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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What to Watch For

A friend of mine shared out this article on dogs, children, and why one sometimes ends up biting the other. I was interested in it because I have a dog, a child, and do not want either one biting the other. What stuck out at me, however, was that there is an apparent problem with dogs and people that also applies to self-defense.

Here's the relevant paragraph

"The bites are not a result of negligent parents leaving Fido to care for the baby while mom does household chores, oblivious to the needs of her children.  In fact, I’ve consulted on hundreds of dog bite cases and 95% of the time the parent was standing within 3 feet of the child watching both child and dog when the child was bitten. Parents are supervising. The problem is not lack of supervision. The problem is no one has taught parents what they should be watching."

Sounds familiar? It's the same problem in self-defense. I don't know how many articles I've read telling people to "be aware". Hell, there's a note on the ATM at my local bank telling me to "be aware of your surroundings". It might as well say "hey, don't get mugged."

The problem with this advice is that, while it's not wrong, it's just not informative. "Be aware"? aware of what? If you don't know what to look for, anything (or everything, or nothing) can look like a threat.

As I'm writing this, I wonder if some of this stems from a problem of assumed knowledge.

Specifically, I'm thinking of some experiences I had traveling with my father as a teenager. My father grew up in Brooklyn. I grew up outside of Syracuse. Our formative experiences were somewhat different, and one of the results of that was that my father knew much more about moving through an urban environment than I did. I can remember my dad steering me away from or around people who were, in retrospect, clearly crazy...but I didn't know that. I couldn't see it. My dad was shocked that I had missed it.

I have to wonder if the "just be aware" thing came from a bunch of martial arts instructors who knew what to look for, and just assumed that everyone else knew as well.

Here's the thing--there are people out there who don't know. People who don't realize that asking for the time is an old setup for a mugging. People who can't see that the three guys hanging out on the corner are watching you as you walk, or that the guy in the back of the bus is a pickpocket looking for victims. They don't have the exposure. They don't know what to look for.

If you teach self-defense, give your students something more than "be aware". Give them something to be aware OF. Don't assume they know.

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