Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book (1894)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

As some of you know, or are just finding out, there is a process when dealing with conflict. On the Macro (Political Science, Sociology, etc..), it can be quite complicated and nuanced, on the Micro, well, it still is. However, the process is simple enough that anyone can easily learn the basics.

Pre-Emptive is the 3rd stage of self-defence; when you have failed to Avoid or De-escalate (Diffuse), it’s Time to Act! This series incorporates personal stories from UTKM instructors and students to provide context and examples for what these concepts look like in the real world, the various ways they can be applied, and how different approaches may play out.

Pre-emptive is a tricky one, because, sometimes, it may look like you were the one who initiated the conflict. This often leads to people being hesitant to “throw the first punch” even if they sense they are in imminent danger. Particularly if you grew up in Canada where (at least when I was in school) there were emphatic about never hitting, EVER! Unfortunately, this stance is somewhat delusional, and quite silly, given that in many cases teachers, or the school, will not step in if there is conflict between students. Or if they do, they have little power to sort out complicated situations. This means they are, at least in my opinion, affectively removing empowerment and the ability for individuals to learn to solve their own problems. They tell kids, “you can never strike someone,” and if the other options don’t work they are fucked. Its wrong, plain and simple. As you will see from this collection of personal stories, from several authors, and as Krav Maga has learned, sometimes you MUST strike first.

Part of this comes from the fact that, despite what many believe, Humans are still animals, and though we are omnivores we are predatory in nature. This means that those who are powerful, or worse, feel powerful, will rarely pick fights with those they perceive as stronger than them. Just like lions on the savanna, predators will target the old, the very young, and the weak in the herd. Because the strong ones will either fight back or stick together for strength, but in the wild predators CANNOT afford to take significant damage, as it means the beginning of the end.

Unlike predators in the wild, however, human predators will rarely (at least in modern times) face life or death for picking the wrong target, which can embolden them. Striking first will, at the very least, let them know, “Hey, asshole, you picked the wrong fight today!”

Of course, if you do strike first and then immediately realize you should have run, then it’s time to run. So make sure you train hard, assess, and be smart; you will know when to strike first and when to run. It can be hard for most people to know when to make the right decision, but one thing is for sure, if you hesitate you may look weak and then you will end up in the last stage of self-defence, reactive, or worse. So, to help you learn and contextualize the idea of striking first, here are some personal stories, from several individuals, to illustrate the decision making process:

  1. I must have been out of high-school already, as parties were not really my thing back then. But, like many, once you hit adulthood and decisions are solely on you, it is time to explore. Several of my friends at the time were already living on their own, or with roommates, and several of them liked to party. Which meant, so did I. One friend had a place fairly close to where I was living at the time, which was great because it meant I could walk to her house, and therefore let loose. Like many parties at the time, they were held at peoples houses that were considered “the party houses,” so, while there were those who were invited, it usually meant random people showed up; sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. In this particular case it was a mixed bag of nuts, so anything and everything could have happened; from salty tears to the hard crunch of teeth breaking. This story is, of course, alcohol and ego fueled, and driven largely by my big mouth. (Meaning it was completely avoidable but it happened nevertheless.) Typically, striking first is a result of the actions of someone particularly predatory, but, sometimes it comes from you getting into a situation of your own creation. In this case, I fully acknowledge it was the latter. A few (or many) drinks in, I started a conversation with an individual whom I was not familiar with. He had a tattoo on his arm in a language I wasn’t sure of, so I asked about it. He said something along the lines of, “It’s Latin, because I’m Latino and it means…” Of course I found this both hilarious and stupid: While Spanish, English, French, and other Romance languages have their routes in Latin (and others), being Latino in the modern sense is not exactly the same as being someone who knows and speaks Latin. Unsurprisingly, he was not fluent in Latin; as few people, outside of classical scholars and academics, are even remotely verbally competent in ancient languages. Me being me, couldn’t resist mocking this man. Not to his face of course, because that’s just rude! But, rather, to a friend of mine on the other side of the party. Somehow, at what point I am not sure, he heard; and he didn’t take to kindly to it. Later on he got in my face, not just by himself but with two tall and broad individuals, one on each side. He called me out for mocking him and then started to front by saying “do you know who I am?” blah. blah. blah. His claim was that he was in a gang etc… I counter that with, “No, but do you know who I am? NO, so it doesn’t matter does it?” I was trying to bluff, using aggression and intimidation. No, posturing is usually not the appropriate way to de-escalate, but it can work, especially if you make it believable. It can work simply because the other person, the predator, may think you are a bigger predator and you might be far more trouble than your worth. Just know: It doesn’t work for those who cannot at least look like they are a killer. Even back then, if not more so, I had the crazy eyes and a bit of a reputation for being an un-predictable nut, so for me this strategy often worked (don’t try this at home, follow the strategies as laid out in the de-escalation post). Despite my posturing the thoughts in my head were that of panic. Aside from the leader, who was my size, the other two could probably pick me up like I was nothing. They were all standing with their backs against a pool table. I had some space behind me and then a set of stairs with one of those half-walls to prevent people from falling down. I knew I had to do something, as these types can only be bluffed for so long. Action was needed. So I threw a HARD elbow into the leader’s chest, which caused him to stumble back and fall partially onto the pool table. After you act, you must be ready to act further. I was preparing to grab one of the big guys by the nuts and (attempt to) toss him over the wall, down the stairs. Luckily neither of them made a move, my bluff worked! I mean, what kind of crazy person strikes first when he is out numbered and out gunned? Me apparently! It’s important to note, at this time I really didn’t know how to fight, yet I instinctually knew to strike first even (though I generally avoid it at all cost on account of not being a very large person). In their shock they decided to throw more insults rather than responding physically. That’s when my friend, the host of the party, herself a short loud mouthed (and even more aggressive) individual, came like a bat at of hell screaming. “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE PICKING FIGHTS WITH MY FRIENDS AT MY PARTY!?” talking to the three individuals (she was crazier than me in many ways). In some weird twist the three guys ended up apologizing to me, shaking my hand and it was over. I am not really sure, what would have happened if I had not have struck first, but I know that it worked. Afterward I learned how badly it could have gone; at least one of them was carrying a pistol tucked in their pants. I didn’t have the experience or training to know to how to look for this type of thing first. Imagine had they pulled it out? It would have been a bad day. This is why it’s always best to stick to the first two strategies; Avoid and De-escalate. But had I not acted, it is possible they simple would have collectively jumped me, so at the time, and given the results, it would have seemed my instincts were correct. – Jon
  2. There are many more stories I could tell that are far more exciting, but this is pertinent to the many individuals who are bullied in one way or another in school: Back in my day (I can’t believe I’ve started saying that), physical bullying was all you had to worry about. But, today it’s both physical and digital, so keep that in mind. I can’t recall exactly what I was doing, but I was standing in the hallway in high-school not paying attention, when I felt a hot, burning, sensation under my chin. One of the kids who ran with the “popular” guys had put a lighter under my chin and ignited it. This pissed me right off (justifiably so)! I had a few choice words (the specifics I’ll leave out), which caused their friend, a kid who was dumb as a brick and quite scrawny, but a known brawler and quite popular, to get up in my face. He was attempting to protect his lackey, who was smaller than me and held the lighter. One thing led to another and, once again in sheer panic, I kicked him as hard as a could in the groin. He dropped like the brick I thought he was. They were not expecting it, and is probably one of the many events that gave me the reputation of being unpredictable. No, I could not fight. No I did not have reliable “backup” who could, and would, fight, and, although many people knew who I was, I was certainly not a popular kid. This ended the conflict right there and then. Furthermore, it had some lasting effects. Cleary, though popular, these individuals were bullies. AND the kid I kicked was in fact one of those who would engage in organized scraps at least once or twice a year (you know, those high-school fights where you say “meet me at the park at this time” and everyone encircled to watch?) which made it even more interesting. In any future conflict between me and him, I would take a step forward or similar and he would often step back. One time, if I recall correctly, he even told someone else to get me instead of doing it himself. Fascinating isn’t it? This is a story that emphasizes how, when it comes to bullies, they may not stop until you let them know you are not an easy target. EVEN if they could easily beat you in a fight, you have made it clear that an altercation with you will not be without consequences. So you see, humans are animals, predators, and will usually only target those who we can feel we can engage or overpower without risk of repercussions. Thus the attitude of “never strike first,” is simply wrong. It may in fact be the best and right option. It works, simply because though the human condition is complex, we are still animals. – Jon
  3. My experience with having to, or at least making the choice to, strike first was when I was in my mid-to-late 20s, at which time I had been training Krav Maga for about 2 years. I had just finished work, closing at a restaurant in the city of Perth (Australia), so would have been somewhere after midnight. I had about a 5min walk from the restaurant to the paid lot where I always parked my car; this walk involved crossing through a large park by the river. The park was only semi-lit before you reach the open air car park, which was lit and, if you believe the signage, security patrolled (though I never saw any security the whole time I parked there). So here I am walking across the grass, on my phone but with enough of my peripheral vision working that I saw two people approaching from a comfortable distance off. They were coming from the direction of my car, and thus in-between me and my car; though being we were in a large, grassy area there were escape routes in all directions. As they got closer to me I put my phone back in my pocket as if it was a natural thing I was about to do anyway. They both looked a little younger than me, say late teens to early 20s, and they looked like, let’s be generous and just say, “juvenile delinquents.” I looked toward my car, kept an eye on them without making eye contact, and adjusted my path a little so that I would go around them to get to where I was going if neither of us changed course. When they got to be a few meters away (maybe 12-16ft for all you North Americans), they started to engage with the usual approach of “Hey, have you got the time?” or “Can I bum a smoke?” or something to that effect. I replied politely with a “Nah, sorry” or “About 12:30 (or whatever the time was),” but the changed direction, coming toward me. Now, my thinking at this time was basically; just be polite and don’t do anything sudden or to draw attention or look frightened. The particular local type I pegged these two as had a reputation of being somewhat cowards and not picking on people that stood up to them (know your local and regional context!). I simply kept walking and they kept closing the distance ’til one was in front of me and the other was just off to my right. At this point it turned into hands out towards me and “Hey, have you got any change?” Running wasn’t really an option now, given their close proximity (though it might have been a minute ago), and it seemed like they had decided I was worth there time. I replied, again simply, with a “Nah, sorry mate just my card.” Then, before they could start asking for, or demanding, more, I explosively shoved the one in front of me with both hands in the chest. He fell backward and at the same time (in my mind at least) I side-kicked the one to my right, somewhere in the mid-thigh to groin area. He also fell backward, then I ran to my car, got in, and drove off. I didn’t stop to look back and see if they were following me, I’m pretty quick so they may have tried for a second before realizing they wouldn’t catch me. Tactically, I guess you could say I made some mistakes getting into the situation in the first place, but it was resolved with little effort on my part and quickly. Could I have simply ran to my car as soon as I saw them? Sure, but that may have been unnecessary, or worse, it may have made them chase me, thinking I had something worth stealing. Could I have run at any other point as they closed in on me, or when they initiated contact? Again, sure, but same reason as above but they’d start their pursuit closer. Could I have simply chosen a different career or job that didn’t require me to walk home alone at night? Sure, but why live in fear or let others dictate my life choices? What I definitely did right was training in martial arts and self-defence, so that I had an understanding of the situations I might end up in and how to deal with them. I kept my cool and didn’t end up in mental state Black. I identified that a physical confrontation was unavoidable after after attempting to avoid, and, well, not making great attempts to defuse, but not engaging them overlong. Once that threat was identified I pre-empted it; I struck first and quickly, but with only the amount of force needed for me to escape the situation. I didn’t stick around to fight it out (or to “finish it”), and I didn’t open with something so big I might end up facing assault charges if, say, I had gotten it wrong and the threat was only imagined. And lastly, I made a quick escape without turning around. – Evan

As you have read from the above examples, sometimes, whether due to circumstance or ego, the time for stage one or two either passed, or was not appropriate. And the next stage, pre-emptive action (good old striking first), was the next logical step. Be aware, however, that it often requires a good read of the situation, the ability to strike first with maximum affect, and the understanding that it may fail so you must be ready. When it fails, you must be prepared to either run or continue to fight, applying all of the techniques and strategies you know. This is why, despite its effectiveness, you must always try to avoid the fight and de-escalate whenever possible. But when the time comes, know that it is always better to strike first than to be struck first.

Written by Jonathan Fader

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