I have legally carried a concealed weapon for 12 years now – my four CCW permits allow me to carry in 38 states. My history with firearms began when I was 10 years old. My father used to take me to a quarry near Bear Creek on weekends to shoot a variety of rifles. My cousin Michael Allen from New York was a gun collector and would frequently visit with some of the rarer rifles in his collection.
My first summer at Camp Acahela as a Boy Scout saw me capture the rifle shooting trophy for six consecutive weeks. I shot a 46/50, which was pretty good for a 12 year-old.
I never went looking for trouble, but for some reason it always found me. A buddy and me were assaulted by three toughs in downtown Pittsburgh in 1967. We fought them off. In 1969 I faced down a guy with a pistol in Syracuse, NY., and the next year I had a drunk German stick a small caliber pistol in my stomach in Munich, West Germany.
I started my martial arts training in Hollywood, Ca. in 1973. The most fundamental principal of the martial arts is to avoid trouble! If you see danger approaching, run! You only fight when your back is to the wall and you have exhausted all other options. Then you fight with a vengeance, because your life is in danger. The greatest gift I received in my training was humility. You learned to walk down the street fully aware of everything happening around you (situational awareness), avoiding eye contact with anyone who might like to challenge you – which happened more often than not on the streets of Hollywood back then.
I was assaulted numerous times during the 1973-74 time period I lived in the area. Some were attempted street muggings, but one was by the drunk husband of a family friend in a Pasadena home. The gentleman took immediate exception to my presence and my ability to answer the unusual questions he posed to me: “What is the valence of a hydrogen atom?”
“-1”, I replied, which is the correct answer.
He leapt from his chair and started chasing me around the house. I tried to avoid him until he cornered me in the dining room. I shifted my stance and was awaiting his attack when his wife stepped between us at the last possible moment, tempering the conflict. Me and Phyllis’ mom were able to leave the house without incident.
I’ve had people follow me to my car. Once a guy tried to take a swing at me while I was seated in a restaurant. A lunatic with AIDS (the Kaposi’s Sarcoma was quite visible on his face) and a knife chased me around a telephone pole on Cahuenga and Sunset at noon. I was just standing there waiting for the light to change.
The list of attempted assaults went on for years. San Diego, Calabasas, Woodland Hills. Guys with knives, Guys on meth, Guys just angry with the world.
Around 2000 I began to participate in handgun competitions at a local gun range. My interest grew, as did my skill level. I began customizing pistols for myself and my friends at the range. The exceedingly active life I lived (motorcycles, skydiving, martial arts) began to take a toll on me physically, and that’s when I thought it prudent to add another tool to my self-defense arsenal.
I figured the best way to become adept at protecting myself safely was to learn to protect others, so I became an NRA instructor -- which took several years to move through the ranks to the point of being able to teach concealed carry. I am an ardent believer that anyone who possesses a firearm has a responsibility to learn how to use it safely and to most definitely keep it out of the hands of children.
Similar to the martial arts, this form of instruction has more to do with avoiding trouble than engaging it. The three things (among others) I stress to people are incredibly easy to accomplish and will minimize the chance of you becoming a victim of a crime:
#1. The first thing you do when you get into your car is lock the doors! This simple step prevents anyone from entering your vehicle without your permission. If you maintain situational awareness while driving, entering and leaving your vehicle, you will be safer.
#2. Put your cell phone away! Nothing screams “Victim Available – Please rob / rape / kill me” to a bad guy like someone walking down the street staring at their phone. It should be blatantly obvious to anyone that it is impossible to be aware of your surroundings and potential threats if you are glued to a cell phone in public.
#3. Know where all the exits are in a restaurant and sit facing the entrance. Most eateries have a door in the kitchen for deliveries that can be easily accessed in an emergency.
I don’t need to justify carrying a gun. We live in dangerous times and the police are rarely there when you need them. They usually arrive at a scene after the crime has been committed, not during. I’m not implying this is a viable option for everyone. Accurately shooting a weapon quickly under stressful conditions is a skill honed by years of practice, just like the martial arts.
I was taught early on that there are four levels of engagement: Avoid, Escape, Control, Destroy. If you take the first two seriously you may never need to exercise the remaining options. In the martial arts we learn to Destroy before Control. Controlling a predator is dangerous business. Since most of the time your enemy’s skill set is unknown to you, pretending to be Bruce Lee is a perilous option.
The worst thing a woman can do is take one of those weekend self defense classes where you get to punch and kick a guy fitted with enough stuffing to make him mimic Ralphie’s younger brother in “A Christmas Story.” You can’t learn to fight in 72 hours, and the sad but undeniable truth is that most women have petite wrists, and the first punch they land on any hard surface may result in multiple fractures and a quickly lost fight.
In my 40 years in the martial arts, I saw one ‘natural talent’ that became a formidable fighter in 18 months. Four years of training three days a week will get most people to the level where they can quickly contain a one-on-one unarmed assailant. While the skills presented in the currently popular MMA style of fighting may appear impressive, Jiu Jitsu is a tertiary level martial art. If you want to learn it, you should first master a traditional fighting style, whether it be Japanese, Korean, or Chinese is semi-irrelevant.
I studied Japanese fighting styles: Karate, Aikido and Judo. Aikido is an excellent discipline for women because it teaches you to redirect your opponent’s energy back towards them.
However, I had the snot beaten out of me by several women at the Dojo – don’t ever underestimate the power of a woman who has trained in one of the staples of martial arts. This is all well and good if you are fortunate to begin training in your 20’s. Once the years begin to pile on, the ability to absorb the punishment required becomes harder and harder.
Understand that most self-defense training involves constantly being used as a ping pong ball by your more skilled classmates. This is a rigorous methodology where you will walk away after every session with bumps, bruises, and a ton of swollen body parts. The lesson is very simple: if you can’t take a punch, you can’t give one. My instructor (Takayuki Kubota) was notorious in the L.A. area for such brutal training sessions that even seasoned fighters would crawl out of the bathroom window mid session rather than face the humiliation of leaving class early because they endured more pain than they could handle. Prior to arriving in the United States, Kubota earned money working at a slaughterhouse outside of Tokyo dispatching cows with a single punch to the head.
I once watched a black belt send a kohai (Japanese for ‘junior’) across the street to the convenience store to fetch a sewing kit. He then proceeded to stitch up a two inch long gash in his cheek right there in the restroom. I have a permanently broken and completely calcified thumb from one training session. Shihan (master) routinely reset dislocated finger joints in the Dojo. You were required to clean your own blood off the wooden floor at all times.
When I tested for Shodan (first degree black belt) I had to fight ten black belts in rapid succession, one after the other with no rest in between. Even though they were each only two-minute bouts, staying on your feet through this epic gauntlet was a challenge in itself.
What about guns?
This is most definitely a crawl-walk-run scenario. Your primary goal is to learn to handle a firearm safely. Daily news stories about people accidentally negligently being shot by someone with poor handgun skills are too commonplace. There is absolutely no excuse for endangering another person’s life through the wanton disregard of the rules of safety. Becoming familiar with a weapon and learning to shoot accurately is a skill based solely on time and money. The more ammo you put down range under the tutelage of a proficient instructor, the quicker you will develop the confidence required.
I started participating in tactical handgun competitions around 1999. Watch out for instructors who belittle the notion of ‘shooting at paper.’ The skillset developed when that timer rings (most competitions score based on accuracy and elapsed time) is a potentially valuable one, because it places you under great stress. The first skill lost when adrenalin surges in the body during a fight/flight/freeze/posture/submit scenario (yes, there are five possible responses to danger) is the fine motor skills you have developed to shoot accurately. We like to say that the way you perform in a life-or-death moment will echo your worst day at the range.
Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. When I became haplessly addicted to the competition bug, I was routinely putting 1000 rounds down range every month. Professional competitors generally expend three times this amount daily. Learning to shoot accurately and quickly is the key to surviving an encounter with an aggressor who attacks you.
How long do you have? From the moment you perceive a threat, you have about ¾ of a second to determine your response. You have well under two seconds to present your weapon from concealment and punch the first round out of the barrel. If you train religiously (once a week), you should be able to accomplish this in about two years.
The cross benefits of either form of training are massive. Your reaction times will decrease to the extent that you will be literally saving your own life nearly every day. I can’t begin to list the number of times training in both venues helped me to avoid vehicular nightmares brought about by inept drivers. Many of these happened while I was on a motorcycle, a singularly more dangerous way of travelling.
Trouble rarely sneaks up on you. Most of the time it announces itself like a marching band at a fireworks display. Being ready, willing, and able to defuse a potentially dangerous situation is a skill which only needs to be exercised once to understand its value.