Conflict Management Literacy, Part II – Erik Kondo

This is a continuing series on the many aspects of Conflict Management Literacy.

Cost vs. Benefit Analysis a/k/a Risk vs. Reward

Let’s start with the problem of crime. Most people (non-criminals) would agree that crime is undesirable. So is anything that decreases crime desirable? Well, actually not. If we eliminate the human population, we have also wipe out crime. Almost all people would find this to be an undesirable solution. The cost is too high. What we want to do is reduce the rate of crime where the crime rate is the number of incidents per unit of population. But we also want to reduce the crime rate in a manner that doesn’t greatly affect our everyday lives. We want a solution that has a low cost to implement, yet provides the benefit of a lower crime rate.

All solutions to existing problems have some sort of cost (risk) vs. benefit (reward) analysis associated with them. If the solution has no associated cost, then it would just get done, and the problem would be eliminated. For example, as a society, we don’t have a significant problem with people punching themselves in the face on a regular basis. This is because the solution is free – just don’t do it. It cost you nothing to not punch yourself and you reap the benefits. The no cost solution translates into no problem.

On the other hand, society does have a problem with people punching other people in the face. The solution to this problem has an associated cost. The higher the cost to solve, the greater and longer term the societal problem. For example, in order to deter people from punching other people, society enforces a cost on the Punchers (fines, prison terms, etc.). This cost is intended to change the cost vs. benefit analysis of the Punchers.

The Punchers are punching as a solution to their particular perceived problem (rational or irrational, strategic or Monkey Brain driven, punching is still intended as a solution to something). Punchers are trying to solve their problems by punching. Thus, punching provides a Benefit at an associated Cost. Raise the Cost and the Benefit may no longer be worth the Cost. The purpose of deterrence is to raise the cost so that the benefit becomes less desirable or not worth the cost.

Society may raise the cost of punching by increasing the penalties given to Punchers. But enforcing these penalties has an associated cost to society. Besides the legal and incarceration costs, putting the household breadwinner in jail creates dependent families, single parent households, etc. If these costs are deemed to be too high, the proposed solution doesn’t get implemented. It is cheaper to deal with the cost of people being punched, than it is to try to eliminate the problem (reap the benefit).

Now take a look at any number of societal problems that don’t seem to get solved over time – sexual assault, police brutality, inner-city violence, domestic violence, mass shootings, racism, sexism, etc. Eliminating or reducing each of the problems would provide a benefit to society. But that result would come at a cost to society. When problems don’t get solved, society (or those that control society) has deemed (rightly or wrongly) that the cost of solving the problem is not worth the benefit. Changing the cost vs. benefit analysis, changes which problems get solved and/or which get priority to be solved.

Correlation vs. Causation

One commonly misunderstood concept is the relationship between Correlation and Causation. One method to eliminate or reduce a problem is to eliminate or reduce the source of the problem. In this case, the Source is a cause of the problem. The Source could be the only cause of the problem or it could be one of many causes of the problem. But there exists a direct causal link between the Source and the Problem. Reducing the Source, reduces the Problem. We can represent this situation by the equation

(Factors)(Source) = Problem    (This is made up equation for illustration purposes only!)

When two entities are correlated it means that they follow the same pattern. Graphically, this pattern could be Crime Rate vs. Time. For example, in the past twenty years in the US, the Crime Rate has decreased as represented by a downward sloping line (where y-axis is the Crime Rate and the x-axis is Time).

Over the past twenty years, Other Things have also decreased with time. When those Other Things are graphed next to the Crime Rate, if the lines look similar on the graph, then the Crime Rate correlates with them. Or if the graph of the Other Things is a mirror image, then those Other Things inversely-correlate with the Crime Rate (Ok, that’s a simplification, but you get the idea).

People who don’t understand correlation will look at graphs of correlating events/incidents/rates/etc. and assume causation between them. The mistaken assumption is that because the graphs look similar there must be a cause and effect relationship. When in fact, there might be one and there might NOT be one. Correlation graphs do not give enough information to make that determination.

Now ask yourself, how many people, politicians, Pro-gun activists, Anti-gun activists, Hard on Crime, Pro-Prison Reform, etc. have claimed that since their Thing/Anti-Thing is correlated or inversely-correlated with the lower crime rate that their Thing/Anti-Thing is actually the cause of the lower crime rate? My answer is – A LOT. They offer correlation as proof when they actually need to prove causation.

Going back to the above equation, the Source becomes the Thing

(Factors)(Thing) = Problem

in the real world ,it looks like (Well, kind of sort of, let’s not quibble on details)

(F1)(F2)(F3)(F4)(Fn)(Thing) = Problem

Where the F’s are the Factors involved and there are N number of Factors. In order to prove causation, ALL the Factors must be accounted for. You can NOT assume that the other Factors remain constant and that only the Thing changes to affect the Problem.

For example, maybe less legal restrictions (F1) on concealed carry weapon holders has caused the lower crime rate. Or maybe, less legal restrictions (F1) on CCW has caused the crime rate to be LESS low than it would have been otherwise (that means that less restrictions causes a higher crime rate). In both examples, less restrictions will correlate with a lower crime rate. We have no idea, since all the factors (F2,F3,F4, Fn…) have not been accounted for.

To summarize, those that claim that because Some Thing correlates or inversely-correlates with Some Other Thing, that it causes or reduces Some Other Thing, and those that don’t take into account the Cost vs. Benefit Analysis in problem solving are effectively illiterate in these aspects of conflict management.

Next time, the Inverted U-Curve and effect of False Positives on Risk Assessments.


Be A Good Witness: Describing People – Toby Cowern

Often, in the ’back room chats’ here in CRGI we find a number of contributory concepts throw up interesting and useful little ’nuggets’ of information. I often find, these ‘nuggets’ come in the form of something one or more of us founding members deeply ‘know’ and are (pleasantly) surprised when we realise that this maybe ‘new’ to people. It’s a balance between ‘how can people not know this?’ and ‘well, we can share this because it’s really good to know’.

I was recently re-reading some of Marc MacYoung’s and Rory Miller’s work as well as back issues of this publication, and while walking with my daughter Christmas shopping this weekend, suddenly a little ‘nugget’ came too mind. Clint talks clearly about the importance of ‘Witness Coaching’ as do Messrs. MacYoung and Miller. In a previous issue of CM Magazine I wrote about the concept of ‘Left and right of Arc’, thinking about the nuance, details and extremes of any given subject.

My youngest daughter is now 10 years old and is insightful and curious about many things. This has seen a great opportunity to increase her observation and awareness skills of late. We previously have been looking at behaviors and ‘things that stand out’, but I wanted to move now to memory and recall.  The game we played, was she had to describe someone nearby and I had to point out who it was. My wife played also and it was interesting to see who picked up on what ‘descriptor’ details. Then a flash of recall…

In many ‘follow ups’ and investigations I’ve conducted both in military and civilian occupations, I have used, with very good effect, the British Military ‘Descriptor’ Template. Anyone who knows anything about the Military, knows they have to have reports in a ‘standardised’ formats. A quandary was reached in the early 80’s when military housewives, while being encouraged to ‘stay vigilant’ and look for suspicious activity in and around military accommodation (due to the escalating terrorism threat) made regular reports to barracks police who then had to try and make the (widely varying quality of) details given, not only ‘fit’ in the reports, but be of any use.

Thus was born the ‘A-H’ system. A simple, easy to remember list of ‘Key headers’ that people could use to identify and remember details (of use) and provide comprehensive and consistent reports. The Key Headers are as follows:

  • A – Age
  • B – Build
  • C – Clothing
  • D – Distinguishing Features
  • E – Elevation
  • F – Facial features
  • G – Gender / Gait
  • H – Habits

We can expand on each of these with a little more detail:

Age – if you can’t be specific then try and ‘bracket’ within (ideally) five years e.g Between 25-30.

Build – Athletic, Obese, Skinny as some examples, but I’ve also had ‘sexy’, ‘curvaceous’ ‘muscly’ and ‘rugged’ used as well. If people struggle to define a build, I’ll often ask ‘Who are they built like?’, sometimes it’s easier for people to give a specific (normally celebrity) example and then get further detail from there. We are trying to build an overall profile and description and build is an important header.

Clothing – I encourage people to be methodical here, either describe head to toe or toe to head. So type/colour of footwear? What clothing items on the lower party of the body? On the Torso? Gloves? Items around the neck? Headwear etc. Here we can also think about ‘presence of the abnormal’. If it’s warm summer weather and the person was wearing a heavy or bulky jacket that is potentially useful information to follow, but then we digress to investigative procedure…

Distinguishing Features – What stood out about this person? Scars? Tattoos? Tribal identifiers (e.g. Uniforms, Use of Gang Signs)? Prosthetics? If you were closer enough to hear or engaged with them, Accent? Use of Slang? Etc etc

Facial Features – Of most use here will be the shape of the face, details on eyes, nose, mouth, ears and skin tone. Distinguishing features also cross over here, along with specifics such as if facial hair is present etc.

Gender / Gait – So here we are squeezing two descriptors into one heading.

Gender, either actual or assumed.

Gait is something people very rarely think about. To clarify ‘Gait’ is referring to ‘locomotion achieved through the movement of human limbs’, or to put it simpler ‘how people move’. While appearances can be masked, clothing can be discarded, even facial features to a point can be changed it is very, VERY hard to change the way you move. In fact, many of us could pick out a spouse or loved one from a distance on this alone, so this shows how useful a header this is… Ambling, unco-ordinated, uneven, lop sided, powerful, swaggering, are just some of the many ‘Gait’ descriptors I’ve heard, but there are many more.

Habits – There is a very wide range here. Do they smoke or similar? Any facial ticks or twitches in the limbs? Use of certain actions or phraseology (Rory mentions recognizing ex-cons by how they interact face to face, to give just one example)? These would be some of the ‘broad headers’, all the way down to the detail, what brand of cigarette? They drink, what were they drinking? Presence of religious symbols also fit nicely into this category.

We are, by nature, creatures of habit and many a person has been caught because of a habit they could not break.  

Ultimately, all of these descriptor details present the authorities the greatest opportunity in being able to identify people that may have had involvement or been witness to an altercation or incident you were involved in. Imagine being involved in a situation or even a ‘near miss’ and the frustration you would feel in not being able to give a clear concise description of those involved. Being a good witness is about not only observation, but remembering relevant details. It is hard to know what may be relevant at the time, but we can safely say accurate descriptions of people involved will always be useful information.

A central tenant here in CRGI is helping ‘make people better’. I particularly enjoy writing on subjects that may be of use to students and instructors alike. So, Instructors, consider for your next class having your students spend a few minutes trying to describe someone in the room and see how well others can guess who they are referring to. If you are finding a low success rate, consider introducing your students to the ‘A-H’ system and see if it helps. I know I have benefited from it greatly not only as an investigator but also as a witness.

Active Shooter – Dave Ashworth

Those of you who don’t know me I’ll give you a quick introduction. 

My name is David Ashworth and I served in the British Army for 9 years. I spent the last half of my military service with a Covert Counter Terrorist Unit, in both an operational and training role. After leaving the Army. I then worked as a Private Security Contractor and did this constantly for 8 years, spending 5 years in Iraq and 3 in Afghanistan. I’ve provided security to Various UK/US and Foreign Government Departments, as well as high-ranking military officers and Other Government Agencies (OGAs). I have also trained teams and individuals to operate in Hostile Environments. After leaving the contracting world I went into Law Enforcement, which I continue to do now.

With the latest events in the San Bernardino, California and also in Paris, France it’s worth us revisiting the Active Shooter(s) Scenario. Which as a civilian is one of the most dangerous situations you will find yourself in. A worrying trend in the Terrorist Modus Operandi is the multiple shooter and location tactic.

Now how does that affect you as a civilian? You will either be armed or unarmed in these situations and you will have to decide what your priority is. Is it escape? Is it locating your family? Is it neutralizing the threat i.e. the active shooter(s), or is it to protect your loved ones and get them to safety. It may be to leave the scene and brief law enforcement agencies. There are so many options and it will depend on you, your mindset, your training, your will to fight or your will to survive. 

So let’s look at what we need to try to survive an active shooter(s) situation. I say ‘try’ and survive because you could do everything right and still get killed by a lone gunmen because you went left instead of right. It happens! Better men than me have been killed by an act of fate, rather than by skill. It is worth noting a guy out of it on drugs can kill a Special Operations warrior just as easily as anyone else. Think about that for a minute.

I hope that’s taken a moment to sink in. Because I want to make something clear; too many people are looking for quick fix self defence techniques; “What do I do if I’m attacked like this?” People want an answer that is like, If A happens, do B, If C happens do D. Violence whether in a war zone or in the street outside the grocery store is dynamic, it changes, its a problem. The best way to deal with it is to have a problem solving attitude and train for those problems. You can drill everyday on the range and do a thousand scenarios, but when the time comes to draw down, odds are it will be none of the 1000 scenarios you went through on the range, but you can bet money, it’s close to 1 or 2 of them. So adapt to the situation and own it. 

So you’ve trained in some self defence techniques and you’ve been to the range, do you think you are ready to deal with an active shooter? 

Let me put it in another context: you’ve gone to the gym and done a few boxercise classes and then you’ve hit the punching bag a few times, for the last 6 months. Are you ready to step into a professional boxing match with Mike Tyson? I didn’t think so. If you do think you’re ready, we need to have a chat.  

As someone who has been down range, and on the receiving end of some “almost” well-placed shots, I don’t think you can ever train enough. After those rounds have come at you, you will be wishing you’d gone to the gym more, you’d fired more rounds on the range and carried out more drills so you were quicker.  

So what skills do you need to survive? Those of you who have attended any of my courses know that I push Situation Awareness; it’s my religion. You need to be aware of what’s going on around you. Anytime you step out of the house, bad things have the potential to happen. If I go anywhere outside of my home I’m aware a long shooter might decide today is his day, or some terrorist group decided its Zero hour. Sadly; it’s the World in which we live in. If I’m aware of people and how they act, their body language will give me an indicator to what they are doing and what their intentions maybe. So your head has to be on a swivel, and you will be looking for any combat indicators that something maybe about to go down.  

The modern terror threat we face is multiple shooters hitting multiple target locations. So lets look at it, odds are you won’t see the shooter, you’ll have an audio cue, the shots or the screams. A visual cue, people running from the shooting, Police or security directing people. Now the next question you have to ask yourself is “How ready for this are you?”

This is really going to boil down to the training you’ve conducted prior to it going loud made you ready. Picture it, sat in the food court with your family at the mall. Bang! Screams, Bang! Bang! Bang! Are you still sat there? Are you grabbing your kids? There isn’t any point in spending thousands of dollars on range time, only for your spouse to get hit in the gun fight and you not know what to do medically. You need to train in all aspects of tactical life. The guys and gals, I’ve trained know my mantra: shoot, move, communicate, medical. They are the four factors that make a good operator, whether that be a Tier one dude, or a well-trained civilian. 

Let’s say you aren’t carrying a weapon. What’s your priority? Escape right? So you noted the exits when you came into the mall, where the nearest cover was in the park. Where the elevated positions are that a shooter might use and the best place to move to if it happened. These are things that have become part of my lifestyle. I do them without really thinking about it. My students have learned that it’s not a mindset, it’s a lifestyle. 

If you are armed, what are you going to do? Are you going to move to the sound of the gunfire? Are you going to draw your weapon? What will your posture be if the police see you? Are you ready to deal with this situation? What if someone mistakes you for the shooter? What if the police are given your description? What if you find injured people, do you stop and help, or move on? Do you have any medical equipment on you? Do you know how to use it? Do you have a flashlight? Do you know how to enter a room? How do you clear an open/closed door? Can you move tactically down a hallway? Can you move outside the building? Are you ready to take someone’s life to save others; this isn’t a Hollywood movie where you are going to be the hero. This is real life; if you fire a shot and it misses and hits someone it’s not aimed at, then you’ve just blown it. There are no second chances; miss the target and they might not miss you. I could spend hour’s war-gaming with you, but I just want people to start thinking about this issue. As sadly; it’s becoming a part of our every day lives. The threats are out there.

As you can see here, there are a lot of factors. I’ve only glossed over them here.  I just want you to think about the situation you may find yourself in and how you plan to problem solve it. 

Train hard and Stay safe, 


Social Conditioning: Women & Violence, Part II – Tammy Yard-McCracken, Pys.D.

Rabbit Trail

I suspect there is an intellectual drift in our thinking as professionals in the world of violence. Whether it is as force professionals, martial art instructors, self-defense instructors, or etc., human nature is to normalize what we learn from experience and training. Once normalized, there is an unconscious judgment that wants to wiggle into our thinking. If we know it, then it must be common knowledge.

Really? Why? Remember how it is that you do, in fact, know better.

The social rules, the subconscious expectations many women follow unconsciously every day, have some obvious and significant implications when women face a violent encounter. These same rules will show up on the mat and on the range if she decides to train for personal protection. (How and what that looks like is better left to a different dialogue.)

These five case examples can be easily used to highlight how social rules set her up as a perfect target. If we stop there, the implication is pretty damning. Up side? There are a couple of hidden superpowers tucked inside what looks like a perpetual-victim default.

Here’s one, and it comes with a hell of a lot of gravitas. Once she slips the leash, she is all in.

I have a theory on this.

She grows up on social rules that can make her a pretty good mark. The flip side? She does NOT grow up with the social rules defining how a fight is supposed to go. She doesn’t spend her days wrestling and playing King of the Hill. She doesn’t get socialized on the football field and she doesn’t learn what a tap-out means on the wrestling mat. She is chided severely if she attempts to solve conflict the way 10 year old boys do by throwing a couple of wild punches and rolling on the ground. She doesn’t play with green army men who blow each other up with mud bombs.

If she does, it may be because she grew up in a neighborhood like mine where most of the kids my age were boys. If I wanted to play, I had to play the games that were running. Even here, she will hear comments about ‘letting the girl play’ and it will be the exception, not the rule.

She does not know the rules to male conflict and violence because she doesn’t grow up playing the games teaching the rules. If she played those games, she will understand it was by special permission and it really isn’t her game. She is only a guest. Consequence? She won’t generalize the rules of war to her own belief system.

These rules are not built in to her internal infrastructure. When she goes physical – she is in uncharted territory and she will do whatever has even the slightest chance of keeping her alive– there are no rules to follow because she was not socialized to the rules. There is a better than average chance her Threat expects her to follow the social rules of being female: acquiesce, be polite, hesitate, ask for permission. There is an equally decent chance the Threat does not expect to encounter a rabid chipmunk, or as one of my students recently said “an unleashed crazy-bitch”.

If she is armed? Like the first two case studies, she is far more likely to fire until the magazine is empty than she is to get off a couple of rounds and stop to see if she hit her target.

Unarmed? If there isn’t anyone nearby to pull her off, she may blow right by the boundary of when a “reasonable” person would disengage. Particularly if her children have been threatened. She will risk her own life without a moment’s hesitation to save her tiny humans.

Earlier, I mentioned a correlation between adrenaline rates and gender. We need to revisit it again. Rory Miller posits a theory for the gender-based adrenalizination delay; it resonates (R. Miller, personal communication, 2015). If his hypothesis bears any credence, combining the two theories has a doubly deleterious impact on women when a physical solution becomes necessary.

Here’s my summary of Rory’s theory on why women experience the adrenaline delay. When we were hunter-gatherer tribes the able-bodied men would be gone for weeks at a time following herds for enough kill to feed the tribe into the future. Left behind are the aged men, the children, and the women. Turn this into the able-bodied men leaving the village for war, in both circumstances if a Threat gets to the tribe, the women are the last line of defense.

It is on her to ensure the next generation lives to a reproductive age. Knowing this, she will go physical with an unfettered, vicious ferocity.

One theory is rooted social psychology; the other is rooted in evolutionary need. In both, once she goes physical she is all in.

I have seen a full sized dog high-tale it in the opposite direction when attacked by a 10-pound cat that thought her kittens were in danger.  One good bite and the cat would be done, but the dog was uninterested in the risk it would cost to try. Superpower number one in action.

Superpower number two. She is smart. Not that men aren’t, this is not a comparative dynamic so if you are itching to argue – take a breath. The center of the brain that processes fine details and retains them with attachment to meaning has more neuronal connections than the average male brain (Brizendine, 2006). A Cornell study (Wong, 2013) is a little less definitive as to the why women have this capacity but the science in the Cornell study may be a tad more sound than Brizendine’s suppositions.

Wong and Brizendine agree with an important bottom line: women attend to, retain, and recall details at a remarkable level of accuracy. As a natural process, this ability is far more dominate in women than in men.

A possible explanation for this reality ties into Rory’s suggestion about evolutionary need. Village and tribal life puts her on her own for long periods of time with others to provide for, to feed and nurture. Considering sociological anthropology as a perspective, there are probably a few men in the group and hances are, they are elderly or otherwise unable to physically endure the rigors of a hunt. If they couldn’t hunt, they are not going to be much help to her if violence shows up on the village’s metaphoric doorstep.

If she’s trekking out to the berry patch she may have tiny humans in tow and one strapped to her back. Running and fighting in the event of a stalking predator (animal or human) is automatically compromised by her circumstances. Her chances of survival, and the survival of her offspring goes way up if she notices the tiny nuances of the well-worn path that are different than they were on her last pass. A new print in the dirt, blades of grass bent the wrong direction, absence of prey animals, birds fall quiet or take to wing behind her…a soft sound that wasn’t in her hearing a moment ago…

For this information to matter she must have three things available. She must have a context for what the information means (prior learning), she must notice the fine details, and she must do the math (match memory to the context).

Dial this forward to lifestyles that are more common to us in 2015, how many of you can relate to this?

Him: What? You never told me your mother was coming in this weekend! It’s your mother (or whatever the situation is), I guarantee if you had told me that I would have remembered.

Her: Really? Seriously? How can you NOT remember this conversation! You were standing with your hand on the fridge door looking for something to eat in that blue shirt I bought you for your birthday two years ago. You looked at me and rolled your eyes and then you said ______________. Then you shrugged your shoulders and went out to the garage to work on the lawn mower.

Him: Silence – thinking…what the hell? What blue shirt?

Or, try this one.

Him: Hey, do you know where the charger to my old mp3 player is?

Her: When did you last have it?

Him: I don’t know, I can’t remember. You know, the old one.

Her: Silence, thinking. Look in the drawer in the hallway or on the shelves in the corner of the your closet. If it’s not there, it’s probably in your…..

And she is usually right, isn’t she?

She remembers the details, stores them and assigns meaning to them. She does this with people and behavior too. If you have read DeBecker’s work, or you work in an industry like mine where you get to hear story after story of victim events, you know this:

Her intuition told her something was wrong.

This intuition is not magical. It is biological. It is this powerful capacity to manage details, remember them and use them instantaneously, unconsciously. She cannot always articulate how or why she knows what she knows, but she knows. This makes her capable of a marked degree of tactical intelligence.

And the question that wants to be asked next is this: if she is naturally, tactically intelligent, why doesn’t she use it? Why did she get raped, stalked, why did she ask permission to fire?

Both superpowers can get tangled in the sticky web of social conditioning; sometimes to the degree she may not be able to access them at all. This doesn’t mean her superpowers disappeared. Slowly, over a lifetime of experiences, they have been lulled into a deep sleep.

That’s the good news. If those superpowers are still there and they are only sleeping, we can wake them up again.

The Dangers of the Killer Instinct, Part II – Rodney King

The Misunderstanding Of Applied Martial Technique

If you agree with my line of enquiry, then the question is why is this hyped-up aggressive approach to dealing with interpersonal violence so widely taught, and not just that, often as the primary go to strategy?

Most reality based self defence instructors often start teaching from the moment of the attack itself. Little or not time as I have seen is spent on anything other than dealing with the actual attack. Most everything else is cursory at best. Of course there are times when attacks happen without warning, but I would argue, and based on the students mostly being taught (i.e., civilians) there is a strong likelihood that what they will more than likely encounter in their lifetime (probably more than on one occasion) is someone bumping into them in a bar. As noted earlier in that situation, awareness, verbal jiu-jitsu skills, and a sensible, mature attitude are far more practical self preservation skills for the average Joe to have, than how to eye gouge someone.

Secondly, many reality based self defence instructors have never actually been in interpersonal violence themselves. This sets up an unrealistic mental framework of the reality of violence, which is, as I have been notting not something anyone who really cares deeply about their safety would want to be engaged in. However avoidance, verbal jiu jitsu etc, seems never to be adequately if at all taught in reality based self defence systems. For all the practicality expowsed by these reality based experts, much of what they teach isn’t reality at all. How could it be, they have no real experience themselves to begin with. If they did, they wouldn’t then glorify the violence as they do. It also wouldn’t be their default strategy to use violence to solve violence.

Thirdly, when these reality based instructors do train under someone who has real world experience in interpersonal violence they often choose ex-military personnel, preferably someone from a special force unit (it just looks cooler on a resume too). I am the first to admit, that someone who has gone to war and survived has a lot to teach the average person about managing fear, explaining the reality of real violence, and the psychological dynamics that underpin it. However fighting on a battlefield is not the same as defending oneself on civvy street. The mandate for a soldier (relevant to their role of course), and the level of violence that a solider is allowed to apply, not to mention the context — is very different to that of a civilian. Civilians not only have to protect themselves, but they also have to seriously consider the legal ramifications of the force they use.

Finally and my greatest concern, which harks back to the notion of a killer instinctive mindset to deal with interpersonal violence. Using my favourite resource on the topic of reality based self defence training YouTube — clip after clip one watches an attacker who attacks, a defender who defends, who then goes on to obliterate the attacker with a barrage of fast, dynamic, aggressive striking. While the attacker stops hitting after the first blow, proceeds to cower, folds under the pressure and then falls to the floor. Anyone else see a glaring problem with this?

There is an unconscious assumption in these demonstrations that the person you are fighting doesn’t know how to fight. I don’t know about you, but seldom did I find working as the head doorman outside some of Johannesburg’s roughest nightclubs for several years, where a person would only strike me once then allow me to do what ever I liked to him. People actually fight back. What is equally not taught is what happens when your super fast, vicious, merciless, counter offence doesn’t work?

Lets say you teach a person to preempt a potential violent encounter with another person, or lets say you teach to aggressively, and mercilessly mount a barrage of counter offensive moves when a punch is thrown at a person (all of course with the killer instinct that is required). But lets just say reality steps in, as it always does, and the permeative strike, or that barrage of vicious counter offence doesn’t work? Lets say the other person now not only fights back, but fights back even harder because they now want to survive at all costs (imagine that?) Now all of a sudden, not only didn’t the physical technique work, but neither did that bezerker killer instinct.

Now what?

The defender may now find himself going from winning to losing. He may have started off pumped up, and hyped up on aggression, but now finds himself in a situation with all his physical resources depleted. Added to this his confidence has now taken a major battering, which may result at worst that he freezes or turns his back on the threat. When killer instinct doesn’t work, there is only one way to go, and that’s down into a negative spiral that most people who are not used to surviving violence will likely never recover from.

The Body Is Already Primed To Survive

The reality is, when faced with any kind of danger (real or unreal) the body is already primed for danger. For a long time the general consensus when talking about fear was that it was activated through a cognitive appraisal of a threat, which then invoked a fear response. That feeling of fear then drives the expression of behavioural defence responses. In other words we run from a bear because we see it, recognise it as a bear, and are afraid of it. More and more though, researches like Joseph Le Doux have argued that the amygdala circuit detects threats non-consciously, and in turn controls the subsequent behavioural and psychological aspects of the fear response. It is the cognitive systems secondary role to interpret the feeling of fear.

What does this mean? It means, that for the most part the body primes itself for a potential threat in absence of conscious awareness and control. It is in other words automatic. The ingredients for survival then are automatically set into play the second a threat is detected (often as noted unconsciously). Using an approach then that seeks to heighten that survival response though cognitively arousing the mental state and bodily attitude even further by getting a person into a more killer instinct frame of mind — at least from my experience — interferes with the bodies natural ability to attend to a fearful situation as it has been designed too.

Not to state the obvious, but our ancestors adequately survived much harsher survival situations than we would likely encounter as civilians today, and they did this before a martial art school ever existed. More over, the overlaying of more cognitive demands on the system, can have unintended consequences, often negative as I have outlined in this article.

This is why, I teach my clients to be completely trusting in their training, done through progressive stress inoculation, to the point that as best as we can, everything has been given over to unconscious motor skills, which then allow for space within the mind to decide how one would want to attend to the situation one finds himself in (i.e using the prefrontal cortex, instead of being ruled by the reptilian brain). In this respect, my approach is to teach my clients how to stay calm, centred and mindful in a survival situation, not to make them more hyped up. The body is already primed unconsciously to deal with the threat, you don’t need to now either hype it up more, or force it to work for you. All you need to do is apply a grounded strategy and subsequent tactical system to neutralise the threat you face. As the saying goes a clear mind, is a determined and focused mind.

The Samurai, born and breed for battle knew this all to well. Togo Shigekata, a Samurai, proclaimed: “One finds life through conquering the fear of death within one’s mind. Empty the mind of all forms of attachment, make a go-for-broke charge and conquer the opponent with one decisive slash.” In other words, true performance in a life and death battle requires a mind that is clear, focused, expansive and aware — not one clouded by aggression!

About the Author
Rodney King M.A., RSME is the creator of Crazy Monkey Defense, and its sister self-preservation program Combat Intelligent Athlete. He has taught army special forces and law enforcement teams how to survive a life and death encounter when all they have is their body to defend themselves with. You can find out more about Rodney and his work at or

The Confusion Between Conflict Resolution & De-escalation, Part II – Gershon Ben Keren

In last month’s article, I looked at the times when deescalating aggressive situations is an appropriate solution i.e. when the aggressor you are facing is involved in a “spontaneous” act of violence – one that they haven’t planned or orchestrated; but have become aggressive and potentially violent due to your actions or behaviors, whether real or perceived e.g. you have, or they believe you have, spilt a drink over them, jumped ahead of them in a queue, taken a parking space they were waiting for, etc. This is contrary to premeditated assaults, such as muggings and sexual assaults, where an aggressor has planned the incident and knows what they want to achieve/get out of it – they have a defined goal. Because in spontaneous situations there is no defined goal or specified outcome (the person you have spilt a drink over doesn’t know what will make the situation right for them), you may have the chance and opportunity to get them to consider non-violent alternatives that might resolve the conflict/dispute. However in order to do this, you must first take some of the emotion out of the situation so that they are able to consider these alternatives – this is the purpose of the de-escalation process.

To understand how this process works, we must first gain an appreciation for the way that people think, and interpret your actions and behaviors when emotive and aggressive. As you are reading this article, you are using your brain’s reasoning capacity, however if you were to become angry, this would start to shut off and you would start to process information using your limbic system brain. Your limbic system brain doesn’t understand reason and rationale, it is used to understanding disputes and conflicts at the social level, as a dog or a wolf would. Dogs and wolves are social creatures (bereft of reason) who resolve disputes through posture and submission e.g. one growls, snarls and makes themselves look big, whilst the other roles over and exposes it’s neck in a display of submission (conflict resolved).

When a person becomes emotional and aggressive, they start using brain functions and paths which are more animalistic – dog-like. They stop using their reasoning brain to process information, and start to see conflicts in a more dog-like way, with the person they are dealing with either posturing to them, or acting submissively. If you have ever told an angry person to calm down, you have probably been met with the response, “I AM CALM!” Instead of interpreting what you said in the spirit it was meant, they can only see and hear things from the perspective of them being either an act of posturing or submission; when you tell somebody to calm down, stop shouting etc., you are telling them what to do, and so they posture back to you – this escalates rather than de-escalates the conflict.

If they are extremely emotional, they may be using their reptilian brain, rather than their limbic system/mammalian brain. Their reptilian brain will interpret everything as being either fight or flight – reptiles are not social creatures in the way that dogs are and so their interpretations of threats, conflicts and disputes are much more basic; they either disengage or they attack (they can give warning signs, but these are different to acts of posturing, as only disengagement – flight – rather than acting submissively will avert and attack).
The goal of any de-escalation process should be to get an individual to stop working with their limbic system or reptilian brain(s), and start to use their reasoning brain again. If you can get an aggressor to start using and applying reason and rationale to a situation, rather than emotion, they will be able to consider alternatives to violence.

One way to get an aggressive individual to start using their rational/reasoning brain, is to recognize and inform them of their emotional state. Saying something like, “You seem really angry”, can be one way of doing this. Feelings and emotions, are not the same thing. Our emotional state is the physical state we are in, such as being adrenalized, our feelings are the conscious interpretation of that state, such as feeling angry or scared, etc. When we are highly emotional, and our reasoning brain shuts off, we are not able to “feel” our emotional state, we are just in it. By pointing out how an aggressor is “feeling”, such as being angry, will often cause them to register their emotional state; something that they have to use their reasoning brain for. A common response to this statement is, “Of course I’m angry, you spilt a drink over me!” This is a good starting point, as the emotional individual is now starting to process what has happened to them, and the reasoning brain has been engaged, even if it is not in full control of that person’s actions and behaviors.

To keep the person processing the situation from a rational perspective, you can follow up with the question, “what can I do to sort this out?” This question forces an aggressor to start using their reasoning brain to consider different alternatives, which would potentially satisfy them in the situation. The emotional limbic and reptilian brains, are unable to weigh up the pros and cons of different outcomes, and so have to hand over this decision making process to the reasoning brain. It may be that the individual responds that you can buy them another drink and pay for their dry cleaning. The fact that it is the aggressor who has determined the solution to the situation is important, as it allows them to posture in a controlled and directed manner, which means by accepting their solution, you are acting in the submissive role – in the animal kingdom – or when people are processing information – this submissive response will end the conflict.

If you were to make the suggestion that you should buy this individual another drink and pay for their dry-cleaning, it is likely that your idea would have been interpreted as you posturing to them, i.e. telling them how the conflict will be resolved – you setting the terms. There may of course be individuals who make preposterous and ridiculous demands e.g. you can buy drinks for them and their friends for the rest of the night, etc. In such cases, you can still keep the person engaging with their reasoning mind by saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry but I’m not able to do that, can you think of anything else that might resolve this situation?” As long as they can keep on track, coming up with alternatives, their reasoning brain is engaged.

In some cases, usually when a person is working with their reptilian brain, they may be so emotional that de-escalation isn’t an option. The clearest signal that somebody is about to assault you, in a spontaneous act of violence, is when they lose verbal control and reasoning. When a person meets your statements or questions with silence, garbles and jumbles their words (“you drink my spilt!”) and/or simply keeps repeating the injustice over and over again, faster and faster e.g. “you spilt my drink!”, “You Spilt My Drink!”, “YOU SPILT MY DRINK!” these are clear warning signs that they are unable to understand or process what you are saying and they are in fight or flight mode; more likely fight. This is the time when you need to ditch your de-escalation process and prepare to respond physically either by creating distance for yourself, or by attacking pre-emptively; the time for talking is over. I have heard many people in the security and self-defense industry talk about other warning signs, such as changes in a person’s complexion, etc., and whilst these do occur, they can be hard to notice and identify, especially if lighting is low-level, such as a in a nightclub or bar, or if the person has been consuming alcohol. Checking a person’s ability to reason verbally is a much better indication of their emotional state.
Whenever you attempt to de-escalate a situation, you should do so in a non-threatening stance, with your hands out in a placating fashion, so that your body language and posture reflects what you are saying (see photo). With your hands out in front of you, in the international language for both “stop”, and “I don’t want any trouble”, you will be both confirming your desire to de-escalate and resolve the conflict as well as putting yourself in a good position to both defend yourself and attack pre-emptively; in any crisis negotiation you should be prepared to respond physically if necessary, even if this isn’t your primary goal.