Do not continue to attack once the threat is ended. Go somewhere and call the police. Very seldom do the instigators of such crimes, even when they get their clocks cleaned, call the police thereafter. Calling the cops first isn’t a guarantee of exoneration for anyone, but it doesn’t hurt. When you talk to them, make sure the word “defend” gets in there. After all, you were defending yourself. I just don’t want you thinking like that. I want you thinking that you are going to remove your assailant as a threat with all the explosive power and ferocity at your disposal. These techniques will help keep you physically safe and hopefully out of too many hassles with the law. If you do get into trouble (some jurisdictions have ordinances against fighting in the streets, and I’ve seen both parties get fined), the combat mindset will provide you with the skills to survive.

It is beyond the scope of this article to attempt to teach you specific martial techniques. Seek out a self defense class or a martial arts studio. Your local park districts often have such classes that don’t cost a lot of money and run over the course of a summer. You can get exposed to self defense techniques that way and decide for yourself what the best way is to proceed. Get a friend to sign up with you; that way one of you can guilt-trip the other when you’re feeling lazy. Even if you just lift weights or run or bicycle, it’s going to improve how you feel about yourself physically, and this is where confidence comes from. Should Milton Milquetoast avail himself of Doctor Bolding’s prescription of some martial training, good tactics, self-confidence, and knowledge of the law, the odds of his escaping the above situation unscathed are greatly increased. Also greatly increased are Manny the Mope’s odds of going to jail and/or the hospital with a broken nose or his nuts kicked up into his throat.

Though it is distasteful to some, probably the very best option when confronted is to run, if possible. This is recommended by many martial arts studios, the idea being you only use your martial techniques when there is no other choice. It is well, when questioned about your part in an incident, if you can relate that you had no other options but to use physical force to defend yourself. If you try to run and can’t get away from the guy, it looks better if you tried that option before using force. On the other hand, I don’t want be out of breath when I fight the guy. This is a judgment call you’ll have to make for yourself. If you don’t run, it shouldn’t be any big deal, especially if you happen to have a sore foot or something that might keep you from running effectively.

Other considerations might be whether or not you want to carry some kind of weapon. A folding knife with a legal blade length is an option, but I’d still advocate getting some kind of martial training before you try to defend yourself in such a manner. Also, relatively few people are into the idea of cutting somebody open as a means of self defense. If you’re at all squeamish about this concept, don’t use it, because you won’t use it effectively.

Pepper spray is an excellent product now widely available. It is extremely effective, and it’s inexpensive. For ten bucks you can get a canister that holds more than you’ll probably ever need. Get the kind that sprays out in a powerful, compressed stream, not the stuff that comes out in a fog. They’ll tell you that the fog stuff covers a greater area, but what they don’t tell you is that even if there’s no wind, that stuff’ll drift unpredictably, often right back into the face of the person using it. As a police trainer I have found out, much to my dismay, that this is in fact the case. Get the liquid stream, and should you have to use it, your target is the eyes, nose, and mouth. Exposure to this area causes the eyes to slam shut, and irritates the nose and breathing passages, usually causing the afflicted to cough up large amounts of phlegm. Incidentally, as far as I know, there have never been any documented injuries as a result of pepper spray exposure, even on assailants who have asthma.

If you’ve got a big old dog and he happens to be with you at the time, this will often deter a bad guy. If you’ve got some little dinky yappy dog, though, don’t count on it. Carrying your keys in your hand with the points sticking out between your fingers is often suggested. I’m not a real big fan of that technique, but then I’ve never used it. I suspect the keys may tend to slide against the palm of your hand, so I don’t have a whole lot of confidence in this, but it’s better than nothing.

One of the best possible tactics in modern times is a cell phone. Not too many of us find it necessary to stroll down Slum Street at midnight, like Milton Milquetoast. But if Milton had a cell phone, he could have stayed in his car, locked the doors, and called a tow truck. A lot of people in that situation waste time thinking, “do I really want to pay for a tow truck?” Screw that. Get out of there. If the car’s broken down along Happy Lane in Mayberry, that’s a little different, and you can explore other options.

The final major consideration is what to do if confronted by an assailant with a weapon. Running, if possible, is best here. Many martial arts teach gun and knife takeaways, but you have to be highly skilled in order to make this work on the street, especially the knife work. I can only tell you that the choice here must rest with you. It may be best to hand over your wallet if that’s all he wants. If he wants more, you may decide to fight. Ladies, I refer you back several paragraphs to the combat mindset and trust that you now see why I say that you must be willing to inflict severe harm in defense of yourself. You must also be willing to receive wounds and continue fighting if you intend to survive; the thought of totally destroying your assailant foremost in your mind. Remember the progression of force which leads to the line in the sand, and you will have the mental advantage of knowing that you are right in what you do.

I hate having people ask me the best way to defend themselves and have to tell them something like “take a martial arts class,” even though I’m a firm believer in it. The fact is that not everybody has the time, the money, or the physical ability to become a competent martial artist, although you should at least try it out if you can. Another fact is that with proper training, anybody can become competent with a firearm. I would be willing to bet that if we interview all the anti-Bill of Rights activists, we’ll find that the vast, overwhelming majority have never been victims of violent crime. The right of the people to keep and bear arms has been infringed enough, and we must continue that fight in order to better ensure not only our own survival, but that of the people who disagree with us.

Disclaimer: This work is in no way intended to encourage or condone the violation of any law of any state. The author assumes no responsibility for any act of any person who intentionally or unintentionally misuses any of the information in this article; it is for academic study only. Finally, the author assumes no responsibility for the disappearance of any doughnuts left unattended in the author’s immediate vicinity.

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