Run or fight, do not freeze! The best way to deal with an attack. Well, Sometimes, creating enough distance to be completely safe is impossible. It may be that you’re far away from safety and running will put you in a worse position. Standing and fighting your way out could be the most dangerous choice to make, so what is the best way to deal with an attack?
In these cases, evasion, a close relative of distance, can be a viable option. If you see a potential attacker before he sees you, you may be able to hide. Hiding can be easier than you might imagine. If the potential attacker isn’t paying close enough attention, you can make yourself disappear by crouching next to a car or hiding behind a tree, for example, could be the best way to deal with an attack.
You might be surprised how easy it is to hide in the open. As long as someone can’t see or hear you, you’re effectively invisible. As a teenager, I went through a phase where I was pursued on numerous occasions by various people with bad intentions. It wasn’t pleasant, but I’ve been just a couple of feet away from people who were actively looking for me. The key to hiding successfully is to either be safe and secure in your hiding place, or to remain mobile, to circle the object you’re hiding behind if the potential attacker is moving such that it becomes necessary. In isolated areas, where you’ll most likely need to use evasion, it’s even easier, as you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing you and revealing your position.
You can use evasion with cover even if your attacker does see you, as long as he doesn’t have a projectile weapon (gun, pepper spray, etc.) that he is willing to use. If you’re as fast as your attacker and have good endurance (it is far more tiring than you might imagine), you can play the circle game, circling a parked car for example, while yelling for help. Few attackers who mean you serious harm will chase you around and around a car while you’re yelling for help and drawing attention to them.
Unfortunately, evasion may be difficult or impossible if you’re with family or friends who aren’t on the same page. They mean well, but, don’t always show the best way to deal with an attack.
When you can’t avoid a potential attacker through avoidance, escape, or evasion, de-escalation is the next best option. In terms of the choices you must make when faced with a threat, leaving, dominating, and complying can all be effective forms of de-escalation, and in this instance could be the best way to deal with an attack.
Every attack requires an escalation of some sort. The escalation may be more or less visible, but it will include a final closing of distance, it may include a verbal escalation, and it may include an “interview”, where the perpetrator goes through a process of questioning (verbally and/or non-verbally) the target to confirm his likelihood of success. The perpetrator may also tell the target to do something, and in some cases, complying can de-escalate the situation, preventing it from going physical.
Before many attacks, especially when robbery or violence isn’t the primary motive, a verbal escalation may occur first, where tension is noticeably built up leading to a physical assault. A typical build up many people will be familiar with is where one male might challenge another by saying something like “You got a problem?”, or “What are you looking at?”. If the answer is “Yeah, you’re my problem.”, or, “I’m looking at you, asshole!”, then the escalation generally progresses until physical violence occurs. But often, simply saying, “I’m sorry man, I didn’t mean to stare.”, and following such a course, will be enough to stop the escalation and prevent the attack. Sometimes, it will take a couple of deflective statements, but by allowing the perpetrator to maintain his dominant role, there will be no need for violence. This is a form of compliance, as you’re allowing the perpetrator to maintain or increase his status. Simply leaving can also work in such situations, especially if you do so in a compliant manner. Again, this could be the best way to deal with an attack.
In the case of violence for conflict resolution, where an argument usually precedes a physical attack, you can also comply by letting your opponent win. Don’t participate in escalating the situation further. Saying something like, “Well, you could definitely be right. I need to think about this a little more.”, for example, can both end the escalation and the discussion. If you feel a person is beginning to feel provoked by something you’re doing or saying, reverse course and/or leave.
Verbal and physical dominance
If you feel threatened by someone that you think may want to rob, attack, or abduct you, dominating the situation and leaving can work very well during the interview stage, or as the predator is attempting to close the distance. One of the best ways to de-escalate an attack using physical and verbal dominance without physical contact, is to put both hands up as a barrier, create distance, and say in a very loud, commanding voice, “BACK OFF!”. Doing so absolutely requires practice. I’ll repeat that. Doing so absolutely requires practice. We are not socially conditioned to yell at a stranger before being physically attacked. Most adults aren’t accustomed to yelling at all. It takes practice to say, “Back off!” in a loud, commanding voice, to mean it without looking scared or self-conscious. If it’s not practiced, and if it’s not meant and done in a dominating way, such an attempt will come across as weak and fearful. It will have the opposite effect. Practicing establishing distance, putting your hands up as a barrier, ready to attack, and giving the “back off” command is a valuable exercise.
A loud command can be literally stunning. A potential attacker will not expect you to yell at him before he attacks. It will be unexpected, and it will shock him. It will serve to show him you’re not a good target, are unwilling to cooperate, draw attention to what he’s doing, or give you the time to attack while he is taken off guard. So, if you can pull this off, this could well be the best way to deal with an attack.
If the threat of violence has already been made, if you were taken unaware and by surprise, especially where deadly weapons are involved, compliance is one of the safest choices a person can make. If a predator puts a gun in your face and demands your wallet, your money, your keys, etc., giving him what he’s asking for is highly likely to de-escalate the situation. This is difficult for many self-defense and martial arts practitioners to accept. They train hard to be able to take out an opponent and feel that giving a predator what he wants is giving up or losing. But the goal of self-defense is not to beat up, incapacitate, or take out an attacker. The goal of self-defense is to survive and prosper, minimizing injury or damage. And the best way to do that when faced with a deadly threat, where giving up a physical object will end that threat, is to comply.
Compliance is an active choice. As hard as it might be to accept, it’s often the smartest choice you can make, far smarter than resistance. It’s very important to realize this. You should practice giving up your money against a deadly threat.
Of course, when a predator wants you or your family, compliance is not a good option, especially when the predator’s goal is the act of violence or murder. You can and should try to escape or use verbal and physical dominance at the interview stage if possible, but even with the threat of deadly force, complying is not a de-escalation strategy in such situations. If a predator points a gun at your head and tells you to get in his car, come with him, go inside your house, etc., it’s highly unlikely to end well. Your chances are probably much better choosing to sprint away as fast as you can instead of complying. If you can’t safely escape, this is where the line between de-escalation and physical self-defense is crossed. If there is one rule in self-defense, it is never to comply with a predator who wants you. Remember, the best way to deal with an attack is to do something other than freezing.
Preventing the freeze
As mentioned in the previous section, a surprise attack can cause a person to freeze, as a fast, overwhelming attack can be too much information for the mind to orient to. Fear can also cause the freeze. And the combination of fear and an overwhelming attack, even worse.
The nature of a freeze is that you’re “frozen”, or not doing anything. And it’s triggered by someone or something else that is doing something. The key to preventing the freeze (and breaking a freeze) is to actively do something. This may seem obvious, but there’s more to it, as described below, and it should be a fundamental part of your self-defense strategy. Run or fight, do not freeze!
Most predators will attempt to take their victims by surprise. And when you get nailed by an assault you didn’t see coming, you will at least momentarily freeze. Everyone will. First, your body and mind will be shocked by the physical nature of the assault. Second, you’ll either be completely paralyzed on a primal level, stuck trying to figure out what’s going on, or you’ll pause for a moment while you switch from your everyday mind to a more aggressive state. During this period, you may very well be getting mauled by your attacker. One way to prevent this from happening is to use what I call pre-positioning.
Pre-positioning requires you to be aware of the threat before the situation goes physical. Ideally, you’ll position yourself far, far away, and there won’t be a physical attack at all. But when you can’t avoid the threat, (and he’s closing in on you) pre-positioning involves becoming the predator yourself, mentally and physically. You pre-position yourself to attack the threat. Mentally switching from being a victim to be a predator, makes all the difference in the world. Pre-positioning is active. It involves doing something. And doing something is the opposite of freezing. Freezing certainly isn’t the best way to deal with an attack.
Anyone who has sparred just a bit, standing and with strikes, knows that standing flat footed, chest to chest, with your hands down, and directly in front of your opponent is a very bad idea. But circling to the outside of your opponent, for example, minimizing his options while maximizing your own, works well. Pre-positioning involves setting up your position relative to your opponent and seeing your opponent as your prey rather than as your attacker. If he moves to attack, he’s giving you something. He’s creating an opening that you will use to your advantage.
You’ll need to practice pre-positioning in order to understand and use it, but it should be part of your physical martial arts and self-defense training. Sparring will help with your ability to pre-position, and it will be covered in later chapters on the Fundamental Five and Environmental Applications.
Conditioned default responses
The second strategy, conditioning effective default responses to various types of attacks, is a last-ditch option when you are attacked by surprise. If you’ve conditioned yourself to unconsciously respond to a physical assault, even if you are surprised by the attack, your body will execute the conditioned response. Immediately after the response, you may freeze as you try to figure out what just happened. Hopefully, your training will kick in and you’ll continue to act as quickly as possible.
Violence, danger, and paranoia
The nature of violence and its prevention. The material isn’t light or nice. It is important however, and it can save your life. With that said, for most people reading this blog, the world is a safe and enjoyable place. Physical violence can happen, but for the majority of people in first world countries, it’s an exception. The purpose of this blog is to give you the knowledge to avoid or prevent violence without having to use physical self-defense and teach you the best way to deal with an attack.
At first you may need to practice modifying your behavior and become more aware of your environment. But in time, these behaviors will become second nature. You won’t need to think about them. Prevention is about minimizing your risks. And when you’ve done that, when you’re well prepared, there will be little to worry about.
As always, there are exceptions. Some places are dangerous. And you may live in one of them. Life is too short to be obsessed with violence. Minimize your risks, learn what to watch out for and how to respond if you do get into trouble, and then forget about it.
The best thing about functional self-defense and martial arts practice has nothing to do with violence. The best thing is that it’s healthy and a great deal of fun. It’s fantastic for exercise, incredible for balance, and a physical and mental challenge. The variety and range of movement and force is liberating for your body. You can do it for the rest of your life, and you’ll always have room to improve. Stand up, clinch, ground, striking, grappling, blunt objects, sharp objects, and projectiles, with a partner, in a group, or alone, indoors and outdoors, there’s a near infinite amount to practice and enjoy.
There are different situations that require the best way to deal with an attack, and many need different solutions. But, whatever potentially dangerous situation you may be facing, your chances of staying safe will be greatly increased by a little self-defense knowledge. It could be the chance you need to escape and survive, and sometimes that’s the only chance you need. Do yourself a favor and learn today, it will teach you the best way to deal with an attack. Always remember, run or fight, do not freeze!