Monday, October 31, 2011

7 Home Safety Tips Against Intruders

Maximize Your Chances
The following are 7 tips to defend yourself against the threat of a home invasion. I omitted obvious things like a home alarm system or having someone house sit when you're on vacation, because I wanted to focus more on the threat of someone coming in while you're home or out for the night. The possibility of being caught off guard like in your sleep or walking into a robbery in progress have more serious implications to your safety. These are just 7 easy things you can start doing immediately to ensure that you're as prepared as possible in the event of a home invasion.

7. Spare Key
The whole spare key thing hidden somewhere in case of an emergency is a dangerous habit. Any hiding place you can think of would probably be discovered by anyone who was persistent enough to search around. Even special hiding places like a fake rock that you can buy is a waste of money, in my opinion. Usually. home invaders scout the location for at least a few days before making a move, so it wouldn't take long for them to have all the information they need to get in. Take this as an excuse to get to know your neighbors a bit. Once you get to know someone on your street well enough to trust them, swap keys with them in case of emergency. This is also a figurative gateway for you and your neighbors to develop an interest in each other's safety and you'll have someone to check in on your place when you're out of town. It's a great feeling knowing that your neighborhood looks out of each other.

6. Perimeter Sweep 
If you live in a house with a lawn and a back yard, make sure you keep everything tidy outside. This applies to homes without that as well. Leaving ladders, step ladders, garbage cans or anything else that can facilitate a break-in will be found by intruders. Things like leaving a garbage can close to the fence can help someone gain access to your back yard. Make sure all plants are well trimmed so that you're not giving a burglar any kind of cover when they're stalking your windows. The more open and cluster-free your surrounding space is the more likely you or a neighbor will spot a break-in attempt and call the authorities. Also you don't want to be giving criminals extra tools to rob you. Even a carelessly placed loose brick can be used to break a lock, door or window.

5. Locked Windows and Doors
This might seem obvious but people often let it slide. The simpler something is, the more it's neglected. Front doors aren't the only point of access to your home, just the most used. Back doors are often left unlocked. Just know that leaving even a little space is enough for an intruder to pry your window open and gain entry without being heard. For sliding doors or windows, place something in the track to prevent someone from being able to slide it open from outside. This is a simple trick that won't put you in danger when you need to get out in a hurry (like a fire). In fact, putting anything in the vicinity of your access points that can be easily be moved in an emergency can buy you a few extra seconds and notify you when someone's breaking in. Even something that could just make a little noise can give you a much-needed warning. It can be as simple as placing furniture in front or near your doors and windows before you go to bed and moved in the morning.

4. Timed Lights
Having automatic timers for your lights is extremely useful and popular for when you're on vacation, but can also be used on a regular basis. If you have any reason at all to think that your home is being scouted, start using the timers at all hours of the day. Use them when you're home, when you're out, for the inside lights and for the outside lights. Occasionally have them come on in the middle of the night. By doing this and changing the timing settings regularly, anyone trying to figure out your pattern will be confused. This alone can make a potential burglar move on to another, more predictable home.
Side note: having sensor lights for your outside (front and back) is also enough to discourage break-ins. Also this will give you warning that someone is on your property.

3. Control What They See
Be mindful of what you're showing people. Think about what someone would see if they looked in your window right now. Seeing you (dressed, hopefully) once in a while is a good thing. It lets people know that at least one person is home. Try not to sit in sight for too long at once though. This could help a home invader develop a strategy on how they want to break in or establish a behavioral pattern for when you're home. If they only see you randomly, they won't know where you are or if you're even home. Also keep valuables away from the windows. Don't give anyone any kind of incentive on breaking in. If they can see a nice TV from the window or if you're working on your expensive laptop facing a window, you'll be providing a real incentive for anyone casing your home. Keep everything worth stealing out of sight as much as possible.

2. Common Hiding Places
A wise person once told me to always keep the shower curtain open (or buy a clear one) because studies have shown that one of the most popular places for someone to hide if you came home during a robbery is in the shower with the curtain drawn. Most people never think to check behind the curtain when going to the bathroom and that can leave you vulnerable. If you know for a fact that you always keep it open and you come home to it closed, you can then proceed with caution. Another popular place to hide is the corner of the room behind an open door. Make sure when checking a room to open the door all the way. In the event that someone is hiding behind it at least you won't let them catch you off-guard. When going out, leave closet doors open for the same effect as the shower curtain. If you know you left everything open when you left and you came back to something closed, you'll know at least that something isn't right.

1. Keep Weapons Close To You, Not Them
If you own weapons like a baton or baseball bat the you intend to use in the event of a break-in, think carefully about where you place them. For a breakdown of popular self-defense weapons, click here. Keep all weapons and household items away from windows and doors when possible, reducing the chance that an invader will pick it up and use it against you when they realize someone's home. On the other hand, keeping objects that can be used as improvised weapons close to you can help in an emergency. I'm a security worker so I keep a baton by my bed, my computer and the couch. These are my 3 most visited areas and the places I'm most likely to be in if there was a break-in. I also have something hidden in my bathroom because that is one of the most vulnerable places in your home. If the shower is running, you might not even hear someone enter! As mentioned earlier, don't leave these in sight of windows. Have them carefully hidden and make sure that anyone you might live with knows about this to ensure their safety.

These are simple steps to increasing your safety in the event of a break-in. The idea is to minimize the chances of this happening in the first place by making your home look as un-appealing as possible to burglars. It might seem like this is "7 steps to living paranoid", but my intentions are the opposite. For me, I feel more paranoid and vulnerable when I DON'T take these steps. Just the simple act of preparing myself gives me back some control in a scary situation. I hope this helps. If any of you have questions or tricks of your own make sure to let us know in the Comments section.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Monday, October 24, 2011

Armed and Dangerous

Disclaimer: I am not condoning the possession of any kind of weapon. The purpose of this article is to just share some observations and reflections on this topic by myself and others. For the sake of the people who shared with me, they will remain nameless. It is the responsibility of the individual to educate themselves on the law in their area concerning ownership of weapons. 

I've met a lot of people in my life who carry weapons in case they ever need to "protect themselves" and that's always been a difficult issue with me. I can appreciate the need to do that, but I also respect the consequences of this kind of escalation. On the one hand, we don't want to be caught unprepared in a crisis and, on the other hand, statistics have always consistently shown that people who carry weapons are far more likely to be on the receiving end of much more violent repercussions. Having been on both sides of the spectrum to some extent, I can appreciate the moral issues and the reality of tempting fate. The fact is, while in some cases drawing a weapon might save your life, in most cases it escalates the violence beyond any reasonable control.

Certainly one of the most popular in women self defense, Mace is also one of the most effective tools in all of self defense and security. Often illegal for civilians to carry (mostly in Canada), I would argue that this is one of the safest and efficient ways someone can defend themselves. The spray invades the eyes and nose and the pain becomes too loud for any thought to take place in the brain, without leaving any kind of long term damage (except for the eyes in some cases, although rarely). Perfect way to stop an attacker for plenty of time to get away. I remember being at a club when a riot broke out and the security thought to spray their Mace into the air vents. Smart move. The fighting stopped and the place was clear in minutes. Highly effective. Downside: repeat exposure can build an immunity and the defender will also be affected if they can't leave the area. So that means that in some cases the spray won't have an effect on the person. This also means that in some cases like working security, the person who deployed it might have to stay in the area to work and would be affected as well.

Highly effective to say the least. I remember in high school we got our hands on one and, like all highly evolved primates, we played with it like a toy and shocked ourselves. Although I respect it for what it is now, I'm also glad that my friend snuck up on me and shocked me in the leg. I can now honestly attest to how well this works as a tool for restraint, de-escalation and self defense. Downside: can risk death for people with heart conditions and is often used too aggressively among civilians or anyone with too little training. In some self defense cases, the victims (out of fear and adrenaline) have held on too long when using   the taser and that can have lethal consequences. This has also been the case among professionals who were poorly trained. Aside from that, this would be my weapon of choice as both a civilian and a security worker.

Highly effective for lethal purposes, rarely ever trained properly and morally controversial. One of the worst thing that can happen in a self defense or security incident is when someone pulls out a knife. I've been exposed to this in a few different contexts and I have a very healthy respect for this kind of game-changer. Everything becomes more tense. In many cases the person who draws a knife is doing this out of desperation and is just as scared of the weapon as everyone else. Anyone who trains and spars with weapons knows that it takes nothing to land a lethal cut. The most likely person to get badly cut is often the person that regularly carries a knife. Legally, this is obviously not a great option either. The results are often lethal and so is the person's intent. It would be pretty tough to convince a judge that you just meant to restrain the attacker with a knife. Downside: almost everything. Again, one's morals are none of my business, just as long as we're all clear on this. Knives often kill. There is very little else we can do with them. I carried one for a long time to get over a fear of them and I often wondered what kind of situation I would have to be in to let things escalate that far. I've also had to work against them in some cases and disarming someone with a knife is not something that I want anyone to have to experience.

Batons are popular among police officers, peace keepers and security personnel. In my experience they are very useful when used properly. Training is important for legal, ethical and practical purposes. For one thing, most places require a certain amount of training before you can legally own a baton. This is to make sure people learn the best ways to use this tool to defend or restrain, but also to illustrate how dangerous this can be. Baton, when used too aggressively, can become lethal very fast. Blows to the head with a blunt object like this can lead to brain damage or death. I would argue that it is the responsibility of the owner to learn about any weapon, especially this one. Also, training is important because it can be extremely effective at restraining an attacker. With bit of training, the user can be properly prepared to escalate with the situation. I've been trained and certified in this and use this as my primary tool on any security job.

This, of course, is the mother of all hot issues. I'm not going to waste any time debating if it's someone's right as a civilian to own a gun. Let's just objectively consider this as a self defense tool. Obviously for military, police or private security this has proven to be quite necessary. For civilian purposes, there have been some extreme scenarios where that has proven to be or could have been useful. Public shootings have, unfortunately, become more common and in those moments a gun becomes the equal response to the threat. Statistically, these events won't be the only time civilians would make use of carrying a firearm, though, and that's where things get difficult. Studies have shown relentlessly that gun carriers are the most likely people to experience getting shot. Disputes among civilians have new levels they can escalate to and will often go there. The only people I'm ever comfortable knowing carry guns are military or law enforcement officials and that's just because I know they've been trained and are over (usually) their infatuation with it. Hiding one in the home makes me uncomfortable too, unless someone lives alone. I'm all for someone having the right to defend where they sleep, as long as they're not accidentally shooting a loved one who went to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

These, of course, are just my opinion based on my training and various experiences with the above selection.  I've encountered all the mentioned weapons at some point (in varying degrees) each incident made one thing clear to me: training is key. You need a license to drive a car and this is no different. Regardless of the ethical issues behind arming yourself, it is the responsibility of the person making this decision to educate and train themselves first. Often people carrying weapons make everything worse when they were doing that to be "safer".That's just ignorance, which is more dangerous than any of the weapons I've mentioned here.

When in doubt, just walk around with a sword. No one will mess with you.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Monday, October 17, 2011

Time to Suit Up?

During Practice

For martial arts training and during practices for contact sports, wearing protective padding seems like the logical thing to do. There are, however, people and schools that don't believe in that. I, myself, had gone through a phase like that in my training. Young and dumb. Although training with bare knuckles and no mouth guard can remove a bit of fear and make you feel "tougher", it's mostly an illusion. Training even a few essentials can prevent major injury and reduce trauma. In my experience, even wearing gloves can remove inhibitions to hit the face or injure the hands and immediately puts a more realistic spin on your training, even if you don't have any interest in sport fighting. Mouthguards not only keep you from picking up your own teeth (which I've sucked), but it also keeps your brain from bouncing off the walls of your skull, which causes concussions and head trauma. Head injuries scare me because there is a lot that isn't known in that field and can lead to conditions like epilepsy, memory loss and personality disorders. On that note, my previous objections to wearing head gear for high impact training have been withdrawn. Also, don't rule out the idea of a jock, gentlemen. I've had an injury there; not sure what was worse between the pain or getting it checked. Awkward.

In Sports

Through the evolution of contact sports, the safety of the athletes have become more and more a priority. This is directly quantified by the amount of protective padding players have to wear. Hockey and football come to mind. Moutguards, helmets, jock straps and other pads keep the players safe by reducing injuries and allows for longer careers and more comfortable retirements. This also applies for combat sports. Although there is little protection during the actual fight, fighters are usually well protected during their training. They're professionals and they're doing this for the same reasons. If you have the means of keeping your body as injury free as possible, why wouldn't you? If players and fighters are still risking injury, despite these measures, then it's safe to assume that it won't exactly improve by removing them. On fight day, there is little as far as protection, but all the essentials are mandatory. Gloves to protect the hands and reduce cutting on the opponent, jock straps to protect long-term damaging in the groin and mouth guards to protect the teeth and brain.

For Combative Professionals

When people tell me that wearing head gear is "going soft", I always wonder if they would refuse a bullet proof vest if they were working in the field. If anyone answered yes to that I would use them here as a clear example of head trauma victims and you'd all be wearing head gear. Anyone in any combative field from police officer to soldier to security worker would gladly add any measure of protecting themselves. This seems more obvious because the stakes are higher and more dramatic. We think of what can happen in reality combat and we can clearly visualize the repercussions of  not being protected. If people understood the long term effects of a head injury, a torn tendon or a broken bone they might take it more seriously. It's a question of perspective. I'm the first to admit that it took me a long time and a lot of injuries to appreciate being healthy and maintaining a quality of life. Unfortunately, these injuries aren't as impressive as explosions, gun shots or stabbings. What worked for me was to observes the practices of all the most successful people in my field and figure what they're doing that I'm not. They're health is a top priority. You can help anyone if you're hurt.

In Your Day-to-Day

In a self defense context, you're probably going to be in regular civilian clothing. In the case of a home invasion, maybe even less. I've found myself in a self defense setting a number of times and I remember feeling exposed and naked, despite my winter jacket. This is just a sign of feeling vulnerable. Suddenly, what seemed like a mild risk in training became a life or death variable for me. A blow to the head can lead to a knockout, which can lead to hard impact on a hard surface or more unprotected hits. It's a scary thought, but the truth is you're probably not going to be wearing protective gear when caught off guard in this context, which I believe is why most responsible instructors remind students regularly that you fight if you have to but should run if given the chance. It's just not worth it to stick around. There are many of the same risks present here (although less consequences) as in your training, but a whole different context. Breaking your hand in class will hurt and force you to take time off, but breaking your hand in a street fight can take away your ability to hit, grab and protect yourself. Class stops for you when you're hurt; attackers don't in the street. The only point I'm trying to make here is that the same injury can mean more in different settings. Adding a little perspective to what it means to risk injury will hopefully encourage everyone to stay safe and protect themselves whenever they can. Take from me and my stubborness: injuries suck.

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reinforcing Emotional Control

Damage control
Emotional control is obviously very important in your training. It's actually very important in all aspects of your life, but even more so when training in martial arts. With a high risk of serious injury, the dojo is the last place to lose your temper. Unfortunately, sometimes the combination of competitive drills and stress training, a person's ego or hidden fears can lead to an outburst. Sometimes they are brief moments of losing control and sometimes it's a case of habitual malice in training. Either way, it's like a ticking time bomb in the gym. Emotional control is also a reflection of the person's level of ability as well. I consider complete control to be the highest level of performance and that's the kind of discipline that can save your life or the life of a loved one. Also, anyone who competes in combat sports understands that a lack of emotional control can lead someone to giving up as soon as things don't go their way. Like in any sport, you can't go far without heart.

Keep it cool
It's important to recognize the signs. Most of the time you know how you're feeling before training and you need to keep that in mind during a session. When you're getting warmed up, make sure to ask yourself what kind of day you're having. If you're tired, stressed, frustrated or under the weather, remind yourself that you might be a bit off and prepare to accept that. When I can honestly admit these things to myself, I feel good about showing up, become aware that I might not perform at my usual standard and look forward to the feeling that i turned my day around by training. It feels good to not let an excuse make you lazy. Remind yourself of that, no matter how hard it feels to train that day and you'll have a more positive experience during your session. 

Stay loose
When I'm feeling confident and calm, my body stays loose and responsive during a fight. When I feel stressed and angry, my body tenses up and becomes restricted (among other negative side effects). On the other hand, when my body feels relaxed my mind calms down. The same goes for the negative opposite. One state can, and often does, trigger the other. It's important to understand that we are completely in control of this. Not every day will be a perfect day, where the body is healthy and the mind is calm. A lot of times you'll have more of one than the other. When you're feeling stressed or frustrated or just mentally off for any reason, act like you're not feeling that way physically. Take a second to remember those days where it all synced and act it out. I noticed that as soon as I start moving confidently (even if it is acting), my breathing becomes controlled and my mind finds its focus. It goes the other way too. When I was coming off  my last injury, I went into every sparring session with a lot of tension in the body but a confident focus. Because my mind was calm, my body loosened up. When you focus on one, you'll get the other. Make sure you're body and mind are working together as much as you can.

When it comes to training in combat, I can't stress the importance of meditation enough! It is often neglected in modern training, for some reason, but it is really important to take the time to reflect on certain goals and motivations for training. I noticed that the sport side to martial arts have lost this important part of being a warrior. Meditation allows us to reflect on our own journey, recent improvements, our next step and goals, why we train, why we started training, where our training will take us and even to remember the people before us who made it possible for some of these styles to exist for so long. As often as you can, find a comfortable position such as kneeling, sitting cross-legged or even lying on your back. Close your eyes, tense and then relax each muscle group until you've removed any unnecessary tension and take long breathes. Inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth. Take a few minutes to allow any thought to surface and like a bubble reaching the top, let it pass. Eventually you're mind will be calm and free and you can take the time to reflect on your training. Doing this regularly will keep you level headed and clear in your training. 

Unfortunately, sometimes no matter how much you work to improve yourself you might just get stuck with a partner that has no intention of maintaining control. That's just part of the game. In a scenario where the exercises are becoming aggressive, there are only a few places that can go. Some of the options are to allow the drill to keep escalating, let them continue to be the aggressor until you stray from the drill or get hurt or just stop and explain that they're going to hard and no one's actually learning anything. Most of the time that's all it takes. Sadly, sometimes that doesn't seem to register. In those cases I recommend switching partners. I've seen too often someone get injured because they were too shy to just switch. The only thing that can happen is having the drill digress into a fight or just "taking it". Both of these outcomes can lead to injury. There's a time and place for everything in training. 

So despite not being able to control another person's emotional control, it is our responsibility to control ours. There's a lot we can do to keep ourselves in check. It's normal to get frustrated or distracted; we can't be perfect all the time. As long as we can identify the symptoms and regularly work to rid ourselves of this kind of tension, this shouldn't be too much of an issue in training. When you feel like you've gained a good sense of control over this, make sure to keep your eye out for those that are struggling with this. Reach out and offer them a hand. If that doesn't work, punch them. Calmly. 

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tough Times

During tough economic times, the only thing worth investing in is your safety.

Studies have always consistently shown that violent crimes are often associated with socioeconomic status. Most people would say that that is a pretty obvious. Desperation can make people do crazy things to survive. Just take a second and consider (God forbid) what lengths you would go to in order to provide for your family and yourself if you lost everything tomorrow. I know what I would do, and it's not pretty. Poor neighborhoods have higher crime, hungry countries have more conflicts. It all comes from fear. People become afraid for their health and their safety, so they start to take things into their own hands to try to establish order from chaos. 

Confront the possibility

In unstable economic times it's important to consider the idea that some people might compromise your sense of safety. I'm not saying everyone has to be as paranoid as I am, but don't be blind to the chance of something happening. A lot of the time, victims are assaulted (or worse) somewhere that they're familiar with. So if you're taking that shortcut home everyday, avoid falling into a false sense of security and stay alert. Just because you park your car in the same spot every day doesn't mean you should stand there fumbling with your keys for a few minutes, oblivious to your surroundings. Have your keys in your hand well before getting to your car or front door. When there are hurricane warnings, people don't hesitate to stock up on emergency supplies, but muggings and violent crimes, much like flash floods, often come with little to no warning. Also the simple act of considering certain scenarios and doing little things to avoid them will give you a some confidence and maybe even a little peace of mind. A 2007 study had declared Vancouver the break-in capital, which leads to the question: what would you do if someone broke into your house? Not a fun thing to think about, but if it leads to one small precautionary action that could save your life, then it's worth it. 

You're worth it

My sensei Kevin Secours has a terrific guided meditation (or solo) concept that he calls "Putting the Self in Self-Defense". This is a great reminder that we're worth fighting for. Think of all the things you would do to protect someone you love. You have to feel that way about your own well-being, otherwise you're not really going to be there to help anyone else either. Investing in things like self defense classes and some first aid training will instantly make you feel better. It's taking whatever steps you can to not be a victim. The training instantly makes you more aware, more confident, more capable and, if nothing else, it will identify and replace bad habits (most of the time, depending on the training) with better and safer ones. Through fighting, bouncing and body guarding I've seen a lot of ugly things. The more saw, the more I wanted to invest in myself. It wasn't just for the physical ability, but more for the awareness. The more I experienced, the more I noticed that in a violent crisis you're pretty much almost always caught off-guard. By dedicating some thought and training, avoidance and awareness became my main tools of survival. If you're using some combat techniques, you acted a little too late. If you're applying your first aid to yourself or a loved one, you're in the best-case scenario of acting MUCH too late. The crazier the economy gets, the higher the crime rate. Leading crimes in North America during the recession were Assaults (levels 1 to 3), rape and homicide. Attempted murder was also not far down the list. No matter how crazy the economy is, you're always a safe investment.

Storms will pass

Of course people get a little crazier when the economy crashes and jobs are taken away. Riots, protests, muggings and home invasions are acts of desperate people who are afraid. This can make people do crazy things. We pay attention to crime rates like we do hurricane warnings. The emergency supplies are what training and steps you're prepared to take to feel safe. Like any potential disaster, we educate ourselves on what we need, we prepare and then we happily resume living our lives. Control what you can and accept that you'll react accordingly to the things you can't. I chose to confront the idea of things that scare me and try to figure how much or how little I can do to prepare for these things. By not ignoring our fears, they don't consume us. We respect the possibilities, devote a certain amount of time to them and move on. Stay sharp, stay happy and stay smart. It's better to be prepared for a storm that never comes. 

Jordan Bill
Fight or Die