Real Self-Defense: How to Live Alone and Be Safe in Detroit

ProTip: The answer isn’t to arm yourself — literally or metaphorically — it’s to learn how to avoid being a victim in the first place.

A picture of a man vaulting over a concrete wall.Royal Rose Properties has homes in a wide variety of areas. Some are amazing neighborhoods where crime is rare and homes stay beautiful for months even between tenants…and others are in Detroit city limits. OK, so it’s not quite that simple of a line to draw, but it’s pretty close. So we got in touch with one of our friends who works for a high-end self-defense agency in London to collect some real-world self-defense tips for our tenants who might be interested.

The Problem with Self Defense
Almost any given self-defense class you can find spends 90% or more of its time teaching techniques. Techniques are flashy, they make you feel powerful, and they pay the teacher’s bills. But the fact is that unless and until you practice a technique so often it becomes an automatic reflex, it’s useless in the real world. Instead of wasting your time focusing on wrist locks and foot sweeps, focus on the tools that will actually save your life: these ones.

Environmental Awareness
Work on keeping constant track of three things: the shortest path to a witness (an open business, an outdoor event, or really any predictably available person you can shout at if you’re in trouble), the shortest path to a lockable door (public single-person bathroom, your house, your car etc.), and the shortest path to a security camera (ATM, gas station, bus stop, etc.). Street criminals are creatures of opportunity, and you cut their opportunity short by removing their chance to commit their crime in privacy. (It’s very much a good idea to arrange your day so that you can remain within a quick run of these places for as much of your walking time as possible, obviously.)

Situational Awareness
Committing a criminal act is never casual — even the most hardcore gangbangers go through a predictable set of physical reactions as they ‘amp up’ to the commission of a crime. Watch for people who are more tense, shifty, or forced-casual than they should be, and employ the following three simple rules when you feel the need.

• The Rule of Swagger: Again, street crime is opportunistic: these people are looking for an easy victim. The moment you suspect someone is assessing how easy of a mark you are, turn up the swagger. Look them in the eye, smile a thin, fake smile, and give them a tiny chin-raising nod. That tells them that you know they’re there, and you’re not afraid of them. That alone will cut their plans short a good chunk of the time.
• The Eyes-On Rule: If someone you think might be eyeing you up as a victim tries to get you to go anywhere — anywhere at all — don’t go. Instead, promptly move to the nearest place mentioned above (where someone else will be able to see you, and preferably hear you.) You’re not going to offend someone who didn’t want to victimize you, but you will scare off someone who does.
• The One-Yard Rule: If someone you have even the slightest bad feeling about tries to get within one yard of you, do whatever it takes to keep them at least one yard away. Back up, ask them to stay away, threaten to scream or get violent, whatever it takes. If they don’t have any ill intent, they have no reason to fight you on it. If they try to close with you anyway, lash out as violently as possible exactly one time, and hit or miss, immediately run away. Speaking of which…

Learn Parkour
Just kidding — but knowing how to sprint effectively on the city streets without breaking your ankle in a storm drain is a life-saving skill. It needs all of the skills that come before it to be truly useful, but none of the skills above are likely to save your life without it. Remember, all you have to do is put enough distance between you and the criminal to make it easier to find a new victim than to chase you — and that’s pretty easy, because once you’ve shown that you’re onto them, most criminals will be more than willing to move along anyway.

Establish Check-Ins
Finally, you have the ‘last line’ of defense: a few people you trust that you can ‘check in’ with every day as you successfully navigate the most dangerous parts of your day (generally, the ones that would have you walking unattended through the ‘wrong’ areas). Whether it’s your neighbor, your mom, or even just some friend you meet online every day, have someone out there who knows your schedule and knows to call your emergency contact if you don’t check in within an hour or so of the appropriate time. This won’t keep you from getting robbed, but it will start the cops searching at the earliest they’re allowed if you disappear without warning.

Advanced Skills
If you get familiar with the skills above and practice them, they will save you from 80% of street crime. 80% of the remaining incidents (16% of the total for you math people) can be resolved with skills I’ll mention, but leave you to research and find a teacher for on your own. Those are:

• Demeanor Training (‘Self-defense acting’; sorry, not sure what it’s called in the States),
• De-escalation (Talking down the bad guy),
• Negotiation (Talking the bad guy into taking less than everything),
• Dehumanization (Convincing yourself it’s OK to hurt the bad guy), and
• Setting Action Triggers (Overcoming the fear of taking action with Pavlovian training).

And finally, after all of that, you run into the scant 4% of street crime that can’t be resolved by any amount of avoidance, escape, or talking — and now we’ve reached the area where technique becomes relevant. If you’re looking into technique first, you’re going to end up driving what would probably be an avoidable situation into this area because it’s what you (think you) know –and that’s far more likely to get you injured or worse than applying any number of the skills above.

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