Sunday June 24, 2012
Be alert to stave off attackers
By SHAHANAAZ HABIB
FIONA, 24, often goes out alone and when she's driving, the petite lass feels she gets followed quite a bit.
Twice at a traffic light, she says, someone on a motorbike tried to open her passenger door but it was locked, of course.
It's not like she leaves her bag on the passenger seat or somewhere conspicuous. She has lived in the Klang Valley long enough to know to keep it hidden away.
She constantly looks at her car mirrors and changes driving speed to check if there are cars or bikes trailing her. Three times, she has had to turn into a police station to lose the car or bike, she says.
She plays out possible scenarios in her mind on a daily basis: What if a motorbike pulls ahead of me, falls and prevents my car from moving? What do I do if I get boxed in between two cars and the drivers force me to stop? If I wind my window down (to check the situation) and someone sticks a parang at my throat, what would I do?
“I do this to condition my mind to be responsive,” explains Fiona who was a victim of street crime when she was 18 years old.
She was walking with a group of six when a snatch thief on a motorbike tried to grab her bag. She refused to let go of the bag and was dragged along the road.
“It was reflex action then but now I am not too sure what I'd do. Maybe I'd try to kick the bike or knock the guy off balance,” says Fiona, who has been learning Krav Maga, an Israeli technique of self-defence, for the past 10 months.
She is doing it for fitness as well as to learn some self-defence techniques and it has made her highly aware of her surroundings.
“I go around alone most of the time and I need to be alert,” she says, adding that she would prefer to run 10 miles away rather than square off (with an attacker).
“But if I am boxed in a corner, then I'll have to go on the offensive.”
Krav Maga teaches a person how to target an attacker's vulnerable points such as his eyes, groin, chin and joints, and Fiona finds it quite easy to learn. The techniques are easy and it doesn't require strength so children and women can definitely learn and use it, she says.
So does she feel more empowered now that she has taken up Krav Maga?
“No. I don't want to give myself a false sense of security. I don't want to let my guard down because that is when people will attack you.
“Sometimes my looking around can even border on paranoia but it is better that way than to be sorry. I prefer to be mentally alert at all times,” she says.
In self-defence, says Krav Maga instructor Mike Yap, it is important to cultivate good habits because one never knows when a threatening situation will arise.
Talking or texting on the phone or listening to music with earphones when you are on the street is a bad idea because you are distracted and may not be aware of people coming at you, he says.
“Every time you go out of the house, make it a habit to look around. A lot of people only look at what is in front of them but they should have a habit of looking further away and all around. When people attack you, they don't appear from thin air. They have to come from somewhere.
“If we are able to see from afar someone who is suspicious or who seems to be waiting for us, we have a better chance to defend ourselves.”
And what is one supposed to do when this happens?
“The first thing is to try and get away,” says Yap, who has been teaching martial arts for 30 years and Krav Maga for two years.
He thinks Malaysians are generally too polite and this could be a disadvantage.
“Even if people suspect something is wrong or that someone looks suspicious, we are too shy to say something or act. So we continue to walk the same way hoping that nothing will happen. If you feel something is wrong get out! Move away. There may or may not be danger but don't take the chance.”
Run away as fast as you can, Yap advises. But if the attacker is already close and you can't run, it is best to keep a distance, use a pepper spray and then make your escape.
Yap believes there are two basic “weapons” that a women should always carry a pepper spray and a ball point pen. The pepper spray is self-explanatory. As for the pen, it can be used to jab the attacker's eyes.
The pepper spray and pen should be kept close to you and easily accessible, Yap stresses.
There is no point keeping it in the handbag and not be able to get to it quick enough in times of need, he explains.
He also warns people against assuming a person asking for directions is genuine. For all you know, it might be a ruse to rob or attack you, he says, and suggests having the pepper spray in hand when a stranger approaches to ask for directions.
“Watch the person's hands because he might have a knife. And don't let him get too close,” he adds.
The pepper spray can reach up to a distance of about 2m, which will give you enough opportunity to spray the attacker and quickly get away.
“If you learn some basic self-defence techniques, better still, because in situations where you are not fast enough to use the pepper spray you can apply whatever techniques you have learnt,” Yap says.
“Some people tell you to target the shin but that's not always workable because it depends on how tough the attacker is. But if you zap the eyes or go for the groin, you have a better chance. These are the weakest points of the body. It is minimum effort for maximum impact.”
If someone is armed and wants your bag or wallet, Yap says, just hand it over and don't fight. But he warns that there is no guarantee you will be safe once you have done this.
“Even after you have given your money, the guy might choose to stab you and hit you. There are crazy people like that out there and we don't want to take chances like that.”
So he stresses the importance of being prepared and to avoid dicey situations. But if it is too late, you have no choice but to apply some self-defence techniques when someone tries to attack you.
Yap describes Krav Maga, which means fighting in close contact to protect oneself, as a reality-based self-defence system because it teaches you how to deal with scenarios like if someone comes at you with a parang or knife or some other weapon, chokes you or charges at you.
“It is about surviving an attack the best you can. You don't need a lot of power as it is based on speed, accuracy and surprise,” he says.