Mommy & Me Self Defense: Baby Steps – Teja Van Wicklen

This is the first 2 episodes of 14 from Teja Van Wicklen as she takes us through her Mommy and Me Self Defense course.

We will be putting 2 downloads a week here for the next 6 weeks, so subscribers can collect the set for FREE, it is available on amazon for $13.98.

Audio 1 – About Mommy and Me Self Defense

Audio 2 – Introduction to Mommy and Me Self Defense

Some Life Considerations – Terry Trahan

It is very easy to become convinced of how well our training is going, or how much progress we have made. Because of this, we may not pay attention to our weak areas, or overestimate our abilities. Sometimes it is simply a matter of not knowing the variables out there that we might face. In the interest of covering these holes, I have several things I remember to try and keep myself and my training honest.

#1) Some people are just too tough to be human.
Some of my motivators are people I have fought or knew. Some examples;
When I was a young buck, I met a guy named Patch. As you might guess, he wore a patch over his right eye.
He showed me underneath it once, his entire eye socket was crushed, and there was the shape of the bottom of a Jack Daniels bottle impressed into the bone. At a party, somebody tossed a bottle from upstairs. It hit Patch in the eye, crushing it, and breaking the bones around it. So, instead of laying down and getting help, Patch calmly walked up the stairs, busted eye and all, and attacked the bottle thrower, then had his Old Lady drive him to the ER.

Or the time I hit a Samoan in the head with a cinder block, twice, full force, and all the Samoan did was laugh and say, and I quote, “My turn…”

#2) Luck exists…
I was working at a gas station, and some junkie decided to rob me, pulling a gun, and yelling GIVE ME THE MONEY, at the exact moment a police officer came out of the bathroom right behind him…

#2b) Bad luck exists also…
I brought a bali-song into a federal building once. It was in a Buck sheath, so I checked it in at the security desk. Turns out they checked it out later, and it being illegal, paged me…
This was a MEPS Station for military entrance processing, as well as holding the US Customs House, complete with USMC guards. So, I blend in with the crowd and make my escape, with the guards following me. I pulled one of the best E&E runs ever, avoiding capture, the Sgt. in charge told me after they captured me. Wait, how did that happen if my run was so good, and I got away???
I hadn’t paid attention to the news. Timothy McVeighs trial was in process, one block from my location. There were snipers on the roofs of the buildings through downtown, so they just reported my progress, and picked me up when I thought I was gone. No, I ended up not re-enlisting.

#3) Cheap shots can happen, even when you’re not involved…
I was hanging downtown with friends. Unknown to me, one of our group insulted a girl. So, I turn a corner and get hit in the head hard enough to drive an earring through my ear backwards, and make me deaf. Then the guy apologized, because he thought I was the other guy.

#4) You can be your own worst enemy…
My mouth has gotten me in at least as much trouble as my former lifestyle. All the training in the world couldn’t stop the fights I got into, or the asskickings I received, simply because I couldn’t shut up.

I hope this helps you to look at things that may be beyond our control, that we can’t prepare for, or things to look at we can stop doing to make things easier for ourselves.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger – Review by Erik Kondo

I just finished reading Tribe. At one hundred thirty five small sized pages, it is a quick and entertaining read.

I think this book is relevant to divisive modern times. The main takeaway I received from this book is of the importance of “belongingness” to human beings. Modern humans are the result of our long evolution. For most of this evolution, we have existed in small tribes in which our survival was directly linked to being a member of a smoothly functioning and cooperative tribe. Modern life has changed all of that. We no longer need a tribe to physically survive. The problem is that while we may not “need” a tribe for survival, our well-being still requires this feeling of “belongingness”.

Throughout the book, Mr. Junger provides examples of how belongingness benefits people even when their circumstances are grim due to warfare, natural disasters, and more. In fact, in many cases it is the very existence of these adverse circumstances that created the tribal bonds.

In my opinion, many of political/social/special interest groups have become the default “tribe” for those people lacking this feeling of belongingness. The unfortunate result is many people whose very identity is bound to increasingly radicalized tribal views. At this point, the benefits of the tribe are far outweighed by its many disadvantages to both the tribe members and society at large.


Rape Prevention: Paedophiles – Kelee Arrowsmith

Rape is one of the most devastating personal traumas one can experience. Many victims feel as if their lives have been shattered and that their psychological and physical privacy has been invaded. The emotional scars last for months or years and sometimes never heal.

A great deal of information is available on rape and rapists but the fact is that rape affects the younger generation far more than mature adults. In South Africa, an average of one in three women is raped before the age of twenty five. For this reason, we need to focus our education and prevention efforts on teens and pre-teens.

A large contributing factor is that we teach our children to respect other (especially older) people. This leaves them vulnerable to predators, many of which are family members or friends of the family. These predators don’t randomly choose their victims; they manipulate and test their potential prey thoroughly before making their move. Often, they chose a child or teen who is a loner or has low self esteem and they begin to “groom” them. The predator makes the child feel special by giving them little gifts and telling them secrets and once comfortable that the young person is not telling anyone they will commence the abuse.

The “touching” usually starts as a game so that if it is reported, the perpetrator simply brushes it off as a joke. The relationship becomes important to the child, which strengthens the “no tell” message that they receive from their molester.

Of course, once the young person realizes that they are in a bad situation, the predator has made them feel that they (the victim) are responsible for what has happened, which makes it even more difficult to tell anyone about the abuse.

Grooming is just one of the most common ways in which rape occurs. Once a rapist has found a way to get away with his (or her) crime, he will use the same formula again and again – there is almost never only one victim. If the rapist is found out, the family usually will chose not to expose the crime because of the shame and so the abuser simple picks another victim.

In the case of children and teens, one of the best ways to prevent them from falling prey to an abuser, is to teach your children how to be assertive and set personal boundaries. Strong personal boundaries make it very difficult for a predator. A simple way to teach a young child about personal boundaries is to tell them that we are all the boss of our own bodies and let them know that that they do not always have to accept a hug or a kiss from a relative or friend if it makes them uncomfortable. Assure them that they will not be in trouble if the friend or relative comes to tell on them.

Roll play with your child so that they know exactly what they are going to say and do. Let them know that if anyone tries to touch them in any place that they swimming costumes normally covers, that they are to come and tell you immediately. 

You can also assist by scrutinizing the adults and older children that your child interacts with to make sure that their interaction is appropriate to their “job roll”. For example, a music teacher’s roll is to teach music. It is NOT their job to take your child to the movies or ice skating, remember that these predators look for kids AND adults with weak boundaries.

Instead of trying to find a “one size fits all” way of preventing rape, we need understand the various ways rapes occur and look at our individual vulnerabilities and how to mitigate the risks to which we are exposed.


Dynamic Decision Making Process – Schalk Holloway

“So when do I actually hit him?”

This is a question I frequently get in training environments or events we host. The reason for this is that all of our training includes a situational, or scenario, component. We role play different types of situations more prevalent within our context. We then teach our “aggressors” how to escalate the situation they’re role playing realistically. This however always leads to someone wondering at which point they should now react. This sounds easier than it actually is. Due to the inherent dynamism in potentially violent encounters, or even in verbal confrontations and conflicts, it is difficult to have catch all answer to this problem. In retrospect we can say that then or there was the perfect time to react. Whilst there it’s not always so clear. Also, if we think about training, our role as provider is to help others to think right, we need to teach them to evaluate for themselves when they should react.

This article will help you to explore, and hopefully better equip you to train yourself and others on, some the dynamics involved in preparing yourself to respond effectively in developing situations. It is going to do so through helping you to understand the importance of being able to make decisions dynamically as a situation develops. It will also delve into some of the challenges this progressive decision making faces and give you some tips on how to train it.

Just Right Decisions – Timing and Force

In self defense specifically, as in boundary enforcement (Just Right Boundary Enforcement, Erik Kondo), there is what we would call a Just Right Response. Just right specifically in terms of the timing of the response as well as the amount of force used in the response.

In terms of timing it’s easy to understand that responding either too early or too late can have negative consequences. If I respond too early I lose my ability to legally justify the response because it essentially means that I responded before there was a valid Confirmed Threat Indicator (as opposed to only a Potential Threat Indicator). If I respond too late it means that I have just lost initiative. I’ve now been forced into a reactive pattern. There are quite a few negative consequences here. First of all, we are much less effective when we are responding as our decision making ability is greatly hampered by all of the incoming data. Second, losing initiative means that I now stand the chance of being injured first, which could lead to serious complications and even death.

In terms of the amount of force that we use there’s also a just right decision that needs to made. Using too little force could mean that my response is ineffectual. This has a couple of negative consequences of which I’ll highlight two. First, there’s a psychological factor involved for both parties. I know I responded ineffectual and this could hamper my confidence going forward. He knows it too and this could fuel his confidence. Secondly, when we think about the physical side of a confrontation, too little force could once again bring us back to being injured and all of the bad stuff included there. Using too much force we now get faced with both the emotional and legal fallout that will follow. From experience I always tell others, whether you hurt somebody for good, whether you hurt them for bad, whether you used just enough or too much force, at some stage it comes back to haunt you. You never want to be the guy that puts his head down at night and wonders whether you were justified in severely hurting or killing another human being. If you can’t answer that question with a good conscience you have some problems on the way.

So our goal is to find a Just Right Response. Under extremely dynamic situations. This is what Progressive Decision Making Ability is about. It’s about training the ability to make those decisions effectively under pressure.

Progressive Decision Making

Progressive decision making is the discipline and art of arranging signals and triggers to support us in making Just Right Responses.

We arrange Signals, Threats and Responses like this. The Signals are all the indicators that a person or persons (or situation) is a potential or a confirmed threat. A Trigger is the imaginary line in the sand. It is the moment at which I feel I now have to respond. The Response is the action that I take when triggered. A Response can be Too Much or Too Little, Too Soon or Too Late, as already discussed. The goal though is to be able to pick up on signals, select or have pre selected triggers in place, so that we can set up a Just Right Response.

Without spending too much time Boyd’s OODA loop model, one large take-away is the fact that decision precedes action. When we are able to make a specific decision about something we set ourselves up to take action more in line with our preferred outcome. Our Triggers are these decisions because essentially that’s what a line in the sand is. A visual or conceptual representation of a decision. Procrastination is not the lack of action – it’s the lack of deciding to act. In self defense, or in most types of confrontation or conflict, procrastination frequently leads to timing related consequences. For now it’s important to understand that I need to make decisions when in a hostile encounter. The decisions are mostly IF THEN clauses. IF person or persons A does this THEN I do that.

Progressive Decision Making is the ability to make those decisions as the incoming data develops.

For example. I’m sitting in a pub having a beer. A guy comes in through the door. His demeanor is subtly aggressive. I make a decision (trigger) that “if he gets really loud, demanding or confrontational with anyone (signals) I’m flagging him as a potential threat (response)”. He orders a beer and starts talking to another guy next to him at the bar. He systematically gets louder and more confrontational. I now flag him as a potential threat. Due to many factors however he’s not really a potential threat to me. However, I make the decision (trigger) that “if he comes over and starts talking with me (signal) I will flag him as a potential threat to me (response).” Low and behold, he catches my eye and over he comes. I converse with him congenially but I make a decision (trigger) that (for example) “if he gets argumentative (signal) I’ll excuse myself and leave (response).” Surely he does become argumentative and I congenially excuse myself and get ready to leave. I make two last decisions (triggers), one, “if he insults me I will continue to leave,” but two, “if he touches me I will hit him so hard that his head will smack the floor before his feet lift from it.”

This is a process that most of us go through without being aware that we are doing so. The challenge however is that if you are not experienced or trained in these matters you either miss the signals or you don’t set the triggers. Failure in either of these leads to inadequate responses.

Relativistic Nature of of Triggers

It is important to understand that there are some factors that should influence the selection of triggers. These factors are based on physical attributes, training and experience background, and situational development.

First of all remember, signals are what the other party is displaying, triggers are your own personal lines in the sand.

1.  Physical Attributes

My wife has been struggling with one of her knees for a couple of years now. She struggles to run fast as she experiences a lot of pain. This means, that any response that is geared towards escaping or leaving an area fast, will be problematic for her. This isn’t necessarily a crisis – it just means that her trigger or her line in the sand needs to be a bit further away from the critical incident than, say, mine has to be.

For example, both of us are in a shopping centre, we pick up aggressive and demanding signals from a guy at one of the fast food outlets’ paypoints. There are some other signals as well. Aggressive guy is dressed anomalous, it’s warm weather but he has a jacket on. The cashier is glancing at his waist the whole time looking nervous. We cannot see if he’s holding something there and we cannot hear what’s happening. It could be a robbery or it could be an argument over a till slip he’s holding. The signals are the same for both of us. However, a trigger for me might be “if I see him pull a gun I’m out of here.” A trigger for her might be further from such a critical incident. It might be “if he starts yelling or someone screams I’m out of here.”

In this way your physical attributes like strength, athleticism, ease of communication, fitness and so forth might influence your own personal triggers.

2. Training and Experience

Let’s imagine that we’re in a situation that, if it evolves into a full blown physical encounter, it will remain within the sphere of hand to hand combat. Ie. No chance of weapons. I’m standing at the bar ordering a drink. All of a sudden the guy next to me looks towards me and shouts “hey man, what’s your problem?” I did not do anything to him. I didn’t touch him, bump him, look at him, spill my drink on him, engage with anyone in his party in any way. So as far as I’m concerned the signals he’s giving off is that he’s looking for a fight.

I attempt to de-escalate the situation verbally. Whilst doing so I start to make my IF THEN decisions. I set my triggers. Here’s the problem though. Let’s imagine I’m 5’6” and he’s about 6’6”. If I have no relevant training I might decide “if he shifts his stance to face me I’m out of here.” If I have some training I might use the same trigger but respond “then I’m going to punch him.” If I’m really well trained and experienced my response can be “then I’m subtly going to match his footwork, set up the range so it works in my favor, get my hands into a good position, start to pick the best attack vector, and continue to try and de-escalate.”

Training and experience essentially allows us to come closer to the critical incident before we act. It also gives us more options in terms of how we can act. Training and experience, in legal expectations as well as in my own personal opinion, also leave us with the responsibility to attempt to have a more positive impact in a peaceful resolution to the situation.

3. Roles and Responsibilities

This is the dynamic of how close or far we, as an individual, HAVE TO or EXPERIENCE WE HAVE TO set our triggers to the actual critical incident. It is easier and less complex to set up triggers and responses very far from the critical incident. Certain individuals though, either through choice, sense of responsibility, or employment expectations, are required to get really really close, even INTO, the critical incident. Think predators, law enforcement, military, security professional, certain bystanders, paramedic and so forth.

In all three of these subcategories it becomes clear that triggers are sometimes very subjective by nature.

The Self-Defense Hand: Part III – Marc MacYoung



Your ring finger is In-the-field threat assessment, environmental knowledge, awareness, and your ability to scale force.

Notice I didn’t use the term ‘situational awareness.’  That’s because it’s one of the most misunderstood and abused terms in this business. It’s also the biggest handwaves in teaching self-defense. By that I mean, “Oh yeah we teach it, now let’s spend the next three hours teaching how to break someone’s neck.” Remember how I said there’s a problem about not knowing what self-defense is? It just came home to roost starting with not knowing when there’s danger around.

I have a saying: You can’t spot abnormal until you know what normal is. You can’t spot dangerous until can tell the difference between it and abnormal.  

Simple saying, profound implications — especially when it comes to keeping you from bleeding out on the sidewalk. I tell you this because if you can’t even recognize normal you won’t be able to see dangerous slithering up towards you.

Five points about this normal/abnormal/dangerous idea.

One, most of the time there is no immediate danger in an environment.  So constant tacti-kool/ninja awareness isn’t necessary. Being able to see what ‘normal’ (hence not-dangerous) for an environment reveals the lack of danger. This may not sound like much, but it is a critical element of long term survival and preventing burn out. (It is however, beyond the scope of this already too long article.)  

Two, normal changes from place to place and at different times. (You need to be able to read these changes — for example, when the families with children leave, the chances of trouble go up.)

Three, there is a difference between weird and dangerous. A guy riding a unicycle, playing bagpipes and wearing a kilt is weird, but it’s not dangerous. Even without taking things that far, there are situations that are abnormal for an environment, but not dangerous. In fact, there are some pretty standard variations of abnormal. To the point they become normal-abnormal — such as how a stranger approaches to legitimately ask for something in a parking lot.  

Four, there are certain ‘clusters of behaviors’ that indicate when danger is present. (Yes, they predictably show up together; if you’ve done your homework in index-finger-land you’ll know what they are.) When you see them danger is developing.

Five, the greatest danger comes hidden behind seemingly ‘innocent, but normal-abnormal social scripts,’ except their not. They’re abnormal and obvious, but with an extra set of behaviors that make them dangerous. Hiding danger these behaviors present both a flawed imitation and violate normal social boundaries. They have to in order to make the previously mentioned clusters work.

For example a stranger walking right up to you while pretending to be asking for directions — instead of stopping at a safe distance. This is why it is important to know normal, abnormal and dangerous. Normal is strangers don’t talk to you in parking lots. Abnormal is someone tries to. Normal-abnormal is that person stops about fifteen feet away, assumes a non-threatening body posture with hands clearly displayed while speaking. Dangerous is him talking covers the fact he’s closing the distance and his hand is out of your sight.  This parking lot robbery scenario is easy to figure out. Do this kind of break down of normal, abnormal and normal-abnormal in all the areas you regularly frequent. Then watch for anyone attempting to develop those circumstances on you. Normal, abnormal and dangerous are far more nuts-and-bolts practical standards than what people who use the term ‘situational awareness’ usually mean.

Taking this out of exclusively crime, let’s talk about recognizing when you’re in a potentially violent situation. How can your behaviors influence if it goes violent or not? Have you looked into that subject? (Hint, the answers are on the first two fingers.) If it does go physical:  How much force is appropriate given the circumstances?  Not every situation is a life or death struggle. Have you looked into scaling and controlling your level of force? If you don’t know that, and don’t know how to tell which ones aren’t and which one are, then you’re in trouble. You’re either going to over or under react. Either is bad; that’s why it’s important to be able to understand scaling your force before you’re called on to do it. The ring finger is where you have to apply it under pressure. Of course it also helps if you have the physical ability to do so (see the middle finger).

The pinky finger is legal, dealing with cops, courts and vendettas.

Want to know the difference between training for self-defense and actually doing it? When you do it, you’ll have to answer for it.

Remember how I said self-defense is legal, but most violence isn’t? Yeah here’s a real simple rule of thumb, the cops tend to arrest the winner of a fight. Why? In these days of mandatory arrest, somebody has to go to jail. Generally speaking when it comes to a ‘fight,’ you have Asshole #1 and Asshole #2. The winner is usually the bigger asshole. The loser is punished by pain. The winner is punished by arrest.

The second self-defense situation you’re going to find yourself is convincing the authorities you weren’t the bigger asshole. This is harder than you might think because after SODDI (Some Other Dude Did It), the most common dodge for illegal violence is claiming ‘self-defense.’ Now the really bad news, cops are really good at tripping up people who try this dodge. Unfortunately, it also means they’re really good at tripping people up who did act in self-defense.

Here’s a hint, your ability to talk-your-way-out-of-a-situation (thumb) also serves to articulate why people skills weren’t working, your knowledge of how crime and violence happens (index finger) helped you assess the danger, what  physical skills you used (middle finger), your awareness (ring finger) let you see it in time, try to avoid it and when that failed, allowed you to make a reasonable decision on the degree of force. All of those will go into what you have to tell the cops when you claim self-defense.

Sound like a lot of stuff to know? Well, if they don’t like your answer, you’re going down. Now the really bad news. It’s not going to be the officer-you’re-talking-to’s decision to arrest you, usually the order comes from above. Often it’s been decided by someone who isn’t even there. (While they were talking to you they made a phone call.) The officer talking to you might believe you. But, if that word comes down, he has no choice. Those questions you’ve been answering were to build a case against you. If that happens, then the only hope you have is that all those things you said in your statement can be used by your attorney to beat the charges.  If you don’t want to spend time in prison you have to know how to play this game — including knowing when to shut up and get your lawyer there.  

By the way, in case you think I just said shut up and lawyer up, no. You can’t. If you claim self-defense you have to make a statement, then it becomes a matter of when and what your lawyer will allow you to answer. (There are certain trick questions that if you answer, it will be deemed as an admission of guilt and the green light for an arrest — your lawyer knows how to spot them.) Then there are things that you have to get into your statement (like your threat assessment model).

Here’s an important idea. Take the tip of your thumb and pinky and put them together. Remember how the thumb represents people skills and communication? If you also remember there is a tag on there, articulation. That’s the finger press. When you make a statement regarding your self-defense, you will be interrogated. And yes, interrogated is the right term. One of the best ways to trip someone up during interrogation is coming at you with other possibilities. It’s not enough to be able to say ‘it was this.’ You have to be able to explain how you knew it wasn’t something else. This is critical because — if you remember– the set ups for high levels of violence (e.g., robberies) are commonly hidden under normal social scripts. For example, you’ll have to be able to answer, “No, he was pretending to ask for directions. If he was, he would have done A,B and C, instead 1,2, and 3 happened.” You won’t be able to do that if you don’t know what normal behavior is. This is another reason why people skills are important. They can keep you out of prison.

You may not want to believe it, but prison can be the warm fuzzy side of the aftermath of violence. The other version is the person you had to defend yourself against, waiting in the shadows with a shotgun for you to come home. Yeah, funzies. Welcome to the land of vendetta.

Equally bad news is if the guy you had to defend yourself against was the member of a criminal organization or violent family.  There are a lot of lowlifes out there who do not have a strong support network, so if you drop them, there won’t be a vendetta. Oh sure they’ll make noise about it (especially as they’re limping away), but will anything come of it? Usually no. This ‘woofing’ is a face saving retreat. Still there will be enough times that the guy backs up on you to warrant extra precautions for the next few weeks. You know all that uber macho codes and tactical awareness that wannabe gunslingers like to say you should be at all the time? Yeah, if you have a vendetta against you, you’re going to need that…

At the same time, there are also violent groups who will come looking for you for hurting a member or affiliate.  And oh yeah, just so you know, they aren’t above shooting at you when you’re with your family. Having said that, if you’ve pissed off some next-level-folks, nothing short of running off to another state (or province) and changing your lifestyle will be enough. Yes, it can get that bad.

I came up with this Hand of Self-Defense mnemonic to help you prevent the kinds of catastrophic failures that normally happen when people try to actually use their self-defense training. Last time I talked about a wing coming off a plane in mid-flight. That’s not a bad analogy on the degree of how things can go wrong. And how if you don’t know where to look you won’t see the potential problem until it’s too late. Self-defense is a lot more complicated than people think. The hand will both help you organize important information, but help you from doing the common mistakes people make when it comes to self-defense. But that’s not the only reason I came up with it.

It’s a diagnostic tool for your training. Come back to it now and then and see what aspects you’ve either been ignoring or overly focusing on. While self-defense is itself a balancing act, now you have a way to maintain that balance, both in your training and out in the streets.  A balance – that if you’re forced to defend yourself —  can keep you out of the morgue, hospital, prison or the poor house.



Your first target choice is the most important

Your first attack either creates an opening for your second and third attacks or notifies your attacker that you need to be immediately neutralized. Once he knows you plan to fight, your element of surprise evaporates along with any time to strategize. Depending on his level of determination your assailant will do whatever is necessary to make sure his plan goes smoothly including, but not limited to, knock you out, tie you up, lock you up or kill you. Put yourself in his shoes. You’ve invested time and effort into this project, if you’re injured in the process or too much attention is drawn, you lose. If your assailant is fully invested in you, he may put everything he has into the completion of this venture. Wouldn’t you.

Sometimes your first choice is the most important one. Sometimes it is the only one.

(Caveat: Almost everything changes if your assailant has a gun and intends to use it. You will need to know how to read signals and to trust your knowledge and instincts. Does he appear to know how to use the gun? Is he desperate enough to shoot you? Might he shoot you be accident because of his level of anxiety? You will have to choose whether to give him what he wants, attack him, or run. More on this in other installments, or check, and for detailed gun-related articles.)

If you create an opening with your first attack, you will have taken an important step towards the overall strategy of bombarding him so he can’t recover. This is how you damage either him or his plan and create an opening in time and distance large enough for your escape.

The first attack is where a mental shift must occur if it has not already. How you accomplish this daunting mental shift has been covered in earlier installments of this article and, if you remember, involves trusting your own decisions and perceptions, giving yourself permission to do whatever it takes to survive, even if it goes against everything you have been told about damaging another person. The ability to shift from what is essentially a social mindset to an asocial one is a psychological mystery of sorts. Some people do it easily and others can’t do it at all. Knowing where you fall is also an important part of this puzzle.

There is only so long you can defend against a determined attacker. The law says you may not aggress on someone unless you are in imminent danger. Once you have established that you are indeed in imminent danger, you must cease to be the rabbit in the trap and become the wolf feeding her cubs. This is to say you must become the attacker. In becoming the dangerous one in the relationship for this crucial moment, you remove some of his options (remember that the predator has more options than the prey). You want him defending, not attacking. The conversation must become a monologue in which he never has a chance to speak.

Subsequent attacks will also need to be fast and furious so he has no time to breathe, but they don’t have to be quite as perfectly chosen. Ultimately, you want to use everything you have together in a merciless barrage of targeted and brutal assaults that give him no chance to recover. This is how you survive a dangerous encounter with a violent criminal. Incapacitate him and leave. You have a wild animal inside you. We are educating that animal so she can be both wild and wise.

Normalization of Deviance, Turkey Logic and the Insidiousness of Negative Reinforcement – Rory Miller

There is a golden time when any new organization begins. A time when you make your plans, make your contingency plans and try to anticipate and plan for any possible emergency. When a new jail is built (Corrections is my background) senior officers are called in to try to find ways to escape or make weapons. When an ambulance company writes their medical protocols or a hospital writes policy and procedure they set up redundant systems to make sure that medications and dosages are correct.

In most well-planned organizations, disasters rarely come from one person making a mistake or bad decision. When we were called out for a CERT (Corrections Emergency Response Team) operation and we intended to use less lethal weapons, the shooter, team leader and quartermaster would individually check:

  • The weapon to make sure it was a designated less lethal platform
  • The weapon’s chamber to make sure it was not loaded
  • The box of munitions to ensure the right designation (such as rubber bullets)
  • The box of munitions to verify the manufacturer’s approved safe range
  • Each munition to make sure it was actually what the box indicated

That probably seems excessive, but if someone had decided they were short weapons at the range AND had decided to use a designated “less-lethal” 12 ga as a regular weapon AND a shell had been left in the tube AND the weapon had been replaced without being checked, there would be the possibility of an accidental, lethal shooting.

The purpose of our procedures was to prevent this. And as such, it would take no less than seven mistakes for our agency to accidentally shoot someone with 00 buckshot when we intended to use a bean bag.

Normalization of deviance is a very unfortunate name for a very common phenomenon. It does not mean, in this context, behaviors once considered socially deviant moving to the mainstream. Normalization of deviance is when cutting corners becomes normal.

The safety protocols I listed above are onerous. They take time, they’re tedious and generally useless. They would not prevent an accident unless a series of other mistakes had been made to set up that accident, and a series that long is very unlikely. It is very, very easy to stop doing tedious, non-productive work.

Normalization of deviance. You run short of shotguns on range day, so you ignore policy and use one of the yellow-stocked “less lethal” designated weapons. Just this once. Just for the day. It’s a special circumstance. And nothing bad happens. Everything is inspected, no one gets hurt. No harm, no foul. The next time, it’s an easier decision. And soon, the policy is generally ignored. You get one more thing where the training officer says, “That’s what it says in the book, rookie, but this is how it works in the real world.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb did a better job when he called it, “Turkey Logic.” If a butcher buys a turkey on January 1st, the turkey has almost eleven months of stable data that the butcher cares for the turkey and loves the turkey. Every day, right up until butchering the day before Thanksgiving, is solid evidence of a pattern of care.

The difference is that the turkey can’t reasonably predict slaughter is in the offing. But humans can predict. We know there are potentials for carelessness. We know there are bad people who will try to circumvent the rules to harm others or do bad things. We know the world has a plethora  of natural disasters in the wings. But they are rare enough it is generally safe to think like a turkey. The west coast of the US will suffer a huge earthquake and tsunami. But not in my lifetime. Probably.

This is not simple laziness. It is conditioned behavior.  Behavior is conditioned by reinforcement (reward) and punishment. Reward and punishment each come in two flavors, positive and negative, and normalization of deviance is conditioned by the most insidious— negative reinforcement.

  • Negative reinforcement IS NOT punishment. Let’s define some terms.
  • Reinforcement or reward is anything that increases a given behavior.
  • Punishment is anything that decreases a behavior.
  • Reward and punishment are the value holders.

In math, negative is the opposite of positive, so negative reward would be the opposite of reward. Not so in psychology. In psychology, positive and negative refer to presence and absence. In psychology, a positive reward means you get something good, a positive punishment means you get something bad. A negative reward means you are saved from something bad, a negative punishment means something good was withheld.

An example: A kid does his homework, so you take him to the movies. That’s positive reward. A kid does her homework so you give her a day off from chores. That’s negative reward. A kid ignores his homework and gets a spanking, that’s positive punishment, pain introduced to the system. A kid ignores her homework and loses TV privileges, that’s negative punishment.

The reward and punishment system is natural and very deeply wired. A classical behavioral psychologist will say that all learning, all changes in behavior, follow this model. We do things that hurt (punishment) less than things we enjoy.

Negative punishment is one of the slowest ways to learn. Behavior influenced in this way tends to drift rather than change. One of the questions in self-defense is “To what extent can intuition be trained?” Defensive intuition is hard to train because it relies solely on negative reinforcement. You get a bad feeling and don’t get into a relationship or go down a dark alley and nothing happens. But maybe nothing bad would have happened if you had made a different choice.

Deviance normalizes when nothing bad happens. It is passively and slowly rewarded— with time saved and tedious procedures avoided.

When your policy is set up to prevent a one in a thousand chance, 99.9% of the times you apply that policy are wasted. It feels inefficient, until the one in a thousand occurs. Then it depends on the cost of failure.

There are generally five ways to avoid normalization of deviance.

The first is to work in a highly dangerous environment with very active threat factors. It’s amazing how good people get at doing things right when doing them wrong gets you injured. Realistically, however, you can’t create this. That said, many of our safety protocols do rely on historical knowledge, not fantasy. We have solid data on how bad things happen.

The second is to ritualize the safety protocols. To have the patterns ingrained as part of the tribal identity of the group. It becomes unthinkable, for instance, to pass a weapon to another team member without the action open and the safety on. It’s not perfect. Any ritual can be done mindlessly and ritualistically looking at a dosage label is not the same as reading it.

The third, one notch away from ritualizing is to make the proper process a mark of elite membership. “I can tell you’re an amateur because you did that the wrong way.” This makes people competitive about being consistently competent. All of this, of course, predicates on the process actually being intelligent.

The fourth is to rely on prophets. Traditionally, prophets were not people who saw the future, but people who warned that if the tribe did not follow the laws, the gods would punish them. Almost every large organization has a handful of people constantly warning of the bad things that will eventually happen due to current practice or policy. The trouble is, because the tragedies are so rare, the prophets are wrong almost all the time and become easy to marginalize or even to punish.

The fifth is to administratively punish, through positive punishment, what nature is slowly rewarding through negative reinforcement. This, I would say, is the common practice but runs into its own unique problem. Punishment almost always requires direct confrontation, and direct confrontation is unpleasant. You guessed it. When the supervisor tasked to confront poor behavior avoids his job, that is negatively reinforced. And when nothing bad happens…

When the axe falls and the turkey finds it is butchering day, very rarely do people look at systemic issues and the normalization of deviance. People like simple explanation with simple solutions and are thus likely to view systemic failures as individual failures. Blaming the shooter and not the three people who were supposed to inspect the ammo, nor the one who stored a loaded weapon, nor the one who failed to inspect the weapon after the range, nor the one who used a designated “less-lethal” weapon in a firearms qualification nor the one who decided to use the “less lethal” in the first place. And certainly not the culture that said cutting corners was allowable.


Banja J (2010) The normalization of deviance in healthcare delivery. Bus Horiz 53: 139 10.1016/j.bushor.2009.10.006 [doi] [PMC free article] [PubMed]
Gonzales, Laurence. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why. WW Norton (2005)

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Thing that Gain from Disorder Random House (2014)