Sometimes it only takes an umbrella (or a selfie stick, or some oven cleaner) to save lives.
Like every Israeli, I have been glued to my TV, computer and smartphone this past week, following the growing campaign of senseless violence that caught our nation off-guard, with no sign of relent so far.
There is a palpable sense of fear in the air, perhaps even of panic, especially in my hometown of Jerusalem, where sirens from ambulances and police have become so common that I can’t fall asleep at night without them.
The danger can come from anywhere, at any time, and people have taken to carrying firearms wherever they go. Don’t get me wrong: arming yourself against potential threat is the way to go, especially when the danger is clear, present and lethal, as with the current situation. If you have the tools, and you know how – use them.
But let’s talk about the psychology of it all for a second.
Biological Reactions to Crisis
When faced with danger, humans, like all animals, tend to go in one of two directions: we either freeze and buckle under the pressure, losing our ability to react, or we get such a rush of adrenaline that we move on the offensive (which is good) and overreact (which isn’t).
Neither instinct is desirable in the street: in the first case (freezing) we become hapless victims for the aggressor. In the second (overreacting) we become unable to assess risk, damage, or the broader context of events (other attackers moving in from the sidelines, victims who require assistance, innocents in the line of fire), which results in injury that could have been prevented.
Both reactions are flawed because they are rigid. Effective defense demands adaptation and flexibility because you never know when or how the danger will materialize, no matter how many scenarios you’ve trained for. The trick is accepting the risk, which self-defense professionals call “surrendering to change”. It’s about understanding that the situation is what it is, and reacting to it according to the cards that have been dealt.
The Infamous Umbrella, and Why it Was Effective
One of this week’s tragic events was a knife attack in Ra’anana. The attacker stabbed one victim in the neck before being neutralized by a real estate agent wielding… an umbrella. This man had no gun and no combat or self-defense training. Yet he assessed the threat, analyzed his environment and took immediate action. In this case, he identified umbrellas that were for sale outside a neighboring shop, providing both reach and striking power against an attacker wielding a knife.
In these difficult days, each of us has a moral obligation to defend not only ourselves but also those around us. We are a people under siege, and we must rise to the threat, without panic. And sometimes, the most trivial things can be the ones that save lives.
What You Can Do
There are a few things you can do in your everyday routine to empower you against potential danger:
- Stay aware: keep your head up and your eyes open. Look at the people around you and use all your senses: sight, hearing, smell. Get your face out of your phone and your earphones out of your ears!!
- As much as possible, travel in groups: this will not only improve your ability to defend and respond, but also provide a sense of confidence and empowerment which is key in survival situations.
- Analyze your environment: look for objects that can be used as protection or weapons. Always identify escape routes wherever you go. That includes which way to run if you have to exit your car, identifying open doors to take refuge in, and so on.
- Always make sure your back is protected when stopping. Lean against a wall or hard object.
- Analyze the people around you: how they move, what they’re doing. Role-play and try to guess what they are doing: “Why is he putting his hand in his pocket” (is he reaching for his phone or a knife?) “Why is he running toward that street corner” (is he attacking someone or trying to catch the bus?) As you play these games and let your intuition guide you, you will begin to distinguish between threatening and non-threatening body language.
- If you decide to act, whether you fight or flee, do so without hesitation and don’t stop until you are certain the danger has passed. Hesitation is your biggest enemy.
- Report and pass on information on anything suspicious. Keep emergency numbers on speed-dial (In Israel, 100 for the Police and 101 for Magen David Adom).
And of course, if you REALLY want to take things seriously, then it’s about time you enrolled in a self-defense class.
But no matter what you do decide to do, make sure you act in accordance with your physical and mental capabilities. If you can’t stop the attacker yourself, then tend to the wounded or call first responders: that may be just as important or more. Keep a cool head, don’t panic and remember… sometimes all you need is your wits and an umbrella.