When people think about self defense, and training in the martial arts for that purpose, the focus is on learning to punch, block, and kick in some fashion. So I have decided to do some research and dig up whatever credible resources I could find so that I could present a whole different approach to self defense than what nearly everyone thinks about: the mental / emotional side.
What I have found has been very consistent with how I was brought up in the martial arts – that awareness and avoidance can keep you out of harm’s way and mindset can get you out if some form of violence does find you.
Even our school motto of Wisdom, Benevolence, Sincerity, and Bravery supports this.
But words and concepts are not enough. Sometimes it must be laid out in black and white for more people to benefit, and so here it is – a bit of a compilation of some of the best sources I could find – consistent with the principles already taught, but hopefully with more clarity and detail for immediate application.
Although many believe that it is just bad luck or “wrong place, wrong time”, this is rarely the case. Victim selection is like a science for the criminal. There is nothing random about it.
In one study, prison inmates were shown a short film of people walking in a crowded mall and were asked to choose who they believe would be a good victim candidate. 95% chose the same potential victims!
It’s important to understand that prison is more of an inconvenience than a deterrent-with three square meals and free medical and dental. He knows he won’t be there long anyway. The criminal is not afraid of prison – he is more concerned about being hurt or experiencing immediate pain.
He knows that if he is hurt he can easily be preyed upon by others like him. His safety relies on choosing the right victim.
Criminals will try to remove your options – you either give in or get hurt. They don’t want a fight. They want to get their way and be done with it.
The criminal will first check to see if you are safe to attack; and second, set up in position to limit your choices. Becoming aware of your surroundings will very likely keep you out of harm’s way at this stage of the game.
Take notice of people and places around you. Be aware of their position relative to yours. Is there someplace you can be cornered? Are there others around or are you alone? What is your gut feeling? Use common sense and change the scenario when necessary.
They’ll read your body language from a distance. Being “trapped in your head” is perfect for them. You’re already distracted.
Appearing timid, weak, or with general signs of low self-esteem and bingo, you’re chosen for the next step; the interview.
Usually the initial approach is with a request for something. They don’t care about the answer, they want to distract you, just long enough for their next move.
In a highly recommended book, “The Gift of Fear”, Gavin De Becker runs off seven excellent “Survival Signals” for predicting ulterior motives and /or bad intent. The following is compiled from there with the author’s words in quotes and italicized:
Forced Teaming – a we’re-in-the-same-boat attitude is an effective way to establish premature trust. Using terms like: “Both of us”; “We’re some team”; “How are we going to handle this?”; “Now we’ve done it,” etc., to put you on a fabricated common ground.
De Becker’s suggested defense: “I did not ask for your help, and I do not want it.” This may appear rude, but so what? “If it is being used by a stranger to a woman in a vulnerable situation (such as alone in a remote or unpopulated area), it is always inappropriate.”
Charm and Niceness – To charm is to compel, to control by allure or attraction. Instead of “He’s charming” as a description of a stranger’s traits, see it as, “He’s trying to charm me,” as an action being carried out. Charm has motive. “‘He was so nice’ is a comment I often hear from people describing the man who, moments or months after his niceness, attacked them.”
Too Many Details – “When people are telling the truth, they don’t feel doubted, so they don’t feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn’t sound credible to them, so they keep talking.” Also works as a distraction. Always keep the context of the details in mind. Remember, this is a stranger who approached you.
Typecasting – Being labeled in a slightly critical way in hope you’ll feel compelled to prove the opinion is not accurate. “You’re probably too snobbish to talk to someone like me,” and so you talk to him to prove you’re not a snob. “You don’t look like someone who reads the newspaper,” and you set out to show you are intelligent and well-informed. You refuse someone’s help and they say, “There’s such a thing as being too proud,” so you accept their help to prove you’re not. No response is effective because it’s the response itself that he’s after. “He doesn’t believe what he said is true, he only believes it will work.”
Loan Sharking – When someone does something for you it is difficult to not to want to return the favor in some way, even if it is just being nice to them. Getting him to leave you alone after his help is much more difficult. Keep the context in mind: “He approached me, and I didn’t ask for his help.”
The Unsolicited Promise – “One of the most reliable signals because it is nearly always of questionable motive.” The reason a person would make an unsolicited promise is because he can see that you don’t believe him. Your body language is one of distrust. And if you didn’t hear your intuition sooner, the one making promises is telling you that you don’t trust him – like a second chance to read the signals of your intuition that you may have missed. “Always, in every context, be suspicious of the unsolicited promise.” Keep yourself conscious of the situation by responding, at least to yourself, that “You’re right, I don’t trust you.”
Discounting the Word, “No”– “Perhaps the most universally significant signal of all. The person who chooses not to hear ‘no’ is trying to control you, and once you give in, the stage is set for more effort to control. Defense: When someone ignores that word, ask yourself, ‘Why is this person trying to control me? What does he want?’ It is best to get away from that person, but if that isn’t practical, the response that serves safety is to dramatically raise your insistence, skipping several levels of politeness. ‘I said NO!'”
According to De Becker, “Seeing the interview for what it is while it is happening doesn’t mean that you view every unexpected encounter as if it is part of a crime, but it does mean that you react to the signals if and as they occur. Trust that what causes alarm probably should, because when it comes to danger, intuition is always right in at least two ways: 1) It is always in response to something; 2) It always has your best interest at heart.”
You Pass the Interview:
I should say failed, from your perspective. Well, at this point I like the Golden Rules of self defense expert Tony Blauer: 1) Acceptance – the opposite of denial; 2) Get challenged – find your “ON” switch; and 3) Don’t stop thinking – stay in the moment and focus on solutions, not imagined outcomes.
Any and all good sources I’ve found have emphasized that the right mindset has saved many lives. Little 80-pound Kate O’Leary told me a story of how she was once approached for money by a group of teenagers. Let’s just say she scared the snot out of them and they ran off with nothing!
Originally Published April, 2003 under the title “The Reality of Self Defense”