Why doesn’t he stop? This isn’t supposed to happen… I tapped again as his grip tightened across my neck and I tried to tell him to stop but only a croaking noise escaped my lips. He was choking me and I was frozen, lost in my mind trying to figure out what was happening…

This memory came flooding back when  a post by Greg Ellifritz crossed my newsfeed.  I felt the visceral fear and my heart started pounding again as I read Greg’s words and relived the moment when I realized that all my training hadn’t prepared me for coping with this moment – the moment when things didn’t go as I expected them to.

In his post Greg is talking about how denial is the enemy that keeps us from responding to a real threat.

When people have never thought about or experienced violence, they don’t have a “mental map” of what is happening.  They “Observe”, but because they have never imagined an attack happening to them, they can’t “orient”. They have nothing in their brains to compare with what they are currently seeing. Thus they default back to “Observe”.


It’s like a short circuit. Back and forth between observe and orient, never getting to the “decide and act” phases.

~Greg Ellifritz

During a class with Jon Hodoway of Nighthawk Custom Training, he described this short circuit as the third option in our natural instincts – Fight, Flight, or Freeze.

My moment was just a glimpse and while many would not even consider it violence, it rocked my world and changed how I viewed my training forever.

I was taking my first close contact training course. I was definitely out of my element, a plump grandma in a room full of martial artists. My husband and I had determined that we needed to expand our training beyond a square range and had reached out to an instructor I’d met at a instructor development course to help us. He invited us to one of his classes explaining that we didn’t need any martial arts or fighting skills and assuring me that I had much to teach these guys just by attending.

This was an established group of students who worked together regularly. We were the outsiders, worse, we had no hand to hand skills and despite the assurances that we did not need these to participate, it felt like the class had to slow down to accommodate us. Two of the advanced students were instructors themselves and during one-on-one moments with each, they expressed their frustration with my lack of traditional skills. One of them actually suggested that before I attended anything similar again, I should figure out the basics in a dojo.

I checked in with the instructor during a break and he reassured me that my lack of skills was exactly what these students needed to realize that in real life, there are no “rules” and that my untraditional moves and techniques were in fact, likely to be encountered in a real violent event. Reassured, I continued to do my best with what I was learning.

In the final portion of the class we were “fighting” in environmental situations we’d likely encounter in real life. Much to my dismay I was put in a group that included the two gentlemen who had expressed their frustration with my lack of finesse.

During one scenario, after “fighting” for a while, I found myself with the bad guy behind me pulling my hair backwards with one hand while he choked me with the other. One of my go to moves was to grab at the men’s crotch, which I was resorting to in this moment. My right hand was free and while I had clear access to my dummy gun the fact that I was actually being choked shocked and confused me.

I froze.

We’d been taught that tapping out, the act of tapping on the other person, was our safety signal and meant that everything should stop – in that moment I tapped with my free hand. When he didn’t stop and I realized I really couldn’t breath panic started to set in.  I tapped again to no avail. In desperation I tried to speak and tell him to stop but only a croak escaped my lips.

I could have continued to fight, I could have grabbed my “gun” and “shot” him, I could have done any number of things, but because we’d gotten off script I no longer had any context for what to do. All of those things weren’t real options in my mind because they were just “pretend”. His choking me was real and I didn’t have a plan for that.

At this moment the safety officer told him to stop but instead of stopping, he argued pointing out that while I was grappling I inadvertently grabbed more than fabric when reaching for his crotch. Realizing this I let go and he released me.

We moved on to another location and continued sparing with the members of our group. My mind was reeling. I was determined not to get caught like that again. I moved to my weapon faster, I fought harder, and ultimately, my trust broken, I refused to engage with that gentleman again.  I felt numb and struggled to process the situation. Was I overreacting? Had he not been choking me? Wasn’t he supposed to tell me that I was hurting him instead of hurting me back?

On a break before debriefing I took a walk with the only other woman in class. I told her what had happened. As an instructor herself she was horrified at the man’s behavior and encouraged me to tell our instructor (he had been observing the other group). I cried. I tried to process how scary that moment had been. He had been choking me and not stopping when he was supposed to… And I had just stood there tapping on him.

While I agree with Greg when he says that most people aren’t familiar with violence and I definitely fall into that category, I’m not convinced that studying and thinking about violence can really prepare you for the moment when it happens to you. I had over 400 hours of professional handgun training when this happened. I’ve read the books, taken the classes, discussed the scenarios… and still I just stood there.

Standing on a square range firing a gun will not mentally prepare you for when someone does something unexpected and becomes violent toward you – especially if you know that person and they “aren’t supposed to be acting like that.” I’m not sure that Imagining how you’ll be the hero in dozens of unlikely scenarios helps either.

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what the answer is for those of us that live in a safe, secure, non-violent environment but I caught a glimpse… one that may have given me a new tool in my efforts to defend myself and my family.

Recognize violence can happen anywhere there are people. ~ Tom Givens

It’s true, and until we realize this, we are just playing games on a square range. Denial kills, it freezes your mind in a loop until it’s too late.

Jon Hodoway said that freezing is what happens when you don’t have a plan. Get a plan… any plan is better than the one you’re trying to come up with in the moment. Don’t wait, learn what you can, get off the square range, do the mental work you need, then combine it with physical skills, and you’ll be a a step closer to being the hero you hope to be when seconds count.


This experience helped me realize what I don’t know and led me to invite Rory Miller to come to Alaska to teach me and my students how to keep denial from killing us. if you’re in the area I invite you to join me as I learn more about violence, how to recognize and avoid it, how to escape when you can, and fight back when you can’t. Most importantly… how to know the difference and be mentally prepared for each instance.

This class is full of intelligent concepts and specific techniques… things that are easier to remember when you’re under the influence of a large adrenal dump, fighting for survival to protect yourself or your loved ones. You do not need to own or intend to use a gun to take this course. Rory teaches you how to fight with what you have, including your wits and your body.

The class I’m hosting is for beginners and experienced alike.  Rory Miller, a world renown expert on personal defense and preparing to deal with violence, is coming to Anchorage the weekend of April 22 – 24th. He’ll be sharing strategies that will work for you specifically with whatever skills you currently have, be that a lot or very little. No prerequisites required. Not going to be in Alaska this spring? Check out Rory’s website for other training opportunities like this one.

Hope to see you there!