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Ask Anything: 10 questions with self-defense expert Kathy Olevsky

Self-defense expert Kathy Olevsky answers your questions about fighting an attacker, when to run away and defense classes for kids.

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Kathy Olevsky
What is your advice for the best self-defense tactic if someone enters your home threatening harm while you are at home with your children? – Brooke, Wake Forest

That is a great question, Brooke. Many women would like to know the answer to that question.

Without a doubt, the first thing you should do is call 911. Stay on the phone with 911 and they will tell you what to do. If you are threatened before you can get to a phone, put yourself between the attacker and your children. This will allow you the time to think, while not concentrating on the safety of your children. Mothers can’t think clearly when their children are in danger.

You must first analyze the situation and find out if you are in physical peril. If they have a weapon, unfortunately, my only advice is going to be to do whatever they ask you to do. You have to think about life first. Even with a weapon, if you keep as calm as possible, there may come a moment when they are not focused on the weapon and you have an opportunity.

I always tell women to look around your house, in every room, for something that you could use to assist yourself in your defense. An ordinary household object gives women more power. If you can pick up a lamp, a broom, a baseball bat, or a fireplace utensil, any of these items can be used to help you out. Do this today, don’t wait until you could be attacked. Be prepared, not scared.

I also tell all women, you will feel more confident if you do things to build your confidence. We all give a lot of thought to becoming a mother or a worker outside the home and we educate ourselves to meet the responsibilities of those jobs. Why not consider your ability to defend yourself, just as much of a need for further education?

Should you always run when an attacker has a gun? – Amy Scalia, Raleigh

You have to make your own personal decision on this topic. My rule, for myself, is to do what the attacker says if the weapon is pointed at me, making (avoiding) loss of life my priority. However, in my women’s self defense classes, I also tell the students that if an attacker has a weapon and he is going to put me in a car, I’ll die fighting in the parking lot, rather than be taken away. The statistics on surviving an armed abduction are slim.

I have always worried about waking in the middle of the night to find someone in my bedroom. I have an alarm system and keep my cell phone charging next to my bed. What else should I do? – Susan, Dunn
Susan, your concern is shared by most women. First of all, you have done a great job by being proactive with an alarm system and your mobile phone. When women have this fear, they often need to walk through their home from all points of entry and see where they feel vulnerable. Let’s face it, you are not worried about the criminal coming in through a brick wall.

Many people feel that windows make them vulnerable. Sometimes it is just as simple, with windows, to place obstacles in front of them making the home invasion more difficult. If your windows all have locks, and window coverings, it makes it harder for a criminal to decide to enter into unknown territory. They like to be able to look in. If you need more security with your windows, hang plants in front of them. Some women place nicknacks on the window sills to make them feel better. The thought is that the criminal would see the increased difficulty of getting in the window without noise.

If your doors make you feel vulnerable, check them for deadbolts. I mean check all of them! Some people have deadbolts on the front and back door, but not the entrance from their garage. This one is just as important. If glass doors make you nervous, then you might need to switch them to a different type of door, or get them covered. Designers are very able to enhance the décor of your home while installing something that covers glass doors.

What is your weight, and what do you do when confronted with a person that has a large weight/strength advantage? – Randy Yates, Fuquay-Varina

This is an interesting question Randy. I know that most people think that weight and strength have a lot to do with domination in a self-defense situation. In fact, there are many things you can do, that counter the strength or size of an opponent.

The techniques are very simple, but take practice. I personally teach that for an opponent who is stronger or taller, you have to outsmart them in a fight. Since I teach Karate, and it is a defensive art, the object would be to stay out of their way and to use their own size against them.

Size and strength are not all there is to winning a fight. Take the example of the 2-year-old child. Have you ever tried to hold on to a 2-year-old who wanted to get to the floor? They wiggle and contort their bodies with no fear until they squirm out of the grasp of a full grown man. So, sometimes the answers are actually very unconventional.

What would be the single best self-defense tip/maneuver/move you could give a small-framed 60-year-old woman who is in relatively good physical condition? – Jane Mull, Goldsboro

Jane, I have to tell you that the very first rule of self defense is RUN! So, the fact that you are in relatively good physical condition is great! Before all else, run.

In my women’s self defense classes, my favorite technique for close quarters attack scenarios is the attack to the knee. In most situations, you can find it possible to kick the opponent’s knee. There are a lot of other techniques you can learn, and any one of them might apply to a particular situation.

But, I’d have to say that in 90 percent of the attack scenarios that we go through, the knee is always available for attack. I try to teach women not to waste their efforts on things that are myths of self defense, rather than techniques that actually work.

I want to know the difference between Tae Kwon Do and Karate. What are the benefits to both? What should I look for when researching where to enroll my kids? Thank you. – Laurie Powell, Wake Forest

Laurie, the important part is that you actually research your options. So, great job for looking into it before you leap. Karate and Tae Kwon Do are very similar arts. They would both be a good starting place for martial arts for your children.

The most important part of starting your children in martial arts classes is to know who is teaching your children and what type of curriculum is used in that particular program. Parents should search out a program that has instructors who teach in a way that is similar to their parenting beliefs.

If you are very strict with your children, then a martial arts program with a very militaristic instructor would work fine for you. If, on the other hand, your parenting type is compassionate and reward based, you would want a school that practices that type of instruction.

Most good martial arts schools put students in “age specific” classes. In other words, we put children in groups with other children that are their same age and experience level. We have an 8-to-1 student to instructor ratio. We train our teachers to use a method called “praise, correct, praise." In other words, we correct them, but in a method that builds their self esteem.

Many years ago, the traditional way to teach martial arts, was to criticize until they got it right. Some schools still use that method. Most good martial arts schools and programs will have a two week or short term type program to let you sample the classes before you enroll them.

With self-defense, such as a home burglar or a home invasion, what is legally defined as self-defense in this case and not assault? – C B, Raleigh

What a great question. Honestly, I am not qualified to answer this question, but I know someone who is. I contacted my good friend Dr. Mike Teague, a criminal forensic psychologist, who worked with the Raleigh Police Department for more than 30 years.

Here is Dr. Teague’s answer:

“North Carolina state law gives anybody the right for self defense, ANYWHERE. They only need to be in fear of their life or protection. The common myth believed more than the fact is, if an invader is crawling through your window and you shoot him and he falls in the grass; you need to pull the dead body into the house. NO, NO, NO! If one does that the police will see that you have 'staged' the scene; and they are more likely to arrest you. Again, you can defend yourself ANYWHERE; in or out of the house. The term 'home invasion' signifies that the intruder is guilty of 'breaking and entering' your house; and he may assault you. Similarly, if Joe Citizen comes home in the front door of his house, and sees Bruno the Burglar running out the back door with Joe's TV; and Joe shoots Bruno; Joe will be charged with attempted murder. Joe cannot use deadly force simply protecting Joe's property."

So, according to Dr. Teague, protect yourself, but let the property go!

I heard about a pepper spray that would shoot 15-20 feet that was recommended for women to keep in their home (i.e. rather than a gun). What do you recommend and where do I buy it? Thanks! – Wendy Hart, Wake Forest

I heard about that type of long stream pepper spray as well. I am not a big proponent of pepper spray or mace, but that sure sounds good to me!

First let me explain to you, Wendy, why I am not real big on pepper spray or mace. I find that most people who carry this type of device, carry it hidden, hoping never to have to use it. I tell women, plain and simple, it does no good in the bottom of your purse. If you are going to carry it on your person, carry it with your finger on the trigger and hold it out in front of you for all the world to see! After all, you don’t want to be a victim, so portray yourself as a fight, not a victim.

Your question was, would it be a better idea than a gun in your house? Guns are a very interesting subject. I believe everyone has to come to their own decision on gun safety. There are many gun safety experts out there that will tell you that the gun is the best line of defense in your home.

I am not a gun safety expert, and, in fact, I am not knowledgeable in the areas of guns at all. I think the pepper spray could make you feel safer in your home, without the worry of having a gun. If that is true, it is the right choice for you.

I have two kids (ages 4 and 15). How old should kids be when they start martial arts training (especially since he's a boy, I'm picturing destroyed furniture) and do you know of any "date self-defense" training for teen girls? Is there such a program, maybe one or two days long? – Karen Gamble, Raleigh

Karen, children can benefit greatly in many areas from martial arts training. Three- to 5-year-olds can use what appears to be Karate techniques to develop their balance, gross motor skills, attention span and their general ability to stay in a class with a teacher telling them what to do! Schools usually don’t teach anything that would help them destroy the furniture or attack the family dog. Most good martial arts schools will spend time reviewing this and reinforcing it with the children.

There are great classes for teen girls. They are different than those for women. However, I will tell you the same thing I tell lots of other mothers. The one or two lesson self defense courses are better than nothing. They are useful for a portion of our population that will never give more attention to self defense than the one or two hours in their lifetime.

But, in truth, there are much better options. There is nothing in the world better than knowing your daughter can handle herself physically. I watched a 12-year-old female student get her Black Belt this weekend. I have no doubt that her parents have never felt better in their life about a decision they made than the day they brought her in to learn Karate.

So, if all you can do is a two-hour class, then do it! If you can do more, enroll your daughter in a quality martial arts program for teenagers and watch her bloom into a more confident and comfortable young woman. It generally takes two to three years, attending two to three hours a week.

Have you ever gone back and beat up bullies from your high school days? – R. Taylor, Raleigh
Well, I guess the first thing I need to do is to ask if we went to high school together, here in Raleigh? That could take this answer in a whole different direction! But, I’m guessing you want to know if I feel I should beat people up now that I have spent my whole adult life in the Martial Arts. Nope.

Karate is a defensive art. My plan in life, has always been to avoid conflict. Most people who are in the martial arts profess to be the same. We don’t want to fight. And, by the way, I went to Sanderson in Raleigh in the 70s and, honestly, I don’t remember any bullies!

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