I recently had the opportunity to participate in an Active Shooter Neutralization Seminar, run by Krav Maga Capitol Hill. It was enlightening, empowering, scary, and exhausting—both physically and mentally. And I’m really glad I did it.
We started the day with combatives—the ones I’m used to from my recent Krav Maga training, like straight punches, palm strikes, hammerfists, and front kicks to the groin. From there, we moved on to gun defenses, learning how to defend against handguns and long guns (i.e. rifles and shotguns). Every time I watched the instructors demonstrate a defense I thought, “HA. There’s no way I can do that.” And then they would break it down for us. Do the first part of the move. Now do it five times. Now add in the next part. And the next. Now let’s put it all together. My partner and I both preferred to do it in slow motion first, which really helped my mind and body coordinate on the movements. Then, we would start picking up the pace until all of a sudden we were doing it right, and quickly, and it was working!
While it felt great to master some of those moves, one thing I wasn’t prepared for was how it would feel to have a gun pointed at my face. It didn’t matter that it was a training weapon, law enforcement blue rather than steel grey. When my partner pointed it directly at me for the first time, I felt chills run through my body and my eyes tear up. It was terrifying. I couldn’t imagine what that would feel like in real life.
But that’s why we train. Will it be easy if/when it happens in real life now? No, of course not. But at least I’ll be familiar with the feeling. I’ll have a collection of defenses to choose from – defenses that I’ve trained over and over. Most importantly, I’ll have options. That’s what it’s really about: options. Know your options and be ready to follow through. If you choose to run, run like the wind. If you choose to fight, finish the fight. And if you choose to hide, do it well and be ready for step two.
After a long, sweaty morning of drills, we broke for lunch—a much-needed reprieve at that point. I felt disgusting and tired, but the hardest part was yet to come.
In the afternoon, we ran through different scenarios in various settings throughout the school—the cafeteria, the auditorium, and two different classrooms. Since I’m not a teacher or a student, the open floor plan of the cafeteria and the theater-like setting of the auditorium were more realistic for me, but all were equally useful settings to practice my newly acquired skills. The temptation to laugh at yourself when you made a mistake was slightly diminished by how very real these situations felt. As we reacted to a number of scenarios, the instructors found new ways to surprise us, disorient us, and make us choose between running, hiding, and fighting in a split second.
That decision-making process is where I saw a combination of my parkour and Krav Maga training take form. In teaching me how to navigate my environment in the most efficient way possible, parkour has taught me to always think one, two, five steps ahead and to adjust as necessary along the way. If you’ve ever taken an evasive driving course or rode a horse, it’s the same thing. While you’re executing one turn, one jump, one obstacle, you’re already envisioning the next. In the same way, I’ve already noticed an improvement in my reflexes after taking Krav Maga classes for the last few months. I found that these skills—quick reflexes and thinking ahead—were key to keeping myself alive during the active shooter scenarios.
Now, let’s talk reflexes in a really scary situation. I hear gunshots down the hall or street. I hear screaming from across the room. What’s my reaction? I’ve grown up hearing about the “fight or flight” response, but what people rarely talk about is the fact that there’s a third response: freeze. That response is never the recommended course of action, but I’m gonna go ahead and say the majority of people do it. I’ve done it myself (when I was a young, still-developing and slightly less badass version of my current self). For example, there was that time I was sledding and lost control of my sled, speeding toward the woodline. My parents were screaming at me to bail and what did I do? I froze. I sat on that sled, mouth-open, screaming, and I ate a tree branch. Literally. Is it funny now? Absolutely. Would it be funny if that was a life-and-death situation? Probably not.
At the training, the instructors told us a story that really drove the point home for me. It was about an 11-year-old Krav Maga student who was at the mall with her parents when the 2014 mall shooting took place in Columbia, Maryland. Her parents froze. She didn’t. She had her training to draw on, and that was enough. Did she ambush the attacker and disarm him? No. But she was able to snap her parents out of it enough to get them all out of there safely.
Here’s the thing. Most people would tell me, “I can’t fight. There’s no point in me taking a training like that.” First, I’ll casually drop the reminder that “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
And second, can you run? Can you hide? Responding to an active shooter situation (or any dangerous situation for that matter) is so much more than being able to fight. Take any one-off self-defense class and they’ll tell you the majority of self-defense is awareness and avoidance, not the fighting itself. Take any security training, and you will hear the phrase “situational awareness” so many times you’ll want to bang your head against the wall. But it’s true. Awareness and avoidance are more than half the battle.
And lastly, I’m going to ask you an uncomfortable question that they asked us: who would you fight for? What if it was your mother with a gun being pointed at her? What if it was your child? Your sibling? Your husband or wife? Would you fight then? We all have that person we would take a bullet for, whether you want to think about it or not. So do them (and yourself) a favor and be better prepared. Equip yourself with the right tools so that instead of taking a bullet for them, you can save both of your lives. Is there still risk involved? Of course. But here’s the thing. You’re facing an active shooter. That person has already decided to sign your death sentence. You had no say in it. He decided when he walked into that building that he had the power to take your life away. Wouldn’t you like to be able to stop that from happening?
At the end of the training, the instructors thanked us and told us to give ourselves a round of applause, just for being there. No, I thought, we should be thanking YOU. But I understand what they were saying. It’s easy to get sucked into the politics after an event like this, to angrily debate gun control, to send thoughts and prayers, and honestly, to just feel helpless. But everyone in that room chose to get up early on a Saturday morning and spend eight hours learning, sweating, running, and training for our worst nightmare. We chose to do something.
I’ve had so many thoughts swirling in my head after this training, it was hard to put them into one coherent post. I was thinking about Christopher McDougall’s book, Natural Born Heroes (full blog post about that here), and this idea of waiting for the professional “heroes” to come instead of being capable on your own. To steal a quote I’ve already used in the blog post mentioned above (because I love it and feel so very strongly about it):
“We’ve been living a lethal fantasy, [Georges] Hebert realized. We’ve lulled ourselves into believing that in an emergency, someone else will always come along to rescue us. We’ve stopped relying on our own wonderfully adaptable bodies; we’ve forgotten that we can think, climb, leap, run, throw, swim, and fight with more versatility than any other creature on the planet. But how many of his fellow Parisians, Hebert wondered, could pull themselves up on a ledge, leap a three-foot chasm, carry a child to safety? Could he? He couldn’t remember the last time he saw any grown-up crawl, climb a tree, somersault to cushion a fall, or even sprint.” – Natural Born Heroes (2015)
Another book I thought of after the training was The Gift of Fear. It’s been a while since I’ve aggressively recommended this book to anyone so here you go… Dear Readers, PLEASE go read this book. It’s so important to be able to listen to your instincts and keep yourself safe.
Lastly, I thought about the people I know who aren’t nearly as adventurous as I am when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Yes, you. You who thinks it’s nice that I do parkour and all, but you “can’t do that.” First, you know I vehemently disagree with that statement. BUT I’m willing to cut you some slack because we can’t all be ninjas. Here’s some low-key things you can do to make yourself (and those around you) a little safer:
- Know your exits and walk your evacuation route at work so you’re familiar with it
- Check out the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website on responding to an active shooter situation
- If you live in the D.C. area, reach out to Krav Maga Capitol Hill about upcoming trainings
- Ask your employer to host an active shooter training for your office. Trainings don’t have to be intense, all-day workouts like the one I went to—it can be as simple as watching the DHS video, talking about it, and understanding the evac routes in your building, and whatever protocols your company/building/organization has in place for a situation like that.
- Do something