Tuesday, June 8, 2010

learning how to hurt people . . . and why in the world you'd want to know that

I mentioned a while ago that I got to go to a weekend self-defense program with my dad – though “self-defense” isn’t quite the right term. “Violence appropriately and masterfully used” might be closer to the mark.

And there’s the problem in writing about it. I really want to write about it, but I’m afraid that no one will want to read about it because, to be frank, thinking about violence is really, really scary. But let me offer this appeal for reading this: taking this seminar has made me less afraid. I used to not even want to think about what I would do if someone assaulted me, or threatened me when I was with my kids. But now I know what I would do in that situation.

Of course, I don’t know for certain that it’ll work, and of course I never want to find out, but I have a strategy and tools now, and they have a not insignificant chance of working, and just knowing what to do just takes a lot of the fear out of the possibility. Knowing that I’m not going to start anything, but that if something starts, I could finish it . . . well, it’s the difference between walking around as prey and walking around as predator.


So. The seminar my dad took me to is called Target-Focused Training, or TFT. The first things these guys say that makes a lot of sense? “Violence is rarely the answer. But when it is the answer, it’s the only  answer.”

If you think about it a minute, you’ll see what they mean. Ignoring social violence (the “pick a fight” variety, where people are concerned about establishing dominance, not about killing people), violence is perpetrated by people who have no interest in talking it out. Can you avoid this sort of violence? Often. You can be smart about where you go and when and with whom. But . . . if someone’s decided to come get you, he can. And if he has, he’s already chosen violence, and he’s not going to be dissuaded by anything but violence.

So, TFT isn’t “self-defense” in the traditional sense. The goal is not to keep your attacker from hurting you. The goal is to hurt your attacker enough that you feel safe walking (or running) away. It isn’t about fancy moves. It’s about injury.

And they define “injury” as something that basically shuts down your nervous system. The sort of thing where, if it’s done to you, you can’t keep going even with adrenalin. So . . . some gun wounds, for instance, are not injuries. Neither are all knife wounds. An injury is something like a broken bone or major joint. Or a gouged eye. Or a crushed windpipe.  They showed us some videos of sports injuries to show us what they meant. And we could see it. There are injuries after which the person is just oblivious to the world. He can’t get up or see or speak. And that’s what you want.

The way to get an injury is, as our instructor told us, to put all of your body mass through one square inch of your attacker’s body that can’t handle it. This reminded me very much of karate, where the goal with the strikes is to get your entire body mass behind them (this, btw, is why karate practitioners are able to break boards and bricks). So, basically, it’s physics + physiology. That’s where the “target-focused” part comes through. You need to strike the right places on your attacker’s body. Some parts of the body can take a lot of abuse without breaking. Some can’t. You want to strike the parts that can’t. And you want to strike them with a lot of force – just a glancing blow, though it might hurt, isn’t going to disable.

The instructors point out that the person who gets the first injury in (as they define injury) wins the fight, basically. You can hurt a person a lot without winning, of course (we saw an amazing picture of a fellow covered in horrific-looking cuts from a knife fight – but he was the winner), and the problem with a lot of traditional self-defense is that it teaches you to get lots of (non-debilitating) strikes in, or to keep lots of strikes from hitting you. But really, in this situation, you don’t so much want to keep from being hit as you want to get your one really effective strike in. And then, if you get that one really good one in, you will have the opportunity to get one more in. And then one more, and so on, until you feel comfortable walking away (i.e., he’s not getting up).

Does this make you psychotic? Well, no. The people who’ve been trained this way and reported back generally don’t kill anyone. But they do generally survive encounters. They get a strike in, and then another, and go for the next one and realize, “Oh, wait. He’s down. I’m done,” and they walk away and call the police. 

That? Is the position I would like to be in should (God forbid) I find myself being assaulted. I want to be the one walking away and calling the police. The idea is that you use violence, and because you’re trained to know where and how to hit, you use it better than your attacker (plus, you’re generally not going to be attacked unless your attacker is pretty sure he can win, which means he’s not expecting a real fight, which means you’ve got surprise on your side – remember, getting the first injury is important), but you’re also a sane, socialized person, so you’re going to stop when it’s time to stop.


Anyway, like I said, this answered the question that haunted me, which was, What do I do if I’m attacked while I’m with my kids? Now I know what I’d do. I’d take the guy out. Violence, I’ve learned, happens really quickly. Odds are, it’d be over in under thirty seconds, so, frankly, I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to my kids – nothing is going to happen to them in those ten seconds that would be worse than what would happen if I let a guy take us away at gunpoint, you know?

Does this make it all good? Well, no. There are no guarantees, and if you use their methods, you’re likely to get hurt, at least somewhat. Like one of the instructors said (oh, their realism was so refreshing!), “sometimes, it’s just a really bad day.” But . . . you’re also likely to be the one who walks away. And that’s what you want.

I honestly think everyone should know this stuff. It evens the playing field, and it evens it in favor of the non-psychotic. The instructors pointed out that when they got psychos into their seminars, the crazy guys never stayed, because they always wanted to be the ones “doing it to” everyone else, and wouldn’t take their turns being “reaction partners” for their fellow students, and so they’d leave. Which I thought was an interesting way to tell the sheep from the goats, so to speak.

Oh  yeah! That was the other cool thing. In addition to all the good info (and I’ve only given an overview – there’s lots more to it), we practiced and practiced and practiced this stuff. And how did we practice? Well, we practiced about quarter speed. It’s similar to how lots of athletes practice, doing over and over again carefully and slowly the motions they eventually want to do quickly and well. The theory is that that lays down the correct pathways in your brain, and then you can add the speed when it’s needed. It also keeps you from pummeling your partner, because it gives them time to move away from your motion. Much better training than your typical martial art sparring, where you pull your punches (and so train yourself to stop the motion halfway through). Pulling your punches while training trains you to, well, pull your punches. And you don’t want to be trained to pull your punches! Ideally, when you strike someone, you see, you should end up standing where he was. Every time. Your mass through his.

 So . . . I guess that’s it. It was an exhausting weekend. It was hard to do. Sometimes it was hard to think about. But I’m so glad to know what I learned that weekend. I hope I never, ever have to use it. But I’m glad I know it. Thank you, Dad!

 (I could write a whole other post about how much fun it was to hang out with my dad for a whole weekend – in between learning how to kill folks! – but that’s a story for another day. J  )

What do you think? Do you think the TFT philosophy on violence makes sense? Is this something you've thought about, or something you avoid thinking about? 

peace of Christ to you,

(yes, peace!),

Jessica Snell


Amy said...

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to me!

I just took a day class called Women on Target offered by my state NRA association. It is a class for women only teaching how to handle a firearm safely, cleaning & storing firearms. Not something I would volunteer for (I know what firearms can inflict as an ER nurse) but my husband purchased the day for my daughter and I - girls day out.

I did not want to go but I'm glad I did. I would love the opportunity to learn more about TFT and take the class.

Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Sounds realistically awesome.

Kenneth Chenault said...

Being a Christian can get in the way, for some, of good logic on a given subject. It is refreshing to see a believer who truly gets it and is not afraid. Thanks for sharing your insight from a fellow TFT practitioner.

Jessica said...

Thanks, folks. And - Amy - I'm jealous of the firearm instruction. That's something I wish I knew more about than I do!