The most important news story about the mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater during the new Batman film is also the one that will get the least attention.
That’s because it doesn’t say much about the crime … no dramatic details, no crushing stories of loved ones lost to a madman. But it does say what we could do to decrease the risk of future tragedies.
As security expert Jeffrey Slotnick explains in the Christian Science Monitor: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a football game, Disneyland, Six Flags Over America, or a rock concert. We need to be more vigilant. Americans simply don’t have the luxury of walking around any more without paying attention to what might be going on.”
Slotnick doesn’t mean that we have to act like paranoid fools. He means that we have to pay attention to our environment, sense when something is amiss and report suspicious activity to authorities.
As the investigation into the alleged shooter continues, there will be plenty of second-guessing in the media. Random observations about the shooter will emerge that will make many Americans think, “Why didn’t they report that to someone.”
Hindsight is 20/20. Americans are privileged to live in a society that is relatively (and I repeat, relatively) safe from violent crime. Most of us don’t think about being shot to death in a movie theater. Or on a college campus (Virginia Tech), or in high school (Columbine). And we most certainly don’t think about airplanes flying into our office building on a sunny, blue-skied morning.
This willful ignorance, and I use the term ignorance without negative connotations, is exactly what terrorists and psychopaths need to successfully execute their crimes. They need a public ignorant of the risk of violent crime, ignorant of the risk of terrorism and ignorant of the small clues that point to big, deadly plans.
Most of the time, the criminals get what they want. But every once in a while, one or more of us stand up and take responsibility for someone else’s safety.
- On Christmas Day in 2009, an al-Qaeda terrorist attempt to blow up an airplane approaching a Detroit airport was prevented when passengers noticed the terrorist trying to detonate plastic explosives in his underwear. Passengers identified the threat, tackled the suspect, snuffed out a small flame and saved themselves and the crew.
- In New York City in 2010, a terrorist plot to explode a car bomb was foiled when two street vendors noticed smoke coming from the vehicle and reported it to authorities.
- In Seattle last year, a jihadist plan to attack a Military Entrance Processing Station was averted when one of the men who was being recruited to participate in the crime decided to report the plan to authorities.
- In Colorado late last year, a man who attempted to sexually assault a woman in a grocery store restroom was tackled and restrained by shoppers and employees as he tried to flee the scene of the crime.
When we talk about “fighting back” here at Fight-Back Files, we most often are referring to protecting ourselves in the face of a violent physical attack. But we can’t limit our idea of fighting back to protecting only ourselves, and we can’t limit our idea of fighting back to physical self-defense.
As the Christian Science Monitor makes clear, we as Americans have a collective responsibility to help keep one another safe. That means looking out for yourself and those around you. That means noticing the signs of impending mischief and reporting it to authorities before the crime takes place.
Remember: The perspective of Fight-Back Files is that training in physical self-defense is the only sensible response to a dangerous world. But if you are in a situation where you have to defend yourself physically, your personal protection strategy has already failed. The safest way to defend yourself is to never be in a position where you have to defend yourself.
That’s where our collective common sense comes in. Don’t pretend that a violent personal crime or bigger tragedy could never happen in your neck of the woods. It could and it will. Stay alert for mischief. If something seems odd or amiss, report it immediately to local authorities.
These are not new guidelines. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a campaign last year to encourage citizen participation in our collective safety. The campaign is called “If you see something, say something.” Good advice.
To see more videos from DHS, check out the department’s YouTube channel.
A young mother in Dallas, Texas, found herself in a terrifying jam late last month while waiting in a Starbucks parking lot for her husband to return with coffee.
With her one-year-old daughter in the car with her, the woman was sitting in the passenger’s seat when a stranger jumped into the driver’s seat. The perpetrator, who had just stolen a shirt from a nearby store, hijacked the car and sped down a highway, driving straight into a lane of oncoming traffic.
After the women begged and begged for the thug to let her and her daughter go — to no avail, of course, that’s not what thugs do — her gut instinct kicked in.
“I just beat the living daylights out of him as hard as I could – in his head … just punching in his head … screaming too,” the woman told 9 News.com in Colorado.
The man eventually pulled over and let the two out of the car before speeding off.
One of the fundamental rules of surviving an attack is to never let the attacker take you away from the initial crime scene. We don’t know the intent of the man in this case, whether he was just using the car as a getaway vehicle because he stole a shirt, or whether he had malicious intent concerning the woman and her child. Because the latter was possible, the woman did the right thing. There’s no way to know what would have happened if she would have sat there passively, using the time to beg and plead as some victims would.
On the other hand, she also took a big risk beating on the driver while he was driving the car. News reports didn’t mention the speed of the vehicle, but a collision at even moderate speed could have killed all three of them.
These are the intellectual difficulties we often encounter in self defense scenarios. Rarely is the correct action clear and apparent. We must make a difficult choice, make it quickly and act decisively.
Thank god this case turned out the way it did. The vehicle didn’t crash and the woman and child escaped the perpetrator unharmed. Like many other cases, this could have easily ended differently with a violent crash, an assault or even murder.
But for now, a woman and her one-year-old daughter are safe, due to the woman’s willingness to fight back. And that’s the best possible outcome of them all.
Crime details reported by 9 News.com.
A 16-year-old put up the fight of her life earlier this month to escape a rape attempt in a public bathroom in Bloomfield, New Mexico. The case illustrates three key points in self defense and personal protection.
Police say the young girl was with family in a public park when she went to use the restroom. When she was in a stall, the restroom lights went out. The girl said she peeked out of the crack in the door and saw a figure, but she thought it was another woman. So she walked out of the stall and began to wash her hands.
Point one: No one wants to live life paranoid about being attacked. But this scene sounds like something out of a bad movie — when those lights go out, and you see a figure through the crack of the stall door, you just know something horrible is going to happen. This young lady apparently didn’t. She left the relative safety of a locked stall and exposed herself to the attack. This kind of behavior stems from a widespread belief that crime is something that happens to other people, not us. You don’t have to live in fear. But don’t live in denial, either.
As she was at the sink, the thug grabbed her and the attempted assault was put into progress. She kicked him in the groin, kicked him in several other places and as the scuffle continued, bit his hand when he tried to muffle her screams. Eventually, she got away.
Point two: This young woman deserves a standing ovation. After her initial mistake put her in great jeopardy, her will to get away and her adrenaline took over, and she kicked and bit the man during a violent scuffle in a dark bathroom. This is the kind of reaction that saved her from a lifetime of trauma, and this is the kind of reaction that could have saved her life.
After getting out of the bathroom, the teen waved down police and the thug was soon apprehended. According to court records, the guy said he was drinking and gave a few other excuses for his behavior.
Point three: Alcohol and crime mix. We’ve seen it here on Fight-Back Files again and again. Where there is alcohol, there is a higher chance of crime. Even if it’s at a public park in the middle of the day.
Crime details reported by The Daily Times.
More Fight-Back Files on groin kicks:
More Fight-Back Files on alcohol and crime:
Before the rise of mixed martial arts fighting, most people were introduced to self defense through traditional martial arts, like karate or tae kwon do or kung fu. But today we have a variety of “reality” self defense systems and mixed martial arts gyms, which are challenging the traditional martial arts with a tempting value proposition: They’ll get you in shape and develop your fighting / self defense skills without all the baggage associated with traditional martial arts.
That leaves average people like me, people whose primary interest in the martial arts is self defense, with a decision to make: Do you stick with the traditional martial arts or do you jump into the newer training styles, like kickboxing or krav maga?
First let’s deal with the “baggage” I mentioned above. You have to understand that one person’s baggage is another person’s treasure. Just because some people consider aspects of a training style “baggage” doesn’t mean that you will. But I’ll talk about my own experience, with the caveat that your experience and your perception of your own experience may be much different than my own.
Aside from a little judo when I was a kid, I didn’t train in any martial art until my young son began to show an interest. Then, like many fathers, I answered his curiosity by signing him up for tae kwon do classes. After a few months of watching him train from the sidelines, I jumped into the fray myself and began training at the age of 42. In martial arts years, that’s like 110. But aside from the inevitable sore muscles, bumps and bruises, I loved it and trained with passion for about two years.
While I was training at that school, a local gym began to change its focus from fitness to self defense and fighting. They offered classes in krav maga — which is a martial art based on hand-to-hand military combat and boiled down to brutal, raw self defense — in addition to MMA sport training, consisting of muay thai kick boxing and jujitsu. The man who owns the gym is also the head krav maga instructor, with the additional qualification of being the lead defensive tactics instructor for the Pittsburgh Police force.
I thought the whole deal sounded interesting, so I tried a few classes and got a feel for what goes on in “reality” based systems and MMA gyms. Comparing my limited experience at the new school with a couple years at the traditional school, here’s what I can report:
Tae kwon do training vs. krav maga and MMA
- Physical fitness. The training in the MMA gym is just as physically demanding as the training in the traditional martial arts school. With continuous training, you WILL get into shape, probably the best shape of your life. And you will be prepared to fight for your life.
- Complexity. The techniques you train in krav maga are less physically complicated than traditional martial arts, at least tae kwon do. It will still take dedicated training and repetition to get them right, but they are accessible to just about anybody, whereas the complex components of tae kwon do — spinning hook kicks and such — take either exceptional talent and a couple years of training or average talent and many, many years of training. After about two years of training the basics, my middle-age body was beginning to have trouble with the higher belt acrobatics of tae kwon do.
- Punching. The focus on boxing in the MMA gym is invaluable. If an average person is attacked by a predator, the most natural instinct is to punch. Although my tae kwon do school placed more emphasis on punching than many tae kwon do schools, punching isn’t a big part of the game. In muay thai kickboxing, it is. Same with krav maga. You train how to punch, how to punch hard and where to punch to injure your assailant. To be fair, tae kwon do is known for its kicking, not its punching. Other traditional martial arts place more emphasis on punching, but to the best of my knowledge they never rise to the level of boxing.
- Self defense productivity. When you train in krav maga, you spend most of your time on direct self defense techniques. This is usually not the case in traditional martial arts because you spend so much time on patterns (called kata in karate). Patterns are choreographed martial movements strung together to form a type of martial dance, a dance consisting of kicking and punching thin air. While I have no doubt that the practice of patterns will improve technique, I prefer to spend my time learning how to hurt people, not perfecting the nuances of complex movements.
- Self defense scenarios. Krav self defense training covers more scenarios than self defense in my old school. In tae kwon do we trained punch defenses, knife defenses and kick defenses. However, the more likely attack on the street, especially from a sexual predator or kidnapper, is going to come from a bear hug, a head lock, a strangle hold or a wrist grab. There are also many more possibilities if the attacker knocks you to the ground. This is actually a big topic for another post, but for now, let’s just say that the more self defense scenarios you train for, the better off you’re going to be, and krav trains more scenarios than my tae kwon do school did.
Now, there are many benefits to traditional martial arts training beyond self defense. Most traditional schools stress things like discipline, respect, courage, perseverance, etc. , especially with kids. It’s all good. No doubt about it. Discussing those things with children can burn the ideas into their brains and at least get them thinking about what it means to have good character. I didn’t hear any of that at the new school. But, as an adult, I don’t train in the martial arts to build character. I train to defend myself and my loved ones should the unexpected come to pass.
Do simple but brutal techniques provide good self defense?
Finally, what about self defense? Can the fighting skills of MMA and the self defense techniques of krav maga match the traditional martial arts in self defense situations? From my limited experience, I have to answer yes.
Just for kicks, stop your channel surfing next time you see an MMA fight on television. (It’s brutal, I know.) Watch those guys pound each other for a minute or two and ask yourself whether they could handle themselves if attacked by your average street thug. The answer is a categorical yes. [EDIT: The day after this post was published, a story broke about MMA fighter Jon Jones chasing down a thief in New Jersey the afternoon of UFC 128. According to reports, Jones kicked the suspect’s legs out from underneath him and helped hold him down until police arrived.]
But you don’t have to be a trained MMA fighter to pack a brutal punch in the face of crime. Check out the guy to the left. He’s a criminal with a long rap sheet who cut the telephone lines of a house before breaking through the window last week. The homeowner came home from work and started to fix himself a sandwich when the criminal approached from behind and told him to get on the ground.
The homeowner turned and slugged the guy, and then jumped into an MMA-style ground and pound. You can tell by looking at the thug who got the better of that situation. The news report doesn’t mention whether the homeowner was trained, but I got the feeling he wasn’t. He was just a guy who knew how to use his fists.
Are traditional arts still necessary for self defense?
So where does all this leave people like you and me, average people who will probably never earn a fifth-degree black belt in a traditional martial art and will never get anywhere near an MMA cage? People who are just looking for a little insurance should we meet up with one of the many thugs in our midst?
There is no single answer. I know many good people from my old tae kwon do school who absolutely love the training and will probably do it until they are too old to drive to class. They are second, third, fourth and fifth-degree black belts who are strong, fit and more than capable of defending themselves against your average criminal attack. If this is the route you decide to go, you may love it as much as they do.
As for me … I’m convinced that the more recent self defense and fighting systems — such as krav maga and MMA — are perfectly suited for people like me. I respect all martial arts, but I think the simple, brutal and realistic techniques I see in the new gym will get me to my goal faster and more efficiently than the other alternatives.
But that’s just me ….
If you’ve ever had a squirming baby smack his head into your nose, you know that a head-butt can hurt like hell … and that’s a lesson to remember.
A teenager in the UK did pretty much the same thing to a man who attacked her at night along a roadside as she walked home. The man grabbed her from behind and put his hand over her mouth. She tried to kick him and slammed the back of her head into his face. That ended it, and she took off.
Local police told the Manchester Evening News: “Thankfully she had the presence of mind to fight him off and raise the alarm.”
The backward head-butt is a very simple self-defense tactic. Picture someone behind you at close range, his arms wrapped around your body in a bear hug. The back of your head is inches from his face, and the back of your head is much, much harder than his nose. Simply lean your body and head forward as much as possible and slam your head backward into his face, trying to hit the nose. Do it two or three times or until he lets go.
Here’s a video that shows the basic move at a slow speed … followed up by a groin strike and takedown.
Like all self-defense techniques, the head-butt is easier said than done. Get proper training gear and practice — or better yet, sign up to have a professional show you how it’s done.
But in a pinch, know that an attack from behind can be stopped just by using your head. Literally.
The guy pictured below is accused of attempted robbery and related crimes stemming from an attack in a Massachusetts Walmart store. According to the victim, the suspect punched and beat him — in the middle of Walmart — in an attempt to steal his money.
The suspect and the victim were standing in a cashier’s line when the victim was cashing a tax refund check. The cashier announced — apparently a little too loudly — how much the check was worth, and the thieving suspect took notice.
After the victim collected his money, the suspect jumped him and punched him repeatedly, demanding the money. In self defense, the victim grabbed a can of Campbell’s chunky beef stew and smashed the can of stew against the suspect’s head. The can exploded and chunks of beef splattered on the victim. But the damage to the would-be thief was done.
Check out the gash on the suspect’s upper left forehead. He ran bleeding from the store just as police pulled up.
We’ve seen a lot of environmental weapons used in self defense here at Fight-Back Files, from pens and rocks to keys and bug spray. But canned beef stew takes the prize.
The lesson, as always, is simple. If you’re in a dangerous jam, grab the closest thing you can find and swing it, stab it, throw it or spray it. Some people may claim that their hands should be registered as lethal weapons, but I’ll always place my bet on a heavy aluminum can.
Crime description reported by the Eagle-Tribune.
More Fight-Back Files on Environmental Weapons:
Craigslist first came to my attention last spring when Washington state resident James Sanders was shot to death in his own home during a home invasion.
Sanders had offered a diamond ring for sale on Craigslist for $1,050. A man and woman showed up at his home to buy the ring, but the male buyer pulled a gun, two additional suspects barged in to help, and Sanders was eventually shot to death in front of his wife and two young sons.
The Sanders murder made national headlines, which sent a warning signal about the dangers of private transactions through the media. Maybe some people took note. But not enough.
Rarely a week goes by without a report of a violent crime set up by a private transaction. Craigslist is not the culprit. Any other online classified ad system or traditional newspaper presents the common street thug with the same opportunity. Find a buyer or a seller, craft a plan, meet in a private place and walk away with free merchandise or cash. Sometimes the crime goes off without a hitch. Other times the victim isn’t so lucky.
Late last year a 26-year-old man was shot to death in Georgia after he tried to sell his motorcycle. He met the “buyer” at his home and the buyer killed him and took the bike.
Earlier this month a Michigan teenager was shot to death after posting a “wanted” ad for a cell phone. He invited the seller to his home and met him in the front yard. Moments later the seller shot the teen and stole the $95 he agreed to pay for the phone.
Please take note: In all three of the above crimes, the buyer and seller agreed to meet at the victim’s house, where the criminal could pull off the crime in relative privacy.
In yet another Craigslist case last week, a 27-year-old Wisconsin woman answered a help-wanted ad posted by a New York man for “domestic assistance.” The man tied her up, beat her, raped her and told her she was going to be his sex slave.
Private transactions are common in our economy. There’s no reason not to sell valuables you don’t want, and there’s no reason not to purchase used goods. In many circumstances, you can complete these transactions on sites like Ebay without interacting with the buyer or seller. When transactions require face-to-face contact, however, caution is required.
In all circumstances, use common sense personal protection techniques. Take someone with you, meet in daylight, in a public place, in open view of others. Crowded restaurants, open parking lots, local parks — anyplace where your transaction will be easily witnessed by lots of other people. Criminals are a lot less likely to go through with their plans if they know they will be caught.
Other types of transactions, such as service ads for “domestic assistance,” should be viewed with extreme suspicion. Maybe the poor guy does need help because he has no family, no friends and no service agencies to help out.
But maybe not.
More Fight-Back Files on Craigslist Crime:
A colleague of mine was looking for her car in the parking lot of the Pittsburgh International Airport this past week when she realized she was being followed. It was about noon, and she had just returned home from a business trip.
Pulling a load of documents and a computer in her luggage, she was walking along a row of cars, looking for hers, when she noticed a man in a white vehicle slowly driving along directly behind her. When she stopped, he stopped. When she moved forward, he moved forward. It suddenly became clear that he was not just looking for a parking space.
Could it be an attempted abduction in broad daylight?
Sometimes we think that daylight shields us from harm. After all, it is true that most bad things happen after sundown. Especially late at night after the bad guys have had a few beers. So when something fishy starts to happen in the light of day, in a public place, it can seem surreal. My colleague was confused and frightened, but being who she is, she decided to confront the man.
She turned to face him and aggressively shouted, “What do you want?”
He wasn’t shaken. “You wanna ride to your car?” He was a big guy. Lots of muscle and girth.
For a second she wondered if the guy could be an airport employee working a shuttle system. But he was in an unmarked car, and the Pittsburgh airport runs shuttle buses, not cars.
“No!” she shouted, and continued walking.
Her first hunch was right. It was an attempted abduction in process.
She walked for another few seconds and found her car. She got in, and he passed. She locked her doors, took off, and reported the incident to security.
Faced with an unnerving situation, my colleague did everything right. She turned and faced the man so she knew what he looked like (and he knew that she could identify him). She displayed aggression, shouting a question at him and shouting back a response to his.
All of these things demonstrated that she was not going to go easy, that she would put up a fight.
The one thing she could have done, the one thing that probably would have ended the situation sooner, was use her cell phone.
Using cell phones for self defense
What would the perpetrator have done if, as soon as she noticed she was being followed, she pulled out her cell phone, held it to her ear and turned to face him? He would have thought she was reporting him to police. He would have thought that time was on his side, and he probably would have burned rubber out of there.
It’s not a guaranteed solution — predators are insane and often won’t act in rational self interest — but a cell phone in hand can deter many would-be criminals, even if the crime is in progress.
Earlier this month a female student at the University of Delaware was followed into her dorm by a stranger intent on sexual assault. She was able to text her resident assistant for help, and the man was scared away.
Also this month a woman in Niagara, Canada, was being sexually assaulted when she was able to dial 911. She kept the phone on during the attack, which gave emergency responders the signal they needed to identify the woman’s location. She was rescued and the perpetrator was arrested.
Whether you’re dealing with a threat or saving yourself when you’re under attack, your cell phone can be your very best weapon.
Predators are creative. There’s no way to predict how they will attack. One guy may approach from the front in full view and ask you an innocent question or two to lower your guard — Got the time? How ’bout a light? — before lunging at you with a series of punches. Others prefer more stealth.
The one tactic I see over and over again in news stories is one I call the grab and drag. He sneaks up from behind, grabs you by the hair, around the neck or around the shoulders before dragging you to a nearby destination. The destination could be a wooded area, behind a building, behind a dumpster, or even to a waiting car or van. Just this past week:
- A guy in Pittsburgh jumps a woman and pulls her into the woods.
- Another guy in Orlando pulled a woman by the hair into a nest of trees.
- A criminal in Connecticut jumped a woman from behind and pulled her into a patch of bushes.
Each of these crimes was executed in the same way: approach from behind, grab and drag. The criminal has the advantage of catching the victim off guard. Before the victim realizes what’s going on, she’s out of public view and far less likely to be saved by passers-by.
I don’t know all the details of the crimes above, but one factor that is common in these attacks is a distracted victim — one who is talking on a cell phone or listening to an iPod. An assault victim in Australia last week even made a point of warning others about the perils of walking with ear buds in your ears and music in your brain.
When out for a walk or jog, it’s imperative to know what’s going on around you. Keep an eye on places ahead where someone could hide, like behind a building or tree. Turn around once in a while to look behind you. Don’t listen to music or talk on the telephone — if you do, you can’t hear the thug approaching from behind. It’s far easier to avoid an attack than to defend yourself against one.
If you are grabbed, struggle like crazy to get free before you’re dragged out of site. Here are two videos that could help.
This first is an escape from a rear bear hug. On the final move in this video, the man lifts the legs of the assailant. That part isn’t necessary. Simply standing and twisting inward toward the assailant will knock him off balance.
The next clip is for escaping a side headlock. The technique is similar. The point is to trip the victim by getting your leg behind his and pushing him backward over your leg.
Please keep in mind that these techniques are easier demonstrated than done. In a real assault, the assailant will be moving quickly, pulling you off balance, and you’ll be frightened beyond belief, which can freeze your ability to respond. Get professional training if at all possible.
But always, always stay aware of your surroundings, and keep the music at home. The grab and drag only works if you’re caught off guard. If you sense someone approaching before he gets there, scream “NO” and run as fast as you can to safety.
The town of Gilbert, Arizona, is struggling with a big problem — a 41 percent increase in sexual assaults over the last year.
Police report that there doesn’t seem to be a common thread among the assaults, meaning there doesn’t appear to be a serial sex offender on the loose. What does tie many of them together, however, is the circumstances under which the assaults took place.
In half of the crimes, at least one of the people involved were drinking.
Lt. Mike Angstead explained the problem to The Arizona Republic. “We run into issues where they get so intoxicated that they pass out. A lot of times people are taking drugs and alcohol. It impairs their memory, their judgment and their ability to defend themselves.”
The problem is not confined to Gilbert, Arizona, of course. The link between alcohol and violent crime is well established.
Alcohol and safety don’t mix
We live in a culture that makes few attempts to draw the line between a drink at dinner and drinking to get intoxicated. College campuses are particularly prone to the problem. That’s why we see an annual spike in free self defense seminars in August and September when students return to school.
As helpful as those seminars can be, self defense training won’t cut it when you don’t have the balance, strength, stamina or motor coordination to escape a sexual assault.
Most adults can enjoy an alcoholic drink responsibly. But the sad truth is that too much alcohol — generally more than one or two drinks — doesn’t pay dividends for fitness, it doesn’t pay dividends for judgment, and it doesn’t pay dividends for self defense.
Play it safe. Just stay sober.
More Fight-Back Files on alcohol and violent crime:
- Pittsburgh woman fights off attempted rape with knees and keys
- Spring Break Daytona: first week, six rapes
- Another link between alcohol and violent crime
Assaults reported by The Arizona Republic.