I’m sure you are aware that a tragic event has occurred in the city of Melbourne last week. It seems that every day the newspaper, radio and television has something to say about it. The thought of something like this happening in a place like Doncaster, a place not unlike Diamond Valley, can make us think. Personally, my thoughts go to all the times that we walk the dog in Binnak Park. Then onto how many times our kids go riding their skateboards around the park on their own. Our mortality can really be driven home.

As a martial arts instructor, my ears always prick up whenever anything like this happens, if only to hope to learn something from it, in order to help people avoid having the same thing happen to them. This week I learned something that made this a whole lot more personal. The young victim Masa Vukotic, was a martial art student, who was expected to go for her black belt later this year, and a good friend of mine was her instructor. In fact, only last month we were talking, and he was telling me about some things that were going on at that particular school, and how close knit their students are.

Of course, immediately I thought of how we would cope if such a tragedy were to happen to one of us. What questions it would raise, and how we would find the strength to move on. Masa’s instructor is now asking himself, “Where did I go wrong?” and we are trying to assure him that a “perfect storm” of circumstances has occurred, and his teaching was not the fault.

Quickly assessing what has happened, without going into graphic detail, her accused assailant appears to have been a highly trained martial artist, himself and has decided that he was going to take a life that day, followed by a violent rampage the day following. It seems that he crossed her path in broad daylight as she was crossing a narrow path, as she crossed over a freeway bridge not far from her home. Apparently she was listening to music on her earphones, but considering where and when the attack occurred, I doubt that she would have been unaware of his presence, and being that he seems to be a confident, fit young man, she may have even smiled at him as he went past, with no need to assume that he meant her harm.

The point that I’m trying to make is that, unless we suffer from paranoid tendencies, we have all been there. I am often guilty of checking my phone as I walk around, catch myself zoning out a little more than I should, at times. This is not about victim blaming, but about assessment of the facts. The question that we have to ask ourselves is, knowing about the importance of awareness, what do we actually DO about it?

Awareness is the key. Not simply a knowledge of awareness, but actually BEING aware. In other words, awareness in application. It is one thing to KNOW ABOUT awareness, but quite another to actually practice it in everyday life.

We do this when we drive on the road. We never assume that another driver will do the right thing. We allow space in case someone drifts, we slow down at roundabouts when another car is approaching quickly, even though we have right of way. In short, we notice things, assume the worst to ensure our safety, and consider it to be cautious and responsible, rather than paranoid and extreme. If we are like this on the road, why not as we travel on foot?

There are ways in which we can position ourselves which appear innocent and yet dramatically increase our ability to protect ourselves from a sudden attack. Learning to do so habitually can make a massive difference when it comes keeping ourselves safe. Having a “be kind, be courteous and always have a plan to kill everyone in the room” kind of attitude will add to it even further.

As a rule, no stranger is welcome within double arm’s length if I can see both of their hands clearly. If a stranger comes up to me for no reason I tend to make sure that I’m relying now on peripheral vision, while also checking if any potential friends might be cornering me in somewhere, especially if they seem nice.

There is so much more to learning to defend yourself than simply learning to punch and kick. At the end of the day, we are simply seeking to increase our odds for survival, but only if we actually apply what we’ve learned.

Keep safe out there.

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