Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Drew Guest's De-escalation: Victory Without Violence Part 2

Stickgrappler's note: If you didn't read the previous part of this article, please read it here:

In almost every dojo, dojang and kwoon across the globe, it is preached that what the student learns there is only to be used in self-defence and violence should be avoided. It’s probably the most common mantra heard in the martial arts and most of us would agree with this philosophy, but how do you avoid violence in a practical sense? Here, in the second part of a series by Bushi Dojo’s Drew Guest, we learn about the different types of aggressors and the best way to deal with them.

Two Types of Aggressors

You’re most likely to face violence from the ‘predatory aggressor’ or the ‘desperate aggressor’, who is simply at the end of his tether.

The predatory aggressor uses aggression as a tool to obtain something or to achieve a goal. The most common of these types of aggressors are the bullies. These people use aggression to feed their need to exert power over another. They are usually attempting to fill some aspect of themselves they are lacking; it may be they lack power themselves. These are the typical “What you looking at?” thugs. They are masters at manipulating victims so they can ‘justifiably’ escalate the level of aggression. Other predatory aggressors use aggression as a tool of compliance to commit crime. The mugger will often use aggression to overwhelm the victim and induce fear, as does the rapist, but a rapist also uses it as a means to exert and feel power over the victim (the real purpose for the assault).

Warning signs of a predatory aggressor, from Surviving Aggressive People by S T Smith:
  • Testing rituals
  • Foot-in-door tactic
  • Invading personal space and boundaries
  • Exploiting sympathyand guilt
  • Intimidation andexploiting fear
  • Discounting ‘no’ with persistence
  • Talking too much
  • Contradiction between words and body language

Other warning/survival signs, from the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, are:
  • Forced teaming
  • Loan-sharking
  • Giving too many details
  • Making unsolicited promises
  • Typecasting

The end-of-tether aggressor (also known as the desperate aggressor), on the other hand, uses aggression as a last resort. They see no other option and have most likely exhausted numerous other options in an attempt to solve the problem. They tend to be pessimistic and don’t want to listen. Due to the highly charged state of emotions, they will be hypersensitive and hyper-vigilant, and they will have little concern for consequences. The end of tether aggressor resorts to the use of aggression in an attempt to regain control. These people aren’t criminals but simply stressed-out individuals who have come to the end of their tether. Road rage, for example, is often committed by normal people who have just snapped. In these cases, the perceived wrong against them is just the final straw and is usually unrelated to the true cause of the aggression.

Warning signs of a desperate aggressor, from Surviving Aggressive People by S T Smith:

Visible adrenaline and fight-or-flight effects. These include changes in breathing, shaking, unstable voice, flushed face, etc.

  • Agitation
  • Uncharacteristic or poor judgement
  • Paranoia and defensiveness
  • Extreme pessimism
  • Nervous confusion
  • Withdrawal
  • Hurtful language and threats

Whether predatory or desperate, the five don’ts of de-escalation — Threaten, Argue, Challenge, Order, Shame — or TACOS rules (see Blitz Vol. 23 No. 8) can always be applied to avoid escalating the situation. The difference is that with the predatory aggressor, TACOS is used to counter their attempts to manipulate and escalate, while with end-of-tether aggressors, we are avoiding accidental or misinterpreted escalation. When faced with aggression, having familiarity with TACOS will go a long way towards ensuring your safety, regardless of which type of aggressor or aggression you face. the different approaches

The aggressive approach:

I personally don’t like this method. Aggression feeds aggression and it takes a certain kind of person to pull it off. In my experience, the people who really need self-protection don’t have the required confidence or inclination to safely use this tactic. It is also the approach with the least flexibility and the greatest risk. That being said, it can work for the right person.

The goal with this approach is to be more aggressive and intimidating than the aggressor. Ultimately you will attempt to elicit the fight-or-flight response (or an adrenaline dump) in your aggressor. Hopefully they will interpret this as fear, thinking they’ve bitten off more then they can chew, and back down. This approach is essentially a bluff, but with all bluffs you must be prepared to have it called. The problem is if it doesn’t work, you will usually have a bigger problem and more aggression aimed at you.

Be honest with yourself as to whether you can pull off this approach. Do you have the skills to back it up? If it fails, you most assuredly will need to use them. The aggressive approach can work, but there is no going back once you take that path, so choose it wisely. This approach works best when your opponent only makes a half-hearted or uncommitted attack.

The assertive approach:

The difference between being assertive and being aggressive is that when you are being assertive you are standing up for your rights while respecting other people’s rights. Being aggressive is standing up for your rights with no regard for the rights of any other person. Assertiveness is an ideal approach for when you have to stand your ground. The obvious examples are those involved in the security industry or law-enforcement, such as door staff, police officers and the like. However, this approach can also be used by teachers, store managers and supervisors, bus drivers, government workers — in fact, any position where you have to follow set policies and procedures or you are in a position of authority. That being said, it’s an option open to virtually anyone.

This approach involves remaining calm and in control. You should use clear and specific language, with complete sentences and direct statements. Use co-operative, and empathetic language. Try to avoid ‘you’ statements, as they tend to come across as blaming or accusing. This often leads to the other person becoming defensive, which may block a calm rational discussion. Instead try to use ‘I’ statements, as this allows you to own the statement and keeps lines for communication open. If someone is talking, they are not hitting.

This should be backed up by appropriate eye contact and body language. Your posture should be direct, open, relaxed and attentive. Your stance should be passive and non-violent. You can take full use of the ‘fence’ (hands raised, palms out) and it doesn’t need to be hidden, but be sure not to make it aggressive. Avoid ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and constant head-nodding. Use minimal and appropriate touch and provide responsive expressions.

The idea is to project a vibe of confidence and control. You establish your boundary and you enforce it, but in a polite, calm manner. Ideally your level of aggression should always be below that of your opponent. This has two effects: firstly, it gives you room to move if you do have to raise the level of aggression (it’s always easier to increase your aggression then it is to lower it); secondly, it has an anchoring effect on the other person’s level of aggression. The lower your level of aggression, the lower the other person needs to have his.

The submissive approach:

This approach involves submitting and complying with the demands of the aggressor to prevent escalation to physical violence. This has good and bad aspects. On one hand it often prevents physical violence, as you are giving the attacker what he wants; on the other hand, it does nothing to deter future attacks and establishes you as an easy target. It involves giving up your boundaries and your rights. Psychologically, this approach can be quite dysfunctional; often after the event the victim will go through a stage of regret and depression. They may see their action as cowardly, chastising themselves for not fighting back. This can have quite a detrimental effect on everyday life as the feelings of inadequacy and the damaged self-esteem affect performance and relationships across other areas of life (e.g. with family or at work).

The submissive approach can work — and often does. You have to decide if being submissive outweighs the consequences of an alternative action. This approach is best used in street crime such as a mugging, where the aggressor is after material possessions. I have a saying; “There is nothing in my wallet that is worth more than holding my wife again”. I don’t recommend this approach for bullying situations; in these cases submission only reinforces the bullying behaviour. It may work for a single-instance bully such as the pub thug, where you allow the guy to get an ego boost by putting you down; in a sense this is a type of robbery, where he steals a bit of ego from you to boost his own.

You have to decide whether this approach is appropriate for the situation, and that will depend on the situation, circumstances, environment, the aggressor, yourself and a plethora of other variables. Trust your instincts. If you feel this is the time to be compliant, then go with your gut.

You should avoid eye contact and gaze downward, but this doesn’t mean you take your eyes off the aggressor. Instead, just keep your gaze below his face — the chest is ideal. You’ll want to project a sense of fear or at least portray that image. Try to appear to be shrinking away from the aggressor. Practise this again in front of a mirror so that it looks genuine.

The passive approach:

The above approaches (submissive and aggressive) are extremes; the passive approach is a broader and more flexible approach. It acts as a complement to the other approaches (except for the aggressive approach). You can be passive and assertive and you can be passive and submissive; you can even be just passive, but it is a bit contradictory to be both passive and aggressive at the same time. Once you enter aggression, you leave passiveness behind.

The key to the passive approach is its flexibility. Think of passiveness as being the part of a scale anchored by full assertiveness at one end, and full submissiveness at the other end. Generally you will start in the middle, which is passive-neutral or just passive. From this point you can move one way or the other, and back again, depending on how the situation unfolds.

The passive stance:

The passive stance is also known as the ‘non-threatening’, ‘non-violent’ posture, the ‘de-escalation stance’ and the ‘negotiation stance’. It is one of the most useful concepts in self-protection. Essentially, the passive stance involves standing with your hands raised, palms open and facing your aggressor, so as not to appear like a fighting guard. Your feet should be neutral or with one slightly forward of the other, in a position that will offer you balance and manoeuvrability but not look like you’re ‘ready to go’.

It is important not to think of the passive stance as a fixed stance. It should be adapted to suit your purpose; subtle changes can change it from neutral to more assertive or more submissive. The stance forms a part of your body language and should come across as natural. It provides a platform to negotiate from, while simultaneously providing an efficient base to reflexively respond to a sudden attack, or from which to launch your own pre-emptive strike. It naturally incorporates the ‘fence’ concept developed by Geoff Thompson, and provides a physical and psychological barrier between you and the aggressor. This barrier also acts as a distance-maker and measurer. The stance tends to have a calming affect on the aggressor. Even if it has little effect, it won’t contribute to escalation — and that means we’re still a step closer to our goal of de-escalation.

Drew Guest has been studying martial arts and self-protection for over 24 years. He has a teaching rank in Muay Thai and holds grades in other systems including Zen Do Kai, Senshido, judo, Australian Freestyle taekwondo, GymGari freestyle and boxing.

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For other parts of this article, please check:

NOTE: Posted In Memory of Drew Guest. As posted on the Senshido International Forum Drew Guest was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma in early June 2011. Drew Guest passed away September 24, 2011.



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