This week’s blog is by B.K. Stevens, author of  Fighting Chance, the latest young adult mystery to be published by the Poisoned Pencil. “a smartly crafted mystery filled with suspense and intrigue” – Kirkus Reviews

B.K. Stevens

It took less than a minute, caught by a surveillance camera at a Sarasota, Florida carwash. On a Sunday back in 2004, a young girl named Carlie was walking home after a sleepover at a friend’s house. A man came up to her and said something—we’ll never know what. Then he gripped her wrist and led her away. Several days later, investigators found her in the woods behind a church. She had been raped and murdered.

The videotape was shown again and again—on television, online, everywhere. (It’s still online:

I remember the first time I watched that videotape. Back then, I was teaching English at a high school in Cleveland, and it was all too easy to picture one of my students in Carlie’s place, or one of our daughters. As I watched, I asked myself the same questions people across the country were asking. The man didn’t have a weapon—why didn’t Carlie fight back? Why didn’t she cry out? Nobody was in sight when the man seized her wrist, but a bicyclist came by seconds later. If Carlie had yelled, he might have heard her and helped her.

But it all happened too quickly. Carlie must have been too frightened and confused to think clearly. She did what many of us would do in her situation.

That videotape terrified me. Our daughters had taken martial arts classes for several years—my husband and I insisted on it—and that made me hope they’d know what to do in a dangerous situation. But I was worried about my students. So I asked my husband, a fifth-degree black belt, to give presentations on self-defense to my classes. I told the principal the presentations were part of a unit on public speaking. But I didn’t ask my husband to visit my classes because I wanted him to show students how to give speeches. I wanted him to show them how to save their lives.

He taught them some simple techniques, and he talked about some basic principles of self-defense. I tried to incorporate those principles into Fighting Chance, a martial arts mystery recently released by The Poisoned Pencil.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. These days, we’re all addicted to our phones, and as we walk from place to place, we’re often chatting, listening to messages, or checking e-mail. That’s a dangerous habit. Especially if you’re walking into a parking lot, or down a deserted street, or into any situation that could possibly prove dangerous, focus only on the situation, not on your cell phone or anything else. Before you take one step beyond safety, look all around for possible threats.

Be alert when you’re driving, too. If a car follows you too closely or crowds you in any way, realize it might be more than a nuisance. The central character in Fighting Chance, seventeen-year-old Matt Foley, is driving down a lonely road at night when a tailgater pulls almost even with him and starts to veer into his lane. Matt’s irritated but not alarmed. Then he gets a glimpse of the other driver. It’s the man who killed Matt’s basketball coach during a sparring match at a martial arts tournament—maybe accidentally, maybe not—and he’s trying to force Matt off the road. By the time Matt recognizes him, it’s too late to avoid a confrontation.

  • Make some noise. It’s easy to be scared into silence, especially if an attacker orders you to keep quiet. But getting noisy is often the best way of getting help. Also, yelling will probably startle your attacker: Attackers expect victims to be passive, so a confident roar might send them running.

There are other benefits to yelling, too. When Matt begins taking classes in Krav Maga, a self-defense system developed in Israel, the instructor tells students to shout at each other. It’ll get their spirits up, he says, and help them feel stronger. Matt finds out how true that is.

  • Don’t get in the car. If an attacker tells you to get in the car, it might seem smart to obey. Maybe you’ll placate the attacker by cooperating, or maybe you’ll get a better chance to resist later. That’s a mistake. If an attacker tries to do anything that will reduce your ability to resist—tie you up, force you into a car—that’s the time to fight back.

When Matt finds himself in a potentially deadly confrontation, he raises his hands and pretends he’s not going to resist. But he’s already making a plan, waiting for the right moment to attack.

  • Keep pushing forward. No decent person enjoys hurting somebody, but sometimes we have no choice. In his Krav Maga class, Matt learns about the principle of kadima, or “forward.” If you can avoid a fight altogether, that’s best; if you can take an attacker’s weapon away and wait for the police to arrive, that’s good, too. But if you’re up against a killer and there’s no help in sight, don’t just land one punch and then step back. Push forward. Fight as hard as you can and as long as you have to, until the attacker can’t come after you any more. Do whatever it takes to give yourself time to get away. After an almost fatal close call, Matt learns this lesson. It saves his life.
  • Take self-defense classes. Reading about self-defense is helpful, and so is attending a workshop. If you’re really determined to prepare yourself to face an attacker, consider taking self-defense classes. You’ll learn more, and—maybe even more important—you’ll get many chances to practice what you’ve learned, until defending yourself becomes second nature to you.

Any martial art you study could help you reach that goal. If you’re short on time and not especially interested in uniforms and belts and tournaments, think about taking a class that emphasizes mastering self-defense basics quickly. Think about trying Krav Maga. If you’re ever in a dangerous situation, it might just give you a fighting chance.