Sunday, March 7, 2010

What to do in a school or workplace shooting

In my previous post, I outlined my experiences with being very close to gun violence four separate times.

Practical experience
None of this makes me an expert at surviving a shooting; it just lets you know that I’ve actually experienced some of the situations on which I regularly give advice. In my late teens and early 20’s I had trained to survive similar situations, but never believed I would have any real-world need to deal with this stuff. When I worked with and trained law enforcement officers at “Mean Street” in the early 1990s, we had the opportunity to use paintball guns and “simunitions” that made it easier to envision real gunfire while training. Mean Street was a paintball center featuring an urban setting complete with cars, a truck, a bus and two houses and a duplex that made up a small neighborhood. It was surrounded on 3 sides with embankments and it had a tree line—a forest about 100 feet away that was perfect for snipers. The owner was ex-special forces and I brought my experience to the party as well, teaching both in a small dojo in the back of the office building and often bringing the training out onto Mean Street. At the time, it was as real as you could get. When the day ended, everyone knew that they would go home with nothing more than a couple of welts and a bruised ego. When shots are fired in a real-life situation, you only have seconds to react and enter survival mode. Here’s what to do:

Be alert and awareBefore anything happens, stay alert, and always be aware of your surroundings (keep an eye out for suspicious looking individuals, situations that don’t “feel” right, etc.). Report any suspicious activity. Let the authorities determine if any action needs to be taken. If a shooting does occur in your immediate area, stay calm. I know that this sounds easier than it is, but through my years I’ve encountered countless emergency situations spanning from self-defense scenarios to first-aid incidents.

Remember to take a deep breath and tell yourself. “Okay…here we go”. If you panic and give into fear, you may be immobilized. Whatever happens, don’t give up without a fight.

Know your location

Know where the emergency exits are in your location. If there is shooting in your area and you are unable to get to an exit, look for a place to hide (closet, under desk, etc.). Turn out the light so the room appears empty. Ask your supervisor or school officials if you have a “lockdown” strategy in place. If not, create and implement one.

Get away
If the shooter is within your field of vision, but at a distance of 25 to 30 feet away (or greater) you should run. When running, stay low and move in a serpentine fashion/zig-zag motion. A moving target is difficult to hit—even for a trained professional or experienced firearm handler. If you are inside a building and don’t have an open area in which to run (parking lot, etc.), try to lock or barricade yourself in a room. Escape out a window if possible. If escape is impossible, hide.

Find cover

If the shooter is in your immediate area, find cover fast (desk, furniture, or anything that can provide protection between you and the shooter). If you have no cover, drop to the ground and cover your head with your hands. If the shooter is determined to shoot you (and you are unable to find cover), fight back. Hit them with a heavy object and/or throw things at them to distract and/or stun them. If you can, target the hand that is holding the weapon—you may be able to disarm them.

If you must, fight

If you have no improvised weapons, and are close to the shooter, try to grab the barrel of the gun and redirect it away from you (and others). As much as possible, be aware of where the gun is directed—pointing it down at the ground, or up in the air and away from others and yourself. Jab at the shooter’s eyes with your fingers. If the shooter is able to retain the weapon, they will at least be temporarily blinded and unable to accurately fire their weapon. Palm strikes to the nose and kicks/knees to the groin are also highly effective.
Formal training is no guarantee

Formal training in weapons defense and survival is not a guarantee that you will come out of a school or workplace shooting in one piece As long as the training you receive is based on reality and not a James Bond movie; you will increase your chances of survival. Many times I’ve been training in gun disarms and had someone say, “I would have been able to shoot you just now”. Maybe that’s true. But if an assailant is determined to shoot you, your choices are limited: run, hide, fight, or be shot. If I can’t run or hide, I’m not going to sit there and make it easy for the shooter.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

School and Workplace Shootings

A brief history

“Going Postal” was a phrase that spawned from 20 separate shootings that took place in postal offices during the 1980s and 1990s (During this time period, over 40 people in the U.S. lost their lives in situations where an armed assailant unexpectedly appeared with a firearm and started shooting).

A short list of recent U.S workplace shootings recent years:

• 1984 McDonalds San Diego Ca. (21 killed, 19 injured)
• 1986 Edmond, Oklahoma Post office (14 killed, 6 injured)
• 2006 Goleta Ca. Postal Center (7 killed)
• 2010 St. Louis (3 dead, 8 injured)

And locally…

• November 2009 Tualatin, Oregon (2 dead, 2 injured)

Some of the deadliest U.S. school shootings occurred in the last half century:

• 1966 University of Texas (14 killed, 32 injured)
• 1999 Columbine High School Colorado (13 killed, 21 injured)
• 2005 Red Lake High School Minnesota (7 killed, 5 injured)
• 2007 Virginia Tech University (32 dead, 15 injured)

Thurston High School and Kip Kinkel’s shooting rampage

In Oregon in 1998, Kip Kinkel walked into the cafeteria at Thurston High school and opened fire with a rifle (Killing 2 and injuring 25). This hit close to home with me for several reasons:

1. I grew up in Springfield, Oregon and attended Thurston High. I know that cafeteria very well and it was very easy for me to picture the scene.

2. I lived about a quarter of a mile from the Kinkels. My sister babysat Kip when he was young. Before I saw his face on TV (as a murderer) my only image of him was seeing him eat ice cream and ride his big wheel in the drive way.

A history of violence

Thurston High had a long history of violence and bullying/hazing long before Kip ever arrived. I found myself in a number of self defense situations during my time as a student there (more on this below). I don’t believe Kip’s actions were warranted or justifiable, but I do believe that an extremely emotionally unbalanced individual should not be provoked.

I’ve been in the vicinity of gun crimes…four times.

My experience with hostile environments involving guns includes four distinct situations. I’ve been shot at twice in my life and believe that in both instances the individuals were attempting to scare me (believe me—they succeeded).

The first time:

In the first instance I was young and growing up in Springfield, Oregon. On the outskirts of town there lived a crazy old man who didn’t like kids cutting through his property. One day, after catching us cutting through, he shot over our heads with a rifle. At the time, I was sure he was trying to kill us. We both got out of there as fast as we could—creating a beeline path through the forest and brush in our hurry just to get out of there. That incident instilled in me a desire to improve my escape and evasion abilities. (Tactics and abilities that I regularly share with my Tien Tae Jitsu martial arts students.)

Getting shot at a second time

I consider the second incident a wrong place/wrong time type of situation. My best friend and I were juniors at Thurston High and one night were going out on a double date with a couple of girls from our school. My friend’s new girlfriend had an insanely jealous ex-boyfriend (real life drama) who followed our car (unbeknownst to us) over to a friend’s house. As we got out of our car, he drove by and fired a shotgun at us (twice). Fortunately, the shells were only filled with rock salt. Unfortunately, the rock salt missed my friend, hitting both me and my date). It took us a few minutes to realize it was only rock salt. If it had been buck shot or bird shot we would have been seriously injured or killed.

I suffered superficial wounds on my chest and on my arms as I covered my head/face. My date got hit in the back of the head and her shoulder as she turned to run. At the time, I thought I was going to die. The rock salt left me with some small scars on my chest and arms and I remember that it burned intensely—feeling like sparks flying out of a campfire. I reacted by getting everyone down and hiding behind the car. The crazed ex-boyfriend peeled out and sped away. To make matters worse, one of the neighboring homeowners ran out into the street and fired a large handgun at the car as it drove away. It was absolutely nuts. We were all lucky no one got seriously injured or killed.

Experiencing a close shooting

The third incident occurred at my apartment in southeast Portland in 1987. Crips and Bloods (bitter rival gangs) were waging all-out war almost every night in my neighborhood back then. One summer night I’d just opened my window to cool my room when shots rang out (including fully automatic weapon fire). The gunfight was so close, I could smell gunpowder coming in on the breeze through my open window. I immediately dropped to the floor, crawled down the hall and sat in the most central part of the house—my closet—until it grew quiet.

Experiencing a fourth (and hopefully final) shooting

My fourth very-near experience with gunfire happened one afternoon as I was visiting my parents in their nice, mid- to upper-middle class neighborhood in Tualatin, Oregon, just 20 minutes south of Portland. As I was climbing out of my car, several shots sounded nearby and a car quickly sped away down the street. I instinctively ran (crouched very low) to a nearby embankment and laid flat. From my position, I could see an individual lying in the garage of the house across the street. The victim was bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds. This occurred in a very nice, quiet neighborhood and was the last thing I ever expected to take place that day. Later, I would learn that the shooting was an act of revenge based upon an earlier incident. It wasn’t until the Life Flight helicopter disappeared into the distant sky that I finally caught my breath.

In my next post, I’ll provide some guidance on being prepared and reacting in the event that you find yourself facing an aggressive, gun wielding assailant.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Recognizing Road Rage

Recipe for road rage

If you drive an automobile, you’ve probably experienced rude behavior on the road. We live in a self-important, “Me First” society and road rage is just one symptom.

Roots of rage
 Ask a group of kids to line up for an activity (or even a sip of water at a drinking fountain) and you’ll more than likely see them running to be first (sometimes pushing and shoving to get their place in line). This highly competitive spirit is what I refer to as the “Me First” scenario.

 Aggressive driver behavior

Now, flash forward that scenario 10 or 20 years and you’ll see that same kid now grown, but still “pushing and shoving” to get in line with his or her vehicle, all the while aggravating nearly everyone with whom they come into contact. I believe that aggressive behavior from some drivers is compounded by the feeling that they view their car as a “comfort zone” (much like home, work, or school). As a result of being in their comfort zone, they tend to act a little braver than they would if they were standing next to you on the sidewalk.
Comfort equals confrontation

Think about that for a moment. Two people who narrowly miss each other with shopping carts in a store are very unlikely to be confrontational (yelling profanity, name calling, threats, or flipping the bird) but get those same two people behind the wheel of their vehicles and aggressive behavior is much more likely to erupt. Oftentimes, the most civil of people can find themselves engaged in ridiculous (even childish) behavior. Aggressive road rage behavior can quickly escalate out of control.

Rage happens on our roadways

Sometimes people feel the need to teach someone a lesson. They may go so far as to follow the target of their rage and confront them face to face. Other times, both parties agree to pull over and have it out. These encounters often erupt into violent episodes. In several documented cases, conflict escalated to assault with a deadly weapon and ended with someone hospitalized or dead at the hands of an enraged driver. To make matters worse, this often happens with children in the vehicle.

Avoiding road rage

To avoid getting involved in a hostile situation, practice being a careful and courteous driver. The more aggressive you are behind the wheel, the more likely you are to become involved in a road rage scenario. If you do aggravate someone while driving, be apologetic. I’ve been cut off in traffic, and then had the other driver flash a rude gesture at me just for shaking my head at them.

Never pull over

Never pull over to have it out with someone. You don’t know what their mental state might be. They could have just lost a job, been involved in a family dispute or simply be in less than total control of their emotions at the time. You never know if they have weapons of any kind stowed away somewhere in their vehicle. If you believe you’re being followed, drive to a busy location, (gas station, convenience store, anywhere with lots of people), or continue driving on a busy road (again lots of people around) and dial 911. Give the dispatcher your location and a mile marker or exit number so that they can easily find you.

Courtesy is contagious

Courteous driving is contagious. If you let someone merge into traffic (most of the time) they will be grateful. More often than not, they will then pass that behavior on to other drivers. Eventually, someone may even show you some compassion and allow you to merge into heavy traffic. If you are an aggressive driver with a “me first” attitude, that also perpetuates. You will aggravate a lot of people and lead them to adopt their own self-important attitudes. I can almost guarantee your karma will catch up to you and someone will aggravate you (beginning the cycle all over again). Drive safely and courteously out there.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Split Second Defense

Split Second Defense

Split Second Defense is about acting/reacting quickly when a situation presents itself. Understanding and applying Split Second Defense means developing and heightening quick-twitch muscle response and reflexes. In addition, a keen sense of awareness—both of self and surroundings—is essential. Last, and possibly the most important, is the will to do what needs to be done.

Manage the moment

From a psychological standpoint, you must be able to manage your fear (and the intensity of the moment). At the same time, you must use the surge of adrenaline you feel to propel a “fight or flight” reaction (rather than freezing with fear and panic). Even if we are taken completely by surprise and suffer injury as a result, we can still fight back and/or escape, provided we don’t submit to fear.

Prepare with heightened awareness
 Many people view violence as something that happens to people in the news. The truth is, violent attacks can occur regardless of where you live (day or night). Developing a heightened sense of your surroundings is the first step in staying safe. This awareness is an essential first step in recognizing and avoiding conflict with others whenever possible and striving for peaceful resolutions. When in doubt, get away, call 911 and let the authorities help you to resolve your conflict.

Split second understanding
 Split Second Defense isn’t just about reacting quickly—it’s about understanding that once you’ve successfully blocked, avoided, redirected, or escaped an attack, all you have done is bought yourself one second (sometimes a fraction of a second). It’s what we do with that moment (when the attacker is off balance, stunned, or recovering) that truly defines “Split Second Defense”. We need to either escape and evade our attacker, or continue our counterattack until we feel the threat is neutralized

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bullying: A personal perspective

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Bullying: A personal perspective

Note: Master Eric Johnson is a 7th Level Black Belt in Tien Tae Jitsu martial arts—an eclectic, self-defense-based and family-oriented martial art that blends elements of karate, kung fu, jujitsu, hapkido and kickboxing.

I was bullied

I have the unique—well, maybe not so unique, but unfortunate—experience of having been severely bullied in Junior High School. I was extremely small for my age and I grew up in a logging and lumber town. Needless to say, some of the kids I went to school with were rough and rowdy.  It was pretty common to have parents take the position of “Let the kids work it out” or “What’s wrong, your kid doesn’t know how to fight?” I had the opportunity to take Karate and Judo lessons when I was in the Cub Scouts, but didn’t take it all that seriously when I was in elementary school.

Moving to a new town

My problems began when I moved to a new town and started Junior High in the same year. It was mostly pushing, shoving, teasing, and name calling (being the youngest of 6 kids, I was pretty used to all of that). The one time I was confronted by a violent bully gave me the opportunity to try out my new running shoes. They performed admirably! Later that same year, I began training in Kenpo karate. The instructor did an excellent job of conveying a message of peace through self confidence. We learned to fight while hoping and praying that we would never have to.

Putting martial arts to work

Through my time in Junior and Senior High School I had cause to use my self-defense skills on multiple occasions. I attended Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. As you may or may not recall, this was the site of Oregon’s deadliest school shooting to date. On May 21, 1988 a student named Kip Kinkel opened fire in the school, injuring 24 students and killing 2. That morning, Kip had killed both his parents in their home. I knew Kip Kinkel as a child and knew his father as a teacher at Thurston High. Kip was a pretty average kid. He enjoyed riding his big wheel in the driveway. He liked ice cream and he had a great personality. He was a good kid who went down a very dark path.

A history of violence at Thurston High School

Thurston had a history of violence long before that fateful day when Kip went on a shooting rampage. There were fights all the time. Cliques of jocks, preps, stoners and loners exhibited gang-like behavior. I was personally sucker punched, tackled and faced multiple attackers on various occasions. I had a knife pulled on me twice and received a stab wound on my right arm on one occasion. I was shot at for standing next to my best friend who was dating the ex-girlfriend of a jealous psycho.

Learning about human nature and psychology

As I continued my education in martial arts over the next several decades, I learned as much as I could about human nature and psychology. It occurred to me that the best methods of self defense did not lay within some ancient fighting style, but in education and the compassion of our own hearts and souls. In time, I myself became a parent and did my best to instill positive virtues in my daughter. She’s since graduated from High School, has a good job, and is out on her own. Sometimes that’s the best we can hope for.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Responding to bullying: Winning through losing

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Winning through losing

“Winning through losing” is a concept that requires a high level of personal maturity but can provide a valuable tactic and life lesson for a bullying victim.

The power of agreement

An example of “winning through losing” would be when a bully says something like, “you’re a dork” and the individual on the receiving end agrees with him to keep peace and act like the bigger person. They might say “You are right…I am a bit dorky but I’m working on it.” The power of this approach lies in the fact that a lot of times the bully is simply trying to get a rise out of his victim in order to affirm himself (or herself). This is accomplished by embarrassing/humiliating them and maybe trying to get them to cry.

What if the bullying escalates?

A bully may lose interest if they can’t get a rise. This is the ideal reaction. If instead, the bully persists and the encounter escalates to the point of violence, (or threats of violence), the victim should take a passive ready stance. This is performed with the hands and arms raised, palms facing toward the bully, (the widely understood “take it easy” or “please calm down” gesture). As an added benefit, this hand and arm position provides a barrier between the bully’s attack and the victim’s head and face.

Reacting from a ready stance

If the bully shoots in for a tackle, the recipient should take a step back and push straight down on the bully’s shoulder blades.

If the bully throws a punch, move one or both hands to intercept the attack (blocking). This will buy a second. If there’s no other options available, the receiver of the attack should deliver a palm strike to the nose. This will stun the bully for a second or two and allow them to be pushed out of the way long enough to make an escape.

Most importantly: Get away fast

In any of these situations, the child should run as fast as they can to the nearest adult for help. Once again, I have to warn that this action will most likely leave the bully plotting their revenge and direct parental follow-up, as well as greater awareness on the part of the bullying victim is recommended.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Can bullying be a life lesson?

This series of posts explores the roots and provides recommended responses to childhood bullying. Here’s the introduction to the series:

 Dealing with Bullies and Bullying: Introduction

Can bullying be a life lesson?

We do not live in a utopian society. Look anywhere and you will inevitably see some sort of conflict. Between humans. Between any species of animal. In fact, if we take a look all the way back into prehistory, we would inevitably see big dinosaurs picking on little ones—it’s sheer animal nature.

Helping a child who is being bullied

When helping a child who is being bullied, the child should be encouraged to express how the bullying makes them feel and what they think they should do to resolve the issue. The responsible adult should listen carefully and earnestly to what’s being said. It is vital that the child feel like they are being heard and acknowledged. Oftentimes, we give kids too little credit. They’re surprisingly perceptive and can easily see through inauthentic concern or false pretenses.

When to seek professional help with bullies

If a bullying victim is having thoughts of hurting the bully or hurting themselves, a professional counselor or therapist should be consulted. A qualified counseling professional can be recommended by school professionals or found online. At the same time, a responsible adult should privately approach the bully and explain clearly what their actions are doing to their victim(s). While it can often seem like a losing battle, try to get them to empathize with the person who was on the receiving end of their harassment.

Life lessons for the bullying victim

The life lesson for the bullying victim is one of working through problems and difficulties with reasoning and compassion—without resorting to violence to stop violence. Help the bullying victim understand the root or source of the issue. If you have a building that keeps catching fire, do you keep sending the fire department to put it out day after day or do you try to determine the cause?