All posts tagged self-defense

No, it’s not a purse! And I thought “Coyote Brown” would be a somewhat manly color.. We all carry a number of items in our pockets or some kind of a bag. If you had a purse, what would you carry in it? Yes, I am addressing men here, but this article does apply to both genders. What essential items should everyone carry? (Scroll down for a video!)

As a pilot, I have studied how accidents happen. They don’t. An accident is almost always a succession of small incidents leading to a life-threatening situation. Stop the chain reaction early, and you won’t even know how you could have died that day.

In selecting what items you should carry on your person, you should ask yourself what could help you turn a potential major problem into a minor annoyance. Nobody wants to carry a backpack full of survival items all day. Though you should have one in the trunk of your car, as soon as you step away from it, you are left with nothing useful. Basic human needs are water, fire, food, shelter and safety. As the size of your bag diminishes to that of a small pouch or an already overloaded purse, you must select your essential items very carefully:

Water: Obviously, you are not going to carry water in a pouch. A gallon jug in the car is a must, but carrying any on you might prove difficult. You should however have a small bottle of water purification tablets. The odds that you might have to use it in your lifetime are slim (because you have a water filter in your bug-out bag, right?), but in a hot climate, exerting yourself, water can be a life saver. It only takes your car to break down on an isolated road and a few miles of walking to become dehydrated, and that can be the first step in our accident progression sequence. I remember a show on television where a couple crashed their jeep in New Mexico, away from the road. They reached a river, but the woman refused to drink for fear of contamination. Her husband did drink and got sick. He recovered nicely. She is on dialysis with permanent kidney damage. Water purification pills or a few drops of bleach would have made a world of difference in the way she lives now.

Fire: A small Bic lighter will serve you well. I don’t care if you smoke or not, that isn’t the point. I complement it with a magnesium fire starter, which can start a fire in almost any condition and will last for years.

Food:I do not carry any food. A candy bar might be a good thing to have if you need a short boost of energy, but I choose not to have one, as I would be tempted to eat it daily! I certainly don’t want to pack a reserve around my waist, so, no candy for me. If you have the self-control to pack a protein bar and only eat it in an emergency, by all means, do so.

Shelter:We limit ourselves here to staying dry. A tiny plastic emergency poncho or space blanket will protect you from the rain. Being soaked can quickly lead to hypothermia. If you need to get somewhere on foot, you probably have enough concerns as it is without added discomfort.

Safety:Physical safety also means health. If you need medication on a daily basis, make sure you have a few pills on you at all times (Don’t forget your prescription). I also highly suggest a small first-aid kit, including a good antiseptic like Betadine or equivalent. If not for yourself, you might be able to help someone else; especially when kids are around, a few band-aids are always welcome.

Other:Get some cordage. I suggest 550 paracord, at least 25ft. A few nylon tie-wraps are great too. Another must-have item is a pocket knife, which you will carry, of course, in your pocket. I like the small Spyderco folding knives with a 2-1/2″ blades. They are very handy and super-sharp right out of the box. Don’t forget a flashlight. Prefer the LED type, with at least 100 lumens. They usually require two CR123 batteries. Mine is a Streamlight, with two power settings and a strobe mode, great for self-defense.

Depending on where you live and what you do, you might want to add specific items to your pouch. Remember that if it’s too big or too heavy, you won’t take it with you, which defeats it’s purpose. I used to carry a few of the above in my pockets, or in bigger bags I might happen to carry. I almost never had them all on me. Finally, I decided to get a Maxpedition pouch and put them all together. Have a look:

Us humans are masters of self-deception. I know organic food proponents who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day.. The same applies to disaster preparedness. If you deem yourself a “prepper,” (I learned the word only recently), you can’t pick and choose your favorite areas of preparation. Our goal is survival, so health should be our main concern. That implies a healthy diet and regular exercise. You might have the best gear, food and weapons, but if your body isn’t ready, your chances of survival are slim.

I see many individuals storing gear and food in huge amounts, but disregarding the possibility of a bug-out. I am guilty of the opposite extreme. I have no food stored and all my preparations emphasize mobility. That is something I need to balance with enough supplies to stay put for at least a month. It wasn’t so much of a problem when I was single, but now I need to think about a few people. If you must leave your house in a hurry, you need to know what to take with you, and there might be no time then to run around frantically stuffing everything in a bag. Here in Florida, tornadoes and hurricanes come to mind. There might be nothing to come back to, and in case of a tornado, no time to gather essential items. On the other hand, leaving your house might not be a safe option, in which case you need enough food, water, and probably a generator with enough gas. You should be ready for both eventualities.

I remember an interview on the eve of Y2K. The journalist asked a man and a woman if they were prepared and how. The woman had stores of food, water, gear, and was well prepared. The man just said “I bought a gun so I can steal her stuff.” You should have seen her face! She had prepared in the areas she was comfortable with and probably didn’t like guns. Another perfect example of selective preparedness.

Being prepared makes you a target for those who are not. Most survivalists are probably armed, and for good reasons. Do they practice enough? Self-defense is an all-encompassing endeavor. Having a weapon is essential, but can you defend yourself without it? Relying on it is self-deception. You are probably more likely to be caught off guard than ready. Yes, that means you need to practice a real martial art (read my other posts to understand what I mean by “real”), sweat and endure pain and fear on a weekly basis. It’s not comfortable and that is why most people don’t do it. It also means to be in good enough shape to move your body efficiently, more sweat, daily..

I would rather be a little prepared for everything rather than highly so in one area. Specialization works in civilized times when trading services is possible. During emergencies, being a jack-of-all-trades will serve you better. We like to be comfortable and avoid doing things that bother us. The most successful people are those who can consistently transcend that behavior.

If you are reading this, I probably don’t need to convince you that you should have an emergency management plan and the supplies to implement it. What I am suggesting is that you examine your plan for missing preparations you conveniently forget about or reschedule to the near future (never).

Members of your family might not care at all about your “antics” and have no idea about what is in those plastic bins you have in the garage. Women are excellent self-deceivers, and kids only care about their world and video games. They might even laugh at you. You are the Lone Ranger here. There might be areas of preparedness that you are avoiding because of what they might say. Be reasonable while making sure you cover everything. Consider that if they say that you have too much stuff, they are probably right. Don’t go from “prepper” to hoarder.

Preparedness shouldn’t occupy all your thoughts and time, but realize that there is a lot to consider, and a substantial investment to make to cover all your bases. The good news is, once you are ready and organized, you only need to keep track of expiration dates on perishable items (including batteries and gas), which doesn’t take much time at all. As to a healthy diet, exercise and martial arts, you will probably gain years of active lifespan. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Two weeks completed! Almost, I am about to do Yoga X on my day off, since I skipped it a few days ago and did Ab Ripper X instead.

To my surprise, I gained 5Lbs the first ten days! Disappointing, since I am hoping to drop 15Lbs during the twelve weeks. It turns out that this isn’t unusual at the beginning of each phase. The body reacts to soreness by storing water everywhere. I did reduce my calories intake a bit, and bingo, I am back down to 203.5Lbs. I know such small changes mean nothing, but it keeps me motivated. I hope to reach 195Lbs by mid July. That would be of course more than a 5Lbs fat loss, since I am also putting on muscle mass. I did replace Kenpo X by a systema class plus Ab Ripper X, and it easily made up for it. I was wondering about dropping Yoga this week, but I am committed to this program, and I can’t start cheating now.

Creatine: I got myself a kilo of creatine. It definitely seems to help getting a few more reps at the end, especially when doing abs. I didn’t load as much as product manufacturers suggest (20g/day for 5-7 days), but did 15g/day for five days. Now I take 5g 30 minutes before a workout.

Kenpo X: I have much to say about Kenpo X. Consider it a cardio workout, and nothing else. The P90X book calls Kenpo a “raw street fighting style.” I disagree. Do not hope to use your Kenpo X to defend yourself, or you might get in trouble. The punches are ‘stop-and-back’ classical karate style with a lot of tension. There are a couple problems associated with that. First, why hurt your joints by stopping your arm in mid air and pulling back? This sudden reversal of kinetic energy is wasteful and pulls quite a bit on your joints. Second, when you punch someone, you want the energy generated by mass and movement to transfer to your target, not bounce right back to you. Translation: You must keep a loose shoulder for your punch to be efficient. Instead of stop-and-back, I punch in a circular or elliptical motion. I do not slow down my punches at any time during this motion. If I was to hit something, most of the energy would be transfered. Same for the blocks. If you don’t have to block, don’t. Redirect attacks with circular motion. I try to keep constant motion during Kenpo X, no linear back-and-forth movements. You could do the same for kicks, but I left that part unchanged. After all, this is not a self defense workout, but a cardio one. I might post a video here later to explain those changes.

Legs and Back: Probably the easiest of the resistance series for me. Easiest doesn’t mean easy.. I think my daily bicycle rides, though short, helped me quite a bit. Not much to say here, just that it is a sound, classic workout, like most of the others.

X Stretch: I haven’t tried yet. The last day of weeks 1 through 4 is supposed to be either off or X Stretch. Since I skipped a couple days, I had to catch up during my day off.

After two weeks of training, I can’t see any difference in my body shape yet, and it is too soon for that. I am just happy to be sticking with the program. 1:15 of exercise a day actually takes much more time. Consider meal preparations (6/day), shopping, calorie counting on, more showers, more laundry… So, I estimate more like a 2:00 to 2:30 daily commitment. I still try to go to my Systema class once or twice a week.

Two more weeks and I will be posting about the recovery week four and my results at the end of phase one. And now, on to Yoga X. I hate that one… Oh well…

I finally decided to get myself a new body! Well, sort of.. I have been practicing Systema for five years now, and reached a plateau which I deem to be physical. Problem is, I find it very hard to stay motivated as far as working out goes.. Forget going to the gym, although there is a lot of eye candy at mixed gender venues. Let’s face it, I need structure, something to stick to, a plan of some sort. So, I searched the net for something that would suit my needs.

Everything seemed to point to P90X. It is a very hard program, 90 days, about 1:15 a day of strenuous workouts, along with a nutrition plan that probably will make my French ancestors turn in their graves. The box came, containing twelve DVDs, a nutrition book and workout book. The only things you need are a pull-up bar (you’ll be doing a lot of those!) and dumbbells. I thought it would be one DVD per week, but you actually use different disks every day.

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Looking at the nutrition book left me a bit puzzled. For the first month, I am supposed to eat 3000 calories a day, 20% fats, 30% carbohydrates, and 50% proteins. Let me tell you, that little fat and carbs is nothing. I find it difficult to keep them down, while consuming enough proteins. I don’t think I could do it without Whey protein powder. If you are thinking about getting into P90X, or any similar exercise regimen, plan on spending good money on quality food and supplements.

I am now 6’2”, 200Lbs. Not bad for a 43yo, but I could bulk up a bit, especially on the arms, and lose enough belly to see my six-pack abs (I know they are in there somewhere). I probably won’t have to lose any weight, just redistribute it. You won’t see my before photos yet, because I don’t like them. I will post them later, when I see some visible improvements. Who wants to see a half naked middle-aged Frenchman anyway, right?

Here is a brief overview of my first few days, and what I think of the different workouts:

Ab Ripper X: Only sixteen minutes long, you do it along with other workouts. I have always been good at abs, so no problem there, I can almost keep up with these guys, but for some reps in the last five minutes. You really feel a nice burn with these exercises, lower and upper abs, the later which I seem to have disregarded in the past, given the pain I feel now. There is only one way to get a six-pack, and that is to lower you percentage of body fat to at least 10% (15% for women). No amount of exercise will do it. Ab Ripper X though is certainly a good start.

Plyometrics: It’s all about jumping around, up and down. My legs are still sore from the day before last. One hour is pretty hard. I hit the pause button a few times to drink water and dry myself with a towel. Your heart rate goes way up, and you sweat buckets. I felt pretty good after, more from the accomplishment of finishing it than the workout itself. It’s a hell of a way to start the day.

Chest and Back: That’s when the dumbbells come in. I got a set at Goodwill for $23, the kind that use sliding plates. Bad idea… You end-up changing weights all the time, pressing the pause button every few minutes. A one hour workout takes one and a half. I need to get a few pairs: 10Lbs, 25Lbs, and 30Lbs, for now. 25Lbs is what I use the most right now. My friend Ted loaned me a pull-up bar you put on a door frame. It works fine, but I have seen better ones, allowing a wider grip, at Walmart, of all places. Right now I can’t do even one pull-up, so I put my feet on a chair. If one word defines “Chest and Back,” it’s “push-ups.” I did 23 on the first day, but I know I can go up to 30 on a good day.

Shoulders and Arms: Bring on the weights! Lots of curls, triceps, dips with a chair. It is hard (I suspect none of these twelve workouts will be easy..), but quite fun. My left shoulder is much weaker than my right, due to a dislocation a few years ago. My elbow joints hurt on the inside, I wonder what I could do to take care of that.. That is one workout however I will be looking forward to.

Yoga X: I’ll be honest here, the first half really sucks. I am as flexible as a cutting board and could do practically none of it. The book says it is based on Hatha Yoga, but the first half is more like Iyengar, which I do not like. I prefer a more dynamic yoga, without so many balance and holding poses (though I can stay in tree pose forever). I was almost going to give-up and replace it with something else, like Cardio X. The problem is that if I start making one concession, I will make others.. I really want to stick to the program as closely as I possibly can, without missing any days or avoiding exercises I dislike.

I just finished day 4, and will describe the last workouts of this week in a few days, namely “Legs and Back,” “Kenpo X,” which by the way is in my opinion practically worthless for self defense as presented in P90X (I only mention this because they did mention self-defense), and “X Stretch,” which you can do on your off day. Feel free to ask any questions or give me advise in the comments box below..

There is much debate about the use of protective gear in martial arts. Many styles only allow light or no contact, no strikes to the face, etc. and therefore do not require protections. What happens when a practitioner encounters violence in real life however comes at a surprise. You have a lot to learn in a second while getting pounded in the face by an experienced attacker.. Not the best time to learn taking hits. Aikido would be a very fierce style if it incorporated strikes, giving and taking. I attended a Kung-Fu (Wushu) class as a teenager. We were not allowed to strike the face. Actually, we barely touched each-others. After six months, I realized that I wasn’t learning anything useful and quit. My Karate experience (Shotokan) was a bit better. We had protections, but there wasn’t much control. The same was true for my full-contact and Taekwon-Do short practices.

My friend Phil recently stopped-by with a couple padded helmets he got at Goodwill for a few dollars. While Systema discourages the use of protections, it was too tempting to give it a try and see if it would affect the way we worked. It wasn’t really sparring, because Phil wore the helmets (he put on two!) and attacked, while I wore gloves and defended.

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Wearing protections seems to have two negative side-effects:

  1. You are not so affraid of getting hit.
  2. You tend to hit harder, with less control.

Taking hits to the body really isn’t much of a problem. Most people can not hit hard enough to cause internal damage. Proper breathing, relaxation and a bit of practice goes a long way to prevent injury. Getting hit in the face is a bit unnerving, but you get used to it and start to care a bit less.. In five years of Systema, I have been hit in the face countless times, hard enough to be really uncomfortable, but I never got a black eye or lost a tooth. I give credit here to our slow practice and control. Top Systema instructors are masters at precision and control. They know exactly how hard to hit someone and where without hurting them while inflicting a good amount of pain.

Add protective gear to he mix, and the psychology of sparring changes. People start to hit harder. The positioning of one’s fist becomes less of a problem. You can hit bone with a glove, it doesn’t matter. A slightly misaligned wrist is no longer a painful reminder to strike at the right angle. Precision goes out the window. Wearing a helmet might have you step into a position you would otherwise not occupy without it. The more protection you add, the more removed you become from reality.

I am not advocating giving up protective gear, mind you. Once in a while, going “all out” with protections is good, if only to get used to the speed. You can however go almost “all out” with good control, without any gear. This way, you actually do get hit and learn to deal with it properly. The key is to start really slow, and I mean extreme slow motion. It looks goofy, but you gain much in precision and timing.

If your martial art style does not allow much contact, you need to ask yourself why you train. If you have a good time and consider it more or less an exercise, great. If you want the extra benefit of acquiring self-defense skills, you need to be able to get hit hard by bare fists as well as deliver heavy strikes the same way. No-contact effective self-defense is a fantasy.