With a baby on the way, my wife and I decided it was about time we got a security system for our home. This wasn’t the result of some alarming incident or deep-seated suspicion, we just wanted something to keep our relatively few valuables (a Care Bear collection and various snow globes) safe for when we’re out of the house at work or shopping, nothing too fancy. Unless of course you’re a tech-savvy burglar browsing the Internet for easy targets… In which case I’d like to disclose that we’ve hired our neighbor’s 8-year-old son as head of security.
During a conversation with a security salesman at our house, he had an interesting bit of advice for us, “If someone knocks on the door while you’re at home and you don’t recognize them, don’t open the door. But, and this is the important part, make sure to answer through the door and let them know you’re home. Tell them you’re not interested, or that your husband’s asleep after his MMA workout, whatever. Just make sure they know the house isn’t empty. Nefarious characters tend to prefer easy targets, and an empty home is an easy target. Surprising a robber with your presence can turn a bad situation into a terrible situation.”
After the salesman had left, his advice got my wife and I talking. Now, I’m not unreasonably paranoid… I’ll eat a gummy bear well after the five second rule, my first reaction is never to call customer service, and being involved in an assault or robbery strikes me as a highly improbable event. While I understand the likelihood of being the victim of violence certainly exists, it isn’t something that concerns me on an hourly basis.
Nonetheless, talk of home invasion got the ugly “what if” questions going… What would my wife do if someone decided to break in while she was home alone? What would she do if she were attacked? What would she do in the event of a sexual assault? As a husband (and not exclusively as a husband) it was a pretty terrifying conversation to have… Especially when the answer to the questions ranged from “I have no idea” to the equally frightening “Nothing.” She’d pretty much just come to the conclusion that as a female, there was basically nothing she could do in the case of violence. My wife, who spends 4-5 days a week at a CrossFit gym getting stronger, faster, and more powerful had pretty much resigned herself to “just kind of submit and hope for the best” in case of assault. The vastly more horrible part was that deep down, I basically agreed that she was powerless should she find herself in a violent situation.
It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that an opportunity to attend a course by the name of CrossFit Defense cropped up close to home. I had seen the course’s creator, Tony Blauer, in a video describing how to avoid getting mugged at an ATM about 8 months earlier after it had popped up in my Facebook feed. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend taking a gander. As a violence averse citizen, it was nice to see a defense expert talk about how to avoid conflict rather than how to five finger death punch an assailant once it’s taken place. At the risk of sounding not very heroic, I’d really prefer to go through life never having to punch or kick my way out of a situation.
While it was obvious after our conversation that there was plenty of benefit to be gained by attending a personal defense course, my wife and I were still hesitant to pull the trigger. After some conversations at our gym, we found that many of the misgivings we were rolling around were voiced by several of our friends as well. While there was no absence of opinions on the value (or lack of value) we’d get out of CrossFit Defense, there was no actual first person experiences to draw from. That sounded like an opportunity.
So after signing up and attending the CrossFit Defense course, I thought I’d share some of the reservations I had before the course and how I feel about them now after having participated in the program.
1. My wife is a tiny person incapable of defending herself against a stronger male, so why bother?
This, embarrassingly enough, was my actual assessment of my wife’s defensive abilities before attending CrossFit Defense.
Towards the end of the first day, all of the students partnered up for the “Outside 90 Drill,” it’s based on the instinctual flinch you make when someone enters your personal space unannounced… You use your arm to create a space between you and an attacker.
Being the socially inept hermit I am, I asked my wife to partner up. For reference, I’m 5’9″ and 190 pounds. I have a 205 pound shoulder press, I can open almost every jar in my house (the vanilla extract being the one exception), and I can pretty much grab both of my wife’s wrists with a single brutish paw.
My wife on the other hand, weighs about 120 pounds and hits 5’3″ on a warm day. She can almost reach the top shelf of our medicine cabinet and still asks me to get rid of crickets that find their way into our house. Did I mention she’s pregnant? She’s also pregnant.
The purpose of the drill was for the defender (my wife) to keep the attacker (me) at arm’s length. I decided far in advance that I’d be attacking with just 10% of my normal ferocity, I didn’t want to hurt my wife or spawn. So I lunged… And she kept me at bay. Quite easily I might add. So I tried to pull her in a bit harder… And she still didn’t budge. It was at this point that I realized in order to break the space she’d created, I’d have to actually try. So I did. Then I tried harder. And harder. And harder.
When Coach Blauer finally told us to switch, I still hadn’t made any progress. I wasn’t assaulting her with the gentle pressure of a husband, I was trying with every ounce of my being to get this woman into a bear hug and I simply couldn’t get any closer. My wife, who screams and runs out of the bathroom when she sees a moth, was able to hold at bay a pretty fit dude that outweighed her by 70 pounds.
The biggest benefit I saw that day wasn’t that my wife learned how to properly execute the “Outside 90 Drill,” it was the realization that she was fully capable of fending off an attacker should god-forbid that day ever come. The decision to fight, to scream, to kick, punch, scratch, to defend yourself could be the difference between being the victim of an attack and being the victim of an attempted attack. The first day of CrossFit Defense, my wife gained the confidence to not allow herself to be an easy target. To me, that experience was beyond value.
But while the drills were awesome exposure to new defensive postures…
2. Two days of punching a medicine ball sounds like something exclusively enjoyed by a 12-year-old.
Based on the videos I’d seen on YouTube and my general preconceptions, I assumed CrossFit Defense was going to be a two-minute lecture followed by hours of holding medicine balls like speed bags and worrying about getting a haymaker in the mouth.
To my surprise, on the first day of the seminar we didn’t perform any physical drills until six hours in. This wasn’t because Coach Blauer needed to diagram where our fist should land during a falcon punch or the proper body position during Randy Savage’s elbow drop. He used this time to discuss defense in a way that we don’t normally consider it. Whereas I usually think of self-defense as stopping a punch with my teeth, Tony would claim I’ve already skipped over two steps, detect and defuse.
That two-thirds of self-defense is being aware and defusing potential risks was in itself a pretty mind-blowing concept, despite it seeming incredibly obvious. “Detect” wasn’t just looking over your shoulder as you walked up to the ATM… It was not getting on your phone to check Facebook immediately after getting into your car. It was paying attention to that little voice in your head when something doesn’t feel right and acting on it (even if you feel stupid or embarrassed afterwards). It was, as Coach Blauer phrased it, “choosing safety over everything.”
It wasn’t six hours of lecture based on paranoia and scaring the audience. It was learning about situational awareness and trusting your instinct. It was understanding fear management and distinguishing between legitimate and manufactured fears. It was lots and lots of swearing. Lots of it. Tony swears a lot.
I’d love to expand on the lessons learned during the lecture portions of the course, but I’m pretty sure that would be borderline plagiarism and I’m not sure I would do any of it justice. I know that six hours of sitting around talking about personal safety sounds horrendously boring, but believe me when I say it was anything but. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, Tony is absolutely hilarious and manages to make the content incredibly interesting.
So the course was a good mix of lecture and drills, which was a welcome surprise. But still…
3. CrossFit is for getting all my grocery bags in one trip, not smashing a guy in the face.
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program, not a one-stop shop for all my survival needs. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what could be the benefit of CrossFit brand self-defense.
What I didn’t realize until afterwards was that the same shameless realism that permeates CrossFit finds its way into the specialty programs as well. That brutal honesty that causes Founder Greg Glassman to say that CrossFit “can kill you” is an integral part of CrossFit Defense. Tony Blauer doesn’t make promises about becoming John McLane or defeating end bosses. He doesn’t pretend that defending yourself is a heroic right of passage that we should all go through.
Coach Blauer was always honest about the fact that he was teaching us to use fire extinguishers, not to run into a burning building with a firehose. This wasn’t CrossFit MMA. We were learning the most basic and easily understood movements with the broadest benefits. Where CrossFit has “functional fitness”, CrossFit Defense has “functional defense,” the idea that your body’s instinctual flinches are actual defensive measures and that this training helps you leverage those natural reactions.
CrossFit excels at distilling movements to their most basic components, an effort to extract the most benefit with the greatest efficiency. That Tony Blauer’s defense program incorporates that philosophy actually becomes an incredible asset.
The three reasons to avoid CrossFit Defense mentioned above are not an all-inclusive catalog of my hesitations. Similarly, a comprehensive list of benefits I received from the lecture and drills are not included either. While it may feel like this is the one course you hopefully and most likely will never have to use, there are benefits that go far beyond the knowledge or confidence to make yourself a difficult target for an attacker. I’ve found myself incorporating fear management into my workouts as I stare at high volume thrusters, or using those same techniques before I head into an important meeting. I no longer zone out on Facebook as I walk down the street and I’ve stopped trying to figure out what fashion models are staring at when shopping for clothes with my wife.
As a personal recommendation, CrossFit Defense was actually really fun, incredibly informative, and made use of familiar CrossFit movements and vocabulary to drive home the physical aspects of defending yourself. If you’re looking for a personal defense program that focuses on avoiding conflict and not depending on constant training to defend yourself in case it does happen, I’d definitely take a look. Plus, you may even learn some new swear words. Did I mention Tony likes to swear?