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Walking past danger

Mathew Bayley

At one of my workshops on self-protection, a student asked, “What is the best way to walk by a group of people that makes you feel afraid?” I replied that “you first have to decide if your reason for walking pass them is so important it is worth taking the risk.”Identifying a dangerous situation ahead of time and avoiding it is a major component of self-protection. Based on this premise, you should never walk into a situation that you feel uncomfortable about. It is like playing Russian roulette: you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. But on the other hand, let’s get real. There could easily be a situation in which a person has no choice but to walk by a person or group of people that pose a potential threat or feels that the need to get someplace fast outweighs the need for caution. I would like to take a look at both sides of this coin:– To help you set up some perimeter to avoid walking into harm’s way.– The best ways, from a tactical point of view, to get by or through a potentially dangerous person group of people. During the decade that I worked at The Colorado College, it became perfectly clear that the choices most students made were based on convenience and peer pressure. For instance: A student walks out of their dorm at night to go to the library. The thought process goes something like this: “This is the fastest way to get to the library, and that is the safest way to get to the library. I’ll go the fastest way.” Or, “This is the safest way to enjoy this activity, but this is the way my friends want to do it. I will do what my friends want.” Don’t ask me why, but safety is rarely considered a valid reason for action. I have learned that the untrained person usually has their priority backwards. Let me put it in a different context. Practicing good safety when kayaking, mountain climbing or backcountry traveling in the winter gains a person status among that particular community of adventurers. But practicing the same good safety habits on concrete makes you silly or a coward. Needless to say, this makes no sense to me, but I do accept that this is the way of the world and this syndrome must be addressed in order to create the proper mind set for true self-protection. To keep this part short, before you act, ask yourself if your reason for action is based on convenience or the fear of being thought a coward by your friends. If the answer is yes, then get a grip and rethink your position. If the answer is no, then you probably have no choice, so go head-on. Now, let’s talk about how you get past a group of people who pose a potential threat. First, you never walk through a group of people, you always walk to the outside. This creates a situation in which only one person can come at you at a time, and they tend to get in each other’s way. Always try to keep as much distance between you and the threat as possible. Obviously, crossing to the other side of the street is a good tactic and depending on traffic, walking down the middle of the street can also defuse the situation. Never stop moving and never engage in conversation. Statistically, 75 percent of all attacks start with normal conversation. Criminals will try to start a conversion with you to get you off balance. Here is a BIG ONE: You do not want to stare right at the people who make you feel uncomfortable. In many cultures, direct eye contact is a challenge or an insult. Also, you do not want to walk with your head down, because you do not want to appear afraid. The best thing to do is make intermittent eye contact with the chest of the person or persons that you are trying to get by. Look over, keep walking, look away, then look over and look away. Repeat this process until you are clear. This is the body language that says, “I see you, I am no threat to you, but you do not threaten me.” Why, you ask? Once again, we come back to gender-specific behavior. If you watch little girls talking to each other on a playground, you will see that they tend to sit face to face looking into each other’s eyes. If you watch little boys, they tend to stand or sit side by side looking around and every once in a while they look at each other in the chest. Intermittent eye contact to the chest is the way men who are friends tend to chat. Making intermittent eye contact to the chest of the people you are walking by not only says you are not afraid of them, but it is the body language that says we are friends, everything is cool. One last idea: 50 percent of all violent crimes are committed by people under the age of 18, and the vast majority of attacks where there are multiple attackers, the average age of the group is under 20. Interestingly enough, most attacks are perpetrated by people on people of the same race. One of my favorite expressions is: Run the math. What I mean by that is every aspect of self protection can be broken down into statistics, patterns, and tactics. Do your homework, use your head, and based on how violence really happens, make the best choices you can.Master of the Martial Arts Mathew Bayley’s Vail Academy of Martial Arts is taking reservations for the 2004 Safest Summer of All programs, featuring children and adult self-protection programs blended with the martial arts. Call 949-8121 or visit vailacademyofmartialarts.com


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