Archive for January, 2012

Sometimes when I tell people I teach urban survival, they think of the time during WWII when occupied urban territories were the battle ground for resistance fighters. The resistance fighters did not have conventional weapons so they improvised with what they had. Fortunately, France had a lot of wine bottles and liquor and made good use of the molotov cocktail.

I have to admit, I thought the molotov cocktail was derived from some Israeli word (I guess similar to Mazel Tov?). I was wrong.  The term molotov cocktail was coined by the Finns during the Winter war of 1938. They were fighting the Soviets who invaded Finland that year. The name is an insulting reference to the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. Who knew?

So yes, a core component of my urban survival curriculum is using your environment for things like self-defense, shelter, food, etc.

For example, I can assure you that unless you are sitting at your desk nude, you have on your person an object that can be repurposed for defense. If you are reading this at your desk in the nude, please at least put a towel on the chair seat. Someone else may want to sit there later. Ewwww.

So what’s in your pocket (or purse)? Some common items may be coins, keys, a wallet and maybe make-up. It is well-known that keys make a nifty self-defense weapon. Coins may be used as a distraction and can be thrown in the face of an aggressor to buy you (no pun intended) that small amount of time to get out of Dodge. Plus, it doesn’t really cost much to do it either! My Bubby would be so proud. I can hear her now…. “I’m so proud of you!  You saved your life and it only cost 75 cents!”

Your wallet may contain a credit card that can be used to cut an aggressor. Lastly, make-up cases, brushes, powders, liquids can all be used as defensive weapons.

There are many sites out there that lists people’s ideas of improvised weapons from rolled up newspapers to teddy bears.  I encourage you to look at them.  In my courses I go over many items that are uniquely repurposed for defense.  For now, look around you.  What is on your person that can be repurposed for defense.  Then reach around……….  your area.  What is in arm’s length that you can grab and repurpose.  As you walk around town ask your self what is around me that I can use for defense if I needed to defend myself right now.  The more you get used to thinking about these things, the more it becomes second nature.

BTW, if you happen to have any other good ideas for an improvised weapon and would like to share…..  especially ones that are uncommon, please do!

Ahhh….. finally, I get to write about dojos.  For the purpose of this article a dojo could be Japanese, Chinese, American, Korean, Bangladesh… whatever.  It’s a place one would go to learn a martial art.  I hope this article is helpful to you if you are thinking about taking up a martial art.

I grew up in the golden age of American Martial Arts. We had Enter the Dragon, the TV series Kung Fu and even the Pink Panther.  All had an influence on me and my choices of study.

I remember being about twelve years old and finally getting up enough nerve to walk into a Kung Fu school in NYC’s Chinatown.  It was noisy, hectic and smelled like old Dim Sum.  I stood there for what seemed like an eternity until this guy with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a bad hair cut asked me what I wanted.  I said I was interested in learning Kung Fu. He asked what kind?  I said whatever Bruce Lee was doing.  He laughed and told me to follow him.  He opened a door and asked me to step inside.  I did….  the door closed behind me and I found myself in the alley outside. Well, at least I found out where that old Dim Sum smell was coming from.

I wish I could tell you it was easy to find what martial art and school fit me.  It was a bumpy journey.  I tried Tae Kwon Do (pulled a groin muscle trying to kick someone in the head), Karate (dislocated my thumb waxing on), and even Capoeira (I just looked like a jerk dancing like that!). It took me a while, but I finally found my place.  I offer the following tips so you can be spared what I went through.  Incidentally, this applies if you are looking for a school for your child too.

Research the different martial arts online.  There are very good descriptions out there.  Stick with the big traditional martial arts.  Stay away from one person’s”new” style that he developed when he went on a pilgrimage to the top of some mountain. Once you find a martial art that interests you, go visit some schools. This is actually the most important part. I will let you in on a secret…….   All martial arts are essentially the same.  It is the schools that make the difference.

Visit many schools and see if they greet you with sincerity and answer your questions with patience.  Some schools  may offer a free trial class.  Take it.   Do they take the time to explain the rules, etiquette and the location of the bathrooms to you? How’s the energy?  Does it match your personality?  Talk to the other students.  Would these people be people you would be friends with? Lastly, consider cost.  I understand that dojos are business that need to keep the lights on but primarily the schools that attracted most were more like communities.  It was my experience that the schools that insisted and pushed contracts or was a pay by the rank system did not emphasize community. Therefore, not for me.

I have been in the same dojo for over 15 years now.  I can say that aside from learning great techniques, I have made great friends and learned how to navigate all that life has thrown at me.  That was more important to me than being able to break a board held over my head with my foot.

If you need a recommendation, consider this dojo:

Lastly,  Chuck Norris was and still is the most deadliest man on the planet.

I worked with this guy who was a fitness fanatic.  He was also the captain of the police basketball team and an overall monster size of a man.  At the time, the only shape I was in…. was round.  He asked me one day how much I could bench press.  I weighed in at about 250lbs at the time so I arbitrarily said I could bench press 200 lbs.  Seemed logical to me although I had never really bench pressed anything in my life.  He laughed and said he didn’t think so.  We bantered back and forth with me insisting I could and he stating I couldn’t.  Here is the funny thing.  Even though I never bench pressed anything in my life, I rationalized that I could do it and the more we argued, the more I was convinced I could do it.  I actually believed it until…….. my friend finally got me to the gym and lo and behold… I almost lost my inerds.

So, what does this story have to do with urban survival?

When I am teaching newbies at the dojo or conducting a self-defense class, it always amazes me (until I recall the above story), how many people think they can handle a mugger, rapist or general a-hole.  For the record, some actually had a good sense of what they can do.  They were brought up in tough neighborhoods or were from countries where survival was an everyday occurrence.  Most were not.  Most were like me in my younger years.  This attitude is the first barrier to teaching urban survival. How to realistically give a person a baseline without putting them in actual harm. Without establishing a baseline for yourself,  you cannot realistically assess what you can and can not do in any given situation.

So the next time you are on the subway or on the street and you see a suspicious, burly scary person, ask yourself not “what would I do?” if this person decided to make you a target, but “what COULD I do?” Be honest then take a course on self-defense.

P.S. It took me a good year of working out with my friend but I ended up losing 70 lbs and eventually bench pressed 225lbs regularly.  Now…….  not so much. But I know that. 🙂

A belated Happy New Year!

The Times Square New Year celebration always gives me the opportunity to hone my urban survival skills.  Where else can you be trapped in a pen for upwards of 12 hours with people you never would be with otherwise?  This year  because of the mild weather, it was extraordinarily packed with revelers.

I had the privilege of being privy to a conversation my brother had with some European tourists on the way to Times Square.  My brother told them he was a retired police officer, so the tourists naturally asked him if there was any guidance he could provide to them as they celebrated the New Year in the Big Apple.

He explained that the police are forced to be there for a very long period of time so they have developed some strategies to get through the night. These strategies will help them as the police pen people in at a first come first serve basis.  The tourists needed to get there hours before midnight and once penned in, they could not leave. Here are his tips:

1.  Do not wear any New Years “bling” such as 2012 glasses, mardi gras beads or funny hats.  That stuff makes them look incredibly stupid and is just a homing beacon for perps.

2. Go to the nearest pharmacy and buy something called Imodium.  Take one and you will not have to do #2 for the entire night.  You do not want to be the one smelling like poop with hundreds of people surrounding you.  You will also save yourself from the brown spot walk of shame home.

3. While at the pharmacy, buy adult diapers. (the tourists never heard of them). He explained these are diapers that adults can wear and if they needed to do#1 they can just go ahead and do it at their leisure.  When the ball drops all they need to do is take them off and cast them into the nearest receptacle.  He further explained that this is the reason that cops’ asses look so big in their uniform pants.

4.  Wear waterproof shoes…. not all people heed suggestion#2

5.  Lastly,  he recommended they stay home, watch Dick Clark and kiss their honey.  They will not have to worry about poop, piss and crime (hopefully).

Although this actually did happen, he was joking and told them so.  🙂

Have a Happy New Year!