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The best defense is a good offense: Arming disabled veterans with the mental and physical skills to protect themselves from danger.

Count to seven: One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.

It can take seasoned criminals seven seconds--possibly less--to size you up and decide whether you would be an easy target for robbery, assault, kidnapping or whatever else might be on their mind. Would you know how to react? What if you were in a wheelchair?

Mark Copanzzi--a taekwondo master who holds belts in jiujitsu and aikido and has experience as the senior instructor in hand-to-hand combat at the Secret Service Academy--knows a thing or two about self-defense. He has volunteered for the last 23 years at the DAV and VA co-sponsored National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado, where he shows severely injured veterans ways they can protect themselves in the event of an attack.

"My father has become blind and my son served in the Navy," said Copanzzi. "It's very personal for me."

Although some aggressive techniques were taught at the event, Copanzzi routinely tells his students that the most important muscle in any fight is the brain.

"Avoiding conflict is the only certain way to survive it," said Copanzzi. "When approaching intimidating crowds or suspected criminals, it's instinctive to turn your eyes away or put your head down, but that is exactly what will mark you as an easy victim. Even a friendly 'Hey, what's up?' as you pass someone suspicious can ensure you are not a target."

While the mental exercises are important, Copanzzi's students have the chance to practice hands-on techniques as well.

"When dealing with a hostile situation, the average person has a choice: fight or flight," said Vietnam veteran Dave Nichols, who lost both his legs to a Claymore mine. "When you have a life-changing injury, flight is not typically an option, but you can easily disarm an assailant quickly and without much effort. I just need to practice."

Much of Copanzzi's technique focuses on teaching the veterans to be masters of their space, a style used by boxers and wrestlers. The training demands that students know the limits of an opponent's reach, as well as their own, to be effective.

"This is an extremely valuable class for the veterans who attend, and could even be lifesaving if they ever find themselves in a bad situation," said DAV Past National Commander and Winter Sports Clinic Chairperson Dave Riley. "Unfortunately, criminals don't make it a habit to share their intentions, so being prepared and having even a basic understanding of how to protect yourself can make all the difference."

Learn More Online

For more information on self-defense from Mark Copanzzi, or to join the conversation with your fellow veterans, visit

By Bryan Lett

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Author:Lett, Bryan
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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