I was near the fireplace insert in my basement office/personal dojo when I heard a startled squeak and scrabbling sounds. “Oh no,” I thought, “Rats.”
Using a jo I thumped the drop-down ceiling and the wall, eliciting more squeaking and scrabbling. The sounds came from the fireplace insert. I looked inside and saw pellets – not wood pellets but squirrel pellets. Not rats. Whew! I heard a growl that I’d never heard before but it sounded similar to other squirrel vocalizations. A quick wiggle of the flue lever confirmed the flue was partway open. That explained the droppings. I opened the flue all the way.
While I was on the phone with a pest control company I noticed a flicker of movement. Squirrel movement. I quickly closed the flue and peered through the glass door of the fireplace insert. In the shadows crouched a soot-covered squirrel. It was scared out of its gourd but it still growled at me and made disapproving “tok tok tok tok” sounds.
Bear with me, I promise I’ll relate this story to karate. Well, OK, specifically self defense.
Pest control folks refused help me until after the weekend. It finally occurred to me that the local wildlife rehabilitator could have a solution. I called and the procedure was simple.
I cut a small hole in what would become the top of a box. I took the additional precaution of covering the hole with waxed paper. It just so happened I have a work light that was perfect for placing on top of the hole, but a flashlight would do the trick too. Using a beach towel and a bath mat I made the rest of the area dark and reasonably secure. Cautiously I opened the fireplace insert door, made final adjustments, and waited to hear the scrabbling sounds of a squirrel checking out the lovely noisy wax-paper packet of peanut butter I’d left in the back of the box.
I waited a long time.
When I came back from a bathroom break I heard scrabbling noises in the box then growling from within the box. Dang, the squirrel was right near the flaps of the box. I would have to take a chance. Slowly I moved the towel and bathmat aside. I could see the critter hunkered down. He was absolutely terrified but he definitely was trash talking me. I took a chance and slowly moved the flaps of the box inward, shoving the squirrel and trapping him inside the box. That squirrel was furious and scolded most vociferously.
Needless to say the squirrel cussed up a storm as I tilted the box (making sure to hold the flaps securely shut), carried the box outside my house, then tilted the box again. When I opened the flaps of the box that squirrel took off like a shot. After the squirrel vanished I found it utterly adorable that this little creature still found the spirit to growl, talk trash, and cuss me out in spite of its obvious terror. My heart melted.
I have a new respect for squirrels. Knowing that a bite from a squirrel is a serious matter is one kind of respect. That’s respect for one’s own safety and the safety of one’s family. Another kind of respect is admiration. A squirrel’s agility, speed, and climbing abilities are indeed remarkable. But there’s another, deeper kind of respect which acknowledges your heart has been touched and you’re better for it. That squirrel’s bravery and knowledge of self defense resonated with me.
The little creature was frozen with fear but it was prepared to fight me to the death. The squirrel thought it was highly likely that I would kill it but by golly it was going to take a piece of me with it. I’ll be honest, the squirrel’s desperate attitude was a bit intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect – would it suddenly leap up and maybe claw my face? Would it bite me? This squares with what I’ve heard in many a self-defense seminar: standing up for yourself gives a potential attacker a reason to look elsewhere. Even if you look like a harmless bit of fluff you can still make someone bigger than you think twice about messing with you.
And yet the poor little thing was scared out of its gourd. That’s natural. Of course if some scary person steps out of the shadows you’re going to have a very visceral reaction. You might even freeze like the squirrel did. A “freeze” reaction isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might preserve your life. It might give you a moment to assess the situation. A terrified freeze reaction doesn’t necessarily spell instant doom. I have no doubt that if I’d messed with the squirrel or even lingered too long shutting the flaps of the box he would’ve found it in himself to spring out of his tense posture to attack me, run, or both.
Imagine seeing a huge monster looming over you. Imagine being shoved into a room and the room tilts, sways, then tilts again. It’s a scene straight out of a nightmare and would scare anyone. That squirrel very wisely got outta Dodge when I opened the box. Getting away to safety is a valid and, I would argue, best option for self preservation.
So… A stupid rodent who got itself trapped in my fireplace, all talk and no action… A squirrel who was frozen with fear… A squirrel who ran away and didn’t stay to fight… That’s a brave creature? You bet it is. Bravery doesn’t depend on circumstances, on anyone else’s opinion, or your own emotional state. Bravery is finding that spark inside you and making a choice to survive and/or help someone else survive.
Bringing it home to karate. The squirrel had many tools in its self-defense toolbox. That squirrel had strong back legs for jumping, sharp claws for scratching, and a bite from a squirrel is a serious matter indeed. Did the squirrel need to use those tools? No. Would the squirrel have been more brave if it had launched a full-out assault on me? No, it would’ve been a dead stupid squirrel because I’d have killed it. Using “cool karate moves” isn’t always the best course of action. “Knowing” karate puts more self defense tools at your disposal, but your best tools are your instincts and your belief in yourself. In other words… Squirrel power!