Confrontations among people may involve one or more of the following escalating types:
- Disagreement (verbal or written)
- Arguments (verbal or written)
- Police Assistance Required
- Unarmed Fistfights
- Armed Attacks
- Life or Death Struggle (armed or unarmed)
Everyone will experience some type of confrontation during their lives. Some confrontations are minor, such as a parent who is mad at you for the decision you made as a referee; some may be major, such as an irate motorist that wants to hurt you because you cut him off in traffic. In any case, your ultimate goal is to end the confrontation as soon as possible with minimum problems. To accomplish this, you need to manage confrontations and guide them toward the desired outcome.
Phases of a Confrontation
Confrontation consists of five phases: initiation, reaction, control, execution, and completion. Initiation and reaction are the most critical phases.
Initiation. Initiation is a psychological phase where one perceives that conflict is imminent and that physical force may be necessary. Without this decision to commit to the confrontation, no conflict may occur, and thus no reaction to the threat is needed. A wrong decision may result in your being injured or killed. A correct assessment of the situation at this phase may mean the difference between there being a fight or no fight occuring. This assessment often occurs at a subconscious level, since there is usually no time for conscious thought.
Reaction. Reaction is the defensive or offensive actions taken in response to an attack. This is perhaps the most critical of all phases since error or hesitation may result in defeat. Any reaction must be executed calmly, smoothly, quickly, and with authority. During the reaction phase, or at least at its beginning, the opponent is strong and active. Psychologically, the opponent feels superior and confident or there would not be an attack. Always give the opponent the choice of not to attack. It will keep you safe—morally, legally, and physically.
Control. Sun Zi, in his strategic military treatise "The Art of War" says to never attack a strong and psychologically prepared opponent. The wise way is to turn the enemy's strength to weakness before attacking or counter attacking. This may be accomplished by yielding, absorbing, blocking, or neutralizing the attack and then striking to incapacitate. Relatively little force is needed to control the opponent since he or she has been caught at his or her weakest point. Psychologically this method is devastating because the opponent loses just as he or she feels on the verge of victory.
Execution. In the execution phase, finishing techniques (if necessary) are applied to ensure the opponent does not continue to fight.
Completion. After execution, the situation is reassessed as to whether there is still a threat and whether further action is required.
Anatomy of a Confrontation
Certain things are common to most any confrontation. These commonalities include:
Participants. Every confrontation must have two or more participants. As related to participants, most confrontations have some things in common:
- Victims and offenders are usually young males from blue-collar families.
- Participants usually know each other except in areas where there is a high transient population, especially on weekend evenings.
- Most victims, as well as perpetrators, come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds.
- Whereas in most homicides the participants used a firearm, in non-fatal assaults, firearms are rarely used.
- Multiple assailants are common. Many incidents have others who are present and not directly involved, but who could easily become involved, therefore, any situation where there are others present could easily become a multiple assailant situation.
- Verbal and body language are important: What is said and especially how it is said combined with body language may escalate or deescalate a confrontation.
- The fight stage of a confrontation is usually chaotic, especially where there are more than two participants. Environmental factors, such as furniture or a confined space, coupled with a high emotional state and mental confusion contribute to the chaos and confusion.
- The advantage is usually with the aggressors since they probably would not have initiated the confrontation if they thought they might get beat.
Mental/Emotional States. Certain mental and emotional states exist in most confrontations.
- All participants in a confrontation will be in a heightened emotional state, ranging from anxious, fearful, or agitated to panicked, angry, or enraged. These emotional states impair the ability to think clearly and perform complicated actions.
- Since confrontations are unusual for most people, victims usually are confused as they try to make sense of the situation and decide how to respond. Because of this, most reactions are usually instinctive, which may be the wrong responses to a situation.
- Excessive alcohol drinking and high boredom by both the victim and offender add to the chances of a confrontation.
- The intentions and abilities of assailants are usually unknown. Participants may be operating by a different set of “rules,” with differing abilities, motivations, and intended outcomes.
How Conducted. This pertains to the way a confrontation unfolds and how it is carried out.
- The only “rules” are the law (generally not obeyed), social norms, and the personal belief systems of the participants; however, there is no requirement to adhere to these rules. Some o f these rules are vague and participants generally do not know what the others' belief systems are, so in effect, there are no rules.
- Participants in a confrontation are free to choose any outcome that in their view will conclude the confrontation. For the victim, the desire outcome is usually to leave peaceably. While, for the assailant, the outcome could b ea successful robbery, rape, or murder. Participants may also change their intended outcome as the confrontational progresses; if challenged an obnoxious drunk may decide to kill.
- Weapons may or may not be present. One should not assume that because a weapon is not visible that the other person is unarmed. Many times the weapon is only produced after a fight has started or it may be improvised from a nearby object, such as a chair, bottle, billiard cue, etc.
- Low-level confrontations, such as verbal exchange, pushing, or grabbing, are more common than serious assaults. So you self-defense training should emphasize handling these types of attacks.
- There is always a risk of serious injury: You must deal with the consequences of any hit and have to continue in whatever state it leaves you in. This heightens the level of anxiety and may cause a situation to spiral out of control and become lethal
- Confrontations have distinct stages as the interaction between the participants' changes. This means there are different skills sets required at each stage. There is usually an opportunity to halt the flow between stages.
Location and Timing. This pertains to where confrontations occur, when they occur, and how long they last.
- Location and time of occurrence may vary greatly. This means that the type of clothing worn by participants at the time of the confrontation will vary greatly.
- While the initial stages of a confrontation may last from seconds to several minutes to even days, the fight stage is often short in duration lasting only a few minutes if not seconds. The energy expenditure of the combatants in this brief period is high and usually at maximal capacity. Although there is no time limit to a fight, they are usually brief because either or both parties are exhausted, there is a decisive outcome, or at least one side has had enough.
Stay aware of your surroundings. Make sure you know the area or establishment you are going to. If you sense danger or extreme risk, do not go there. Once you are in an area or building, make a mental note of how to escape. Also, look for ready weapons, such as sticks, chairs, salt shakers, ashtrays, etc. Sit or stand with your back to a solid wall so your back is protected. Note where you can run or roll to seek cover.
Wear clothing that is appropriate for that destination. Consider that the attire you choose may cause an offensive response towards you. Slick or sticky soles on shoes may limit kicks. Tight clothing may limit movements, as well as kicks. If needed, your belt can become a weapon by wrapping it around your hand and striking with the buckle.
Do not neglect the obvious
If you are concerned about being in a situation that may require you having to defend yourself, then you must become aware of common everyday actions that are obviously dangerous when considered from a defensive standpoint. Some obvious aids to self-defense that are often overlooked are:
- Long Hair. All attackers, especially inexperienced attackers, like to grab anything they may reach during a fight. Long hair and pony tails make excellent handles. When competing in Judo in the 1960's and 70's, I always liked to face long-haired opponents. When grabbing the back of their gi collar, I made sure to also grab some hair. When on the mat, a knee on a ponytail severely limited movements
- High Heels. You are not going to be able to run, resist, or kick effectively in high heel shoes. Only on television and in movies do the heroines wear high heels.
- Tight Clothing. You will not able to kick effectively while wearing tight pants or a tight dress. Also, a tight jacket or coat will severely limit your movements and punching power.
- Neck Ties or Scarves. It is easy to hang a prisoner who already has a noose around his neck. Do not wrap a scarf around your neck if you are in a threatening situation. Only in the movies will you see a person whip the end of a scarf around her neck and then turn a walk away from a threatening person. In real life, you would find your head being jerked backward by the attacker grabbing and jerking the scarf. Police officers are not stupid, they do not wear wrap-around ties; they wear clip-on ties (dorky officers may wear a clip on bow tie). For dress occasions or business wear, clips-on ties look fashionably bad so you have to judge was is more important in certain situations, fashion or protection. If you are concerned for your safety and still want to look good in a tie, put on your tie in its normal way, have a friend cut it in half behind your neck, hem the ends, and sew Velcro to the ends. Then the tie may be worn normally but it will rip away if grabbed.
- Jewelry. Jewelry not only attracts muggers, it may hamper your efforts in defending yourself against them. Necklaces or chains around the neck and pierced ears, nose, etc., make excellent weapons for your attacker to use against you. Rings may actually help you since they may enhance the effect of your punches.
- Hampered Arms. It is difficult to defend yourself when your arms are holding packages or a child. When your arms are hampered, be more aware of your surroundings.
Upon warning or indication of an attack, step back with your strong side away from the attacker. Raise your open hands to face level and tell the person to stop. Act passive but be prepared to block an attack and then to counterattack with authority. Your goal is to incapacitate the attacker as soon as possible.
Do not assume a fighting stance. It gives your attacker a warning of what techniques you may use to defend yourself and it puts them on guard.
Available Threat Responses
When confronted with a threat, you must make a decision on how you are going to respond to the threat. After the initial decision, as the confrontation progresses, you may need to reassess the situation and modify your decision.
Available response choices are:
- Submit to the threat.
- Escape or run away
- Ignore the threat and hope it goes away or attempt to verbally defuse the situation
- Use your voice or posture to threaten in an effort to make the threat go away
- Escalate the situation until it leads to a fight or self-defense situation.
Two unacceptable choices are to:
- Freeze and do nothing.
- Panic and do the wrong things.
- Skills Needed to Respond to a Treat
Once a threat response is chosen, you must have the skills required to carry out the response. These skills include:
Mental. You need the ability to link all the other skills so you may make the correct response to a specific threat.
- You must have a clear understanding of the true nature of confrontations: the ambiguity, confusion, heightened emotional state, and stress, coupled with their impact upon cognitive and psychomotor capabilities. This may come from hearing the experiences of others, reading true accounts, seeing videos of violent confrontations, or reflection upon your own direct or observed experiences.
- You should understand the phases of confrontations, and how they progress.
- Verbal and non-verbal indicators from the aggressor(s) precede almost all attacks. You should develop the ability to read and interpret these indicators to give yourself advance warning of an attack.
- You should be aware of the laws of self-defense in your jurisdiction.
- Be aware of the impact of alcohol and drugs on the ability to perform physical actions, on pain tolerance, and on the ability to reason.
Strategy/Tactics. You need an understanding of threat response strategy and tactics, so you may select the proper strategy for a threat response and then use the correct tactics to carry out the tactics.
- Your strategy should be to understand the legal threat response options available in given circumstances. Then you should train in individual tactics that would allow you to carry out your strategy.
- You should train in situational awareness and situation assessment so you may be aware of any situation and be able to evaluate it for a potential threat. You should be able to quickly scan and identify elements of the environment, objects and people that may either be of assistance or pose an additional threat.
- You must train in drills that provide an automatic response to a surprise attack so they will give you enough time to assess the situation and decide on your overall response.
- Train to use objects in the environment, including other people, to your advantage. Specifically look for objects that may be used as weapons, barriers, or constraints against the attacker(s).
- Train to surprise and deceive your attacker(s).
Psychological. You need to understand the psychological tactics attackers use and how to counter them. You also need to be able to use these same tactics in your favor and be able to think and perform under adverse conditions.
- You need an understanding and acceptance of fear as part of any confrontation.
- Your training should include role playing scenarios to give you an opportunity to experience the dynamics of a confrontation in a controlled setting. Such role plays must, within reason and safely, include all elements of a real confrontation, such as foul language, yelling, hand and body actions, environmental factors, etc. Role playing will give you the opportunity to practice situational awareness and situation assessment skills as well as tactical decision making in situations of controlled stress.
- Realistic training will accustom you to the pain and confusion of street combat.
- Increase your verbal and non-verbal skills so you may de-escalate a confrontation.
- Develop continuous alertness. As long as you are alert, many confrontations may be prevented or at least managed.
- Learn to deal with pain.
Technical. You need to know and be able to perform the techniques required by your chosen strategy and tactics.
- Train in techniques that to cover a full spectrum of confrontations, including standing striking, standing grappling, ground defense (them up, you down), ground fighting (both on the ground), weapon threat, weapon attack, multiple opponents, control and restraint techniques, and use of common objects as weapons.
- Since your heightened emotional state will adversely affect your fine motor skills, train in simple movements that use gross motor skills.
- Time for responding to an attack is brief, so heavily train on a few techniques that you may use quickly. Simple techniques that are adaptable to many situations are best.
- Train to use your body's natural reactions to particular attacks.
- Train for defensives against weapons and multiple opponents. Although weapons and multiple opponents are not necessarily present at the beginning of a confrontation, they may appear at any time, so train for the possible introduction of a weapon or other opponents during mid-fight. Practitioners of close range grappling and ground fighting are particularly vulnerable to this possibility. Additionally, in conditions of poor visibility, all hand attacks should be treated as though they are weapon attacks.
- Train for response against low-level threats that do not warrant a striking response.
Physical. You need to possess the speed, strength, endurance, etc. required to perform the chosen tactics and techniques.
- Develop you anaerobic fitness. As most fights are short and intense, so you need anaerobic fitness rather than aerobic fitness.
- Develop your combat fitness. The energy systems and muscular actions required in combat are different than those used in friendly sparring.
- Learn pain management techniques so you may fight even when injured.
- Train to manage the combat shock of full power strikes, falls, or violent grabs.
Bachman, L. Street Defensive Tactics.