Friday, April 17, 2009

Wheelchair-Fu: Self-Defense For The Disabled

There are many ways to look at self-defense, but in most cases an attacker or predator is looking to hang a victim tag on someone. One of our key focuses is not to be a victim. This is our strongest defense: “I WILL NOT BE A VICTIM!”
This has ramifications into every aspect of our lives. Seeing ourselves as empowered and capable, we send this same message to those around us. The predators of the world also take notice. A lion or jungle cat does not go after the strongest of the herd. It goes after the slowest, smallest, or weakest. Human predators do the same.

As people with disabilities, we overcome many challenges on a daily basis. We want to focus this inherent will and courage to resist being victimized. Our will to survive in a self-defense situation can be our strongest ally.  You need to factor in your strength, agility, coordination, physical limitations, mindset, and mental and emotional states when figuring out a self-defense system or method that is right for you. All of these elements can be improved on with proper training and dedication.  Do what you can do, and do it to the best of your ability. Even if you are very limited in any movement, keep reading.

Be aware of your surroundings. This may sound obvious, but every physical confrontation I experienced during my able-bodied days happened either in a bar, outside a bar, or while I was drinking. Be aware that if we feel compelled to be in these types of environments, the likelihood of an altercation is escalated.

If you have to be in an area of town that has crime problems or in unfamiliar territory late at night, you might ask one or more friends or co-workers to accompany you. The same is true if you leave work after hours. Unless someone is totally belligerent or has planned a mass attack, which will likely involve firearms, you are better off around other people than alone.

Do not underestimate the power of our voice. Even with moderate to extreme limitations in mobility, our voice is our first weapon of choice. We can think of any number of scenarios where we might encounter a conflict that could lead to possible bodily harm. Let’s use our imagination and take an opportunity to confront a bad dream or our worse nightmare.

Using your scenario, role play a victim in a passive response. Do this with a partner or small group. Take turns playing the victim role. Be really passive, avoid eye contact, keep your head down, and act scared. Notice any feelings that come up, and honor them. Next reverse roles. Note how effective a passive response is in remedying the scenario you have created. Does it give more fuel to the perpetrator? Does he feel more empowered to continue his line of behavior?

Now play out an overly aggressive response to your situation. This could even involve vulgar language, cussing, and swearing. Remember we are having fun with this, so let it fly. Feel real anger and aggressiveness. How did this feel? How did it make the other person feel? Did it seem to do more to escalate any conflict that was already occurring?

We need to find a balance between passive and aggressive. If someone comes up and asks, “Do you know what time it is?” We don’t want to say, “You dirty +@&%; get the @&%$ away from me.” But if someone sets off our personal alarms and asks inappropriate questions, we need to respond assertively.

First we should let the person know we are uncomfortable with his closeness, then ask him to back away. (Note: We have a right to our own personal space. If someone is within arm’s length of us, he is within reach of possibly harming us.) If the person doesn’t back off, we need to raise our tone of voice and forcefully say, “Back Away!” If he still doesn’t listen, make a bigger scene and yell, “BACK AWAY!”

The second “Back Away” should be done with a ‘Bad Dog’ voice we would use to scold a pet. The third “BACK AWAY,” if needed, should be done with a voice that will make everyone within shouting distance take notice. If we are still feeling threatened, we need to keep stating our boundaries and verbally backing the predator away. This continues even when we get to a level of physical conflict. The voice will allow us to use our full power. By yelling, we are actually breathing. When we stop breathing, we freeze; we can no longer respond assertively and at worst we become deer in the headlights.

Practice these scenarios. We have been raised in a society that taught us to be nice and polite. Raising our voices and yelling can make it seem like we are not being nice and are not playing by the rules. This may cause cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when two conflicting ideas compete for and scatter our attention. We need full focus of attention to deal with what is in front of us, not being concerned with whether or not we are nice. It takes training to overcome cognitive dissonance and the subconscious ideas we operate with.

Predators are also aware of the societal rules and are relying on us to play by them and be a victim. We may hear from them, “Be quiet and I won’t hurt you.” They are depending on our silence and cooperation with their game. Many people who faced attacks were able to dissuade their predators with verbal defense alone.

What if our disability prevents us from speaking or yelling? Building and car alarms are effective in preventing thefts; why can we not have our own personal alarms for safety? Air horns or sirens could be used on our chair or person. You may find these at boating or sporting goods stores. If you use a power chair or scooter, you can explore the possibility of rigging up a high-powered horn or alarm to the battery system. If you make enough noise to wake the dead, chances are no one will want to be around you. Many cars and vans have alarms or panic buttons. If you are near your vehicle when a situation arises, don’t be afraid to use this alarm.

Both power and manual chairs have their footplates at about the level of an able-bodied person’s ankles. If your safety is in jeopardy, roll over his foot and ankle with everything you have. If you are able to strike, hit vital targets like the groin, eyes, throat, and nose. Palm heel strikes are good, as they are less likely than a closed fist to break your wrist or knuckles. If a situation becomes physical, something has already gone wrong. Do not question why. Do what you need to do and fight. If someone is trying to take you to a second location, the time to fight is now. It will just get worse if you are taken somewhere else.

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