How to Look Like a Victim for Self-Defense
Every person has different things to keep in mind when it comes to how their situation looks when using physical force to defend one’s self. Smaller women, like me, are more concerned with not looking like a victim, so we teach them how to carry themselves with confidence when walking about (more details in How to Avoid Looking Like an Easy Victim). We also teach them to make their psychological intention stronger to make it clear that they are not an ideal victim to their aggressors while simultaneously adding more force to their physical defense (more details in The Power of Intention in Self-Defense). But what about bigger, stronger men? Their situation is quite a bit different when it comes to how the situation looks, especially when it comes to bystanders.
Especially now when videos are easily taken with smart phones, bigger men have to be concerned with how they appear to potential witnesses when they use force to defend themselves. Even if they’re not the aggressor, and resort to reasonable physical tactics only to protect themselves, they might still be seen as the aggressor simply because they’re bigger, as many people only come to witness a fight after it’s already in progress, not having seen how it started in the first place. Add obvious combat training to their size and it makes it look worse.
The “Wimpy” Approach to Self-Defense
So instead of taking a pretty stance and emphasizing well-rehearsed martial form, bigger guys might want to consider the option of squealing like a 6-year-old and camouflaging their combat techniques with a desperate flail of arms and legs in an attempt to get away. Below is a video of Dave Woods Sensei, 4th Dan in Can-Ryu Jiu-jitsu, demonstrating this concept (in the second example).
Someone watching the second example in action in the above demonstration is not likely to assume Woods Sensei is the aggressor, despite the fact that he’s competently defending himself. While the second example in the video is intentionally comical, it was performed to make a point. Optics are everything when it comes to witnesses who might make assumptions based on the limited amount they see of a self-defense situation, and you don’t always get the chance to explain what happened to people around you. But even if you don’t want to use the extreme example, you can always go for the more moderate approach demonstrated in Woods Sensei’s third performance in which he yells defensive statements such as “Get off me!” which would easily serve to demonstrate the context of his using physical force.
In my case, I don’t have to worry quite as much about how things look as a smaller woman defending against a larger man. People see what they expect to see, which works in my favour. But anyone who is larger that trains in martial arts/self-defense should consider how their approach would look to witnesses so they can develop their own approach for minimizing the potential backlash of witnesses, whether it’s yelling defensive statements or squealing in a way that is clearly defensive.
Now over to you. Would you be willing to squeal like a 6-year-old as part of your defensive strategy? Or do you think this approach too embarrassing to consider? Or would you go for the more moderate approach of simply yelling defensive statements. What are your thoughts?
Editors Note: For more info, read the follow up article by Chris Olson Sensei, Priming Witnesses: Look the Part When Defending Yourself.
13 thoughts on “How to Look Like a Victim for Self-Defense”
I am a really big guy and also have this conflict in self defense in the sense that, you know, for a small woman apply combat tecniques like kick or grab the groin, eye gouging, etc, could be socially accepted in the sense that all people will think she is the victim, in the oposite it’s in some sense asumed that the big guy generally not only its usually seemed like the agressor but also it has some social pressure to “fight fair”, because he is big and “dont need” to kick the groin for example.
The consecuence of this conflict, its that i impose myself to wining “fighting fair”, and for the hard situations Im trying to learn dangerous techniques that look like a “clean shot”, like blows to the forehead or the temple. Its quite ironic that i discover this blows are quite dangeorous than a groin strike.
Really brilliant publication as always, thanks.
i dont see why a smaller person would even consider attacking someone larger and stronger than himself/herself unless that person is with a group of like minded thugs or high on drugs in the first place. but it depends on who witnesses see as the “bigger stronger” individual. a 5’4 muscular guy vs the 6’5 skinny one with long legs and arms who has height and limb lenght advantage. but yes, it’s appropriate for the big one being attacked to attract attention of people around who may only be partial witnesses of the altercation, by screaming and yelling just to offset the backlash against him. that way, witnesses who may not have seen the events leading up to it, “see the whole picture” so to speak. kind of embarrassing to have to squeal like a pig, but sometimes there are no other options. and it’s still better than being seen as the aggressor even though he is just defending himself.
You would be surprised about the incidences of smaller guys attacker bigger guys. Alcohol is usually a factor. There are plenty of smaller scrappy guys who feel they need to prove themselves by taking on larger guys. I’ve seen this in action. Chris Sensei (the other instructor at our school for those who don’t know) works in security at places that serve alcohol and has seen this often enough too. It’s crazy, I know, but it happens. And, as you say, perception is everything. As long as it’s clear that you’re the one being victimized, it doesn’t really matter what exact tactics you use to make it clear. Thanks for commenting!
Don’t underestimate a smaller person. I don’t attack people, but I work in a prison and am only 5’9″. I am also 66 years old it was only a couple of years ago that I decided it was time to move from a close custody unit to a minimum custody unit of the prison. My last altercation with an inmate was when I was 63 and the inmate was probably late 20’s, 4″ taller and probably 25-35lbs heavier. It’s strange, but even though I can look at another person when things are calm, and plainly see they are bigger than I am, when the adrenalin starts I see them as being no bigger than myself. Maybe it goes back to football where I played defensive tackle on a local semi-pro team. I had to beat out and then play against players who outweighed me by 50 and even 100 lbs. I had the quickness to get past them before they could get a good block on me. On the other hand, I have encountered some inmates smaller than me, that I was more wary of than the bigger ones and I will not underestimate them.
You don’t have to squeal like a child to make yourself appear the victim/defender. You can shout things like “HELP! STOP HURTING ME! CALL THE POLICE”, etc. I think those are more beneficial to you than just squealing because someone might actually do something (e.g. call the police or step in and help you). And it becomes fairly obvious you’re trying to de-escalate the situation (telling them to stop) while defending yourself.
As for smaller people attacking bigger people, if someone was in trouble, I’d possibly step in. I’d try other tactics first (calling the cops, yelling fire, yelling at the person to stop, throwing things from a distance, etc.).
The example was an intentionally comical exaggeration designed to hammer a point home and more targeting men, not women, as was explained in the article. There were multiple examples of ways to apply the logic in the video. The second was the exaggerated version (intentionally comedic), but you’ll also note that he was starting to explain that he didn’t profess that that was they necessarily the best way to do it. He also demonstrated another version afterwards in which he shouted defensive statements, like “Get off me!” The point of the article is simply that larger men might want to use whatever tactics feels natural to them to make it clear that they are defending themselves, not to encourage squealing as the best possible method.
I think aslong as you don’t overdo (stop as soon as the agressor is incapable of harming you), don’t look like a punk, aren’t drunk or high, immidiately explain to bystanders he attacked you (or yell out during if that’s possible although personally I’d be thinking about other things) and have a clean rap-sheet you’re pretty safe even as a bigger man. A judge can’t convict you unless he has credible evidence you were the offending party and all the above elements will help you make a good case and it’s not even up to you to prove you weren’t in the wrong.
In any case I’d always try to verbally disuade an attacker (loudly) and try to keep my distance: it’s unlikely witnesses will appear during the fight that weren’t within earshot in the first place so they’re bound to hear your efforts to try to avoid the fight.
All in all I don’t think I’m ever going to resort to theatrics like those shown in the video: as an upstanding citizen I shouldn’t have to worry about law enforcement trying to nail me and even if witnesses were to only see the fight part of the confrontation a quick disengagement and explanation of the situation (along with the fact that I don’t look like a hoodlum and don’t get drunk or high in public) should still tip the balance in my favour. Agressive individuals usually have a documented history of agressive behaviour so I doubt they’re going to look very upstanding in court.
Besides acting out like that might lead to people thinking you’re insane which might not work in your favour either.
I think I failed to convey that the squealing like a 6-year-old approach was intentionally humourous in my blog post. I’ve made adjustments to the post to better convey this. That being said, you don’t always get the option of explaining that you were acting in self-defense before some on-looker decides to call the police reporting you as the aggressor unbeknownst to you, or worse yet, jump in to the other guy’s defense. It’s not just about the legalities. It’s just as much about establishing your position as the situation unfolds so people don’t get the wrong idea and treat you as the problem.
I knew it was meant to be funny yet you did ask whether the commentator would be willing to basically make an ass of himself on which I replied with a definite no. Who’s to say my last sentence wasn’t meant in the same vein as your article?
Funnily enough, I saw this video a couple of days ago where such a situation arises, where a small woman is acting aggressively to a much bigger man who is forced to defend himself: http://www.ktrh.com/pages/michaelberry.html?article=11921080
He seems to have done everything right in making sure that he is the victim, despite what this ‘lady’ and her friend are intending with her phone camera shoved in the guy’s face.
Too bad by the time I got around to viewing your video it had been removed from Youtube. Would have been a great addition to my follow up article.
This is a great post (though I’m seeing it a little late) and I can relate to the comments by “Army”. As big guy, it was always a dilemma in my school yard days that if I took on a smaller guy and won, I could be seen as a bully even though I seldom fought and only when provoked beyond my tipping point. If he won then all the more prestige for him. The security situation is different but for most of us, I think, once the shit starts, use what you’ve got to to end it and take the consequences later. I’ve found that saying in my loud, projected voice: “Don’t f**ing touch me” or get the f**k away from me diffused situations. OK swearing may not be the best thing because it can provoke the aggressive person more, but at those times I didn’t have time to think it through. Thanks for the excellent advice Lori and for your reference to Neal Martin’s Combative Mind.