My local news has a story about a (probable) self defense case that happened a few miles from my house. Comments on the story include: “Calling him a lunatic…did you know him? He also didn’t get what he deserved!! He deserved to live his life with his family and friends…”
The thing that gets me about that — it’s such a common thing for people to say, that a violent attacker doesn’t “deserve” to be killed — is that it betrays a very fundamental lack of understanding about what self defense really is.
We want it to be about justice. About fairness. About taking out a less-than-human monster who “has it coming to them.” We want it to be about someone who “needed killing.”
And it’s not.
It’s just about staying alive. It’s about staying on your feet and able to breathe until the guardians of our civilization can get there to take the offender into custody and (eventually) into court where calmer people can decide what to do about his criminal offense against you.
If you do everything it takes to stay alive when someone attacks you, that might sometimes include using deadly force to stop him from killing you. When you use every ounce of force you have available, just to stay alive, you are not deciding what the attacker “deserves.” Staying alive does not make you the judge of the other person’s actions.
It simply makes you the survivor.
My local news has a story about a (probable) self defense case that happened a few miles from my house. Comments on the story include: “Calling him a lunatic…did you know him? He also didn’t get what he deserved!! He deserved to live his life with his family and friends…”
A few days ago, I was recording a Cornered Cat Quick Tips segment with Paul Lathrop of the Polite Society Podcast. As we talked, Paul asked me about for some tips for travelers who must go into airports and other gun-free areas. He asked, “What can you do to protect yourself when you’re completely disarmed?”
My response: I told him that I have never been disarmed. Sometimes I don’t have a gun or other dedicated weapon, but that does not mean I’m entirely unarmed. I’m never without resources. Guns provide an important resource for people who want to protect themselves, but a gun isn’t the be-all, end-all of self defense.
Your ultimate resource for self defense are the things you carry inside yourself — your absolute dedication to get home safe to your family at the end of the day, your decision that you won’t be a victim, your willingness to do whatever it takes to survive, the things you’ve learned about how to protect yourself, and the physical skills you’ve developed to help you do that effectively.
Your gun won’t always be with you. Your protective husband or boyfriend won’t always be with you. Your pocketknife or pepper spray won’t always be with you. But no matter what the circumstances might be, you (and whatever you know) will always be with you!
So today, reading Lise’s Life Assurance blog, I came across an old news story (from October 2011) of a woman who fought off a knife-armed attacker. This quote from the story really jumped out at me:
This woman did not have a gun or a knife of her own. What she had was an absolute determination to survive. She decided she was not going out like that. She acted quickly and decisively, and did what it took to survive. After the bad guy let go, she did not hang around to “win” the fight or make the bad guy pay for putting her in that situation. She did exactly as much as she needed to do in order to escape. And as soon as she’d done that, she left — efficiently.
You might even say, she fought like a cornered cat.
An excellent question came to my email box a few days ago. It was based on the following blog post by Dr. LateBloomer: [LINK]. You’ll want to read the whole thing, but here’s the upshot:
She went on to explain several reasons she hasn’t carried in the past, and why she wants to change that. In her email to me, she also said that she really wants to pry herself out of her rut of indecision, and asked if I could say anything that might help — or if I could suggest some type of class or firearms training that might help. With her permission, I’m sharing here a few of the things I told her, in hopes that this will also help others who find themselves in a similar place.
Here’s what I wrote back to her:
Wow! What a terrific question. Wish I’d seen your blog post earlier (I’ve put you into my bookmarks so I can find your blog again), because you bring up a bunch of spectacular & inter-related questions. Thanks so much for pointing me to your blog post, which was very well written and clear.
Since you reached out to me personally, I will try not to feel too self-serving when I point out that my own Cornered Cat defensive handgun classes are probably the best next step for you. Honestly, the questions you brought up in your blog post are almost entirely the questions we deal with in class — everything from “How, exactly, can I keep a gun on my body during the day in a way that will let me still do all the millions of errands and chores I need to do?” to “What do I do in the ladies’ room?” and “Will carrying a gun make me paranoid?” to “How do I draw from a concealed carry position, especially if I go with an alternate carry method that’s not a strong side belt holster?” Lots of other stuff too, including the question about how to make the transition from a cold range/square range mentality where the gun is a piece of sporting equipment, into the mindset of living with a loaded weapon that might someday be used as such.
If you are a reader, you might also find some of what you need inside the Cornered Cat book, especially the first few chapters that deal with a lot of the social, emotional, ethical, and legal questions people have about carrying guns and being prepared to use deadly force. Of course you can find some of the same material on my website, but I feel it’s much better organized inside the book, and a little less overwhelming in some ways. Since your immediate problem is a mindset concern, you might be best off starting with the written word while you’re waiting for your class time to roll around.
As a fellow control freak, I can tell you that a lot of self defense skills really boil down to becoming comfortable with controlled chaos. For example, you won’t be the one who gets to choose whether, when, or where you might face a violent crime. The criminal gets to make those decisions — and all of those most-critical decisions are completely outside your control. The event itself may feel chaotic, and will probably be both sudden and unexpected — more chaos and non-control. But you do have some control within that situation. You can control whether you have had training appropriate to dealing with crime (and not just the mechanics of running the gun). You can control what tools you will have with you, if any. And you can control what your ingrained, pre-decided responses might be. So chaos and non-control will happen, but the more things you can prep ahead of time, the more control you will be able to hold onto inside the chaotic event. (Hope that makes sense. Does it?)
On a similar level, people sometimes express concern about controlling the legal system after a self-defense event. Same thing. You can’t control whether your local legal system will decide to prosecute you after a self-defense event. (That’s a terrifying truth; sorry!) There are some variables you can use to reduce your odds, but ultimately, many of those things will be outside your immediate control. But what you can control is how well you’re prepared to make good decisions under stress, how well you’re prepared to use your gun in a skillful way that reduces the risks to others, and how well you have prepared yourself to deal with the aftermath. You can control whether you understand the deadly-force laws in your jurisdiction, whether you know what to do and say right after a shooting, whether you have quick access to legal help because you’ve done your research ahead of time.
Please forgive me if I’m reading too much into what you said, but if I understand you right, you need to get away from over-analyzing now and take the next step. For me, one thing that helped me over that hump was realizing exactly what I don’t control and what I do control. What I don’t control and can’t control is whether I’ll need a gun to defend my life or the life of an innocent other. What I do control, at least to some extent, is whether I’ll have that gun when I need it and whether I’ll know how to use it when the time comes. So (again, fellow control freak here!) instead of obsessing about all the things outside your control, take a closer and stronger look at the things you do control, and do something about those.
In a separate email, I added the following:
One more thought. When you said you didn’t just want the decision to carry to be about fear, it kind of gave me a shiver down my spine — because it’s so true. Try this, see if it works for you:
Here’s the bottom line, for me: I absolutely love it!!! when people start asking these kinds of questions. Ultimately, each of us must find answers that work for our ownselves and our own lives. It’s okay if you look at all your choices and decide this lifestyle path isn’t for you. What hurts is staying perched on the edges, never quite deciding and never quite not deciding. That’s such an uncomfortable place to be! That’s why I love to see questions like this, because it means people are finding ways to get out of that uncomfortable spot.
“If you have to fight, fight like a cornered cat.” That’s been my tagline for more than a dozen years. That’s why this morning, my friend John Murphy of FPF Training sent me an awesome video that illustrates this idea so very well.
Here’s the video. [LINK] Please watch it, then come back to read the rest of this post.
Seriously, you want to see this thing. Go watch it! I’ll wait.
A boy and his cat — it’s a beautiful thing.
When I posted the video on my Cornered Cat Facebook page, several people wanted to know why the mom abandoned her son after the dog attack. It’s a good question: why would a mom simply leave her crying child on the ground after something like that? What was she thinking?
There are two potential answers. Possibly both are true.
First, we cannot hear anything on these surveillance videos, and we can’t see what’s happening off-screen. It is possible, even likely, that the dog had circled around. Perhaps he was growling and snarling just out of camera view. If so, it’s not surprising that the mom stood up and raced out of the frame to chase the dog away again.
Second — and this is really why I’m placing this on the blog — it’s a really good illustration of what we mean when we talk about “tunnel vision.” Sometimes, we talk about tunnel vision as if it’s literally a problem with our eyes (and there is often a physiological component to it). But it’s much more than that. Above all else, tunnel vision is a mindset and information-processing factor.
In this case? I think the mom became tunneled in on chasing away the danger, and lost track of her main priority. What was her main priority? That would be: to keep herself and her child safe. She focused in on fighting the danger instead of staying focused on protecting the innocent.
It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Guard your mind!
(Want to know more about how to watch a video? Click here…)
So a few days ago, on Facebook, I asked a question of my friends: “What’s the best thing you’ve ever written on your blog? Post a link here!”
The question was deliberately ambiguous, leaving room for people to wonder if I meant for them to share their most-popular post, the post they had the most fun writing, the post they believed was most “important” on some weighty issue, the most skillful prose they’d ever penned, or some other criteria. So the answers, of course, are a mixed bag of possibilities and I think the choices say something about the personalities behind the keyboards. That’s kind of cool.
In fact, the answers were so darn good and so illuminating that I felt kind of stupid that I’d never asked the question before. What an amazing group of talented writers my blog-friends are! On the downside, it kind of killed me to know that all this great stuff could vanish into the Fb fog next week, so – well, I’m putting the answers here as a historical reference.
Just so you know, I stripped away all the real-life names for everyone who isn’t 100% name-transparent on their blogs, because I’m like that, and I also fiddled with punctuation and such because I’m like that.
Ready? Here we go!
Kathy Jackson of Cornered Cat — Dum Vivimus, Vivamus!
Tracy Hughes of Trigger Therapy — I don’t have many but I think this is the most popular: The Lecture
Rob Reed of Michigan Firearms Examiner — I don’t know if this is the absolute best, but I am pretty proud of it: Advice to new concealed carry permit holders
Andrew Rothman on LiveJournal — Ask about guns? Sure, but ask about the other 99% of dangers, too
skwrn2008 of Nursing for Jesus - I Need a Miracle
Midwest Patriot — After posting the “rant” on FB, and many kudos given, I started to blog. (I NEED to get back to it, but I tend to get caught up in the writing and forget to sleep, and such): The Least I Could Do
Annette Evans of Beauty Behind the Blast — Shoot Your Own Match
Miguel of Gun Free Zone — On a failure of mindset, graphic content but life is not a Disney Movie: And then everything failed (NSFW, VERY VIOLENT & GRAPHIC)
Caleb Giddings of Gun Nuts Media — This is my most favorite thing. I don’t know if it’s the best, but I really enjoyed writing it. You are not an operator
The Scribbler of Scribbler’s Scrawls — Probably this Lesson Time
Near the Salty City — I would have to choose this one, back when I was still blogging: Veterans Day
Cathi Bray — One of my early posts: Ladies, You Are In Good Company!
Liston Matthews of Good Hill Press — My most popular of all time: Ruger to introduce new .22 Magnum pistol?
A Girl and Her Gun — You Have Worth
Exurban Kevin of Misfires and Light Strikes – Most popular: A beginner’s guide to choosing defensive and practice 9mm ammunition and my fav: How bad is the ammo drought?
John Richardson of No Lawyers, Only Guns and Money – This has been my all time most popular post. It shows the growth of shall issue concealed carry over time. It is not updated to show Illinois or California post-Peruta. Still, it was put in the first 2nd Amendment Legal Casebook. Every Picture Tells A Story
Mad Saint Jack of the Black Sunday Society – Parody song. It’s good to have another song
Total Survivalist Libertarian Bitch Fest – This is 2 years old. I wrote it after the gun bloggers led a counter protest on the candlelight vigil. I feel sorry for the anti-gun crowd.
Barron B of The Minuteman – I’ll take my Open Letter to Joan: An Open Response to Joan Peterson
Tamara of View From the Porch – Truthfully? My favorite thing I’ve ever written on my blog is this: Anus niveus, stupor mundi… but if we’re talking informative gun-related type posts, this is the one that has received the most traffic over the years: Big Boy Rules
Tom McHale of My Gun Culture — My favorite (the one I had the most fun writing) was A Second Amendment Fairy Tale: A Second Amendment Fairy Tale…
pdb – In terms of relevant longevity and lasting effect, hands down it’s this one. I wish some of the positive experiences I’ve had with excellent trainers got 1/10th the attention, but I’d like to think that I raised the general clue level a hair. American Defense Enterprises: Epic Facepalm In 3 Parts
Rob Morse of Gun Rights Examiner — Your Rights Stop Here
Jay G. of MArooned – I think this is one of my favorites: Is Freedom. Is Not Safe.
Mike W. of Another Gun Blog – My Thoughts on The Mike Vanderboegh Hooplah
James Shaw of An Englishman Abroad – Guns, Conceal Carry and Nail Polish
Marko Kloos of The Munchkin Wrangler – Turns out my most popular blog post was something guest-written by some retired USMC Major.
(In his Fb comment, Marko did not link his wonderful essay, but I will because it is a favorite of mine: Why the Gun is Civilization. And here’s the backstory for Marko’s sardonic quip about the Major: On Plagiarism. Forwarding stuff without attribution is bad, mkay?)
God, Gals, Guns, Grub – I wouldn’t say my blog posts are any better than others, but here are two with small bits of info that are important and often overlooked: Do you Practice Like You Carry, and Teaching Our Kids to Shoot. Start’em young and they won’t have the fears to overcome when they’re adults.
Tammy Cravit of Mom With a Gun — Women, Rape, Guns and More of My Story
Every once in awhile — it happens often enough to break my heart — I run across a female instructor who feels incredibly insecure about her status as a teacher or leader or role model. People who feel that way often work hard to maintain a facade of “expert” in the eyes of their students, and sometimes this insecurity-based effort keeps them in a bad place for years on end. That’s heartbreaking.
Speaking as someone who has been around this business for a long time (I’ve been shooting for 15 years, taking professional-level training classes for 14 years, and teaching at the professional level for over 10 years now), here are a few observations I have about that.
First, the false-expert mask problem happens to male instructors too. I’m focused here on female instructors because 1) I are one, and 2) women often face an uphill battle to earn any respect from students and peers in the first place. That means we often experience the status problem at a more intense level than most male instructors do. So even though men can get caught in the same false-expert trap, it may be less surprising when it happens to women.
Second, just because something happens often, doesn’t mean it’s good. Even though it’s perfectly normal and understandable that someone who has worked hard to achieve a certain status might work equally hard to make sure others can see that they’ve reached that status, there are still good ways and less-good ways to go about doing that. Even though it might work for a little while, putting on a false mask of already knowing everything, and then using that mask to cover a fear of learning (or of being seen learning) is one of the less-good ways to maintain your “expert” status as a teacher.
And third — which brings me to my main point — the feeling itself is a lie. You don’t lose respect when you learn something new, or even when someone sees you learning it! You don’t lose your students’ respect when you improve your skills and knowledge. Quite the opposite. Students respect teachers who have a passion for learning, who have an open-minded and open-hearted way of looking at the world. As a student, literally the first thing I ever knew about Jim Cirillo was that this 72-year-old gentleman had just taken a class from a younger instructor and had learned a bunch of stuff in that class. That did not lower Cirillo’s status in my eyes; it raised it!
For women who have worked hard to get where they are, wanting to cautiously protect your “expert” status by never being seen sitting in the learning position as a student can seem like a good idea. After all, you want your students to think of you as the authority and the expert because you’re their teacher. That part’s okay. The problematic part is that you might be convinced by your own mask, and when that happens, you refuse to take more training or get more information. Your refusal to learn more or to be seen learning something new means you never can become the expert you really want to be. You’ve completely stumped yourself from growing or learning or becoming more advanced in your expertise.
Imagine if your surgeon stopped learning 20 years ago and didn’t take any classes on new surgical techniques – no continuing education, no refreshers on material they might be rusty on. Whatever they learned in med school would be all they ever knew. How good a surgeon would that doctor be at the end of a long career?
If you want to be a role model for other women, one of the roles you must model for them is that of a good student. How does an already-knowledgeable and already-skilled shooter learn more? How does she achieve a higher level of skill or refine her techniques? What does learning more look like, when an already-knowledgeable person does it? Seeing you work at learning will model something for your students that they can see in no other way.
That’s one of many, many reasons that the true experts are always learning, always finding out new things, always keeping their knowledge and skills up to date. That commitment to ongoing education is how they actually became the experts in the first place — not by getting a certificate and then jealously guarding their newfound status.
If you as an instructor set up a mask to hide behind, or too carefully guard your “don’t need to learn more” image because you don’t want your students to think less of you if they see you learning, the result is that you will probably do one of two things to your students.
1) You might prevent them from growing beyond your own current knowledge and skill set, which means you will stop them from becoming all that they otherwise could,
2) They might grow past you when they go out on their own and learn more from others, and when that happens they will find out that you’re a fraud anyway.
In either case, that’s probably not the outcome you’re looking for. For your students’ sake, and for your own, be brave enough to learn!
At SHOT Show back in January of this year, I had the same conversation at least a dozen times. I’m not exaggerating. Many different people said essentially the same things to me. Let me share a very typical interaction with you. The person below is a composite, not a specific individual, and her name is Miss Legion.
Kathy: “What do you do for a living?”
Miss Legion: “I’m a firearms instructor.”
Kathy: “Excellent! I love that! What kind of classes do you teach?”
Miss Legion: “I teach beginners’ classes, and I also teach advanced and tactical classes.”
After listening to her explain her classes for a few minutes and getting to know Miss Legion a bit better, the conversation would continue.
Kathy: “What kind of firearms training have you had? What’s your background?”
Miss Legion: “Well, apart from my instructor class I haven’t had any other training. But I’ve been shooting a long time – at least two years.”
Sometimes at this point, Miss Legion would say something like this: “I’m a certified instructor.” Let me translate that one. Being a certified instructor usually means she’s had a single two- to four-day class from an organization that has given her permission to read their material to her students, as long as she stays strictly within their curriculum and teaches it their way. Given this reality, my new friend would often add, “I have my certification through [organization], but I like to teach my students a lot more than that organization’s classes do.”
(I love that answer! It means that Miss Legion recognizes that there are a lot of important skills that her students need. It also means she knows her students need things that will be found outside the very basic curriculum she’s trained to teach. Good on her for realizing it!)
Kathy: “How did you get into teaching firearms classes?”
This is where my new friends would say, with intensity, that they have a real passion for teaching women how to shoot, or a real passion for getting other women into the firearms world, or a real passion for helping women learn how to protect themselves. This hit exactly the right note for me, because you know I share that same passion. Helping women learn to defend their lives has become a heart project of mine, just as it has for these new instructors. So Miss Legion and I have a lot in common, and I love exploring that commonality with a new friend.
At the same time, there’s another passion that I have that I’m eager to share with my students. It’s a passion I would love to share with Miss Legion, too.
My heart passion is to learn as much as I can about the art and science of self defense. I want to know more about how to effectively protect myself with a firearm. I want to know how to defend the people I love. I want to absorb as much information as I can possibly get about violent crime and about effective ways to avoid it or deal with it when it happens. I want to know when people need to use their firearms, how they use them, what happens under stress, how the laws interact with the human right to self defense. All of these things. I want to know them all!
Not only this, but I also have a passion for becoming a better teacher. I want to know as much as I can about the process of teaching. How do you successfully communicate your ideas to adult learners? How can you best coach a non-athlete to do well in a physical skill? How do you deal with difficult students? How do you get people engaged with your material and keep them learning? What are the best ways to keep groups of people safely engaged in learning difficult skills on the range?
Passing it on
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: I think that for self defense trainers, having the passion to learn is every bit as important as having the passion to teach.
Why? Because whenever you stand up in front of a group of students, your students will catch your passion, whatever it is. If your passion is simply to be the one standing at the front of a classroom, then that’s all your students will take from your class: that you like to be in the boss slot. Some of them will catch that vision, and will themselves want to be the one at the front of the room. If your passion is simply to get guns in the hands of other people, that’s what your students will take away from your class: that just having the gun is enough and that’s all they need. They won’t have any desire to take your next class, to practice what they’ve learned, to come back to learn more, or to improve their skills in any meaningful way. They won’t stay engaged with your teaching business, but will just take that first class and wander off, maybe deciding to invite their friends to come shoot with them next weekend. After all, that’s what they caught from you: a passion to get people to the range. They did that much, and they’re done. They won’t come back for your next class.
But it’s different if your own passion is to learn. If you have a passion for learning, you’re doing two important things for your students.
First, your passion to learn means you’re assuring them that you will always give them the absolute best you have to offer. You’re not just dialing it in. It’s not guesswork. You’re not just making it up as you go along or repeating an untested rumor you heard from some guy at the gun shop. Every day, you are doing your homework. In every class you teach, you are bringing your A Game into the room for your students. Your students can trust your information you give them because you’ve done the hard work of making sure you found the best and most current information for them. They can trust the skills and techniques you recommend, because you’ve studied as many different teachniques as you could get your hands on, and you’ve found the ones that work best within the scope of your intended use. You don’t have to drive this point home in order for students to see it. Your trustworthiness will ooze out of every pore! They’ll naturally trust what you have to say, because they will see the honest confidence you have in your material even if they don’t directly see the hard work you put into building it.
Second, when you have a passion for learning, you’re contagious! Your passion will shine through everything you do, and your students will naturally catch your vision. They’ll be motivated to study and learn more for themselves. You become the model for them of what it looks like to be a lifelong student of the defensive arts. When they look at you, they understand what it means to learn these life-saving skills. They will be more motivated to come back for the next class, to take the next step, to practice what they’ve heard from you, to try your ideas out on others around them. They will naturally stay engaged with your teaching business because they will catch that same passion you have for learning. They will catch your passion to learn more and to grow as a person through what they’re learning.
Do you believe that knowing how to use a gun can keep people alive when they would otherwise die? So do I! That’s why I want to learn everything I can about defending myself and the people I love. It’s why I have a passion to learn as much as I can about how to effectively teach self-defense. I’m saving people’s lives here! That’s not hyperbole. It’s the simple truth, and it’s what drives my desire to learn more and to constantly seek out the best information in the field. If my students are going to bet their lives on the information I give them and the skill set I teach them, I’d better be sure that the information I give out is the best I can offer and that the skills that I teach are the best I can find.
A simple passion to teach, without an equal passion to learn, might be easier and good for my ego, but it wouldn’t be good for my students.
When my husband and I were newlyweds, we visited a church where the worship leader had recently introduced one of our favorite songs. The song was an upbeat, bouncy tune, and we were happy when we saw its title in the morning bulletin. Finally, a fast-paced song we could tap our toes to in church! But as the first few notes drifted softly and slowly out over the congregation, my husband and I looked at each other in confusion. Was this even the same song? The melody was the same, and the words were right, but the timing was all wrong.
Talking to the worship leader after church, we discovered that he had never heard the song anywhere else. He’d simply seen it on a sheet of music one day, liked the words, and taught himself how to play it based on what he’d read. The poor guy had no idea — literally no idea! — how badly he had butchered the song for his people. He did not know how that song was supposed to sound, but he believed that he did know. In reality, he had simply read the written notation and then guessed at what he thought it should sound like. He was happily, confidently wrong in his idea. (We didn’t tell him, either. We simply smiled politely at his excitement, and moved on to other subjects.)
Like playing a piece of music, shooting a firearm is a physical skill with a big informational component. You can get a lot of good information from books and websites like this one. You can get a little more from videos and DVDs. But the real learning, the best learning, will always take place on the range and in person.