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2021: My New Year Pledge To You

As we move into 2021 I want to take a moment to thank you for how we have connected over the past year. Whether it's been through classes or via social media, I’m grateful for our conversations and the opportunity to learn from each other. If you have taken any of my self-defense classes you know I’m not so big on dictating answers, but rather on the helping you discover solutions to your own personal safety depending on your lifestyle and life circumstances.

Wrapping up the chaotic year of 2020 I was able to take some time to slow down and reassess where I wanted to go with Asphalt Anthropology from here. I’ve deeply pondered over the last few weeks if I even wanted to put any more energy into it at all. Asphalt is not my “day job” – I have a “day job” that I love, coworkers I adore and I’ve felt lucky that in the tumult of 2020 I’ve only gotten busier there doing work that positively impacts the world.

2020 has been a revealing year and as I’ve observed some of the more negative aspects of human nature it’s caused me to circle the proverbial wagons. To be honest, many of the events of last year left me feeling pretty negative and wondering if I even care about other people enough to go through the effort with Asphalt. To see nearly ½ of the U.S. voting population be so willingly and eagerly conned over the last 4 years has left me shrugging my shoulders and not really caring if they know how to spot a con on the street.

This all caps my observations of the last few years that the areas of self-defense and situational awareness are dominated by conservative, male voices. The general public looks to law enforcement and military to tell them how to be more safe. But the reality is, my life, and the lives of the people I serve look nothing like the goals and challenges faced by people in those roles.

I’ve learned more from a pregnant black woman who works in an office and has to juggle groceries and toddlers about navigating dense public spaces than I have from any tough guy talking about “urban survival” and escapes from head locks.

When we look at the militarization of our society – particularly in a time when violence is not a cultural norm for most of us – I see this approach doing more harm than good.

So as 2020 came to a close and I wondered if I should even bother anymore. But I had some inspiring conversations with a growing number of voices who are bucking the trends of mainstream self-defense – that is, self-defense aimed at fearful white folks in the ‘burbs and small cities.

Recharged by these conversations I began to explore the best ways continue with Asphalt while not contributing to the fear-mongering that is so prevalent in the self-defense world.

This is my pledge to you in 2021:

  1. To continue to learn and grow and make Asphalt Anthropology a hub for inquiry – rather than a top down, “I’m the expert” model. I invite you to engage in the conversation that provide solutions that make sense for YOU.

  2. To widen my view of what includes personal safety/self-defense/situational awareness and to explore the systemic causes that put people in jeopardy – not just the rock ‘em sock ‘em self-defense fantasies.

  3. To employ the scientific method (question, research, hypothesize, experiment, observe, conclude – and then be willing to refine and start that process all over again!) to my research of Asphalt Anthropology – to cite my sources, acknowledge my biases and privileges and to avoid relying on anecdotal evidence.

If you see me missing the mark on any of these, please let me know!

As we produce or consume content, I challenge all of us to do better with #3 in 2021. We have seen the results of contempt for education in the U.S. unfold in 2020. Many lack understanding of the scientific method – which is messy, incomplete and always unfolding with no easy answers, especially right away. We see this show up in the self-defense world with “top ten techniques” lists, students expecting one-size-fits-all answers – and far too many instructors happy to oblige them.

The self-defense world is small and lacks intellectual rigor - it hears a few good ideas from people and then recycles them without testing the reliability or validity.

It’s been said that violence cannot be studied in a laboratory or studied other than anecdotally because no ethics board would allow any “real” studies. I’ll grant that – but that is not an excuse for sloppily relying on anecdotes and not acknowledging demographics that impact outcomes (in other words, a fit young athletic man will not be targeted for the same types of things as an older, overweight woman, or a Black transperson or 20-somethings at a frat party - so their solutions won't look the same either).

In my undergrad Sociology program our research methods professor drilled into our heads, “you can’t argue with results, but you can (and should) always question the methods used to get there.”

Earlier this year I watched a 90 minute video of a popular self-defense instructor whose focus is on studying and researching fear. I had heard that his research was extensive and was excited to finally get a chance to dive into his work.

But what was billed as “research” included zero citations of any insight into adrenaline, the threat response and how those systems work. It included zero peer research or input. The “research” was instead anecdotal based on his experience coaching young, fit athletes prior to competitions. The “findings” or “results” wound up be a 90 minute pep talk filled with clichés I’d expect from a motivational speaker.

And that pregnant black woman juggling a toddler and groceries on a city street needs more than a motivational speech. Regardless of race, gender or athletic ability, we each need solutions that make sense for us and that move us quickly out of fear and allow us to walk through our worlds with more freedom, joy and boldness.

So here is to 2021 – where I pledge to not be attached to the outcome – but to staying curious.

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