By EMILY KUMAGAI, Rafu Shimpo Contributor

84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee died after being violently shoved into the ground while walking in San Francisco. 70-year-old Mrs. Ren was robbed and assaulted in broad daylight in her apartment building. 85-year-old Chui Fong Eng was stabbed while waiting for the bus.  

With the surge of Asian hate crimes in the past few years, senior citizens have been particularly vulnerable. According to a new report released by Stop AAPI Hate, one out of four hate crime cases against adults aged 60 and up were physical assaults.

Senior citizens, while rich in wisdom, often lack the physical strength or acumen to defend themselves in dangerous situations. In order to defend themselves, seniors should equip themselves with the practical knowledge to prevent contact, escape dire situations, and handle the aftermath.

Here are three practical ways senior citizens can keep themselves safe, according to experts:

Have a Plan

Megan Teramoto leads a self-defense class at the Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo on May 29, 2021. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Avoiding dangerous situations by planning ahead may be the best way to stay safe. Gene Kanamori, CEO of Keiro Services, suggests utilizing a buddy system to increase safety: “Call a friend to go to the market with you or arrange a delivery, let a friend or relative know if you are going out, tell them where and call them when you have returned safely.”  

Proper scheduling can also decrease your chances of being a victim. “Know what time you’re going out,” says Kanamori. “If there have been a lot of attacks in the early morning or late at night, avoid going out during those times.”  

Megan Teramoto, small-business counselor for Little Tokyo Service Center, suggests avoiding wearing jewelry, watches, or other accessories that may attract unwanted attention: “Material possessions are never more important than my own life. If a robber wants my purse or bag, I was always taught to throw it in one direction and then run the opposite way.” 

Practice Awareness 

Many victims of violent crime never have the opportunity to escape or defend themselves. “Situational awareness is the key to survival,” says Sensei Art Ishii, head of the Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate-Do.

Susan Mita learns defensive moves during a self-defense class at the Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo on May 29, 2021. (MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Practicing awareness may seem like an obvious and simple tactic, but it must be second nature to be effective. Ishii Sensei suggests scanning your surroundings and creating a mental checklist of potential dangers and escape routes. He calls this mental checklist the “what-if conversation.” 

Asking these “what-if” questions can help a senior formulate an effective plan before danger arises. Avoiding distractions is also important when practicing awareness. Looking at your phone or listening to music with both ears blocked will compromise your ability to detect threats. ”If you’re not paying attention, you won’t see the signs,” says Ishii.

Fight or Flight

Wendy Nagatani practices a knee strike technique against Walter Nishinaka while Sensei Art Ishii supervises at the Terasaki Budokan in Little Tokyo on June 17, 2021. (Photo Courtesy of Matsubayshi-Ryu Karate-Do)

Although some may assume that self-defense means engaging in hand-to-hand combat, disengaging is most often the best course of action. David Ito, the chief instructor of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles, cautions defenders to have a measured response to threats:  “Be assertive, not aggressive. Aggressive responses can escalate a confrontation.”  

However, when forced into a combat scenario, victims are often ill-matched in physical strength with their attacker. “When you have a bad knee, bad leg, or two replaced hips, you may have to consider doing what was otherwise unthinkable,” says Ishii Sensei. “I’m not talking about punching and kicking and destroying your opponent. It is about using the minimum amount of strength and skill necessary to escape the situation.” 

This can come in the form of creating a commotion to demotivate an attacker or to call for help. Utilizing tools such as alarm whistles and pepper spray (with the proper training) can be invaluable in a self-defense scenario.  

“Sometimes we have to go against the social, cultural norm. Get loud, draw attention to yourself, escalate to de-escalate,” says Ishii Sensei.

Older generations will tend to keep to themselves and downplay their struggles. Values such as “gaman” (to endure), while beautiful, do not help the community to prevent hate incidents. According to Stop AAPI Hate’s National Report, individuals aged 61 years or older only reported 7% of all hate incidents. Children aged 12-17 reported 9%. It is imperative that senior citizens draw attention to these crimes and that community members encourage them to do so. 

“Reporting is key,” says Ishii Sensei. “A part of our culture is not to draw attention to yourself or your situation. In order to have an extra layer of protection and awareness, these [crimes] have to be reported so that we have an accurate understanding of the danger. Victims should understand that they are not to blame.”

Los Angeles organizations such as the Koban in Little Tokyo or the Little Tokyo Service Center offer assistance in reporting hate crimes should service in other languages be needed. For Japanese speakers, Nikkei Helpline (NHL) is available to help handle crisis cases at (213) 473-1633.

For those interested in arming themselves with self-defense knowledge, Ishii Sensei and his dojo have been holding several self-defense classes at various Japanese American community centers that are open to the public. The San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, 12953 Branford St., Pacoima, is also hosting a self-awareness seminar for seniors where attendees can join and listen to more detailed information on how to stay safe on Friday, Nov. 11, from 9 to 11 a.m. 

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