Thursday, September 19, 2013

Will Your Passion For Your Loved Ones Save Them?

There's an old saying in the self defense community: You will never rise to the occasion, you will fall to the level of your training.

People much wiser and experienced than I have all proclaimed this to be true.

Yet, at the same time we do hear stories of individuals defending themselves and those they love with little-to-no extensive training and a strong will to survive.

People who feel that those like me are a little extreme in our training regime's often point to these stories as excuses as to why they don't feel like they need to train hard, often or at all. They might even use those stories as excuses to not be aware of their surroundings, take stock of their personal health and fitness or evaluate their personal preparedness.

Many rely on their pure passion for life to save them or someone they love, pulling out statements like, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog," or "If your will to survive is greater than his will to do you harm, you will be victorious!"

Where I see this bravado most in the self defense community is in parents. Their passion for the lives of their children burns so bright it blinds their own, honest evaluations of their abilities. They slam their fists into tables and say, "If anyone touches my child I will kill him!" and they believe it.

While I believe in the motivational power of these kinds of statements, I feel they are misleading in that they give an individual a sense of a power they may not possess.

The power to be skillfully violent.

And when confronted with a situation they did not know how to handle they fail. Then the doubt and guilt become almost unbearable. The parent whose child is kidnapped or assaulted questions his or her passion for the life of their child that they could stand by and watch something like that happen. How could one really love and not be able to protect from such horrors?

The problem is compounded by the comments on news blogs and videos where anonymous twits who have never had to face fear and violence can spew their uneducated opinions about how they would never allow something like that to happen to them or to their children.

Here are a few examples:
In this first video a mother runs from a knife-wielding attacker and leaves her 4 year-old daughter behind.

In this second video a mother watches as her daughter is taken out of the cart in front of her and held hostage at knife-point.

When I talk about these scenarios in my classes I get bombarded with the comments, "How could that mother just leave her child?.. How could that mother let someone grab her child?.."

I can promise you one thing. These mothers do not love their children less than you love yours. You are not special and they are not stupid. If you have an advantage over them it is that you are reading this, evaluating yourself and realizing your own potential to let this very thing happen to you or your children if you don't prepare yourself.

Why did they "allow" these things to happen? Because they were literally scared out of their rational thinking minds. It has a lot to do with limbic system brain function and a perceived lack of time, fear and the suddenness of the attack. One or all of those things overwhelm the rational, thinking brain and dump adrenaline for the flight, fight or freeze response. All primarily centered on self preservation, NOT the preservation of those around you (including your children).

But there are always those who will follow up watching these videos with, "I would have........"

And the armchair tacticians begin their proclamations about how they would have saved the day.

And I'm forced to ask a very tough but honest question.

How do you KNOW you would have done better?

What experience in violent encounters gives you the foresight to know how you may perform under life-threatening stress? What skillful, life-altering decisions do you make on a regular basis that prepares you for such situations?

Could you rise to the occasion? Some do. But they are the exceptions. Your normal, every day individuals are those like the ones you saw above. They have no great preparation or skill in self defense. Standing in shock as her child is lifted from the shopping cart in front of her or running away and leaving her child behind. Still others cover their heads, curl into a fetal position and hope they can deny what is happening to them until they are either dead or it stops happening. Others plea for a mercy that's likely not to come.

So many want to believe they are inundated with this great ability and talent to perform perfectly in life-threatening situations to save their own life or the lives of those they love. The fact of the matter is that even though our emotional stakes are raised when it comes to our loved ones our ability stays the same until we do something to improve it.

So how does one know whether they have what it takes to respond in such situations?

To steal from my good friend, Ellifritz:
- You are highly trained and skilled
- You have seen ways out of similar situations
- You have a history of winning in a similar situations
- You have practiced this type of situation before

A lot of us practice and train for a lot of situations dealing with attacks against our own persons. But many of us ignore practicing attacks that happen to those we love.

How many of us have practiced how we would respond to someone taking our child? How many of us have practiced what we would do if a loved one was in a fight for his or her life? How many of us have trained in what to do if our children are with us when the bullets start to fly?

Many people every year die in fires because they were going BACK for loved ones. They had enough sense to get out of the fire themselves but realized that they left their loved one behind and died as a result of attempting to go back for them. If you don't want to be running back into a fire you have to be prepared to save your loved one in the process of escaping yourself.

After showing the WalMart kidnapping video in a class of all mothers not to long ago I watched their faces become hard and animated with anger.

"What would you do?" I asked.

"I'd shoot him!" came the response from one. Everyone quickly agreed.

"How?" I asked.

There are glances around the room.

"He has your child in his arms. He has a knife to her. Are you even carrying your gun or did you decide you were just going to the grocery store so you don't need it? If you you don't have your gun what are you going to do? If you do have your gun and you decide to take that shot where would you shoot him? How do you make sure he doesn't cut your child in the process? Would you stand back or would you try to make a contact shot? Do you know how to make sure your firearm doesn't jam when attempt a contact shot? How to shoot so the bullet doesn't exit him and hit your child?"

My goal is to inspire thought and the room falls quiet as every mother is evaluating her skill vs her passion.

Don't let your passion for those you love deceive you.

Raise your skill to the level of your passion. Prepare yourself to defend those you love. Don't let yourself die in the fire of trying to go back.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Breastfeeding and Gun Classes

While at the Rangemaster Instructor Class this last weekend I was one of around six other women in class. As women are wont to do, we got talking about our children, their ages and other motherly issues such as childbirth and breastfeeding.

I mentioned I was still breastfeeding my youngest and one of the other mothers looked at me and said, "How do you come to places like this and do it?"

"It's not easy," I said.

"No, really," she said. "How do you do it? I want to know."

I realized that as women start to break into the gun community on a more regular basis, with them will come women who are going to be going through some very female specific issues.

I told her that when I got home I would write about it and she said, "Please do! Women need to hear about this stuff."

And as uncomfortable as it may be to read about male instructors need to be aware that if their goal is to reach out to female students they may have to accommodate a few female specific needs, one of which is the breastfeeding mother.

This is the third, multi-day gun class I've taken since giving birth to my daughter. She's nearly two years old and still breastfeeding. I say that very proudly because it has taken a huge commitment on my part to make sure I am doing all I can to keep producing during the times I am away from her. Including this weekend.

What does it mean to be a lactating mother in the gun community?

Lots of prep work.

My first and second two and three-day gun class were when my daughter was four and five months old. She was exclusively breastfed at that time and I should have been pumping on a 3-4 hour cycle to be keeping up with her demands in her absence.

Quite frankly, that didn't happen. But what I did do was sufficient to keep my supply up so that when I got home she was able to pick up right where we left off.

Step One: If you're going to be a breastfeeding mom you need a quality breast pump and the right size shields.
I am fortunate enough to have two quality breast pumps and every single size shield. Both of my pumps are Medela Pump-In-Styles. One is the backpack version and the other is the shoulder bag. Many women do not even know that there are different shield sizes for different nipple sizes and that the shield size can change depending on how engorged you are and can even be different from one breast to the other. Too large or too small of a shield can mean painful pumping and poor production. If you are unsure of the shield sizes see a lactation consultant before you leave on your trip. Often times they will help you fit your shields for free. I know that if I did not have a quality pump and the right size shields I would not have been able to pump as efficiently in the time frames I was given. A quality pump is essential.  

Step Two: Make sure you have enough milk stored up for your baby for your trip. This is going to involve a little math, some more time and a lot of dedication. Determine how much milk your baby is consuming each day. You can do this by weight, by volume or by averages for his weight and needs based on growth charts and then find out how much milk you are going to need for the entirety of your trip by multiplying your babies daily ounces consumed by the number of days you will be gone (including travel). Set yourself reasonable pumping and milk storage goals to make that amount of excess before you need to leave. The more time you give yourself the better your chances will be. Pumping two extra ounces a day for three months is a lot easier than suddenly finding out you'll have to pump twenty extra ounces a day for a week to store enough.

Step Three: Be sure your baby will take a bottle from your intended caregiver. Be aware that sometimes babies will take bottles only in their mothers absence. If they can smell you or hear you they will likely attempt to refuse a bottle. A good test of whether or not a baby will take a bottle is to leave a hungry baby with a caregiver and leave the building completely.

Step Four: You need to be able to cool/freeze the milk to you express. Thankfully, the school I was at the first two times had a refrigerator with a functioning freezer. I asked the owner if I could use the freezer (without telling him what I would be freezing) and he said it was ok. That made storing my milk at those classes very easy. In this last class there was no freezer and it was hot. Very hot! In which case it's important to think again and prep your cooler for storing milk.

1. Make sure the hotel or other location you are staying at has a freezer available. Even if you can't freeze your milk immediately, keeping it cool on ice or dry ice until you can get it frozen that night should keep it fresh.
2. Dry ice is better than regular ice. Ice cubes are better than cold packs.
3. On particularly hot days, the more ice and layers of insulation the better.

Dry ice can be difficult to find but not impossible. I have found it by calling big chain grocery stores in the area and getting it in advance. If it's a particularly hot day buy a foam cooler that can fit inside of a larger cooler. Pack the large cooler with ice and have room for drinks and sandwiches and pack the smaller cooler with dry ice or more ice for your expressed milk.

Step Five: You need to be able to clean yourself and your equipment. Firing ranges are not clean and sterile fields. We shouldn't even eat without washing our hands due to lead exposure, never mind about contaminating your breastmilk with lead and sweat and everything else. And once you are done pumping you have to have a means of cleaning your parts so that they are ready to use when you need to pump again.

Most big name schools will have a bathroom adequate enough to wash your hands and face. Wash all the way up to your elbows with cool water and lots of soap and, if you are particularly dirty and sweaty, consider washing your breasts as well or at least having wipes handy for that job.

If you can, take your parts to an actual sink and wash them with soap and water. In absence of that, what I did was rinse my pump parts with clean, bottled water and then dropped them into a gallon-size plastic bag with soapy water. I rinsed them with the soapy water and then rinsed again with the bottled water. I had a sterilizing steam bag I would use every night when I got back to the hotel.

A quick note on lead exposure and breastmilk: What you ingest will make it into your milk supply. You will inhale or otherwise absorb lead particles throughout your time at a gun class. That lead has potential to make it into your milk. Try though I may I have found no reliable source of information to indicate that that exposure is enough to harm your baby through your milk. Even so, some mothers choose to pump and dump the milk they express during and immediately after gun classes. That is your choice. Personally, I have not had an issue giving the milk I have expressed during gun classes to my children and the lead tests they have had in their childhood have all come back normal.

Step Six: Store your milk in bags, not bottles and bring a big enough cooler. Bottles take up more space and you run out of them pretty fast. For a weekend class while exclusively breastfeeding I filled an entire freezer with over 200 ounces of breastmilk. I was using 5 ounce bags and had well over 40 bags of milk in the freezer before I left. That's a lot of milk.

Step Seven: Find a private place with power. I hate to tell you this girls, but most of the time that's going to end up being your car. Lots of gun schools, if they have a bathroom will only have one. Sometimes it might only be a portable toilet with no power and no running water. Even if it has power and running water there's likely going to be a line of people waiting to use it during breaks.

Buy a power adapter for your pump that fits your car or a battery pack (beware that battery packs often don't provide adequate power for good suction), turn on the engine to get the air conditioner or heater working (whichever you need), hang some sweaters over the windows if you don't have good tinting and pump away. If you are particularly sensitive about looky-loos, make sure that you don't park in a place with lots of foot traffic (ask me how I know that one!).

Step Eight: Have your pump set up and ready for quick pumping sessions on short breaks. You may be squeezing in a quick pump with just enough time to take the nagging, painful edge off in five minutes before you have to run off to class. You don't want to be plugging in your hoses, getting your bags and shields and power hooked up. If you're going to pump in your car, have all of that set up so that all you have to do is jump in, flip the switch, pump and go. You may not even have time to store the milk you pump in an ultra short session or be able to clean yourself and your parts adequately and might have to dump what you pump (it's okay to cry over spilled breastmilk) but a five minute session can stave of engorgement, pain and mastitis. If you can sneak it in do it!

Step Nine: Know how much to pump.
If you're lucky enough to pump as often as your child nurses then pump only what your child would eat. Depending on how much milk you produce your child may or may not empty your breast at each feeding. If you are struggling with your milk supply already and there may be delays in when you can pump again, empty both breasts and pump for an additional five minutes or so to make sure they are good and empty and stimulated to make more. If, however, you have a good supply and you pump too much your breasts will think you need more and will produce more. You could end up far more engorged and uncomfortable than if you just pumped enough for one feeding at a time.

If, however, you feel any hot or firm spots, empty that breast COMPLETELY while massaging the area to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis. Keep in mind that your breast tissue runs all the way up to your armpit so don't forget to massage there as well working towards your nipple.

Step Ten: Be prepared for engorgement, unexpected let-downs, leaking, plug ducts and the potential for mastitis.
The best way you can avoid all of the above is to make smart decisions about the clothes you wear. Sports bras and tight shirts will compress your expanding breasts throughout the day and can cause plug ducts that, if not handled well and quickly can and will lead to mastitis (a breast infection). Wear a quality nursing bra and a looser fitting shirt that can stretch and expand with your breasts.

Invest in some leak-proof nursing pads that will catch any unexpected leaks or let-downs through the day and change them as often as needed for your comfort. Trust me, you do NOT want to be trying to stifle a let-down in the middle of a live-fire shoot house!

When you are able to rest for the evening, take a hot bath or shower and consciously check your breasts for hot spots, places that feel unusually firm or are particularly sore. If any are found massage the area rigorously, preferably while pumping (yes, it will hurt) and take an anti-inflammatory.

Step Eleven: Eat and drink well. Your body needs extra calories to produce milk. Yes, it needs water but it also needs protein and fat. Stay hydrated and eat enough protein and fat to keep your supply up. Breastfeeding can take up to an additional 500 calories a day to maintain. Don't skimp on the snacks.

Step Twelve: Speak up for yourself. If you're in a fast-paced class that wants to have a "working lunch" or doesn't take breaks, put your foot down. It won't do you any good to get mastitis on the second day and find yourself in bed with a fever and the most pain ripping through your body you've experienced since childbirth (I've had mastitis three times in total.. I know of what I speak).

For the rest? Roll with it. You'll figure it out. I promise!

And to instructors: Be aware of who you have in your class. Get to know your students before hand. If you find out that you have a young mother in your class consider having an hour long or at least half hour long lunch so if she needs to pump she can do it without rushing. If you have a freezer available to you let her know it and welcome her to use it. She may be uncomfortable asking. If she says, "Why would I need a freezer?" don't worry about it. You offered. If she needed it, she'd know why you were offering it.

I know instructors don't always have a choice of where they teach and don't have control over things like bathroom facilities, power, water and refrigeration. But you do have control over when to take breaks and making someone feel comfortable. If you suspect there's a nursing mother in class attempt to give her a little more time, especially for the lunch break. Not only will she need to pump in that time but she'll have to eat and probably go to the bathroom, too. I guarantee she won't want to be a burden to the class so help her by giving her time and space if available.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Own Your Skill Level

I entered an art contest my freshmen year of high school. I drew a picture of a little girl in braids. She was looking out at you, the viewer, with a sort of somber look on her face. I won first place at the regional competition and went on to an international competition where I placed within the top 15 in monochromatic pencil. I was good. Everyone told me I was good. I knew I was good.

That summer I enrolled in an art camp and we were required to take a drawing with us to show the instructors what we were capable of. I took my little girl.

The instructors were going through the other student's work. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good. When he got to mine he said it was good and was about to move on when I asked him to critique it. He looked at me and said, "How honest can I be?" I encouraged him to be completely honest.

"Her right eye isn't looking the exact same direction as the left. Her left eye isn't a perfect circle. Her mouth is curved wrong. Her nose could be much more defined. You have very light shading. In black and white, skin isn't white, it's grey..."

I had a choice. I could have been offended that he was being so hard on me. I could have believed that I was good enough and I didn't have to listen to his criticisms. I could have gotten mad. I also could have defeated myself by thinking his criticisms meant I wasn't good. That I somehow failed. I decided neither of those choices would help me.

He looked at me and must have thought I felt he was being too harsh. I was just staring at my drawing and he said, "I'm sorry." What he didn't know was that I was in awe. I was in awe that he was seeing these things and instead of just patting me on the back and allowing me to continue doing them wrong he was willing to point them out to me and help me improve. I wasn't offended, mad or defeated. I was inspired to do better. I chose to improve.

Over the week he pushed me hard.

The next year I entered the same competition and drew a picture of a soldier sitting on his cot with his head in his hands. I won first at the regional level and second place at the international level. I went back to the same art school and took both the girl and my new work.

He immediately took it in front of the entire class set it on the podium gave a speech, "If you are willing to open yourself to honest criticism and listen to our instruction, this is what you are capable of."

He pushed me even harder that year and the following year I did even better.

What does that experience have to do with shooting and self defense? I'll tell you.

This weekend I went to the Rangemaster Instructor Course. I was good shooter when I enrolled. I knew I was good. I've been told repeatedly I was good. I was confident and ready. I knew I was going to be challenged but I didn't know how much. I figured it wouldn't be easy but I didn't expect to have my butt kicked.

It took me about an hour to see where my weaknesses were. Every thrown shot, every time I took a shot after my time was up, every time I struggled with a drill, I felt like I was failing. Like I was no good. Like I didn't belong at that class.

On lunch on the second day one of the instructors said there was only a handful of people in the entire class that he thought had a good handle on all of the fundamentals. I asked him if I was included in that group. With a look of apology on his face he said, "No."

It stung. Bad.

But then it hit me. I faced a decision. I could ignore him. I could think I was "good enough." I could puff out my chest and assume he didn't know what he was talking about. I could also feel defeated and give up.

I'd been choosing defeat all weekend. I was defeating myself by thinking I was terrible. I was beating myself up and feeling like everything I'd done to that point was for nothing. I was feeling like a failure.

I kept questioning everything I'd ever taught others. How could I possibly be a good instructor when I wasn't performing perfectly here?

But I remembered that art class. I remembered how I felt being critiqued by that instructor and the third choice I could make.

I could improve.

I had the choice to accept that all of the work I had done to that point was valid. I was good. But, I could be BETTER. I could stop kicking myself in the butt, get out of my own way, stop letting my pride screw with my head and absorb the instruction I was getting.

I asked him where I could improve and he critiqued my presentation (draw) from the holster. I could immediately see where what he was saying was valid. He wasn't telling me anything new. He was showing me that I'd gotten lazy. I wasn't applying every step of what I'd learned. It was time to hold myself to a higher standard.

I went back to my hotel room that night and drew my gun for twenty minutes.

I dry-fired, did magazine changes and committed myself to improving.

The next morning I shot my best score on the qualification.

It's easy to convince yourself that you are "good enough" or above criticism. It's also easy to defeat yourself when your errors are pointed out to you. It's harder to own your skill level for everything it is and for everything it isn't and accept the criticism of others to your own improvement.

At the same time, you have to be careful of where you get your criticism from.

I don't accept the criticism of people on the internet who I don't know to be an authority on the subject. I put myself out there and so I get a lot of criticism. The anonymous jerk who goes off about how stupid I am and tries to list all of the things I'm doing wrong doesn't make me bat an eyelash.

I also won't allow people to tell me I'm no good. Not even myself. I know I'm good. I have no doubt that, if shooting were necessary, I would be a formidable opponent. I know I can pick up any handgun and operate it to a basic standard. I will not allow some arm-chair commando tell me I don't know what I'm talking about.

But I also will not allow myself to think I'm above instruction. I have areas where I need to improve. I have a higher standard for myself and when I reach my next shooting goals I'm going to reach higher.

And if one of the instructors I know well and respect wants to critique me I am all ears. Every new instructor I train under or who reaches out to me to critique me will get my full attention. They are trying to help me. They are trying to help me improve.

I choose to improve.

What's your choice?