The Cornered Cat
The Life-Affirming Lessons of Self Defense

Especially during the holidays and as we begin the new year, when someone asks what I do for a living and I reply that I teach self-defense classes, some people recoil in apparent horror. “That’s such a downer!” one woman recently wailed at me. “What a horrible place to live. How can you stand it?”

Her question hurt my heart, because it meant that she thinks of self-defense as a negative subject. It meant she believed that knowing ways to protect yourself from crime might drive you toward a damaging and maybe even a destructive place in your life.

That’s not how I see it.

My world is full of joy, and I find the things I do for a living both life-affirming and positive. In my world, mastering the art of using the handgun feels like a happy process, even when it takes work to climb the steep new-learning curve. The physical act of firing the gun can feel awesome. Growing in skill so that you can hit the target when you want to can make you feel like a million bucks. But the biggest joy of all? That’s the confidence that comes building a trustworthy ability to take care of yourself and the people you love.

The Beginner’s Grin

Let’s start with the first time out the gate. Did you ever see the look on a first-time shooter’s face? Most of the time, you see an amazing grin that spreads from one ear to the other, with crinkles at the eye corners and a big flash of teeth. Some people literally shout for joy with the first shot: “Whooooo! What a rush!”

Watching that look grow, having a part of making it happen… that’s a privilege beyond compare. Although I don’t often work with first-time shooters anymore, I still love to watch over newbies and help keep them safe whenever I can.

Did you know you can see also that same amazing look on the face of an experienced shooter? It’s a fact! In my classes, experienced shooters get that same grin all over again as their skills develop and they grow in confidence. Watching someone struggle to learn something new, and then nail it and react to the rush when they do – there’s just nothing like it. It’s even more cool when my advanced students use skills they’ve learned from me to turn around and  work with their own beginning students, setting up the process all over again. It’s a never-ending cycle of joy.

Talking about that new shooter’s grin, that’s even more amazing and fun when the new shooter is a child. Taking kids out to shoot – at the appropriate ages, with appropriate preparation and proper safety gear – is a rush beyond compare. Believe me, as I wrote this wonderful old article about taking my little guys to the range, I was smiling the whole time with fond nostalgia. You should have seen the look on their little faces when that first vegetable exploded!

Of course, I’m hardly the only parent who has ever discovered how much fun it is to help a youngster learn how to shoot. The beautiful truth is, you don’t have to be some eagle-eyed, highly trained ninja to enjoy an afternoon plinking safely with your kid. Anyone with a modicum of good sense and a little knowledge can do it. And there’s just not a whole lot more fun you can have with your kids than to help them learn something so exciting, so life-affirming, so positive as the shooting sports. That those skills might someday be used to protect themselves or the people they love – well, that’s just icing on the cake.

What About Crime?

This wouldn’t be an honest article if I didn’t tell you that sometimes my job involves learning about some very grim events, and of course sometimes I have to dig pretty deep into those events in order to understand them better. When a violent crime happens, it’s never a happy thing for anyone. It’s ugly and messy and frightening and depressing.

How could there be any joy in that?

There is some. But it’s a sober kind of joy, and it works like this. When I need to learn more about a frightening event, or when I have to study the details of violent crimes so that I understand how criminals approach their intended prey, I can still choose the attitude I bring to that study. I could let myself wallow in negative emotions. That would be easy to do, because events themselves can be awful and my heart always goes out to the innocent victims. But that’s not where I live. It’s not where I choose to live.

When I learn about a crime, I’m not just another gawker, staring in fascination at someone else’s pain. That would be ghoulish and awful! But because rubbernecking is not my purpose, I’m don’t find myself mired in grief or fear or any other negative emotion when I watch a crime video or listen to a 9-1-1 call. Neither do I become a soul-less monster, sucking in other people’s anguish like it’s some made-for-TV movie on a lousy cable channel. Rather, my focus always centers on how I can help good people avoid similar crimes, how I can help keep my own family safe, what lessons I can teach my children and other people I love. The question at the front of my mind is always, “What can we learn, here?”

Yes, learning anything at all about violent crime can hurt sometimes. But I rejoice that it’s a discomfort I can bear. If I weren’t strong enough enough to face the distress of hearing about such things, I wouldn’t be able to help myself or anyone else escape similar troubles. To me, the only thing worse than going through a horrible life event would be going through a horrible life event that nobody learned anything from. There’s nothing I can do to make a violent crime not have happened, but I rejoice that through my work I can help redeem some of the survivors’ pain.

More than that, when I hear about violent crime, I always find myself marveling at the strength of ordinary people, at their resourcefulness, at the things they do to survive. I love to hear stories about intended victims turning the tables on their attackers. Again – the situations are often horrible, and I wouldn’t wish trials like that on my worst enemy. But I can still feel a burst of pleasure when I hear how good people survive such things, and that’s where my focus stays.

Helplessness and Confidence

A friend of mine has long struggled with fears and phobias. She’s not a shoooter and can’t stand to have guns around her, even though politically she’s “one of us.” When she hears about a criminal event, her mind immediately goes to the worst case scenario. What if it happened to her, or to her family? What could they do? How would they feel? She faces a horrifying cascade of ugly emotions, and she feels absolutely helpless in the face of those feelings. More than that, she feels helpless at the very idea of crime. She feels helpless at the thought of violence. She feels absolutely helpless in the face of trouble, so she structures her life to avoid any thought of trouble at all.

But trouble comes to everyone, sooner or later in this life. “You can’t run from trouble,” said a character in a book I read as a child. “There ain’t no place that far.” And it’s true. You’re not going to get through life unscathed. None of us will.

Does that feel like a negative thought? It doesn’t have to be. Instead of feeling discouraged or frightened by knowing how common trouble can be, we can instead take courage from knowing that others have faced violence and lived through it. It makes me stronger to know that I come from a long line of survivors, from people who suffered but who did whatever it took to live, that the people I came from all kept going. We are descended, every single one of us – you and me and that woman over there, all of us! – from a long line of strong people who didn’t curl up and die when trouble struck. They survived, and so can we. There’s power in that thought, and confidence too.

Powerlessness feels awful, but it’s not somewhere you have to live. If you don’t like feeling helpless, you can do something about that. Tell me there’s no joy in that discovery.

No Matter Who You Are…

That brings me to yet another source of constant wonder for me as a teacher, something that should bring joy to you as well. Here it is: good, ordinary people can learn better ways to protect themselves. The young mom, the single woman who travels for business, the retired couple, the middle-aged computer programmer… all of these people can come together to learn something new. With physical infirmities or in the peak of health, whatever – it doesn’t matter. Whatever your situation, there are things you can do to make your life a little safer and your loved ones a little more secure.

Self-defense doesn’t have to be a grim subject full of nasty and depressing emotions. Learning how to protect yourself from violence can be as full of meaning and relevance as you make it, as life-affirming and as positive as the outlook you yourself bring to the table.

In fact, instead of the study being a grim reminder of negative possibilities, it can become a genuinely joyful series of positive affirmations. My life is good, and worth defending! My loved ones deserve to live in peace, and by what I learn today, I can help preserve that peace for them. I can’t do everything to guarantee my own safety, but this much, I can do. I choose to carry a gun because I embrace my right to live. 1

As for me, I love helping people claim their own power, develop their own confidence, and proudly assert their absolute right not to be a victim. Helping people find and claim that place in their own lives is an awesome privilege and a joy.


  1. Not all of these will resonate with every reader, and that’s okay. Each one simply provides one possible jumping-off place of many possible. What’s your own favorite joyful affirmation of the most basic human right?

6 Responses to The Life-Affirming Lessons of Self Defense

  1. TexTopCat says:

    Very nice explanation, thanks.

  2. Bill says:

    I’m curious since this seems to be an ongoing theme for you.

    Do you often run into students who DON’T think their life or their family’s is worth defending?

    Perhaps it’s cultural, being from here in redneck country, but while I’ve had many students that were timid to start, I can’t think of one that really didn’t believe her life was worth defending. I run about 65% female students in an average class, I’ve just never run into this sort of mindset. Comments?

    • Kathy Jackson says:


      Often in class on the women-only side. Almost never in co-ed. I’m not sure if that’s because all co-ed students are squared away already, or if (more likely), the social dynamics prevent it from coming up.

      Run into it far more often with people who read the website. My email box over the years has provided some fascinating looks at how people process the move into consciously arming themselves.

  3. kalaryn says:

    My sister asked me once why I carry, even in the home, “What are you do afraid of. I mean I understand why Dr. G has her CCW but I don’t get why you do.” I told her I just like to know I can protect myself and in regards to Dr. G, it was like she was saying my life wasn’t as important as her life but that’s besides the point.

    My brother once remarked how it’s silly that people have guns for home defense because more than likely when/if someone were to be breaking into your home, where is that gun, they won’t have time to get it. I responded back, I know where mine is, it’s on my hip or thigh at all times.

  4. RebekahM says:

    Thank you for this article. I would love to see more on this topic!
    I am a lot like the friend you mentioned, and struggle greatly with panic and fear being an overwhelming part of my life. I also can’t stomach the idea of being unprepared, as it is my responsibility to protect and care for my children. If I won’t who will. So I carry, and this year will strive to turn negative emotions into positive learning.
    I would love to know other women in real life who CC. I just think that guys have a really hard time understanding the way women’s minds work through some of the tough issues we face when deciding to carry a gun. It does seem like women in general have to work through a different set of values/emotions before being at peace with self-defense.

    • Kathy Jackson says:


      I think you’re right! As I said to Bill, above, there are a lot of questions that students always or often ask in women-onlies, that rarely or never get asked in co-ed classes. I’m not a big fan of the nature versus nurture debate, so I don’t know if it’s enculturation or something built in more deeply. I just know that there is a dramatic difference in the questions people ask based on their social surroundings. And I strongly believe that the women who come to coed classes have the same questions… but just never get a chance to ask them.

      That’s one reason I work hard to inject a lot of the stuff into my core material. It doesn’t matter if you take a coed class from me or a women only class from me; some of the stuff is just going to come up anyway, because I have answered the quiet question from too many women behind-the-scenes, and I know that many others are thinking the same thought but will never have the courage to ask.

      In other words, you are not alone, and you should not feel as if you were alone. Your challenges are – gasp – normal!

Post a Comment