Finding Healing and Empowerment Through Tactical Training

By Autumn Parkin

People often ask me why I feel the need to wear a gun every day. We live in a relatively safe community with a very low violent crime rate. I’m a mother to three small children. I’m married to a Marine. They don’t understand why I would feel so unsafe. My answer is long, but basically boils down to this: There are dangerous, merciless people who may try to rob me of my dignity and my life, and it is up to me to defend myself; not only for myself, but for my family as well. I know this first hand.

When I was 15 years old, I was hanging out at an acquaintances house with my best friend. On my way to the bathroom, I was shoved from behind and was flung headfirst into the bathtub. I was stunned. A classmate of mine and his friend dragged me out of the tub by my ankles. I tried to fight them off but they were strong. They shoved my head into a corner where took turns holding me down and raping me. I was angry and afraid, but I never told anyone out of shame.

Six years later, I hosted a party for some friends. During the course of the evening, the conversation grew somewhat dark. I remember having an uneasy feeling which, unfortunately, I ignored. I was sitting around the table talking with my friends when, out of nowhere, one guy snapped. He stood up, grabbed and broke a champagne glass, and shoved the stem through my face. For a moment, time stood still as I slowly came to recognize the warm metallic taste of blood filling my mouth. I recall thinking I was going to die. One friend restrained my attacker. Another began weeping and carried my body to a couch. There was so much blood everywhere. The paramedics and crime scene investigators came. Being a fan of the television show CSI, I remember how surreal it was when they collected evidence and photographed my fresh wounds and the bottom of my feet.

Upon arriving at a local hospital, I heard a nurse exclaim, “This looks like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre!” which didn’t set me at ease. The doctor, pale as a ghost, examined me and found I had sustained a stab wound to the chest that wouldn’t stop bleeding. He stitched me up, and had me promptly transferred to a trauma center. It took the surgeons six hours to remove all the glass from my face. My nose and mouth had to be reconstructed. Later I found that I had been stabbed in the chest with a K-bar knife, and that the tip had broken off in my chest. I don’t recall ever even seeing a knife or feeling the impact.

I was traumatized. I married a Marine who made me feel safe. I couldn’t be alone. I couldn’t go out at night. I had crippling panic attacks. My quality of life had significantly diminished.

Years later, I received full restitution for the attack, so I bought my first pistol and learned  how to shoot. There was a huge sense of empowerment that came with shooting. I decided to get my concealed weapons permit. Because I was unable to fight off my attackers, I was determined to never be powerless in a violent encounter again. I read numerous books and watched countless videos on mindset, awareness, use of force laws, and defensive tactics. I passed the enhanced concealed weapons course and received my permit. I had done my due diligence, and felt as though I was prepared to face any situation. In every imaginable incident, I always ended up coming out on top now that I was responsibly armed.

Then I signed up for a women’s multi-stage self-defense course at Forward Movement Training Center…

The course consisted of four parts: classroom, mat room, the car, and the home. In the classroom, we went over awareness, avoidance, and use of force. In the mat room, we learned how to get out of chokes and holds, and how to strike with force multipliers like a kubaton. In the car portion, we learned the most common types of violent encounters that occur in parking areas. We went over how best to avoid them, as well as how to survive in the event that it couldn’t be avoided. We finished in the house, which was a 2,400 sq. ft. fully furnished home with an observation deck where scenarios could be viewed.

This portion of the course was voluntary. After critiquing another student’s performance, I felt obligated to participate. The instructor set up a scenario while I waited outside thinking to myself, “I’ve totally got this. After all, I can analyze these scenarios all day.” However, there’s one thing I didn’t take into account… the effects of adrenaline on decision making. Cardio and an adrenaline dump physiologically are two very different things. Terrified and shaking, I was flustered and ended up running around trying to remember where I had left the phone to contact the “police”. I was unable to get to the firearm (the blue gun) that was staged in the home. The scene ended with me cowering in a closet with nothing but clothes to defend myself. Certainly not how I expected myself to respond!

This was a very humbling experience and became a defining moment in my life. I had to look at that “failure” and ask myself some serious questions. When the time came, would I be able to make the right decisions and get my body to respond the way I would need it to? Would I survive? Now that I had a concealed weapons permit and carried a gun every day, was I an asset or a liability to my community? I wasn’t so sure anymore.

Throughout the next year, I participated in every course I could, choosing to forgo most non-essential expenditures so I could afford quality, reputable training. I took force on force scenario training using Ultimate Training Munitions (simulated ammunition), CQB/room clearing courses, low light courses, executive protection courses, defensive tactics courses, used a Virtra training simulator, and had extensive 1 on 1 pistol instruction. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. During my training, myself and many other students made mistakes that would’ve gotten us killed or incarcerated. Those blunders were unforgettable learning experiences, and the gravity of those errors were thoroughly discussed. It was far better to make those mistakes in a safe training environment where we could push the “reset” button, than in reality where real and often permanent consequences exist.

At first, it was very intimidating for me to walk into those classes. Often times I was the only female in the room and I felt really vulnerable around men. Many times I would break down and cry because I would relive my assaults, but I didn’t let this stop me from training. I know it is far better to accept that there is evil and be prepared to fight it, than to live with a lifetime of regret. Facing that fear head on and choosing to be proactive with my personal defense has empowered me to become a more confident and thriving individual.

Now that I’m a mom to special needs children, I train for them, not wanting them to have to grow up without their mother. Many women I’ve spoken with who carry are too intimidated to participate in force on force training. Some perceive it as being something only guys do, some don’t see it as being necessary, and some are afraid of failing. The purpose of training is to learn how to increase our survivability and protect our loved ones, not to show everyone how awesome we are.

Previously, I believed that I would spring into action, kick butt, and save the day. I learned the hard way that this is a widely held misconception, especially in the realm of concealed carry. We typically do not rise to the occasion, but fall back on our training. Every day I have to see and touch my scars, and they remind me of how unprepared I was. Violent encounters happens fast and are difficult to process. The attacker sets the stage. Therefore we must always be vigilant and prepared by having the right mindset, equipment, and skills.

So I ask you to thoughtfully consider some tough questions. Would you respond appropriately? Do you have the skills and tools to survive? If you haven’t participated in force on force training, maybe it’s time to find out.