Personal Safety Tips
from Assassin John Rain

This article also appears in Crimespree Issue #4

Part of the appeal of my series about the half-American, half-Japanese assassin John Rain seems to be Rain's realistic tactics. It's true that Rain, like his author, has a black belt in judo and is a veteran of certain government firearms and other defensive tactics courses, but these have relatively little to do with Rain's continued longevity. Rather, Rain's ultimate expertise, and the key to his survival, lies in his ability to think like the opposition.

Okay, get out your notepad, because:

All effective personal protection, all effective security, all true self-defense, is based on the ability and willingness to think like the opposition.

I'm writing this article on my laptop in a crowded coffee shop I like. There are a number of other people around me similarly engaged. I think to myself, If I wanted to steal a laptop, this would be a pretty good place to do it. You come in, order coffee and a muffin, sit, and wait. Eventually, one of these computer users is going to get up and make a quick trip to the bathroom. He'll be thinking, "Hey, I'll only be gone for a minute." He doesn't know that a minute is all I need to get up and walk out with his $3000 PowerBook. (Note how criminals are adept at thinking like their victims. You need to treat them with the same respect.)

Okay. I've determined where the opposition is planning on carrying out his crime (this coffee shop), and I know how he's going to do it (snatch and dash). I now have options:

  1. avoid the coffee shop entirely (avoid where the crime will occur);
  2. secure my laptop to a chair with a twenty dollar Kensington security cable (avoid how the crime will occur - it's hard to employ bolt cutters unobtrusively in a coffee shop, or to carry away a laptop that has a chair hanging off it); and
  3. hope to catch the thief in the act, chase him down, engage him with violence.
Of these three options, #2 makes the most sense for me. The first is too costly - I like this coffee shop and get a lot of work done here. The third is also too costly, and too uncertain. Why fight when you can avoid the fight in the first place? This is self-defense we're talking about, remember, self-protection. Not fighting, not melodrama. As for the second, yes, it's true these measures won't render the crime impossible. But what measures ever do? The point is to make the crime difficult enough to carry out that the criminal chooses to pursue his aims elsewhere. Yes, if twenty-seven ninjas have dedicated their lives to stealing your laptop and have managed to track you to the coffee shop, they'll probably manage to get your laptop while you're in the bathroom even if you've secured it to a chair. But more likely, your opposition will be someone who is as happy stealing your laptop as someone else's. By making yours the marginally more difficult target, you will encourage him to steal someone else's.

Which brings us to an unpleasant, but vitally true, parable:

If you and your friend are jogging in the woods, and you get chased by a bear, you don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun your friend.

Except at the level of very high-value executive protection (presidents, high-profile businesspeople, ambassadors and other dignitaries), you are not trying to outrun the bear. You are trying only to outrun your friend.

Let's combine these two concepts - thinking like the opposition, outrunning your friend - with an example from the realm of home security. And let's add an additional critical element: that all good security is layered.

If you wanted to burglarize a house, what would you look for? And what would you avoid?

Generally speaking, your principal objectives are to get cash and property, and to get away (home invasion is a separate subject, but is addressed, like all self-protection, by reference to the same principles). You'd start by looking at lots of houses. Remember, you're not trying to rob a certain address; you just want to rob a house. Which ones are dark? Which are set back from the road and neighbors? Are there any cars in the driveway? Lights and noise in the house? Signs of an alarm system? A barking dog?

Thinking like a burglar, you are now ready to implement the outer layer of your home security. By some combination of installing motion-sensor lights, keeping bushes trimmed to avoid concealment opportunities, putting up signs advertising an alarm system, having a dog around, keeping a car or cars in the driveway, leaving on appropriate lights and the television, and making sure there are no newspapers in the driveway or mail left on the porch when you're away, you help the burglar to decide immediately during his casing or surveillance phase that he should rob someone else's house.

If the burglar isn't immediately dissuaded by the outer layer, he receives further discouragement at the next layer in. He takes a closer look, and sees that you have deadbolt locks on all the doors, and that your advertisement was not a bluff - the windows are in fact alarmed. If he takes a crack at the doorjamb, he discovers that it's reinforced. If he tries breaking a window, he realizes the glass is shatter-resistant. Whoops - time to go somewhere else, somewhere easier.

Okay, the guy is stupid. He keeps trying anyway. Now the second layer of security described above, which failed to deter him, works to delay him. It's taking him a long time to get in. He's making noise. At some point, the time and noise might combine to persuade him to abort (back to deterrence). But if he insists on plunging ahead, the noise has alerted you, and you have bought yourself time to implement further inner layers of security: accessing a firearm; calling the police; retreating to a safe room; most of all, preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for danger and possible violence.

Now another example, relating to personal protection from an overseas kidnapping attempt. Like everything else, this form of protection starts with you thinking like the bad guy. Your objective is to kidnap a foreigner. Not a particular foreigner (high-value targets are a separate problem, although again subject to the same principles), just any old foreigner. So what do you need to do to carry out your plan?

First, you need to pick a target. This part is easy - any foreigner will do. Next, you need to assess the foreigner's vulnerability. Where will you be able to grab him, and when? To answer these questions, you need to follow the target around. If he's punctual, a creature of habit, if he likes to travel the same routes to and from work at the same times every day, you will start to feel encouraged.

But what if instead, during the assessment stage, you see the target go out to his car and carefully check it for improvised explosive devices. Your immediate thought will be: Hard target. Security-conscious. Too difficult - kidnap someone else.

If you're the potential target, do you see how your display of security consciousness becomes the outermost layer of your security?

But suppose the would-be kidnapper wants to assess a bit further. Now he learns that you never travel the same route to and from work. You never come and go at the same times. He can't get a fix on your where and when. How is he going to plan a kidnapping now?

Note that, by putting yourself in the opposition's shoes, you have identified a behavior pattern in which he must engage before carrying out his crime: surveillance. Before you are kidnapped, you will be assessed. Assessment entails surveillance. Now you know what pre-incident behavior to look for. If you were trying to follow you, how would you go about it? That's what to look for.

Perhaps the would-be kidnapper will discover choke points - a certain bridge, for example - that you have to cross every day on your way to the office. This would be a good place for him to lay an ambush. But because you know this too, you will be unusually alert as you approach potential choke points. As he watches your choke point behavior, he realizes again that you are security-conscious, and thus a poor choice for a target. Again, deterrence. If he is rash and acts at this point anyway, the inner layers of your security - locked and armored vehicle; defensive driving tactics; presence of a bodyguard; access to a firearm; again, most of all, preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for danger and possible violence - all have time to come into play.

Other examples: if you needed fast cash, where would you look to rob someone? Maybe on the potential victim's way from an ATM? If so, what kind of ATM would you pick? Where would you wait? What if you wanted to steal a car? Assuming you're not a pro who can pick locks and hot-wire ignitions, where would you go? Maybe outside a video store, or a dry cleaner's, a place where people leave the keys in the ignition because they'll "only be gone for a minute"? Now, armed with a better understanding of the criminal's goals and tactics, how should you behave to better protect yourself?

One common element you might see in all of this is the vital need for alertness, for situational awareness. Understanding where threats are likely to come from and how they are likely to materialize will help you properly tune your alertness. If you are not properly alert to a threat, you almost certainly will be unable to defend yourself against it when it materializes.

Notice that so far the discussion has included no mention of martial arts. This is because martial arts, self-defense, fighting, and combat, while related subjects, are not identical. The relationship and differences among these areas is outside the scope of this article; for more information, check the suggestions for further reading below, especially For now, suffice it to say that martial arts can be thought of as an inner layer of self-defense. If you have to use your martial arts moves, then almost certainly some outer layer of your security has been breached and you are in a worse position than you would have been had the outer layers held fast.

To put it another way:

Thinking like the opposition; taking threats seriously and not being in denial about their existence; and maintaining proper situational awareness, are infinitely more cost effective for self-defense than is training in martial arts.

Note that I have been doing martial arts of one kind or another since I was a teenager. I love the martial arts for many reasons. I do not dispute and am not discussing their value, but rather am emphasizing their cost-effectiveness in achieving a given objective - here, effective personal protection. No matter what her martial arts skills, the person who recognizes in advance and can therefore steer clear of an ambush has a much better chance of surviving it than does the person who wanders into the ambush and then has to fight her way out.

So practice thinking like the opposition, and you'll have a better chance of lasting as long as John Rain.

I am indebted for much of what appears in this article particularly to the wisdom and experience of Marc MacYoung and There is much more to this subject; this article is only a start. To learn more, I suggest:

Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear,
Marc MacYoung, Cheap Shots, Ambushes, and Other Lessons
Peyton Quinn, A Bouncer's Guide to Barroom Brawling

If you're interested in going deeper into the mechanics and psychology of violence, then:

Tony Blauer's tapes and courses,
Alain Burrese, Hard-Won Wisdom from the School of Hard Knocks,
Loren Christensen's books and videos,
Marc MacYoung's books and videos,
Peyton Quinn, Real Fighting,

If you want to go beyond self-defense and into the realm of combat and killing, then:

Dave Grossman, On Killing and On Combat


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