One of the best bits of advice about life that anyone ever gave me was in a self-defense class. The guy teaching was a 6’2” ex-Army dude with a pleasant voice, dark skin, hefty muscles and a habit of sitting down in a legs-spread position to stretch out his muscles while he talked. He had the instincts of a trained soldier, so you did not approach silently from the back. Most of the other girls in the class were afraid of him, but I was not. He was a trained soldier, and there was no way he was killing me by accident, you know, unless I startled him, which I didn’t plan on doing. Otherwise he was one of the most patient and steady people I’ve ever met.
He had us practice breaking attackers’ feet, and doing elbow-locks, and getting out of various binds. Since I wasn’t afraid of him, I ended up being the class demonstration dummy quite a bit. Once I slipped an arm-lock by accident, just from practice from the swing dancing floor (the newer guys would sometimes hurt your arm without meaning to, and you got good at slipping that). The guy was impressed, and then repeated the move more firmly.
It was a great class, and I learned a lot, but the most important thing I learned was in a discussion he was giving on situational awareness. Pay attention to what’s around you when you’re walking or running, he told us. See trouble coming and go the other way—it’s the best defense you’ll ever have. And, the follow-up, something he meant as a self defense concept but I’ve found useful in life: trust your instincts. You know more than you think you do.
Your brain (and your senses) take in an incredible amount of information every day, a lot of which doesn’t make it into conscious processing. If you’re walking alone and something feels wrong, get out of the situation, and do it immediately. Odds are your subconscious noticed a pattern that meant danger. Will you look like an idiot if you jump too quickly? Perhaps, but you’ll be a bigger idiot if you saw the danger coming and did nothing. That’s what he said, anyway.
I’ve found this concept true in life in general. Sometimes things feel wrong, and you don’t have any other explanation. I’ve made business decisions where things felt wrong but I convinced myself the facts were fine. I always regretted them later. Same for job decisions, relationship decisions, and a host of other things. Have I looked like an idiot for shying away from potentially good things? Sure. Once or twice I’ve shied for no good reason and felt like an idiot. But by and large, I’m learning to get all the information I can, and then trust my gut. My gut (and my instincts) know a lot more than I think they do.
And, by the way, Mr. Self Defense Teacher whose name I can not remember, thank you. You taught a damn good class.