Another Oldie but Goody: Running and Self Defense

I wrote this one about a 1000 years ago.  Still pretty decent.




Crime is opportunistic. As runners we are frequently out alone, at odd times, and in lonely places. According to most statistics running is a very safe pursuit. You can make it even safer with a few precautions and a little knowledge. This article will give you some suggestions on how to both avoid confrontations and behave skillfully if you are faced with a dangerous situation.

This article is not a primer on how to fight. If you fight you will get hurt and possibly cripple another person. While there are situations where physical conflict is unavoidable, the primary goal of self-defense is to escape.


The natural world can be broken down into two categories: predators and prey. On the African plains there are herds of zebras and lions stalking them. When lions hunt, they sneak up on the herd and scare them into running. By making the prey take flight, the predators get a chance to see how they move and identify the easy targets: the old, young, lame, or sick. They’re looking for any movement irregularities or timidity that would identify an easy victim. Unfortunately, human societies have predators as well and they behave in much the same way. Prison studies with professional criminals have shown that they always choose the same types of people as victims. They’re looking for the same signs as the lions. They use movement, posture, and presentation to find the easy victims and avoid the targets that’ll put up too much fight.

As runners we need to ensure that while we may not be the lion, we avoid being the zebra. All predators are looking for a specific set of traits in a victim. A good candidate won’t see the attack coming or put up resistance. They’ll be quiet, timid, distracted or look lost, with poor posture and slow uncoordinated movement.

The skills that make you a better runner will also make you a safer runner. Running with good posture, keeping your head up and your body relaxed with a long confident stride is probably your best defense. A potential predator will take one look at you and decide to wait for easier prey.


People who’ve been attacked always say the same two things: “I never saw it coming” and “It happened so fast”. Awareness, like any other skill, is developed through practice. It starts simply by always knowing what’s going on around you. A distracted runner is an easy target, so leave your phone, headphones, and music at home. Next, keep an inventory of the people around you. There’s no reason to be paranoid and see attackers everywhere. Know who’s around you in much the same way you see cars at an intersection. If someone is menacing or dangerous, you’ll see it. If you see them first they may go somewhere else. And, if you are attacked, you’ll know if there’s help around.

You should also be aware of your environment. Are there blind spots coming up? Are you cornering yourself? Has that car passed you already? Again, I’m not trying to make you paranoid, but if you know what’s around, you can make better decisions.

Two of your best awareness skills are your intuition and your fear. They are NEVER wrong! Intuition and fear are deeper parts of your brain speaking to your conscious mind and they exist to keep you safe. We‘re the only animal that feels fear and ignores it or tries to rationalize it away. If you have nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, anxieties, hunches, gut feelings, doubts, hesitations, or suspicions, pay close attention to what they’re trying to tell you. Don’t try to explain or rationalize your feelings, act on them. Something is going on and your conscious mind hasn’t seen it yet.

This brings us to the next awareness skill: flexibility. Don’t let your ego get involved. If something doesn’t feel right you need to be willing to change. Alter your route, cross the street, go a different way. Would you rather feel a little dumb because you changed your running plan based on a vague uneasiness, or really stupid because you didn’t and got mugged?


It’s possible that you might do everything right and still face a confrontation. You need to accept it. If you’re thinking “this can’t be happening to me” then you can’t deal with it. One of the best, though difficult, ways to do this is to try to enjoy it. Even if you lose something or get hurt, it’s a chance to learn something about yourself and the world.

Next you need to relax. Relaxation is the holy grail of self-defense. If you’re relaxed you can make good decisions, improve your reaction time, fight off panic, and keep control of yourself. To relax quickly you need to breathe, and in particular, exhale. When you panic you hold your breath and everything in your body tightens up. When you’re in any stressful situation, self-defense or otherwise, take a long slow breath. As you exhale, allow your body to drop. Bend your knees, flex your quads, drop your shoulders and smile to loosen your jaw. Now you’re ready to react to whatever might come next. The act of relaxing might even end the confrontation because most predators need fear in their victims to feel secure.

As you exhale let go of any anger. Anger makes you predictable and easy to manipulate. You can get mad about the situation later, but right now you just can’t afford the luxury.

Now that you’re relaxed, remember that you’re still not the zebra. All of the earlier rules about posture and presentation are even more important when you’re face to face with the lion. Victims are unsure of themselves, want to be polite, not be a bother, and are scared. You can’t show any of these signs. Stand proud. Make eye contact and speak with a loud clear voice. A fake is as good as the real thing. They won’t know what you’re really feeling, and if you fake confidence well enough, you might even believe it yourself.

Once confronted you’re in a relationship with your attacker.

Your behavior will affect their behavior and there’s a finite amount of power. Don’t negotiate. You can’t allow the attacker to make decisions for you because any power you give up will automatically become his. Even if you decide to give up your wallet or a watch you can do so with strength and integrity. You also need to know what you’ll fight for. It’s never a good idea to fight for things. I don’t know a single great martial artist who wouldn’t gladly give up a wallet instead of getting into a street fight.

Try to assess what your attacker wants. You want to get out of the situation as safely as possible, and to do this you need to know what’s going on. Part of this process is to avoid assumptions. Don’t assume its just a mugging, or that he isn’t dangerous or he’s alone. Make judgments based on what you actually know to be true. Remember that your goal is to get out of the situation without having a physical conflict and that time is on your side. The longer the confrontation lasts the more likely it is he’ll get caught.

In determining your attackers motivations you’ll need to abandon some normal social conventions. It’s a good idea to be abrupt and even rude. Being rude to a stranger won’t turn him from a good person into a bad one. You also need to use your common sense. Some confrontations start out as an extraordinary kindness or an attempt to team up with you for some purpose. For example someone might, without solicitation, offer to run with you and log your times. Is this something you would do? Remember that “no” is a complete sentence and you don’t need to justify it to anyone. Say it with conviction and be very wary of anyone who tries to negotiate it.

Don’t just meekly concede once the attacker makes his wants known. Remember the power balance. You can use the situation to create an escape or exit. If someone is demanding your wallet toss it on the ground away from you and run the other way. This forces the attacker to choose, and if he really just wants your wallet you’ll never see him again. If he chases you and leaves the wallet at least you know you’re dealing with a physical assault and can be prepared for it. It’s also never a good idea to be in the same place as an attacker, your car, and your keys. Don’t ever get in the car and go somewhere of their choosing. Give up your car and throw your keys as far as you can, running in the opposite direction.


There is nothing wrong with asking for help if you feel you’re being threatened. The problem is that most people will try to avoid getting involved in situations they don’t understand. If you ask for help be very specific about the predicament and what you want done about it. Saying things like “I don’t know this person and he’s attacking me” or “This stranger is after me” are much more effective than “help me”. People also respond well to being told exactly what to do. If you point at someone and say “call the police now” or “come stand next to me” they probably will.

An interesting aspect of this phenomena is that people who define themselves as outside society are more likely to help you than other more mainstream people are. If you’re being chased running into a gay leather bar is probably safer than a nice restaurant.

If you need help and there’s no one around, don’t just run and scream help. You’ll be ignored. Yell “FIRE” instead. Everyone is concerned about fires, and someone will come out to investigate.


Sometimes you can’t avoid a physical altercation. Physical self-defense has three goals: cause fear, cause pain, or disable your attacker. The best self defense techniques do all three. Time is against you in a fight. It’s to your advantage to end it quickly because the longer it goes on, the more likely you’ll be seriously hurt. There is no question of morality here. If you’ve been attacked you need to use however much force you can bring to bear on your opponent. Do too much instead of too little. This is why its important to be sure about the situation before the fighting starts and why we don’t fight for property.

A lot of physical conflicts are determined by the control of space. A predator will try to control the neutral space between you and put you at a disadvantage by violating your personal space and making you retreat. He’ll also try to back you into a wall or corner if he can. You need to protect your space by refusing to retreat. Hold your ground, moving only slightly to the side if necessary. It’s also crucial that you don’t look away or into the attackers eyes. This could distract you and let him land the first blow.

Balance is the most important attribute in a fight, not speed or power. No attack or technique is effective if you’re off balance. Balance is a learned skill and will even help your running stride. It’s worth the time to practice it.

A lot of attacks start with a grab. There’s nothing to fear in a grab. In fact being grabbed gives you a number of advantages. He has committed a weapon while you have not. If someone grabs your wrist or shoulder remember that the rest of your body is still completely free. It’s okay to move without removing the hand. They’ve also given you something to damage. If they grab your shirt you can respond by breaking the fingers, wrist, or elbow of the grabbing arm.

In a fight every part of your body is a legitimate weapon. You can kick, stomp, knee, push, punch, elbow, slap, pinch, bite, head butt, or even use your voice. Similarly, every part of the attacker is fair game. In general you want to use hard weapons on soft targets and vice versa. Remember the three goals of physical self-defense mentioned earlier. Targets like the eyes, knees and throat are not well protected by muscle and accomplish all three.

During the fight you may find yourself on the ground. This isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. If you stay relaxed and on balance you can easily counterattack from the ground. Grabbing a leg and rolling is a good way to severely damage his knees and ankles. Going to the ground can be a very smart tactic against high kicks, pushes, and to avoid stronger punchers.


In an attack you should feel free to use any weapons at your disposal. Keys, sticks, bottles, fanny packs, or anything else at hand can be a big advantage. Carrying a weapon like pepper spray or mace is a personal decision. If you do carry something, never use it to threaten someone. They’ll take it away from you. If the situation calls for it then use it without ever letting them know you have it. You should also remember that it might not work and have a back up plan.

If your attacker has a weapon you need to be very careful. Everything depends on whether you decide he is going to use it anyway. If you don’t think they’ll use it and they’re not physically assaulting you then give them whatever they want. If you think they will use it whatever you do (there are crazy people out there) then you have to be patient and try to find a good opening. The only proven suggestion in that case is go in very low and very fast, and be prepared to be cut or shot.


This article started by reminding you that running is statistically very safe. If you stay a little more aware and in touch with your intuition you can make it even safer. Just because you give some thought and preparation to the worst case scenarios doesn’t mean you should develop paranoia or fear of your fellow runners. Even as you acknowledge the dangerous possibilities you should run with all the joy in the world.

(Author’s note: I’ve chosen to use the male pronouns “he” and “him” to refer to an attacker. This has been done mainly for convenience, although statistically most attackers would be men.)

This article was written by Angus McIntosh, who has run two marathons. He has been training in the martial arts since 1986. He’s also trained in Zen meditation, Chi Gong, firearms, and various other things that caught his attention. He’s worked with AIDS patients, abused children, biker gangs, and pretty much everybody in between. He rides a Harley and drinks a bit of whisky. He’s a Scottish Lord and the Archbishop of the Temple of the Circus Monkey.

Check out Temple of the Circus Monkey, our digital traveling salvation show where you can get counseling and guidance on lifestyle and philosophy;  Desert Monkey Dojo for aikido, tai chi, self defense, and cane defense classes; KW Chop to purchase canes, books, clothing, and Un-Weapons the secret weapon in plain sight.

You are welcome to repost this article, but please keep the author and website information.  Thanks!

A Note to Parents…

I published this a while ago.  It’s good advice for those who want to put their kids in the martial arts.


I’ve developed and taught youth programs for 30 years.  They can be a great idea for kids but many studios are built on bullshit, marketing, and lies.  Please consider the following :

  • Style and lineage doesn’t matter, good teaching does.
  • Most teachers have no training with children.  They’ve never been in a classroom or worked with teachers or schools.  You might not hire them as a babysitter.  Get a CV or resume.
  • Most studios don’t do background checks on their teachers, something that every school volunteer must do.  Think about that, and then ask.
  • Many kids programs are franchises, kind of like buying a McDonalds.  They’re designed to maximize income and are about as healthy as McNuggets.
  • Too many studios are profit focused.  There is no reason to demand a contract.  Most of the fees are bullshit.  Also trophies, patches and a lot of the equipment are just a profit centers and won’t help your child.  A good school just charges monthly tuition of around $80-100 a month, period.
  • Watch for buzzwords like ‘self esteem’ or ‘discipline’ or ‘bullying prevention’.  They’re mostly baloney.  Your child might develop these qualities but no more than a good soccer or baseball program.  If they’re being stressed you know the teacher is full of crap.
  • Sparring is fighting and learning to fight won’t stop bullying, it’ll just starts fights.  Board breaking is just stupid.  Confidence comes from support and success, not beating the crap out of another kid or a piece of wood.
  • Mystic martial arts bullshit is very deep.  Enough tigers or dragons already.  This isn’t the movies or ancient Asia.  Avoid teachers who don’t seem to know that or demand too much ‘respect’.
  • A good school should stress the following things:  Impulse control, conflict dynamics, balance, patience, centering, correct technique, and self protection.  Class size matters just like regular school.
  • The real value of martial arts is the ability to function under the stress of attack and the confidence that goes with that.  It can also give kids skills to help with transitions.  Find a studio that knows this and can teach it.

I really hope this helps.  Martial Arts are great for kids if you ask a few questions and make a good choice.  You know, just like you do with the other things in your child’s life.

…And We’re Back

And after a season long slumber the blog reawakens, shaking off the greed and loathing of Christmas while remembering that the world is still at least half good.

Like most reasonable people I detest the whole ‘new year, new me’ resolution bullshit. None the less the darkness of Solstice combined with an acknowledgement of another cycle completed does seem like it lends itself to a certain amount of introspection. Given all that I thought I’d share one of my personal practices. I learned this technique from Wendy Palmer. (I learned a lot of techniques from Wendy. I’m eternally grateful for having trained with her.) When I was first exposed to it I flat out couldn’t do it. It just seemed too daunting. Now I’ve been doing it for more than a decade and can’t imagine practice without it. Funny how that works. Here’s how it works:

On or about New Year’s day you choose one, and only one, quality that you’d like more of in your life. It can be most anything but choose wisely as it might wreak havoc. Anyway, that quality becomes the focus of everything you do every day for that year. It informs every decision and all your practices and meditations. In short it becomes your obsession, the lens through which you see the world. It takes a fair bit of dedication but you can do it.

One of my early choices was gratitude. A good choice for a lot of people since it makes you a lot less bitchy. It doesn’t have to be a spiritual type choice though. One year my theme was ‘lethal’. How did I make all my practices more deadly? Some other qualities I’ve studied have been ‘still’, ‘confident’, ‘fun’, ‘useful’, ‘calm’,‘organized’, etc. I do want to warn you that sometimes the results are unpredictable. The year that I chose ‘boundaries’ I lost a lot of friends.

In 2016 I chose the quality ‘non-judgmental’. It was so challenging and all encompassing that in 2017 I kept it for a second year. Among the gifts it brought was an interesting amount of clarity about who people really are. By detaching my thoughts from other people’s actions I got to see them in a different light. Some people have interpreted this to mean acceptance. Others think it means agreement. They’re wrong, but so it goes. It also got me out of politics but that’s another story.

So now it’s time to choose a new quality. I have, and I’m not going to share it. It’s not really any of your damn business. I don’t tell anyone, not even my wife or closest friends. I will tell you that, while challenging, this is a damn good practice. Give it some thought. Have a Joyous New Year as well as Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios, and Viva la Revolucion!

A Strange Intimacy

There are many different kinds of intimacy. Of course there’s the sexy sexy kind but there are quite a few that don’t involve sex or genitals or exchanging bodily fluids. Soldiers develop an intimacy with each other that they find hard to replace after mustering out. The same is true for police, fireman, and many other professions. Professional atheletes miss the camaraderie more than the glory. What I’d like to acknowledge is the strange, intense intimacy of training and combat in the martial arts.

It’s rarely acknowledged or discussed but martial arts training is likely the second most physically intimate thing you’ll ever do. Most of it is obvious. Grappling and rolling with a training partner is clearly a very close encounter. In every class we repeatedly put our hands all over each other. How many faces have you touched? I bet I’ve touched thousands. But it’s more than that. It’s deeper.

If I train with someone over time I get to know things about them that their closest family members probably don’t know. I know how they react to fear and stress. I know their deepest tendancies. I might know nearly everything about how they relate to the world. Funny thing is I might not know if they’re married or what they do to earn a living. A strange intimacy indeed.

We live in a society that allows very limited physical contact with each other. Anyone who’s trained has an immediate advantage in self defense because we’re used to the intense intimacy of combat. I wouldn’t think twice about putting my hands on a stranger. I do it all the time. It’s no longer a taboo for me.

The fact of this intimacy is why YOU CAN’T FUCKING LEARN MARTIAL ARTS ON THE INTERNET. Don’t get me wrong, watching other teachers and practioners has it’s place. I do it all the time. But it isn’t training. If you want to learn this shit you must deal with and embrace the intimacy. That in itself is revolutionary. Saor Alba, Vaya Con Dios, and Viva la Revolucion!

Two Teaching Styles

I teach a lot. I regulaly talk with other teachers and masters of their craft. I also have way too much time to think about teaching. Here’s what I think at the moment: Teaching is a big reponsibility. In my opinion there are two ways to look at this reponsibility. Does it ultimately rest with the student or the teacher? Let me explain…

Teaching style one believes that when you walk on to the mat (or into a classroom) that the teacher is responsible for making sure that you learn the curriculum. They must do whatever’s necessary for you to learn. I think of this style as the drill seargent style. They tend to be stricter and punish more often.

Teaching style two believes that the responsibility is always the students and the students alone. In this style the teacher presents the information to the best of their ability and leaves it up to the student to apply as they feel best. I think of this as the more advanced student style. It’s mellower and lighter but no less serious.

Let me state very very clearly that neither of these styles is right or wrong. Neither one of them is superior in any intrinsic way. As a student you must decide which style will work best for you. This will take some real soul searching and honesty on your part. It is, however, crucial that you get it right.

Anyone who knows me would agree that I strongly adhere to the second style, both as student and teacher. I don’t think it’s right, just right for me. I’ve sent students away when I’ve thought that the other brand of teacher would better serve their needs. Because all teachers should be strong enough to admit that other teachers have value too. Saor Alba, Vaya Con Dios, and Viva la Revolucion!

Are You Disabled? Of Course You Are

Can you legally use a cane? Of course you can…

From the American With Disabilities Act of 1990.

A DISABILITY: “an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity…As long as the impairment has an actual or expected duration of more than six months.” and “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual… major life activities include, but are not limited to… walking, standing…”

Remember, “An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability.”

CANE use: “A public accommodation shall permit individuals with mobility disabilities to use…canes…or other similar devices designed for use… in any areas open to pedestrian use.”

DISCRIMINATION: “a failure to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures, when such modifications are necessary.” “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” “no qualified individual with a disability shall…be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”

Saor Alba, Vaya Con Dios, and Viva la Revolucion!

To Do Today…

Every practice is built on a foundation of basic skills and practices. If you’re really serious about getting better you should try to spend a few minutes every day working on them. Below I’ve listed my basic 8. In truth it’s pretty impossible to do them every day but I do try. As your practice expands the list of basic daily exercises will likely expand to include other meditations, stretches, and movements. Eventually the daily practice will be unique to you. But start here:

1) Sitting quietly-
2) Hip isolation-
3) Standing meditation-
4) Balance-
5) Weight Shifting–
6) Rowing-
7) Stance changes-
8) 2 Steps-

I’m not going to elaborate on these right now, I’ll just give you the list. Over the next few weeks I’ll explain each one more thoroughly. Or you could come to a class or book a seminar. You can’t really learn this shit here in the virtual world.

Saor Alba, Vaya Con Dios, and Viva la Revolucion!

Work Smarter AND Harder

I’m back and feeling ever so much better. Thanks for asking. Of course I’ve spent some time thinking but we’ll get to that later. You know what I did for the most of the last few weeks? I trained. Hard. And played the same way.

A few weeks ago I was asked to take part in a panel discussion. The subjet is irrelevant to this post so I won’t distract you with a lot of details. Suffice it to say that it involved a number of people who were accomplished in their chosen field and they took questions. Regardless of the raised issue it soon became apparent that the answer, when not specific or technical, was almost always some version of WORK HARDER.

Okay, so here comes the old man rant. You know what almost always helps you get better at something? Hard work. Not more technology. Not fancier training methods. Not clever short cuts. Just plain old fashioned nose to the grindstone, sweat producing practice. I can hear millennials bailing out of this post by the hundreds.

Work smarter, not harder.” “Get real results fast.” “Twenty minutes a day will reap amazing results.” No, you lazy fuck, it won’t. Do you want to be a great musician? Practice for hours every day. Serious about martial arts? Train your forms constantly. Want to get in great shape? Plan your days around the gym. Interested in a spiritual pursuit? Work work work at it.

Talent is nice if you have it. Dedication and faith are useful. A good teacher or 12 can certainly help smooth the way. Good tools can be fun or make you look cool. But only hard work over a long long time will give you mastery. Not easy. Not sexy. Definitely not profitable. Probably full of tears and injury. But true. If you want to be better, work harder. And if anyone tells you differently they’re lying. And they probably suck at what they do. Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios, & Viva la Revolucion.

Martial Arts & Martial Sports

It happens every time, this crazy heart of mine. I start out writing a simple blog and I end up pissing everyone off. And so it goes. I guess it’s time to back off from politics, social commentary, and the like. Okay, good plan. Let’s go back to talking about martial arts.

Martial- Inclined toward being a warrior. Warlike or preparatory for combat. Arts- Repetition and expression of forms leading to transcendence. Attempting to describe truths that are beyond the objectively communicated.

Those are good enough definitions. Is there anything in either of those words that signifies sports? Competition for points or money? Sparring? Pay per view? Fucking walk in music? I didn’t think so. So STOP CALLING COMBAT SPORTS MARTIAL ARTS AND VICE VERSA. Jesus fucking Christ this pisses me off.

Look, I like combat sports. Boxing, MMA, Pro Wrestling, whatever. They’re fun. They can be entertaining. But they aren’t Martial Arts and neither are the training systems that attached to them. Judo, BJJ, Tae Kwon Do, Krav Maga, Karate, boxing, etc are great. They’ll get you into shape. They’ll teach you to fight. But they aren’t fucking Arts. Sciences? Sure. Sports? Past times? Valuable cultural phenomenon? Okay. But not Arts.

I’m a Martial Artist. I don’t fight. I don’t spar. Lord knows I don’t make much money. I train to understand the universe. I train to explain those things that can’t be explained. I have more in common with a modern dancer or a musician than an MMA fighter. Oh, and I can still probably kick your ass. I just don’t care about that.

Okay, now I’ve probably pissed off a bunch of ‘martial artists’. Maybe I better take a short break form the blog. I’ll be back in about two weeks. Promise. In the meantime why don’t you get off your damn computer and go train. In the meantime Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios, & Viva la Revolucion.

Size Matters

All right, that’s enough ranting and raving for the moment. Let’s talk about something more practical today. Let’s try to keep from getting stabbed.

I don’t like knives. A skilled knife fighter will gut you before you ever know they have the damn thing. I’ve said before that I’d much rather face a gun at close range than a knife. If I get my hands on a shooter before he pulls the trigger (and I probably can) I can take his gun without getting shot. If I can get my hands knife fighter I can probably get cut. I might win, but it’s going to hurt. Don’t believe me? Try training knife takeaways with a magic marker. Pro tip: Don’t wear clothes you like.

So how do I deal with knives? If you know much about me you probably know I’m a big proponent of canes. I always carry one and I train/teach with one nearly every day. The biggest advantage of the cane is that, by law, I can take it anywhere. Second only to that is how effective they are against knives. I can knock your ass out before you get to me.

On one level all martial conflicts are about control of space. Canes give you a huge advantage because they radically increase the amount of territory you can defend without being in range of your opponent. This is particularly useful if the attacker is using something that will sever an artery or a ligament. The ability to move, cut angles, and strike at the knife wielder should give you a decent chance of coming out of the conflict with a minimum of bloodshed.

I’m not going to bother going into specific techniques here. You can’t learn this shit from a blog. Go get yourself a cane and try it. Better yet, buy a cane or book from me and hire my ass to teach you! In the meantime, Saor Alba, Vaya con Dios, & Viva la Revolucion.