As a female standing at 5’2” and weighing in at less than 100 lbs., I am all too aware of how my size impacts my own personal safety and ability to defend myself.
Sure, it can seem obvious that someone my size would benefit from self-defense training like martial arts, firearms or bladed weapons. While I would agree that stature and gender could be determining factors in whether a particular person is targeted they are not absolutes. In the FBI’s most recent crime statistics reported via National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), “Of the 4,158,264 individual victims reported in 2015, a little more than half (50.9 percent) were female, 48.3 percent were male, and gender was unknown for 0.8 percent”. Additionally it reported, “More than half (52.3 percent) of the victims knew their offenders (or at least one offender where more than one was present) but did not have a familial relationship to them.”1 More often than not, gender bias and familiarity with the offender promotes a false sense of security and a dangerous mindset of “it will never happen to me”. Unfortunately, it tends to be those less obvious circumstances that catch us off guard and under prepared.
In the modern days of smart phones and endless apps, we are plagued by distraction that allows would-be attackers ample time to change the course of our day. The outcome is determined by the actions we take both in preparation and in our own defense. As an Auxiliary Police Officer, Certified Firearms and Refuse to Be A Victim® Instructor, I am an advocate of not only arming oneself physically but also maintaining those skills that may save your life. In regards to firearms, marksmanship especially is a perishable skill and one that requires consistent practice. So does this mean, I walk around paranoid? No, it’s actually quite the opposite. I walk around confident knowing that I have both the tools and the ability to utilize them when needed.
Let me ask this, do you wear a seatbelt when you get into your vehicle? If so, would you say that you are consumed with fear of getting into an accident? My guess is, probably not. But by wearing your seatbelt, you understand it’s important role in possibly saving your life. Most days, God willing, it will lay there unnoticed across your chest much like the knife you wear in your pocket or the firearm sitting at your waistline. Their potential not fully revealed until it is too late to go back and effectively learn how to use them. Hence we train and train well.
So where do we begin? Remember when I joked about my size? I say that to point out that in my opinion, I think it’s dangerous to presume that a person’s physique defines the necessity for quality training. Victims come in all shapes and sizes, male and female. They can be your mother or your wife just as much as your husband or 6 foot tall brother. All it takes is a moment of distraction to allow that door to be opened figuratively and sometimes literally. The goal is to safeguard ourselves as best we can and that begins with awareness.
In Law Enforcement there is color coding system known as the Coopers Colors by the late Jeff Cooper to indicate levels of alertness and escalating degrees of preparedness: White (Relaxed and unaware), Yellow (Relaxed but aware), Orange (identifying something of interest but not a confirmed threat), Red (You have shifted from identifying a potential threat to identifying a target, i.e. drawing your defensive tool). Situational dependent, those individuals that practice personal vigilance vacillate between the various levels although most of the time holding somewhere between Yellow and Orange. Again, it’s less about paranoia then simply being aware of any possible dangers ahead.
As mentioned earlier, cells phones have become a huge detriment to our personal safety when it comes to the level of distraction they provide. How often have we lost track of our surroundings while becoming buried in our phones? Those that commit to doing harm to others, seek out the path of least resistance, which is why it’s always an excellent practice that if you see someone coming towards you that triggers a sense of danger make eye contact with them. Even better? Make eye contact and then cross the street if you can. By making eye contact you are indicating to them that ‘you see them’ and have identified them as a possible threat. More often than not they will continue moving on until they come across a more ideal victim, one who perhaps remains buried in their phone or is otherwise distracted. That is why it’s so important that no matter where you might be, staying alert to your surroundings is a key first step in preparedness. The element of surprise plays a large role in most attacks, which leads me to training.
There is a saying created by the Greek poet Archilochus and made famous by an anonymous Navy Seal “Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard”. Never have truer words been spoken. Physiologically there is a chemical reaction that happens in the brain when we are in fear of danger. We’ve all heard of the ‘flight or flight’ response. Our hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal-cortical system. The former initiates reactions in the body via nerve pathways and the later uses the blood. Epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) are released into the bloodstream while at the same time a dozen or so other hormones are dumped by the adrenal cortex. Physically our heart rate and blood pressure increase, non-essential systems like digestion and immune system shut down and we have difficulty focusing on small tasks as the brain has been redirected to focus only on the big picture. In an automatic and complex string of events, our bodies adapt to prepare us to survive a dangerous situation by either running for our life or fighting for it. Self-preservation becomes virtually automatic, which is why training and what’s referred to as stress inoculation is so important to the success of one’s survival.
The level of training and type really depends on the person and their learning style. Books, articles and educational DVD’s are all very helpful in impressing the concepts of defensive firearms but practical knowledge is only gained by physical repetition and trial and error. The reality is there is no such thing as a perfect crime, a perfect gun or a perfect scenario. Training on the range gives you opportunities to best prepare for those imperfections like a gun not unholstering quickly or easily, a round malfunctioning, sight acquisition being slow, or the jolt of recoil and your anticipation that sends the round below the intended target. Training on the range also adds in the necessary element of stress, which simulates a natural chemical response, albeit a lessened version than one produced when fighting for your life. Nonetheless, working alongside other shooters and sometimes against shot timers in timed drills gives the student the ability to perform under pressure. The goal is to maintain consistent marksmanship despite the chemical reactions happening in your brain as best you can by teaching your body muscle memory.
I heard a great story once of a solider, who in the heat of the moment didn’t think he landed his shots. By his own admittance, he didn’t’ recall using his sights yet in reality his shots all hit center mass. While those chemicals were surging, his body continued to do exactly as it was trained. All the fundamentals of marksmanship remained: Stance, Grip, Sight Alignment, Breath Control, Trigger Control and Follow Through.
Some may ask, “Isn’t that kind of training more for military and law enforcement?” I would say to them, I’m not a racecar driver but since I do use a car should I not learn how to safely and properly operate one? It’s a rather simplified answer and one can argue that we use our vehicles more often that perhaps our guns, but the principle still remains. If we choose to have a firearm in our defensive toolkit we must be willing to find the importance in educating ourselves with it. Our lack of thankfully not needing to use it every day makes it even more crucial that we find the time to hit the range whether in part of a class or practicing on our own. Classes like defensive pistol that incorporate shooting on the move and other similar drills, moving you from a static line into an active one, are incredibly valuable. As the saying goes, nobody stands still in the gunfight. Learning how to accurately shoot while moving in relation to an identified threat is a skill that can come in very useful especially in an active shooter situation. You’ll simply never know if you’ll be called into action with a situation like this until it’s happening.
Now, imagine having an opportunity to save yourself or a loved one and not having the training to confidently take the shot? I say this as it has been a question I have asked many when discussing the importance of training, including myself. Trust me, I too often ask myself if I would take the shot in a crowded room or city street if necessary? The only way I can answer that is with constant training. I have an understanding that every round I send downrange in a situation has a potential lawyer attached to it. In a life or death event, regardless if the people defending themselves are a Police Officer or a Civilian, there is intended threat and the possibility of an innocent bystander. The later is only protected as far as we as responsible gun operators value the importance of our own training. Even then things can and do happen that are out of our control. Every situation is unique and there may be times when a civilian being a good witness is a far greater asset.
Situations can escalate very quickly, and the best and safest way to experience that is in scenario-based courses often referred to as Force-on-Force. Force-on-Force training uses UTM/Simunition® rounds (non lethal cartridges filled with a color detergent). Using facilities that have been set up to replicate various locations in our everyday lives, like a market, a restaurant or a vehicle, actors play roles as the assailants and we are forced in real time to put our skills to the test. It’s a type of training used for Law Enforcement, Military and Civilians alike and an excellent way to experience the shocking differences between shooting on the range and the real 360-degree world.
Defensive Pistol and Force-on-Force are just a couple examples of goal specific firearms courses available out there that help foster situational awareness, marksmanship and peak performance under pressure. They will give an advantage to firearms owners and most importantly the confidence to put those skills into action. For those seeking a better understanding of their rights, there are even legal courses taught by lawyers specializing in federal and local self-defense laws. Concealed Carry Self-Defense insurance is also available through organizations like the NRA, USCCA and CCW Safe. Both can be valuable resources to look into if you would like to protect yourself and your family on a completely different level and something I would absolutely recommend considering.
In the end what it really boils down to is that it doesn’t matter if you’re male, female, 5’2” or 6” tall. In my opinion purchasing a firearm and never training with it, is like buying a car and only looking at it or pulling in and out of your driveway but expecting to be as proficient as a racecar driver. The only difference is that the firearm you purchased may actually save your life. The sporadic day on the range shooting a couple magazines downrange without any real focus or direction tends to lend more of a fun time then life saving skills. There’s a time and place for fun, but if you chose to purchase a firearm for your home or concealed carry chances are it’s intended use is far from fun. A quality instructor will be able to help you identify and correct any shooting ‘bad habits’ that can dramatically affect your accuracy. They will be able to relate your training to everyday scenarios to help you better prepare should those situations arise. They will be able to help you learn how to navigate malfunctions swiftly, while remaining in the fight and provide takeaway practice drills for future time at the range.
Training can be very challenging for anyone. We are our own worst critics and putting ourselves in a situation among our peers, where we will most likely make mistakes, as we grow more proficient is a bitter pill to swallow. Pride can be one of the biggest hurdles in any class. But pride is easily overcome with the right teacher and the right learning environment. I always say it’s better to make those growing pain mistakes on the range during class and be momentarily frustrated or embarrassed than out there in the world when your life depends on it.
So, whether you decide to try a defensive pistol course, a concealed carry, force-on-force or are just starting out with a basic handgun safety course, I applaud you for going outside your comfort zone and waking up the warrior within you.
FBI Uniform Crime Reporting System & NIBRS: https://ucr.fbi.gov/nibrs/2015