Earlier today I was solo hiking a trail on a mountain near Seattle on a fairly isolated trail. I encountered several fairly large piles of bear scat concentrated in an area I was walking through near some berry patches, which is something that makes me uncomfortable, especially when I’m alone. I continued hiking at my normal power walk pace, didn’t see or hear anything but I was approached quickly. I heard fast steps on the ground behind me from about arms reach away, turned, and saw black as it was right on me.
In this moment I perceived danger because of where I was and the cues I had been aware of, influenced by a fear of being in black bear territory. My initial reaction was lighting fast, I was startled, shoulders shrugged, both hands started to come up as I oriented toward what I heard so I could see and gather more information- what happened after the hands coming up was a response I have cognitively trained many times: reaching my lead hand out to push away, grab, or otherwise touch what’s near me and get my rear hand into action for repeated strikes.
As I was extending my lead hand, my rear hand started to rise and began to clinch a fist, hands were still somewhat low since they were initially down at waist level. I mostly train open-handed strikes, so it was interesting to see that a closed fist is was came out.
He realized the error; the runner apologized for approaching and passing me quickly without auditory cue; he was a big guy, I don’t know how he moved that quietly without me hearing him until right on me. In the moment I did not see him at all and only heard him when he was 1-2 steps away as he startled me, as I oriented towards him saw just his black shorts, and wasn’t able to make out what the threat was until he had passed me.
I missed him with my index hand because of his speed, which is a good thing since he was not actually attacking me, but it was good knowing that a variant of something I have trained repeatedly was able to come out under an authentic surprise, and that I was able to control my cognitive response and not hit him (also, it’s not the first time I’ve almost clocked a runner).
Still keep in mind, the perceived threat ended when:
- the jogger did not attack me
- the bear did not maul me (because it wasn’t a bear)
Homework: What I want you to think about is cataloging the times in the future you are genuinely startled and flinch, see and pay attention to what actually comes out and how you move. I would only consider doing this for future perceived threats where you are startled, since the brain and imagination have are good at filing in the blanks if you are to consider past encounters. You might think you will move a certain way, but experience something completely different; it is best to really know yourself and how your movement is biased, so that you can pair how you actually move under duress to your training and be sure that these can sync efficiently.
Train smart, stay safe, and if you approach me running please give me some auditory cue so I don't hit you!
NOVA Self Defense