A couple days ago, I accidentally happened to notice a flyer stuck on the gym wall a grandiose announcement for a one day self defense course to protect women from male predators and asking a lot of money for a single days training camp in kick boxing for women. I suppose that it was to be expected that people would try and cash in on all the outrage after the Delhi rape incident, try to make money out of women’s fears. But offering to train someone in just one day to defend themselves, especially in such a hard discipline like kick boxing smells like an out and out scam to me. You pays your money and we takes it and run is the modus operandi of these scamsters. And usually I have no sympathy for the fools who fall for such things and fail to look beyond their noses. But this time, I am slightly worried that all these self defense scams which are springing up all over the city are going to give women a false sense of confidence in themselves and they would opt to fight rather than choose flight when faced with a sexual predator. Dont take me wrong, I am not being gender insensitive or being overly misogynistic in advocating that women run from rapists. If you feel that way about me, please stop reading this post now and go do something else. But if you are interested in reading my reasons please bear with me while I take my time to explain.
Whether you are a man or woman when faced with a violent person it is absolutely no shame to turn away from a confrontation. You need not fight when there is an option to escape from there. Violence should be resorted to as a last option, when there is no other option left to save yourself. And consider this carefully-ALL THE TRAINING IN THE WORLD DOES NOT PREPARE YOU FOR SUDDEN UNPROVOKED VIOLENCE. Please read the previous sentence again and again. For thats the carry home message from this post. If you see from the Delhi incident the girl was attacked by six violent men carrying weapons. To fight someone who carries a dangerous weapon can only be done by Bruce Lee or Jet Li. Ordinary mortals will get stabbed every single time, even if they have brown belts and black belts by the dozen. Kick boxing, karate, judo and all other kinds of martial arts prepare one to fight in tournaments (for points) with carefully made rules and watching referees to prevent injuries. They cannot equip you to fight a sudden assault on a dark empty street, especially when the numbers are overwhelmingly against you. Street fighting is an art. Its not acquired in fitness centers or in martial arts classes. And more than anything else it requires rage, a blind heedless rage to fling yourself unthinkingly into battle where running is not an option. But if you do have the option to run away, take it. Run. Don’t worry about being called a coward. Discretion is the better part of valor. Be safe first. Swallow your pride. It won’t help you survive. Be practical.
My first brush with street fighting was in my younger days, my school days, courtesy my large and extended family. When you have a bunch of male cousins (macho fellows at that), you cannot escape being dragged into fights whether you want to or not. Elder cousin brothers have a way of getting the younger involved in all the feuds they pick up merely because you belong to the family. When the blood calls you have to go, you cannot refuse family. Growing up in an extended family, I had a large bunch of male cousins (me being the youngest) who used to get involved in fights often, sometimes for no reason at all and whenever someone heard that yet again one of our cousins was involved in a fight somewhere, the call would go out and we would all rush (or be dragged along unwillingly in my case) to join the fight in a general free-for all on the principle that if you hurt one of the family, you hurt all of the family. There would be guys there who wouldn’t talk to us in the normal course of things, cousins from distant branches of the family who wouldn’t step into our house due to long standing family feuds, but they would be there, they and their friends (or whoever was with them when they first heard the news), fighting for the family and walking away silently when it was all over, without accepting a word of thanks from this branch of the family. They weren’t fighting for us, my eldest cousin would say, they were fighting for the family name. You hurt one – you hurt all -a concept which I found hard to understand as a young kid.
I remember one fight in particular, from so long ago. My chinna-annan or my youngest elder (cousin) brother, once got into a fight with some guy who was supported by a bunch of tough guys from a different area, over an illegal drag racing (bike racing) escapades in the streets. When he came to our street for reinforcements the only unfortunate who had the bad luck to fall into his clutches was yours truly. I was sitting at home reading some comic book about archie dreaming off ronnie (archie comics anyone?) when I was dragged off (kicking and screaming in protest) to a mechanic shed in a nearby area for a no holds barred street fight. My brother and I were outnumbered- there were half a dozen of that area guys there- street-toughs, ready to thrash the two of us for invading into their locality. My brother as was his wont, recklessly went in fists flailing and reluctantly I joined in, even though the odds were two to one against us, all the while kicking myself that I hadn’t been able to avoid getting embroiled in a fight for no discernible reason at all. The fight was hot, brief and as regular street fights go it was a brutal anything goes type- you could kick, punch, bite, butt, push, trip, anything at all. By and by, things seemed to slacken a bit. Of course when you are in the middle of something hot and are getting thrashed here, there and everywhere, you don’t take the time off to look around you. Its only when it’s all over, you lean panting with breathlessness, half bent clutching your stomach and look around you. And to say I was surprised was to state it mildly. The reason those toughs had broken and run (in their own area) was because the odds were now two to one against them. Unnoticed by me, by the time the fight was at its most earnest, a lot of my cousin brothers and a few friends of theirs had come up there and had joined in with us. No wonder we weren’t slaughtered as I fully expected going in but came home with every organ intact. And I vowed to myself, that never again would I let a false sense of family obligation drag me into such stupid situations, a vow I made many times in my life but somehow never kept.
The reason I share all these long personal anecdotes is to drive home the message that however much prepared and trained to fight you are, still all that training cannot give you the slightest preparation of what it actually feels like at the time of the threat- the spine chilling fear you feel when you have to fight for your life. A few years ago, in a moment of temporary insanity, I went and gave in my name for a mixed martial arts tournament. Despite joining a training academy with a kick ass coach who made me as ready as I could ever be, I only have memories (nightmares) left now of the sheer horror of each bout I fought in. Every single opponent looked like a 7ft tall giant with arms as long as an octopus and who was ready to kick my ass from the moment the bell rang for the round. It was sheer fright, blood chilling terror to fight round after round and to survive being massacred and thrown round the ring like a doll. And this was in a safe and controlled environment with referees and judges watching and there was no chance of being killed or mutilated all alone.
Think how it would be when you are suddenly surprised on a dark street corner and have to decide in a split second whether you should stay to try out your new and expensive martial arts training acquired in a one day workshop or whether you should just turn and run as fast as you can. Me, if given a chance would turn and run like Usain Bolt was after me. I would rather be a live coward than a dead hero. And I say with this absolutely no shame. You pick and choose your fights, pick and chose when and where to fight if you want to survive. There is no ego or pride involved in running away when the odds are against you. You merely live to fight another day. You cannot for instance, despite whatever martial arts training you have (and I have had plenty in different disciplines) fight with more than three persons at a time. If you are not prepared, even one is too many. Just turn and run. Survive for now. Think with your brain instead of your heart.
And finally, I come to the vexing question of firearms. One of my friends, lets call him K, was a very strong proponent of guns and how being armed would help prevent crime. I remember quoting to him a line from Ian Flemings James Bond novel “the man with the golden gun” where bond says that men compensate with big guns for their physical deficiency in other areas. This was when my friend Krish was living in Russia and we were discussing whether he should buy a .32 caliber gun as he favored or a mere .22 which I recommended as more than enough for close work- when threatening any would-be muggers who would be standing as close as possible. After many months of carrying around the gun Krish finally got the chance he was looking for, a chance to use the gun. He was mugged on a dark rainy day (in Moscow most days are like that it seems) and when we chatted about the incident later, he told me the thief had taken everything, everything on him. When I asked him why he hadn’t shown the thief the gun, he told me plaintively that he had and the thief had taken it too. Right out of his hands. He had simply frozen in fright when the moment came. So even owning a gun doesn’t make you safe, if you are not mentally prepared to use it. And hence people who say that women should carry guns with them to prevent getting raped, should also consider whether the woman is psychologically prepared to use it if needed. Mere threatening wouldn’t work; it might just increase the danger and force the criminals to respond with more and immediate violence. Remember they are used to casual violence (split second violence on a whim)while we as law abiding citizens are not and we tend to think things through and hem and haw and procrastinate. If we hesitate, that single moment of hesitation will be fatal for us- they won’t hesitate to stab you. So unless you are prepared to stab someone, don’t carry a knife and unless you are prepared to shoot someone, don’t carry a gun. You will only be hurting yourself if you do.
So, to conclude, I come back to my original advice, the premise of this entire post. Dont trust your life to all these fly-by-night operators who advertise martial arts training. Take precautions. Use commonsense. Avoid getting caught in compromising situations alone. But if caught in one unavoidably, just turn and run. Run like hell. Don’t freeze. Don’t stop and think. There is no shame in running. Get the hell out of there and stay safe. The Delhi Rape victim had no choice. But if you have a choice to escape– use it wisely.
And thank me later for this advice.
P.S. This advice equally applies to men.