THE SELF-DEFENSE TACTICAL VOLUME: EPISODE 1:
OVERVIEW OF THE “INTANGIBLES OF COMBAT”
The “Intangibles of Combat” is the first in a series of writing that examines the intangible tools that a martial artist must acquire to consider his/her training complete in any martial art. This series of articles will examine key categories of violence, the importance of avoidance and de-escalation, as well as certain indicators present in your environment that strongly suggest a predatory attack or other violent encounter may be imminent.
In this article, we will examine the key “Intangible” categories, what they mean, and how greater understanding of them can benefit your overall approach to self-defense applications. Future blogs will break down these categories, and study Intangible techniques in more detail.
What makes a martial artist effective in a real-life street encounter? Is self-defense all about punching, kicking, grappling, and Jiu-Jitsu, or does a dedicated martial artist need other tools in the toolbox to complete his/her training? We believe that MMA is the basic foundation of for any self-defense/self protection study, but are muscle, clever technique, and physical prowess the most important aspects of your martial arts skill set?
In answering these questions, you first must accept that we are all animals by nature and evolution provides animals with natural or situational cues for determining an array of threats and applying defensive guards. No animal in the wild will let a stranger get near it. When you walk through the forest and approach an animal, the animal will generally flee or strive to maintain a safe distance, rather than attack. When an animal in the wild leaves the shelter of the forest to drink at a river or lake, the animal instinctively “knows” when things do not feel right, and the animal runs. These defensive cues are based on the animals’ senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) and various other indicators that the animal instinctively knows or has come to understand through direct experience.
As human beings, we are no different and evolution provides us with the same natural instincts to protect us and to equip us with the necessary tools for survival. We are naturally reserved when strangers approach us on the street, and if the encounter simply “doesn’t feel right”, we automatically revert to thoughts of a fight or flight response. This is not your imagination talking. These feelings of uneasiness are your natural evolutionary instincts telling you that something is wrong. You immediately pick-up on these indicators, and this ability to instinctively assess risk in order to act accordingly is there for a reason, so don’t ignore it. Being on your guard or in a state of heightened awareness is the first stage of being proactive in an environment where your survival or safety may be threatened.
An Attacker/Predator knows this, and will employ specific behaviors that allow him or her to get close to you (when you would otherwise flee like the wild animal), and convince you to further lower your natural defensive guard, once contact is initiated.
There are various types of potential assault, some of which are predatory/criminal in nature (e.g., robbery, assault, sexual predation), while others may be the result of insults or perceived disrespect, encountered during social interactions (bar-fights, road rage, and similar forms of violence resulting from social encounters). The Intangibles of Combat can be a powerful tool in addressing these many forms of violence, developing a strategy of defense, and formulating an appropriate response. An appropriate response is not developed through physical means alone. The proper response can only be determined through the synthesis of Observation, Strategy, and Awareness (our intangible tools).
Having high capacity in these three areas is the most valuable asset in your cognitive arsenal, and can help you defeat more opponents than any physical self-defense technique. You can often avoid risky situations by using what is commonly known as “street sense”, which generates a natural and instinctive self-preservation response by synthesizing these areas of study. The intangible tools discussed in this series of blogs are applicable to any form of violence (whether it be criminal, or social in nature), and learning to recognize the warning signs of pending violence in advance of the actual encounter can help you to gain an advantage when you are alone on the street.
The Tangibles and the Intangibles
Formulating a self-defense/self protection or a personal combat curriculum that is right for you will involve many different aspects, and the key consideration to emphasize is that there is no such thing as “off-the-shelf” software when it comes to Combatives and Self Defense. The curriculum must be tailored to the individual, and every individual will have different experiences, natural tendencies, and even physical capabilities that will necessitate a different approach for each person. The general rule follows the teachings of Bruce Lee, which dictate that you should certainly listen to what everyone has to say on the subject, but take what works for you, and discard the rest.
What is consistent for all individuals, regardless of their background or physical make-up, is the necessary focus on both the “tangibles” and the “intangibles” that comprise our self-defense tool-kit. The tangibles are the obvious elements of physical combat that predominantly include punching, kicking, grappling, restraints, and other forms of physical aggression as a response to violence. This type of response is prevalent in most systemized martial arts today. However, most people forget about the “intangibles” that are much more important than any tangible physical response. The intangibles can allow you to escape, intercede, preempt, diffuse, and de-escalate a situation that may be potentially harmful. But in all situations the goal is the same – to be smarter than the Predators on the street.
Relying on our smarts is the key to survival. As humans, we are the most dangerous animal on the planet with the power to easily dominate or destroy any other known creature in the wild. What many fail to observe is that while we are the dominant species, we are also the least equipped. We have no fangs or claws, no scales or venom, no extreme night vision capability, no fins to swim quickly, and we don’t have the speed or agility of the animal that runs on four legs to catch prey or quickly scramble up a tree to safety. What places us at the top of the food-chain is our intelligence and advanced cognitive abilities that provide us with reasoning, intellect, and the ability to problem-solve, make complex decisions and/or manipulate our environment to our choosing. Forgetting about our smarts in the subject of combat, is ignoring our most powerful weapon.
So, the Intangibles of Combat rely on our “thinking” skills (convergent/analytical thinking, divergent thinking, critical thinking, and creative thinking) rather than our brawn to get us out of a jam, or to avoid violence altogether. These Intangibles of Combat can be summarized in three broad categories that will be thoroughly explored in more detail in future episodes of this blog:
The Big 3
- Situational Awareness & Strategy
- Observation and Intelligence-gathering
Situational Awareness & Strategy (Observe and Learn): The name of this game is to use awareness to minimize your “Target Profile”. By minimizing your exposure to dangerous situations, you also minimize the likelihood that you will have to contend with a violent encounter (the proverbial no-brainer).
In looking to military application, we see that understanding our environment, observing certain advantageous positions, and formulating basic tactical strategies are the keys to victory in any military combat application, and the same principles apply to unarmed combat and Self Defense. Basic situational awareness can lead to simple strategies observed by Sun Tzu, such as placing the low sun behind you, maintaining the high ground, keeping a wall or obstacle to your back (keep the battlefield in front of you), or choosing the obvious path of least resistance. This principle may include developing basic strategies of attack, and maintaining a simple arsenal of easy-to-use “pre-emptive strike” techniques of choice. However, situational awareness can also involve common-sense decision-making, such as avoiding dangerous locations, being on your guard when questionable locations are unavoidable, and responding quickly and intelligently to abnormalities that arise in your natural surroundings (proactively respond before the encounter escalates to violence)
Some pre-emptive suggestions that will be explored in more detail in future SMAA-WKKJO blogs include:
- Traveling with a friend when in unfamiliar surroundings
- Avoiding a path near parked vehicles, trees and hedges, recessed doorways or other areas where a predator may be concealed
- Staying closer to populated areas or crowds of people (predators do not want to reveal themselves and their actions in plain view of onlookers)
- Casually crossing the street (or changing direction) to avoid threatening encounters/situations, or questionable locations
- Appearing confident and moving with a purpose to provide the appearance of someone who is familiar with their surroundings.
Observation and Intelligence-Gathering: In military warfare, intelligence-gathering can be the key to winning or losing a battle. Understanding the enemy and developing a tactical strategy to thwart conflict relies upon our knowledge of the battlefield (and the enemy’s movements on that field of battle), so that a competent strategy can be formulated before the conflict begins.
When turning to the subject of Self-Defense, gathering relevant data and recognizing the warning signs of a pending attack can allow you to develop a strategy to pre-empt many violent encounters, whether by employing de-escalation techniques, pre-emptive strikes, or even by fleeing the scene or avoiding a location of potential danger. Many Combatives instructors refer to these observations as “Pre-Assault Indicators” or “Pre-contact Cues” that provide us with clear intelligence regarding a person’s intentions and/or mental and emotional state. Learning to recognize these warning signs can be more powerful than any physical tool or technique in your arsenal, and this important subject will be examined in future blogs on the Intangibles of Combat.
De-escalation and Reasoning: The ability to reason with an aggressor and de-escalate a situation is our most powerful weapon, and is the main aspect of the capacity of the human brain that differentiates us from other animals in the wild. This ability can help us mitigate most of the violence that we are likely to encounter in life, provided we have the patience and the will to adhere to some basic principles. Specifically, what is it that requires a physical response? Violence in a social setting (the violence of “ego”) is the most common form of violence that you are likely to encounter, but there is no reason to be sucked into this pitfall. It is also important to understand that like your physical training, learning to overcome your ego and employ de-escalation techniques will take hard work and constant training – it is not easy, because our ego and natural desire for social ranking in the pack is one of the most basic instincts that continues to dominate the choices and actions of the human species. Learning to overcome this ego will take a lifetime of hard work and constant effort.
Categories of Violence
Before we examine the Intangibles of Combat in more detail, let us first look at the subject of violent encounters, and the main categories of violence that exist in our society (Social Violence, Targeted Violence, Random Violence). From there, we can then develop a strategy for addressing conflict, based on the form of violence we are facing. Understanding the many forms of violence will also help us to better-focus our training in the areas that have a higher frequency of occurrence in society.
What should I focus on? Although violence occurs in many forms, violence can be grouped into three broad categories (discussed below), based on both the likelihood of occurrence, and one's ability to control the situation. Here is a simple rule to assist you in prioritizing your training efforts. It is called the: 90/10 philosophy. This means that you should spend 90 percent of your time training for the situations that are most likely to occur, based on your current social circumstances, and 10 percent of your time training for situations that are the least likely to occur in your current circumstances. By broadly categorizing the key types of violence that one is likely to encounter, one can better assess what to train for, and how to address the majority of situations encountered.
In making the assessment of which form of violence to focus on for your purposes, you should consider that your exposure-risk to a specific type of violent encounter may change, depending upon your social surroundings/interactions or occupation. For example, a law enforcement officer or a bar/club bouncer is much more likely to encounter different types of violence than an accountant, school teacher, or business executive. Similarly, a military soldier will be exposed to certain forms of violence more frequently than civilians. A person moving in the shadows as a street-level criminal will also have a different target profile and exposure rate to certain forms of violence than your average citizen. Understanding “who you are” and managing your social/occupational surrounding/interactions is an important aspect to reducing your target profile, and minimizing your exposure to certain forms of violence (or better preparing for them).
Social Violence (Most likely Encounter): The nature of Social violence is that it is the result of the progressive escalation of a social encounter. The incident is usually the outcome of social interactions, often between two people who have no overtly criminal intent prior to the encounter. Examples include argumentative encounters that escalate into bar fights, arguments/disagreements on the street, or even road-rage incidents that escalate into physical violence. This can be compared to a classic schoolyard or playground brawl, but on an adult level (with adult consequences). The unpleasant fact is that social violence is the most frequent type of violence that you are likely to encounter in your life (let’s face it – we have all been in situations like this at some point or another). The good news is that this type of violence is controllable most of the time by using basic, de-escalation/diffusion techniques. If you are not dealing with a true criminal encounter, but rather, you are dealing with an ordinary and generally good person who is just having a really bad day, the situation can almost certainly be diffused with a little effort, patience, and adherence to basic de-escalation principles.
This means that the violence you are most likely to encounter in your life is also the easiest violence for you to control, and understanding this is a powerful “intangible” weapon for your self-protection arsenal.
Targeted Violence (Less Likely Encounter): Targeted violence is an act of violence involving criminal or predatory intent. This occurs when a predator has selected you as a target of violence, due to perceived weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Examples of Targeted Violence include muggings, sexual assaults, carjacking, kidnappings, gang-related violence, and similar forms of criminal activity or predation. Targeted Violence is the most problematic form of violent encounter, because de-escalation/diffusion techniques are largely ineffective against someone whose main goal is to commit violence against you. However, learning about basic human behavior, recognizing targeting/pre-contact ques, minimizing your “target profile”, and developing basic situational awareness, can go a long way towards helping you avoid a violent encounter.
Although targeted violence is much more difficult to control then social violence, it is also much less likely to occur in most social circles, and the Intangibles of Combat can allow you to either avoid the encounter altogether, or escape the situation quickly if you have been targeted by a predator.
Random Violence (Least Likely Encounter): Random violence comes in many forms, but the key defining characteristic is that you (as an individual) are not necessarily the individual target. Although random violence can be imposed upon a particular person or group of people, the victims are often simply in the “wrong place at the wrong time”, and become a victim of circumstance - the target and intent of the perpetrator is not always clear. Some examples of Random Violence can include spree-killings or similar active shooter situations where random violence is committed in the community. It may involve a random attack by an agitated or mentally disturbed individual. Random Violence may also include organized attacks against factions, organization, or specific groups where the individual victims are not specifically selected (they are simply at the location when the violence erupts). The clear difference in defining random violence is that you as an individual are rarely ever selected as a “Target” based on perceived weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Instead, you are an unfortunate victim of circumstance who has little ability to control your proximity to the perpetrator(s).
The bad news is that Random Violence is very difficult to control once you encounter it. Most preventive methods involve avoiding potential high-risk situations or locations – but, when the violence erupts, your ability to control the situation is limited. Strategy relies primarily on the idea that you, as a lone individual in a group, are not likely to have been individually selected as a target, and thus, survival typically involves strategies to flee the scene (or to minimize collateral damage). The good news is that a random violence encounter is also the least likely situation you will ever encounter in the street.
As we will examine in future episodes, understanding these various forms of violence can help you to formulate your strategy - a strategy that must be different, based on the type of violent encounter. Said differently, you don’t want to open the toolkit and bring a shovel, if the job requires you to hammer a nail (rather than dig a hole). Violence can be thought of as a wild animal, and understanding the type of animal that you are facing (the category of violence) can help you to “bring the right tool for the right job at the right time”.
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This is the first in a series of articles on the “Intangibles of Combat”. Future episodes will explore these intangibles in much more detail, including the keys to minimizing your target profile when facing these categories of violence, diffusing potentially violent encounters, and recognizing pre-contact cues/pre-attack cues that give you advance-warning that violence may be about to erupt. Our goal is to educate you on the most important aspect of your self-defense/self-protection toolbox.
Martial Arts and Self-Defense Tactical Volume Episode 2:
Awareness and Target Minimization
In our last article, “The Intangibles of Combat”, we examined the intangible tools that a person (any martial artist) must acquire to consider his/her self defense training complete. We explored the key “Intangible” categories, what they mean, and how a greater understanding of them can benefit your overall approach to self-defense applications.
“Awareness and Target Minimization” is the second in a series of articles on the “Intangibles of Combat” that examines the importance of awareness, and minimizing your “Target Profile” as an approach to preventing physical violence from occurring. Future articles in this series will build upon these principles to examine diffusion/de-escalation strategies, and the warning signs that an attack/assault may be eminent (i.e., Pre-contact Cues).
Learning to defend yourself is valuable, but being taught to avoid violence altogether is worth much more! Avoiding a violent encounter is the ultimate one-punch knockout – you are always the victor with the trophy in hand if you leave a potentially violent scenario unscathed. By acting to prevent violence from occurring you have effectively defended yourself, and the potential assailant loses the ability to attack. You take home the prize by getting home safely to your family, but the assailant may feel bewildered, taking home nothing but misery and disappointment due to the fact that the assailant was not able to effectively assault you.
As mentioned in our previous blog, we have categorized violence into three broad categories consisting of (i) Social Violence, (ii) Criminal/Predatory Violence, and (iii) Random Violence. Social Violence categorizes violent encounters that arise through our social interactions with others, and this form of violence is generally predicated on ego and desire for social ranking, rather than criminal intent. Examples include bar fights, road rage, and general disagreements amongst hot-headed individuals that escalate to violent encounters. In contrast, Criminal Violence is predatory in nature, and involves pure criminal intent from the onset (mugging, rapes, murders, and similar violent encounters)
In addressing the Intangibles of Combat, let us turn the focus to the importance of maintaining Awareness of your surroundings, as well as highlighting some simple ways that you can reduce your profile as an appealing target for violent offenders. These skills can serve in a variety of settings, but much of this will be most applicable to Targeted or Predatory violence, where the assailant (or Predator) is prowling the streets for a viable Target (you).
Awareness is the first and most important aspect of addressing violence. Awareness of Self, Awareness of Environment, and Awareness of Others will allow you to make better decisions in times of crises - Awareness is your frontline of self-defense. The following are some important rules to consider.
First Assess Yourself: Awareness of self (physical, socio-emotional, and cognitive abilities) and of your surroundings (environment) is the first important aspect in managing your risk profile. So take some time to first assess your physical limitations and your mental capabilities. For example, are you injured, infirm, drunk or otherwise physically or mentally compromised? Each of these considerations will impact your ability to react to danger, so understanding your limitations will help you to tailor your response to any situation.
For example, consider how are you dressed when you leave your home. Are you in blue jeans, short pants, slacks or a dress? Are you wearing comfortable running shoes, leather dress shoes, or heels? If you are vision impaired, are you wearing your glasses or contact lenses? These are important considerations in understanding your ability to flee danger or otherwise defend yourself. Similarly, if your are injured or disabled (or impaired or intoxicated), this may also limit your options in dealing with a violent encounter (or fleeing potential danger).
Second, Assess Others: Once you have properly assessed yourself, then you must assess others around you who may approach. The key question here, is “what does this person really want from me?”. Most of the time, when people approach us on the street, they approach innocently, but it is the set-up of a Predator that you are trying to avoid. Predators generally want one of three things: Your money, your body, or your life. Said differently, they want to (i) rob you, (ii) hurt you, or (ii) kill you, so attempting to assess a what the person desires as soon as possible can help you to better address the situation appropriately.
Also be sure to observe people who simply “do not belong” or look out of place for the environment. Questions to ask might be, why is this person wearing a hoodie in July? Why did those two people get up from the curbside and start following me? Does this person have their hands in their pockets in an unusual way (do they have a weapon)? Another big indicator that attitudes and actions are not favourable is if you cannot see a person’s face when you otherwise should be able to see their face. This means they are intentionally hiding! If you pass by, and a person continues to turn away or otherwise hide their face in an unusual manner, there is likely a reason for this, and that reason could be bad. So, pay attention to the actions of those around you – Predators often stand out in small ways. They will be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or exhibit abnormal behaviors that simply do not apply to the current situation. Although the warning signs may be subtle, rely on your instincts to assist in detecting indicators and anticipating predatory behaviour – you have keen intuitive and survival awarenesses for a reason.
Third, Assess your Environment: You should also consider your environment (location, or proximity to danger). For example, are you on a crowded street in the afternoon, or on a dark street corner late at night? Are you walking into a convenience store, or standing at an ATM machine? Are your hands empty, or are you carry bags with expensive items? Is the neighborhood generally considered “safe”, or are you in a high-crime neighborhood? What is your occupation or purpose for being in the neighborhood – are you a tourist, a native resident, or a bouncer/door-person at a nightclub?
Considering the day of week can also impact your Target Profile (many strong-armed robbers prefer to attack on Fridays, because this is typically “payday” for most people). The beginning of a month can also correlate to an increase in robbery and targeting of the elderly (this is generally when the social security/pension checks are issued each month).
Learn to Scan your Radar: Predators hate people who are aware of their surroundings and what is occurring in the immediate area. So, use this to your advantage – scan constantly and know your surroundings, where you are, and where you are going. Scan side-to-side routinely, and check your “six” (know what/who is directly behind you) occasionally – particularly if you hear sounds or sense movement behind you. Use store windows and late-afternoon shadows that can serve as a “mirror” to gauge activity nearby. Windows next to you, or even across the street can be particularly useful in “checking your six” in an unobtrusive manner when you are unsure of activity behind you, and whether you are being followed or “flanked” by potential predatory assailants.
Scout Ahead (don’t look at your feet): Learn from military tactics, and always seek to gather information about your environment sooner (rather than later). This is the purpose of a military “scout” who braves the path ahead to learn of enemy activities. Always look ahead to identify danger as early as possible. The earlier you identify potential danger on the horizon, the more time you have to avoid it all together or prepare for an assault. Thinking pre-emptively in this manner provides more strategic options or you.
Don’t be Distracted: This one should seem obvious, but the advent of smartphones seems to have dulled our intelligence. Don’t wear ear-buds, headphones, and do not continually scan your iPhone when you are walking down the street, or riding public transportation!!! Learn from animals in the wild, and use all of your available senses to identify potential danger. If you occupy your eyes and ears with frivolous things while you are in unfamiliar surroundings, you have just compromised your two most important senses that help you to gather information about what is occurring within earshot.
Orient Yourself: Occasionally review your local crime statistics map (most cities will publish this online, and it reveals crime statistics in your area, and sometimes where specifically the crimes occur within your city). What types of predators surround you (local gang activity, and the current dangers in your proximity)? Has there been any escalation of crime in your immediate area (property crimes, violent crimes, sex crimes)? What is “popular” with the violent predators of today and how do they like to approach you and attack? You can learn a lot about these trends through news media sources that report crime each day.
In addition to the considerations above, you can also study articles (and especially CCT footage frequently published online) that can help you to better understand the “reality of violence”, and how it unfolds – we suggest that trolling YouTube to study violent videos is OK (you are not being weird, you are just learning for your own protection).
Your behavior and your choice of location can often dictate your risk-level of exposure to potential violence. Following are some considerations on what to do (and what not to do) to deter predators from zoning in on you as a target. Desired behavioral practices not only provide a tactical advantage, but they can also make the attacker “uncomfortable”, which impacts the Predator’s mental commitment to the attack.
Listen to Your Mother: Remember what your Mother told you – she always knows best, and her lessons were easy to follow:
- Don’t stay out too late (nothing good happens after midnight);
- Don’t go to bad areas of town (where violence is a more common occurrence);
- Don’t hang out with bad people (who are known to have violent tendencies and behaviours);
- Don’t do stupid things (unnecessary risk taking);
- Mind your own business (don’t stare at strangers or interfere);
- Remember the Golden Rule – Do unto others …
If you follow “Mother’s Rules” you rarely go wrong, and each of the rules above should be carefully considered when assessing your Target Profile.
Set the Tone: be cognizant of how you present and carry yourself, and what it means to the Predators that are lurking in the shadows. Walk with confidence, even when you are in strange areas. Move with conviction and purpose (even if you are lost, or unsure of your location). If you are in a sketchy part of town, then do not talk to strangers (you are not here to make friends, you are just passing through and trying to find your destination).
Also consider your eye contact. Know when (and when NOT) to make solid eye-contact with people on the street. Eye contact can be:a display of “confidence & surety”,
- a clear “challenge” and sign of “disrespect”, or
- a clear “warning” to someone, depending on the context
The concept of “disrespect” or “dissing” someone is important to understand in the context of the street-level criminal world – there are “street” rules on this, many of them learned by criminals through our penal systems (i.e. time spent in prison). So, learn how to “look without looking” to avoid confrontations. The average comfortable eye-contact is around 3.2 seconds. Making eye contact for significantly longer than 3 seconds is not normal and makes people uncomfortable, so know how this rule can work for you (or against you).
Move Quickly: Always walk quickly, confidently, and with purpose (take a lesson from Protective/Security Services, and keep the “car” speeding very fast on the proverbial highway, to see if you are being tracked). If you are walking very quickly, and you see a questionable person tracking you and matching your pace, then there may be a problem. Walking briskly and confidently also makes it appear that you are not a tourist and you are confident in your surroundings (you have a purpose and a clear direction), and it minimizes the amount of time you are “exposed”.
Don’t Get “Pinned Down”: If asked a question by strangers that make you uncomfortable, continue walking briskly as you politely answer, pretending to be late for work (take a lesson from the military and do not get “pinned down” in combat). This helps to minimize risk of a “luring set-up” attack – if they can’t pin you down, it is much harder for them to jump you. If you are moving briskly, you are much less appealing as a potential target for violence.
Position Yourself Strategically: As you move, use terrain and other conditions to your advantage, and chose the path of least resistance. Choose the high-ground as you walk, or stand on a street corner, and be sure to stand well-enough back from a busy street that you have reaction time if approached from the rear (you don’t want to end up on the ground in front of oncoming traffic). Choose a side of the street where the sun will not be in your eyes, and shadows will not hide potential danger. If it is night, then try to choose the path with the most light and open space (avoid dark, cramped places, alleyways, and unlit parking lots).
Walk in the center of the sidewalk, and be sure to give doorways/vestibules and other blind-spots a wide berth (predators like to hide in the shadows). Be cautious not to walk too close to the outside edge on a busy street – the roadway with oncoming traffic is your enemy if a physical confrontation arises.
If obstacles arise in your path, identify them early and navigate safely around them to avoid a compromising position, or a sudden attack. As examples, don’t allow yourself to get pinned in a tight spot, alleyway, or between a line of cars in a narrow parking lot. Scan for obstacles ahead, and choose a path that provides the greatest escape routes – even if you cross the street, or alter your course.
Use Camouflage: Learn how to blend in with your surroundings, so that you don’t “stand out” in a crowd (always look like you “belong” with those around you). Individuality is a good thing, but always be cognizant of the fact that if you dress or behave differently and “stand out” from your surroundings, you will attract attention and increase your target profile (i.e., increases your risk and exposure to violence).
Hide the Bling: When in questionable areas, don’t display temptations (hide the bling, smartphones, expensive jewelry). For example, consider putting flashy necklaces inside of your shirt, and turning your diamond ring over, so that only a band is showing (and the diamond is hidden in the hand). Leave fancy purses at home. Consider taking off your expensive watches and keep them in your pocket.
Never pull out your iPhone/smartphone to review messages, until you are in a safe location. Leave laptops at home, if at all possible, and don’t “dress to impress” if you know you will be in an area of potential danger.
Don’t Worry About What Others Think: The short summary here is that often people hesitate to run or take steps to avoid danger, because they are worried that they are overreacting and people will laugh or think they are silly. When you are alone in a dangerous area, do NOT worry about this! It is better to have people laugh at you, then to fall victim to a tragedy – you will never see those laughing people again, so do what you must in order to stay safe.
As an example, I took off running twice when I was scared as a young child walking the tough inner-city streets of Baltimore, only to have the person following me laugh as I ran away. But guess what – I don’t care now, and I didn’t care years ago when they laughed. I went home safe to my family, and that was the only important thing. What might have happened (or not happened) is simply NOT important – safety is the main focus, so trust your instincts when in dangerous areas.
Go with a Friend (or two): This is a basic concept, but if you are in unfamiliar surroundings, don’t go it alone if you have an option – walk with a couple of friends as a group if you can. If you are alone, consider waiting to start your journey until a comfortable-appearing group of people pass by, and then trail in close proximity to casually “move with them” so that you are not completely isolated. Although these concepts seem very obvious, many do not follow them. A group setting is a very easy way to deter potential Predators (they tend to like lone targets that are easy to take down).
Control Intoxicants (always be aware): This is a no-brainer and speaks to the basic awareness principle of Assessing Yourself first. It is one thing to go out and enjoy a few libations, but do not allow this to compromise your awareness or your abilities to flee danger. It can also make you more brazen (“liquid courage” is the old term from my youth), but sometimes being afraid is much better than being brave. Also try avoid the “party spots” at the worst times. For example, if you are in a bar or nightclub, never be one of the last to leave (avoid “last call”). Most problems occur after the lights are on, and the bars empty out, so consider leaving an hour before closing.
Understanding The OODA/Communication Loop
The “OODA” Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was formulated by US Air Force colonel John Boyd, who developed and applied it to military combat and strategic decision-making – particularly as it pertained to aerial combat and the complex (and rapid) decision making processes that must be employed in aerial dog-fight scenarios. The concept has also been frequently applied to better understand the decision-making process in both business and self-defense strategies.
In summary, to act on any information or sudden stimuli, you must first Observe the situation and understand what is occurring. You must then Orient yourself by comparing this observation to prior experiences, so that you can determine the potential consequences, and develop options for a response. Based on this assessment, you must then Decide on which course of action is the best (work through your “decision tree”), so that you can finally take the best course of Action.
Using the OODA In Your Favor: The goal is that through understanding and training, you can not only learn how to “speed” up your OODA loop, but you can also learn how to “break into” or “interrupt” your Attacker’s OODA Loop cycle. You cannot eliminate any of the 4 steps in the cycle, but understanding through observation and learning how to quickly assess a situation (particularly in the middle “Orient” and “Decide” phases of the cycle), you will be able to process and act on new information more quickly.
Similarly, by better understanding this cycle and how it works, it can be easier for you to interrupt or to “crash” into your opponent’s OODA Loop cycle by introducing new information that results in confusion, or further delay in the Attacker’s decision-making process. This can be a critical factor when a person with true criminal intent is sizing up a target (victim), or approaching a potential target with intent to do harm – confusion becomes your friend, and makes Predators go away.
Crashing the Loop – How it Works: To understand how this works, assume a Predator is approaching you on the street from a distance. The Predator likely has identified you as a potential target from 20-30 meters away. As the Predator continues to approach, he must consider a number of complex pieces of information – first, is this person alone? Does this person look like they have money? As the Predator moves closer and is 20 meters away, he considers whether you look like a pushover (will you put up a fight?). As he moves even closer, the Predator begins to scan to make sure the “coast is clear” and no witnesses are about. From 10 meters away, the Predator may begin to adjust his body positioning to prepare for the Attack. From 5 meters away, the Predator may begin to operate using adrenaline as he reaches for a weapon and prepares to lunge for the Attack.
In the above scenario, we see the Predator processing numerous pieces of critical information as he continues to approach his target. From 20-30 meters away, the Predator’s brain is churning like a computer and processing dozens of inputs required for him to make the decision to attack. This means that at any point in this process, you can reach in and “crash” the loop, and shutdown the computer.
Crashing a Predator’s OODA Loop can be accomplished in a number of ways, including Body Language, Actions/Mannerisms, and Words. Often, the simple tool of Awareness can be enough to crash the Loop effectively. The goal is to insert new information into the potential Assailant’s OODA Loop that interrupts the decision-making process, thereby encouraging the potential assailant to “find another target.” You accomplish this by creating a “feedback loop” (a circular conundrum), where you keep the Predator/Assailant locked in the Observe/Orient phases, so that they cannot reach the Decide and Act phases – said differently, you want to keep the Assailant confused and indecisive, so that the only logical decision for the Assailant is to leave you alone and abandon the plan of attack.
The subject of the OODA Loop and psychological communication is a complex subject, but below are a few real-life examples” of how this can work as a simple illustration.
Example: As one example of an OODA Loop crash, a friend of mine was once being stalked at night while he was walking home alone from work in San Diego. The stalker was getting close and making him feel uncomfortable, so my friend reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and pretended to talk to imaginary friends – he made sure the stalker overheard him say the friends were “just around the corner”. In a matter of seconds, the potential attack was avoided, and the sketchy individual took off in the opposite direction.
Example: As another example, awareness alone can be a powerful OODA crash. When I was walking home with my wife late one night there were a group of 3 individuals that were clearly out to size-up and select a target (for who-knows-what). They were seated curbside, and as we approached, two of them stood up, and the leader moved towards me to circle my flank (a classic “street-boogie” set-up). I not only maintained eye-contact with the leader, but clearly indicated to them (and my wife) through subtle actions that I understood exactly what was going on and would have none of it. My control of actions, and acknowledgement of the situation (Awareness) was all that it took. The 3 of them eye-balled me, but went no further when they realized I was not the pushover target they were looking for. This is an effective demonstration of how the simple use of “Awareness” can crash the OODA loop of a potential predator.
Example: Similarly, the “knockout” game and similar unprovoked violent attacks have become more frequent in recent years. When I see someone walking towards me and the situation simply does not feel right, I will often reach a hand up to my head and “pretend” to scratch my head, while casually turning my face slightly away. Not only does this action create a natural defense against a sudden sucker-punch, but it casually crashes their OODA Loop. The Attacker wants a clean easy target (my face), and has no desire to crash his hands into my elbow and forearm. In this example, a simple body position can convince the Predator to keep walking and find another target (your body position has taken their intended target away).
There are many ways to use the OODA loop in your favor to quickly change a Predator’s mind, and send them packing, so I encourage you to study and learn more about this important psychological aspect of self-defense.
What makes most criminal attacks so dangerous is that violent offenders often have a complete disregard for human life, common decencies, or goal setting to attain self-improvement that most of us embrace.
As law-abiding citizens with reason and compassion, our natural tendency is to operate under a threat-driven “scale of force” principle, similar to what law enforcement might embrace. For example, if we categorize this as a force scale of 1 through 10, then levels 1 and 2 are relatively benign (think holds, traps, and control techniques), while levels 9 and 10 are positions of last resort, requiring lethal force violence. This scale example is not driven solely by compassion or morality, but also the governing laws by which we all must abide.
Under this scale of force scenario, most of us are pretty comfortable operating at levels 1 through 5, but levels 6-10 embrace more brutal forms of violence and represent areas that most of us are not very comfortable in dealing with (we simply do not “go there” in our daily life-encounters).
What makes many criminals critically dangerous is that they do not operate under this same scale. The true danger has nothing to do with their size, numbers, skill level, or the weapons they may deploy against you – what makes the Predators dangerous is their callous disregard for common decency and human life. When they approach us, they may already be operating at a 9 or 10 and they have already decided on violent actions, while most of us are likely operating at the 1-3 level, until a clear and present threat manifests. This lack of a need to escalate up the scale always gives the criminal the proactive advantage – they know what they are thinking, and what violent action they are planning from the moment they approach us, while we have no clue and may be left guessing … or assessing through greater awareness strategies.
This is why it is very important to think clearly, obey the warning signs in your environment, use all intangible tools in your arsenal, but be prepared to escalate quickly if the need arises.
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This is the second in a series of articles on the “Intangibles of Combat”. Future episodes will explore these intangibles in much more detail, including defusing potentially violent encounters, and recognizing pre-contact cues/pre-attack cues that give you advance-warning that violence may be about to erupt. Our goal is to educate you on the most important aspect of your self-defense/self-protection toolbox.