First Person: Carol Middleton, director, D.C. Self Defense Karate Association


(D.A. Peterson/For The Washington Post)

The big problem nowadays is people not having very much emotional discipline. They get all-out-of-control angry. And they make violence happen that didn’t have to happen. The important thing to teach everybody is how to do the strategic thing that will keep you safe, keep you alive and not just whatever you emotionally feel like doing, instead of, you know, Teach this guy a lesson. Teach this guy a lesson is not safe. There’s nothing to be gained from that but danger. People didn’t used to be like that; they didn’t used to be so hair-trigger angry. Now, if somebody cuts you off in traffic, the next thing you know, somebody’s pulling a gun.

I teach a number of self-defense classes. It’s mostly women, and they learn how to deal with normal, difficult situations. And most times they are able to get themselves out of it by using various strategies. You have the right tactics for the right threat. I had somebody purse-snatch me. I immediately reported it to the police, and they said: “We know you teach self-defense. Why didn’t you kick that guy?” And they kept ribbing me. I didn’t want to give them a hard time, but I thought, ’Cause I didn’t want to get killed. And I know better. Don’t fight. Let him have the purse. Notice everything you can about him. And sure enough, I was vindicated later because that guy, his modus operandi was that if anyone resisted, he shot them immediately. I didn’t know if he had a gun or not, but I thought, It’s a stupid thing to do. I went in, and I had to look through seven huge books of pictures, and I was able to point him out. Turned out he was up on — I think it was — 52 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, murder, murder for hire. Before, nobody could get a positive ID on him. I did a positive ID; therefore, all these other people could come look at him in a lineup, and he was put in prison for years.

Everyone is vulnerable. It’s important that everybody gets that. Nobody is invulnerable, and, therefore, trust your instincts. You know when that guy snatched my purse? Half a block away I thought, Something’s up. One of the things that I teach is that your sense that something is wrong is usually based on good information. You’re just not consciously aware of what it is, but trust it. It’s because people realize that we are all vulnerable that they keep their eyes open. It’s like when you cross the street. You don’t think, Oh, a car could run over me, but you look both ways. You take that care of yourself. We teach: Keep the fear, but know there is something you can do. And if one thing doesn’t work, do the next thing. Do the next thing. Do the next thing. Never give up.

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