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The Mackie Report 

Defending Your Life (and Health)

Enrollment in self-defense classes appears to be on the rise nationwide as people realize the importance of being able to respond to situations involving their personal safety. In so doing, they also get the added benefit of improving their own physical fitness and conditioning. Actions that help you to defend yourself also can improve your cardiovascular health, along with your balance, quickness and agility.

Sgt. Don Harris of the New Orleans Police Department is an instructor in defensive tactics at the city's Police Academy. His training methods rely on the use of tactics that are "related to the officers' survival in the streets," he says. "We teach them how to respond to the many types of situations that can arise in the performance of their duty."

Harris also notes the importance of the officers staying in good physical shape so they can react most effectively when confronted with these types of situations. His training methods involve exercises aimed at keeping the officers physically fit.

In reference to issues involving civilians' safety, Harris says if confronted by an armed assailant, surrender whatever material possessions are demanded. "Don't challenge anyone who has a weapon," he says. "Do whatever you have to do to save your life. It's worth more than whatever money or possessions you might have to give up."

If confronted by an unarmed assailant, an individual must determine his or her own course of action based on level of skill and confidence. That's a decision they alone have to make, but "If you're not able to defend yourself very well, don't do it."

Davis Murphy, an expert in personal security, teaches self-defense at the Mackie Shilstone Pro Spa. His first rule of thumb for someone facing a potentially violent confrontation is to assess the situation and determine what you're up against. If an assailant is unarmed and tries to grab you, there are ways you may be able to break the hold and fight back. If the assailant is armed -- with a gun or a knife or some other type of weapon that gives him a distinct advantage -- restraint is urged.

"Give them whatever you can replace," Murphy says. "Money can always be replaced. Your life cannot."

Murphy trains his students to defend themselves in situations where they are evenly matched against their attackers. He teaches them how to break holds, how to punch and kick in areas that will be most effective, and how to recover quickly when a punch or kick misses its intended target. Many of the lessons are learned through repetition, "starting slowly to get the techniques down pat, then adapting to speed," he says. "Teaching people what techniques they can use in a variety of situations."

An additional benefit of the self-defense classes, Murphy explains, is that they can result in a good cardiovascular workout. "It gets the heart kicking, as well as your feet," he says. Utilizing specialized punching and kicking equipment and encouraging his students to jump rope, Murphy helps them to increase their muscle tone, personal strength and the condition of their lower legs to react faster in dangerous confrontations.

So, if you are going to take a course or courses in personal safety, my advice is to try to get the most bang for your buck. You can learn how to defend yourself and get a good cardiovascular workout at the same time. It's a good investment in your health as well as your safety.

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