The Self-Defense Continuum, Part I – Teja Van Wicklen

This Self Defense Continuum is about perspective and context. It is a tool to help you break something big down into bit-sized pieces so it can be examined and followed and understood. The Self-defense Continuum is a combination of the ideas of two self defense analysts who were, at the time, working separately.

Erik Kondo came up with The Five Ds of Self Defense. These are five options you have for avoiding, disrupting or escaping crime in one piece. They are Decide, Deter, Disrupt, Disengage, Debrief. (You can find out more about Erik Kondo at or

Marc MacYoung came up with The Five Stages of Violent Crime, which represent the stages a criminal goes through in order to commit a crime. They are Intent, Interview, Positioning, Attack, Reaction. (You can find out more about Marc MacYoung at or

The fact that both men came up with five things that completed one another and formed a natural connection, was opportune and curious. When I looked closer I found they had come up separately and miraculously each with half of a whole.

Together these concepts form The Self Defense Continuum – the time line along which a crime occurs. Thinking of crime as something with a Before, During and After helps us view crime as a process and not just a sudden occurrence we have no control over. It helps us see how moments come together to form events. It helps us see where we fit in and possibly how and where we can affect the outcome. To be able to see a particular crime as a kind of story, can give us more power to affect how we play into it – in naming and understanding the individual moments of a crime, and seeing how one moment follows the next, we gain a bit more insight and potential control over circumstances.

Unfamiliar stories or processes seem to occur out of the blue or too quickly for our reaction time. When we are blind to a process we are unable to comprehend it, let alone, change it. How much time or notice there is before and even during an event has an enormous amount to do with what we perceive to be important information. We only hear or take in that which makes sense to us, and that expands or contracts the feeling of time. The process of crime or event prediction is very much about seeing more than we thought was there.

Let’s use baseball as an analogy. Imagine, you’re at the batting cage for the first time. That ball is coming at you at 65 or so miles per hour and if you’ve never been in a batting cage before, that can be reasonably hard core. How are you supposed to put a bat on a tiny thing headed directly at your head like that?

So you start with a formula. Where is the ball coming from? And where is it aiming at? Once you begin to understand the trajectory, you start hitting the ball. This is an intuitive process for some, and a calculation for others. Either way, you have to get it embedded into your reflexes somehow because you won’t have time to consciously tell your arms to tense up and swing. It has to just happen.

After you’ve had a bit of practice, you start to get the hang of it and you find you have time to dig in and get comfortable. Now that you know how it works, there seems to magically be plenty of time to process things and you start hitting a lot more balls than you miss. Hitting them well is another phase of learning, but hitting them at least means they’re not hitting you.

The first phase of The Self Defense Continuum is:

DECIDE To Spot Criminal INTENT
This is the Before Stage. Decide is the longest, most important and least explored area of self defense. It is where we live, it is where we work, it is where we have time to fortify our homes, our lives, our families, ourselves.

Once something goes wrong you are in the During phase where you have to act quickly. You no longer have time to prepare, make leisurely decisions or comb your hair. Before a robbery you can choose which locks to buy. You can compare prices. During, you can only make a phone call, fight him off, run, or put out the flames.

Before is where most of the work gets done. Until something goes wrong it is always Before. It is Before, right now. Right now, you are Deciding to read this article.

Decide then, is about Preparation. And preparation is the single most important step you can take before a journey. When you hike up a mountain, what you know and what you take with you are pretty important. When you study for the test, you ace the test. When you don’t, you scramble, second guess and reap the rewards of a job poorly done. But never get cocky, that’s how we become lazy. Hubris is often why seasoned swimmers drown and professional climbers fall.

Specifically, this part of the Continuum is about a Deciding to learn how to read or intuit the Intent of another to harm you.

The concept of Criminal Intent refers to a person’s readiness to commit a crime – a readiness that manifests itself physically in some way, because very few people are able to hide everything they’re feeling when something serious is on the line.

Intent is more than a motive. A motive is a reason to do something. We all have good reasons to do lot’s of things that we don’t do. You could have a good motive to quit your job, but you may not. Intent is imminent. He has moved from motive to plan. The barriers are down.

Why he’s chosen you may or may not be important, you may or may not ever find out. If you get away quickly and he escapes, you may have to live without ever knowing. The longer you engage with a criminal, the more you find out about what he’s planning. Is he tying to take you somewhere? Has he asked for something? Or does he want to hurt someone? Do you really want to know?

How do you thwart criminal Intent? Well, first you have to learn to SEE it. And the earlier you see it the better for obvious reasons. If your training and your senses are working for you, you may not even know if the situation was really going to be dangerous. He’ll be gone and moving on to someone else instead of you. There’s always the chance he was just a lonely guy looking for conversation and that he really is a friend of a friend of yours. But there are cues and clues to what people want and how invested they are in getting it. Everyone has a tell, and unlike the movies most tells are similar.

I won’t go into specific behaviors here, Gavin De Becker already wrote the book ‘The Gift of Fear’. And Desmond Morris wrote a number of books on human behaviour if you want to go deeper, just look him up. Then there is What Everybody is Saying and Lie Spotting. There is a ton of information on this stuff at your fingertips. Go forth and practice people reading. Do not, however, jump on your beginner abilities and start judging people. Just watch and over time see if you’re right about your preliminary thoughts. When it comes to danger it’s simple. If something tickles your spider sense, just opt out.

A guy once walked straight towards my car window. He walked in too direct a line and smiled the whole time. The smile looked too practiced and he came a little too quickly. My son was in the car. It was getting dark. He held his hand out like he had a question but I didn’t see any real question in his eyes. He looked too comfortable standing in the middle of a parking lot. Not like a person with a problem. None of this was thought out, things just seemed off and I responded to the discomfort I felt and the child in the back seat I was responsible for.

I rolled up my window before he got to my car, that’s all the time I had. My keys were in my hand but I couldn’t get them into the ignition before he was at my window. He said something like, “can I talk to you.” I smiled and pretended not to understand. I put the key in the ignition while he motioned for me to roll down the window. I smiled, nodded, and I pulled out.

He didn’t need me to roll my window down to talk to me. He also didn’t need to get so close to my car. If he had a question he could have gestured, pointed, stated his need clearly from a few feet away. Good men who live in this world know that you don’t get that close to a woman, especially one with a young child, especially in dim light or darkness.

I love to help people. If you really need something and I can help, I’m your girl. But those were not the words or the body language of someone in a desperate situation. They were the words and actions of someone with an agenda.

It’s arguable, of course. But my son was in the car and that’s what my instincts told me. I’ll never know, and that’s okay with me.

To Be Continued.



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