How Would You React to Violence?

 In Stuff We Say

One night in January 2006 in Baghdad, an informant led the Iraqi unit I was advising to a house suspected to be a weapons cache.  As we approached armed men opened fire on us from the house. The attack badly wounded two Iraqi soldiers near me. One lay on the ground in a puddle of blood.  I dragged him to the spot where he eventually died as over-watching American soldiers returned fire with a large vehicle-mounted machine gun. Our Iraqi unit had scattered.  Moving back to the entrance of the house’s courtyard, I met my Intel officer and our interpreter who was yelling insults at the Iraqis running farther and farther away from the sound of gunfire. A few came back. We bolstered their courage, waited for a lull in the firing inside the courtyard, and turned the corner hoping the Iraqis would follow and not accidentally shoot us in the back. By the end of the night, the house and its sizable weapons and explosives cache belonged to us. We had dealt a major blow to insurgents in our area and, more importantly, our Iraqi unit learned that they could prevail despite suffering casualties.

Though I’ve had a number of such incidents over my career as soldier, I’m not an expert on violent encounters that one is likely to encounter in civilian life.  I want to be careful not to conflate experience with combat with experience with criminal violence.  But something, most likely becoming a father, caused me to think more on to the possibility of me, or my family, being physically threatened.  I attended Tony Blauer’s excellent “Be Your Own Bodyguard” seminar (the precursor to the CrossFit Defense cert) as well as read extensively on the topic.  During these experiences, I have noticed similarities in how soldiers and civilians prepare for and react to unexpected violence. While it might be paranoid to live your day-to-day life at the level of readiness of a soldier in combat, the sad truth is that some of you, at some point in your lives, will become a target for violence.  According to the FBI’s 2010 report, the average American has a 1 in 250 chance of being robbed, assaulted, raped, or murdered each year which translates into a 1 in 9 chance over an average lifetime. Given those odds, it just makes sense to prepare to react to violence.

More than a few T-shirts claim CrossFit makes you “Harder to Kill.”  It is certainly true that being physically fit increases your chances of survival in almost any situation.  There is also an element of overcoming fear and adversity in CrossFit that prepares us for the “unknown and the unknowable.”  However, as Blauer points out, even if you are extremely hard to kill, you’re still dead. A prudent person should take more specific measures to enhance their personal defense capabilities.

But it doesn’t have to consume your life or become an obsession; I think the most important preparations occur in your mind. Responsible people should take time to understand the dynamics of real world violence and plan how they would respond, just as they would plan to escape a burning house. Chances are you do not know how encountering a real opportunity to get killed or seriously hurt will impact you emotionally.  As crazy as it sounds, you may not immediately recognize that you are being attacked.  It is highly likely that you will momentarily be paralyzed. Quickly recognizing this mental state and getting out of it is critical to survival in both combat and other violent situations.

Another characteristic that I have noticed in both successful combat units and survivors of violent encounters is a willingness to continue resisting despite being hurt.  Survivors realize after their adversary’s initial onslaught, the worst is over and they still find it within themselves to counterattack.

While carefully visualizing the possibility of being attacked and mentally rehearsing your reaction could greatly enhance your chances of survival, you should train more extensively if you have the opportunity.  Soldiers train in controlled, safe but realistic exposures to simulated combat.  You can do the same.

In January, Firebird CrossFit will host a Self Defense seminar based upon Blauer’s SPEAR methodology.  While this seminar will include physical drill and skills, I think the most important lessons in this seminar are about understanding the psychology of fear and violence in order to have the mental skills you need for survival.

As distasteful as violence is, it’s dangerous to pretend it doesn’t exist. Learn to recognize violence before it happens, avoid it if possible and, if it happens, take action to keep yourself and those you love safe.




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