Posted by: B Gourley | December 14, 2012

Pre-Thinking Calamity: Surviving in a Shootout

IMG_4618My initial intention today was to write a post on mutō dori, which is the method of dealing with an armed attacker while unarmed. It’s about the scariest imaginable scenario, and one that the martial art I study gives particular attention. However, I just saw the news story about a Connecticut elementary school shooting, and began thinking about that tragedy.

Such a shooting is a rare but catastrophic event. As such, it makes a huge splash in the psyche for a short period (unless you were unfortunate enough to be directly touched by the event), and then people don’t think about it at all. (It’s only been about 5 months since the Batman shooting in Aurora. Have you thought about it since the initial horror-struck you?) In a way this post will still be about mutō dori, but instead of the classic mutō dori scenario of being unarmed and facing a swordsman it will be about being unarmed against a gunman.

A couple of things this post is NOT about. First, it won’t be about the case in which one is able to flee the scene or hide somewhere that is safe. If one can flee,  that offers the highest probability of survival. Hiding may or may not be a good option depending upon where you are hiding and what your available routes of retreat are. One doesn’t want to find oneself pinned down in a (non-bulletproof) space. I suspect school and university shootings are particularly high-casualty because classrooms often have only one way in and one way out, and exit routes are often concentrated –not dispersed– by the architecture of school buildings. (Long corridors lined with classrooms.)

Second, this isn’t going to be a general self-defense post. I did one of those a few months back. It offered advice such as, “Don’t let the perpetrator take one anywhere, and don’t let the perpetrator restrict one’s movement.” While that is great advice, this is an entirely different situation with an individual of an entirely different nature. The criminal who wants to move or restrict one’s motion doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation as it stands. The individual in a mass-murder shoot-out is a psychopath. He has no fear, and he may well be expecting to be killed. He might even be trying to commit “suicide by cop.” That makes the individual an altogether more challenging beast.

Third, it’s not going to be a “wish in one hand…” post that talks about all the things you’ll wish if you were in that situation (i.e. wishing you had a weapon.) Many individuals focus their advice on “be armed.” If you want that advice, you can find it a million places. I’m not saying that it’s bad advice, I’m just saying there’s still need for consideration of what to do when you don’t have that weapon. I’m not knocking the “be armed” advise, but unless you never travel by air and have a waterproof pistol for the shower, you can’t rely on a weapon in all cases. Even with a “Glock on a Rope” for the shower, there is always the risk of jams and misfires. Even if you do carry, you shouldn’t imbue an object with your power. That is, if you say, “I’ll have a gun or a knife, and that’s what will make me safe” you are putting yourself in a dangerous mindset. Ultimately, all you can count on for your defense is you. What you need to cultivate is evidence-based faith that “you” is enough to deal with any crap situations that come along. Then every other advantage you create (or receive like manna from heaven) will make life cake.

What this post IS about is preparing yourself mentally. However, to properly prepare yourself mentally is not primarily a “thinking” or “meditative” activity. Instead, it will require some physical activity. What does one need to prepare oneself to do?

First, one must prove oneself capable of touching a complete stranger aggressively and decisively. People think they will automatically be able to perform all sorts of actions that they absolutely never do in their daily lives.  Unfortunately, real world events all too often prove them wrong. Another way of putting this is to suggest you take classes in a martial art or self-defense. That’s the  moral and legal way to know for yourself that you can do this. I guess one could take up roller derby or hockey to instill a similar confidence, but martial arts and self-defense classes have the advantage of offering techniques as well. I know you are saying, “I just don’t have the time.”  It’s true that most people are busy with so many aspects of life, and few have a desire to master a martial art. Even if you just do a short run of self-defense classes, with an occasional refresher, that is better than nothing. A side advantage is that one also learns to not freak-out when one is touched aggressively. You’d be surprised  how even many police officers tense up when they are grabbed. (FYI- I know this from being in law enforcement and from teaching police officers, not from being a thug.)

Second, one needs to know that one won’t go catatonic under the sound of gunfire. Even if you are a person who doesn’t intend to carry a gun, you should get some shooting instruction. I’m not trying to talk you into (nor out of) carrying a firearm here. There are plenty of others to do that. What I’m saying is that most people’s experience of firearms is Hollywood-based, and it gives them weird misconceptions about firearms. Firearms are a devastating weapon, but they aren’t without limitations that balance their strengths. Being at the range and handling a weapon will remove the firearm from “boogeyman” status. Hollywood myth #1 is: every time a trigger is pulled, a person is hit and instantly dies.  (Unless he is the hero and the gunman is a Stormtrooper, then it’s just a graze.) Because of this, people all too often think of firearms as some sort of “magic wand of death.” In the military I went through training events both where live ammunition was fired over our heads (way, way, over our heads –Shaq going in for the dunk wouldn’t have been at risk) and where a device that used compressed air (I think) to mimic the sound of gunfire was employed. Why go to this expense? Because you need to know that a Soldier/Marine/Airman will keep moving when the sounds of death seem close at hand.  I would suggest that it wouldn’t hurt a civilian to in some way condition themselves similarly.

Finally, one needs to have thought about the worst case scenario. That’s why I’m not just giving advice like 1.) always think about your escape routes; 2.) carry a weapon. Such preparations may lessen your chances of the worst case scenario, but never to zero. I wonder whether readers think being backed into a corner by a gunman is the worst case scenario? After all, it’s not just any gunman. It’s a gunman who has shown by his actions that he is ready to kill, and –in all likelihood– ready to die. Well, dear reader, I’m asking you to go one worse. Here’s your scenario: you’ve already been shot. You’re bleeding as you wrestle with the gunman attempting to simultaneously:  a.) extinguish his life as quickly as possible, and b.) avoid letting him get the muzzle realigned with any part of one’s body. There’re two great dangers in this exercise. First, there’s the danger of saying, “I’d die. I just couldn’t do it.” If I could reach through your computer I would electronically bitch slap you for such a statement. You don’t have the luxury of “I can’t do it”; you get to find that out what you couldn’t do when you die. The second danger is thinking, “oh, I’d just do this, this, and it’d be all over.” That is, giving the exercise short shrift. While at least the latter reflects a type of confidence, it doesn’t get to the point. The point of the exercise is to imagine how horrific the situation is, and only then realize the ultimate truth — all you can do is keep moving to the last breath.


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