Point blank: You shouldn’t rely on anyone to protect yourself or your loved ones. As a parent, that responsibility falls squarely on our shoulders, so it’s critical to be prepared for any type of chaotic situation to erupt. These days, it should be as much a part of your daily routine as getting in your workout.

As a black belt in jiujitsu and an owner of an academy in Indiana, I’ve learned and trained to always assess my surroundings. I know how to diffuse and worst-case scenario, defend both myself and my family.  Many times you can spot trouble coming, but there are times where you’re completely caught off-guard.

Sadly, there’s no place that is off limits from a potential confrontation, from your city subway, restaurants, parks, to even a place where I once thought was completely off limits—a child’s Easter Egg party.

I learned that a children’s party shouldn’t be a place where you have to throw down, but it almost happened. Fortunately, I knew how to respond. And the last thing I want—and try to avoid at all costs—is to look for a physical confrontation. A lot of times, however, keeping your eyes open to your surroundings can help avoid many potential threats.

Here are some situational ideas that I’ve learned that everyone should be at least aware of to help avoid or minimize any potential confrontational situations.

Self Defense

Keep Your Head on a Swivel

When it comes to protecting my kids, Rule 1 is always putting down my phone. I’m not normally an anxious type of person, but I’m always prepared. My eyes are always gazing like a sheepdog. Sometimes, too much.

Back in the spring, my kids and I were at a large gathering of families for an Easter-themed event. Even at gatherings like this, I’m constantly surveying the area like a lifeguard, looking for possible trouble from someone who may look or act belligerent. It’s one of the most important elements, being aware of the situation around you—that I’ve learned through my martial arts training.

You can never be too safe. With reports of violent crime dominating our news cycles, I knew the most common form I would have to deal with would be some sort of assault.  If I thought anything other than assault would happen we would’ve skipped this and gone to a movie instead.

Before this small riot broke out over a golden egg it was very civil. We all gathered around a small roped-off pen for 3- to 5-year-olds only. The announcer told us that no parents were allowed inside the roped area. Kids only. When I’m in large crowds like this with my kids I am vigilant not to be on my phone looking down. Kids can disappear quickly especially into a crowd.

Then it happened.

Be Prepared at all Times

The announcer counted down for the kids to go out and grab as many eggs as they could. A golden egg was the key here. If you found it you were rewarded with a special prize. But was worth the chaos? Apparently for some parents, it was.

The kids all entered the ring and after about three seconds I curiously saw a couple parents pop over the rope and start stuffing eggs into their kids’ buckets. Before I knew it, a few turned into an entire herd of parents.

And within moments, my son disappeared in the chaos! That’s when I jumped out and made my way through this mosh pit.

I was being shoved from behind, bodies on the ground, all the while children crying. It’s still hard to believe just how fast this situation escalated.

I had one goal: to get my 4-year-old son who was about to be trampled in the middle of an Easter egg hunt gone wrong.

4 Ranges of Defense

Again, avoiding confrontation should always be your first instinct. However when a fight or defense situation becomes unavoidable, there are four ranges you can “attack” from.

When you’re talking which martial arts is the best to take up for self defense you could argue the martial art that teaches all 4 ranges. It prepares you for all the scenarios. The most important thing is to train in a martial arts or take a self defense. These teach you situational awareness, so you can anticipate and react usually properly to a situation so you’re not caught off guard.

Bruce Lee pioneered this idea back in the 1960s and created his own system called Jeet Kune Do. This style focuses on pure self defense for the street. Covering all 4 ranges.

  • Long range: This is often referred to as a kicking range. It’s where you’d prefer to be if you had a position to start from because you can see your attacker’s intentions more clearly. I was not in this range.
  • Punching range: This is dangerous position and best to avoid at all costs. Never let someone get this close at the start of an altercation. There is a reason they coined the term “a puncher’s chance.” Just about anyone can generate knock out power with a punch.  The hand is quicker than the eye they say in magic. This holds true for fighting as well. An untrained person has the potential to knock out a fighter from this range if they have the element of surprise.
  • Trapping/clinch range: Shoulder to shoulder with other people shoving me to find a golden egg while stepping on my son to get to it. This range is deadly because you can throw elbows, knees, and take down your opponent.  This was about the distance I was in.
  • Grappling/ground defense range: In 1993 the first UFC came on pay per view and showcased to the world Gracie JiuJitsu.  Also known more generically as Brazilian jiujitsu.  A young and slim Royce Gracie cut through other fighters effortlessly by taking them to the ground and dominating them with JiuJitsu. He took down wrestlers, kickboxers and boxers like they were his little brother after thanksgiving dinner in the living room for fun.

Needing to rely on these self defense techniques was not the way I thought my day would end up. Most people in a situation like this would say the same. Luckily I train daily and I was prepared. I knew being shoulder to shoulder with potential threats meant I couldn’t use my longer range tools that I have trained like kicks. We were too close.

To avoid being knocked down myself I continuously dropped my center of gravity, that way as I shoved through the people next to me I could use my shoulder to their ribs to knock them down effortlessly. There came a point where there was too large of a man to do this to. He was every bit of sloppy 250 pounds, I competed in weight classes so sizing people up was my forte.

Instead of shoving him I had to use a judo foot sweep and pull of his shoulder at the same time to send him backward. I was desperate to get to my son.

Being shoulder to shoulder with so many people I was definitely in the clinch to almost grappling range. With so many people around, you don’t want to end up grappling on the ground. It’s far too dangerous.

I was in a pile filled with parents in the middle of an Easter egg hunt, while looking for my son, also trying to be careful not to step on anyone else. At the same time, I had to be aware of  being punched in my head, or tackled, or someone grabbing my head like a headlock.

Because most people are right handed you need to watch for a wild haymaker of a swing from the right side. If they are not a puncher, or you punched them, they will either resort to grabbing your head like a head lock or trying some half attempt at tackling you to the ground. An untrained person will swing for the fences with their fists or “protect their face” and bury it into you for their safety and get close so they aren’t punched. Those are basically the only two responses you will get.

Things to Keep on Your Radar

After plowing through adults to get to my son, I pulled him up. He had a footprint on his back, mud on his face, and blood trickling from his nose but was otherwise OK, fortunately. Parents will do anything for their kids—wrestling over a golden egg shouldn’t be one of them. It caused me to act like Jason Bourne that day in order to fight through a crowd and protect my son who was about to be trampled.

Fortunately, my radar was up, as yours should always be as well. It’s hard to imagine that the result could’ve actually been worse. I can’t tell you what I could’ve done differently in this situation to avoid it, other than not show. In this instance, the event was overcrowded, understaffed. It’s not the norm, but it is becoming more and more common, sadly. This same day while scrolling on Facebook I saw news articles of similar things happening in two other states besides mine.

Nobody came to save my son that day—it was me. It’s time to take personal responsibility and start getting access to tools that will protect you. Being aware of your surroundings at all times should be the first step to help prevent—or quickly shut down—the potential threat of chaos spiraling out of control.

James O’Connor is a third-degree Brazilian jiuJitsu blackbelt, who owns an academy in Chesterton, IN. You can find him on social media:

Instagram: @teamjamesoconnorbjj
Facebook: James O’ Connor
TikTok: teamjamesoconnorbjj