Friday, February 13, 2015

Range Diaries Facelift

The Limatunes Range Diaries has gotten a facelift!

Follow the Link. You'll be glad you did!

See you on the other side.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Babywearing

I have three beautiful children. As a parent, my style could be summed up in what is often referred to as Attachment Parenting. I have practiced extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing with all three of my children. I've also been armed.

These practices have made for a rewarding, close and loving environment for my kids but there are some fall backs when it comes to defensive tactics.

The social and developmental benefits of babywearing are often debated among mommy groups all over the place, neither of which I will discuss here here. If you babywear you know the benefits of it for your family.

If you are interested in some basic babywearing and gun-carrying tips, please read Carrying A Gun And A Baby.

What we are going to discuss here is the narrow scope of the pros and cons of babywearing from a purely self-defense standpoint.


- Free Hands
One of the best aspects of babywearing is that it allows for hands-free activity. Fighting, drawing a weapon, controlling an attacker long enough to gain access to a weapons, etc., are all easier with two free hands.

Whether the baby is front or back carried will also have an effect on how easy it is to work in a particular space or allow access to tools. Babies too young to sit up on their own are primarily carried in front carriers and wraps. However, this position limits your range of motion slightly with a child on your chest and if you carry a defensive tool on the front of your body they can hinder access to said tool, depending on how high you carry and the size of your child. It will also completely impede your access to something like a flashbang holster.
Front Body Carry Makes Center-line Carry More Inaccessible

Front carrying a baby with a front carry defensive (handgun, knife etc.) system also hinders your ability to look and reholster your tools. It's not a huge issue if it's a fight for your life, but it's something to consider.

- Baby Cannot Be Left Behind
This is both a pro and a con (as we will discuss later) but a baby that is physically strapped to your body obviously cannot be easily left behind.

One would think this would never be a concern but it is something that has happened on several occasions when it comes to violent crime or other emergency situations. This has a lot to do with the freeze, fight or flight response. These responses are designed for your personal self-protection and do not concern themselves with the defense of others. It is possible to leave your child behind in a flight response, but obviously not if that child is strapped to your body.

- Baby Is Secure
Child snatching is a huge concern for many parents, despite the fact that it is statistically unlikely to ever occur--especially via a stranger. That does not mean it cannot and has not happened, however. A baby attached to your body cannot be snatched either as a means of kidnapping or to be used as a tool of compliance. There is also no chance that your child will be accidentally dropped in panic.

- Movement Is Easier
To a degree, movement is easier when you are carrying a baby on your body. Yes, having an 8-20 lbs. child strapped to your body does degrade your movement to some point, but it's a lot easier to move around with your child strapped to your body than with a baby in a stroller. If trying to escape a burning building I'd absolutely prefer to have my child strapped to me than in a stroller or in my arms. I would be less likely to drop my child, get caught up fumbling with my baby and a door, or have him knocked from my arms by other panicked patrons.


- Holster Systems Can Be Hindered
Back Carry Allows More Access to Tools Carried on the Center-line of the body

This is the single most common issue I see with babywearing and carrying. Because of the nature of baby carriers that attach around the waist, over the chest, and across the back, some of the most common carry locations for firearms are compromised or hindered due to the carrier or baby interfering with the holster or draw. Sometimes it's a simpler solution like changing the babywearing method or going to a different holster. Sometimes it means coming up with an entirely different defensive carry system depending on the method of carrying the child. What I have seen in practice is parents compromising access and putting their guns and holsters in places that are impractical and potentially dangerous for a self-defense situation.

But that will be a blog for another day.

- Damage To You Means Damage To Baby
Herein lies the single most terrifying part of wearing a baby from a defensive standpoint: If you take damage, it's highly likely your baby will as well. In other words, babywearing is like pregnancy. While pregnant and under attack there is nothing you can reasonably be expected to do to protect your child. The same goes for babywearing. Because you can't put your baby down or distance yourself and because your baby is so exposed if you are taking fire, it's highly likely your baby is going to be shot. If you are under a knife attack, it's likely your baby is going to be cut. If you are being kicked or hit or punched, it is likely your baby is going to be on the receiving end of those blows as well.

You could certainly try to shield your baby from harm by turning him or her away and placing your own body between yourself and the attacker, but even that is no guarantee your child will not come to harm.

As terrifying as that is to consider, it is something that must be addressed. If all of your preventive measures are overlooked and someone chooses to visit violence on you while babywearing you must be aware and prepared for the fact that it will likely mean harm to your child.

- Baby Cannot Be Left Behind Or Handed Over
As promised, I told you this was both a pro and a con. The con side of this particular coin is that you cannot leave your child behind to draw fire or violence away from them. If you are the target and not your child and the violence is centered on you, there is no quick, easy way to separate yourself from your child or give your child to someone who can take him or her out of harm's way. If the fight is on it's going to require fighting around the child.

- Fighting Is Harder
Hand-to-hand fighting is hard enough. Doing it with a 10-20 lbs. weight strapped to your back or front will make it harder. Your center of gravity is off. Your range of motion is restricted. Your ability to clench up or ground fight is almost gone. Roundhouse kicks? Front snap kicks? Vicious knees? All harder with a child strapped to your body. Not to mention the elevated degree of violence you may need may mean harm to your child.

- Running Is Not An Option
Let me rephrase: Running is always an option. It's not always a good option, but it is an option. Remember that women often cannot run as fast as men. If you are a man, 20 lbs. of strapped baby will probably hinder you as well.

If you have an opportunity to escape to safety you absolutely should take it! However, you have to reasonably understand what your capacity for escape is when you are carrying a child. Even if you are a runner, your ability to sprint with a child will be hampered. Try it sometime.

Thankfully, crime against parents while they carry their babies is still quite low. While it does happen, it's not so common as to be expected. That being said, it's still a possibility.

When the pros and cons are weighed exclusively from a defensive standpoint, babywearing is a terrible defensive tactic and has no real advantage and lots of disadvantages that can be devastating for both the parent and baby.

That being said, babywearing does have great developmental, bonding and even health benefits for the parent and baby. Whether or not one decides to continue to babywear should be based on all of those factors as well as risk factors for actual violence.

There are those who may decide that babywearing increases the difficulty in defending themselves too much and decide to no longer babywear. If that's the case, that's fine.

While I have continued to babywear, I have amended my practices to make the outcome better for the both of us.

-Be smart about when and where you wear your baby.
This should go without saying, but it stands to reason that making smart decisions about where, when and who you are with when you babywear is going to help with your defensive options.

Do you and your husband and your kids all have to go to the grocery store? Can you or your husband stay home snuggling the baby while the other goes to the store by him or herself for some alone time and therefore not have to worry about defensive situations with a child in tow?

If required to go some place with a higher rate of violent crime, might it be better to place your child in a stroller vs babywear? It may seem counter-intuitive, as parents like to collect their children to their persons when they feel threatened, but from a purely defensive perspective it may not be the best tactic.

-Have a means to get your baby off of you as quickly as possible.
This will have a lot to do with your type of chosen baby carrier. Buckle carriers are quicker to get in and out of than wraps, so given the choice between the two you might want to choose the one that is easier to get out of.

Safety Cutter on the Benchmade Triage

Make no mistake about it, in an immediate, violent attack on your life you are not going to have time to remove your baby from your person. However, immediately after or if in a lull or in other emergency situations, you might need to get your baby off you and quickly. Carrying items like safety cutters or seatbelt cutters for straps or wraps may be an advisable option. Be sure to carry them in a location they can be quickly accessed.

-Decrease the clutter you carry.
If you babywear, it's imperative that all other loads be kept to a minimum. Any additional bag will be that much more of a hindrance. Keep your on-body carry to your baby,  pepper spray, your gun, your safety cutter and/or knife, money, identification and carry permit (if required), and phone. Avoid putting your gun in any off-body carry system, and if you must have another bag for diapers and baby gear keep that gear to a minimum and be ready to ditch the bag.

-Increase your personal boundaries.
It's not easy to keep people away from you. We live in a world where people will encroach upon your personal space and it's unrealistic to think you will be able to keep a ten foot radius of empty space around you at all times. That being the case, it's still important to be aware of who gets within your space and control it as best you are able.

Move away from people if you can, be alert and aware of those who are around you and tell people to stop and back up who make you uncomfortable. Most people who do not intend harm, but may also think you are a little nutso, will respect your request for distance. Those who do not are of more concern and may lead to my next point...

-Carry a less-than-lethal option.
This is not a suggestion as much as a command. Go! Do! Get pepper spray and carry it! Period.

Not everyone who is a threatening presence deserves to be, or can legally be, shot. But they might deserve a good dose of pepper spray. As an individual who should now be able to articulate the reasons why you cannot fight or escape with a baby strapped to your body, you may be able to explain why you preempted by pepper spraying someone who was escalating and making you feel threatened.

This absolutely does not mean that you get to go around pepper spraying people who make you feel uncomfortable. It is, however, an advisable alternative to going hands-on or escalating immediately to lethal force.

-Practice your defensive options with your chosen babywearing options.
Go to the range with your wrap or baby carrier and a weighted baby-doll or bag of kitty litter. Practice drawing and shooting, moving, magazine changes, and single-handed shooting. If you find errors in your carry system work them out now.

Babywearing and carrying a gun may not be the best tactical practice but that doesn't mean it can't or shouldn't be done. If you choose to do it, make sure you do it as wisely as possible. Take some practical steps to ensure both you and your baby are as safe and secure as possible.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cold Weather Carry

I live in Iowa. I grew up in Wisconsin. I'm also 100 lbs of skin and bones. I'm also one of those unfortunate people who can freeze an Eskimo out of an igloo with her feet even if I wear socks and slippers.

In short, I know cold.

That's a lot of layers.
In the winter I wear more layers than my grandmother's rainbow jello. Because of this I've discovered that getting to a concealed carry firearm under all those layers can be difficult.

It all started at IDPA last year. It was cold. Really cold. I was wearing enough layers to keep me comfortable but I noticed an interesting trend. Even though all shots had to be taken from concealment, right before shooters came to the firing line they would unzip their coats, take off their gloves or additional sweaters and otherwise get themselves in the most favorable position to draw from concealment. Make no mistake about it. I was doing it myself. It is a game and everyone wants the best chances of winning. Even with all that prep the cold weather gear still slowed plenty of people down.

Once the stage was over you would see people putting gloves and sweaters back on, putting on their gloves and zipping their coats back up while they waited for the next stage.

Most people aren't standing on ranges for several hours in the freezing cold. Lots of people do run around with their coats unzipped, no gloves or multiple layers to fight with. But that's not always the case. If it's particularly cold people wear gloves and zip coats. They wear layers and many don't consider what that means for drawing their firearms.

So, I set out to find a good way to deal with cold weather attire and carry.

The Pocket Gun
The hands-down fastest and most practical means of cold weather carry is the pocket gun carried in your coat pocket. You have almost immediate access and can even walk around with your hand on your gun. Coat pockets are usually larger and can accommodate a variety of guns and give you time to access your primary carry gun if you choose to carry both.

Be sure you are following all of the rules of pocket carry such as getting a pocket holster, making sure the pocket is empty of any and all other debris before putting the gun in the pocket and making sure your pocket gun is snag free.

Not everyone can carry in a coat pocket, however. Some coats don't have pockets (ridiculous, I know), some pockets (particularly pockets on women's coats) can be too small or people may only have one gun that won't fit in a pocket. Whatever your reason, if you can't pocket carry be aware that cold weather gear is likely going to slow down your access to your gun but there are ways to maximize access and still stay warm.

Concealment Isn't the Problem
A benefit of cold weather carry is that the larger coats, shirts and sweaters allow for better concealment of a larger variety of guns. The only problems can be if you go somewhere hot and want to shed layers or if you put on so many layers you significantly down your access to that gun.

Before you leave the house make sure you can be comfortable at room temperatures so you're not the odd man out sweating in a heavy jacket because you carried a gun you couldn't conceal without it. If you choose to pocket carry make sure you have a plan for stowing that gun or transitioning it to your body if you are going to end up putting your coat in an unsecured closet, etc.
Coat and Vest: Dressed for the Range

Waistband Carry
Second to pocket carry, waistband carry seems to give the best access and speed.

To test this theory I met my good friend, fellow training junkie and Krav instructor, Dave, at the shooting range. We ran a total of eight very simple scenarios. With a shot timer we timed how long it took to draw and put one good hit on target about four yards away from concealment with a coat on.

The scenarios were as follows:
  • Draw and shoot (D/S) from Appendix Inside the WaistBand (AIWB) with coat on and zipped.
  • D/S from AIWB with coat on and unzipped but concealed under shirt. 
  • D/S from strong-side Outside the WaistBand (OWB) holster with coat on and zipped.
  • D/S from strong-side OWB with coat on and unzipped.
  • D/S from OWB positioned under an additional layer of clothing under a coat (zipped and unzipped).
  • D/S from OWB positioned over an additional layer of clothing under a coat (zipped and unzipped).
  • D/S from the flashbang bra holster under a shirt and coat (zipped and unzipped). No, my Krav instructor did not do the Flashbang portion of these scenarios. And because he didn't have an additional cover garment his shooting OWB was included in "OWB over an additional layer" since he didn't have to get under two cover garments.

We also had very different coats. His was more of a cotton jacket with a zipper that came down a little lower than his waist. My coat was an insulated Columbia coat that came down to below my hip. When zipped mine was considerably tighter on me than his was around him. Even accounting for the differences in coat styles it was still slower to draw from his zipped coat than unzipped or my zipped vs unzipped coat and the numbers seemed to represent that between the both of us and our averages.

It's also important to note that I've spent eight years drawing and shooting from behind my hip and only about two weeks and four range days (max) drawing and shooting from AIWB. I've spent many more days drawing from the flashbang than AIWB. Conversely, Dave spends almost no time shooting OWB from behind the hip or strong-side and the majority of his practice and training is from AIWB. We hoped that mixing the data would cancel out any biases for any one particular form of carry.

We also performed each scenario without any practice sessions to keep the data in its rawest form. This is the beginning of our cold weather season. We were both pretty slow while adjusting to our cover garments. Our times improved as we continued to draw and shoot but we limited ourselves to 5 shots per scenario.

Here are the results:

The fastest draw with shot on target was with an OWB holster over a vest (or in Dave's case, over shirt) and drawn from behind the strong-side hip (2.319 seconds) with the coat unzipped. It was a half second (0.669) faster than the next fastest method which was AIWB with the coat unzipped (2.988). Concealment was still a requirement for AIWB, however. I used an insulated vest as my cover garment. Dave used his t-shirt.

When the coat was zipped more than a second (1.379) was added to the OWB draw and less than half a second (0.416) was added to AIWB for a total average draw time of 3.404 seconds.

The difference in drawing between AIWB and OWB with a zipped vs unzipped coat makes AIWB a little more consistent across both scenarios. That's important if you live in an area where you may need to zip your coat in order to stay warm. The fastest draw and shoot time from a zipped coat was AIWB at 3.404 seconds.
As you can see, when we timed the flashbang with a coat unzipped the times were within a second (give or take a tenth here or there) even though it was still the longest "unzipped" time of 3.386 seconds. Zipping the coat slowed the down the flashbang draw by nearly two seconds (1.928) for a total of 5.314 seconds. The first couple of draws I did from the flashbang with a zipped coat over top were over six seconds long. By the third draw I figured out that unzipping the coat and drawing was about a second faster and safer and it brought down the average draw time. Taking the time to unzip the coat was not a scenario I found favorable, however.

Gun Between Garments

The other unique scenario we tried was adding an additional garment (one or both used as a concealment garment). Many people wear additional vests or sweaters underneath of coats and jackets and I wanted to see the difference between putting the gun between those garments or underneath of all of them. Drawing and shooting from under two garments with OWB holster with the coat zipped was coming in at 4.288 seconds. It was a half second (0.59) slower than drawing and shooting from the holster under the zipped coat and not under the second garment.

The difference between the jacket being zipped and unzipped was almost a second and a half (1.379) with an average draw and shoot time of 3.166 seconds. 

Towards the end of our five draws both of us were getting around 2 second shoot times with AIWB and OWB carry but when adding the extra cover garment or the flashbang the times stayed solidly in the 3+ second times. I have no doubt that both of us could get those times down with practice but one of the reasons we chose to do it cold was because a lot of people don't practice drawing in different/additional attire and I wanted to reflect that in the data.

Vehicle Carry in the Cold
Where AIWB started to really pull out in front was when drawing from a seated position or in a vehicle while in your cold weather gear. Behind the hip or strong-side carry provided very limited access from a seated, car position with a coat on. Even with the coat unzipped it was a challenge to get to the gun even when I took the seatbelt off.
Behind the hip carry in a vehicle

Seatbelt off, accessing behind the hip

With AIWB, however, I was able to put the gun over a vest and drape my coat over it. Even with the seatbelt on it was far more accessible than behind the hip.

AIWB carry in a vehicle

What It Means
Dave and I are pretty regular folks trying something relatively new to the both of us. We produced our own unique numbers. If you were to run similar scenarios you may get different numbers based on your experience and training. On the surface, if zipping the coat was something that was never required, it would appear that strong-side carry with no additional cover garment was the fastest way to draw and fire from concealment under a coat. However, if the coat ever needs to be zipped then AIWB carry shows a time advantage. If you're looking for the most consistent drawing time with a zipped or unzipped coat AIWB pulls out as being a little faster.

For many reasons people are not able to pull off AIWB carry. If that's the case behind the hip is certainly viable. If carrying behind the hip I would modify my carry in such a way as to attempt to eliminate the need for zipping my coat or try my hardest to find a way to pocket carry. That may mean wearing an insulated vest and making sure the additional garments are securely tucked behind the gun for best access (as seen in the image above). I particularly love the insulated vest because I can shed by coat when getting warm but stay very toasty even with my coat unzipped. It's been a good addition as far as my own personal carry is concerned.

AIWB under vest
If I wear a dark colored shirt I can also get away with keeping the vest unzipped and have an almost as much instant access as open carry even carrying AIWB. It seems to be the best all-around option for me. If that were not an option I would likely go back to IWB behind the hip carry with the same type of cover garment. This type of outfit would also give the most concealment and access for a specialty holster like the flashbang while still attempting to stay fairly warm.

If you do wear a specialty holster, get your coat on and go shooting. Again, with practice you might make something work out but it's worth it to go out to the range with a shot timer and see what happens with your own gun and your own clothing options.

The Other Stuff
Something we didn't test was the addition of gloves, etc. You could go crazy adding additional variables into the mix. It stands to reason, however, that one would do well to do a few practice sessions with gloves on. You'd be surprised how many gloves won't fit into trigger guards or how they might get hung up in some of the controls.

Also, in the interest of having the most access to their guns some people dress lighter than they should for cold weather. If you are constantly in and out of stores or just going from a warm car to a warm office you may be tempted to leave the heavy coat at home. In emergencies extreme temperatures can be deadly. Even if you don't wear the coat all the time at least bring it with you. You're far more likely to get into a cold weather emergency than need a gun. Not having adequate protection from the elements (particularly if you live in the northern states) can be dangerous. You can have the best of both worlds.

How do you make cold weather carry work?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Situational Awareness With Children

There's a funny advertisement about how children are time thieves and parents are willing victims. It's a humorous ad that rings with quite a bit of truth. In addition to time, children als
o steal attention, energy, patience, and maybe a little sanity.

Situational awareness has been a hot topic on my facebook page of late. My goal has been to better represent its purpose and limitations. While talking about situational awareness a mother asked whether or not situational awareness was possible with children in tow.

My two oldest being goofballs
My answer, I presume, was not much help to her.

I said, "Yes. No. Maybe."

I promised to clarify and herein is that clarification.

In order to answer the question more thoroughly we must define what situational awareness is. At its core, it is a skill. Like any skill, it must be practiced.

Some people are born gifted with situational awareness, most are not. Training can be acquired to help people interpret what they are seeing and what to do with that data. Like any other skill, however, practice falls to the individual attempting to be more aware of their surroundings.

Can you be situationally aware with children?


That depends a lot on the person attempting to be aware--in this case, the parent.

What kind of situational awareness did that parent have before they had children? Were they the type to walk down stairs or into water fountains or did they have a sense of their surroundings and what was going on? What was the focus of their situational awareness?

People interested in self defense tend to look at their surroundings in a far more critical light of potential danger from violent crime and other environmental hazards.

It makes sense that people are are already alert and aware are easier to guide toward defensive situational awareness. On the other hand, there are the No people who couldn't tell you the color of the car they drive to work every day. They might have a little further to go and must first practice awareness in general before it can be directed to any one area such as self defense. They may be completely overwhelmed when asked to be aware while also caring for a child.

Take an aware individual, train them what to look for and give them children and I say, Yes! They absolutely can be aware with children--although there may be an adjustment period.

Children, especially really little ones, suck attention as easily as they suck milk. If they aren't demanding it with screams to be fed, changed, burped or held we are giving it to them willingly while we lovingly watch them sleep, smile, coo and play. It is easy (or should be easy) to allow your child to get 100% of your attention. A parent (in my opinion) should specifically structure times when they purposefully give their children 100% of their attention. In general, however, that time and place should be of the parents time and choosing as to make sure it is appropriate and you are secure.

One cannot simply kneel down in the middle of the street and give their child 100% attention to look at the pretty penny on the ground when a truck is barreling down on them. It may also not be wise to gaze playfully at your child at the park while overlooking the strange individual stalking you or to put your full attention into your child's temper tantrum and miss exit signs and safe havens for emergency situations like fire and weather.

Before you give your child all of your attention ask yourself these questions:
  1. Are we reasonably safe?
  2. Who is near me?
  3. How do we get out of here?

In the example I gave above, the middle of the street is not a safe place to stop and talk about the joys of copper. Another example might be going to the park. It may be a safe place provided it is well maintained but you may take a moment to mentally catalog the individuals there, who they are with and what they are doing. Other parents with children are to be expected. Make note of people who aren't accompanied by children (male or female). Note any and all escape routes (particularly unconventional ones) and take moments to periodically update that information.

There are times and places where it's far easier to give your child your full, undivided attention because you have far more control of the place and time. At home where the location can be secured, you intimately know the individuals in that location and you have already devised a fairly unchanging escape plan is one of the best places to exchange quality attention time with your kids.

Do you have any situational awareness to speak of? If not, now's the time to start practicing. It's impossible to have perfect situational awareness at all times, so don't get frustrated when you find yourself struggling. There will also be times when your kids will steal your attention unexpectedly. That's okay. Keep working at it.

If you're already situationally aware but not sure how to incorporate your kids, here are some tips that might help:

  • Think of yourself as your child's bodyguard. 
Hired bodyguards don't spend a whole lot of time looking at the person they are guarding because the threat doesn't come from that individual. The threat comes from around you. Be looking around you.

  • When your child is demanding your attention, decide if it's an emergency or something that can wait until you are in a better location.
A child who has fallen and broken his arm is having an emergency. He needs to be dealt with. A child who is screaming because you aren't allowing him to have a candy bar can be dealt with somewhere else (even if you have to drag him there).

  • If you can't look at your children, touch them or have them touch you.
Hold hands. If you only have two hands and more than three children or want a hand or both hands free have your children hold your bag, the stroller, a cart or your clothes.

  • Incorporate your children into your awareness.
Play awareness games like ISpy. Have the older children tell you everything they see behind you while you strap the younger ones into seats or load groceries. Make games out of finding all of the exit signs, fire extinguishers and AEDs. Ask them to count how many people are in the room or cars in a parking lot. Ask them where they might hide if there was a bad guy, etc.

  • Trust your child's instincts and teach your children to trust them as well. 
When your child shies away from an individual or tells you they don't like a certain circumstance, as much as possible, err on the side of following the child's lead. They have a strong sense about people.

  • Make yourself known.
If you live in or frequent the same areas and see the same people over and over again introduce yourself and your children. If there's an emergency they can be helpful in reconnecting you with your children or feel more comfortable alerting you to strange things happening. They will also be able to better identify strangers around your children.

  • Know your children and plan for their needs.
I have a 5 month-old a 2 year-old and a 5 year-old. My youngest is not mobile. If I want him to move I have to move him or give him to someone who can move him for me. My little girl is independent and opinionated but still requires contact with her mom or dad in public to feel safe. She will not run away from me or her father if she feels threatened. I will need to carry her with me, give her to someone who can carry her or leave her to draw attention away from her if need be. My oldest is able to understand the concepts of danger. If given specific commands I trust him to be able to run, hide or escape on command. As my children get older their roles in their own defense and that of their siblings may change. Determining their levels of understanding and response takes constant evaluation on my part in addition to mock drills. Your child may be old enough to understand making emergency calls or be trusted with getting his or her siblings to safety or they might be handicapped and need more assistance. Take those things into account and plan for them.

  • Strategically place yourself.
Sit where you can see entrances and exits. Sit closer to exits (particularly ones that are not also entrances). Park where you have the best views of both the store and blind spots.

  • Be mindful of what you carry.
Parents (especially parents with kids still in diapers) tend to carry a lot of stuff. As much as possible, try to limit what you carry with you to limit what you are needing to juggle in a time of need or what might potentially attract the attention of someone looking to victimize you.

Depending on the type of emergency of violence coming against you it is important to note that the safest place for your child might not be with you. In order to increase their chance of survival you might have to give them to a stranger or push them away while you draw violence toward yourself and away from them. Start thinking of scenarios where leaving your children might be the best option for their survival and when it might not.

  • Decide if your exit plan will accommodate strollers and baby carriers.
When you enter a building, immediately start thinking about how you and your children might make a hasty exit and whether or not you will be able to do that with the gear you may have brought in. If you have three children or more it might be easier to pile them all on a stroller and run them out. On the other hand, if you need to escape through a narrow or unconventional place that a stroller won't fit through you might have to ditch the stroller. It may mean pushing them so far and carrying the rest of the way, but consider circumstances where you might have to ditch the baby gear.

Situational awareness with children is possible if you can build off of existing awareness and tailor it to fit your needs as a family.

How might you increase awareness while out and about with your children?

A special thank you to Kathy Jackson for all her good advice over the years.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Situational Awareness: The New Talisman

I posted something on Facebook that looked a lot like this:

Situational Awareness
Okay, so it's a phrase, not a word. You get the point.
People got all bent out of shape,  jumping to the conclusion that I am against situational awareness. I challenge anyone to find evidence of me recommending people walk around with their heads firmly planted up their butts.

It's not that I don't like situational awareness. In fact, I love it! It sparks interesting conversations. It allows you to enjoy your environment. It keeps you engaged. It can even save your life.

Situational awareness is a really good thing. It's just being mishandled. Or misrepresented. A lot of weight is being put on its shoulders. Instead of being another great tool, it's becoming something of a talisman that people are pulling out and using as an excuse to berate, to not train, to have sloppy carry methods, etc.

Situational awareness is the ability to scan an environment for items or actions that could be potentially dangerous. It allows us to alert to those items and behaviors and activate one's capacity to make intelligent decisions and actions in regards to that data based on one's training and experience.

Situational awareness does not make the untrained and unprepared better at responding to that data.

If he'd had better situational awareness, that wouldn't have happened.
News flash: people get hurt. They get victimized. Sometimes there's nothing that can be done to stop it.

Yes, there are legitimate cases where having better situational awareness could have at least let someone be aware that danger was close. In regards to people who walk into traffic, down flights of stairs or into fountains because they weren't paying attention, there's not much lacking but situational awareness. It doesn't take a lot of sense and training to walk around a fountain instead of into it. 

In the realm of self defense, however, seeing the potential attack does not mean the outcome would be different.

If you see the truck or the rapist of the burglar or the axe-wielding maniac and you don't have any capacity to do anything with that data and change your situation you'll still get ran over, raped, burglarized or chopped to pieces.

Situational awareness is only as good as it's ability to alert you in addition to activating your capacity to do something with that information.

I use situational awareness. I don't need to keep one in the chamber (or carry a gun, or know hand-to-hand skills, etc) because I'll always have time because I'll always see it coming.
We've discussed what situational awareness is and what it isn't and what its limits are. Now we have to admit to ourselves that situational awareness is not infallible.

We will not (cannot) always see it coming. We do not have eyes on the backs of our heads. Our eyes are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time. We also are capable of misreading any number of situations. Even when we recognize those situations as being dangerous we don't always allow that data to activate our capacity to do anything about it via a nifty little trick I like to call DENIAL.

Let's go back to capacity, however. Let's say you see the danger but don't have the capacity to respond to it. That capacity might be because of mechanics--your arm is pinned, shot, broken, protecting your head and you cannot physically put a round in the chamber; your gun is stuffed so far down your pants in ubber-deep concealment to the point it is inaccessible; you are getting your head pounded into the pavement because you tried to go for your gun and got punched in the face and your draw stuffed and now have no idea how to get out of that situation and the lights are dimming.

That capacity might also be because of time--it takes you 2.5 seconds to draw, rack and fire but the guy who's fighting you is going to kill you in 2 seconds.

You don't always see the danger coming. Even if you do, if you lack capacity, you may be no better off with that knowledge.

In short, situational awareness is not a substitute. It is not a substitute for good equipment. It's not a substitute for common sense and it's certainly not a substitute for good training and practice.

Use good situational awareness! But give it substance to fall back on.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Self Evaluation and Goals

It's not quite the end of the year but that's not stopping me from starting to highlight my road map for the future.

I decided about a year ago that I have no greater passion (as far as a vocation is concerned) than that of self-defense, be it armed or unarmed. I also have no greater passion than to share that with others, be that through writing or via instructing. I have made it a goal of mine to become an advanced firearms instructor.

Some life destinations are easier to map out than others. If I wanted to be a doctor I know which degrees I would have to get, the system is pretty well set up. Firearms instructing is a little more fluid. There's no set standard to what makes someone advanced, nor is there clear agreement on what it means to be advanced. Is it high shooting scores in competition? Is it a training resume a mile long? And where do I fit into it all? How far have I come so I might be able to find out how far I need to go?

People have a tendency to over estimate their own skills and abilities and rank in the scheme of things. I'm a regular person. But I'm not a dumb regular person. So, to more accurately gauge my own standing and becomes I'm a very visual person, I made this graph:

I figure myself to be somewhere on the precipice between beginner and intermediate, feeling much safer to assume myself lower in skill than above. Probably because lower is exactly where I am.

Why am I not further along? Because I haven't practiced the lessons I've learned.

I have a lot of head knowledge that is serving me very well in theory but I've not gotten out there and worked the work enough for it to be recalled as "second nature."

A perfect example was my Extreme Close Quarters class. One year ago this month I took that class fully expecting to be able to glean the knowledge, take it home and work it until I couldn't get it wrong. I was in a perfect place to do so as well. Both my husband and my martial arts instructor took the class with me. We could all go home and be on the same page. We could all work the skills over and over again until they were ingrained. I was so excited about working the work and taking that work to force-on-force scenarios in classes, and even out into competition.

And the day I got home from that class I found out I was pregnant with our youngest son.

Having to drop out of martial arts and any other aggressive force on force work shortly thereafter hit my retention of that class hard. I have more of the theory still in my head, not a lot of the practice.

The same is true of my room clearing skills. Having worked them only a select number of times I still make errors on my drop outs and use of cover. I also have to take far too long to recognize blind spots and favorable angles for clearing obstructions.

I'm not even going into my team-work.

These are all classes I've taken and learned so much from, but learning without practicing really isn't much of an advancement. It's more of a baby step.

Working those skills combined with simply running the gun as fast, aggressively, accurately and smartly as I can, combined with more education in the legal aspects of self defense, less-than-lethal and empty-hand and I feel like I'll be on my way to something similar to my goal.

Truth be told, my plan-old gun work could use some serious fine tuning from time to time.

What I Don't Know I Don't Know
The other reason I evaluated myself as being somewhere in the bottom is because I still don't know what I don't know. And that can account for a LOT. It's really easy to think you're on your way to some place great but once you achieve your first level of success you realize the mile hike you thought it was going to take to your destination just because a double marathon.

I don't know all of the skills I'm missing. I don't know what kind of experience will help me on my goal aside from the obvious experience in classrooms, competition and more classes and practice. I don't know what I don't know.

And nothing beats experience. Do I have experience teaching? Yep. Quite a bit, but not enough.
Do I have experience competing? Yes. But not enough.
Do I have experience carrying a gun? Oh yes. But many would say it's still not enough.
Do I have experience using the techniques I've learned? Not so much.

One thing I didn't put on that graph that I think is vitally important is evaluation. It's really easy to think you're good in your own eyes compared to no particular standard. It's something else entirely to submit yourself to the evaluation of those you consider to be in authority on the subject.

Over the past few years I've been blessed to have connected with some amazing people in the industry. I've been able to get frank feedback from them and will continue to look to them for guidance and honest evaluation.

I've been grateful for every word of honest feedback and criticism. I want those people to know every word they've said to me has been taken to heart. Some of them have put me through true tests of my skill. Some I have passed, others I have not. But it has given me more goals to strive for.

So, what will 2015 be? We'll see!! I'm optimistic. A lot of it might be repeat.

Finding a way to fit training and parenthood together has never been easy but my hope is that I will be able to return to combatives soon and work hand-to-hand again. I have my first pistol match since Feb coming up this month and then a handgun class in November. I'm hoping that 2015 Feb will see me back at Rangemasters for their conference for more head knowledge and a host of other refreshers as well.

Above all, I'm hoping that 2015 sees me on the mat, with trainer guns in force-on-force scenarios, at the range and competing again.

Another baby step towards my goals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Men, Come To My Rescue

An article has made it's rounds on my Facebook page via several instructor friends. It's titled Alpha Game: Protect Yourselves, Ladies and attempts to explain why women and children are being targeted more frequently in violent crime and why men are not coming to their aid.

The crux of the article can be summed up in these paragraphs:
"Men have been subjected to forty years of propaganda telling them that those old codes are outdated no longer apply. They have been taught from kindergarten that men and women are exactly the same. So, women shouldn't be surprised when bad men no longer treat them with kid gloves, but prey upon them as mercilessly as they do upon other men.

Nor should they be surprised when good men won't lift a finger or run any risks to defend them."
 After reading the article and feeling a little sad I started reading the comments to the article and even thinking back on my own experiences.

I've spoken against relying on someone else to save you. I've written countless blog posts about standing up for yourself and taking charge of your own self defense. I seek out the training that would allow me to better my chances against all aggressors--male, female, big or small.

But here's a little secret: I welcome help. I welcome protection. I embrace the kindness of a stranger or friend or spouse or family member who would stand up for me and say, "Leave her alone."

I won't wait for it. But I welcome it.

In the world of self defense things can get a little funny. Women train to fight off their most-likely and damaging attacker (a man) and that can often be translated into the idea that women are 100% equal to men or that she now no longer needs the assistance of anyone, even (or especially) a man.

Sometimes, that philosophy alone is what drives women to self defense classes. A woman, through the guise of feminism or equality, or whatever, decides the best way she can prove her superiority is to learn to defeat men in a physical match-up. Sadly, all too often, that drive comes from abuse or negligence at the hands of men.

Abuse at the hands of any man is enough to drive any woman to feel mistrustful of the gender as a whole. Abuse or neglect at the hands of a man that woman is supposed to have trusted to protect her can compound the issue even further.

I'm no stranger to such abuses and it was that abuse that drove me to the doors of self defense.

I made a decision that I was never going to rely on anyone else to save me ever again and if no one was going to help me then I'd help myself.

My drive for self protection was born out of hurt and bitterness, mistrust and anger. Yet the more I learned (the more I healed) the more I realized that my prejudices against men were planted in the shallow, infertile ground of perversion in a few.

Most men are not interested in hurting anyone. Many, in fact, want to be a protector. They want to be needed, relied upon or trusted to solve a problem. As much as men admire strong women there is a part of them that finds it perfectly acceptable for that woman to have her moments of weakness. Those men are okay being that knight in shining armor who comes to the rescue. If given the chance, many men would put forth the finest of efforts to fulfill that role and feel more like men because of it.

And yet, no one is asking them.

We're shoveling women into self defense classes and telling them that they don't need help. Worse, in many classes, women are being taught that the people they should be fearing the most are those they are invested in trusting. The domestic violence statistics are quoted. The rape statistics. The fact that most attacks happen by individuals the woman knows. And then the seed of mistrust is watered with words like, "Would you be ready to do this against your own husband?"

Don't get me wrong. A woman should very well know how to defend herself from anyone, including her spouse, if the need arises. She should be capable of standing up to the most aggressive and unlikely of foes. She should be able to do her best, with whatever tool is at her disposal, to defend herself. But I can't help but fear we're creating a much bigger problem by breeding that kind of mistrust and an attitude that she can always do it and do it best on her own.

We're breeding men who think they are irrelevant to the defense of women. That they don't matter and shouldn't help even if they are in a position to do so.

Worse still is that we may be breeding women who have a higher opinion of their own abilities than reality would dictate.

Women are plowed through self defense classes often paired up with other women or compliant male partners, given reassuring conditioning through defeating other non-skilled females or compliant males, told they are unbeatable, given a certificate of completion and told they are ready for whatever anyone can throw at them. The truth is that we women suffer a huge disadvantage when it comes to real world encounters with violence--particularly violent men--and we may not be able to conquer every foe out there without help.

Yes, many men can be deterred or fought off when encountering the minimum of resistance. Many women have fought off attackers using basic self defense skills. There are also some highly skilled women out there. Those skills should be taught. They should be learned and they should be applied when necessary. They have and will continue to be successful!

But those classes and skills should not be a substitute for an able-bodied, and preferably skilled individual coming to help.

My journey into self defense began on the premise that I never again wanted to rely on someone else to save me. I stand by that decision. I do not want to wait for someone to come to my rescue. But whereas I crossed the start line determined to resist all outside offers to help, I've reached a point of this unending journey with the realization that I don't want to do it all on my own anymore. Not only is it impractical, it's foolish. If the bad guys can embrace the need for assistance in victimizing others, why should I try to stand alone in defending myself? 

So, to those who would question whether or not I would ever want any assistance from a man, the answer is, "yes."

Help me. Save me. Rescue me. Protect me.

Encourage me to learn how to do it myself. Congratulate me when I take the next step in self reliance and self defense. But if you see me in a position of need, please, help me. I will thank you for it. I will appreciate you for it. I will not feel less of a woman because you helped me. I will not feel as though you are undermining me. I may be able to do it on my own but I know I have a better chance with your help. I welcome your help.

For those men who have felt like we women don't want you or need you anymore. I'm sorry. I can't speak for every woman but for my own part in shutting you out of my own defense I apologize.

We women will never be as good at defending ourselves from men like you men are.

For those men who have wanted to help but have been hesitant for fear you'd be seen as undermining us and our strength. I, for one, would like to invite you to jump in and help. Again, I can only speak for myself, but I want you to know I'd appreciate your help.

To those men who have never wondered and never asked but have thrown themselves into the mix on a woman's (or anyone's) behalf. Thank you! You are appreciated. Even if it wasn't by the individual you helped, I appreciate your spirit.

To the women who read this. Good for you for learning how to defend yourself. Keep at it. Don't stop and don't wait for someone to rescue you. But don't discredit the ability and desire that men have to help you and protect you, either.

In the world of self defense, it still counts as a win to be rescued.