combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 06 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2008

A Modest Proposal

"The prospect of immanent danger has a marvelous way of focusing the mind!"

There's great childhood entertainment in playing an amusing game of blind man's bluff, but as adults we soon learn that some people play for keeps with real victims. Vision is indisputably man's most important sense, and eye-contact has a bearing upon most interactions ... which is why some criminals blindfold or mask their victims, thus accentuating dependency, increasing anguish, and dehumanizing the act. Statistics[1] show that the average person has a low crime risk, and that dangers can often be either avoided or prevented; but disabled persons, by virtue of their obvious limitations and conspicuous presence, are very appealing to some types of criminals.

With all the fanfare about civil liberties and the furor about legal entitlements for the handicapped, there is still a need for constitutional privacy, for protection against uncivil liberties. Few disabled persons are stereotypical paradigms, and many of us are frustrated by discriminatory disparities, but most of us regard egalitarianism as an opportunity to adjust qualitatively. In the simplest of terms, we seek the right not to be typecast and the privilege to become private individuals. As a combat-blinded veteran coping with everyday adjustments to ever changing circumstances, this is an unabashedly modest proposal for realistic self-defense that enhances self-esteem and personal autonomy.

In a very real manner, criminals violate the civil rights of their victims ... by denying them peace, liberty, and security. Elderly and disabled persons are prime candidates for victimization because they are, generally, so utterly defenseless. Criminal motivation is exceedingly complex, so a barricaded life of fearful denial is no guaranty. Statistically, most violent crimes involve a woman victimized by a known male perpetrator. The inept criminal justice system, and its arcane procedures, will not abet or ameliorate recovery. The analogy of a modern society resembling a vicious jungle populated by wild animals is far more credible than the ingenuously utopian vision of advanced species inhabiting a civilized haven.

Given the anxieties of a highly technical, highly mobile, and overly bureaucratic society, that is confused by contradictory tension-release or stress-escape mechanisms, there is little wonder at our common plight. The premise of my modest proposal is that disabled persons are not unable, but merely other-able. Furthermore, law is not the sole vehicle of social engineering, and is not the principal standard of ethics. I therefore modestly propose that blind persons assist themselves by acting in defense and protection of their precious lives.

The greatest quibble against this modest proposal will be that the feeble and infirm cannot be classed with the super-blind. With notable exceptions, I beg to differ. Having studied martial arts during and after military service, I dispute this skepticism with the rationale that man has always fought best with his brain, and that the intelligent combatant is wary. Sometimes it takes only a small demonstration to quickly educate an adversary. The best advice for winning a confrontation is to avoid it! Unfortunately, a disabled person is easily stalked by an able one; and refined techniques may be overwhelmed by brute force. The fact of the matter is that most blind people are elderly, are female, retain some useful vision or perception, and also have other or complicating physical problems. However, the blind population also includes young athletes, including collegiate wrestlers, and active adult professionals. An ancient Taoist parable recounts the training of a gamecock, which consisted entirely of developing its majestic comportment to the point that no opponent would dare to approach it! Thus, the first lesson in self-defense is self-control.

Too often the concept of self-control conjures a rigid, aloof, unemotional, or sour person who's painfully awkward. The discipline we want to cultivate is to direct our energies, rather than suppress them. It's more than maximizing our will power, since we want to channel the course of our limited resources ... and rest assured that everyone's resources are finite or restricted, regardless of classification or category. This is the same kind of mental preparation which enables us to overcome improbable odds ... first in the mind, then in reality. Guarding this internal resource is as important as not misusing it. Aikido masters have demonstrated prodigious feats of strength, and Zen masters have wrecked the scales purporting to measure brain waves, but these are only examples of limited application. One's primary weapon against foes should be a dignified self-possession. If one pretends competence with arrogant aggression, then the offensive broadcast will rebound, to the detriment of the poseur. So one must cultivate a balanced presence which projects neither hostility nor timidity.

The next lesson in self-defense involves the resolution of attitude. Together with mental discipline, the private resolution of sensitive attitudes, with social and ethical implications, are fundamental to good character development ... and critical to emotionally surviving assault. To pursue further training, one must confront the possibilities, and resolve all pertinent doubts before the situation compels a decision. Since most blind people are female, a generalization is in order ... although my observations extend to many men as well. Women usually have less gross-strength than men but more endurance; however, the essential difference between the sexes is that women are both more reluctant to accept pain and more hesitant to inflict pain; but are also better suited for both. There is no dispute that tribal women around the world were tougher than modern ladies, that certain cultures or circumstances have produced lethal female warriors, and that a few hard-case tattooed mamas in our own milieu can kick-ass with the best of 'em; but the generalization stands!

The problem is that offering no defense is probably safer for the average person, being statistically less injurious or traumatic, than attempting an inadequate partial defense. Putting-up only half-resistance may make the attacker angry enough to do some terrible damage. In other words, just as in fighting on the battlefield, fair play and time-out don't exist in the criminal arena ... although rematch is a distinct possibility for a sadist. Remember that social conventions do not apply in most conflicts, and anyone sufficiently depraved to deliberately victimize an obviously handicapped person won't respect any normative rules; so while non-resistance may forestall conventional attacks, it will probably exacerbate the ministrations of the weak or perverted criminal. A potential victim must decide ahead of time just how much limited risk and unlimited damage they will endure, if any. Knowing that the name of the game is you bet your life convinces me to play it totally and completely, with winner take all. It is my considered belief that someone is only as defenseless as one wants to be!

The next phase is physical training. If, after due consideration, you are going to fight, then you must be prepared to endure some level of punishment, and to exercise some level of exertion. Blind rock-climbers tend to fall into two basic categories: those who are petrified by their imaginations, and those who are less fearful due to the absence of visual-input ... and so it is with fighters. A feint or diversion won't work on a motivated blind boxer, but the mere thought of being hammered, without the ability to protect oneself, will terrify another. A regimen of physical training doesn't mean a fascist boot camp nor a yuppie aerobics spa, but rather optimum physical conditioning. Motility and agility are much more important than hardened callouses and bulging muscles, than retarded pulse and deprivation exhilaration. Likewise, pre-test pummeling as an alleged preparation for uncontrolled violence is simply a masochistic exercise ... only pugilists and infantrymen are repeatedly subjected to such abuse. Good physical fitness promotes self-confidence and encourages balanced temperament. Excessive calisthenic training is tedious and inefficient, thus counterproductive by abandonment. If physical training and optimal preparation are mortifying, then one either needs further rehabilitation for greater independence, or assignment to some form of protective guardianship in a cloistered environment.

With the onset of a disability, one's character and personality doesn't change, and instincts don't evaporate ... a blind man is still a man. Exercise and manual labor will help to dissipate some of the ordinary tensions and tedium associated with impairments ... even nursing homes have begun instituting dirt therapy in small garden plots for their residents with impressive results in diminished medication, increased alertness, and improved attitude. Many agencies and offices are recognizing the medical benefits and elevated morale when exercise time is scheduled into the daily routine. During rehabilitation, when frustrations threatened my equilibrium, I found weight-lifting and pounding a punching-bag to be a socially acceptable manner of expelling anger that would otherwise make me vulnerable. Not only does physical conditioning make anyone better able to cope with an unexpected circumstance, such as an accident or confrontation, the practice makes reactions smoother and more exact.

The fourth lesson is usually where most combat courses begin: techniques. There is a deterrent value in offensive posturing, in assuming the on guard posture at the instant of initial threat. This response involves considerable training and strict vigilance ... a procedure having reportedly saved at least one blind person from a vicious mugging[2] ... and therefore is beyond our modest and limited defensive concern. Suffice it to say that combat isn't a game wherein one's opponent will tolerate ineffective ploys; and weapons aren't toys that may be indiscriminately waived at suspected or imaginary antagonists. Getting people to pay attention and retain necessary skills, without immediate danger or hysterical paranoia, is essential to survival. Too many victims seek remedial training after the fact ... it's human nature, but still erroneous. Furthermore, far too many people trust objects for their secure protection, instead of managing their own skills, which can't be mislaid or misused. There are few things as randomly and universally dangerous as an untrained person with a deadly weapon ... then factor panic into the scenario for an instant disaster! In other words, there is no quick and easy solution to personal safety or self-defense.

The most important part of technique is tactics. Remember, any doubts and questions were resolved at the earlier attitudinal phase, so we are now dealing with uncompromising problem solving methodologies. Because man is an ostensibly rational animal, it's natural to speculate about causes or reasons, but such knowledge is immaterial, if not counterproductive, when resolving an urgent threat ... and if there's time to negotiate conflict resolution modalities, then the impending crisis isn't urgent! The social genesis or criminal pathology of an assailant is like the etiology of international relations during an incursion ... perhaps quite interesting and informative, but not germane to remedying the immediate incident. The fact that some people victimize the weak to empower or encourage themselves is not relevant to one's survival of an exigency.

The basic tactical rules for combat are: decision, aggression, and speed. One must rapidly assess the situation, determine one's options, decide on a technique, and immediately dispatch that decision. Part of serious in-depth training involves the conscious recognition of altered conditions and various means of modification or accommodation. When one has determined that a violation, confrontation, or provocation exists, do NOT brag or threaten, argue or debate, complain or plead ... just execute an immediate and unhesitating dynamic defense! Act, act thoroughly, but act rightly.

After one's adrenalin is pumping and action is initiated, try to intimidate, confuse, disorient, or frighten the adversary. Avoid being predictable ... try to surprise or startle him. Make alot of noise, including ki shouts, when counterattacking; because stealth and echo-location now have reverse values. The rationale for this procedure is to benefit the blind defender as much as possible. If the court later gets involved, any preliminary aggressive act or talk can be construed or misconstrued as sufficient warrant for the attack; thus shifting some blame onto an innocent party. But more practically, the assailant's location and movements, which sounds are key indicators for blind defense, will be masked by premature speech or movement. Once the battle is joined, excessive noise (which, believe me, you will not hear anyway!) may alert professionals or attract assistance.

A bad day can be depressing and distracting, but inattention can invite a criminal to make it much worse. A fellow veteran, confronted in a remote passageway, relieved his frustration on two armed muggers who wouldn't believe that he had a headache and wasn't in the mood to be messed with, putting them both in the hospital, but he's the exception to the rule. Not only can posture and alertness clue an assailant to bide his time for easier prey, but one can signal subtle awareness and preliminary preparedness. As some plain-clothes detectives flap their coat at the first sign of danger to ensure their weapon is clear for drawing, so the average citizen may check his arsenal, real or implied. One cannot display any armaments without jeopardy or brandish a weapon with impunity, but direct and glaring eye-contact will warn away most people. An intense stare of more than five-seconds duration is itself a personal confrontation, and blindness is a real advantage in this blink contest. One must not only use all knowledge and ability, but must remain aware of any potential resources, including exits. The objective is not random seek and destroy predation, but rather arrive alive survival. Techniques are typically subdivided into armed or unarmed methods; both of which require extensive practice to gain competence and proficiency. Armed techniques are the conventional simple solution, and the litany of legal and illegal, lethal and humane or safe, manufactured and improvised weaponry is impressively vast. One's attitude about limited risk is a major consideration in using a weapon. Although the lore is replete with tales of multiple-wound survival, and even persistent resistance, my experience is that no wound or injury is so small or slight that it will not kill or maim someone, instead of only hampering them. Given recent judicial interpretations, a blind person employing a firearm or knife or spray or stun-probe or bludgeon in a self-defense plea has as much (or as little) chance of successful exoneration as a sighted person. To prevent being easily disarmed, and thus a victim of one's own weapon, a blind person will have to modify the usual weapon out front posture or weapon leading practice. Weapon ownership poses two crucial problems: intent and availability. In the opinion of the court, mere possession of a self-defense weapon shows hostile intent; and to carry it concealed without a permit is a further violation. Anyone who displays his arsenal, or uses it to threaten or intimidate another, is both a fool and a coward; and deserves censure. A weapon should be unsuspected, brandished ONLY after all else has failed, and then, as a last resort, used precisely and expertly. The problem with most weapons is that they are inconvenient, and therefore unavailable when finally needed. Paranoids will cache them everywhere, just in case, but the rest of us will just have to improvise.

Improvisation is an art in itself, which some have made into a lifestyle. Improvised self-defense can span the gamut from carbonated drink sprays and prickly shrub bouquets to rolled-magazine batons and jewelry fist ornaments. A belt or credit card will buttress and intensify a strike; a shoe or purse will reinforce a block and insulate a punch better than an exposed hand, which is easily damaged. The long-cane, in its various rigid and folded forms, is an excellent weapon[3] masquerading as a mobility device. I know an athletic braille teacher who carries a custom-made stainless-steel cane for its increased rigidity and weight, and for its concomitant protection. Security stations have lately begun inspecting my Hoover long-cane to ensure its relative innocence, but it's still better protection than the average traveler's camera or briefcase ... the Brits don't carry those umbrellas just for unexpected rain! In its long rigid form, it can slash, stab, beat, pry, brace, block, or trip as directed. In close confrontation, the tip can impale a foot, the butt can punch into the face or throat, and the handle can act as a fist-load. It can imitate a fencing foil at full-extension, or it can be choked-up to simulate an affixed-bayonet that pivots at each end. The folded cane resembles a baton or linked rods, and can be manipulated similar to stick-fighting. The tension-cord within the folding cane can even serve as a garrote, booby-trap, noose or loop, and secure tether. The cane's advantages as a weapon are that it is almost always available, and doesn't demonstrate hostile predisposition.

Even though a guide-dog will probably help to protect[4] its owner, its intelligent disposition is far too valuable to risk in a security matter; so one should avoid desensitizing the animal by either using the folded cane attached to the dog's harness, or detach the harness-handle as a baton. Shouting the specious "Kill!" command to your pacific guide-dog may do more than confuse the poor beast, it will distract your foe and may even frighten him, allowing you to begin your defense.

Unarmed fighting is among the most challenging and demanding disciplines ever devised ... ask any competition wrestler. Most combat schools have established routines, which make them somewhat vulnerable to other systems ... hence the intramural sport concept within each system where each only engages with its own. Unfortunately, street combat doesn't abide by any rules, and few people have the skill to master both a martial art and confront every armed or unarmed contingency. Actually, very few people will study martial arts more than casually, but most of us can use a few of their techniques to restore dignity or defend integrity. Learn the locations of nerve junctions to halt or unhand any unwanted attention ... steady nexus pressure or a sharp strike will numb muscular response, interdict involuntary reflexes, and dissuade heedless pursuit. Wrist-locks and arm-bars are also good low-intensity persuaders without permanent damage. Without the ability to aim a strike, a blind martial artist will have to adopt zone or sweep movements preliminary to closer work. Try to avoid inflicting more damage to self than the opponent by improper strikes ... use the side-of-the-foot instead of the toes, the heel-of-the-hand instead of the knuckles, the forearm or elbow instead of the fist, and deliver them in combinations. Finger-locks leading to breakage, twists or bends leading to dislocations, head-locks and strangle-holds leading to surrender are equivalent to kicks and punches in escalating intensity; but still not irreparable ... and still within magnanimous sane reaction levels. Perspective is important in a calculating society; so don't over-react with over-kill due to accumulated fear and unrequited frustration.

You should also realize that a cute little judo trick won't stop an irresponsible drunk or irrational druggie ... many capricious offenders will attempt to overwhelm or dominate moderate resistance, and a situation can get very ugly very quickly when the warning signals don't get through to the control center. The laws of physics prevail regardless of trained determination, such that a good large person will defeat a good small person every time, and most confrontations end up on the ground as a muddled grapple. The glad-hander who wants to push you in an unwanted direction can be disengaged by shifting your attached arm forward, reaching across your chest to nerve-pinch his now exposed wrist[5] until he lets go ... at which time, depending on circumstances, you may release him, or you may retain his wrist and elbow-strike backwards with the newly freed arm, and then turn into him to teach him some manners! Pinching the radial nerve even works with a prosthesis, as a friend of mine, a blinded bilateral amputee from the war, ably demonstrated in a bar when someone attempted to pick his pocket ... the dip surely regretted his choice of mark, because my friend had earlier cranked-up the tension on his claws so he could crush those old fashioned steel beer cans!

Some folks will say almost anything to a blind person, under the supposition that if someone can't see what's obviously before them, then they must be stupid ... which is almost as common as the presumption that any blind or severely handicapped person must also be deaf. It may be both impolitic and antisocial for the blind man to take offense at their ignorance, and either tweak his nose or ear, or depress his trigeminal nerves; so he'll think next time before speaking. One must always use judgement in calibrating[6] a response. As a strong and confident blind traveler, I am constantly being man-handled by kind and concerned people who are trying to help me in their fashion. But because every disabled person, at one time or another, needs help of some kind from others, an abrupt or intolerant reaction from me would be an inappropriate repayment for their good samaritanism. We must always try not to misjudge the innocent, and to be careful of the good ... they are an endangered species.

This modest proposal is essentially theoretical and conjectural. Skilled techniques require individual physical instruction and personal practice to be effective. Ethical scrutiny and mental discipline, like all character building, requires introspection. The condition of legal liability exists for anyone who disrupts the community or harms the citizenry. Sanctions and privileges are always qualified or contingent. This modest proposal suggests that civil liberties grant us both the right of access and the right of exclusion, the right to choose without penalty or compulsion, regardless of our condition. Discretion may be the better part of valor, but for some of us, blindness restricts our options and opportunities. Anyone else can foresee an avoidable confrontation or run away from a sudden fight, with only a minor loss of dignity; but I usually won't discover the analogical ambush or metaphorical minefield until I am already involved. Like the implacable convictions of insensate bigots, stationary and inanimate objects have tripped me up and put me down far too often for me to risk blind flight away from an alleged harm or suspected hazard. So, despite imprudent injury and forbidding forensics, I immodestly propose to stand and fight, in defense of my integrity and liberty, to the best of my ability. It may not be pretty, but it is my ultimate choice.

[1]: approximately 60% of all violent crimes are committed by about 10% of the general population; while approximately 10% of all multiple or recidivist crimes are committed by 60% of the known criminal population, and the remaining 90% of multiple crimes represent personal antipathy or private animus by 40% of the general population. Sexual assaults are most often committed by someone known to the victim, who planned the crime, which took place in the victim's home, is often unreported, and when prosecuted, convicts only a small fraction of perpetrators. False or hysterical crime reports are statistically insignificant, being less than the sampling margin of error. There are no reliable statistics specifically identifying disabled or handicapped persons.
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[2]: in a more recent case, a blind man was acquitted on self-defense when he killed an assailant by karate (meaning empty hands).
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[3]: following employment as a weapon, a cane will probably become useless as a post-encounter mobility device, so remember that all mobility aids are only adjuncts to or extensions of basic methodologies ... one can still travel without cane or dog, even in unfamiliar areas, using self-protective cross-body techniques and careful foot placement. These methods are less efficient but possible, so one never loses independence.
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[4]: guide dogs that double as personal protection is a popular misconception. Dog guide users are discouraged from reinforcing any aggressive tendencies in their animals. A dog guide must adapt to a wide variety of socioeconomic settings, and so the training schools select inherently gentle and stable animals from reliable breeds. Nonetheless, the mere presence of a devoted dog acts as a deterrent to molestation and violation.
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[5]: originally conceived by blinded veterans as a disengagement technique, the so-called Hines Break (or break-away) is taught strictly for detachment; so remember that with the rare exception of malice, most people are trying to assist despite their ignorance of the best methods.
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[6]: an incremental response is calculated to counter with an appropriate and equivalent level of force or violence, and should not be confused with a graduated response, which escalates the level of force or violence necessary for protection along a developmental continuum. While all confrontations are resolved by interpretive judgement, leaving the intended victim liable to accusations of over-reaction and prosecution, street crime is not negotiated politics and personal safety is not orchestrated warfare. In actual combat, there isn't enough time to apply nice neat theoretical solutions. Depending upon the situation, graduating the response from verbal, to body posture, to defense, and finally to attack may succeed; but if the assault is seriously intended, the progression will immediately interrupt phasing to apply the end-game conclusion. One cannot be caught in transitional graduation when the opponent decides to conclude the dispute or resolve the confrontation without suffering potential harm. Remember, there are no rules and there is no umpire to enforce civility during the execution of a criminal act; so make any response the best response of the moment. Don't think about it ... just focus and act!
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by Paul Brubaker
... who is retired from the U.S. Army, has since been a counselor, artisan, and writer, with numerous essays published in chapbooks and magazines. In 1997, after peer review, an earlier version of this article became the basis for the pamphlet Safe without Sight, a crime-prevention guide published by National Braille Press.

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