One of the issues that comes up with training in martial arts for the purposes of self-defense is that classes tend to focus on the physical skills you use once you’re in an altercation. There’s generally, at best, a passing reference to avoidance tactics, reading the situation, and running away.
This isn’t meant as a criticism, as not everyone takes up a martial art for self-defense purposes. Plenty of people just want to do something active, have fun, or meet new people. One of the big benefits of teaching with Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu is that I’ve had the opportunity to assist and teach purely self-defense classes that cover more about awareness, de-escalation tactics, and conflict avoidance. The amount that I have picked up and incorporated into my life, however, did not become apparent until I re-entered the security field a couple of months ago.
There is a common theme about preparedness and awareness stories amongst security and law enforcement professionals when dealing with someone who is potentially violent. I don’t know how many times I’ve read and heard from police the cautionary tale about how an officer didn’t react to someone threatening violence because the body language didn’t support it.
Suspects have specifically said they were going to assault an officer in some way, but because the suspect was acting docile, the officer ended up being surprised by an attack.
About a month ago, I had an incident that demonstrates the positive side of being aware of what someone is saying and doing while working security at an outdoor concert.
My partner and I were assisting an overly intoxicated woman to the gate. She had violated the terms of her admission ticket, so we had asked her to leave, and while my female partner gave her support (this woman could barely stand), I was left to deal with the boyfriend who, in his slightly less inebriated state, was trying to run interference.
As we got about 10 metres away from the gate, the boyfriend, who up to this point had been overly friendly in his attempts to get on my good side, made a very abrupt about-face and decided he wanted to fight.
“You’re the nicest guy in the world,” he said to me. “But we’re going to fight. We’re going outside to fight.”
He grabbed my wrist and tried to pull me towards the gate. At that point, I felt justified in using force to defend myself as he had threatened me, but I didn’t. Instead I slipped my wrist out of his grip and I told him I didn’t want to fight and it was time for him to leave.
He continued to try and pull me towards the gate, and I used his own efforts to help corral him towards the exit. Once we got close, I made eye contact with another guard, who, while I distracted the increasingly agitated drunk, snuck behind him and deftly pushed him out the gate. The drunk spun around in a rage to face a wall of six guards. He instantly went from spitting mad, to whiny sad then had the audacity to ask why he wasn’t allowed back in.
The person was evicted, and no one got hurt, a big win, but after the incident, I thought about my reactions and why I didn’t immediately incorporate force into my response. I had instinctually felt I didn’t need to, and I wanted analyze my reaction and make sure it wasn’t going to result in me getting punched in the head in the future.
And my conclusion was, what he is saying is matching what he is doing.
He repeatedly said he wanted to get outside and fight. His hips, weight and body were turned in a way that was effective for trying to pull someone, but completely useless for launching any sort of strike. He was continually almost falling over as he tried to jerkingly pull me along. And I had backup in the form of both police and other guards nearby.
Now I wasn’t just waiting for him to punch me. As soon as he grabbed me, I dropped my weight and brought my hands up ready to defend myself. As the video below demonstrates, punches can come pretty quickly, and with your hands down, you’re going to get hit.
That’s not to say my response would have necessarily been appropriate for all similar scenarios. You have to take body language, what they’re saying, history (if applicable), and your environment into account, and use all that information to react appropriately. He said he wanted to go outside to fight, he was so off balance that he didn’t pose much of a physical threat, and help was less than ten metres away in the form of more security and police.
As a private citizen would I necessarily advocate trying to measure your self-defense quite that finely? Probably not. Use the amount of force necessary to nullify the threat to create your opportunity and ESCAPE. But for those of us in the security and law enforcement community who routinely encounter potentially hostile individuals, working to better refine your senses may allow you to save force for when it’s needed, rather than escalating things unnecessarily.
But there’s a balance. When dealing with people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can’t expect them to react rationally. They can go from calm and collected to aggressive and violent in a split second, and can often be unaffected by pain. I’ve had people who acted entirely cooperatively up until the moment they tried to head-butt me.
Mr. Drunk Boyfriend could have easily decided he wanted to fight inside the venue right away, but because I was reading his balance and body movement and listening to his words, I knew I would have ample warning if he tried to sucker-punch me. And that’s why it’s important to not only train your mental and physical skills of performing self-defense techniques under stress, but also your ability to read your attacker in order to respond appropriately. The drunk grabbing your wrist to pull you toward something he thinks is cool doesn’t merit the same response as the guy who said he’s going to knock your block off.
But at the end of the day, protect yourself, and err on the side of caution. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, just an idea to move towards.