Posts Tagged ‘The Stages of Self Defense’

You may only have a few precious seconds in which to prevent a violent explosion(source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

So… you were unable to avoid that threat you identified. At least you were able to see it coming and have not been taken by surprise. Congratulations, but there is now some fast work to do. Welcome to Stage 2, De-escalation!

I am neither a psychologist nor a hostage negotiator, but, over my 42 years, I have figured out a few tricks for talking to people and getting oneself out of ugly situations. The two tactics I have employed most often throughout my life are “Tactical Empathy” and “Reframing” (though I didn’t know the names for what I was doing at the time):

Tactical Empathy – In his book, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, ex-hostage negotiator Chris Voss describes tactical empathy as “understanding the feelings and mindset of another in
the moment and also hearing what is behind those feelings so you increase
your influence in all the moments that follow.” Figure out what is motivating the other person, then leverage that information to shape the encounter by expressing common understanding.

Reframing – A “frame” is someone’s point of view and expectations of what is normal in a given interaction, based on their beliefs and emotional state. If you walk up to someone shouting angrily, you expect them to react with either fear or their own anger. Reframing involves changing the narrative and redefining what normal is for the interaction. If the person you are shouting at reacts with a smile or a friendly laugh, your brain’s plan for a heated exchange has been derailed; your frame has been “broken” and now you have to stop and reconsider the rules of engagement in that encounter.

Of course, both of these methods require an understanding of people, a willingness to engage people verbally, a bit of creativity, and a whole lot of confidence, but, as with any skill, they can be improved through practice.

Developing these skills can be handy in all sorts of non-threatening situations as well. I’ve leveraged tactical empathy and reframing to get into bars for free, skip lines, dodge fees, etc., though in mundane contexts it is less about “tactics” and more about finding common ground and being friendly.

I’ll illustrate these tactics using two examples from my past in which I talked my way out of potentially disastrous situations:

The International (Football) Incident

In 2014 myself and a friend traveled to São Paulo, Brazil to attend the 20th FIFA World Cup tournament. We had done our research ahead of time; we were advised to avoid wearing flashy clothes and jewelry (so you don’t look affluent), carry a “drop wallet” (a secondary one, with some fake cards or small bills, that you can toss down to distract muggers in order to flee), and stay out of the favelas. Also, we learned that Brazil has two major religions, Catholicism and Football, so you have to be careful what neighbourhoods you go into when wearing a specific team’s kit (they were a bit forgiving during the World Cup)

The sixth game we attended was a Round of 16 match between Argentina and Switzerland. The emotions were already tense in the crowd as we slowly mobbed into the packed stadium; this is the knockout round, whoever loses this game goes home. This is further fueled by a longstanding rivalry between the national teams of Argentina and Brazil (Argentina would love a chance to defeat the host country)

We arrived in our section, and suddenly realized we’d made huge mistake. Not wanting to sport a Brazil jersey in a rival crowd, and not having a vested interest in either team’s success, we chose to wear our Canadian (Women’s) National Team jerseys to the game… not for a moment considering the fact that they are red and white… the same colour as the Switzerland kit.

Our seats happened to be right in the middle of a sea of rowdy, drunken, Argentina supporters (borderline hooligans); there are white and blue striped shirts EVERYWHERE, and only two “security guards” in sight. The beer-fueled shouts of “hijo de puta” started flying at us! As we walked up the steps all I could think was, “great, we are going to be responsible for the 2014 World Cup riot.” We reached our seats and the guys all around us started sarcastically chanting “Up, SWISS!”

I had to defuse the rising tension, fast, or this was going to be a less-than-enjoyable experience. If Argentina loses (or even gets scored on), it could turn deadly. I face the guy doing the most taunting in English, and say, in a friendly manner, “It looks like you boys are pretty excited about this match.” He chuckled at my comment. I had him!

I extend my hand “I’m Corey, this is Homan, we’re in from Canada.” He shook it and introduced himself and a few of his friends. But there were still a few on either side, behind him, and behind us, who looked unimpressed. Looking at them specifically, I ask “Are you all from Argentina?” One guy offered up that he was from a town on the border with Paraguay and it took 20hrs to drive here. I replied, “Buddy, that’s hardcore, we had to save for four years to make this trip!” I then stated something to the effect of “this is do or die time, eh?” Which was met with a chorus of passionate tales of Argentina’s highs and lows in the recent past. We then talked about our jerseys and I went on to make a few jokes about how what little Spanish I knew was mostly swearing and talking about women.

By the end of the match they were buying us beers, we were sharing pictures of our kids, and, fortunately, were celebrating Argentina’s victory with them. (Argentina narrowly made it to the final but was defeated by a stellar German squad.)

How did we go from targets of hatred and derision to friends?

As we entered that section of the stadium, I was in mental colour code Orange, as the rowdy Argentina fans’ presence was a potential threat (we’d done our research!) In this scenario the threat could not be avoided; we had ticketed seats, there was no standing area, and I was not about to walk away from a World Cup match that I traveled to another country to see. Their behaviour essentially put me into mental colour code Red, as, even without our participation, we were in a verbal conflict. I had to de-escalate, and I had to do so immediately, before mob mentality kicked in and one of our harassers is inspired to move from verbal to physical.

The source of the conflict came from the assumption on the Argentinian’s part that we were going to return the same aggression they had shown us. My goals became; 1) Reduce or eliminate their aggression, 2) Remove their desire to harm us, and 3) Bond with them to solidify the “peace.” As a bonus 3.5) Make them see us as worthy of protection from other aggressors.

My path toward those goals was as follows:

  1. I started by immediately “breaking their frame.” They expected we would either return their vitriolic team pride with our own, or cower and be a source of amusement all game. By engaging them with humour, rather than anger or meekness, I disrupted their angry passion narrative. (similar to physically disrupting and off-balancing an aggressor with your own action). If you can get someone to laugh, it tends to shift their opinion of you toward the positive.
  2. In that moment of disruption I replaced their “hooligan” frame with the groundwork of my “comradery” frame: I named us and offered a handshake (thus humanizing us instead of remaining generic “rival fans.”)
  3. I then spotted the doubtful ones and kept them engaged with a trivially simple question that invited them to exert their pride, while at the same time (hopefully) opening up about themselves: “Are you all from Argentina?” This led to a more personal connection, as they have confirmed a part of their identity to me. It also created an opportunity for establishing common ground.
  4. “…we had to save for four years to make this trip!” Not specifically true, but it establishes three points in common: A shared passion for football, we aren’t locals, and we are regular, working class lads (what I call “economic camouflage.”)
  5. The above statement also satisfies their egos a bit by indicating that A) I’m impressed by their commitment, and B) we aren’t wealthy North American jet-setters.
  6. Bringing up their team’s “do or die” potential, again affords them an opportunity to exert their pride, passion, and identity, in a positive way. It also incorporates Dale Carnegie’s advice, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in them, than in two years by making them interested in you.”

By the time I’m asking them to regale me with the history of Lionel Messi and La Albiceleste, I’ve accomplished goals 1 and 2, and I am deeply into goal 3! While there were still hostiles in the area, whom we kept an eye on, the way the boys in our immediate vicinity were interacting with us deterred aggression. As the bonus 3.5 goal was not assured, we beat a hasty retreat to the exit the second the match ended!

Ego-Driven vs Predatory

In the above example, the threat was a bunch of drunken football fans looking for a hit of dopamine by way of national pride, they sought it through intimidation and I gave it to them, instead, through jovial comradery. (Dare I say that I might have chiseled away at their preconceived notions a bit?)

When considering your tactics, be aware that what at works for ego-driven threats won’t necessarily work for predatory threats.  The former can be manipulated by either feeding the ego or reframing it. By “feeding”, I mean that de-escalation could be a simple as saying “I don’t want to fight, you’d kick my ass!” or “yeah, I was looking at your hot wife, but she’d never take me over you, buddy.” For reframing, re-read the above! (In discussing “Fight or Flight,” the Hard2Hurt crew notes “submit” as a possible alternative.)

As always, be aware of variables such as culture, context, and the demeanour of the threat. Looking weak or submissive may actually escalate the situation in some regions or contexts, whereas in others meeting a challenge head on is an act of de-escalation (as counterintuitive as that may seem). Whatever option you choose, do it with confidence!

However, a predatory threat is more complicated, as the assailant may be dead set on harming you for reasons you may not be able to account for (eg. they are high, mentally/emotionally unstable, desperate, a habitual offender, etc.). It may be that your attempt at verbal de-escalation is really a distraction to buy you time or set you up to strike first.

Gun(Bar)fight at the Not-so-OK Corral

I have an eclectic taste in music, but I over the years I’ve tended toward the numerous varieties of Metal, Punk, and Industrial. Spending (or misspending) most of my youth in Alberta, these genres were sometimes hard to find, and one inevitably ended up at Country bars more often than not. But that’s okay, because I can three-step and line dance with the best of them (raised in Alberta!).

Let’s break this one down as we go along:

On one such evening I found myself with a group of friends in Southern Alberta, at a popular bar called the Corral (there were many with that name over the years). Everything was going well, the music was as good as it could be considering the genre and the drinks were flowing like water. Going well, that is, until one innocuous trip to the bathroom.

I turned from the urinal to find that I’d been followed in by five “cowboys” (I come from a farming/ranching heritage, and these boys didn’t look like the real thing). Regardless, we are alone, it is five on one.

At this point it bears mentioning that in my teens and twenties I had hair down to the middle of my back and generally dressed in band shirts with torn jeans or fatigue pants. In this case I knew I was going into a potentially unwelcoming place and had not adapted to the local customs (because I didn’t give a fuck.)

The defacto leader spoke first; “we don’t appreciate f*gs in here.” (It is Southern Alberta after all, the nexus of the farm belt and bible belt.) Under the surface, this threat is clearly ego-driven, they are insecure men, but their actions are predatory, ie. they stalked me and intend me harm for a specific reason. I need to stall long enough to either get to the door or be lucky enough that someone else comes in as a distraction.

I play dumb, “If I see any I’ll let you know” and start moving to the door. Unsurprisingly, they blocked me. “Why do you look like that?” he asked. It becomes clear that they don’t want to just kick my ass, they want to intimidate me first in order to “send a message” (or, perhaps more likely, they are cowards and no one wants to “start it.”)

My next gamble was to keep them talking while edging toward the door and keeping calm, making it clear I’m not weak or intimidated (I didn’t know the trick of “humanizing” back then.) I this situation, with these people and in the given context, being submissive would have encouraged them. I keep my hands up in a semi-passive position and I asked, “What about what about this looks gay?” One of the guys shouted “Your f*ggy hair!”

I saw an opportunity to defuse/reframe with humour. I replied, “I’ve heard that criticism before, I’ll consider it. Surely one of you boys can think of something more original?” It got a stifled laugh from one guy, but not enough to indicate that I had shifted the mindset of the group. Fortunately, another one shouted said “and it’s ugly!” I tried again with, “This guy cares what I look like? Now who’s gay?”

Bad move. There are effective ways to turn insults into reframing tools, but shaming or prodding the already emotionally unstable ego is NOT how to do it! But I was young and stupid.

They have an even more heated reaction; swearing and gesturing, one guy even started wrapping his belt around his knuckles. My final chance to reach the door involved a risky reframe; I said, “Woah, I’ve got piss on my hands, mind if I wash them first?”

THEY LET ME!!

At the sink I had a clear path to the door, but, tragically, it opened inward. I also noted that I had created a secondary (thought terrible) option by getting close enough to a stall that I could bail into it and at least bottleneck and align my attackers if escape proved impossible. Again, buying time!

I didn’t know how to fight at this point in my life, but my instincts regarding herd mentality were to square myself to the “leader” and try to drop him first in hopes of scattering a few of the others. (However, now I know that in group fight scenarios you go for whomever is CLOSEST). I kept edging toward the door but made sure they were still all in front of me.

At that point, the door opened. A bouncer was doing his rounds. He looked at them, looked at me, saw our positioning and body language… “All of you, get the fuck out!”

I head straight back to my friends and introduce the idea that it is time to go home.

Overt Predatory Threats

Fortunately (unfortunately for this post), I have never had to de-escalate a “overtly predatory threat.” That is, situations in which the attacker is deeply committed to the threat and is in your face so fast that you are starting at a disadvantage (eg. being mugged at knife point, getting jumped without warning, etc.). I’ve either managed to avoid them, albeit narrowly in a few cases, or talked them down before they made their intensions clear. Though, in my travels I have picked up a few pieces of advice that apply in most predatory scenarios, and in many ego-driven encounters as well:

  1. Don’t Argue – Do you really want to aggravate someone who is already in the middle of a poor decision? If someone demands your wallet, are you willing to get stabbed over a few bills and some replaceable cards? Again, submission MAY be the safest de-escalation, but you have to know your context. Otherwise, if you see a chance to reframe or employ tactical empathy, do it.
  2. Don’t Go to a Second Location – Allowing a predatory threat to take you somewhere else greatly increases the chances that things are going from bad to worse (sexual assault, murder, kidnapping, etc.). Yes, this conflicts with #1, but it is more important.
  3. Don’t Demand – When someone is angry, insisting that they “calm down” NEVER WORKS! If someone is trying to exert power over you, meeting force with force is unlikely to have positive results. Speak calmly and with confidence, “Please leave me alone” rather than “Fuck off!”
  4. Do Get Trained in Self-defence!
Further Considerations

Whether you managed it by roguish charm or clear and confident statements, just because you talked yourself out of a bad situation doesn’t mean that the threat has been stopped. The threatening party may change their mind if you look weak as you leave, or if you present them with an irresistible opportunity for a sucker-punch (you prevented the situation by being alert, don’t squander that now!).  When you remove yourself from the situation, assess once again; are you now on “good terms” with the potential threat, does their body language indicate that they are barely holding back, are their friends looking at them expectantly or chastising their inaction? 

Either way, now that you have the chance to get away, do so confidently (not arrogantly), and keep your eyes on the threat, directly or indirectly. Depending on the situation you may need to walk backward, cautiously, maintaining awareness of the threat and your surroundings, with your hands up in a semi-passive stance, until you are clear to escape. It may be that you simply need to keep an eye on the threat in the reflection from a store window, or take a quick look over your shoulder as you cross the road (which you should be doing to immediately create space!).

Understand that, until you are completely clear of the threatening person or situation, you MUST still be thinking and acting in mental colour code Orange. Situational awareness, as always, remains important; are they about to regroup and chase you, has frustration led them to pull out a weapon?

Be prepared, at any time, to move immediately to stage 3…

Written by Corey

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

In 1989, Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper, a former US Marine and creator of “the modern technique” of gun fighting, wrote Principles of Personal Defense, an easy to understand guide to training oneself to avoid dangerous conflict.  Cooper had long been famous for teaching his “Mental Awareness Colour Code,” a system that employs the colours White, Yellow, Orange, and Red to indicate the level of awareness a person is experiencing. “Black” was added later by the USMC, after realizing what behaviours extreme psychological stress can cause. The awareness colour code is a simplified view of a person’s stress and awareness under stressful, potentially dangerous, situations. It is important to know, both in Krav Maga and in life, at what level you are at, in order to avoid reaching code Black. A key concept often heard in Krav Maga is “Situational Awareness,” this as usually taught in class as the awareness of physical surroundings. Here you must ask yourself things like; “are there multiple attackers?”, “are there weapons?”, “do I have viable escape routes?”, etc…  However, a big part of situational awareness is also being aware of your personal mental state and your ability to act or react appropriately in a given situation. Enter, the Awareness Colour Code. An easy guide to understanding your mental state at any given time.Principles of self defense.jpg

White – Unaware and Unprepared

This is you sitting relaxed on the couch after a large meal. Often students like to test an instructor with a surprise attack, even if a black belt is teaching, but is at White level any person could easily sucker punch even the most accomplished martial artist. This is a relaxed and unassuming state, you are not anticipating an attack and are relaxed in both a mental and physical sense. This is a state you should be in only when in safe environments.

Yellow – Relaxed Alert (A)

Most, animals such as cats or dogs, spend most of their time in this state. To quote Cooper’s book;

“Observe your cat. It is difficult to surprise him. Why? Naturally, his superior hearing is part of the answer, but not all of it. He moves well using his senses. He is not preoccupied with irrelevancies. He’s not thinking about his job, his image or his income taxes. He’s putting first things first, principally his physical security.”

 – Jeff Cooper (2006). “Principles of Personal Defense: Revised Edition”, p.14, Paladin Press

In this stage, you are relaxed but still paying attention.  It would be harder to surprise a person at this stage, but they are still not experiencing a level of stress, just simple awareness. It must be understood that being at Yellow, or relaxed alert, is not paranoia. If one were to mentally be at orange (below) or higher on the scale on a regular basis, identifying everything as a threat whether real or imaginary, then this would then be moving into paranoia. Remember, relaxed alert is just that, relaxed. You can stay here indefinitely with out any issues, other than being more prepared to perceive, Analyze, Formulate, and Act against identified threats (See Action Vs. Reaction: Stages of Mental Processing for more).

Orange – Specific Alert (A) (D) (PE)

This is the level of awareness you experience when you have identified a specific area or person of concern and your attention is now focused. A nefarious looking person is walking towards you, or perhaps you are a soldier on patrol assessing windows and doors. While Yellow is a stage that you can maintain indefinitely, Orange requires mental concentration. Consider working an 8 hour job; statistically most work is done before noon, as people still have the mental focus to be productive. The same goes for Orange; stay here for too long and you will begin to read the situation incorrectly!

Red – Fight! (PE) (RA)

Either the situation was unavoidable or you misread it, but you are now actively engaged in a fight or conflict. Imagine a car tachometer.  How long can it stay red-lined until the engine blows? The same goes for a fight. How long can you maintain this level of intensity, both mentally and physically? This is why for us, as Krav Maga practitioners (Kravists), we try to limit time spent in Red, and end it as soon as possible.

Black – Catastrophic Breakdown (Non-Functional Freeze (NFF))

If you hit Black, you have experienced a complete, catastrophic breakdown; mentally, physically, or both. The longer you spend at condition Red the more likely you are to trip into Black. A persistent example of this would be “shell shock” (PTSD). However, some people go straight from White or Yellow to Black, this would be the “freeze” reaction, which is when your nervous system is overwhelmed and shuts down instead of entering “fight or flight.” You can avoid this by training properly, so that your brain and body know how to react appropriately to violent stress. However, it is impossible to know who will experience this before it happens; some people are prone to it and some people are not. It is also important to have proper mental decompression if you spend too much of your time at Orange or Red. If you experience this or anything like it, and have survived a violent confrontation, we advise that you seek professional counselling to ensure that you do not suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress as a result. Proper, professional debriefing, and possible therapy, will help, both practically and emotionally.

* See The Stages of Self-defence post for more details on the below information

  • (A) – Avoidance
  • (D) – Diffusion
  • (PE) – Preemptive
  • (RE) – Reactive

**Topics under any principle category (Eg. Krav Maga Principles) may be updated from time to time.  So check-in every few months to see if the posts have been updated.

 

 

The Stages of Self-Defence

Posted: December 21, 2017 by urbantacticskravmaga in Krav Maga Principles
Tags: , ,

When people think of Krav Maga, or even self-defence in general, they often fail to understand the complex nature and progression of violent situations.  In the post on the use of force, a maze-like graph provides a visualization of how complex a situation can get from a second-to-second decision making perspective. Almost all violent attacks are because of a failure to be aware and avoid the situation. However, it is also possible that a situation, due to circumstances, was unavoidable, which means how we approach it will be fundamentally different.

There are two primary reasons that you were unable to foresee or avoid conflict.

  1. You were not paying attention and your awareness level was probably at white. (See post on Awareness Colour Code)
  2. The attacker had been planning it, and their tactics and approach were simply better.

Run away.jpgWhile you may see variations of the model presented below, we offer a simplified version of the basic, four stages of progressing in a self-defence situation. Ideally, you should employ step one as often as possible, as you win 100% of fights you are not in.  Remember, however, that at any point you may find yourself in any one of the stages, which means you must respond appropriately and progress in order.

Avoidance (A)

If you do not put yourself in a situation where conflict is required then you will not have conflict in the first place. Avoidance can mean many things. It could mean you identify a threat and run away, or that you ensure, through wise choices, that you rarely encounter situations requiring conflict. Perhaps it means not walking in that dark alley, at night, alone. This seems like common sense, but many people routinely make poor decisions that naturally put them in situations more conducive to conflict. Perhaps avoidance means NOT going to a party hosted by a person who doesn’t like you, knowing conflict will result if you go. Maybe it is deciding to leave a coffee shop after noticing someone acting strangely, or simply making yourself aware of them so that you are prepared if they do something. In the avoidance stage, the threat may not even be aware of you as a target. Of course, we recognize that avoidance is not always possible and as such we move down the progression scale.

De-escalation (D)

At this point in a conflict, the threat has actively identified you. This is the stage to which many first world countries like to advocate; the moment to “talk it out.” This is essentially the diplomacy stage. In Canada, 9 times out of 10 you can talk your way out of a potentially dangerous situation. (In some countries, however, if a threat has identified you, like it or not, you will have no choice but to run, or skip to step 3 and/or 4). If you can talk your way out of a conflict do so, at the very least, you should talk as a distraction while you find your exit and run; either way, you will remain on the defensive.  In this situation, you MUST be in semi-passive stance or something equivalent. Your hands MUST be up, non-aggressively, but ready to act should the threat decide talking is over and attack. If they attack first you will be jumping right to Reactive Self-defence. However, if in attempting de-escalation you assess, through observation of indicators, that they are becoming more and more aggressive, then we recommend you strike first, moving down the progression scale to a Preemptive Action strategy.

Preemptive Self-defence (Preemptive Action (PE))

Sometimes the best defence is a good offence. This is a common saying that could not be truer in street self-defence scenarios. Because of the concept of action vs. reaction, it is always more beneficial to act first, as this means you will be one step ahead of the threat. We cannot tell you when or how to act first, as it is completely up to you to assess when it is required, but we can tell you that when you do strike you must strike hard, fast, and with retzef (relentless attacks meant to overwhelm).  You must attack with the goal to stop the threat. If at any point you feel the threat is neutralized, you must assess and either detain the individual or run to safety.

Reactive Self-defence (Reactive Action (RE))

If you are reacting to defend yourself (rather than acting), it means something has gone wrong. It means you failed to use steps 1-3; either you have grossly misread the entire situation, or the tactics the threat is using are simply better than yours. Regardless of why, you are now reacting to defend yourself and stop the threat from doing you harm. This is where the explosive, aggressive aspects of Krav Maga come in. It is not good enough to simply block, you must block AND attack, using retzef to escape or stop the attacker from wishing to continue.

*Topics under any principle category (Eg. Krav Maga Principles) may be updated from time to time.  So check-in every few months to see if the posts have been updated.