Saturday, February 26, 2011

Protect Wellington Regional Instructor Darcy Mellsop with some of the team at a specialist Women's Personal Protection course in Wellington, Feb 2011.

The team at the 'Best Defence - Phase 1' course at Dragon's Spirit ITF - Auckland Feb 2011. Awesome day with awesome people! Thank you to all who attended.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'Gang member's...Just hit 'em!' (yeah right)

Today I heard a very disturbing piece of ‘advice’ given by a so-called ‘self defence instructor’ to his students. Frequently I hear things that make me cringe because they are just so wrong or even irresponsible (sometimes just downright funny if it were not for the fact the attendees tend to believe what they are told). I thought I had to share this one...He was discussing what to do if you are confronted by a gang member. His (‘black & white’, ‘absolute only way’) advice was along the lines of:

"Gang members are cowards. They are a joke. That is why they are in gangs. If you are confronted by a gang member or a group of gang members, don’t bother about trying to run or talk your way out of it, even if you think you easily can. The best thing to do is walk up and drop the biggest guy. The rest of them will be shocked and leave you alone. Let the rest of them know that you are not to be messed with, walk right through the middle of them, shoulders up and tall, show them you mean business. Then leave slowly so they can see you are not afraid."

Ok, for those of you reading this who know anything about real violence, you are probably thinking that no-one could be so stupid as to teach this, but someone is, and someone did.

The reasons that this (mis)information is so ridiculous, dangerous, and ignorant may be obvious to many, but equally many others (such as his students who seemed to be hanging on his every word *Sigh*) will not know so I will explain a few of the reasons here. I am not even going to touch on the fundamental principles of real Self Protection that we teach, which include recognition and avoidance strategies, de-escalation strategies, and post-event issues – ALL of which would cover reasons why this advice is terrible, I will focus solely on the specific dynamics of gang violence today.

Disclaimer: Everyone who has trained with me or other Protect instructors will know that we do not believe in a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to dealing with violence. There are just too many variables to have a ‘if someone does this, you should do that’ approach which is why we teach principles, concepts, and techniques but also the context to each one as well. So because of that, is it possible that this instructor’s recommended approach could actually work? The answer is yes. I have seen and heard of some outrageous ways that people have avoided or survived violence so anything is possible, and the art of the bluff is certainly a useful times. But the reason I am taking exception to this is because it was taught as the ‘only’ way that these situations should be dealt with, ‘end of story’. That is ignorant and dangerous.

Firstly, it is immediately obvious that this person has never been involved with gang violence, or any other type of serious violence in my opinion, even though he claims otherwise. Nobody who has been involved with real violence, and is in a sane state of mind (and not sociopathic) would advise this unless they were deliberately lying with the intention of selling you something or ‘bigging themself up’.

So, firstly, what are gangs? Simply put they are groups of people sharing an identity, who claim a territory, interact predominantly among themselves, often wear distinctive clothing including colours, insignias, and ‘patches’, generally engage in criminal and anti-social activity regularly, create an environment of fear and intimidation, and often communicate with each other in unique ways. They will often display their affiliation with tattoos, scars, cigarette burns, sometimes adding a new tattoo or scar to display another victim that they have murdered. Gangs are present in almost every race, ethnicity, and economic and social circle. Both male and female gang members carry out acts of violence, drug deals, crimes, carry weapons, intimidate and lead by fear within their organisation. Gangs participate in drug manufacturing and dealing, murder, rape, prostitution, fraud, car theft, stand-overs, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, burglary, assaults, weapons dealing, money laundering, vandalism (including tagging), among other things. Gangs operate as a ‘family’ (and I use that term very loosely), if you mess with one of them, you have messed with all of them, and that is not a place you ever want to find yourself.

These people are not a ‘joke’. Prospects (prospective gang members, new recruits) often have to pass initiation tests to be able to join. These sometimes include murder, assaults, rape, various crimes, taking the rap for something that another member did, or taking a severe beating to prove their ‘toughness’. Gang member reputations are made through crimes, particularly violent crimes.

Regardless of how we may feel about them, the danger they pose is real. Gang members operate on what we call the ‘three R’s’: Reputation, Respect, Revenge. Make no mistake, coming up against a gang member is going to have consequences (as most real violence does), probably very serious ones. I am not writing this to help support the environment of fear and intimidation that the gangs already impose, but if you remember the instructor’s advice above; “...don’t bother about trying to run or talk your way out of it, even if you think you easily can. The best thing to do is walk up and drop the biggest guy.” You will start to see why I am writing this. Because as with almost all potentially violent situations, avoidance and/or de-escalation are far and away the best option if they are available. If they are not available then of course we have to do what we have to do to survive and get home, but that is a LAST resort, not a first.

A gang member’s reputation is everything to them. They will protect it at all costs. A loss of reputation could mean becoming a target of rival gangs, or their own gang, and a loss of status among the gang. They treat it seriously, it is worth more to them than your wellbeing, or even maybe your life. If the gang member feels his/her reputation has been damaged, there will be retribution. There has to be. If he doesn’t he may well be beaten, disgraced, expelled, or even murdered by his own gang. Do you want to be the person in between that? Revenge is a huge deal for them. Finding yourself the target of that revenge is about as far away from comfort as you will find yourself. Because reputation is so huge, no assault or insult can be let go. It is a hell of an incentive to avoid at all costs if you can, not walk up and ‘teach them a lesson’!

Quite simply, anyone who willingly engages a gang member(s) when there were other options is misinformed or to be blunt, stupid.

This is why I always encourage our students to learn from anyone and everyone they can, to take that information, question it, pull out the good bits and chuck away the bad. I personally encourage every student or course attendee to challenge me on anything I have said or taught, if I can’t back it up I shouldn’t be teaching it. It is potentially people’s lives at stake, not some game or ego-contest.

So my advice today is to question anything you are told about ‘self defence’ to make sure it is the right information for you. Don’t just simply and blindly trust someone’s advice because they are the teacher or ‘master’. Challenge and question, do it respectfully of course, but do it diligently.

I'd like to add that my thoughts are with everyone in Christchurch, and everyone affected by the devastating earthquake there. This has affected every Kiwi and all of NZ is standing beside you all to help you through.