Tribes, Super-tribes, Uber-Tribes – Marc MacYoung

Something I am working on is explaining the human ‘wiring’ to be tribal and how modern society has pushed us out of our comfort zone when it comes to the ‘size’ of our tribe.

This is a simple concept with MASSIVE implications.
Starting with that we ‘owe’ obligations/sharing/support/concern to those INSIDE our tribe. The rules of how we treat those inside our tribe are very specific. We NEED the tribe for our survival. These reciprocal tribal obligations are what kept our species alive on a planet that was trying to kill us. Yes, this is a species level survival issue. Other species went extinct, we haven’t — because we are social primates. At the same time, when it comes to those outside our small tribe… well it ranges from not my problem to ‘fuck them’ to — and this is the source of my growing concern — “We’re going to get those evil rat bastards.” Changing tracks, I want you to understand something about an idea you take for granted. Nations are a VERY recent invention in terms of humanity. (250 years vs. 200,000 years.) Here’s another kick to the gut. The idea isn’t global yet either. But let’s look at what you were raised in in the West. We are told that as a nation we are a giant Uber-tribe. If you are a US citizen you have 324,000,000 fellow tribes people. You’ve been conditioned to accept this as ‘normal.’ Except there’s just one little glitch…

This is beyond most people’s functional ability — WAY beyond. Dunbar’s number postulates that we can only maintain between 100 to 250 stable relationships. That is our actual ‘tribe’ (or village if you will). With a little mental gymnastics most people can be comfortable with the idea of a Super-tribe (lots of people like them). We start gritting our teeth at the Uber-tribe. Where people really glitch is when someone tries to promote the idea that the ‘tribe’ is global. Ummmm I owe tribal obligations to 7 billion people? Totally over the sanity horizon, for anyone not espousing it, is saying animals, trees and Mother Earth are also your tribe — and you owe them the same obligations. Riiiiiiiiiiiigght.

Here’s the hitch. Uber-tribes are just too big. Going back to something I mentioned in passing we can sort of, kinda wrap our heads around Super-tribes. These are imaginary super groups that we both self-identify with and label others as. In the self-identity category, this reduces the ‘uber’ to a smaller, more intellectually manageable super-size. So now instead of 324,000,000 million your Super-tribe is a tens or hundreds of millions. The four main categories we use to separate ourselves from the Uber-tribe are politics, race, religion and socio-economic.
We’re more comfortable with drawing these lines between Super-tribes. But guess what? When we do that we fall into the “Us v.s. Them” mindset of tribalism. A mindset that historically had checks, balances, limits, consequences and most of all rules of behavior — especially when it came to getting along. Rules that if you broke, people you loved died.

This isn’t just internal rules that you followed. (Kosher and Halah food rules will keep your family from dying of food poisoning in the desert.) It’s very much keeping people you love from getting killed because of something you did to a member of another tribe. That’s tribal warfare out at the sharp end. And despite the bad rap it gets, way more time and effort is spent on trying to keep from having to try to slaughter each other than killing. This is people you know and love dying if you screwed that pooch.

Except now we’ve got a weird mix. A mix that can manifest in many different ways. One way is “Well I didn’t know the guy personally, but a member of my Super-tribe was killed by a member of a hated other Super-tribe, so that’s that.” Another version is “I want my Super-tribe controlling the Uber-tribe” (with no idea of what it takes to actually run things). Then there’s folks who seem hell bent on “We’re going to force you to do what we want.” This can — and often does — mix with “I’m relying on the rules of the Uber-tribe to keep me safe as I spit my hate at the other Super-tribes.”

This is a bit of a problem for a variety or reasons. One of which is you virtue signal inside your own tribe for status and conformity “Those rat bastards…” “Yeah!” Allowing for the “Jungle Book” aspect of dancing and chanting of ‘It’s so because we say it’s so!’ — this not a problem. This is acceptable behavior INSIDE your tribe’s territory. However the rules of different tribes are different. No big surprise, but what has been lost in the Uber and Super-tribe shuffle is the rules of how those of different — often hostile — tribes interact when they find themselves in proximity.
These are different still.

This loss is not a good thing. Starting with you don’t walk into a mixed environment and behave the same way you do among your own. This especially by calling out how stupid, wrong and evil that hated other group is. It doesn’t matter how much you believe it. It doesn’t matter how much you do it back home. You don’t do it outside your tribe because you’ve just insulted about six different people there who are from that Super-tribe. Oh yeah, and you ignored the effects of your word on the 12 others whose tribes are more closely aligned with the other than yours. (If you’re expecting those 12 to step in and save you, I have some bad news…)

Now as long as everyone has more invested in keeping the peace than responding, you can ‘get away with it.’ If by that you mean nobody throws your ass through a window (which in case you didn’t know, really slices you up.) The problem that I am seeing is that good will is waning. More than that, because people aren’t getting punched for bad behavior anymore, it’s escalating. People in certain Super-tribes are getting more emboldened about their words and behaviors, more self-righteous, more hostile. While those in other Super-tribes are getting pushed towards the point where ‘keeping the peace’ loses priority in light of the constant stream of insults, abuse and hostility.

Which again, ‘those rat bastards…’IS perfectly acceptable to say INSIDE your Super- tribe, but not in mixed company. You conduct yourself differently when you are dealing with folks from other tribes — or, and this is something people tend to forget, in neutral territory. That may be acceptable behavior where you’re from, but in this area you don’t know how many of the people you just pissed off are armed.

Another problem that I am seeing is that punching someone for lipping off has been banned. This low-level consequence used to teach people there were lines you didn’t cross unless you were willing to pay the price. Two relevant points. There are all kinds of levels of striking and reason for striking. I tell you this so you can understand the first point, a hit is the level you use for people inside your tribe whom you don’t want to hurt. The second point: Violence between different tribes often involves weapons. That’s because the intent IS to hurt. Stop and consider the implications of what I’m about to say.

Lower levels of physical violence can indeed escalate. However, they more commonly serve as a safety valve. A pressure relief that would go before the boiler blows up. That safety valve has been wired shut … and pressure is growing. Worse, it seems there are some folks out there intent on stoking the boiler. I’m going to leave you with this thought. You have a whole lot of people who are out there with no idea about the nature of intra and inter-tribal violence. Many of who are apparently pushing for conflict against other Super-tribes. Do they recognize what they are doing? Are they thinking that they are under the protection of the rules of the very Uber-tribe they are rejecting and holding themselves apart from? Are they thinking that the rules of their Super-tribe are the only rules that count? (Translated to: I have the right to do ____, but you don’t have the right to react except according to my standards.

Solid example: I can scream my hate at you, but you can’t strike me for my words.) Are they willfully abusing people? This by relying on other’s preference to keep the peace instead of reacting to their goading? Are they giving themselves more and more permission to act because they’ve moved into a Super-tribe echo chamber? An environment that not only encourages, but demands they loudly ‘virtue signal’ whatever ultra-orthodoxy is in fashion at the moment? Is this a fight they think they can start and then walk away from if it gets too intense?

The Hand of SD Expanded The Palm (Part Two) – Marc MacYoung

Last time I asked you to start thinking about external limits and conditions (the back of the hand). While there are a great many environmental issues that are beyond an individual’s control, the biggest issues stem from internal limits.

Let’s start with a big one regarding the palm: Where is the person’s locus of control?

In case you’re not familiar with that term it’s from personality psychology. It — basically — means how much control an individual believes he or she has over events that affect him or her. Internal means you believe you’re in control over what happens. External is you are controlled by outside forces. For example a woman who says, “I am an independent, competent woman who makes my own circumstances” is displaying a strong internal loci. Whereas a woman who says “Women are conditioned by society not to stand up for themselves and always be polite” is assigning control over her behavior to external sources. Locus of control has a lot to do with a person’s sense of victimization, acceptance of personal responsibility and willingness to change.

Before we go on to the training issues arising from this, realize  — while either locus can be taken to the pathological extreme — most people are a personalized mix. Some things they consider themselves in control of, others not so much. However, don’t hold your breath waiting for consistency. People tend to flit back and forth erratically about self-control and ‘can’t help myself,’ positive and negative rights, and of course what they ‘should be’ allowed to do without consequence.

Where this affects training isn’t with what they can and ‘can’t do’ to protect themselves. (That’s more an external issue.) What really chains them to the wall is internal. It’s what they will and won’t do. Can do and will do are not the same.

Where people are most inconsistent are 1)  levels of force and 2) personal responsibility (especially about participating in, creating and escalating dangerous situations). These two are often intermixed in strange and erratic ways. But to understand the mix it helps to look at them individually.

Example of the first: Gouging out an eyeball out is both extremely easy and an effective way to stop a rape. However the idea is so repugnant to many people that the option is not taken. This even though rape is considered in most states ‘grievous bodily injury’ and the eyes are in range. What I just said is even though lethal force would be justified many people can’t bring themselves to maim their rapist. Nor does the idea even cross their minds during the attack. This is entirely an internal limit.

Example of the second: Insisting it is one’s ‘right’ to engage in high risk behaviors while refusing to take safety precautions, accepting limits or negative results. Common manifestation #1: Aggressive, hostile and intimidating words and actions to achieve a goal, but then being caught off guard when there’s a physical responses. Common manifestation #2: Same verbal and emotional abuse, but claiming victimization and blaming the provoked person. #3: Blaming the circumstances of one’s life on external locus of control

Example of a mix: Insisting on one’s right to go alone into dangerous parts of town at night, but refusing to carry a gun.  That is very much an internal attitude about external conditions. No amount of empty handed training is going to make those external conditions safe. (For the record, even carrying a gun doesn’t guarantee safety.) Yet the person willingly puts him or herself into dangerous circumstances and just as willfully refuses to take safety measures. While the obvious candidate for this combo of behavior would seem to be the younger person (who insists on going clubbing in bad parts of town), I’ve seen this behavior from middle aged, middle classed people as well. People believing it is their ‘right’ to go where they will and they should not have to carry a gun while doing it.

How does all of this manifest? Many people don’t have the commitment to ‘do what is necessary’ to get out of an extreme situation. As such, the only viable answer is: Don’t put yourself into situations where such responses would be necessary.

This is a hard pill to swallow for people who are seeking confidence and empowerment from self-defense training. A lot of people don’t want to be told ‘no’ and that’s what brings them to training. But there are always limits. Real life limit: Just having a gun doesn’t mean walking through a bad part of town is a good idea. The absolute worst time to discover you don’t have what it takes to pull the trigger is when facing a robber who will pull the trigger.

Conversely, if someone has no patience or desire to learn about the restrictions surrounding force, (such as how to assess different degrees of danger, learn to recognize when it’s legal to ‘pull the trigger’ or believes the consequences of making a bad use of force decision) then

  1. A) They are more of a physical danger to others than others are to them.
    B) the greatest danger to them is themselves

First off many such people aren’t looking for self-defense. Often they’re looking for an excuse. Others are looking for revenge. While others are looking to enhance their bullying (stand up to them and you’ll get punched).  While still others are so terrified at the idea of losing, that ‘not losing’ is their self-permission to excessive force.

Any of these are a fast track to disaster. We live in a country of laws. A country with a legal system that frowns on using force on your fellow citizens. You will be held answerable to your involvement in situations — even if it was ‘self-defense.’  Giving people the ability to physically injure their fellow citizens without warning them or preparing them for the aftermath is negligent. Basically the training hasn’t created loose cannons, but it’s loaded them.

This brings us to another issue: Is it the instructor’s responsibility to install what’s missing?

Simple question, yet one you’ll find massive mental gymnastics over. Often in the form of “we’ll teach you how to effectively do violence on others, but we won’t teach you how to keep from getting arrested for illegal violence.” (Being as self-defense is legal and fighting is illegal that’s kind of important.) Another common version, we’ll ’empower’ you, but not address how not to abuse that power. Still another hole you can drive a truck through is how to avoid unnecessary violence in the first place. While this might seem a little more about the fingers than the palm, there is one simple question: How close or far is the student from be able to correctly use the information you’re providing?  Or, because it’s ‘self-defense,’ is that not your problem? Like I said, we’re in the realm of mental gymnastics here when it comes to what is and is not being taught as ‘self-defense.’

Let’s look at one more issue about who is being taught. Sure we want to help, but is the instructor qualified to do so? This is a far more complex question than it might seem. First there are many self-defense courses actively pandering to individuals who have had traumatic events in their pasts. Many of these claim to empower people so they can defend themselves. While training can be therapeutic, it is not the same as therapy.

But even if do allow for these benefits, some questions we need to ask are: Does this training actually give the person the necessary skills and mindset to defend him or herself? Or does it instill overconfidence? (“I can do what I want, I know how to defend myself!”) Does it serve as therapy or does it actually empower dysfunction (e.g., dysfunction backed up by the willingness to be violent)? Is the person ‘self-medicating’ by taking this training instead of getting professional help? Is the training helping recovery and moving past or encouraging a variation on the self-identity of a ‘victim?’ (“Never again!” may sound anti-victim, but it’s still defining oneself in the context of victimhood.)

Unfortunately there has been a strong trend in some self-defense training to focus more on attempted therapy and social engineering. Even allowing for the best of intentions, this is another aspect of the disconnect. Self-defense is an individual issue. It is the individual acting in defense of her or himself. It is not a social movement, cause or issues of rights or group solidarity. It’s what the individual can do. As such, those issues have nothing to do with self-defense; introducing them muddies the waters of the subject and widens the disconnect between what is being sold as training and the actual dangers and issues of defending oneself.

Having said that, often that empowerment, false confidence and faux-therapy is what the customer wants. It is the basis of the customer’s willingness to pay for training. One manifestation of this is what we refer to as ‘fear management instead of danger management training.’ The training doesn’t actually reduce danger, it just convinces the person he/she is equipped to handle it. Another form is ‘talisman thinking’ (“I have a _____ so I’m safe”). Still others are there for … for a lack of a better word .. the macho. (That’s ’empowerment’ for young men.)

This, plus people being easily bored makes a difficult set of conditions for the instructor to provide quality information. Do you provide exciting training that is beyond the limits of the student? Do you pander to the fears, preconceptions and neurosis of the students? Do you train them for their immediate skill level or do you train to some distant goal (what they can do now or what the could do in five years of training with you?) How much foundational work do you have to do to get the person up to the point he or she could effectively do a bare minimum, physical technique? (Like say, reliably not getting hit.)

What knowledge and skills does the person have already vs. what would it take for that person to be able to judiciously use what you’re teaching?  Also, in terms of groups, cops have radically different skills, knowledge and attitudes than office workers. How much boring legal information do you supply to students to keep them out of prison for using the skillsets you’re supplying? How much should you work on impulse control and not putting oneself into dangerous situations because you’ve just handed the student the ability to injure or kill someone?

The Palm may not be all that exciting of a topic, but it is very, very important in how it affects the rest of the fingers when it comes to the Hand of Self-Defense. This whether you are an instructor of the person wanting to learn.


The Hand of SD Expanded: The Palm, Part I – Marc MacYoung

Pay attention to what a guy — who’s been through the shit — emphasizes first. As such issues seem incredibly small, insignificant or a ‘I know how to do that’ type topic, you’ll often have a reaction of ‘why’s that important?’ The answer is “That’s what kept him alive when bullets were in the air.” Odds are he’s seen people die because they overlooked those details. This, in contrast with someone who is coming from an academic or training only background. Their emphasis tends to be on the obvious — and by extension something that will get you killed if you exclusively focus on it instead of details that support it or can undermine it.

The Hand of SD Expanded
The Palm (Part One)

In my last two part article I introduced the “Hand of Self-Defense.”  In the first part I pointed out the disconnect between what happens before, during, and after violence versus what is being ‘taught as self-defense.’ I argued this disconnect will either get you (or your students) hospitalized, dead or in prison. That’s not hyperbole. Entirely too much training overly focuses on one aspect (usually physical) and ignores everything else involved. Which would not be a problem except how often this training is touted as ‘all you need.’

Yeah, about that…

I grew up with violence, violence was my profession, I’ve trained for it, I’ve also studied academic works on the subject, and now I deal with court cases involving violence. Each of these five approaches assesses and understands violence in their own unique ways. More importantly, they prioritize different aspects — for good reasons. But these reasons often aren’t apparent until you view the subject from that standpoint. This varied experience gives me perspectives on violence than most so-called ‘self-defense instructors’ do not have. Basically, I look at a much bigger picture. A picture of overlapping filters and extended depth of field. I’ve seen problems about self-defense that most people don’t know exist until they find themselves too far in to back out.

That’s why I came up with the Hand. Each of the fingers is an important element (or group of topics) that seriously influence … well everything. The hand can help you with if violence even occurs. It helps you tell what is happening. What degree of force you need. How to scale force at the time and afterwards, how to communicate that it was self-defense.  How not get nailed by the common pitfalls of dealing with the cops, our legal system and of course — for real fun and games — how not to get killed if the guy comes back seeking vengeance. These are realities of violence that most instructors not only don’t touch upon, but often don’t even know exist.  Or worse, they heard of the subjects but have dismissed them as trivial and/or a ‘well that won’t happen.’

Which brings us to the second part of the original “Hand of SD” article. There I address things that have to be in one’s training for self-defense.  Otherwise, it’s NOT self-defense training. (That’s why understanding the disconnect is important.)  Even if what’s being taught is somehow connected, it’s often a single aspect; it’s not the whole of the subject of self-defense. But there’s something else. In violence things can — and do — go wrong. The self-defense hand introduces you to where this can happen and the skills necessary to be able to manage where things commonly go wrong and when they do. It is a map, a check list,  and a litmus test of your training, knowledge and skills. It’s to see if your training prepares you  to handle how things actually happen and go wrong.

So fast recap. Hold up your hand.

  • Your palm is who is being taught, what their needs, skills/knowledge and limits are
  • Your thumb is communication, articulation and –if you will — people skills
  • Your index finger is knowledge of how violence happens, social dynamics and etiquette
  • Your middle finger is physical skills — including doing them while adrenalized.
  • Your ring finger is situational knowledge, threat assessment, pattern recognition and ability to scale force appropriate to the situation
  • Your pinky is knowing how to deal with the cops, courts, when to shut up, when to lawyer up and — of course — dealing with vendetta.

    So let’s start with the palm of “Who is being taught.”

In the original article I introduced the Palm as: There is no one-size-fits-all or one-stop-shopping when it comes to self-defense training. The needs of an older woman are different than that of a young man who is being bullied at school.

You know what? What I teach police SWAT teams is completely different than what I teach soccer moms. What I teach nurses (who often walk into dark parking lots late at night), social workers and real estate agents is different than office workers. What I teach bouncers is different than what I teach business travelers. What I teach regular police officers is different than what I teach military personnel. Why? Because each group has different rules of engagement, different problems, different responsibilities and most of all are facing completely different situations.

But more than that, individuals from each group have completely different resources, backgrounds, attitudes, abilities, experiences, physical capabilities, and most of all, limits.

What I just said is: You have both external and internal factors that influence if  ‘the’ training will work. Although I speak of the Palm, think of those two as the back of the hand (external) and the palm (internal). In many ways external and internal issues are horribly intertwined. At the same time they are still separate issues. Issues that if you don’t look at individually the results become as clear as mud. In fact, a very good argument can be made that the disconnect of training has its roots in not looking at theses issues as if they were all one in the same.

Looking at this part of the hand makes you consider if the training is appropriate. Appropriate for not just different needs, different circumstances, different rules of engagement, different environments, but most importantly appropriate for the students themselves. What they are or not capable of — and often won’t be, regardless any amount of training.

What works for one individual is not only no, but a hell no for another.  For example: Teaching a five foot one woman muay Thai so she can fight against a fit and aggressive 250 pound man is setting her up to not just fail, but literally to get run over and squished. This is not a question of ‘does muay Thai work?’ (External.) It’s you don’t teach a smaller, weaker woman (internal) to fight a bigger person using a sports fighting system. When it comes to ‘self-defense,’ you teach her how to injure and escape from a bigger attacker.

Why? Because, especially in sports fighting ‘styles,’ size matters. Let me repeat that in case you missed it, SIZE MATTERS! It especially matters when everyone is using the same techniques (which is the essence of sports fighting). “Size matters” is why — even among male fighters — there’s weight divisions. (There’s a story out there about a famous female kickboxing champ who hauled off and kicked a guy on the side of the road. He grunted and said, “Good one. You better leave.”) What also matters in sports fighting systems is physical fitness. Teaching women a young man’s game — that most of its effectiveness comes from good physical condition and strength — is ignoring the fact most people can’t run a mile, much less fight effectively for three minutes. It would take months of training to get to that bare minimum physical standard.

But more than that, you’re going to have a hell of a time convincing women they can go skull-to-skull with a man. You may think you can teach someone how — and there are women who will believe it —  but most women won’t trust that idea. If they don’t buy it in training, they certainly won’t use it in a situation. (Stop and think about this. If sports fighting is where you get your physical techniques for your Women’s Self-Defense class, A) You’re shooting your credibility in the foot and B) That’s probably a contributing factor as to why such classes are hard to fill up.) You may think these limits can be overcome with training, but does the student? This especially with the amount of time and effort the person is willing to invest.

Changing tracks for a second. What are the actual dangers and circumstances the people in the class are facing? Given their lifestyle choices, what dangers are real? Then the big question: Is the information you’re providing germane to those circumstances?

A young middle class male in high school might have to ‘fight’ a bully. But are those the same problems a young man from a gang infested inner city school will face? Will teaching both of those teens the same fighting style be appropriate? I ask because in the inner city, weapons and superior numbers are far more common than suburbia.

What does a young woman going off to college need to know as opposed to a married mother of two teens? Will the circumstances each face be the same? Probably not — unless ‘mom’ is into frat parties and binge drinking. What does a business traveler — of either sex –need to know to travel safely through different cities  or even countries? Starting with the ‘basics’ of hotel bars and how not to get hit on while there. Does a homeowner who has a gun for home defense need the same training as a SWAT team? Definitely not. Starting with the fact that a home owner is under no obligation to search/storm the property.  I tell you this so you can see how much situations dictate the nature of the problem, the needs and what is  appropriate training.

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them — Albert Einstein


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.


The Self-Defense Hand, Part II – Marc MacYoung

The difference between theory and practice is in theory, there is no difference —

An anonymous joker

Last time I talked about how a lot of so-called self-defense training is like an airplane with crack in the wings you can’t see. While you’re parked safely on the ground (in the classroom) these potentially fatal flaws won’t reveal themselves. They’ll come to your attention when you’re a few thousand feet in the air.

Something I want to re-stress is: If nobody has ever shown you how complicated self-defense is, how are you supposed to know?

You’re not. That’s why we’re about to cover what’s next. At the same time, this problem has never revealed itself if you’ve never had to use your training. Or if you have used it without negative effects, you lucked out. I say this because these days I work in the damage control field of when your self-defense does work.

What I’m going to give you a check list for self-defense training. These are subjects that you MUST consider (or better yet have looked into) before you try to use your training. They will help you to be able to ‘tell where you are’ in the ocean of variables. That is what will allow you to scale your responses, adjust to different circumstances, and hopefully, help you get out of a situation before it goes violent.

More than that, if your training didn’t cover these, what you were sold is something else mislabeled as self-defense. Or, as is so often the case, it is only one aspect of many, but that has been over-emphasized to the exclusion of the others. These are the issues you need to fill in the gaps in order for you to be safe and stay out of prison.

Hold up your hand.

First off your palm is “Who is being taught?”  

There is no one-size-fits-all or one-stop-shopping when it comes to self-defense training. The needs of an older woman are different than that of a young man who is being bullied at school. Now for more depth, reread the last sentence, but replace ‘needs’ with ‘physical abilities.’ It does a small woman no good to be taught techniques that rely on strength and physical conditioning.  Another consideration is people from different backgrounds and environments. A person from the inner city is going to be facing different challenges than someone from suburbia. A police officer has different rules of engagement than a civilian, the ability to walk away (no duty to act) is a big factor in what that person needs to learn. So the question is, is what being taught appropriate (or useful) for that person? Personalizing this, the question is, “Who are you and what are your needs?” Not what you are afraid of, but what you need. This is especially means, ‘what kind of circumstances are you most likely to end up in?’

Like in real life, the palm serves as the basis for everything the hand can do. Also to further the analogy, the fingers work together with each other and the palm. Without this cooperation, much less the presence of these  multiple components, a finger is, by itself, useless.

The palm sets the needs, abilities and capabilities of the person. The information must be scaled to and appropriate for the person. For example, don’t try to teach a 110 pound woman to box and call it ‘self-defense.’ A larger, stronger man will pick her up and throw her like a dart. Does she need to know how to effectively hit? Yes. But only as small part of a larger, more effective strategy.

The thumb: People skills, communication/articulation

Simple truth, most violence can be avoided by good people skills. While there are folks out there who will rob you, there are a lot more people who will physically attack you for pissing them off.  The people who get into the most violence and conflicts tend to fall short in this skill set. Often in the form of giving their emotions priority. Seriously I’ve seen people flip others off and then squeal they were attacked for ‘no reason.’ And they sincerely believed it too.

Knowing not how to provoke people is a skill. A skill based on understanding how people work and not doing certain things — no matter how justified you feel, how much you want something, how emotional you are or how much of a hurry you are in.

Here’s an example, most violence comes with instructions on how to avoid it. It’s a pretty simple contract, do or stop doing ‘this’ and violence will not occur. In a super majority of the time these instructions are legitimate. “Shut up or I’ll kick your ass” is pretty straight forward contract. However, many people personalize it with “How dare you try to tell me what to do” and instead of shutting up, proceed to comment about the guy’s testicles on his mother’s chin. Then they blame the other person for being unpredictable and not living up to the contract. No, a serious lack of understanding human nature — including your own — is what got your nose broken in those circumstances.

A big advantage of — and why it’s the thumb — people skills is how useful they are. Not only will they help you keep from having to use your self-defense training, they’ll help you get through life, relationships, and job much easier. This wide application takes it outside the realm of just self-defense and makes it a life skill.

Another life skill is communication. Communication is really important for people skills, but it’s also important to let someone know they’re crossing lines. Articulation is a subset of communication, but it’s what is going to keep you out of prison when it comes to explaining to the authorities why what you did was self-defense and not illegal violence. (We’ll come back to this.)

The index finger: How crime and violence occur (academic)

Let me ask you some questions, where did you get your ‘knowledge’ about how crime happens? How about how situations escalate to physical violence? What is your baseline to identify the danger you’re supposedly training to protect yourself from? (Hint, odds are it’s more Hollywood based than you realize.) With those questions comes another. “How can you effectively defend against, much less avoid, a danger that you have no idea how it manifests?”

Violence and crime comes in many forms. Yet, entirely too many people think of violence in terms of what they’ve seen in the movies and going back to a high school fight. In fact, a lot of training prepares you to win that high school fight.  Still others are training to ‘win’ in the situation they perceive they ‘lost’ before. That skews one’s perspective. Knowing how both violence works and what developing crime looks like is a key element to assessing danger. Also being able to articulate why you ‘reasonably believed’ what you were doing was self-defense. (Remember I said the fingers work together?)

I’m also going to put something in the ‘academic’ category you need to not only understand, but be able to apply out in the field. That is to ask: What threat assessment model do you know? I really don’t care if it’s Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy (AOJ), Intent, Means, Opportunity, Preclusion (IMOP), Jeopardy, Ability Means, (JAM), The Five Stages (Intent/Interview/Position/Attack/Reaction) or Ability, Opportunity, Intent (AOI). This is the kind of academic knowledge that can save you. It’s not just in the field, it’s during the aftermath (a.k.a. not being arrested and put into prison).

The middle finger is your physical skills.

This is both the finger that most people focus on giving to their attacker and –at the same time — it’s usually broken.

One of the ways it can be broken is you have to ask: Do the mechanics of what you’re doing actually work? For example, there’s a whole lot more to a punch than just sticking your arm out with a fist at the end. Unfortunately, the way most people are taught, they’re doing the latter and calling it punching. This isn’t the search for the mythical ‘right way to punch.’ I’m talking their punches do not have the mechanics to deliver power — this especially under the stress and whirling chaos of a conflict.  What should be a hard punch, loses enough power that it becomes basically a slap.

Another example, is do your blocks actually work? Or would a dedicated attack crash through them? Kind of an important question that. While we’re on the subject, can you hit the target that you’re shooting at — especially when you’re scared, moving and adrenalized? Remember kiddies, every bullet comes with a little lawyer attached and you’re still responsible for the damage any bullet you sent out that misses the intended target.

A second common ‘fracture’ is do you know when to use a move and when not to? For example, do you know when it’s safe to kick at a charging opponent and when it isn’t? (Hint, it depends on the kind of kick and where you’re standing.) Do you know when it’s time for empty hands and when you need to be going for a weapon instead? (This is the failing woefully I mentioned.) When it comes to physical application, every move you know has a time, place, strengths and weaknesses. Did they specifically teach you that? Just knowing a move doesn’t automatically mean you were taught these elements of application.

A third way you can have a broken finger is if you don’t know how to scale your force.  As I often tell people, when your mother tells you to “Go handle Drunken Uncle Albert” at a family reunion bone breaking techniques or fatal damage moves are a bit much. (Besides, Aunt Bessy would be pissed.) At the same time, submission techniques aren’t something you want to try when five guys are jumping you.

End Part II

The Self-Defense Hand – Marc MacYoung

The Self-Defense Hand:
Assessing if what-you-are-learning works for self-defense — and why you need to do it.

“Everyone knows what something means until there’s a problem”  

Paul Spiegal
Contract Attorney

There’s a dangerous problem about both learning and teaching ‘self-defense.’ Mostly it’s about what you don’t know you don’t know.

It’s not hyperbole to say this lack will result with you in prison, the hospital, the morgue or financially destitute. (If not you, then your students.) Here’s the catch, it’s a problem that doesn’t reveal itself until you actually try to defend yourself. Think in terms of a plane with a crack in the wing you don’t see. While on the ground, nothing looks wrong and the problem doesn’t manifest. What’s going to happen if you try to fly that plane?

That’s why we’re going to have to spend some time identifying these hidden cracks before you’ll understand the fix.  Starting with how many people don’t know what self-defense means.

“But, but I’m trained in self-defense I know what it means!”

Oh yeah? Is it a subject  or an action? If it’s a subject, what’s involved? If it’s an action, what specific action and in what context? Let’s get something straight right now. You know what you’ve been taught as self-defense — usually in class. Another factor is what you have ‘researched’ and decided on your own. (I used the ‘ ‘ because much of the available material come from marketing spun sources.) Those are an understanding of the subject. That’s not the same as engaging in a violent situation with the appropriate level of force. Levels and actions to remain within the parameters of self-defense. Outside of the classroom, the range or the dojo self-defense is a little more … complicated

How do you use the term ‘self-defense?’ Is it a noun or verb?  Many people think of it as a verb. It’s a type of action they think they’ll do. (Wait, self-defensing?) Yet, self-defense is in the dictionary as a noun. The subject of self-defense becomes an identifiable ‘thing’ — as in person, place or thing  You learn self-defense. You acted in self-defense.  But subjects tend to be complex. They involve lots of different things. However, your perspective changes if you think of it as a verb. Action is a whole lot simpler. All those pesky complexities disappear. In fact, you can start calling almost any action self-defense — and give yourself permission to do so. This regardless of whether they fit inside the parameters of the subject or not. When you don’t blur self-defense to allow become both a subject and  an action, you clearly see a distinction between learning about and doing. There’s also a difference between knowing and doing. These are some of distinctions many people have lost.

That’s why we have to track it back to your root definition. Oh sure there’s the general verb/adjective definition. It runs along the lines of “defending myself from an attack.”  But when you think about it, that’s actually kind of vague.  Starting with, what do you mean by ‘attack?’ I ask because you’ll find folks sticking in caveats and spins. For example, “Self-defense is using my training to protect myself from physical and emotional attacks.”

Hang on there. Is someone using harsh language at you the same as slapping you? Is punching you the same as someone beating you? Is someone trying to punching the same as trying to shoot you?  If the answer is ‘no,’ then using the same training as a blanket response is obviously a bad idea. If the answer is ‘well they’re all attacks’ (a qualified ‘yes’)  you’re dangerously close to shooting someone for slapping you. (Or saying something that provokes someone to punch you.) Stated this way, it seems ridiculous. Obviously everyone knows that’s not what self-defense is.  Okay, so what is self-defense then? And, more importantly, how do you apply it in the real world? What are some hard and fast standards you assess self-defense by?

Not so easy is it?

This goes beyond just ‘how much force do you use?’ It goes into what makes it self-defense (legal) vs. fighting, assault, manslaughter etc. (illegal). Just so you know, this is an area where subjective interpretation can really screw you up. It goes into when you stop using force (or cross into being the aggressor).  Most people have no clear metrics or understanding about what legally constitutes self-defense, threat assessment, the sort of situation that requires it, how they can put themselves into or get out of such situations or be able to avoid excessive force.  All of which have lots to do if what you do

  1. a) even works or
  2. b) if you’re going to be arrested later.

You’re in danger if you’ve never asked yourself, “Is what I’ve been taught really about self-defense?” This especially if what you’ve been taught has been mixed with sports, self-help or a social/political agenda. I recently had the unpleasant experience of talking to a women’s self-defense instructor who freely admitted she was relying on the man being arrested in any situation. That was why they didn’t include use of force limits or legal issues in what they taught women. Instead they encouraged women to go-all-out and told them it was all ‘self-defense.’ (Hint, you can knock him down, but you can’t jump up and down on his chest in your heels. The last isn’t self-defense.) Their instruction was predicated on the idea the police would always assume the woman to be the victim and arrest the man. (Rather disturbing version of ‘equality’ eh?)

With this in mind you need to ask is, “How do I assess if my response is self-defense?”  Well, that brings us to the quality, expanse and — most of all — focus of your training. Because the answer to that question depends on if your training is teaching how to do it. Unfortunately, most of the time the answer is “No it isn’t.”

Let me explain that. You can spend a majority of your training time learning (in depth) a particular aspect, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting other — relevant — information about self-defense.  (For example, all your tactical shooting training doesn’t teach you when to shoot.) Once you begin to search for some kind of standards about what is and what isn’t self-defense is all sorts of  previously invisible information comes onto your radar.  When that happens you realize ‘acting in self-defense’ is not as simple as you thought it was.

Let me give you an example of relevant information you’re not being taught about self-defense. Tell me: Where all these attackers you are training to handle are coming from?  Well obviously, the simple answer is ‘They’re bad guys intent on hurting me.’

From an internal perspective that seems self-evident and obvious; except from an external standpoint it’s not that simple.  Starting with how do you know you’re not aggressing on him?  It’s not as black and white as you might think. Remember I used the word ‘subjective’ a little earlier? Here’s something that seriously influences it. A fellow by the name of Les Carter talks about the three core sources of anger

1) Preservation of essential needs.

2) Preservation of self-esteem and

3) Preservation of core beliefs.

While the manifestations are many, that mechanism is simple and pretty universal. You feel these are threatened, anger occurs and you act to < dramatic drum roll > defend yourself.

In case you missed it, that mechanism is the same for someone you call the ‘aggressor’ as it is for you ‘defending yourself.’  When you’re emotional, you think you’re defending yourself — even as you’re attacking. Spelling that out: When it comes to MOST violence, he thinks he’s doing exactly the same thing you think you’re doing; namely defending himself, except from you. And maybe he is because you’re so scared, hurt or angry, you are actually attacking.

That’s why it’s important to look at your actions from other than an internal perspective. You need to know if you are, in fact, aggressing against him while telling yourself it’s ‘self-defense.’  Believe me when I tell you crossing that line is a lot easier to do than you might think. Well, isn’t that awkward? Here’s the real unpleasant part, unless you know the ‘fingers’ I’m going to talk about in the next installment — and apply them — there’s a damned good chance, he’s partially correct.

Here’s the bad news, from an outside perspective you have him, any other witnesses testifying and possibly video of your participation in the creation and escalation of the conflict. That’s not self-defense. It’s a crime. In fact, this makes YOU the bad guy. Which if your so-called ‘self-defense’ training works, you’re going to get arrested. If it doesn’t work, you have other problems …

So what is self-defense? Where does the rubber hit the road with nuts-and-bolts standards, considerations, metrics and limits? This especially becomes important in doing it out in the real world. That’s where you can be put into prison or killed if you get it wrong.  Now the really bad news. Odds are you were taught sets-you-up for those results. Largely, not because of what you were taught, but what you weren’t taught.

Remember when the answer to ‘what is self-defense’  had answers like “defending myself from an attack”? And why that’s not such a viable answer?  (A more viable answer is “The appropriate level of force needed to keep you safe from an unprovoked attack,”)

Until now, that definition wouldn’t have made as much sense.   So why is this so hard to understand? Two reasons.

One of the reasons is all the instructors out there who are peddling whatever it is they teach AS self-defense! Martial arts, mixed martial arts, knife fighting, shooting, empowerment, self-help, cardio and fitness … it’s all self-defense, doncha know?

No. No it’s not. But you won’t find that out until you’re getting arrested, or a fist crashes through your block and breaks your nose, or the back of your head is being jack-hammered off the concrete or you get jumped by six guys because you were ‘ready’ to fight only one.  Wait, what? Is it really that bad? Yeah. In fact, it’s worse than you know. That’s why I’m writing these articles. Remember that fuzzy definition of self-defense?

Because it’s so vague, in the classroom/dojo/gym almost anything can be peddled as self-defense training. You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve heard instructors calling ‘self-defense.’ And they do.

When you come out and ask “Is what you’re teaching self-defense,” you will have people who insist it is — regardless of what they are teaching. You’ll usually find they’ve changed the definition of ‘self-defense’ to specifically mean what they are teaching.  (This especially in self-help, empowerment training.) That’s why you need to have a better definition, other wise you’ll be sold a bill of goods. Or, going back to an earlier analogy you won’t know until you take off your wing is cracked.

If you press by asking ‘how is it self-defense,’ most often what you’ll get is “Well it’s not exactly self-defense, but it can be used for it!” Sure, and a cattle truck can be used to haul kids to soccer practice too. It’s just not as good as a mini-van for the job.  Are they lying? Well no. It can be modified, but then the question is are they also teaching you how to modify it? To make it work, you’re going to have to tweak it differently  for out in the street… or in the living room… or at a bar… or in a parking lot at  two a.m. against multiple attackers. That’s allowing that it can be modified that much. That’s one hell of a big allowance.

Here’s where things can get a little … tricky. Often what is being taught by a particular source is exclusively a single aspect of self-defense, such as physical. This can be likened to a single finger on a hand, important, but not all there is to the subject of self-defense. Nor is the one aspect the key element of self-defense (e.g., all you need is the physical).

Nobody knows the whole of the subject of self-defense. And while we’re collecting ‘nopes,’ even allowing for specialization in one aspect, nobody knows all of that either. Pick a topic out of the  aspect of physical. Any topic, shooting, empty hand or knife. You can learn a lot at a particular school. There will come a time when you’ve learned all that you can in that school, but that doesn’t mean you know all there is about the topic. That’s how big even these smaller topics are. I recently watched a SWAT team commander learn a new pistol grip from a female firearms instructor. The grip compensated for long fingernails. The man can shoot like nobody’s business, but acrylic nails wasn’t something he’d considered, much less had a solution to.

Another issue goes back to why I came up with the idea of the self-defense hand. That is often what is taught is small tidbits of different ‘fingers.’  There’s a lot of important information being left out. This is where things get really muddled. There are subjects that have relevance to self-defense, but that doesn’t make them self-defense. For example, there are certain people who have be convinced they are ‘worth’ defending themselves (a common issue among abuse survivors). But that does not automatically make ’empowerment training’  effective self-defense training — even if it does involve yelling, kicking and punching. But you can be damned sure it’s being sold as everything you need.

I really want to stress this point. It’s not that the information is wrong or doesn’t work. The problem isn’t that clear cut. It’s more that while what’s being taught will work in certain situations, what those situations are isn’t being taught. Or how to spot when it’s time to just turn and run fiercely. That’s because nothing you are trained in is going to work in those circumstances.

These are just a few of the issues involved with changing self-defense from a noun to a verb. The former is a subject to be taught. The latter  is being able to do self-defense in the real world. Which brings us back to…

The second reason why ‘what is self-defense’ is complicated question is because of the real world answer. Not in the dojo answer. Not in the classroom answer. But one that has to do with your actions. Actions you will be held accountable for.

In application  the most exact answer is “It depends.”  

‘It depends’ comes closest to being the right answer because the question needs to be reframed as “Under different circumstances, what is both the appropriate level of force and stays within the boundaries of self-defense?”

That turns from a search for a simplistic answer to a subject of width, depth and understanding.  (Which it just happens to be.) Realize violence comes in many different types, levels, variations and changing circumstances.  Remember the “The appropriate level of force needed to keep you safe from an unprovoked attack” answer?  Well what the appropriate level of force is depends on the circumstances of the situation. Circumstances you won’t be able to predict. Circumstances you can only asses on the spot. In other words, it depends.

Odds are, what you were taught as self-defense would work under certain conditions. But were you taught how to recognize when you’re in them? More importantly, recognize when you’re not? For example I knew a young black belt in a McDojo who down blocked into a knife. Great answer for an empty handed attack. In this case, the knife won. I tell you this because there is no one ‘answer,’ response or training system that covers every situation. Yet, odds are that’s what you’ve been sold or have bought into.

All of this has been aimed at understanding there’s an invisible crack in the wing of your airplane of self-defense. The last thing you want to have happen is discover the problem in the middle of a self-defense situation

End of Part I

The Threat of Violence: That Isn’t Really a Threat …, Part II – Marc MacYoung

Read part one

I guarantee you when you watch the video in chunks you’re going to see what we will be talking about now; especially because the people who are screaming loudest about the ‘victims of violence’ are often—if not overwhelmingly—the ones who are being the most violent and aggressive. They are using the threat of violence right up until the moment they lose the fight. Yes, you read that right. It’s a fight.  Not the one sided assault they planned on.

Then in a predictable strategy, they flip into victim mode. Not a loser, but a victim. But to sell this victim idea requires a little three-card monte with definitions and excuses. Specifically distracting you from their actions and focusing your attention on what someone else did.

For example, in the original story there was no mention of the alleged groping. That only appeared when it was pointed out that she hit someone before being pepper sprayed. Some sources overlook it while decrying the violence of the rally attendees. Still others mention the grope, but don’t  even show video of her claiming it happened. Why? In that video, there’s a significant lag between her accusation and the strike. Now mind you, this is just the accusation. There no released recording of the touch, in what context it happened or—if it happened— the time in-between touch and the accusation. (What don’t they want you to see?)

Basically, the story changes and is edited to maintain her victim status no matter what—in fact, it double downed on victimhood by playing the ‘sexual assault’ card. If you’re pulling a three-card monte and someone does bring up the hit, you can claim it was ‘self-defense’ over being groped. They’re not the violent ones. Just ask them. They’ll look you in the eye and tell you that.

This brings us to: What is violent behavior? Don’t answer that that yet. I’m about to melt your mind.

In my book In The Name of Self-Defense, I talk about the road of violence.  If you’re on this road, you’re being violent. The question is: How far down the road are you? I use this analogy to show the lower the number on the mile markers equal what you’re doing is subtle verbal and emotional violence. It gets louder and more aggressive as you go farther down the road (higher mile markers). You can be incredibly verbally and emotionally violent without ever throwing a punch. Then it gets to physical (even higher numbers). What a lot of people don’t realize is exactly how much more road there is past simple hits. It gets really ugly past that. (Remember, I’m the guy who asks, “How many parts was the body found in?”) This model doesn’t allow for three card monte with definitions. As much as people want it, there is no ‘past this point it’s violence and bad, but before then it’s not—so it’s okay.’ Or as I say, “It’s not on the road to violence. There is no ‘Violence City Limits’ or ‘Now entering Violence.’ If you’re on that road, it’s violence, plane and simple.”

I came up with this road idea because of deniers first declaring “violence is bad” and then excusing their own behavior. They deny they’re being violent through redefining violence to mean: Any level of force beyond which I am comfortable using to get what I want. Or it’s violence when the same level is used back against them (a.k.a., It all started when he hit me back). Hence my comment about ‘Violence City Limits’ They’ll speed up and down the lower mile markers, but as long as they don’t cross some subjective line they’re certain they are not being violent—no matter what they are doing, up to and including punching you.

When it’s laid out like this, you don’t have to be the sharpest crayon in the box to spot the BS of this position. When someone is pulling it on you, however, it can be a lot harder to spot. Well okay it’s more of a shock that someone can spit in your face then claim that wasn’t violence, but your reaction was. What’s amazing is how many people sincerely believe this. They don’t feel they are lying because this is their subjective truth. Their conviction is part of the con. But to truly get how this three card monte works, you need to know something.

Humans, as a species are amazingly nonviolent.

Forget all the hyperbole. We’re really not that violent. A comparison: After a lifetime of violence (including it being my profession), I can tell you that my cat has killed more, been in more life-and-death situations, and fights than me—or anyone reading this article.

See we humans are far, far better communicators. That’s why we can usually avoid using physical violence.

Having said that, we use the threat of violence all the time! Wait, what? To a species so strongly married to communication, the threat of violence is a lot more effective persuader than carrying through. Whether you call it threat displays or display aggression, we routinely communicate the threat of physical attack to people through body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, word choice, and behavior. Usually we only do this when we’re emotional, but always as a strategy to get what we want. When we’re yelling, making faces and swinging our arms, that’s not an attack. It’s saying, “I’m not attacking, but I might.” It’s the threat that violence is close. That is communication! Inherent in this threat is ‘unless you do what I want.’ Whether that’s stop what you’re doing, start doing what I want, go away, get back into your place or shut up; those depend on the goals of the individual doing the threatening, intimidation, or coercion.

This threat is usually a bluff to get the other person to fold. Violence is dangerous, and we could get hurt if things go physical. As such, we really don’t want to risk it. But in order for it to be an effective bluff, the person has to believe the danger is real and immediate. This bluff gets us the benefits of physical violence without having to actually do it. With the threat of violence being so significant, the road of violence takes on a whole new meaning. We’re ‘playing chicken’ down that stretch of road.

You would think this would be the sole domain of ignorant knuckle-draggers. It isn’t. Some of the worst offenders are people who claim to be intelligent, civilized, and nonviolent—but most of all passionate about a noble cause. That’s the loophole Gloria Steinem identified when she said, “From pacifist to terrorist, each person condemns violence—and then adds one cherished case in which it may be justified.”

Some will become aggressive at the wrong word. With this cherished cause as their justification, these bullies are wound up and just waiting for a green light to go off on someone. They’ll threaten you with physical violence as they verbally, emotionally, and socially attack you for your ‘wrong think.’ But as long as they don’t physically strike you, they’ll claim they weren’t being violent—no matter how much they acted as though they were about to become physically violent. Violence is bad, and they can’t be violent because they’re good people. (Besides even if they cross that line, they’re doing it in the name of a good cause.)

This hostile and threatening behavior is what you’re going to be seeing in the five-second chunks. (Remember them?) These chunks reveal a heavy reliance on the threat of violence. They’ll also destroy the credibility of the denial and victimization. Threatening violence … it’s a simple concept, but damn is it an important one.

But let me add another caveat here. While the threat of violence is usually more effective than actual violence in the civilized world, denying you’re doing it is a big part of the strategy. This denial is a very big part of what makes this crazy-making behavior (gaslighting if you know the term). Sometimes they actually believe they’re not being violent. Most of the time, they’re so emotional they don’t care. Sometimes there is deliberate malice hiding behind the righteous cause. They know exactly what they are doing, and they’re getting off on it.

People who routinely use this strategy—simply stated—are bullying. They’re using the threat of violence to get their way. As such, they have to engage in aggressive and hostile behavior to be credible. For the strategy to work, they have to look like they really do mean to attack (usually by acting out of control). You have to believe you are about to be attacked. At the same time, they’re walking a very fine line. A line consisting of four issues:

One, they have to very selective who they use it on. Basically, these bullies know not to pull these aggressive acts on people who won’t wait for it to reach self-defense before acting. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) members will paint bomb rich women wearing fur coats, but they have a consistent track record of not trying the same on bikers in leather jackets. They know they are playing outside to rules of society

Two, it’s a fine balancing act between looking like you’re going to attack and going too far. When the threat doesn’t work, often the response is to turn up the volume. Often this increased intimidation works; people back down and let them have their way.

At the same time, they often goof, crank it up too much and WHAM! The increased hostility either
a) convinces the target there’s an immediate danger (and he reacts out of perceived self-defense) or
b) the aggressor crosses the line.

Thing about the last is they really have pushed it too far. While a biker will punch you quick, you have to work to get slugged by a Lutheran minister. People have their limits.

Three is … well … weird. That’s how often these bullies actually attack. The reason it’s weird is it’s more of a bluff. It is not a committed or continuing attack It’s not intending to injure. It’s an escalation of threat. Their strike is more of a “See? See how far I am willing to go? I’ll attack again if you don’t _____ (fill in the blank)!”

Look at the protestor in the videos. After yelling and aggressing didn’t work, she hit. But she didn’t continue or blitz the person she attacked. This gave the sprayer time to raise, aim and fire.

Four, they get out of there before the cops are called or the folks turn against them. Generally speaking, the real virtue points of this behavior occur when the person skeddadles back to the social group that supports this behavior. There over flasks of organic microbrew beer or vegan wine, they regale other social justice warriors with the tale of their bravery, fearsome foes overcome, and great injustices battled. While that sounds silly, remember many of them do consider themselves ‘warriors.’ Just like gang members boasting about drive-by shootings, there’s a lot of status gained and bragging rights over these acts. Although in some circles getting arrested for the cause is a coup for one’s status as it shows your dedication.

This brings us to an interesting crossroads. While you will never hear a peep about this behavior when the threatening works—oh is there a wailing and gnashing of teeth when there is a violent response. Now they are martyrs for the cause. Except unlike real martyrs, they don’t die. They switch into victim mode. It is essential when their hostility backfires that the bully quickly changes the narrative into how he or she is the victim of unjust violence … ad nauseam. If it’s not them banging the drum, it’s someone else wailing about the violence their enemies are capable. (An innocent fifteen-year-old girl was groped and pepper sprayed by  those evil . . .) This lends righteousness and outrage to their cause. It’s also very important you be prepared for this flip.

Despite doing everything in their power to convince you they were about to attack you—if you respond physically, you are the bad guy for believing their actions. Another version is they that weren’t threatening you, they were just expressing their opinions. You are not only condemned for not knowing they weren’t going to attack, but now you interfered with their freedom of speech. But most of all, neither you—nor anyone else—is supposed to notice they were attempting to intimidate you through the threat of physical violence and that especially means the cop arresting you.

Recognize the game they are playing. If you don’t react, they get to abuse you. If they can bait you into reacting they win. That is why you have to be able to counter the accusations that you attacked them. You have to be able to articulate why their behavior led you to reasonably believe they were attacking. I hope that in teaching you how I do violence reconstruction, I’ve armed you against this strategy.

This is why it is critical to call them on their use of violence and their constant threat of violence. If that person’s behavior is critically reviewed (like say in five-second chunks), it quickly becomes obvious there is a disconnect between the victim narrative and what actually happened.

Although I’ve ruined the incident used in this article, they’re easy to find. Now that you have this process, go out and watch some other videos. You’ll see how often bullying and threatening violence are used by those outraged about violence. When you can do that, you’ll start seeing that gorilla walking across the screen and just smile instead of punching it.


The Threat of Violence: That Isn’t Really a Threat …,, Part I – Marc MacYoung

Part of the Derailing Social Justice Bullies series

There’s a new breed of bully out there.

The best summation is he or she is a religious fanatic, but over secular not theological ideologies. Whether you call them crusades or jihads, many of these folks are on an attack campaign to spread their beliefs. These true believers are going to force others to convert to the zealot’s superior ideals, morality, beliefs, and dogmas—or be dominated by them. Theirs is a righteous cause, a new morality, a utopia of compassion, tolerance, and equality. You will conform to these ideals. I’ll show you not only how they use violence, but the threat of violence to intimidate and bully you.

Just so you know although their ‘official enemy’ are those who think differently, their favorite target are those who think like them—but are not orthodox enough. (Google the term, “struggle session.”) Just because you might share some of the same ideas doesn’t mean you won’t be bullied by these tactics.

While verbal and emotional abuse are their most common behavior committing physical violence in the name of their righteous cause isn’t off the table. But here’s a modern twist: A common tactic of these secular fanatics is to physically attack while either screaming they are ‘the victim’ or denying that they are attacking. More than that if you react to their violence—you are the bad guy.

This is a series of articles about how to handle their preferred tactics, starting with threatening you with violence. In case you don’t know, I am a U.S. court-recognized expert in violence reconstruction. In this article, I’m going to share with you part of the process I use to analyze what happened in a case—specifically the threat of and lead up to physical violence. (You’re getting tricks of the trade here, Buckaroo.)

Here’s a homework assignment: Go watch videos of violent confrontations—but with this process in place. Since this is an election year (in the U.S.), the headlines are screaming about peaceful protestors being attacked and victimized. One of my favorites is the poor innocent fifteen-year-old who was sexually assaulted and then pepper sprayed while peacefully protesting at a political rally. There are a lot of people who are really angry about this innocent child being abused this way. But is that what really what happened? We can actually check it against video. In doing so, we can practice the analysis process I’m about to show you.

Step one in this process find the longest, uncut, raw video you can of the incident itself. Often shorter versions have undergone creative editing (to support steps two and three). But also know two thirty-second videos can—through editing—emphasize different things. There’s a common ten seconds, but this one has the twenty seconds before and that one has twenty seconds after.

Going to the MSNBC Web page, the version they present of the pepper spray incident is twenty-five seconds. While the raw footage doesn’t support the allegation of sexual assault, it makes it look like the spraying came out of nowhere. (The poor innocent child!)

Here are two longer versions (and extra angles):

This is thirty seconds and focuses less on the aftermath and more on what happened before incident—like her getting in people’s faces and striking someone before being pepper sprayed.


Has thirty-second and twenty-second videos. Both with extra emphasis on the aftermath of her tearfully walking away.

When it comes to video, longer and uncut is better. But you can piece together a more overall knowledge by looking at different edits and versions. It’s like reading about the same incident from several different—and diverse—news sources. You get a better overview.

Steps two and three of the process are critical for several reasons. The biggest is because the way our brains work words and vision are closely linked in what we perceive. (That’s why TV and movies are so powerful.) This word and image combination literally creates our ‘reality.’ We are very susceptible to words influencing what we can see. I would say perception, but words ‘blind us’ to what we can see. It’s part of what is called selective attention.

Here’s a little test you can take…

(Or Google: Selective attention, basketball, video—and take the test) Go ahead, do it before you read on. G’head, g’head.

If you took that test, you’ll now understand why steps two and three are critical.

Step two is skip the headlines, taglines, titles, pundits, and reading the article before you watch the video. Go straight to the video. You want raw, unedited video before words. This is important because often these other sources—especially headlines—support the narrative they want you to believe and that the video is edited toward. That’s a very powerful combo, influencing not just what you think you saw, but your ability to later change your mind in the presence of new information. (It’s possible, but it’s hard.) The headline of the Think Progressive article spins ‘a child is sexually assaulted then further victimized’ narrative as the set up for the rest of a ‘what evil, violent, rat bastards those guys are’ article. Once that idea is planted, it’s hard to see what really happens on the video.

Step three is the must do. In fact, it’s so important, I’m going to make it a stand alone paragraph …

Watch the video for first time (or maybe the first few times) with the sound off!

The reasons for this are legion. One of which—especially in these days of cell phone videos—is often the cameraman provides a running commentary (assuming that the cameraman isn’t screaming, “Kick his ass!”) He’s telling you what you are seeing and where to look. Way too often this commentary keeps you from seeing the gorilla. (If you took the selective attention test, you’ll understand.)

Two is even without narration, the screaming, yellin,’ and bellerin’ will distract you from the physical actions of the participants. Remember, emotions are contagious. If you hear someone screaming in anger—even on video—you’re going to get excited and miss important visual details. More than that, we tend to look at the face of the person we’re listening to. So you tend to focus on the screamer’s face not the physical actions of that person or others. Again, it’s that damned gorilla you don’t notice.

Three, is mute helps prevent you from rooting for one side over the other.

Those are just some of the reasons why ‘no sound the first time’ is critical. Focus on the physical action. Do it without being emotionally invested, judgmental, or biased.

Step four is watch it again with the sound on (or read the article). I should warn you—odds are you’re going to experience cognitive dissonance.

You’ve seen the video. What we’ve done at this point is immunized ourselves from being told what we saw. (As opposed to being told what you’re about to see or are seeing.) We’ve broken that operant conditioning and selective attention trick. Way too often you’re going to read the article, comments, etc., and wonder “how the hell can someone get that version” out of what you just saw.

Using that video of the pepper spraying as the example, which version tracks better with what you saw:

1.)”After being sexually assaulted at a rally, a fifteen-year-old girl was pepper sprayed by a supporter” or…

2.) “She was aggressing against people, her friends were trying to hold her back, she punched someone and got sprayed, then she walked away.”?

We’ve seen things that cannot be unseen. We’ve kept words from establishing a bias or narrative. Then again, you’ll usually end up watching it again to try to find the basis of the words. (“She was groped.”) Where the hell is that supposed to have happened? You’ve also seen things that are going to be a whole lot harder to explain away—like her hitting someone before being sprayed. (“Well the reason she hit was she was groped.” “That’s not what I saw happen.”) More than that, you’ll be able to articulate what you did see—especially if you take the next step.

Step five—especially if you’ll be arguing with people about it (remember I deal with lawyers)—is break the video into five-second chunks and watch them a few times.

What is happening in that five-second chunk? Not what is going to happen. Look closely at what is happening. You analyze what actions and circumstances you see in that particular chunk. As you watch these chunks over and over put your attention on different things. (One time watch his right hand, next time his left. Now do the same with the other person.) Watch for what is there just as much as what is not there.

When you do this, three things happen. One, you will usually find what happened is way different than the story of what happened. If the story is true certain things will be on the video. If not, question the story. For example, that she was ‘groped’ before she was pepper sprayed. Really? You know what? There are certain common reactions a woman has when she’s groped—especially when her reaction involves hitting someone. They happen fast and without thought. Watch any of those videos for the reactions and timing you think would be there.

Two, you’ll see even more details about the situation that you didn’t see before. For example, the expression on her face combined with the body movement that indicates she was hitting someone. What’s interesting about that is we unconsciously clench our jaws when we physically attack. If we expect a counter attack (or are being attacked), we drop our jaw to protect our throats. If we don’t, we thrust our chins out as if to bite. Look at where her jaw is.

Three is how often the supposed ‘victim’ was using the threat of violence to bully, intimidate, and coerce—and it backfired. Or that the so-called ‘victim’ was physically violent first. Not defense, the person attacked first.

“Uhhhh. Wait a minute … what?” Yeah. This is a biggie. The reason I used this protest video as an example is this is exactly what happens. She was aggressing, threatening, and physically attacked first—yet she’s being presented as the victim.

(As a follow up, I’ve since seen a longer clip. One that starts earlier. She does accuse someone [“You”] of groping her. But there is a five to ten second delay before she throws the punch. This delay takes it out of the realm of immediate defensive action—self-defense— and makes it a deliberate and separate attack.)

Politeness (Or: Before you throw him out the window…) – Marc MacYoung

You’re going to get some homework with this article. But you’ll be a better communicator for it. If nothing else, it will help you articulate why you did what you did when being polite didn’t work.

Forbes Magazine ran a web article, ” 21 Ways To Leave A Never-Ending Conversation Without Being Rude.”

It’s a pretty good article. Being as it’s business, the assumption is you don’t want to be rude. It gives nice socially acceptable — and polite — exit strategies to get away from folks who — if we’re being charitable — just don’t know when to shut up. If we’re not being charitable, they’re time/energy vampires. If we’re being practical, they could be something worse.

Part of what you’re going to learn here is how to get this last type to reveal themselves but using manners, politeness and social rules of conduct. From there a different set of tactics is required. Up to and including having to throw them out a window. And no. I’m not joking.

Establishing two data points and two subpoints before we move on.

DP#1: Some years ago Rory started teaching his “levels of violence.’ It goes: Nice people manipulator, assertive, aggressive, assaultive and homicidal. Well technically it’s a visual that starts at the bottom and works up:


I really like this model because it so clearly shows several important dynamics. The visual helps track how ‘nice’ falls to ‘manipulative,’ manipulative falls to assertive, assertive folds against aggressive, etc.. You can see how folks aren’t too fond of going too high up the ladder. There’s also a lot of stuff that’s involved about how we’re comfortable with one level, and while we may go up one, in actuality, we spend most of our time lower — but often threaten we’ll bump it up if we have to (e.g., we use the threat of assault [aggression] WAY more than we actually strike). Still another is the model helps clarify how far away we are from actual physical danger.

DP#2: Much of what we do is scripted behavior. These are ‘short cuts,’ formulaic, cued behaviors and responses to common situations. Scripts are a big part of our lives and behaviors. When cued we respond, mostly by route, but with variations. “Excuse me. Could you pass the salt?” “Certainly” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

The example I just used is what Rory and I call a “microscript.” These short, almost ritualistic, exchanges are very strongly tied to etiquette. They are also a weird blend of conscious, subconscious and unconscious mental processing. As such, break them at your own peril. At the same time, watch for people breaking them — as these breeches are the source of a great deal of our emotional discomfort and anger.

You have to know those data points for the subpoints to make sense.

Subpoint A: We rely on people 1) picking up the cues to prompt desired behaviors and 2) their cooperation with these scripts. This saves us from having to be assertive and the risk being turned down (Go to Youtube and type in “RSA Animate, Language as a window into human nature.” I warned you, homework.) This allows us to stay on the lower levels and avoid violence and conflict.

Subpoint B: Nice people have trouble with manipulators because they exploit the ‘rules of balance’ inherent in scripts. While we all use social scripts to our advantages, manipulators abuse the give-and-take nature of social scripts. What should be an equal ‘economy’ is tilted in the manipulator’s favor by the manipulator’s exploiting the taking aspects of scripts. They use the inherent compassion, cooperation, humanistic ideals and the standards of being ‘nice’ to take more than their share. For example, the ‘friend’ [or coworker] who is always asking you for favors, but isn’t there when you need one.

Now that we’ve laid these foundations we can turn our attention to the person who just won’t let you bow out. We’ll use this as an introduction to a bigger topic. That person is taking too much of your time. But we’re not at how to handle them yet. What we’ve covered thus far is critical for distinguishing between different motivations. Assessing that, tells us how to handle them.

Fact of life time: There are a lot of socially inept people out there. People who –short of you sending up a bright red balloon — will miss subtle social cues. The whys are many but most of them aren’t coming from malice. (Keep that in mind because you handle them differently than the malicious.) Still others you just have to flat out tell them what you want. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable you are with being direct, with certain people you have to be. Again this often isn’t out of malice, it’s more how they are wired or were raised. With both kinds, you don’t want to go nuclear on them. Or even if you do, don’t. They don’t deserve your unbridled fury — and if you do, then the asshole in the situation isn’t the other person.

The need for the Forbes article is it addresses these people. It’s for when you’re sincerely trying to be a nice person and he/she just isn’t getting the hint. The suggested strategies send up a balloon that is so big that even a socially myopic person will see. Another added benefit of the Forbes article is it helps you learn ways to obviously — but politely — boost the signal. That’s the other side of the coin. It may not be that the other person is socially inept. It could be you aren’t communicating clear enough. So for either dealing with the socially unaware person or you not signaling loud enough, the Forbes article is useful to turn up the volume of “Time to let me go.”

I will point to another benefit of learning different ways to say “I have to leave.” That’s it is a step in learning how to be assertive. Remember, that step past manipulative? Yeah, it’s a small step because a lot of polite exit strategies are little white lies, but hey… you’re further along than you were before. Oh BTW, Terry, ‘assertive’ is scary to nice people, it can require aversion therapy and inoculation to work up to being direct. (And in case you, the reader, are wondering about that weird sentence … Terry Trahan asked, “What’s the matter with just being direct?” I didn’t get a chance to answer him when he asked that very good question. So now you, the reader, get to hear the answer too.) Learning other ways you have more than just one strategy — which is a good thing.

A common question I hear is “But what if polite doesn’t work?” Well, the Forbes article is step one in fixing that. Sending up that red balloon is not rude. It’s making sure the signal is clear. However, step two is where we break free from the Forbes article. But the direction we break is influenced by data point #1.

Another thing I hear is nice people waffling about acting to put an end to unacceptable behavior. This often in the form of, “What if I’m wrong?”

Which hey, if you’re talking about defenestration (throwing someone out a window), worrying about making a bad call makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is when the same person is asking both questions. Don’t they get that the two points work together?

If polite don’t work, then we know this isn’t normal. If clear-but-polite doesn’t work it’s a moved onto step three. A step that clearly puts us into the Levels. It’s time to mentally shift gears because it’s no longer innocent. The person has just announced that he’s putting something he wants over and above social protocol as well as your wants and needs. Is defenestration on the table yet? Well no. But it just walked into the room. Why? Because he has made a conscious decision to ignore protocol and put his wants before everyone else’s.

Recap, there’s lots and lots of levels, stages, tactics and strategies you can use between polite and defenestration. The more adept at these levels you are, the less likely you are to make a mistake. See someone who is just socially unaware will let you go when they see the big red balloon of “I gotta go.” Red balloon goes up, is seen, behavior changes and situation is over. Alright what does that tell us? Well, you just needed to be more overt. Overt doesn’t mean rude. Although many of the “what if…” types don’t know that, it’s true.

What’s important is watch for the person who sees the overt signal and ignores it. This is a form of what is called “Discounting no.” It’s both a game changer and a not-to-be-ignored signal. When you set an obvious verbal boundary and someone just blows through it as if it’s fog, they’ve just told you in no uncertain terms that they’re up to something.

But — before you throw someone out the window — you might want to try giving being polite another shot. Make the message very clear. (Kind of like tying a flashing light to that red balloon.) This does five things. One it confirms that being polite didn’t work. Two, it removes doubt that this is accidental or unwitting behavior on his part. Three, it gives you a “Well, I tried” permission to act. Four is if you have to explain your actions later you can truthfully say you tried being polite –repeatedly — and you changed tactics only because polite didn’t work. (As you will be called on the mat for any use of force, it helps if you can explain how you went through “ask, tell and order” before you went hands on) Five it blows any and all pretext that this situation was kosher. This may look like two, but it’s not. While most manipulators will back off when facing assertive, other folks will try to bump it to aggressive. While this is usually a face saving retreat (‘Elvis has left the building’ style), it can also reveal that their intentions were hostile all along. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s a need to know. What a lot of nice people don’t realize is even if it gets emotionally unpleasant, emotionally unpleasant ‘fixes’ are a lot easier than things getting to defenestration. So let’s look at these easier fixes.

The reason why it’s called ‘discounting no’ — is when someone wants something, you say ‘no,’ and they keep on pestering you for it. You know this routine. You might have done it as a kid. “Mom can I have a candy bar?” “No” “Why can’t I have a candy bar?” (Reason given.) “But I want a candy bar!”

From that childhood example we can see several things. One is the general dynamic. Two, the deliberate ignoring of a clearly communicated ‘no’ answer. Three the predictable strategies — especially the faux-request for “why.” This is followed by rejection of the reasons (as in they aren’t good enough). Four is the continued pressing for selfish reasons. (Hint, the counter is “Asked, answered, subject closed.”) Five is escalation.

At best discounting no is selfish, at worst it’s dangerous. (It’s a common tactic before physical violence.) From moment the ‘discounting no’ becomes clear, your goal has changed. Now, you’re oriented on stopping whatever he’s up to — using whatever means necessary. To figure out how to do that, we need to go back to scripts.

Scripted behavior allows for millions of us to live in close proximity. There are all kinds of rules for different levels of intimacy and relationships. You behave differently to a stranger than you do a family member. That’s the first set of filters to spot when something is off. Is this person asking too much or angling for something beyond the type of relationship you to have? Let’s pick one, say — distance. We allow people we are involved with to get closer to us than strangers. No brainer right? Well, actually way more complicated than you thought. For example greater stranger distance is the rule. While there are certain exceptions — those exceptions have very strict protocols and etiquette. Think of in a crowded elevator or a waitress. Your spouse standing close is no problem. But a stranger crowding you can be a manipulation to get you to move. Start watching to see how many of these unwritten rules you can identify and when someone should keep a distance. Why should you do this? So you can better understand this next point.

Scripts can also be looked at as a lazy man’s version of boundaries. Boundaries are established and maintained by the script. (Think of elevator scripts, what you say and where you stand are predictable.) These scripts have become automatic habits to the point we often assume that’s all we have to do. When they don’t work, we get flustered. Another way of looking at scripts is microwave dinners. Prepackaged, just pop them in, push a few buttons and there you have it. The problem with microwave dinners is you don’t learn how to cook. So if the microwave breaks down, you’re at a loss.

Someone who discounts ‘no’ is trying to short out your microwave. A lot of the time he’s relying on you not being able — much less willing — to do something about it. If people (who he can short them out) are lucky, he’s just going to act like a snotty kid and do what he wants. A lot of times, it can be a way worse. But it usually won’t start out that bad. As the saying goes, “Great storms are preceded by a small breeze.” Before these people really get going, they’ll test to see if you know how to stand up for yourself. How do they do this? With the small stuff.
The problem is, that test looks exactly the same as someone who is just socially unaware. That’s why you float the red balloon and see what happens. If the person is socially unaware you — without being rude — extract yourself. But if you see him look at the balloon, and keep on coming, then he’s tipped his hand.
Now you understand why assessing intent is so important.

When he tips his hand, you don’t have to be polite anymore either — well let me rephrase that. You don’t have to be rude either, but from that moment on you aren’t relying on manners, scripts and social conventions to do all the work of enforcing your boundaries. You’re going to have to take a more active part. And if that means throwing his ass out a third story window … well, that’s what it’s going to take.

But usually they’ll back off long before that — as long as you can communicate you know what’s going on. Let’s keep this at the lower end of the scale. By clearly communicating it’s time for you to go, you have moved up the scale from a nice person to an assertive person. Now the manipulator is in a fix. This leaves him no other choice than to try to either plead or tip his hand. Plead with you to stay (which hey, “you got fifteen seconds to finish”) or drop the pretense that his goals aren’t selfish and manipulative. If he gets angry, that’s fine too. Like I said it’s usually an Elvis has left the building retreat. “Oh I was assertive and you’re responding by becoming aggressive. Well thank you for telling me what’s the appropriate response.” Which believe it or not is not becoming aggressive, but cranking up the assertive. You can still be polite, but he’s using social scripts against you, so you don’t have to abide by them either.

Why? People often win by not just moving up a level, but pretending that they’re willing to go to the next one. Thing is, they’re usually not. This bluff is how they intimidate people. They’re good at bluffing. They get what they want through aggression because you’re scared they’ll become assaultive. But the never had any intent of taking that far. They only win because you chicken out. And you need to know something, they’re good at spotting when others are bluffing too. So if you get all excited and huff and puffy, he knows you’re bluffing. But if you’re calmly shifting gears to match him, that’s where you run into the paradox.
That is that often the willingness to use violence means you don’t have to. Someone who is polite and has no other tools is easily run over. Someone who is afraid of using violence sucks at convincing people he’s not afraid. The unwillingness to use force is what both the bluffer and the assaultive person is looking for. That is the person it is safe to aggress on, including physically attacking.

But the person who shrugs and shifts gears to whatever level this person wants to play at… well, leave that one alone. It’s not safe to mess with that one. You’d be amazed how effective being polite while calmly figuring the trajectory to the window can be at deterring escalation. In other words, instead of worrying about “What if the strategies don’t work?” think of a strategy not working as telling you it’s time to shift gears. “Okay, tried that, didn’t work. Next.” Once you get the hang of this approach, you’d be amazed at how fast trouble takes one look at you and moves onto the next target.

Handling a Haymaker Punch – Marc MacYoung

The simple answer is ‘See it coming and move.’

The not so simple answer is I just finished writing a 150 page e-book that covers this subject. It will be available next month. It’s called “Writing Violence IV: Defense” and it will be available for a whopping $2.99. I specifically go into some of why this kind of attack is so damned weird.

It’s weird because it’s both
a) the stupidest, most ineffective, amateurish, wasted movement, my grandmother hits harder attack, and
b) the one that freaks people out the most (and in freaking them out, THEY make the damned thing work)

Wait. What?
I’m not BSing you when I say that it is a stupid, clumsy and ridiculous attack — UNLESS the target does something specific. Then it works. The problem is that untrained people DO THAT SPECIFIC THING!

The power in this attack — and by that I don’t mean the force of the attack, but the psychological — is that it will make an untrained person freeze like a deer in the head lights.

Let me say that again and in a different way. The reason this kind of attack works is because untrained people STAND THERE and watch it come at them.

Any attack is designed to deliver maximum aggravation at a specific location (think GPS). This kind of wild swing, yelling, and bug eyed nonsense spooks untrained people into staying rooted to that spot. If they DO try to move, they try to back pedal. Which is unfortunately like seeing a train coming at you and trying to backpedal down the tracks. You’re still going to get hit by the damned train. Why? Because it can go forward faster down the tracks than you can go backwards down the tracks.

When I say move, I mean get off the damned tracks.
Wait until the guy gets close, then jump off the tracks. That is the fundamental strategy. Pretty much everything comes from there. If you can’t get off the tracks, you’re going to get hit. So pay attention to overcoming the natural reaction of deer in the headlights.

Second thing… well wait a minute, two things you have to know before the second thing not only really makes sense, but you can use the second thing when someone is trying to punch you.

Stand up and measure the distance between your eyebrows and the floor. Now lay that same distance down on the floor in front of you. That is your ‘attack range.’

That’s to say it’s the distance you can attack someone (barehanded) WITHOUT taking an additional step. Now I tell you about that because that is absolute distance someone can attack you at. And that’s someone who knows what he’s doing. From that distance and with his feet in just the right way he can land a kick. He moves and WHAM!!! Outside of that range the guy HAS to take extra steps to reach you.

In reality, most people can’t attack from that far out. So cut that distance in half and you get most people’s attack range. If they aren’t that close, they’re going to HAVE to walk over to being that close. You’re NOT fighting Reed Richards from the Fantastic Four who can stretch his arm and punch you across the street.

The other thing you need to know is a professional/experienced fighter will establish attack range BEFORE he launches his attack. An amateur will try to establish range AS he is attacking.
Putting that in other terms. An experienced attacker will slide into attack range and then WHAM!! He’ll nail you. This guy is actually MORE dangerous than the other guy because he doesn’t look scary until it’s too late.

An amateur will start his attack and charge into range to hit you. He’s relying on you freezing because he’s got this whole booga-booga-boo act going on.

So from a fighting perspective. You’re not looking at the guy’s fist. You’re looking at his feet. IS HE IN PUNCHING RANGE? If not, he can’t punch you. If yes, then you’d DAMNED well better be on the look out for him swinging on you.

Being able to recognize attack range gives you ALL kinds of time to spot when someone is about to attack. OR if he’s doing the booga-booga act to realize you have time to break the freeze because you haven’t been hit yet.

THAT’S the second thing of see it coming.
Start by keeping him outside of his attack range. (From his eyebrows to the floor.) This is where most inexperienced folks screw up (at least in the US) they’re so busy huffing, puffing and wagging their dicks around that either they let the other guy develop punching range or they’re the ding-a-ling who steps up INTO the other guy’s punching range to tell him to get out of their face. Then they’re caught with their dicks flapping in the wind when ‘unexpectedly’ get punched.

EXCUSE ME?! How can you be surprised that you got punched when YOU got up in his face? DUH!!!! Where it goes into sheer stupidity is “I didn’t see it coming.” Well if you weren’t so busy trying to scare him with how big your dick is, might have noticed you’d walked INTO his attack range.

Kinda hard to react in time when you’re busy doing the dumb.
That’s why I say “see it coming and move” are your two fundamentals. If you can’t accomplish those two fundamental requirements, then nothing else is going to do you any good.
Or as my favorite Mountain Man Rabbit Stew recipe reads. Step one: Catch a rabbit.

If you don’t have that first step, everything else that follows is meaningless.