The Best Defense: A Complete Guide to Personal and Home Defense
by Michael Janich
Martial Blade Concepts
Softbound and eBook available on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
Over the years, I’ve read quite a lot of Michael Janich’s writing and watched many of his videos and I’ve learned a lot from him. This prolific author has distilled many of the self-defense problems and solutions in 15 succinct chapters in A Complete Guide to Personal and Home Defense. His philosophy may be best distilled in a paragraph found toward the end of the book: “Before you start selecting weapons or planning tactics, it’s a good idea to remind yourself of the actual goal in personal protection: to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, period. It is not about winning fights, teaching the bad guy a lesson, or doing society a favor. Ideally, it means that you recognize and avoid problems before they happen. If you can’t avoid them, you use non-physical skills like verbalization to talk your way out of a situation. And throughout the entire process, you ensure that your brain is always stronger and smarter than your ego.” This absence of bravado characterizes the approach to personal safety the book teaches.
Janich starts this book by addressing home defense. He explains that at one time, businesses were attractive targets for robberies, but as security measures get better, robbery is pushed into residential areas where homes make easier targets. Crime statistics show a high percentage of assaults and rapes are committed during home invasions, he cites.
“First of all, you should take a look at your home from a criminal's point of view and assess it from the outside,” Janich advises, commenting later, “remember that perception is reality.” Signs reading “Beware Dog” or large dog toys or bowls left out in the yard and alarm company decals on windows contribute to “the perception that your home is a hard target.” Actually hardening the exterior entails alarms, lights, doors and windows, he continues. Illustrations and specifics are included and while some are costly, others require only a modest investment and some time to install.
Sometimes, a home intruder gets in because someone in the home opens the door, Janich observes, warning that security chains on doors can’t withstand a kick in attack. If a dangerous intruder makes it inside, keep in mind the priority that life is worth more than belongings, so run to safety and avoid injury or death. He suggests drills to assemble in a safe room as well as family escape drills that do double duty as fire safety practice, including code words to designate a rally point to meet at once out of the home. The family needs to know exactly what to do without stopping to ask questions.
Janich details how to outfit a safe room, including using the 9-1-1 capabilities of an old cell phone no longer in regular use, having a written script of what to tell police dispatch, weapon considerations, protective cover, lanes of fire, first aid supplies, spare house keys, and more. This section is the kind of personal safety training we can share with anti gun friends and family to improve their security. While a gun certainly increases survival odds, details like fire escape ladders, the 9-1-1 script, high intensity flashlights and more are equally if not more important.
Don’t mistake personal protection training as exclusively involving fighting and shooting, Janich urges. A predator should have to “dig through layer after layer of ... defenses,” he explains, and the outer layers are awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and boundary setting, he writes, expanding on each point. Be sure to study the list of 14 pre-incident indicators he describes, visual or behavioral cues that you’re being sized up as a target for crime. Even if you don’t know what’s “off,” stop, turn back and regroup. Sometimes just reacting to unknown dangers is enough to throw the predator out of his groove.
Janich goes on to detail how good boundaries prevent predatory approaches, including verbal responses and gestures and how to keep up your guard when the aggressor attempts to get too close. Verbal boundary keeping is a progression of both word choice and vocal intensity, he teaches. Body position needs to be ready, balanced, but non-aggressive. A raised fist or similar gesture will be remembered by witnesses as participating in a fight, he illustrates.
Janich details how to meet the gaze of people who approach without giving a “hard look can be interpreted as a challenge or a sign of disrespect.” Instead, he recommends, direct your vision toward the chest where you can keep an eye on the beltline and the elbows. He gives further arguments for the slightly lower gaze and suggests practicing, “The next time you’re in a crowd, keep your eyes level and try to get a feel for the number of people around you and their locations and distances. Then lower your gaze to pick up more of the ground around you. You’ll find that it's much easier to gauge who's around you and where they are with a slightly lowered line of vision.”
Describing physical fighting skills, Janich summarizes, “The ultimate goal of all self defense is your safe escape.” One solution is to destroy the assailant’s mobility. Janich makes a good argument for shin and ankle kicks. He advocates, “learning to apply a few basic movements to defend against a broad range of circumstances.” Throughout the book, movement principles and strategies are kept simple and similar patterns apply to empty hands and impact weapons.
The next chapter addresses improvised weapons, which Janich introduces by noting that despite restrictions on purpose-built weapons, your choices are not limited to going unarmed or breaking the law. “By understanding the how to recognize and use innocuous, everyday objects as improvised weapons, you can bend the rules and ensure that you always have a capable weapon available no matter where you are.” He later categorizes attributes that increase reader awareness of everyday items that can be pressed into service. He warns against self-delusion, explaining, “The last thing you want to do is to fool yourself into relying on something that doesn't have a high probability of really hurting your attacker.” Still, an improvised weapon coupled with solid physical defense skills can “create an opportunity for a true disabling strike,” he encourages.
Whether instructing on empty hand methods or improvised weapons, Janich returns the focus to disabling the attacker, generally with low-line kicks, and he explains that “your real source of stopping power is eliminating the attacker’s mobility so you can get away.” He suggests practicing techniques he describes on a rug or mat rolled and taped up to simulate a leg and suggests additional practice drills for hand-held impact weapons, too. In discussing various physical force techniques, he teaches uniform, reflexive striking and kicking patterns, clarifying, “If it sounds like I'm repeating myself, I am. Have a plan, and work your plan.”
Improvised weapons aren’t just for the last resort, Janich writes. “Make a habit of having a pen, flashlight, or other improvised weapon in your hand and ready to go when you’re out on the street. In this way, you can literally walk down the street ‘armed’ without raising any eyebrows.” He offers a chapter of flashlight uses, ranging from lighting, threat detection, vision disruption and impact weapon. The great versatility of the flashlight, in his view, is freedom to carry it openly where no threat is apparent, use it to dissuade attack, then if the situation deteriorates into deadly force, hold the flashlight in one hand and shoot with the other, a point for which he makes a cogent argument.
In a chapter about carjacking, Janich reiterates the principle that no material goods are worth loss of human life. Carjackers use surprise to get control of the driver, so he stresses the necessity of “awareness, avoidance, de-escalation, and boundary setting.” He bullet-points warning signs including people loitering near your car, sitting in nearby cars, following you or cruising parking lots. Be particularly alert to people hidden behind dark windows in nearby vehicles and places “behind, under, or in your car.” The key is getting safely inside, locking the doors and getting the vehicle moving. He adds, “Remember, the basic rule when you are behind the wheel is, ‘When in doubt, DRIVE.’ The easiest and most effective way to escape danger and call attention to your situation is by stepping on the gas.”
Additional chapters address workplace dangers, concerns for people with physical challenges, knife, pepper spray and cane use for personal protection, and quite a lot more. The philosophy throughout is, “Self-defense is simple: It is all about stopping your attacker…by either disabling him or causing enough direct, unavoidable pain that he chooses to quit and victimize someone else.”
Simple, of course, is not the same thing as easy, and the skill development necessary is spelled out well in this short but comprehensive book. Not only is it a good review for those long immersed in the self defense mindset, it is also a good book to give those for whom a gun is not the best choice. I recommend it.
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