Expat seniors still can ward off attackers, instructor says

Just because some expats are seniors, they are not defenseless. They have many options to protect themselves and their loved ones from aggression.

That’s the view of Darren Friesen, who teaches self defense.

“With the ever-increasing number of North Americans moving down to Costa Rica to retire, this demographic often escapes the self-defense community as a demographic worth pursuing,” he said.

Heard often is this characterization of seniors, he said: “They’re slow, without athleticism, restrictive with technique, have no stamina, are a potential liability issue.”  Many instructors crave the flash and acrobatics of their art,  Friesen notes, adding that “there is a shelf-life for all of us with regards to what we can do athletically as we grow older.”

When individuals turn 65 they want no less than to keep their family and themselves safe from harm, and even though the goal remains the same, the route to achieve that goal needs modification, he said.

Friesen has a list of what he calls the dirty dozen of targets where seniors should strike an aggressor, but first he said he believed in non-violent conflict resolution.

The skills this provides can often eliminate potential surprises. Verbal diffusion, spatial awareness, submissive posturing, situational awareness, improvisation tactics, autogenic breathing are all techniques that do not require top physical form, he said. The breathing technique itself is used to control the emotions in a stressful situation.

Friesen also likes canes.  “The cane is a low maintenance, completely legal and easy-to-teach self-defense tool,” he said. “And it doesn’t need to be concealed. It’s immediately accessible, legal at airports, draws no attention in public and can be used in a wide variety of ways on the criminal.

As many seniors start to have a decrease in balance, injuries to the lower extremities and a drop in bone density, they find themselves needing a stabilizer anyway, he said, so the cane is a convenient choice.

Of course in Costa Rica, the part-time weapon of choice might be a sturdy umbrella.

A little fitness goes a long way, so the instructor promotes classes for seniors.

He suggests teaching a wooden sword class for seniors using slow, controlled movements. The wooden sword movements builds arm strength and gave the senior yet another weapon, a tree branch, pipe, broom handle or umbrella, that could be used in a pinch.

He said he also encourages yoga or chi kung class. He also said he likes isometric exercise classes where the movements they do are easily achievable regardless of ailment or age and can build or rebuild muscle.

What about those dirty dozen? He advances these as targets:

1. The eyes to take away vision and exact a psychological toll;

2. The fingers, which are easy to break, to prevent the aggressor from holding a weapon;

3. The tops of the feet, which are sensitive and easy to break due to smaller bones. This reduces the attacker’s mobility;

4. The groin is not a sure thing all the time, particularly if the attacker is on drugs, but, when used in combination with other targets, a blow here creates immense amounts of pain;

5. The front, outside and inside of the knee, which prevents mobility and stability if damaged;

6. The throat to take away respiration;

7. The neck is often vulnerable as it’s hard to train for strength there;

8. The nose is sensitive and, when struck, vision blurs, the pain is intense and the bleeding is profuse;

9. The solar plexus, when hit, takes away respiration;

10. The elbow is sensitive to pain and can be broken with force;

11. The hair controls the head and can bring a person, even big men, down quickly, and

12. The ears where a blow can rupture the eardrum and damage equilibrium and balance. A well-placed blow can generate tremendous head pain and the ears are easy to grab.

Aging cannot be avoided, Friesen said, but this doesn’t mean that seniors need to be victims of violence and the only alternative is to hope something doesn’t happen. He urged seniors to be proactive, confident and aware of their options.

Friesen martial arts academy in Alajuela promotes what is called reality-based self-defense. He calls the firm Civilian Preservation Technologies.

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