Self-defense techniques for journalists

Montana Special Election
Greg Gianforte thanks supporters May 25 after winning Montana’s sole congressional seat. In his speech, he apologized for an altercation at his campaign headquarters with a reporter.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but if you ask a politician a question he doesn’t love, and he body-slams you the way that Montana congressman did to a reporter, you could crack a rib.

Hello, my name is Lee Cheizwyzz. I’m a brown belt and three-time bronze medalist in AAU judo and have spent close to seven years contributing to the City Weekly newspaper in Philadelphia. In this town, we know how to ask the tough questions, and we know the right defensive counter when a guy we’re interviewing tries to get us in a headlock.

In conjunction with the Annenberg Center for Public Journalism and Dragon Dave’s Kung Fu Kicknasium, I’ve developed a course aimed at helping reporters defend themselves. So here’s how to handle some challenging interview/attack scenarios. As Rocky Balboa said: “It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep asking pertinent questions!”

Interview question 1: “The state division of budget is predicting a $798 million shortfall this year and, growing to $1 billion next year. Do you think it’s better to cut expenditures or find new revenues?”
Probable politician attack move: Full-body suplex.
Journalist defense: When a politician moves in for the suplex, he’s going to try to bear-hug you around your waist from behind. Then he wants to lift you off the ground, lean back, and dump you backward, head first. You must not leave the ground. Sit your hips down low, clasp your own hands together, slip them inside his hold, and thrust your arms up to break his grip. Then step one foot forward, turn around toward him, elbow him in the face, and ask your follow-up.

Interview question 2: “What do you say to the 97 percent of scientists around the world who agree that climate change is due to human activity?”
Probable politician attack move: Overhand right sucker-punch.
Journalist defense: This is a big punch. Use that to your advantage. There’s time to avoid it by circling to your left or leaning back. Remain in punching stance. The attacking official is going to be exposed once he or she throws the haymaker, so counter with a quick combination: straight right and left hook to the chin, then a right leg kick to the midsection. And remember: Protect your audio recorder at all times. While it would be nice to complete your interview, a tape of your assault could be news too.

Interview question 3: “How do you feel the overseas terrorist attacks have affected the immigration debate in the U.S.?”
Probable politician attack move: Kimura submission hold.
Journalist defense: The kimura or double-wristlock has become a popular way to restrain a free press in South America, and it’s spreading. This is pure grappling. The pol wants to roll you to the floor and manipulate your arm in ways it doesn’t want to go, threatening to rip it out of its socket, which can make it tough to file on deadline. Once the public servant has you on the ground, walk your legs around his head, grab his arm, and lean back for your own devastating arm lock. He should be more open to discussing the finer points of immigration policy at this point.

Interview question 4: “Will you release your tax returns?”
Probable politician attack move: Head smash with folding chair.
Journalist defense: This classic pro wrestling move is clumsy and of questionable legality  but still dangerous. And there are plenty of folding chairs at town-hall meetings. Adapting Israeli krav maga defense techniques, rush toward the attacker with an arm raised as a shield. As you move in, use the arm to deflect the chair to the side. Turn and work the candidate’s hands off the chair, distracting him with punches, knee strikes, or a hard stomp on his instep. Once you have the chair, you can use it as your own weapon or just be seated to continue the interview. Be wary in case the politico has a tag-team partner or aide who attacks you from behind with another chair.

Don Steinberg is a Philadelphia writer. don1steinberg@gmail.com