The initial principle of self-protection starts with keeping yourself out of situations that might ultimately lead to getting your ass handed to you on a platter. That means you pay attention to what is going on around you, you avoid places and situations that are dangerous, and you don’t incite others to violence against you.
However, there will be times when all attempts at avoiding conflict fail and the necessity of violence comes into play. When violence becomes a necessary part of the defensive experience, there are a few things that you need to know.
1 – Your Opponent Is Probably More Experienced in Violence than You Are
In terms of social violence (the type of violence associated with such instances as the pissed off/drunk bar patron, a school bully, the ego-driven ‘defender’ of ‘his’ woman, etc.), people get confrontational because they are comfortable with being violent. In fact, they’ve probably experienced violence in ways well-adjusted people don’t understand because that’s how they were brought up. Violence defined their world – either in their homes or in their interactions with others.
A child who watched his mother abused by his father becomes well-versed in violence. A child whose parents beat him/her understand that violence is a means to an end, and they use it for whatever purpose they require. After years of conditioning, their proclivity for violence exceeds that of most people with whom they interact.
In asocial situations (defined by violence that occurs as a way of victimizing someone else for personal satisfaction – rape, mass shootings, armed robbery, mugging, etc.), the predator makes his livelihood off of his/her ability to subdue a victim for personal gain. In other words, their ability to subsist is dependent upon their ability to effectively force victims into compliance.
An asocial predator spends his time planning how to take something from his victims. While socially well-adjusted people go about their daily lives – thinking about work, school, evening activities, social functions – the predator spends the majority of his time plotting and perfecting the art of victimizing others.
Due to a prolonged experience with violence, your ‘opponent’ is more experienced with and better at engaging in violence than you are, and he will use that advantage to more effectively victimize you. Unless you study this fact and understand its role before engaging in self-defense, you will be overwhelmed by your attacker.
2 – There is no ‘Always’ in Violence
Violence is an incredibly dynamic event. Advantage can change without warning multiple times and not always in your favor. What started as an unarmed conflict can transition into a knife attack with terrifying speed. Your balance will be compromised, your fine motor skills will probably disappear, and everything you learned about fighting on your feet will go right out the window.
In other words, when you execute your self defense, anything that you believe will always work won’t.
I can’t tell you the number of times I hear people say, “Stab the attacker in the eyes with your finger/a pen/scissors. It will stop them in their tracks.” I wrote about one such occurrence here. I watched another person say it on an episode of Inside Edition, which seems to have a series of ‘self-defense’ videos for your amusement. A few dozen active shooter training videos also have instructors who seem to think that the eyes are a show stopper for an attacker.
Problem is, it’s not. Stabbing someone in the face – no matter how painful – will have myriad effects on an attacker. Some will stop and grab their eyes as they scream in pain. Others will fall into stunned indifference to the experience to having their eyes gouged out. Still other attackers will become enraged and amp up their attack.
What about shooting someone? That always works. Right?
Nope. I’m reminded of the story of a police officer who found himself in a gunfight with a robbery suspect. In the exchange, the suspect was hit 17 times. The suspect kept shooting back in spite of taking 16 .45 ACP rounds. It was only a shot to the suspect’s head that ultimately shut him down for good.
Those one-shot one-kill experiences are the stuff of Hollywood, which rarely depicts real violence.
Have you ever seen a video of a PCP fiend (viewer discretion SERIOUSLY advised) who just ignores pain? Their system doesn’t respond to pain like yours and mine do. Drunk people also have incredibly slow pain response. A variety of opioids also diminish pain sensitivity.
‘Always’ in self-defense training is false and misleading.
That ‘fail safe’ technique that you train over and over because your sifu said it will always work is going to fail – either because your attacker is amped up on something or because the attack won’t meet the strict parameters of your training experience.
I try to tell my students this, but it often falls on deaf ears. The best training goes right out the window in the face of real violence because real violence does not mirror what was trained in class.
If you think it’s going to work, plan on it failing. In fact, any plan you have for self-defense is probably going to fail. Training sets of principles (versus training specific sets of moves or techniques) will allow for adaptability under stress, because your ‘always’ technique will probably leave you bleeding in a gutter.
3 – There is no ‘Never’ in Violence
Whatever act of violence you think, “Nah. No attacker would ever do that,” count on that happening. Remember point number one – your attacker is well-versed in violence. That guy has probably spent more time thinking of ways to feed you your ass than you have spent thinking about defending yourself against him. You can count on him to be creative in making sure you are a victim.
Remember what I said about your attacker making a livelihood out of victimizing you? Yep. And in perfecting that craft, he has thought of a lot of unpleasant ways to mess you up.
I remember the first and only time I watched The Sopranos. Tony Soprano was ‘sending a message’ to an opposing member of a crime family. He forced the guy’s open mouth onto the rim of a ceramic tub and hit him in the back of the head. Teeth and blood went everywhere.
Violent actors against you have no problem stomping your head into the ground long after you are unconscious. ‘Curbing’ or ‘curb stomping’ is a thing, and there are people who have no reluctance in using such a technique against people like you. I’m reminded of the video that saw a guy in the middle of a busy sidewalk repeatedly stabbing a woman 40-50 times.
And those are the easy examples. Your attacker will likely have far more creative ways to make sure you’re the victim and he’s the victor.
Whatever you have decided is unlikely in violent interactions will probably end up coming back to haunt you. Your preconceived notions about what ‘never’ happens in violence will signal your demise.
How to Prepare for Violence
I write all of this to send this simple message: Violence is dynamic, and you are probably not prepared for it.
You have to be imaginative enough to consider every possible contingency (and you still won’t get them all). If you haven’t visualized the worst kind of violence imaginable (and found examples of violence that you haven’t imagined), then you are under-prepared.
If you find yourself surprised when a guy eats your punch to the face and muay-thai kick to the knees, you are under-prepared.
If you haven’t trained beyond, “Stab him in the eyes,” then you are under-prepared.
Whatever you’ve planned to do in a self-defense situation is probably going to fail.
The body cannot go where the mind has not been. To be a student of self-defense is to be a student of violence. Read some books. Study (don’t just watch) some video. Let your imagination run wild. What is the worst you can imagine? Now imagine worse than that. Develop a series of defensive principles for those ‘just in case’ moments when everything just goes to Hell.
Do more to prepare for the reality of violence. Your preparation will be the only thing to save your life when the bullets or fists start flying.