Monday, 28 July 2014

How to stay safe - some tips

Hi there! 

Welcome back.  Good to see you!  

Now I have a quick apology to make.  Yup, this is another long post.  Lots to cover on this topic.  It is a little bit New Zealand centered, but applicable in other parts of the world too. 

A fairly new couple of questions I find I'm being asked these days (aside from when I'm going to run some self defence classes), and seem to be mostly driven by the increasing media coverage about bad things becoming far more regular, in your face and comprehensive, are; 

"How can I stay safe?" and "Do you think the world is getting more violent?"

As far as I am concerned, not much has really changed locally or even nationally here in NZ. I don't know about internationally as haven't been much of an international traveler yet so have nothing to compare it to, but there has always been violence here in NZ, possibly much less than most places around the world though.  And by violence, no, I'm not talking similar to the war in Iraq where people are dying in the streets by any means, what I'm talking about is your common street thuggery and crime.  

Things that if you're smart, can mostly be avoided.

Now the main difference about violence in all shapes and forms is that now, everybody is much more aware of it.  It's in the newspaper, on the inter-web and on the TV every single day.

Now sure, I'm no expert in staying safe - I have a whole mis-spent youth I'm sure my poor Mum would be happy to regal you about with a few shakes of her head and perhaps a valium - but there are a few common rules that you can follow that will make you less vulnerable and "less of a target" for street crime.

So first - to understand it.  There are a few trends that most in law enforcement (and probably those on the other side too) know about and are well versed in.  Most crimes - violent ones included - are generally born out of something as common and obvious as "opportunity".  

Be it the opportunity to prove themselves to their mates or their gang, a misplaced view they think they can take someone out perceived as weaker than them, or maybe its just that one mean-spirited individual who has nefarious intentions (or is desperate) who thinks they can steal your cash, your smart phone, credit cards, shoes, the groceries you're carrying etc and most importantly, get away with it. 

In all cases, the person or people will wait for the moment they think they can roll you, and do it.

Now this post isn't designed to frighten you, it's designed to provide you with a few helpful tips for you to stay safe.  I kinda like having you around.  

In this piece we will deal with only crimes of opportunity, not any revenge, under the influence or anger motivated attacks - those are generally born out of something else and much less common. They also tend to be less premeditative and more emotion fueled

So, a few things; 

1. Don't walk around with headphones on (or in) listening to music. How many joggers listening to their iPod get attacked in parks? Yup, quite a few. Why? Because they're easy targets. Not only are you minimising your own awareness of the world by having your music blaring, but you won't notice if someone is nearby or running your way. You also won't notice traffic, or trains as have been a few accidents in recent years. Be safe, ditch the tunes when you're out on your own. 

2. Consider the time of day - wouldn't it be wise NOT to go for a run just as it turning dark? Male or female, doesn't matter. If you need to run, run during your lunch-break or join a gym. If you are going to run, take your dog if you have one. Cats don't seem to be able to keep up and they generally look funny on a leash.

3. Keep your handbag close, hold around to your front, and keep it closed - this one's specifically for you ladies (and any of you men who might use one too). If you have a handbag, make sure you have your arm through both handles, over your shoulder and it's not unzipped or open. Thieves can sidle up behind you and reach in and take your house keys, your purse, your phone etc. if it's unzipped/clasped, but with your arm through both handles and it zipped up and you carry it mainly around your front, you are less likely to be the victim of a snatch n grab n bolt. 

You'd also be amazed at how many hang-bags get snatched and then that same person's house gets burgled a few weeks later. If you get your handbag stolen containing your keys, change your locks.

4. Don't flash your cash/technology around ​- that old saying that someone is always watching you? Yeah, trust it.  Whether or not you know it or see it, there are generally eyes on you whenever you are out in public all the time. The majority of people don't "see" you and are just like you, zero criminal intent, but there will be some - if you are looking like an easy target - who will be paying you unwanted attention.

5. Trust your instincts. How many times have you been through a crisis and realised that you had the worry/fear something bad was about to happen before it all kicked off? Yup, probably many times. Very few dangerous situations happen out of the blue. There is generally some kind of a warning.  If you are paying attention to the world around you, you've got a much better chance of seeing something coming.

But the number one thing to keep yourself safe when you're in a dangerous place?

6. Don't be there in the first place.

Simple.  This one is a lot like when someone tries to punch you in the face. 

Best defence? Yup.


Now this "don't be there" doesn't always work if you're travelling to a new place/new country etc. You just don't know where the dangerous places are.  However, if you are travelling, use guides, the internet or do your homework on the areas you're going to. Be smart, pre-plan. Now quick point - it's okay to be a little bit paranoid but it's not okay to let it rule your life. Find some middle ground where you're at least "prepared".

Now, an example of "don't be there"; I was recently in Oamaru in the South Island of New Zealand  - No! Wait wait! Lem'me finish! 

This is not a bad reflection on Oamaru! I love Oamaru!

Click here - All About Oamaru 

Trust me, read on. :)

So I was down there to deliver my teams performance reviews, was in a Hotel for a few nights, and I decided to go for a walk around 11:30pm since I couldn't sleep. I was heading out for some fresh air. 

And yes, it would be about now in this story that my Mum would be shaking her head and looking to make a "soothing" cup of tea. 

I headed downstairs, wandered a block or two down from my hotel, looking at all the architecture, took a couple of pics with my work iPhone and was generally acting like the out-of-town tourist that I was.  A few minutes went by and another block, when two guys came walking towards me. 

The one on the left nudged the one on the right when they saw me.  ​

The one on the right smiled.

Now, what would this simple exchange between them mean to you? 

They were about to offer me some free McDonald's vouchers since it was just across the road? Uhhhh, probably not.

Or perhaps I was about to get offered an all expenses paid round trip to the Moeraki Boulders in a limousine and a free foot-sized penguin to take home in my carry-on luggage?


The exchange between them showed "plausible intent" and since we were the only 3 people out on the street and that I was outnumbered, "plausible opportunity".

As we passed each other, the one on the left actually asked me "What are you looking at?" in quite a confrontational manner.  Luckily since I had been aware of the exchange, I had already put my head down and had moved out slightly wider (beyond striking distance) as I was going around them. Thankfully, neither of them stopped to pursue the question further.

Could that situation have escalated? Sure it could have. 

I could've replied.

Now in all fairness to Oamaru, I was told later that that kind of stuff really doesn't happen there, which I absolutely believe as its an awesome chilled out place, but I wonder how many people (like I was) wander around acting like a tourist, flashing an iPhone at close to midnight and are out on a school night...

Yeah, I'm betting not many either.

But this situation illustrates just how easy it is to avoid trouble.  Did I need to go out? No.  Was I in a town I don't know a lot about - yes.  Was my behaviour risky? Of course it was.  Did I get a warning that something was about to happen? Absolutely.  Could I have turned around or even crossed the road to avoid the confrontation?  Yes.  Did I? No. Should I have? Yes. 

I can picture my Mum's eye's rolling even now...

You do always have a choice on where you go and when.  I know plenty of places that are great/safe/fun to visit in the daytime, but that I would generally avoid at night.  There are also lots of places I've been during the day where I had nothing but problems.

But - lets be realistic.  If for whatever reason you DO find yourself in a dangerous place at a dangerous time, you should first call a taxi or a friend/family member and get out. Don't wait, just do it. There are no medals for being a hero.  In the Oamaru case, I should have stayed in the Hotel.

But as life is what it is, occasionally things can go pear-shaped no matter what decision you make. 

If you have no way of getting out of a dangerous place - I recommend following the following steps to ensure you have the best chance of survival.

1. Make it your first mission to find a friendly public area and head there immediately - a Burger King, a  McDonald's etc - get to these places and ask the staff if you can use the phone etc.  In the Oamaru case, there was a McDonald's right across the road I could've gone too should things have gone pear shaped, I think it might have been closed however... 

2.  Use "safe" shadows if during night time. These are categorised as not dark alleyways or behind buildings. Safe shadows are ones you can quickly move from out into the bright open areas if you have to. Your objective using "safe" shadows is to minimise the amount you are actually seen. Use them sparingly however as sometimes not being seen can be as dangerous as being seen.

3. Blend in where you can. This is all about being less conspicuous in your surroundings.  Most people know of "dress for the occasion" - same rules apply for wherever you are going. If you find yourself over-dressed, make an effort to change that. Clothes can be replaced.

4. Be aware. If you find yourself in a place that scares the #@%! out of you, no doubt you will become hyper-aware which is a survival state brought on by adrenaline. Use it. Look for place markers like a familiar shop, or a bank so you can get your bearings if you become lost and look for landmarks to help guide you out.

5Keep your emotions under control - lock them down as much as you can. Any of the following four pictured below will mess with your chances of getting out of the predicament you've found yourself in.

You have to be thinking as clearly as you can.

Back when I was much younger I developed a method of getting myself quickly into an appropriate mental state in order to handle whatever crisis I found myself in. 

Now listen up because this is somewhat of a secret I generally only teach to martial art students. 

I called it..........Crysis.

Yeah.  Okay. Laugh all you like.  I know it's a bit lame naming this mental state and even the name itself is quite geeky sounding.  BUT this technique does work for me and for many others I have taught it to. 
Call it a coping mechanism, call it fooling your "fight or flight" reflex briefly until it can become second nature.  Whatever you call it, it is a tried and tested method of bringing about control in generally uncontrollable situations. 

To explain - "Crysis" is a mix of the original word "Crisis" meaning a highly charged problem or incident and the word "Cryonics" which is the low-temperature preservation of humans. You've seen it in science journals and in movies, snap freezing someone.  Yes - this is absolutely nerdy.

It came about when I was younger and somehow managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time far too often.  I found that by developing this state, I was able to cool down quickly (as fear heats you up), no matter what the scary situation.  
Yeah, I know, sounds crazy right? But it works.  And on adults too.

So before you poke fun, have an open mind and give it a go.

As a starter, you can generally get close by following these steps and in order;

1. Remove all emotion from your thinking - see all for facts only, what it is.

2. Become highly analytical - analyse all factors quickly for risk, non risk. 

3. Ascertain what the threats are and how you can best deal with them. 

4. Remain "cold as ice" (fear heats you up). 

5. Tense muscles and relax them - you are burning off the adrenaline.

6. Become calculating in your approach - best outcome is the only outcome. 

7. Breathe slower than normal until your heart rate settles from following first 6 steps 

8. Breathe normally.

9. Know you're now "in the zone".

10. Stay there until the crisis is over.

Sure, words are great but with practice, an adept is able to enter this state almost instantly and keep fairly emotionless, allowing them to only deal with facts and detail required to get themselves (and their close ones if needed) out of any bad situation they're in. 

It was developed to help people (me to begin with) cope first with frightening problems and for in the ring when the another fighter was attempting to mess with their opponent.

I am sure that fire fighters, ambulance and police officers will all have similar methods of dealing with things mostly deemed un-deal-able. 

Above all else however, your best form of defence to any crisis/violent crime is being smart, staying calm and out-thinking your opponent and the situation, no matter what your skill level is in self defence.  

There is ALWAYS a way to improve your situation, even if its just by millimetres and walking wide​. 

And there is ALWAYS a sign something is about to happen, you just have to be looking to see it.

Like the old saying goes;

"Those who go looking for trouble, are never usually a problem for those who are ready for them"

Be ready.

And as always - questions are welcome.