Self-Defense And The Art Of Motorcycling
Riding a motorcycle has been used as a metaphor for all kinds of things: philosophy, living in the moment, dealing with fear, freedom, independence and the list goes on.
In this post I list ten guidelines for safe motorcycling and draw the comparison to how those same principles can be applied to self-defense.
Whether you ride a motorcycle, used to ride, plan to ride or think that those who do are “bat shit crazy,” these pointers are intended to make you think.
Principles are principles. They’re universal and don’t change. Its how you apply them that determines whether they are useful to your particular situation and goals.
I’ve ridden motorcycles and studied self-defense all of my life. Over the years, I couldn’t help but notice that the concepts and strategies needed to anticipate and deal with interpersonal violence parallel those needed to avoid wipeouts and collisions.
Let’s see if you agree.
1. Adopt A Proactive Mindset
Motorcycling: Riding a motorcycle is a blast! That being said, if you’re going to ride, you need to acknowledge that motorcycling can also be a dangerous way to get around.
Riding a motorcycle is an enjoyable, exhilarating activity. But it’s not without risk. People who ride need to balance their desire to live life to the fullest with taking responsibility to deal with threats and hazards along the way.
Self-Defense: The statistical probability of being mugged, robbed or the target of a violent crime is low. It’s easy to adopt an “it-will-never-happen-to-me attitude,” and go on about your life in a state of ignorant bliss and complacency.
Self-Defense starts with the decision to accept full responsibility for your personal safety and to implement thinking, awareness and behaviors to allow you to do that. The key is to adopt safety-related “habits” that become second nature.
2. Master Your Technical Skills
Motorcycling: A proactive biker is always working on his or her riding skills. The operative skills of the bike should be practiced and improved deliberately and continuously. Braking, cornering, and collision avoidance don’t improve automatically just by collecting clicks on the odometer.
Don’t rely on that long-forgotten motorcycle safety course (if you took one) to teach you all you need to know to ride safe and respond to emergencies. You need to continue learning and practice to improve your riding skills.
Self-Defense: How proficient are your self-defense skills? Are they something that you practice on a regular basis, or are you relying on the fact that you “used to” take martial arts or self-defense classes?
Do you assume not only that you’ll know what to do in a volatile situation but also that your actions will be effective? How often do you practice your combative skills?
Skills and conditioning are NOT permanent. They deteriorate unless you invest time and effort on an ongoing basis. If you’re serious about self-defense, training should be a part of your lifestyle.
4. Constantly Scan Your Environment
Motorcycling: Riding a motorcycle “connects” you to your environment. Straddling “an engine on two wheels,” and riding it at a high rate of speed, exposed to the elements, only inches off the pavement is a visceral experience. You’d BETTER be tapped into what you’re doing and what’s going on ahead, behind and beside you.
Obstacles on the road, potholes, patches of sand, gravel and ice are a constant. The chance of an animal, a pedestrian or another vehicle crossing your path is to be expected. You need to balance your enjoyment of the ride with a continuous assessment of your environment for potential hazards.
Self-Defense: In self-defense training the term “always be aware of your surroundings,” is so overused that it’s become a redundant cliché. As legitimate as that advice is, you will constantly catch yourself being distracted, pre-occupied and often oblivious to what’s going on around you.
I’m not suggesting that you adopt a state of fear and paranoia, but rather a calm and alert attitude and the cultivation of “awareness,” which I define as:
1. Knowing what to look for.
2. Disciplining yourself to actively scan and pay attention.
3. Matching the degree of your attentiveness to your current situation.
The quicker and more consistently you’re able spot a potential problem, the more options you have to deal with it and the more successful you are likely to be.
5. Dress For Success
Motorcycling: Theres a saying in motorcycling, “Dress for the slide, not for the ride!”
Ever seen some goofball on a sport bike riding in shorts, a muscle shirt and flip-flops? He was probably the one weaving in and out of traffic, showing off and going faster than he should be. Here’s a tip: Don’t be that guy!
A responsible biker is deliberate about what he or she wears while riding. A biker’s wardrobe is intended to protect her from a spill or collision and to shelter her from the elements (heat, cold, rain, sunburn, dehydration). She anticipates the inherent hazards of the road and environment then dresses accordingly.
Self-Defense: What you wear in a self-defense context is also important in two ways: response capability and victim selection.
Does your clothing allow you enough traction and freedom of movement to fight or flee from a violent encounter? Dressed the way you are, can you move, kick, strike or run effectively even if the ground is slippery or uneven?
Does your clothing draw attention to you or make you stand out in a crowd? Could what you are wearing make you look out-of-place, wealthy or like a tourist? These types of signals can attract predators.
6. DON’T Mind Your Own Business
Motorcycling: Bikers have to accept the fact that they can be the most responsible, proficient and safety-conscious drivers on the road and STILL be at risk of a catastrophic event. It’s not all about you.
Roads, streets and highways are proliferated by tailgaters, impatient speeders, distracted drivers, drunks, reckless jerks and generally bad drivers. You’re going to have to take that into account.
You’ll have to be constantly on the lookout for “the other guy.” Watch for cues and patterns of careless behavior and do what you can to steer clear.
Self-Defense: You can go through life minding your own business, living a responsible and considerate existence and STILL end up on the receiving end of a predatory, threatening or violent situation.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, criminals, drunks, bullies and more recently, extremist-nut-jobs are out there. Learn to recognize the cues and behavior patterns associated with these characters and be prepared.
7. Expect The Expected
Motorcycling: A safe rider knows the most common hazards. For the most part, the most likely threats are predictable. If you know what they are and make an effort to look for them, you’ll be way ahead of the game.
An approaching vehicle turning in front of you, a motorist racing to beat the red light, travelling in the blind spot of a driver about to change lanes… these are some of the situations that happen on a regular basis. Watch for them.
If you do your homework, the potential threats are NOT endless. They can be boiled down to a handful of common, reoccurring events.
Self-Defense: There are also patterns and recognizable behaviors associated with criminal, predatory and violent incidents. Some of the obvious ones include: someone following or watching you from a distance, someone trying to distract you by asking for the time or for change while invading your personal space, someone looking around while approaching you… just to name a few.
Statistically, some things are much more likely to happen than others. Know what they are, watch for them and you’ll be able to predict and detect potential problems.
8. Steer Clear Of The Beer
Motorcycling: Many people envision motorcycling and guzzling “frosty fermented beverages,” to go hand-in-hand. I’m not about to get all preachy on this point. I enjoy a couple cocktails as much as the next guy. But you’ve got to be smart about it.
It’s a no brainer that having too much to drink and driving a motorcycle is a recipe for disaster… and yet people still do it. Too much booze in your system will impair your coordination, reduce your awareness, lower your inhibitions and mess up your decisions.
If you’re going to drink, save it until you park your bike for the night and fill your boots… preferably in the company of trusted friends and in a safe place.
Also keep in mind even if you don’t drink, OTHER people’s drinking can cause you all kinds of grief. Many bikers avoid riding at times when the bars are closing and there’s more likely to be drunks on the road.
Self-Defense: I don’t have to tell you how often booze is a factor in volatile, aggressive and violent situations. If you’re the kind of person who likes to go out in public and get “polluted” on a regular basis, the chances of you becoming a victim increase dramatically.
When booze is involved, you need to be aware not only of your own consumption, but you also need to consider those around you who are drinking. Even if you don’t drink yourself, being around people who are pounding back the brewskies increases the odds of a confrontation.
To ignore the booze factor in your self-defense game plan is a big mistake.
9. Ego Kills!
Motorcycling: Far too often ego is a source of bad behavior and catastrophic errors in judgment. An “ego gone wild,” on a motorcycle can spell disaster: showing off, driving beyond your capabilities or the conditions, or “battling” with other drivers for space on the road are just a few examples.
If you’re going to ride, leave your ego in the garage. Be humble and use common sense. Wear your safety equipment, control your speed and drive responsibly. It’ll go a long way towards years of crash-free riding.
Self-Defense: In a self-defense context, ego is your enemy. Far too often, people are killed or seriously injured fighting over something that’s not worth fighting for. Feeling that you have something to prove, refusing to back down or acting like a tough guy can have dire consequences.
As a retired police officer, I can’t begin to tell you about all of the tragedy and heartache that I’ve seen as a result of someone’s misdirected sense of pride clouding their ability to make intelligent and mature decisions.
Theres a saying in law enforcement: “Nobody wins a fight. The loser goes to the hospital, the winner goes to jail.” Regardless of how “combatively proficient” you are, you’ll save yourself a ton of physical, emotional and legal headaches if you can set your ego aside and deescalate or disengage from a confrontation.
10. Enjoy The Journey
Motorcycling: This is another one of those over-used clichés that people throw around in relation to just about everything. In the case of motorcycling however, it’s literally what you should do.
Travelling IN a vehicle, usually involves wanting to get to your intended destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. The ride is often the price you must pay to get to where you want to go.
On a bike, the focus is NOT as much on getting there as it is about enjoying the ride. Bikers will take their time and go miles out of their way to enjoy a more scenic route, a historical site or a stretch of twisty roads.
More times than not, you’ll head towards one destination and end up changing course because of time, weather, circumstances or maybe just because you changed your mind and decided to go somewhere else. That’s just the way it works.
Self-Defense: This is a great analogy for your martial arts, combative fitness or self-defense training. Too many people rush to learn new skills, get in shape or earn that next belt. They risk wasted time, burnout, injuries and frustration by chasing quick fixes, short cuts and easy results. (which for the record, don’t exist)
Training is about enjoying the process and letting results come as a natural byproduct of repeated actions taken over and over again with seemingly little or no immediate benefit. Over time however, those “insignificant” actions add up to significant, life-altering results.
There is no “finish line,” where health and safety are concerned. Training should be seen as an ongoing, never-ending, life-long process. Enjoy the ride!
So there you have it… my top ten riding tips and how they apply to self-defense. I hope this post has you thinking. If you have any questions, opinions or feedback, please feel free to comment below or fire me an email at Randy@ToughenUp.com . Take care, train smart and stay safe.
About Randy LaHaie
I’m the founder of “Protective Strategies,” a training and consulting company providing self-defense and combative fitness solutions to law enforcement, high-risk professionals and private citizens since 1994. I am a retired police officer, court-declared expert in use-of-force and critical incident performance, and a life-long student of self-defense and combative fitness. “My Thing” is to help people incorporate functional and minimalist workout strategies to improve their health, fitness and personal safety.