“INSIDE-OUT” PERSONAL SECURITY

The theory goes that we are personally-responsible for the majority of conflict we find ourselves in, or at least we contribute in a very tangible way to its happening. I have, upon introspection, found this very much to be true of me. Not all, but definitely quite a large volume of past conflict, whether violent, verbal, psychological, and emotional. I’ll make this post a shorter one. Hypothetically, what if we exchanged striking, grappling & groundfighting, clinch-work, weapons-training and other “outside-in” things….even interviews and OODA loops and pre-incident indicators and situational awareness with:

a) Trigger-exploration and assessment. What sets you off? How does it build? What scenarios are they most present and apt to go off? What topics lead to ignition?

b) Verbal accountability/communication-skills/active-listening. Do you know when to talk and when to listen? How many examples can you give of escalating conflict that were instigated by interruption? Do you monitor tone and pitch when talking with unfamiliar people? What are some strategies you’ve used with success to calm or soothe potentially-explosive situations?

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c) Breathing. Do you have a breathing-cycle that you use when you feel your physiology changing for the worse? Are you able to anchor negative physiological responses to that breathing cycle? Do you practice simple breath-awareness throughout your day?

d) Adherence/mindfulness of states/moods. Do you how being tired, being hungry, being in rush-hour traffic, seething prolonged at a fight with your spouse or child, being anxious from work-stress…do to your potential conflict probability? Are you conscious of your state changing from various stimuli? Are you self-controlled when any of these are acknowledged or do you let the emotion flow?

e) Physiology/posture. Are there certain anatomical reactions that you exhibit from fear, anxiety, stress, or depression? What are they? I know, for me, I get neck and shoulder tension, the pit of my stomach tightens, my feet stop moving, my breathing becomes erratic, and my posture changes. What can one do? I loosen my neck and shoulders, make sure my peripheral vision is engaged. Abdominal breathe for a few minutes. Get my feet moving, even if sitting in the same spot.

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f) Sleep levels. What amount is enough for you, personally? How does it affect your mood? Your conscious thought? Your reactions to unwanted elements? What levels are insufficient and cause issues? Or is it more broken-patterned sleep? “Undeep” sleep from input that can be altered or eliminated?

g) Defensive-driving. Not combat-driving courses, just regular. defensive. driving. Here, at least, a ton of conflict and violence originates from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. It’s a hugely-neglected area of addressing. Are you reactive and combative or can you let it be blown-off as an element you won’t be changing.

h) Mindset or mentality. Do you have it clear what exactly it is that’s worth fighting for or participating in the physical part? What circumstances, specifically, or worthy of a strong reaction? Which aren’t? Legal, social, familial, fiscal, psychological consequences of involvement?

Now, to be clear, I’m not alleviating the need for physical capability against high-order, predatory violence. It’s out there, and to deny that it could happen to you would be delusional. But, a lot of the daily conflict variety goes to the 3 elements I always preach, both in that daily self-defense and on social-media personal-preservation pages I’ve run. Self-control. Patience. Discipline. Change you, change your reaction to potentially-escalating dynamics….inevitably to conflict. Change your stress response. Your illegitimate fear. Your unheeded anxiety. Your knee-jerk responses. Just for kicks, what if (what if…) training or conditioning in these elements precluded the actual need for much of the over-reliance on the physical ones usually rendered as so utterly important….imagine…

THE INTERNET & SOCIAL MEDIA, PART 2

Social media is not just slightly like an “actual” addiction akin to drugs, alcohol, and various others. Some reasons I find I continually come back to social media and continue posting, most of which I know are extremely unhealthy due to the backing reasoning.

1. I’m sometimes lonely in the real-world. I have few friends in this country. I’m an immigrant (it’s interesting that most North Americans call themselves “expats” when settling abroad but call like-situations in their home country “immigration”) from a continent that’s often despised here for their political intervention, entitlement, and qualification as higher-quality people (1st-World vs. 3rd-World) I am often ostracized, ignored, or secretly resented, whether due to perception or reality from person in-question. Coupled with the fact I’m now 46 and set in my ways, it’s hard to make friends here….I really don’t have any in the stereotypical definition of the word, so I stay to myself. The Internet offers an escape from this, especially when things aren’t going well at home, which they can’t always. My color/nationality, outspokenness, comfort in my masculinity, and unwillingness to settle in a “safe/protected” expat community of other North Americans have generally isolated me from acceptance.

2. I find a kinship with other people of like mind, both inner-industry and life-perspective. I find many don’t think the way I do nor have my same views on all things self-defense-related or with life-outlook. Online I get a fix of this, where I’ve found some people I generally like, trust, and can talk to.

3. Addiction itself. I continue to go back out of pattern, routine, reflex. When there’s a gap in my time, I instinctively see what’s going on online. I post thoughts. I crave feedback. I like being “liked.” I am respected here where, outside of seminars/workshops/classes/consultations – generally my own niche, I may not be in the real-world.

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4. The false view I’m making some small difference and that I’m important or impactful. While less than the others, there is the small flame in the back of my mind that I and cohorts like me, may be having a positive effect on the way self-defense and personal protection are being thought of…and it’s untrue. Huge industry, microscopic niche. However, impact is both a moral/value-driven positive and a self-delusional/ego-driven negative. I have an ego and like to think people pay attention to what I say, which in the grand scheme of things, few do. That’s the reality and my ego is inevitably moot, but we all need, crave, and maybe even deserve to be accepted in some way, through some avenue.

In conclusion, none of these are healthy, productive reasons to waste as much time on the Internet as I do, yet I do. Why? I have a wonderful marriage. Great, loving, big-hearted kids. A solid business that I enjoy. A jungle-like garden and immediate accessibility to nature right outside my front door. Hobbies and passions that I’m good at. Good parents. Yet I cannot seem to break entirely from being trapped in the Matrix. While it’s easy to say that balance is key and none of us want to get left behind in the information age, I have recently found myself deeply-concerned at the long-term effects of prolonged and conditioned social media use. There’s a niggling intuition in the back of my mind that there are costs to this. Costs that can end up being quite high. It may be only a “I’m-getting-older-and-I-don’t-want-to-waste-precious-time-online-doing-things-that-are-generally-useless-with-many-people-I-don’t-know-in-real-life-whatsoever” vibe (I’m sure we’ve all thought this at some point)….or maybe something more sinister that, when combining the illogical reasons I can come up with above with the side-effects listed in Part 1, has consequences that are unknown and, therefore, disconcerting to me. Something to ponder for each of us.

(A)SOCIAL & (A)SYMMETRICAL: (AN)EXPLANATION

Every top professional in the industry seemingly has their own terminology, whether it’s based on personal linguistic preferences, intentional marketing to draw in greater student volume, or to differentiate from other instructors. Sometimes, when we get-together and “talk shop”, many of us can come to a consensus on what the definitions are of the terms used, regardless of the language used. There is a lot of talk on, and therefore confusion on, symmetrical vs. asymmetrical violence, social vs. asocial violence, whether they are the indeed the same terminology, and what constitutes one over the other. I want to clarify here that these are the definitions and explanations I give, personally, when discussing these terms. If you disagree, vehemently or not, that’s okay. To each his own and I’m not one who’s interested in getting stuck on terminology, as long as we acknowledge that there are unique scenarios involved here. There is some overlap here, admittedly, but I define each of the 4 uniquely from the other 3.

SYMMETRICAL VS. ASYMMETRICAL.

SYMMETRICAL VIOLENCE. As the diagram shows, symmetrical violence would be 2 combatants, agreeing either by stated or implied intent, to “duel.” Over a perceived offense or slight. A female/male interest. Drunken misunderstanding or miscommunication. Interpersonal dislike. And a host of others. Though predominantly illegal in the West, which most don’t seem to acknowledge, it’s a willing participation without outside interference. MMA fights, boxing and kickboxing matches, full-contact karate fights, grappling tournaments, prize fights in general…all symmetrical. Opponent is known. Environment is relatively controlled. Agreement is present. Prior build-up as well.

ASYMMETRICAL VIOLENCE. An altercation where unknown intangibles factor into the outcome. A third-party jumping-in. A sucker punch. Multiple attacker scenarios. An attack by an animal, which changes the dynamic entirely. An ambush where uneven advantage is taken. Weapon-introduction mid-conflict which drastically alters the favor. Obstacles, barriers, or moving parts. This is where things deviate from the standard “mano-y-mano” situation. The same conflict can evolve from symmetrical to asymmetrical seamlessly and without warning or awareness. Just as asymmetrical, upon strong counter-ambush, can at times becomes symmetrical.

SOCIAL VS. ASOCIAL.

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SOCIAL VIOLENCE. Some overlap here from the symmetrical category. The factors that make for social/asocial vs. symmetrical/asymmetrical are location and dynamic. Bars. Public. Social events. Over elements of social consequence and cause. Spilled drinks. Public insult. Things caused by social norms and acceptances that have been broken or crossed. Educational beat-downs and public-exampling would also be included here, even if asymmetrical in nature.

ASOCIAL VIOLENCE. Home invasions. Muggings. Robberies. Kidnappings. Random street assaults. Rape. Isolated, apart from regular society and areas constructs frequented by large public membership or attendance, predominantly. Not caused by social offenses or broken public-acknowledged protocol. It has a goal or motive driven by a criminal means, by nature.

Now, within asocial violence dynamic, we have 2 types of predators, high-order and low-order. High-order are far more dangerous as the stakes are exorbitantly higher. They will kill, maim, rape, or otherwise brutalize the victim to accomplish their objective. Sometimes the act is the objective. Assassins/sicarios, serial-killers, serial-rapists, violent home-invaders, mass murderers…all fall in this category. Some call this a “process predator”, as the process is the focus. They enjoy it, have need for it, crave it, or love the fact they impart deep fear in their victims.

Low-order, though some of the above outcomes may result, due to botched scenario, are decidedly more driven by necessity. Your wallet, your car, home valuables. The less need they have to utilize extreme violence, usually the better. Their goal is to obtain something of need or desperation or survival. Others have called it a “resource predator.” While I’m sure these 4 terms (resource vs. process, high-order vs. low-order) could be separated and broken-down as well, not the scope of this article.

If this doesn’t correspond with your current teaching definitions, that’s fine. The issue is we hear so much industry jargon floated around by industry people that it becomes hard to keep up as explanations or precise definitions are rarely given. (read: unnecessarily complex) The goal is to a) educate yourself and expand your knowledge base so as to become a better teacher yourself, or b) be able to impart that very knowledge in as succinct and easy-to-understand manner to your students as possible without confusing them.

Another major issue is that, as we’ve mentioned, so many self-defense/combatives/martial arts/personal protection instructors give universal catch-all responses to all attacks, regardless of whether the above types of crimes/criminals are factored-in, whether the “attack” is or starts off as psychological/emotional/mental, regardless of social dynamic involved, and regardless of bilateral elements/intangibles present that can drastically alter outcome. (see: context ignored) Cookie-cutter and one-size-fits-all approaches to violence, crime, conflict, or psychological attack are NEVER viable or even valid.

THE INTERNET & SOCIAL MEDIA, PART 1

What if I told you that constant and heavy perusal of social media was a distraction to your self-protection tools? Not the situational and environmental awareness ones we all hear about, but ones that decay gradually over time that subtly deteriorate your innate ability to keep yourself safe?

1. It causes tracking problems….peripheral vision and the ability to split attention on multiple elements that may or may not be important. (And I’m not even talking about the criminal elements or risk-assessment – the general ability to assess and orient on potential dangers and safety hazards, even while not looking at it) Generally, it dulls the senses on multiple levels.

2. It decreases actual communication ability (or capability) or focus on other people you interact with daily, even if the cellphone isn’t in your hand. (causing strain on interpersonal relationships of value or annoying/irritating those you interact with that aren’t)

3. Neurologically, it’s constantly “on your mind”, pervasive in your daily ability to interact in the real world – a very real addiction and how clear do you think a crack-addict is when being cohesive to their actual environment and functionality within it…

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4. It acts as a depressant, having a countering effect to that of exercise, nature, movement, and self-reflection. (increases feelings of loneliness, isolation, and co-dependence)

5. It lowers motivation and vitality. I know, personally, when I’m engrossed online my energy hits slug-like proportions and I have zero proactivity, drive, or life intensity.

6. It increases anxiety, stress, and nervousness, which have a negative effect on your physiological, mental, psychological, and emotional well-being. So, as much as many online keyboard self-defense instructors tell you daily and perpetually that training with them is a necessity, sometimes getting off of social media for a time (or limiting one’s presence) exponentially increases one’s self-care, health, daily “safe” capability, and positive outlook on life. These things, in turn, lower triggers, paranoia, anxiety, and irrational thought processes (negative mind-talk)….long before the online self-defense classes are needed, possibly even making them moot. Just something to think about…could you stay off of social media for a full week, if asked?

DOES YOUR TRAINING CORRELATE TO YOUR DAILY REALITY…

Here, in Costa Rica, there are a number of unique areas where the chance of conflict goes up exponentially in the social-conflict arena.

1. Driving. Due to the exorbitant amount of traffic, traffic jams, bottle-necking, rush hour – a society whose general passivity and passive-aggression is manifested as pure aggression on the roadways. Violence from road rage, entitlement, and lack of driving culture (no driver’s education, loosely-regulated traffic rules, minimal LE enforcement) contribute to likely the highest-percentage chance of engaging in mutual-violence, symmetrical self-defense, or rage-attack. One of the acknowledged worst driving countries in the world, not just the Americas.

2. Alcohol-frequented places, not limited to the stereotypical ones and not nearly with the clear-profile as in Canada/the US. Latinos/Central-Americans drink. A lot. There was even a time open-booze was allowed at a children’s prom I attended, “graduating” grade 8 and moving into high-school. Alcohol plus machista culture plus perpetual-need to be alpha male (especially in front of female) and you have a good chance at being singled-out for various forms of social violence. Most often in the form of: a) match-fighting/dueling/agreed-upon combat, b) projection or posturing for submission, or c) non-lethal surprise “attack” to mark/”brand” or otherwise leaving a “scar” (whether psychological/mental/emotional/spiritual, not nearly always physical – a lesson-giving, we’ll call it a knowledge bomb).

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3. Football. It’s a proven fact here that domestic-violence statistics skyrocket when the national soccer/football team plays – and loses. Men seem to, en masse, get so frustrated at the result of a football game (I’d hazard a strong guess as to say that #2 also factors in here, quite heavily) that they take their frustration (at a football team, some skewed sense of patriotism) on their wives, children, and other men. My own father-in-law and brother-in-law could not watch games in the same room when their local club teams played each other. Hooliganism is also a thing here, where known groups of thugs are “hired” or planted by each team to cause chaos when things go wrong or to create divide, a clear “othering” to enhance the idea it’s not just a football game but so much more. (A man had his skull bashed-in with a cement-block just last year in broad daylight outside the stadium)

The first 2 can often be avoided. The third as well – if you’re not a spouse or child, then it becomes exponentially more difficult, granted, and different fail-safes need to be in-order and available. (there are, thankfully, increasingly more out there now as safe-houses and organizations for women are on the rise and active) The rest are more of the high(er)-order variety – asocial. Robberies. Muggings. Drug-war collateral damage. Home invasions. These can be mitigated to a certain extent as well. (I once had an American friend here who had been mugged/robbed on the street 7 times. 7!! He blamed Tico culture instead of looking inward. If you’ve been mugged 7 times, there’s a pattern you’re emitting that needs self-addressing. It’s not me, it’s you. If after 7 marriages you’re still claiming “haven’t found the right woman”, I have news for you)) These need to be addressed differently, yet I see few (if any) addressing the differences in attack or approach. There’s a one-size-fits-all catch-all mentality that permeates all martial arts/self-defense classes here. And social and asocial violence, symmetrical and asymmetrical attacks (more on these differences in another article), are very different animals that need to be prepped for quite, quite differently.

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My point here, is that the general underlying sentiment from those paranoid and fearful of the country’s violence-prognosis…is askew from their current daily existence. Most citizens tend to generalize and play to media angst-building, surrounding country-comparisons, and paranoia that doesn’t correlate with their own actual life. Compartmentalize and contextualize every scenario of its own volition. What caused it. What contributed to it. What were the intangibles that may have exacerbated it. What were your/the victim’s contributions to it. (an especially hard one for people to healthily dwell-on) Could it be alleviated in your personal circumstances. The 5Ws. Where did it take place. Who were the players involved. What time/when. How did it transpire. Why did it happen to that person.

While these are often seen as detached and somewhat cold….they serve an intrinsic purpose. They’re detached for a reason…so you can see them from a detached (read: unemotional) point-of-view so you can make personal assessments on your own current situation. Think. It’s free.

INDUSTRY PERPLEXITIES

Strange. Not even my the majority of my own (past/present/potential) students read my blog, which contains likely far more important information on staying safe than any physical/fight training I can give them, yet the reverse is (as usual, as has been discussed) true. The physical classes are deemed and perceived as far more important to real-world skills than commentaries that actually have to do with the daily reality of things and things that can be immediately-implemented into their day-to-day to up safety levels. Than books I’ve been asked to testify to. Than friends programs I push. Than the page I ran. Safety, risk-assessment, patterns, self-containment (triggers, breathing, state-awareness), mentality/mindset, pre-crime/pre-conflict assessment (“what would you dos” with complex social interactions and sliding-scale escalation of conflict). Truly a case-study that has piqued my curiosity, the inability to see reality for what it is and get over the “fight-only” hump. To see how many ways there are to stay safe, assess risk, avoid violence, manage conflict, communicate, self-control.

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There’s a ton of free information out there, that can be incorporated into real-life almost immediately, that ups the safety-factor exponentially, and takes far less physical-investment to achieve. Yet they’d rather pay for the physical avenue that most-often has not a thing to do with any threat they’ll face during the extent of the days. It doesn’t correlate with their patterns, routines, interactions, or environments. As one of colleagues stated the other day, “it’s hard to even give this stuff away.” Indeed. I guess I’ll lump this into the “self-defense conundrum” pile that seems to grow ever-bigger with the days.

FEAR EXACERBATION AND KNOWING YOUR LANE

People, unlike the animal kingdom, have justifiable experiential fear triggers both based on something at least partially tangible, and with our human consciousness, some that are not legitimate or rational. That being said, and due to this, we have an abundant numbers of ways that we attempt to overcome or manage our fears (whether effective or not is another story):

1. Simulated-recreation. Scenario-training that replicates the experience(s) as close as is possible to the real or imagined fear to attempt to re-live the original or feared experience and manage it or react differently.

2. Exposure. Picking professions or activities that put one in direct and ongoing contact with the source of the original fear, eventually lessening or eliminating the fear over time.

3. Time. Gradually the fear naturally lowers or is mitigated over time as it is shown to have diminished or obliterated impact the further away from the stimulus it travels.

4. Professional therapy or assistance. Tools are given to lower the fear or put it into contextual accuracy by someone disassociated. Conditioning, inevitably.

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5. Breathing or meditation. Controlling the negative mind-talk that compounds and exacerbates the problem and turns it into something far grander than its origin would’ve dictated. (passive/proactive)

6. Avoidance or evasion. Not addressing the issue in any way and avoiding any situations that could trigger that fear/anxiety. (passive/defensive)

7. Hypnosis/visualization/guided imagery. Designed to lower anxiety and alter thought patterns and state-management to mitigate the physiological effects of the source of the fear.

8. Education, information, and further study. A common sense and pragmatic self-reflection as to why you feel fear at this particular element, understanding fear itself, research on the focal-point/central-concern…all to become more educated by looking through a clear lens.

9. Empowerment. Martial arts classes, self-defense classes, combatives classes. Motivational speeches or seminars. Personal-empowerment classes. “Re-wiring” those cylinders that gave us the original fear and build independent self-confidence apart from the fear as well.

Here, on this list, we have a lot of direct correlations to the counter-violence world as many professionals delve dangerously into areas they’re simply not qualified for…like many listed above. (therapy, psychology, phobia-curing, PTSD-treatment, hypnosis, etc.) Martial arts instructors have a nasty habit of transferring capability to other arenas not within their knowledge base – philosophy, psychology, therapy, mountaintop guru, spiritual guide, life coach, and pretty much everything in-between. In other words, generally not knowing their lane. (We see the other side of this as well through combat-driving, defensive tactics, firearms courses, where instructors/clubs try desperately to “holistic” – your one-stop shop for allll things protective) This all, when done poorly and without actual education and study, runs the gamut from subtly doing psychological damage, creating (far greater) daily paranoia, conditioning unhelpful or even negligent fear-management methods…to the interpersonal side of unhealthy instructor hero worship, a co-reliant relationship, and a cult-like group environment…to outright re-wiring horrible mindsets that end up exacerbating fears exponentially….NONE of which are healthy replacements for the actual original fear-based problem.

Can you tell by an instructor’s (MA/SD/PP/CM/whatever) digital imprint and language if they’re intimating to help alleviate or subtly (or not-so-subtly) add to the fears of potential or current clients? Remember, innate/authentic fear, psychological trauma, and past emotional damage are very intricate and finicky things, hardly the realm of most self-defense instructors with no outside or supplemental training or experience. (though that will be denied thoroughly by most, whose skills transfer over to any number of abundant logical offshoots from traditional martial arts training. I’m a very good defensive driver but it doesn’t make me a combat-driving tactics instructor….) Pay close attention to the type of communication utilized and the hyperbole (or lack thereof if pragmatic and legit…), it’s very revealing as to the method of student retention they aim for. (away from fear…done out of fear….or towards self-reliance and logic)

If they’re peddling selective or isolated statistics, claiming the world is at its most dangerous point in human history, that those without their vaunted “training” are helpless sheep, that they offer something special that no other industry professional does, that they have capabilities “outside their lane”, and don’t address modern elements of personal protection that can educate and ground unheeded fear (legal, ethical, moral, psychological, physiological, fiscal, social, familial)….buyer beware. Or run. Probably better. There are other sources available with half the bluster and twice the credibility.

SOME BILATERAL ELEMENTS OF POTENTIAL HOME INVASIONS & SECURITY SYSTEMS

~I used to tell neighbors who would never “train” in SD/MA that calling the local fire department before the police was more practical as the fire department themselves on neighborhood response registered times of less than 5 minutes. LE had a 7-minute response time and our home security provider at the time, ADT, one of 33 minutes that they prided themselves on. (as mentioned, either the home invader or I will be long dead in that time, should it come to that point, and with an average neighborhood house around 900-1200 square-feet in size, there’s not a lot of time between entry and engagement.) The local fire department was 2 streets over with members predominantly living in the neighborhood, the closest police station 7-8. Translation? Don’t rely on LE bailing you out in a bind.

~We were forced to use an alternate provider as the house we bought had a multi-year contract in their usage and could not be broken by a new homeowner, something we weren’t privy to nor did we think of with all the other complexities and bureaucracy of buying a new house. We had another provider we had used previously whose response time was far superior, the response was more “impactful”, and the monitoring system was more efficient. Unfortunately, we were threatened with legal action should we break the contract, something which we were not privy to prior to purchasing the house. Something to ask. Not all providers are the same and sometimes the security contract comes with the house.

~Neighbors. We got to know our neighbors and there was a neighborhood watch group in-place. Again, layers of defense. You don’t have to have them over for a barbecue but a simple rapport and (real or feigned) establishment a unified “cause” or concern can build an “us vs. them” attitude about “those who try and infiltrate our neighborhood.”

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~Some alarm systems only monitor the one floor of a multi-story house. With our previous house in central Canada, the alarm did not trigger when someone broke in downstairs, and we had windows at ground level of a basement. So, in the house, climb the stairs, in the kitchen, 30 feet from the master bedroom, 20 & 25 from the kids’ bedrooms. Not a lot of reaction time while in deep sleep mid-night.

~Guns in Canada were not as easy as in the U.S. and Costa Rica. Gun locked away from ammunition, ammunition locked up with a padlock with code, both away from bedroom. When I used to say a samurai sword was a more viable weapon in the middle of the night than a handgun, people laughed….but it was the truth. Grab scabbard, pull sword from scabbard, swing, repeat steps a through c. Know your accessible weapons and what’s more viable in a pinch….it may not be the modern, technologically-advanced one.

~We had someone on the roof at one point and the alarm we had then did not go off. Do you practice low-light proprioception? Controlling your breathing and calming yourself emotionally pre-entry? Finding your way around your architecture, angles, geometric shapes, barricades, obstacles, cover, and concealment possibilities? Nobody should know home-base more effectively, innately, and efficiently than you.

~I hear many stating bravely “If my alarm goes off, and I hear a burglar outside, I’ll go out and take care of business/kick someone’s ass!” Why exactly, if you have prep (alarm/woken-up/burglars outside), when you have all the advantages (time, blueprint/layout, vantage points/entry knowledge, surprise, waiting response, people (hopefully) on the way) would you give it a-l-l up to go outside to their advantage and engage….

Just some things to ponder…

THE MACHISMO MYTHOS

Well, after 8 years of living in Central America/Costa Rica, I think I have a pretty good knowledge base to write on the powerful entity that is machismo at this point. Where ta’ start….

First of all, after those 8 years, I’m still as perplexed as ever as to why it has such a foothold and why both sexes reinforce it so desperately. Yet, here we are, it’s invasive, and pervasive, in every aspect of modern living. Business. Relationships. Perception. Social constructs. Religion. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. The perplexing part is that it has no legitimate relevance in any viable social construct. It’s inevitably baseless and foundation-less. It’s an outdated and archaic methodology built on sand.

The more machista the man, the more reverence he seems to have in society….yet that machista is like carrying a gun around, bragging that you have it, showcasing it at every turn so people don’t fuck with you…..but knowing innately that it has no bullets. It means getting away with treating your wife poorly, cheating on her (because you can and everybody else does, of course, it’s the benefit of being married)…..but not having a bloody clue how to treat her as an equal, interact with her, protect her, cultivate her capability, or revel in her success. It’s carrying your balls in your hand at every possible opportunity and exhibiting them to other men in as many social circumstances as you’re able…..but not having a bloody clue how to act as a strong, self-confident, comfortable masculine figure. It’s having a big truck, dangerous dog, nice clothes, and bling to showcase your material accomplishment….but not being able to articulate why it’s important, show kindness and grace to others less fortunate, or keep your ego in-check because of insecurities, paranoia, and self-revile. And what’s the bigger discovery for me here is…..women reinforce it as strongly as men do.

Women tear down strong women, decisive, confident women regularly for their comfortable sexuality, for their business acumen, for their projected self-confidence….because it’s a direct threat to the old-school patriarchy and their own ranking status within that hierarchy. That was an amazing discovery for me. Insecurity all the way around. (Keeping in mind that in Costa Rica, it’s far more subtle in its application as society, in general, is more passive-aggressive, more subtle, less-brazen, and less violence-driven than the surrounding nations)

Take even the recent bank shooting. A well-off Costa Rican businessman with a long-standing successful business cheaps-out and refuses to use the pretty well-trained armored-car services in the country to transport his funds to the bank. Instead he gets a regular female-civilian to do it for him. She (imagine) gets attacked and robbed by the husband/2 sons of a woman who works for him, who’s transferred this private info to the 3 to benefit, at the expense of the other woman’s safety.

Now, I’ll admit that, because I’m a) a foreigner, b) a self-confident, shoe-comfortable, c) loves and supports the evolution of his own wife’s accomplishments, d) isn’t a cheater, e) it fairly outspoken on equality….I have zero male friends here. Unlike in Canada, I’m actually quite comfortable and non-resentful of that fact. I’ve had my car keyed, my reputation trashed and slandered, smear campaigns, a car flying up threateningly-fast behind me while jogging, 3rd-party threats, avoided like the plague. BUT. But I’ve never had a man here come up to me and say “I don’t like how you are/what you say/how you act, and I want to talk to you about it.” Once. It’s a secret, passive-aggressive, ongoing psychological campaign to give disrepute….all in the name of reinforcing the current stereotype. Festering. Resentful. Bitter. Uncomfortable. Self-loathing. I can do little but find it intrinsically comical all along the way. Because it also comes across as helpless and desperate due to a deep-seated insufficiency. It’s an archaic vision of being a man in modern times and you know there’s little they can do anything about it as it’s so internally-ingrained through the generations, with so much to live up to the past versions….that they’re trapped with their own obligation, misplaced in time.

For those of you in North America who continually remind me that “toxic masculinity” isn’t as substantial a thing back home as the media or certain political-wings would have you believe…I can assure you hear it’s a pretty real thing. (though I dislike that term as it makes it look like if you touch it, you get infected and that New-Agers have copped a modern term for something old and historic) I openly told a friend of mine a while back that I loved going out with my wife and her friends for drinks and chats when we do….as long as no men are present. With lads present, I know it’ll be a night-long peacock show of attemped-oneupmanship. Continually a competition of areas in life I find utterly unimportant and not at all part of my rapport. One time I remember clearly a man at our table asking me if I “allowed” my wife to act a certain way in public and if I “helped-out” with house chores (dishes/meals/laundry, etc.) Upon answering that my wife can “act” however the fuck she wants when we’re out and I do, indeed, “do my equal share” at home….I received a scoff and a side-handed comment on my femininity. I let it go and moved on. However, when he interjected snidely again and asked me what I did for a living, my response “I teach people arms and counter-violence skills when I’m not instructing a security team…you?” increased my much-appreciated space bubble proportions sufficiently that I was able to enjoy the rest of my drink(s) in peace. Subliminal-messaging. Effective as well as unresponsive.

Now, to be clear (and fair), this is not solely prevalent here or in other Latino or Central-American countries. We have it back home too. My dad is from an older generation and different era so when he passes the odd (he’s gotten much better, he’s learning) sexist comment, while I don’t give a free hall-pass, I can somewhat understand where it comes from. Here, two generations on, and it permeates everything as it always has. There are signs of change and, to be more fair, some wonderful family men I’ve met that have worked very hard at not falling into the same stigmas and paradigms. They suffer and struggle here but they’ve been rewarded with good marriages, wonderful kids, and a solid, happy home life. They are still the exception to the rule, though, and made aware of it with regularity….because it makes others uncomfortable and akin to their jeans not fitting.

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So, back to our current situation. It culminated yesterday, while jogging and listening to a quick audio from a friend as I started, in a car of a noted “enemy” (in his head) of mine’s wife zooming up behind me quickly and intentionally to scare me, my 7-year old son yelling from across the street to warn me, and me jumping out of the way in time to see the woman zip by smirking. (I know, my bad, it was in an enclosed compound away from public traffic so I lulled) Did I almost get hit by a car? I dunno, I’m really not sure. (I’m not good at ambiguous messaging) Instead of the man stating there’s a problem, we have the wife of that man sending out a (not-so) subtle threat defending her territory to understate that there’s a problem. How defining of the machismo dynamic. The woman acting on behalf of the man to send out that message…..so the man can remain self-sufficient in the public eye without doing anything and without personal risk to body or reputation. A dialogue or discussion (or even confrontation) where face can be lost here is not a pride issue that simply goes away with time like in Canada or the U.S. Here it’s potentially-lasting and potentially-damaging. It exhibits the weakness but it’s reinforced as strength by other men in his comfort-sphere, also insecure should the pride-damage have been them. When not reinforced by a foreigner, or national who’s had alternate conditioning, or a strong woman who chooses not to play…they bond together to protect their societal status. It’s truly quite an amazing thing to see. But it’s clearly a conscious construct, as it sure has the restraint methods prevalent and on-display during tourism season. Opinions and viewpoints are kept to oneself. Treatment of foreign women that wouldn’t usually be afforded to one’s own wife and/or daughter(s), shown openly and graciously. Noted problems with femicide (that’s a thing, and I learned that term here, not in NA) and misogyny, downplayed with a smile and over-exaggeration claim, citing often that because we had a female president here a short time ago and the first African-Caribbean female VP, it should demonstrate how far we’ve come and that that is simply not the case. (based on that)

Now, does this have any value or benefit in modern society? Sure. If everybody buys in and backs the theory…but that’s starting to change. Women’s movements, the LGBTQ community, progressive-minded men, growing expat communities all will put a dent in this construct in the future. However, old boys’ clubs die hard and, as this is so ingrained, it will take slow progression over the course of generations to slowly lessen its impact. But it’s coming. And it couldn’t come soon enough. For those here who feel uncomfortable and upset about this article, you’re more than welcome to reach out and…..oh, right…never mind, apologies, let me re-phrase. You’re welcome to stew quietly or have your wife contact me with a complaint letter. (have your people memo mine)

MIND MOVIES

We play movies in our minds daily. We play potential scenarios unfolding or that have unfolded. Playbacks of “audio tracks” that were said to us, that we said to others. Feelings that we re-live from both past traumas and past joys. They impact our states, frames, triggers, and emotions. What we allow in our heads at any point during the day can shift our thinking and affect our behavior.

I equate this in the same way that movies, television programs, series, documentaries affect the way we think on a variety of things. If watching horror movies gives you anxiety, paranoia, and causes you to look at everyday people with a skeptical, distrusting eye…do you change permanently your entire view of humanity based on Hollywood hyperbole? Or do you stop watching horror movies that put you in an unhealthy state?

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This is actually an area I feel quite comfortable talking about as it’s been a lifelong problem for me, personally. Some of the regular favorites include: “I’m not capable”, “This won’t work”, “That can’t last”, “I can’t take this guy”, “That’d never happen”, “I’m not qualified as a father.” And so-on-and-so-forth. I then proceed to play the “video” of what that non-reality would look like in my mind. What then happens is a perceived actuality, where the untruth becomes so vivid your emotions boil over and make their way into the really-real world – affecting your interpersonal relationships, behavior, capability, and trust. Oh, right, and start becoming a burden to others around you who had mistakenly thought that everything was okay. (I think the correct term is “progressive self-sabotage.” I have a lot of experience with this. Seen professionals, I have. Taken medication, I had to. Suffered from depression, I willed myself. (And it all started upstairs, NOT on the solid ground of life itself.)

We all have “mental fortresses” that need to be protected at all times. Unwanted thoughts. Negative future outcome visualizations. Unconnected ideas that conclude in untruths that aren’t in existence and have little or no chance of being. All are extremely unhealthy to mental health, our personal relationships, and positive functioning throughout our days. Be constantly vigilant to the thoughts going on in your head. But how? There are the usual culprits: meditation, qi gong/tai chi, yoga, etc. that everybody claims to be supernatural and all-encompassing (cancer-curing, even), but let’s go down some different avenues as, for many, these methods don’t resonate particularly well with all the mysticism, magic, and exaggerated bullshit they often bring. Some like it a little more immediate, visceral, and knee-jerk.

  1. Mindfulness. Be conscious, aware. Make note (or notes) of what triggers especially explosive reactions, bad thoughts, and chain-thinking where multiple unrelated elements are made to make one big negative (and erroneous) conclusion. As you’re now conscious of them….you’re also capable of wiping them away with logic and pragmatism, reinforcing to yourself that they’re not happening (or not happening now, at least, and then is then), they’re not real, and by thinking this way you may actually will them to happen.
  2. Positive triggers. (“Triggers” is always linked with “bad” or “negative”) Link bad passing thoughts to a positive image, memory, trigger word, or physical action to gain back your thought process. Re-configuring connections with positive replacements for the negative ones can be a powerful tool to regain control of the gerbil wheel. I knew a guy who, every time he started thinking negatively, pinched the webbing between his thumb and index finger, and then automatically clearing his mind. Bad trigger-physical stimuli-overruling good trigger. Re-programming the system, as it were.
  3. Mantras. Verbal, and achievable, reinforcement of a mission statement, general or specific. Out loud. Often. To put that mission back at the forefront of current thought. If done effectively – and an important part of that is their being achievable – mantras can start to change inner-dialogue.
  4. Exercise. I find when I go out for a long run, strength exercises, stretching….immediately the daily stresses and annoyances part ways with my head. Exercise cleanses and much science is starting to back this in a profound way. Movement is life and can have immediate effects on your state-of-mind. So move. Run. Walk. Train. Play. Dance. Jump. Roll. Push. Pull. Whatever. Get moving. Now. Not soon. Or one day. Or tomorrow. Or later.
  5. Breathing. Pick your rhythm, one that’s comfortable and natural to your breathing style. There are a hundred different “top-level” breathing methods that claim catch-all effectiveness on the market. None of them know you, your physical condition, lung-size, pace, cardiovascular system. Pick a rhythm that you can sync your system too quickly and effectively when blood pressure and heartbeat rise from inner thoughts.
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Negative self-talk can be debilitating. It can create imaginary crises, counter-productive states, and growing distrust with those you love or traditionally trust…..not to mention crumble your self-confidence and groundedness. However, unlike triggers, they’re usually not immediate and explosive – they’re often slow-building and do their cumulative damage over time, which also means that preparing for them can offer some solutions that are also progressive and easier to implement – if you’re adherent to them.

Remember, only you have final say as to what’s put in your mind. As the saying goes, don’t let anyone else – or anything – rent space in your head. Especially if they’re imaginary or self-defeating.

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