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Be Prepared

We here at Stir the Embers send our heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the recent shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin. You are in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.

The media attention around these events present the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of what we can all do, right now, to increase our chances of staying safe in the event of an emergency. Whenever we see news reports of natural disasters or innocent victims being gunned down in public places our first thought might be to avoid going to those places. Sure, we can sit at home, afraid to fly on an airplane, go to the movie theater, drive on the freeway or go to the mall for fear that some harm will come to us, but is that any way to live? We can’t avoid all risk in life. Life itself is inherently risky, so rather than hiding or pretending it will never happen to us, I prefer to take the “pray to God but lock your car” approach to emergency preparedness and risk assessment.

I believe that we should take care of the things within our control and not obsess over the things that are beyond our control. For example, I can’t control whether or not we will have a major earthquake in Southern California, but I can take steps to ensure that I have a better chance of survival if an earthquake does occur. Rather than waste time and energy worrying about the fact that an earthquake might strike, I can make sure my emergency preparedness kit is ready to go, take a First Aid/CPR class, practice earthquake safety drills with my family, and make sure the heavy furniture in my house is secured. I choose to control the things I can and to not obsess over the things I can’t.

Here are three things you can do right now to help you be more prepared in case the unthinkable happens:

1. Have a plan – When you’re driving on the freeway, do you leave room around your car to make a quick, evasive maneuver? When you sit down in a restaurant or at a movie theater, do you look for the emergency exits in case of a fire? Have you made an emergency preparedness plan with your family? This isn’t “being paranoid,” it’s being smart. If an emergency does occur, things will be happening very fast and if you’ve taken the time to make a plan, you’re already ahead of the game.

2. Be prepared – Do you have an emergency preparedness kit? Do you have a working fire extinguisher in your house? Do you know your spouse/significant other’s cell phone number (or is it on speed dial so you never have to actually remember it or dial it)?

3. Be aware – Is your head buried in your smartphone when you’re out in public? Is the music in your headphones turned up so loudly that you can’t hear what’s going on around you? Do you pay attention to and heed that “still, small voice” in the back of your head that tells you when someone doesn’t seem right or when something seems a little off? Again, when the unthinkable happens, the more time you have to react, the better your chances of survival.

To paraphrase an old joke, “The question isn’t whether or not you’re paranoid (enough). The question is whether you’re prepared.”

Reply to: Reply to Bill Hatfield


Eating the Elephant

One of my favorite jokes is, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time!” I love it because I can completely relate to it. You can’t fit an entire elephant in your mouth at once (and why would you want to), but if you break it up into bite-sized pieces and keep on chewing, eventually you’ll be able to eat the entire thing.

Do you ever find yourself procrastinating on a big project because there are so many variables, details and steps involved that it’s almost too overwhelming to get started? This happens to me all the time, but I’ve learned that if I focus on two things, I can “eat the elephant” – I commit to doing one thing every day and I do my best to stay in the moment.

When we were getting ready to launch Stir the Embers, there were so many things that needed to get done that I really wasn’t sure how we were going to accomplish all of it. I knew I needed to wrap my arms around the enormity of launching a new business or I’d have no hope of ever helping to get it off the ground, so the first thing we did was compile a list of everything we could think of that needed to happen – everything from “write curriculum” to “build a website” to “decide on the workshop lunch menu.” Next, I started looking at the list every day and picking at least one thing I could do to move the business forward. One day I did some research on web hosting services for our website. One day I wrote a first draft of one section of the curriculum. One day we had a business meeting where we did some more strategic planning. One day I created our Facebook page. I kept on doing one more thing like that until we were ready to hold our first workshop, and I’ve pretty much stayed with that system ever since. Many days we do more than one item on the list, but if I commit to doing at least one thing to move the business forward every day, it all eventually gets done.

The second thing I focus on comes from the 12-Step programs. A friend of mine who is a recovering alcoholic tells me that there is no way he can not take a drink and stay sober for the rest of his life. Not drinking and staying sober forever is too big, too challenging and too scary for him. He can, however, stay sober today, or at least not take a drink this hour or this minute. If he stays sober right now and keeps staying sober right now, the rest of his life will take care of itself. I really love this idea and I apply it to habits I want to start (or break) and personal changes I want to make. I can’t commit to exercising every day for the rest of my life. I can’t promise that I’ll meditate for 30 minutes every day no matter what. I can, however, get up early today to run or make a point to meditate. At the risk of getting a little metaphysical on you, right now, today, is all we really have anyway. Tomorrow never comes, as the old saying goes, so if you do what you need to do today, tomorrow/the future/the rest of your life/forever takes care of itself.

So, if you’ve been putting off getting your emergency preparedness kit together or signing up for a self-defense workshop or starting a habit of daily exercise because it seemed like too big a project to get started try eating the elephant. I’d love to hear about your challenges and triumphs in the comments.


E-Book and Video Series update

I’ve been working on getting the classroom portion of our introductory course tuned up and reformatting for electronic readers (and as a downloadable PDF, for those who haven’t jumped onto the e-reader bandwagon yet). Our introductory course is divided into two parts – a “lecture” portion where we discuss self-defense and empowerment ideas, theories, female warrior role models and a “hands-on” portion where we demonstrate and practice specific self-defense techniques. While the lecture portion lends itself pretty easily to the e-book format, we’ve been toying with the idea of making a series of short videos demonstrating the self-defense techniques. I’m torn about that, though, because while being able to see us explain and demonstrate the moves on a video will certainly make it easier to understand , there really is no substitute for being in the workshop and receiving personalized, hands-on coaching and immediate feedback. Do you think it will take away from or cheapen the workshop experience to provide video demonstrations along with the e-book?

And on that note, if you know any great YouTube content creators who might be interested in helping us with that project, I’d love to hear from them. Feel free to put them in touch with me here in the comments, on our Facebook page or via email at StirTheEmbers at gmail dot com.

21 Things Your Burglar Won’t Tell You (repost)

I saw this article on The Modern Survival Blog and wanted to pass the link along. Ken covers some great common sense home safety tips here that you may not have considered before.


New Workshop in Development

We are excited to announce that we have a new workshop in development, tentatively titled “Self Defense for Walkers and Runners” and inspired by a post over at Beth’s “Shut Up and Run” blog ( I encourage you to go read the post for yourself (and the rest of Beth’s posts, if you’re a runner!), but the short version is that there have been some high profile news stories of women being attacked and killed while running alone and many female runners are interested in taking steps to protect themselves rather than stop running (or moving indoors to a treadmill). Over the past weekend, a few of our Stir the Embers facilitators and friends were discussing some of the ways both male and female runners and walkers can stay safe while they’re outside exercising, and it occurred to us that many of the things we already teach in our Introductory self-defense workshop are easily adapted for walkers and runners. Add to that some strong interest from members of another fitness group I’m active in, and we have the beginnings of a brand new class!

We envision a one-time, half-day workshop (with lunch and a notebook included) that would cover some basic, practical self-defense theory and strategies, and some hands-on practice and training of specific defense techniques. We want to especially focus on using our bodies and voices to our advantage, since most of us run or walk wearing and carrying as little as possible. We want to cover how to avoid being a victim of violence and different levels of threats. And, like our Introductory workshop, we want to make sure the things we teach are practical, easy to remember, and realistic.

What sort of things would you expect to learn in a one-time, half-day self-defense class like this? Would you be comfortable in a co-ed class of both walkers and runners, or would you prefer one specifically tailored to men or women, walkers or runners? Do you think a one-time class would be enough or would you be interested in regular (weekly? monthly?) reminders via email, text, Facebook post, etc.?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!


We’re Back!

Did you miss us?

Actually, we hadn’t really gone away, but we have been neglecting our blog over the past several months.We’ve just finished a yearlong event of epic proportions for two dear friends who turned 18 this year. It involved role-playing, secret agents, paranormal activity, and spy skills training, and it was a blast to orchestrate and execute.

It occurred to me that the way we ran the role-playing game is similar to how we run our self-defense and empowerment workshops. In both cases, we use real world situations, examples and locations and enhance or augment them with make-believe, imaginative scenarios and characters to create a learning environment that is both realistic and safe. Whether we’re teaching you how to avoid being the victim of an attack or how to gather clues at a supernatural crime scene, what we’re doing is providing an overlay to your reality to assist in the learning process.

The problem I’m running into these days is what to call it. The mobile telecomm industry is already using the terms “augmented reality” and “enhanced reality” to describe phone apps that know where you are and can provide you with the location, menu, reviews and price list for the nearest coffee shop and restaurant. I’m having a hard time coming up with a short answer to the question, “What do you do?”

We have a couple of interesting projects on the horizon which I’ll expand on in a later post. Briefly, we’re planning a huge costumed, role-playing pirate extravaganza that will take place in the fall of 2013 (think Labyrinth of Jareth meets Pirates of the Caribbean). We’re also working on getting our introductory self-defense course out as an e-book for those who aren’t able to get to one of our workshops or who would prefer to study at home. We’ve had some interest in making Bill’s Zombie Apocalypse Bug-Out Kit (a.k.a. disaster preparedness back pack) available for purchase and we’re hearing from a growing number of folks who are really interested in a Defense Against Paranormal Threats weekend that would include camping, disaster preparedness, vampire defense (sword fighting), werewolf defense (paintball or Airsoft target practice), and zombie defense (staff or club fighting).

We’ve missed all of you and we look forward to hearing from you soon!


Daily Focus feature coming soon

We’re excited to announce a new Daily Focus feature that will be starting in a few weeks. Every day, we’ll post a task or reminder you can complete to help you be more aware, prepared, safe, confident and capable. We’ll cover everything from daily meditations to emergency preparedness to self-defense techniques, and if you have something specific you’d like to make sure we cover, make sure to let us know in the comments so we can include your ideas too.

STE Lisa

Fear vs. Anxiety

(Bill Hatfield, Stir the Embers co-founder and facilitator)

Is there a difference between fear and anxiety? Fear can be defined as a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger (evil, pain, etc.), whether the threat is real or imagined. It is a normal, natural response to some specific, outside stimulus that we think is going to cause us harm (a loud noise, a spider, a bad guy jumping out of the bushes). Anxiety, on the other hand, can be defined as distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. We often experience anxiety as a constant low-grade feeling that something is not right. The specific cause is often harder to pinpoint, yet we still feel its effects.

Our bodies respond to fear by dumping a mix of hormones and chemicals (primarily adrenalin), into our system that will increase our ability to survive a “fight or flight” scenario. This amazing biological cocktail speeds up our reactions, makes us stronger, increases our ability to focus, and causes us to be less susceptible to pain. Unfortunately, these benefits come with some liabilities, such as loss of fine motor control and tunnel vision. In a case where that jolt of chemicals allows us to save ourselves, the negative effects are mitigated by the activity of fighting or running. The stress to the heart and brain are necessary for survival, and ideally, only happens when the need is critical.

Our bodies respond to anxiety with the same mix of hormones and chemicals, but rather than dumping them all at once into the bloodstream as it does in response to fear, it trickles them into our bodies like a leaky valve. In a sense, our body is “priming the pump” for a fight or flight reaction by constantly dripping small amounts into our system, but it is ready to dump more chemicals if needed. Unfortunately, this means we get all of the physical drawbacks mentioned above without the benefit of a fight or flight situation where the positive effects of the chemical cocktail would be useful. We lose fine motor control and our movements become jerky. We get tunnel vision and lose cognitive ability as the body steals oxygen from those parts of the brain to make it available to muscles that, not needing it, tend to feel shaky. Our blood pressure spikes, and since that extra capacity isn’t needed, our circulatory system is stressed and we develop a headache or, over time, hypertension. Then, to make matters worse, our body’s reaction to any minor startle event is to dump more of these chemicals in our system.

At Stir the Embers, we believe that an integral part of being a warrior is listening to our bodies and becoming aware of our physiological response to fear. Once we understand how to use the extra boost that fear gives us, rather than being paralyzed by it, we can make use of it to react and survive. The other side of that coin is recognizing anxiety for what it is and managing it accordingly. Here are three simple steps you can take to counteract the negative effects of anxiety:

  • Regular exercise – Our most useful tool in neutralizing anxiety. Being physically active allows us to burn off those chemicals leaking into our system in a positive way.
  • Daily meditation or prayer – This has been proven to help the mind better control anxiety. Developing a regular habit of reflection and introspection allows us to not only deal with the effects of anxiety, but to better manage situations that would normally cause anxiety.
  • Controlled breathing – This gives our body more oxygen that our brain can use to better manage the effects of the chemicals our body is releasing. A simple way to accomplish this is to breathe in through your nose for count of four, hold for a count of four, then exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Repeat this cycle three times, slowing the four-count down a bit each time.

The main difference between fear and anxiety is that fear is life-saving. It is our body’s emergency reserve. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a killer.

What if …

What if you’re wrong about that creepy-looking guy in the parking lot and he turns out to be harmless? What if you’re wrong about that noise you heard outside? What if you’re over-reacting? What if that way-too-friendly guy at the bar gets mad at you and yells at you? What if you hurt someone’s feelings or hurt their body? What if your mother never speaks to you again?

What if you’re right and you don’t act? What would you do if your daughter, your sister, your best friend or your mother was in this situation? How do you decide how much is too much? What if you try something and it doesn’t work? What if you make the situation worse? What if you do everything you learned in your self-defense class and you still get hurt?

Rather than pretending that bad things don’t happen, or hesitating to act because you’re afraid of being wrong, or worrying about what others might think, we want you to have choices and to be true to yourself. You have the right and the power to be safe and to defend yourself if need be. You don’t have to get into the elevator with the scary person just so they won’t feel bad. You don’t have to be nice to the drunk at the party to avoid making a scene. It is okay if they think you’re crazy if you end up alive and intact on the other side of an encounter. Dead right is still dead and no one ever died of embarrassment.

We want you to listen to that still, small voice inside that tells you when something is not quite right about a situation. We want you to acknowledge that tingling “spidey-sense,” that prickle on the back of your neck, that uneasiness, or that sneaking suspicion and we want you to act on it instead of dismissing it as being paranoid, over-reacting, or being silly/foolish.

How do you react to a feeling when all you have is a feeling? It was that question that led to the formation of our introductory self-defense course. When we looked at other self-defense training programs, we found that the techniques they taught were designed for an all-out attack. Yet, if you used these techniques because of a “feeling” it was very possible that you would be seen as the attacker and the person who made you feel threatened would be seen as the victim. Instead, too many people would hesitate to use what they had been taught until a physical assault was in progress.

We came up with the idea of the innocuous assault. We define this as a perceived threat that begins as an “innocent” mistake, or an excuse to violate your personal space. Whether the perpetrator is someone known to you (perhaps a relative or an acquaintance) or a friendly stranger, we decided that our participants needed to have tools that they could use to prevent the innocuous assault and respond to it as necessary.

So, how do you prevent the innocuous assault? You start by listening to that voice and acting on it. Is the guy in the elevator feeling creepy to you? Wait for the next one. Does something about the guy at the bar not feel right, especially since he insists on chatting you up even after you told him politely you are not interested? Stop being polite, or pretend to answer your phone and have an important conversation with your mom, the highway patrol officer. Are you walking out to your car and getting a “feeling” because when you parked it, it was light and there were plenty of people around, but now it is deserted and dark? Set your key fob alarm off and find something to do for a couple of minutes. Alarms are loud and annoying. People don’t pay attention to them other than to be annoyed by them, so they rarely stay around them for more than a couple of minutes.

But what about the assault that no one notices? How about the male relative that always insists on long, tight hugs that make you uncomfortable? Or the guy who, when you shake his hand, doesn’t let go? An elbow that always seems to “accidentally” be in the way is one method to make him stop wanting that hug, as is the habit of including someone else in a “group hug.” Pointing your finger will help you resist the grip of the person shaking your hand and “coughing” allows you to get your hand back, or make him want to back up to avoid getting coughed on.

We want you to always have a response, and we want that response to be one that you will use. As the old saying goes, “When your only tool is a hammer, soon every problem looks like a nail.” We will help you respond to situations that require something other than a hammer, and if the situation does call for one, we’ll help you choose between the claw hammer and the 5lb. sledge.

What Would You Do?

(written by Lisa Feeney, Stir the Embers co-founder and facilitator)

In the time before cell phones, I was leaving a grocery store during my lunch break from work when I was stopped by a nicely dressed, handsome young man at a pay phone who asked for change for a dollar. I didn’t have any change, so I smiled, apologized and continued walking to my car. After I put my groceries in my car, I got into the driver’s seat and shut the door. As I turned to lock the door and put on my seat belt, the man was standing next to my car looking in the window. Startled, I jumped and yelped. When I saw him standing there in my window, I knew something was not quite right about the situation, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so I second-guessed myself and rolled down my car window just a little bit. He looked a little embarrassed and uncomfortable as he said, “I don’t normally do this, but you are a really attractive woman and I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me.” I was surprised and flattered, so I blushed and said, “Oh, thank you for the compliment, but I am married.” Then, he leaned closer to my window and said in what I imagine he thought was his sultry voice, “Well, does your husband follow you everywhere?”

At that moment, I had a choice. Romeo was starting to seriously creep me out and I was getting pretty uncomfortable with the conversation, but I didn’t want to cause a scene or make him feel bad. Sure, he might be a creepy stalker/serial killer intent on doing unspeakable things to me as soon as he could get me alone. But he also might be a completely harmless, socially inept guy who didn’t recognize an easy out to a potentially embarrassing situation when he saw it. Still, there was a little, niggling voice in the back of my head telling me that something was not okay with the whole scenario. Luckily, I chose to listen to that voice.

In his book “Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” Dr. Stephen Covey talks about the concept of Integrity in the Moment of Choice. The main idea behind the concept is that between every action and reaction, there is a moment where we choose how we’re going to respond. Dr. Covey talks about stretching this moment between action and reaction to avoid an automatic, knee-jerk response in order to choose an appropriate response with integrity. At Stir the Embers, we also believe that by stretching this moment and giving ourselves some space between stimulus and response or action and reaction, we can access our toolbox of possible responses and choose the response that most appropriately fits the situation with which we are presented.

So, how did I choose to respond? I looked the guy squarely in the eye and said in a strong, firm voice, “I was trying to be polite. Now I’m going to be rude. Good bye!” and I started my car, backed it out of the parking space and drove away without looking back. Was that the “correct” response? It was by no means my only choice of a possible response to the situation, but it is the one I chose at the time. At Stir the Embers, we believe that the appropriate response to a threat is one that: 1) de-escalates a situation; 2) creates distance from the threat; and 3) allows the respondent to remain safe. My response choice met those three criteria, so to me, it was an appropriate one.

If you were presented with a similar situation, what would you do?