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?


Workshops Postponed

Unfortunately, the Introductory and Intermediate workshops that were scheduled for tomorrow (April 23rd) in Ojai, CA have been postponed. We will announce the rescheduled dates as soon as they are confirmed. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope that you will visit our website or contact us directly for more information.

What is the appropriate response to a threat situation?

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

One thing we talk about quite a bit during our workshops is the “appropriate” response to a threat situation. It is a subject that comes up repeatedly during classes and discussion on self-defense. How much force is too much? What type of situations warrant a physical response? What if I over-react? Is it ever okay to “go nuclear” on the first strike? The short answer is that there is no one appropriate response to every situation. Unfortunately, every encounter is different depending on the people and other variables involved. And to complicate matters, just because you CAN physically engage an adversary doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD.  So, when confronted with a threat, what is the appropriate response?

When this questions comes up in our Introductory workshop, I like to pose this hypothetical situation to the class to illustrate the point.  Dan attends a party and strikes up a conversation with Sue, an attractive young woman. Feeling bold by the beer he’s already consumed and Sue’s apparent receptiveness to his attempts at conversation, Dan suggests that they move to a quieter back room to talk in private. Sue reacts by drawing attention to Dan in a loud, verbally confrontational manner. In response, Dan escalates the verbal confrontation dramatically and storms out of the party.

After sharing this scenario, the question we pose to our workshop participants is, “Did Sue respond appropriately to this situation?” We typically get a wide range of answers and conjecture, but in the end, our answer is that yes, she did. Neither Dan nor Sue are mind-readers and neither know what the other is thinking or what their intentions are. Was Dan really intending to take Sue in the back room and rape her or was he just a socially inept guy bungling an attempt to get a phone number and a date? Although Sue’s response may seem like an over-reaction to some , it was the appropriate response for her given her background, her psyche, and her perception of the situation.

Having said that, I can also tell you that I would probably have chosen a different response to that situation. Indeed, if you ask ten different women how they might respond, you will most likely get ten different answers. And, interestingly, they will probably all be “right.” Why? Because every situation and every person is different. There is never a “one-size-fits-all” response to every threat situation and I am always leery of self-defense instructors who teach otherwise. Where I may be completely comfortable standing my ground and telling someone to back off because they’re infringing on my personal space, another woman may be more comfortable removing herself from the situation. Both responses are appropriate because they alleviate the threat situation and allow both of us to create distance and remain safe.

In our Introductory workshop, our goal is to teach participants how to stop a threat situation from escalating. A physical response may be necessary, but we feel that participants must always insure that their response de-escalates a situation rather than provokes an escalated response. In our workshops, a  physical escalation is always coupled with movement so that you can create distance from your attacker. Otherwise, it turns into mutual combat which, to us, is not an appropriate response to a threat situation.

What is the appropriate response to a threat situation?  The response that allows you to create distance from your attacker and to remain safe.

The Importance of Nurturing the Spirit

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

In our Introductory Self-Defense Workshop, I encourage participants to establish a regular practice of meditation. I think this is one of the most important resources in our “toolbox of responses,” but there are two concerns that often come up during this part of the workshop. The first is a chuckle as some attendees envision dropping into the lotus position and chanting their personal mantras to regain a sense of calm and focus when a bad guy jumps out of the bushes to snatch their purse. While I don’t advocate that response to a threat situation, the physical and psychological benefits of regular meditation (outside of a threat situation, of course) are well documented. These include lowered blood pressure, strengthened immune system, lower levels of stress hormones, and release of stress and fatigue.* And while the health benefits during meditation are indeed beneficial, from a self-defense and empowerment perspective, most of the benefits of meditation occur not when we’re actually meditating but in what we bring back with us when the meditation is finished. When we meditate, we allow ourselves to reach a state of calmness, connectedness and centeredness. We find clarity in thoughts and feelings and a sense of peace. Practiced regularly, that feeling of being calm, centered and grounded carries over into our every day life and becomes a basis for all our thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions. Meditation isn’t about forcing your mind to be quiet, but about experiencing the quiet that is already there. So even when your mind is filled with agitated thoughts, you still have access to the inner stillness and calm that always lies beneath the choppy surface of thought and emotion. This, to me, is vital to an appropriate and success response to a threat situation.

The other reaction I often get when talking about establishing a regular meditation practice is resignation, and usually from busy parents. “I’m sure regular meditation is great and all, Lisa, but I don’t have time to meditate every day. I barely have time to take a shower or check my Facebook page. When am I going to find the time?” My response is that you will never find the time – you have to make the time. We will always make time for those things we feel to be important or non-negotiable and neglect those things we feel to be of little benefit. The good news is a beneficial meditation practice doesn’t have to take up hours of your day. A regular half-hour meditation practice offers numerous health benefits and provides more psychological rest than a full night’s sleep.* As you meditate on a regular basis, you will notice an increased sense of well-being as well as greater energy and creativity, which to me sounds like an excellent return on an investment of 30 minutes per day.

I love what the flight attendants tell us during that safety brief we all ignore at the start of each flight – in the case of cabin depressurization, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting other passengers. Do you know why they say that? Because if you’re unconscious from lack of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. Stressed out, tired, distracted people can’t take care of anyone, including themselves, and they are easy targets for predators looking for a quick strike. It is okay to take 30 minutes per day to meditate and take care of you … indeed, it is vital to your health and well-being.

*For more information on the benefits of regular meditation, check out http://www.chopra.com/meditation.

Winning the Fight vs. Surviving the Encounter

Going to a self defense class does not teach you martial arts. Conversely, while a martial arts practitioner who has spent a significant amount of time training will undoubtedly be in a better position to defend themselves, everything they learned in the dojo is unlikely to be of use in a street fight. This should not be taken as a dismissal of a traditional martial arts training path. Far from it, we at Stir The Embers encourage our participants to search out training of all kinds and highly recommend some time spent learning any martial arts form.

We teach the self defense theories and moves we do because we have found that these moves offer the highest effective return on the time most participants spend training with us. We sometimes hear from workshop participants who’ve demonstrated one of the techniques they’ve learned in our workshop to someone else (usually a martial artist) and are told, “That’s not the way to do it,” or “There is a better way to do that,” and, of course, my favorite, “That shit wouldn’t work! See, I’ll show you,” followed by a demonstration of their self-defense move of choice. Let me be very clear – nothing we teach is the only way, nor is it always the “Best Way” and NO technique is 100% effective 100% of the time. We teach what we do because it is the most effective technique for the training time our participants have committed to it.

In our introductory workshop, we teach ways to defend against an innocuous assault. This means that the attack is not necessarily overt or even recognizable. As we mention in our workshop, most attacks on women are from people they know. Our introductory workshop is all about showing participants how to create distance and respond to that innocuous assault with the appropriate amount of force so that they don’t appear to be “overreacting” (more on that misconception in another post) and in a way that is less likely to provoke an escalated response.

Self defense is about survival, not winning. It is about meeting a threat in a way that allows you to escape and survive. Despite what we’ve learned from movies, TV shows, comic books and the like, self defense is not pretty and there are no points for style. I have studied many martial arts over the past several years and have researched the reality of life and death physical conflicts by reading accounts and searching out footage of actual confrontations. What I have discovered is sobering. It doesn’t matter how “bad” you are, there is always someone worse. No matter how much you train you can still be surprised by that “lucky punch,” and no matter what we see in the media or how much we would like it to be different, there is no such thing as a “fair fight” when the fight is for keeps.

In our intermediate workshop, we start discussing more serious responses which draw from a variety of martial arts and combat techniques. No matter what technique is used, they are all based on the concept of “Always Cheat, Always Win.” Nothing we teach our participants is designed for standing toe to toe with an aggressor and winning. Those techniques are more appropriate for the fighting arts and sport combat. Instead, we teach participants to use every strength they have against their opponent’s weaknesses. We want them to bite, scratch , stab, cut, smash and use every dirty trick they can. In short, we want them to survive.

A 200 lb. man is afraid of a 50 lb. dog, because the dog comes at him without hesitation. It does not fight fair and can only bite, but the man backs away because he doesn’t want to be bitten. Our participants are taught to do the same – to use the resources they have at their disposal without hesitation in order to escape and survive an encounter.

We don’t teach martial arts, we teach survival. It’s dirty, mean, and nasty, but if you remember the ideas behind what we teach, you are much more likely to survive.

Increasing Awareness

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

“I don’t want to be paranoid.” It seems that every time I give a talk on being aware of your surroundings, someone makes that statement. Being aware of your surroundings is not being paranoid. It does not mean that you think someone is out to get you. It does not mean that you are looking for trouble. It doesn’t even mean that you are worried that something is going to happen. It simply means that you have made a conscious decision to be involved in the world that you live in. And in doing this, you are less likely to be a victim.

In 1984, the Grayson/Stein study had prisoners convicted of violent crimes watch video tapes of pedestrians on a New York street . They were then asked to rate the pedestrians as potential targets of a violent crime. The results? Body language and awareness are the factors that determine which victims these human predators selected. Often times the prisoners could not explain what it was about the person on the video that made them a likely target, but universally the reaction to a timid, head down, unaware pedestrian was the choice to make that person a victim. What baffled the researchers was that the selection process did not seem to use gender, size or age as they had predicted. Large men were chosen while smaller females passed on. The decisive factor was awareness and body carriage.

By the simple act of looking around, you lesson the chance that you will be seen as a potential victim. Someone who looks around is more likely to see an attack coming and raise an alarm, and they are more likely to avoid being a victim by simply avoiding walking next to a suspicious van. They are more likely to be more trouble then someone who isn’t aware, and therefore will normally be skipped for that easier target.

To increase your awareness, don’t use your cell phone while walking to your car. Instead, wait until you sit down in the car and lock the door. Make a point of looking around when you step out into an open area. Quiz yourself – what color shirt was the hostess wearing when you were seated at the restaurant? Where is the nearest exit? How about the bathroom? It really is that easy. What is hard is actually doing it.

What is Stir the Embers?

You’ve seen the Facebook page, read the Quotes of the Day, and heard vague references to warrior paths and self-defense. What exactly is Stir the Embers? Let’s start by explaining what Stir the Embers is not:

Stir the Embers is not your mother’s self-defense class. Most typical self-defense courses teach a specific martial art or fighting technique. When you attend our introductory workshop, you will learn simple, basic techniques from a variety of martial arts and defense styles that women of all ages and physical fitness levels can do. We strive to create a supportive, safe environment where you can laugh, cry, question and learn at your own comfort level.

Stir the Embers is not just for women (and men) who want to learn to kick butt. Our introductory workshop is designed to give you a toolbox of responses to a variety of situations, including verbal, psychological and physical threats. Of course, if you want to learn to kick butt, we can help you with that, too.

Stir the Embers is not an empowerment class, it’s more of an “attitude adjustment” workshop. The word “empowerment” implies that someone or something else is giving you power or giving you permission to have power. We believe that you are already empowered and we want to help you rediscover that power, or “awaken the fire within.”

Have more questions? Feel free to email us at StirTheEmbers@gmail.com or to post a comment here or on our Facebook Wall. We look forward to helping you awaken the fire within.


Upcoming Stir the Embers Workshops and Classes

Here is a brief description of some of our upcoming workshops and classes. Which ones are you interested in?

Warrior Mindset for Men and Women

Are you ready to embark on your own warrior path? Would you like to harness your personal power to awaken the fire within? This one-day class will delve more deeply into the themes covered during the Stir The Embers introductory course, including Integrity in the Moment of Choice, the “hero’s journey,” and embracing your warrior spirit as we concentrate on the mental, psychological and spiritual aspects of the warrior path.

Intermediate Self-Defense for Women

This one-day class will delve more deeply into the self-defense moves covered during the Stir The Embers introductory course, and will include more advanced techniques such as throws and strikes. We will also cover some of the psychological and legal considerations of physical encounters. If you’re ready to build upon the foundations covered in the introductory course, this is the class for you.

Advanced Self-Defense for Women

Are you ready to learn how to kick some serious butt? Would you like to practice your self-defense moves at full speed and full strength? This one-day class will build upon the techniques learned in the beginning and intermediate self-defense courses and will involve role-playing scenarios with attackers in protective gear so that you can actually practice your punches, kicks and throws in a safe environment. Not for the faint of heart!

Impact Weapons for Men and Women

A one-day class teaching the basics of using impact weapons (sticks, staffs, clubs or improvised versions of all of the above). We will cover basic stances, impact points, strikes, blocks, tie-ups and control, and other techniques.

Edged Weapons for Men and Women

Have you always wanted to learn sword-fighting? Are you curious about the different types of swords you’ve seen in movies and in museums? Does the idea of stabbing, slashing or skewering a “bad guy” sound like fun? This one-day, hands-on class will introduce you to a variety of swords and knives and teach you some basic techniques for using each one.

Zombie Apocalypse Survival for Men and Women

Do you have a zombie plan? Are you prepared to survive the coming zombie apocalypse? This one-day class will teach you everything you need to know to survive when the undead rise (e.g., making an emergency supply kit, setting up defensible space, and fighting the undead with edged weapons and firearms). Hands-on practice with rapier swords and Airsoft® weapons is included.

Defense Against the Paranormal for Men and Women

Building on the Zombie Apocalypse workshop, this weekend-long class will teach you what you need to know to defend yourself and your loved ones against zombies, vampires and werewolves. We’ll meet at a super-secret location to learn about assembling an emergency preparedness kit, identifying and setting up defensible space and using a variety of weapons to defend yourself against a paranormal attack. Hands-on practice with impact weapons, edged weapons and firearms will be included.

Warrior Girl Weekend

How does a weekend filled with kick-boxing, yoga, massages, stick-fighting, Pilates, facials, sword-fighting, manicures and “girl power” sound? We’ll meet at a super-secret location to spend the weekend kicking butt, enjoying luxury spa treatments, and recharging. Even warriors like to be pampered once in awhile!

Custom Workshops

Stir The Embers wants to help you! Do you have an idea for a class you’d like to see us teach? Do you have a specific self-defense or warrior-path need we can help you fill? We can tailor most of our workshops for your small group or company, and we will even come to your location! We also offer private classes and individualized instruction if you’d prefer a more personalized approach. Give us your ideas!