Posts Tagged ‘avoidance’

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

Knowing how to avoid danger increases your chances of survival dramatically! (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

The “4 stages of self-defence,” as taught by UTKM, is the basic order of operation for what you are doing when presented with conflict; be it physical, social, or otherwise. The order, moving from best option to worst, is; Avoidance, De-escalation (Defusing), Preemptive Self-defence (Strike First), Reactive Self-defence (React Last). Understanding the basics is easy, but, like all concepts, understanding when and how to apply them correctly can be trickier.

The major reason for this is the simple fact that if you do not truly understand what you are doing and you lack the experience to make a quick and correct decision (and you do not have your instructor whispering the answers into your ear), the real world situation is suddenly more complicated than it was in training.

Grasping the nuanced application of a technique, how and why it works, and when to employ it, can be the result of you being fortunate enough to possess an innate ability to understand intricate contexts, or, as is more common, it can be accomplished through consistent training. Consistent training makes up for talent by internalizing the details, purpose, and application of a given technique (or reaction in a scenario), to the point that your nervous system and decision making process will, more often than not, fire correctly under duress.

To help foster a better understanding of these key concepts, I, and others at UTKM, will be sharing real world experiences relating to the four stages. Each week we will expand upon one of the concepts and give examples.

This week it is the first and arguably most important stage: Avoidance.

“You win 100% of the fights you are not in.” – Nir Maman

First you must accept the fact that you cannot always avoid. For example, applying avoidance as a self-defence tactic for interpersonal conflict will most likely result in further problems. The concept of Avoidance simply suggests that it may be better to avoid than to confront in most situations However, and this applies particularly when it comes to bullying or active violence, sometimes the best option is to directly confront the source of conflict. After all, Krav Maga was built on the idea that sometimes running is not an option. So, please, do not interpret this stage as permission to be passive-aggressive or to never deal with life’s problems, that is not the correct application of this concept (and, honestly, if avoidance is always your chosen option in life, this may be indicative of other, deeper problems you are struggling with.)

So, lets start with some examples from my youth:

  1. It was Halloween night, and, like most young teens (I was maybe 15 or 16), I wanted to go out. In our area, big house parties were not a common occurrence, but what was all too common were hoards of teens and young adults roaming the streets like a hungry packs of wolves, looking for fun and perhaps trouble. I was with the group of friends I usually ran with at the time, and we ended up crossing paths with another pack of teens. Walking together with them, in costumes, masks, and painted faces, with candy and fireworks in hand (legal then, but illegal now, likely due to these same ravenous packs of ne’er-do-wells getting up to yearly mischief) we were on the boredom-fueled prowl. Some confident and bold, others just trying to fit in. In my case, the latter seems like it was the appropriate category. I mean, is that not what one of the best features of Halloween is; You get to dress up and pretend to be something else, something grander, something more powerful? It is after all, “All Hallow’s Eve,” where dressing up as something scary was meant to fend off the roaming spirits and demons that walk the earth on this night, every year (so the legend goes). But masks and make up can only mask you for so long. One of the older boys in a mask, I did not recognize. Clearly a leader, out front, loud and obnoxious, identified himself to me. It turned out this masked individual was someone whom I had issues with in the past. He was also dangerous, in the literal sense, much like that of a hungry alpha. He regularly got in fights (and won), regularly had police interactions, the circumstances of which were anything but innocent fun, and he “may or may not” have had ties with even more violent individuals who were known to police. He was also much bigger than me, a good bit stronger, and far more athletic. Which, through a child’s eyes, was a terrifying thing, even though I considered myself tougher than perhaps I was and, like most males, overestimated my skills. I had no training and no experience, just an over inflated ego. It was, of course, dark, and I did not like the things coming out of this guy’s mouth, nor the energy in the air. The feeling of fun turned to a dread and an uneasy churning in my gut (yet to be filled with candy.) It was uncomfortable. Concerned that the hoard was full of individuals who did not in fact like me, not to mention the de facto alpha, this was not ideal for an enjoyable night. So I decided to listen to my instincts; it was time to leave. My pace slowed, I fell to the back of the crowd, then quietly, but swiftly, faded into the dark, walking to my home a few blocks away. Later, when I was asked by my cohort where I had disappeared too, I made up some plausible story. The reality is, it was probably the right decision. Those uneasy feelings we have may be wrong sometimes, but it is often better to err on the side of caution, as we never know how things will escalate. There is one thing for certain; if you are not feeling your best, or you are uncomfortable, it can be easy to do or say the wrong thing and cause a situation to quickly shift from manageable to disastrous. So, in that case, with those personalities, avoidance was the best choice. No harm, no foul, no hospital.
  2. I was an awkward teen with no sense of who I really was yet. Which meant I was not so great with the opposite sex. So, when female friends came into the mix, it was always a joy, and an uneasy excitement (the kind only a teenage boy knows.) For a time, I frequently hung out with two girls who were a year or two younger than me. Feelings were always mixed, as I liked them each at a different time; which meant I would often go out of my way to spend time with them. Lacking experience and confidence, of course, things never went the way I had imagined. Nevertheless, it was fun at the time. Like many youths lacking good mentoring and guidance, I had trouble controlling my temper. I would never hurt anyone, but it was obvious to those all around me. Like a tornado striking down in an open field, I was loud, boisterous, and, to some, terrifying, as the fear that the destruction might come your way. (This is something I still work on daily, though with calmer mind, maturity, and fewer raging hormones it is much easier to manage.) One of these girls had a cousin, equally attractive in my eyes. Someone who I had met previously, at a random community party. She was troubled. If I am informed correctly those troubles continued to impact her in adulthood. Whenever she came around to join us, it never went well. I was POSITIVE she would intentionally say or do things to illicit my temper and unleash the tornado for her amusement. I was cold, dry air, she was warm, humid air, the inciting words and actions were the required updraft. Everyone said I was either crazy or imagining it. Nonetheless, there came a point at which I could no longer stand to be around her. So the strategy I employed was avoidance. Anytime she randomly showed up, I would find a reason to leave. If she was already there with my friends, I would make other plans. Everyone thought I was being unreasonable. However, I did not like having my fun outings turned into episodes of anger, thus, to me it seemed like the better choice. It also prevented me from hitting a breaking point and actually doing something I would regret. Despite the fact it made me look even more weird and unstable, socially, in many respects I probably made the right decision by practicing avoidance. (In hindsight, and perhaps re-framing the situation, it turns out that this girl may have actually liked me. I was told by someone, later down the road, that she was very likely trying to illicit my aggression on account of a secret, let’s say, fetish for violence. Had I been more confident, then perhaps I would have handled it differently and allowed my cold dry air to meet her warm humid air, but given my lack of knowledge at the time, avoidance was still the best strategy. Lest the tornado met the hurricane and all hell broke lose. It probably wouldn’t have been good for anyone.)
  3. If you think bullies disappear after high-school you may have practiced avoidance a little too much, and may in fact be a shut-in who is living in a perpetual state of self-imposed exile. As the internet has shown us, most people are not as stable and confident as you think, and many have bully-like tenancies at the very least; trying to use force, intimidation, or aggression to get what they want. Or, they simply have not learned to manage their anger like others and emotionally lash out at people when they are challenged, or whenever things do not go their way. I learned to deal with these people early in my youth, and as an adult I tolerate it even less. I, of course, generally employ Stage 2, deescalation, as much as I can; using my words and avoidance, as Stages 3 & 4 (outside of physical violence) are not at all appropriate in day-to-day life in a Civil society. Which means, as an adult, mastering the first two stages is that much more important. Especially when you live in a strata (eg. a condo or townhouse). Personally, I despise stratas, as it is all to easy for a bully, or someone who has a bully-like attitude, to get on the council and try to tell others how to live or act, or has a personality that leads them to take issue with being challenged (due to their perceived powers.) I personally think stratas have been nothing but a disaster, and will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually, but until then, you, like me, will likely have to deal with them at some point. Without getting too detailed, there was some conflict between me and those on a strata council. Whether I was in the wrong or the right isn’t important, sometimes I was, sometimes I wasn’t. However, several members of the council seemed to think it is acceptable and appropriate to yell and scream at people when they don’t like what was said or done. This is, of course, utterly inappropriate, and in the adult world could constitute bullying and harassment. Obviously, this is something I will not tolerate. Extensively researched, well-worded letters where sent! The goal of these letters was not to demand compliance one way or another, but rather to make it clear that I am not the kind of person to pick a fight with, verbally, physically or otherwise. Initially they got the hint and basically stopped bothering me. Later, another incident occurred where a member of council, once again, decided to scream at me. After making it clear that this was an inappropriate (and futile) tactic it didn’t seem to matter, they saw me as a threat to power, and continued. As an adult, I made the decision that, clearly, these individuals are old, unstable, and have never resolved their personal issues. I understand, but I still have no patience for it. I privately told another, calmer strata council member that their fellow’s outbursts were boarding on harassment. Moving forward, I just ignored the problem individuals and do not engage. Clearly they have problems, and those problems are not mine to solve. I made it clear that I will not be pushed around, they all seem to have gotten the hint. I avoid conflict with them, they avoid conflict with me, and we now all live in a cold peace where, so long as we don’t bother each other, all is well. While it is certainly not an ideal situation, I would rather have good relations with my neighbours, it is, in modern times, often quite impossible to get along with everyone. So, practicing a peaceful yet aware avoidance strategy will, in the end, help keep things calm, and less stressful.

Whether you are a teen, an adult, or a senior learning to practice good avoidance (and when to move to the next stage) can be extremely useful, not just in literal sense of physical self-defense, but also to help you manage the hardest part of life: Other people. These skills can be innate or learned. In my case, it seems to be more of the former, though through practice I refine them as I go along. Perhaps as an Ashkenazi Jew it is in my genes to be cautious, and avoid whenever I can, as thousands of years of oppression and living in fear is likely to impact your genetics a little bit. (Think Woody Allen, the stereotypical, nervous Ashkenazi Jew, albeit a extreme case.) Regardless of how you come to learn these skills, learning it early, and learning it well, will only mean one thing; a happier, more peaceful life. One in which your visits to the hospital due to violence are low, and your conflict related stress is that of calm waters rather than a raging storm. For if you find yourself raging too much, too often, you may find yourself battered, bruised, and broken; because you failed to manage your mental state (see awareness colour code.)

Written by Jonathan Fader