Time is our most precious commodity. Once it’s gone, we can’t get it back. My friend, John Johnston (Citizens Defense Research), likes to tell students that when he teaches, and it’s both his gratitude for the time you’ve spent in class and a warning to spend your time wisely. It’s connected to that idea of memento mori, a phrase that reminds us that life is not guaranteed and death is inevitable. Neither are intended to create hopelessness. Rather, they are an exhortation to pay attention and give effort to that which matters most. The question for many of us is how we do that when we are busy with all of the demands life puts on us, from taking care of ourselves to taking care of our loved ones to taking care of our homes to taking care of our jobs. Much of OHO has always been about figuring out how to do the things, but juggling between them? It’s a fair question that we haven’t talked about much. With only so many hours in a day, and a need to prioritize only that which is important and can be done, how do we do it? When it comes to defending ourselves, to protecting our personal safety when we’ve realized that yes, we have to be responsible for it too, but no, we don’t want it to take over our lives, here are a few suggestions:
Instead of doing it all at once, pick one thing. There are so many disciplines that go into full-spectrum self-defense, and it can seem overwhelming as you try to figure out how you get good at situational awareness (whatever that means), managing unknown contacts (as in the Craig Douglas/Shivworks paradigm) and conflict deescalation, using pepper spray (hi POM!) hands-on fighting (like Brazilian jiu-jitsu), shooting guns (and carrying them concealed, a whole other skill set), not to mention protecting your possessions against theft and your home against invasion or learning how to treat emergency medical problems, and that’s just the physical stuff. It’s nearly impossible to find the time to learn everything at the same time, so don’t try. It’s okay. Pick one, using whatever criteria make you the most comfortable. Maybe it’s the most accessible in your life right now because of time or budget or access to instruction. Maybe it’s the one that doesn’t freak you out as much as the others. Maybe it’s the one you feel is most necessary because of a particular threat you are worried about. Whatever it is, pick that to start. You can work on the others later. In the meantime, you will already be on the path to being safer.
Commit to a period of learning. You do not have to seek ultimate mastery of any particular discipline, unless you independently decide it’s your passion (and you are allowed to change your mind about that decision). You should, however, dedicate yourself to meeting a certain level of proficiency before changing focus. It doesn’t need to be high, and you might be surprised at how little is really needed to become more able to protect yourself today than you were yesterday. Going through my Self-Defense Resource Center might take you a few hours here and there, but will give you enough high-level information to be able to understand what to watch out for with your situational awareness and what to do about what you see. Hands-on pepper spray skills can be learned in a couple-hour seminar – I’ll be teaching one in New Hampshire next month, and there are many qualified instructors around the country. If you can stick with six months of once- or twice-a-week classes, you can learn enough BJJ to not be helpless against a hands-on attack, and be in better physical condition too. Carving out a weekend for a high quality two-day defensive pistol class will give you the skills and familiarity to be safe with the gun you choose to carry, and to have a start with knowing when and how to use it against an attacker.
Cycle through refreshers, which can be simply review and practice sessions or can be retaking the same class at a later date. It’s perfectly okay to not always be at the peak of skill for everything all the time. The trick is to lose as little as you can over time, and to have some recent experience with it as much as you can in between the other parts of your life. You might not be able to practice every day or every week, but you might able to get to a one-day class every quarter, or make an appointment with yourself to review use of a tourniquet every month when you double-check your medical kit. Keep track of what you’ve been working on and when, so that when you do have a slice of time and a few dollars, you’re spending it on the areas you haven’t worked on lately. It’s always tempting to go back to the familiar, to what you’re already good at, and to continue refining those skills and even chasing perfection with them. Choosing to do so because it’s something you enjoy and want to add to the most important priorities of your life is one thing, but if all of this seems like hard work, then you’re going to have to eat your vegetables and not just your favorite ones. The good news is that after you’ve gained the basic skills, brushing up on them will require less effort as long as you are doing so regularly enough that you haven’t forgotten everything entirely. In the beginning, it might mean getting that review every few days or every few weeks, but then you can stretch it out to every few months, but I’d suggest not less than once a year.
You and your life are worth defending. You are worth devoting some measure of time, money, attention, and energy to learning how best to protect it. But you don’t have to do it all, unless you decide that’s the right path for you and you have the resources to do so. You can begin with a few steps into any one area, and become familiar and competent enough with it to be able to use it if and when needed, then move on to something else. Over time, you will build up each tower of skill until you have an entire city to draw from when in need. Before then, just that little bit will make you safer than you were before. If I had to pick an order, I’d start with managing unknown contacts and other forms of boundary drawing and decision-making (including legal considerations), then pepper spray, then medical knowledge, then home security and safety, then guns and hand-to-hand fighting skills. I believe that will allow you to address the areas that will give you the biggest and broadest wins across the most to least likely types of danger you might face, with the easiest effort to fit into your life first. You don’t have to follow that path, though, because any one of those areas will make you more able to defend yourself and will give you something in your back pocket as you circle around to the others. At the end of the day, it’s always going to be a lifelong pursuit, and that makes perfect sense because your life will always be worth saving.