I’m a lawyer and entrepreneur, who keeps a busy schedule. There are many ways I could spend a Sunday afternoon after a busy work-week. So why was I spending it in an active shooter seminar, crouched behind a desk and pretending to hide from a crazed gunman?
I attend not because I have a fantasy to play action hero. Yes, I am a comic book geek so I do often imagine what would it be to be in the Avengers and saving the world. My inner child may dream of being Black Widow but the seminar is not a role-playing game. It’s a lot of hard work.
I’ll summarize the exercise as taught by Israeli ex-Special Forces and Self defense expert Raz Chen. After a very thorough and intense warm up, my classmates and I are drilled in what measures to take in an emergency. We learn how to navigate through crowds, how to carry wounded friends, and how to hide during an emergency if we can’t run away. We learn the difference between cover and concealment (and it’s a big one) and discuss how to alert the police if possible. We work on cooperation techniques, about how to take out a threat as a group. We do simulations where we are practicing the skills while surrounded by recorded gunfire, which is terrifying no matter how much you know there really isn’t a gun. Of course, we do gun and knife disarms, but the cool factor fades after a stern lecture by an ex-IDF commando about just what those weapons can do to our bodies. It’s a thrilling and amazing time, but it’s not Dungeons and Dragons.
I attend not because I’m afraid of being caught in a mass-shooting. Even though the synagogue shootings have terrified me, I know that from a rational and statistical challenge, I should be more worried about chewing my food properly. After all, I have 1 in 3,561 chance of choking on my food, as opposed to a 1 in 11,125 chance of dying in a mass shooting. (National Safety Council and the National Center for Health Statistics) I try my best not to let the extreme but rare events determine my quality of life.
It isn’t even the amazing friends I have who join me in training, although it is an incredible bonus.
So why do I go? Three reasons.
Firstly, I take these seminars because of the ordinary but horrible events of life. While mass-shooting deaths are rare, life is dangerous. In fact, it is 100% fatal, and there are many ways the process might be sped up. There’s the danger from my fellow people’s cruelty (terrorism, rape, battery, stalking, robbery) stupidity (car accidents, negligence) and from the world around me (floods, hurricanes, fires, health emergencies) In those moments, most people freeze and flail, not sure how to proceed in an emergency. I want to train for the worst possible moments so if I have to act in times of great stress in more normal circumstances, I can not only protect myself, but my loved ones. I want to be the person who knows what to do.
Second, because it helps me deal with the stress of feeling helpless in that dangerous world. Raz doesn’t mince words on reality, but he doesn’t sell fear either. Instead of endlessly worrying about what ifs, I can focus on those situations in a productive manner.
Third and more importantly, I take these seminars because I want to better myself in terms of my courage, awareness, knowledge and assertiveness. Facing fears under stress takes me out of my comfort zone, but makes me realize just how powerful I can be.
I remember my first seminar, when I first began my Krav Maga journey. I was mock-kidnapped by a very strong and tall guy who under most circumstances, is a gentle academic, but can play the part of an attacker to a frightening degree. In fact, he’s such a good actor that my mind forgot that this was a drill and I actually believed I was being dragged away by a real terrorist.
It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and what made it worse was that no one seemed to notice. I remember not only feeling petrified, but utterly abandoned. It was my worst nightmare brought to life.
Happily, the simulation ended, but that brief moment was one of the most valuable experiences I ever had, and the reason I continue these seminars.
Initially, that scary moment taught me how to maintain perspective. Yes, missing my train is bad but I’m alive and healthy. By facing my fears, the world felt less scary and more of many problems to be solved. It made me more calm under pressure.
As I matured in my training, I realized that that terror had made me shed my passivity. That feeling of helplessness and abandonment convinced me that heroes won’t come to rescue. In life, I need to act if I want to succeed. This drive is something I take with me, when I return to the world of being a busy lawyer and entrepreneur. It makes me less afraid of risk, and more creative in my problem-solving. It makes me a better leader and team member. Most of all, it makes me have the self-confidence to keep going through the failures that come with the pursuit of success.
So I am signing up for my sixth counter-terror seminar, grateful to keep learning and improving myself so I can go after my dreams.
After you’ve trained on what to do when crouched behind a desk and hiding from a crazed gunman, anything seems possible.
If you want to join me:
Photo credit: Chris Owyoung