Do Something

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
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Don’t Think, Just Jump

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Don’t Think, Just Jump. Photo by Pete Waterman (whoispete.com)

I just had the best solo training session I’ve had in a long time. It was the same old story… I was exhausted from a long day at work, and I was frustrated because my shoulder’s been injured which has limited my training quite a bit lately. I got home from work and immediately ditched my work dress, jewelry, and ballet flats for a pair of joggers, a sports bra, and my trainers. I felt better already.

I had no food at home and I usually walked through a park on my way to the supermarket, so I decided I’d stop and play for a bit as I went to get some dinner. I grabbed my backpack and headed out the door, putting on my headphones, letting myself get lost in the music and the simple rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement.

The light turned green and I ran across the crosswalk, putting more force into my steps as I neared the other side and went for the running precision from a fat white stripe to the curb in front of me. I felt better with every step.

I ran around the park, forwards, backwards, and side to side, my feet matching the beat as they struck the stone pathway. Lindsey Stirling’s violin-infused electronic beats pulsed through me as I went skipping, dancing, and spinning in circles along the stone walls, walkways and handrails.

I traversed the stone walls throughout the park, tic-tac-ing my way up to another wall, striding the gaps between them, balancing down handrails and leaping to the next wall. Finally, I came to a stop in front of a jump that was just big enough to make me hesitate. I almost got down but I felt that I could do it. I took a deep breath and jumped.

My feet touched down perfectly on the edge as I bent my knees to absorb the impact. I felt triumphant.

I continued my run, nearing the edge of the park where I had recently spotted a jump I wanted to try. This jump is a little far for me, it’s at a weird angle, and it is also a pretty big drop. I knew I’d have to work up to it mentally.

I ran up to the jump and felt strongly that I was capable of doing it, but I wasn’t 100% ready yet. I walked to another end of the same wall where the jump had all of the same obstacles as above, but it was less of a weird angle, making it a little cleaner and shorter.

I stood there, staring down at the wall below me, wondering why I was so afraid. I squatted down. The fear eased up a bit. I stood up. It got scary again. I repeated this exercise over and over again. Finally, I went for it. It was a horrible landing and I had to sort of catch myself with one arm as I landed, but I was glad I did it. Okay, that’s an understatement. I was ecstatic that I did  it. It meant more to me that I had made the attempt than anything else. The next hurdle would be landing it properly.

I started walking away from the park, feeling tired and accomplished for the night, but then I turned around. I wanted to try again.

I went back and repeated that fun stand up-squat-stare at wall-stand up-squat-stare at wall exercise. A stranger walked by and said something to me, pulling me out of my trance. I then felt distracted. I felt off. My thoughts started racing.

Now he’s watching me. I don’t want to have to perform for him.
I feel tired, maybe I’m too tired to try it again.
Maybe that’s just an excuse…?
The Yamakasi never gave up, they kept training. Always be prepared. Tired is never an excuse.
Okay, so I should do it.
But they’ve also said if you don’t feel it, don’t do it. You have to feel the jump to do it right.
Okay, so do I feel it? Or will I hurt myself because I’m tired?

This is what happens when I train alone… Normally, I might have had that conversation with a friend or training buddy, but tonight it was all in my head (don’t hate, you know you do it too). Finally, I decided I wanted to do this for myself. I knew that my body could do it, it was just about the fear. Don’t think, I thought, just jump.

I let myself sit there for a few more seconds as I waited for the line I needed to hear in my new favorite song. Whatever helps, right? The music was slow at first, “…and even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know…” then the beat picked up and gave me the last little push I needed as I took off “If you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home…” I soared through the air, landing softly on the balls of my feet. Without hesitation, I transitioned smoothly out of my landing, down onto the sidewalk and jogged off towards the supermarket, a huge smile on my face.

My body knew exactly what it was doing. It was all in my head.

MOVE INTERACTIVE

You’d think after flying back from The Netherlands Monday night and then working all week I might’ve wanted to take it easy this weekend… but it’s me so that would just be silly.

First, I convinced my friend to join me for Trampoline Cardio Sunday morning, which is one of my new favorite workout classes. In addition to tramp cardio, I was planning to spend my Saturday training parkour, but then I saw a post on Derek Hough‘s Instagram account about an awesome community fitness event that him and sister, Julianne Hough, were putting on. Elle is going to kill me, I thought, but I tagged her anyways, “Pleeeeeaaaaase can we do this?!” She agreed. (And yes, we still went to tramp cardio the next morning which was painful but worth it!)

For those of you who don’t know Derek & Julianne Hough, here’s one of my favorite clips of the incredibly talented dancing siblings:

Amazing, right? So of course I couldn’t wait to go workout with them! These two inspire me so much. I love spontaneous decisions, group workouts, and awesome people so it was kind of a no-brainer.

Elle and I arrived early to register and find parking. There was a good crowd but not too bad – more than 50 but definitely less than 100 I think. The workout started at Pulse Fitness Studio with strength & conditioning, then we ran 2 miles (or ran / walked for 2 miles…) to get to the next workout spot – Just Dance Los Angeles. There, we danced (or tried to find our rhythm / laughed at ourselves) for the rest of the workout.

The strength & conditioning was awesome – challenging, but awesome. We split into two groups because we couldn’t all fit in the studio. I was in the outside group to begin with where we did partner workouts for 30 seconds at a time before rotating to a new station. For example, Partner A holds a plank with legs wide while Partner B does ski jumps in and out of Partner A’s legs.

Inside, we were led by Mark Harari in an ass-kicking group workout with a classic energetic, heart-pumping workout soundtrack. Derek & Julianne sweat it out alongside us, stopping only to run around the room to pump us up, shout words of encouragement, and give us high-fives as we pushed through the workout.

When it was over, we all cheered and headed out the door for the 2-mile run down the road to Just Dance. Elle and I ran the first mile and then I couldn’t quite take the heat anymore (also, I’m a wimp when it comes to running) so we walked/ran the rest of the way.

By the time we arrived at Just Dance, I was dripping sweat and panting like crazy. We were handed mini water bottles as we walked in which made me irrationally happy in the moment. I finished the water in about .2 seconds and then took a minute to breathe before jumping into the dance workout.

As I jumped in, I remembered how bad I am at dancing… I spent the entire time two steps behind, nearly (or actually) stepping on my friend’s feet, and laughing at myself as I attempted the kicks and turns, trying to follow the beat of the music. Honestly though, I didn’t care at all. I was having so much fun and sweating A LOT. Killer workout. Great vibes. Great energy. I was happy.

When it was all over, we took a group photo and Derek and Julianne said a few words before saying goodbye. They put this event together at the very last minute, posting literally the day before on social media to invite everyone to join them for the workout. In light of recent events, they wanted to create an opportunity for people to get out and move and, most importantly, to feel good. I loved their saying, motion equals emotion. How you move impacts how you feel, and I completely agree with them. When I get out to move, I feel amazing. Thanks, guys!

Me and Derek Hough

Post-workout with Derek Hough at the MOVE INTERACTIVE event