Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Freeze: Boundaries

Over the last couple of days there's been a little spike in the conversation about "the freeze." This in part due to the questions that were born out of my post: Abuse, Abduction, Self Defense. Questions like, "Why didn't she call for help?" "Why didn't anyone help?"

Kathy Jackson over at Cornered Cat did a fantastic job covering the topic so I won't try to reinvent her words. Her blog, Fear And The Freeze Response is a must read. So, go.. read.

A Girl And Her Gun also talks about the aftermath of the freeze and how it can have an effect on self perception.

The sad fact of the matter is, many (dare I say, most) people don't even know that the freeze response exists. If they are aware of it they somehow think it will not happen to them. Or, they may have experienced it but in such a low-stress-level environment that consequences of the freeze were negligible or at most, embarrassing (freezing up at a business meeting). If they experience it on a tragic level it is in a non-violent environment: a car accident, natural disaster or major injury. In these environments it seems understandable that one would freeze. Often times there is nothing that could have been done even if there were no freeze so the freeze is rather inconsequential to how events unfolded.

People who do experience the freeze response when faced with violent crime, however, are suspect. If not outwardly questions as to why they froze they often find themselves looking inward and questioning their own sense of preparedness and worth. If they survive, the looming question can often be, "What was wrong with me? Why didn't I do something?"

I could watch surveillance videos of violent crimes almost all day. I have a strong stomach for it. I find analyzing them to be fascinating and as long as I can slow things down I can catch things that some people miss. It's a lot different than watching a movie where you are shown exactly what you are supposed to see and understand. In a surveillance video you are often questioning everything and discovering what you are supposed to see and what investigating what is important.

What can I learn about how the attack started? Where did the attack come from? Were there pre-attack indicators that were missed? When was the weapon presented (if at all)? Was there a freeze? How/when was the freeze broken? What for knowledge isn't in the video such as relationship between victim and attacker? How does that play into the dynamic?

One thing I have universally noted is that in almost every single video, if you know what you are looking for, is a freeze. A moment of disbelief, a moment of hesitation while the brain wraps itself around the reality of the situation, even moments of paralysis where victims or bystanders stand stock still throughout the entirety of the crime.

The freeze is there. It is hard wired in us. It can and will happen to you. It's nothing to be ashamed of or to question. It happens! It's time to stop beating ourselves up about it and learn to embrace it and/or minimize it when necessary.

I'm in the middle of reading Rory Miller's Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected. In it he dedicates an entire chapter to the freeze and ways you can eliminate some types of freezes and minimize others and even tactically use other types. But he makes it very clear that you will never do away with the freeze 100%.

But, you may be like me and think, "Okay, I'll admit. The freeze will be there. How do I find out where my freeze is and how do I train it out of me or at least minimize it?" 

Some freezes you may never find until the time comes. Some freezes you may be able to find in training. Sometimes those freezes are nothing more than a training issue. You're in a shoot out and your firearm jams. Because you've never practiced clearance drills you stand there staring at a non functioning gun because you haven't trained yourself what to do in that scenario. Establishing a trained and regular response (tap, rack, bang) to that particular scenario (an jammed gun) can eliminate that freeze.

But other freezes are not so easy to identify.

Just recently I discovered a big one in myself and if you want to see if, watch this video:


Watch between :04 and :11 seconds in the video. There is a threatening presence. He has cornered me. He is within my striking distance. At one point he even threatens me by saying, "I'm not letting you leave." And I still don't act. I'm stuck in a frozen loop of repeating the same command that he's clearly demonstrated he's not going to obey.

You would think I learned my lesson. This video was taken almost three years ago. I can't make the same mistake twice, can I?

Enter last week:

Due to weather we had a very small turn out in Krav class and it was just my husband, myself and our instructor. Because it was just the three of us our instructor let us decide what we wanted to work on and my husband volunteered some of my issues. Such as my freeze.

It can be easy to know you need to attack when you are being attacked, but the fact of the matter is that is far too late in many scenarios--including the scenario above. Recognizing this, our instructor set up my husband as my attacker and started working some drills to get me to attack him when he got within striking distance.

And then he messed everything up.

After resetting the scenario my instructor walked up to me and asked if I had any ID. I looked at him, confused. Why did he need my ID? I've been in his class for months. He knows who I am.

"Hey, let me see your ID!" he said and it hit me that this might be a set up to distract me from an attack from the side by my husband.

While trying to keep my husband in my peripheral my instructor got closer. I began to feel myself getting overwhelmed by his closeness and demanded he get away from me, EXACTLY as I did in the video from almost three years ago.

He got closer and closer and eventually my husband did rush in and attack me and I fought him off as I'd been taught. But once the scenario ended both my instructor and my husband pointed out that I let my instructor break the boundary we'd been working on all night and get FAR too close and I failed to act as I'd been trained. The newness of the attack with the change in attacker and him presenting with a seemingly innocuous question completely froze my trained response until I could identify a clear threat: my husband rushing me out of the corner of my eye.

We reset the scenario a few more times and I no longer froze, having recognized my error and trained past it.... at least for that day and in that environment.

Boundaries are my freeze. I need to set clearer boundaries that I do not allow people to cross.

Does that mean I'm going to hit anyone who gets within three feet of me? No, but my intuition told me something was off about that scenario and I wasted time questioning myself and trying to figure it out instead of acting on my training. And, again, I gave him a command to get away from me and instead of complying he continued to move in. As before, I froze myself in a loop of wasted commands. Such an act should have been an immediate trigger that told me it was time to act. Instead, I froze, just like I did three years ago.

Greg Ellifritz (incidentally, the man I was fighting in the linked video) wrote a very nice, short article about boundaries. Rory Miller also talks about boundaries (though he uses a different word) that should be triggers for you to act. If this happens, I respond with this! You won't think of everything, of course, but it can and will help minimize some of those moments of freeze.

Set boundaries!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why Aren't More Women In Advanced Classes

Kathy Jackson asked a question on her Cornered Cat Facebook Page. The conversation and subsequent question went like this:
"Sitting at dinner last night with several other well-known defensive firearm instructors, the conversation came around to women & firearms training. ... The instructors each had their own theories about why more gun-owning, gun-carrying women don't want to learn more about how to use a gun more effectively. After all, having better skills would be safer for them, their families, and any bystanders.

If you had been sitting there, what would you have told these guys? Why do you think more women don't sign up for the intermediate to advanced handgun classes?"
That's a pretty hard question and she got a lot of possible answers. Some suspected that it was because the classes weren't feminine enough or didn't cater to women enough or that there weren't pairs of women to make the other women feel more accepted in class, that it was a matter of finances, etc.

There certainly could be validity to those claims and many more. Just because I am a woman doesn't mean I have special insight into what motivates every woman out there (as I said in my blog I Can't Help Your Wife.)

I strongly believe that what might stop one women from attending an advanced class might not be what stops another. One might find money her tether to hold her back while for another it is lack female friendly (whatever that means) instructors or not having a girl friend to go with her.

Personally, I love advanced training and I keep going back for more. And, to share my dirty little secret, I don't mind that I'm the only woman in class. In fact, I avoid women-only classes and do not generally invite other women to come with me to trainings unless they feel they are ready.

Kathy asking this question made me ask myself, "Why?"

Starting a Shoot from Surrender
I had to think back to my own experiences. What has made me willing to do advanced classes? What makes me okay with being the only woman? Why don't I actively encourage women to come to classes with me?

After weeding through a few theories that didn't seem to logically pan out I fell on one experience that I think was a pivotal key to my breaking out in both my training and my mindset: my first time going to the range by myself. One of the most nerve-racking things I'd done to that date. It was the day I not only decided but actually took the step to take an individual responsibility for my training and to not let anything (including my fear, lack of confidence, appearance or lack of support or sexism) stand in the way of my training goals. 

I would ask other women with mindsets like my own to confirm if they felt the same way, but, unfortunately, there seems to be relatively few of us around (as evidenced by our numbers in advanced trainings).

I believe the problem may be confidence or the lack thereof.

1) Some women lack the confidence to step out on their own and try and even fail. 

Men and women can both have this same hangup but it seems to be more prevalent in women. We can tend to take it pretty personally when we make a mistake. When we take that shot and miss it's not just that we took a shot and missed it's that we are failures. We aren't good at this. It was a mistake to come here. He's looking at me like I'm a total idiot. He's probably wondering why I even bothered coming to this class. I'll never get this right. I shouldn't have even gotten out of bed this morning. My life is over!

Brushing off the small stuff and carrying on can be very hard, especially if you feel you are being scrutinized to a greater degree. It's very easy to feel an added scrutiny if you are an anomaly in the class--the only woman, perhaps? Being in a class of all women can make women feel like they can blend in and mistakes won't be so closely scrutinized because the woman does not feel singled out. Sometimes having only one other woman there can lessen that feeling of a spotlight being on your back.

2) They lack the confidence to be okay in an all male environment and let any perceived sexism go.

Another little secret: there isn't a single class I have attended where I am the only woman that I haven't felt that spotlight I talked about above. And it's not as though I can say it doesn't make me nervous or feel some kind of perceived added scrutiny. But the fact of the matter is that most of the time it's total bull crap. The guys don't care a VAST majority of the time and in a matter of minutes we're all laughing together and training together like there is no gender gap. Sometimes they even like having a woman because it gives them a chance to get used to sparring with or fighting a woman. Sometimes, when it comes to sparring I'm still treated like a little doll or I get the guy who says, "I can't hit a woman" or he's afraid he's going to hurt me because I'm so small. But when I start hitting him he eventually gets the clue or I just keep hitting him harder until he does. Yep.. I'm THAT mean.

Sometimes there's some sexism though. I've been in classes where men have made it very clear that they are upset that a woman is there. I've had men tell me some very sexist things that have made me very angry or embarrassed. Most of the time, if the instructor is worth his salt, he or she will put a stop to that before it even starts. But, unfortunately I've even had instructors say some very sexist things and it certainly has made me doubt myself. But what has kept me moving forward and going back is the fact that I am not doing this to get any kind of approval from men or any given instructor. I am doing this to learn how to fight. Period. Instead of letting my feelings get hurt I take what I can learn and I run with it. I leave the crap and am better for it.

3) They lack the confidence to be okay with getting dirty, ugly and having messy hair.

I bet there will be a few people who will scoff at that. Does it really matter to some women that they might get their makeup smudged while in an advanced class?

Girly going out the window

Without going into a lengthy explanation of why, the truth of the matter is there are women who care more about their hair than their training and no amount of discounts or female support or accommodation by the instructors is going to get them to risk smudged mascara and a broken nail. Sure, you can get these women into basic classes where there is little risk of getting roughed up, but until they are willing to smudge some makeup for sake of training you won't have much success in getting them to turn out.

Does that mean a lady shouldn't care about her appearance? Of course not. I do my hair and makeup before almost every class I attend. That being said, of late, there hasn't been a class I have come out of where my hair hadn't gone through 100 different renditions after being tossed, pulled, rained on or stepped on. I lose most of my makeup on the shirts of people I am sparring with, sweat it off or, yes, get it rained off. I like going into the class feeling pretty because, yep, I am that girl. But I'm not there to look pretty. I'm there to learn and train and once the class starts pretty goes out the door. And I actually get a big kick out of how alerted my appearance can be at the end of a particularly good training. If I don't have a black eye, it's a good day!

And what happens when a woman (or man) who lacks confidence attends a class? She needs more time and attention. People and instructors spend more time trying to build her confidence than training.

Shooting along side the guys
There's nothing wrong with this. Anyone who has taught any kind of class from Yoga to firearms to basket weaving knows that there are those who need more attention and support. There are students who are genuinely frightened of a firearm who need to literally have you there and talking them through every single step of the firing process.

Men seem to get over that fear a little faster than women and can leave a basic class feeling pretty confident in their ability and ready to go try something new and a little more challenging. A woman, on the other hand, may not feel ready. She may feel better but she might never describe herself as being confident in her new skill. The idea of going on to more advanced training makes her protest that she's not ready for it. She's afraid she's going to hold back the rest of the class and be looked at negatively because she's going to be the one who's going to take time and attention away from other students. Especially if she was that student (or felt like she was that student) in a basic class. What she may not realize is that most instructors (if they are good) are prepared for all types of students and will help push them forward in a safe manner.

A woman who determines that she is confident in her ability to handle herself and her firearm is unstoppable. If she's determined to learn there should be nothing that can keep her back.

So, how do we get women to attend more advanced trainings? I don't know. I don't know what it takes to convince a woman she can do something she may not feel confident in doing. I know it wasn't easy for me to take that first step either but the first step was the hardest and they keep getting easier the more confidence I build.

There's nothing quite like the feeling of walking through a door and facing a group of men made primarily of police officers or military personnel and thinking, "I belong here. Me, the housewife and mother, I belong RIGHT HERE! Kicking the shit out of and out-shooting these guys." I may not always out-shoot or out-fight the guys, but one thing is always true... I belong there.

And, ladies, you do too!

Join Me

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yes, My Son, It Is Okay To Hit People

A couple of months ago, while attending a play group with my four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, another little two-year-old girl lashed out and hit another child. Her mother, ripe with indignation, swept the girl into her arms and scolded, "No! It is NEVER okay to hit people."

My skin crawled. The scenarios flowed through my head and I couldn't restrain myself.

"Would you tell her that if she was being abducted?" I asked.

The mother stopped and blinked a few times and then stuttered, "Well... that's different."

"Yes, it is," I said. "But you just told her that it was never okay to hit people. That's not entirely true. There are times it's okay to hit people and to hit them hard." And then I dropped it. I already felt I was stepping way over my bounds.

The mother seemed to be lost in thought for a few moments but shortly everything went back to normal.

I do not tell my son he cannot hit. In fact, I encourage him to hit and hit well. I get down on my knees and let him hit my hands or hold up a pillow and let him hit that. I work on proper hitting techniques, using the whole body instead of just his hands. We work on kicking and ground fighting. We don't do it every day, but a few times a week or whenever he tells me that he wants to. He's turning into a good little fighting and I'm proud of him.

I'll be doing the same thing with my daughter when she gets old enough to take interest in such things.

A messy-headed four-year-old
And now I will pause to acknowledge the horror of some parents who may read this blog and think that I'm turning my children into violent sociopaths. To them I would say that I am teaching my children how to hit when they need to hit and giving them a healthy outlet for their aggression instead of forcing them to bottle it up or suppress it to the point it's inaccessible in a time of need.

Frankly, it's easy to give a child a black and white set of rules such as "It's never okay to hit." That makes it easy for the parent. When the child hits he or she gets in trouble and that ends it right there. It's a heck of a lot harder to teach a child that there are certain times that hitting is appropriate and times it is not. It takes some trial and error. When my child hits I have to find out why he hit. I have to explain the difference between necessary hitting and unnecessary. Hitting someone because they took your toy is not acceptable. Hitting someone when they hurt you is only acceptable if you are defending yourself and can't go and get help from an authority figure. Yeah, try explaining that to a four-year-old.

Yes, we've had some instances of him hitting in day care. Who hasn't? If you have children you know that at some point in time you will find your child hitting another one. Hitting is a pretty natural response to feeling threatened or slighted and it takes social training to work that response out of children. I choose to channel it instead of eliminate it. He is disciplined when he hits for the wrong reasons and that will reenforce the ideals that there are times and places you can hit and times and places you can't hit. But I refuse to teach him that he can never hit another human being.


Because I want him to know that he not only CAN hit a human being if he needs to and that I EXPECT him to hit a human being if he is defending himself.

I refuse to allow my children to be raised to feel they have no options and are powerless against people who would hurt them. I would feel I failed as a parent if my child was victimized and said he thought he couldn't fight back when that was a justifiable--dare I say, necessary--option.

That being said, I know I have my work cut out for me. I have to train him and my daughter that with strength and power comes a responsibility to use it for good and for defense. Just because you know how to pound on someone doesn't mean you should and that there are consequences when you hurt the wrong people.

We talk about this every time we drop him off to day care. We encourage him to talk to the day care workers about problems he might have instead of dealing with them himself. We try to model proper conflict resolution. We teach him to protect those who are smaller and weaker than he is and to walk away from conflict when he can. We teach him to share and to not get angry or hit over toys or possessions. We reward him for restraint, compassion, sharing and patience. We discipline him for hitting when he doesn't need to or for being cruel and careless with his actions. We are actively trying to mold a child who knows that fighting--that fighting hard and dirty and ruthlessly--is an option in the right context but gentleness, compassion, care and graciousness should be his guiding principles.

I pray he never has to use violence in defense of himself or another but I feel a little better knowing that he will know its an option. When I catch him beating on our heavy bag or a pillow he hasn't been caught doing anything bad or wrong or naughty. He gets a smile and I help him work on his form and technique. He won't have that negative conditioning that says he can't or shouldn't hit under any circumstance. If, however, I were to catch him beating on his sister (which, by the way, I've never seen him do), there will be negative consequences. He's being trained to distinguish between what is acceptable to hit and what isn't and when. When play fighting with me or his dad we give him more lenience and he's doing well.

The road we've chosen as parents is not an easy one but I feel it is the right one. In the coming years he will be enrolled in martial arts. We will spend a lot of time and money teaching him to fight. It might save his life one day.

Or, maybe one day, when a young girl who's been taught it's never okay to hit is assaulted and frozen solid from a lifetime of conditioning she cannot fight back, my son will be the one who unleashes hell to save her.

A mother can dream, can't she?