Psychological warfare is undoubtedly an extremely important aspect of self-protection training, and perhaps even more important than any physical skills. You should always be able to get yourself out of more fights than you get in. Comprehensive self-protection training, including both the psychological and physical aspects, is like car insurance; it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. And just as most people don’t look to have a car accident on purpose, neither does a proponent of self-protection look to get in a fight or to escalate a confrontation to the point of physical violence. They will maintain a general awareness and an appropriate distance away from others, monitoring for the unexpected behavior of other “drivers” that might otherwise result in an “accident”. If someone swerves in front of them or cuts them off, they take avoidance measures. In another scenario, maybe you’re the one who inadvertently cuts someone off, and a road rage incident ensues. You try your best to calm the guy down explaining that you didn’t see him and apologize. Or at that point you may need to de-escalate the situation by force. As you can see, driving is a suitable analogy for self-protection. It promotes a healthier understanding of the matter, compared to the paranoia and fear mongering tactics used by many. The keys to what Bruce Lee referred to as “The Art of Fighting without Fighting” are awareness, avoidance and verbal de-escalation, and allow you to defuse the proverbial bomb before it explodes.
All this rolls off the tongue nicely, and often it is easier said than done. Some practical guidelines to raise your awareness in order to avoid a confrontation completely and if that fails, to verbally defuse a situation, are warranted.
Before even getting into the things mentioned above – awareness etc – the way you carry yourself either screams “predator” or “prey”. That may be overly simplistic, but the simple fact is if you act like shark bait, you’re going to attract the sharks. Predators do not tend to prey on other predators, where the potential for harm can be mutually reciprocated. It is a Yin/Yang relationship. Predators tend to prey on those they perceive to be meek and helpless, those who restrict their awareness. These types of targets are “easy targets”. Target hardening first starts with the way you carry yourself, and the key attribute that tells would-be predators that you are not their prey is confidence, and that is something primarily communicated through your body language. There is a ton of research out there on this topic, so I will not go into too much detail save it to say this: your body language is a physiological matter. Physiology and psychology are inextricably linked, such that the body and mind are not separate entities, but rather one unit. Studies have shown that your mindset (thought processes) have the capacity to directly affect your physiology, and vice versa. The simple (I didn’t say easy!) idea of changing the way you think can have dramatic effects in your body for the better or worse. There is actually something to all that material out there on positive and negative thinking, and it most certainly has an impact on your readiness to protect yourself at any given point. You’ve heard the phrase “you’re your own worst enemy”, and unfortunately this is often the case in self-defense. Fear, doubt, panic, apathy, denial, etc are all mental obstacles that need to be overcome in order for you to take appropriate action to protect yourself. In any endeavor, your internal dialogue will either “make you” or “break you”. In any combat sport, there is always a coach on the side yelling instructions, encouraging you to keep going when you feel like giving up. In self-defense, you must be your own coach. It’s not really about “thinking positive”, but rather to encourage (read as bring forth your courage) yourself to focus on strategy and tactics instead of the mental obstacles. Focusing on the mental obstacles degenerates into a downward spiral of self-defeat; you truly become your own worst enemy. The mind can only truly focus on one thing at a time, so focus on strategy and tactics and you will be on your way to overcoming those mental obstacles and taking appropriate action.
Conversely, adjusting your posture and body language as if you truly felt confident in that moment has the capacity to positively affect your thinking. The net result is you will exude a confidence that will increase the chances that an attacker will be dissuaded from choosing you as his victim. The next layer of target hardening is to enhance your awareness and discover your inner predator.
When talking about awareness, many people talk about Jeff Cooper’s Color Codes of Awareness. The Color Codes describe different mindsets relative to the degree of danger you perceive yourself to be in. While it is a nice description of different alertness mindsets, I’ve personally never found it very practical; even after understanding the color codes, I did not come away feeling like I knew “how to” be aware. After all, it is one thing to tell someone to always “be aware” when they are outside of their home and they should be prepared to defend themselves (Code Yellow), but this does not give them practical mind tools they can actively use to raise their awareness. What I find much more useful is something I gleaned from Barry Eisler’s John Rain series of novels, and the basic premise is that effective awareness, and therefore self-protection, is based on the ability and willingness to think like the opposition, to think like a predator. How, when, where and why would you attack you? This will give you insight into the vulnerabilities of your daily routines and habits that would make it easier for a would-be predator to attack you. US Marine Corps’ General James N. Mattis’ quote: “be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” captures the essence of this mindset wonderfully. Of course it does not need to be so extreme, but the alertness that comes with this mindset will certainly raise the odds in your favor.
Making yourself a hard target necessarily involves addressing your vulnerabilities and taking some “corrective” action. For example, if you typically find yourself at a restaurant and sitting at a table while listening to your iPod in a location people can easily approach you from the rear, then “corrective action” may be to stop using headphones, and to choose the seat in the restaurant that allows you a view of the entrance and with your back to a wall so that nobody can approach you from behind.
Criminals tend to overlook a hard target in favor of an easier target, and their motivation, or the “why”, according to Tony Blauer, is your property, your body or your life, or a combination of these. Blauer further expands on this by counter-balancing the notion of what a criminal wants with what they don’t want: to get hurt or caught. You can use this information to your advantage. The biggest surprise you can give an attacker is you fighting back. This obviously increases his chances of getting hurt, which he won’t want, as well as his chances of getting caught, as fighting back prolongs what they want to be quick and easy.
While understanding these concepts may go some way towards enhancing your survivability through deterring an attacker, you must actually apply these ideas and be willing and able to physically engage your attacker in order to effect the change in your physiology that will tell a predator that you are not an easy target, or a target at all.