Friday, February 27, 2009

Stage 3

Prevention and De-Escalation

In most cases there will be some warning before an attack is imminent. I'm not as optimistic as some authors- snipers and people who kill in the victim's sleep won't tingle your spidey-sense. Nor will some very well skilled and planned assaults and ambushes. But in most incidents there are pre-assault indicators and since the payoff for recognizing them is so high (As a friend put it, "If you talk 'em down you don't even get your feelings hurt.") it's worth understanding.

This stage has a lot in it and a lot of nuance.  What I said about no warning? That's sort of true.  There is a variation of inductive reasoning, like inductive intuition. Deductive intuition ranges from "He just said he is going to kill me and he reached for his waistband." To "things just got suddenly quiet for no reason, something's wrong."  The inductive variation is to have no clues at all but to be aware, "If I was going to pull a blitz it would be right here and I would come from right there."

So there is a level of reading terrain and possibility and an easier level of reading people and intent.  Both are good skills. Both enrich your life in other ways (that terrain reading? I've been able to guess where old villages would be.)

This leads to an array of different skills, but they go right together. Avoiding situations, staying away from bad people and bad places is great. It takes some discipline and those who most need to heed the advice (young people on their own for the first time just experimenting with alcohol, drugs and social life) are the ones least likely to listen.

Escape and evasion, looking at running away as a finely honed martial skill gets lip service, but not much practice. Do you understand the difference between running away from danger and running to safety? In a new place that has suddenly become dangerous what is most likely to be the safe way out?  There are exits you can see, are there exits you can make? In your home and workplace, what walls and objects are cover and which are only concealment?

Then there is verbal de-escalation, "talkin' 'em down."

There is no way I can do justice to this in a short post.  If you haven't read Gavin DeBecker's "The Gift of Fear" read it for no other reason than the list of tactics that he gives of how Charm Predators get close to their victims.  But that is only a piece.

Reading the threat:
Is this about status, or predation?  The body language that can make a predator look for easier prey can trigger a status fight.  If it is about status, is it internal or is the threat playing to an audience? How does the audience fit into the picture as additional threats or as resources?

The 'interview'- if a potential threat strikes up a conversation is it as a predator to gauge the prey? As a Charm Predator trying to lure the victim to a more conducive place or position for the attack? Or, in social violence, is the threat trying to show a justification to his audience or manufacture one for himself?
And, most important- is this an interview or is that stage (NOT always talking, sometimes just observing) already over and this is the distraction preceding the assault?

There are tools for all of this, tools and skills to determine what is really going on and tools to defuse the situation.  This is probably the biggest, most important and most effective skillset in all of self defense. You can't separate it from Stage Two, you need to know what you are looking for, but the skills here are wide and deep. Physical self defense is limited by the physical body. This level is pretty much limited only by your imagination.

There are kool-aid drinkers here, too.  They imagine the crazed killer of a slasher flick as the typical real villain or disdain what they call 'soft skills' because 'they don't work in the extreme, not when things go really bad.'  Sometimes that's true. Don't dismiss it. But the skills work often and they can prevent much badness and they in no way detract from or interfere with physical skills.
Sometimes the kool-aid is a different flavor. There are people, (they are rare) who will teach that verbal skills are all that you need. There are people who hear about officers shooting an enraged threat with drugs on board or mental illness and consider it a preventable tragedy, something that could have been averted "if only the officers knew how to communicate."

If someone is too enraged to listen, you usually can't talk them down.  If they are too unbalanced to understand your words, you can't reason with them.  If the knife is already going into your stomach, it is too late to form words.

Skill at Level 3 is a skill. But it isn't an answer.


ush said...

I'd like to go off on a tangent If I may because this sparked a question that's puzzled me over the years:

A Few years back myself and a some guys I was training with wound up restraining this fella who was assaulting his girlfriend/wife and daughter. Every time that we put him on his arse we'd calm him down, tell him that no one wanted to hurt him, these things happen, just relax, etc. We'd then let him up all the while reassuring him so we could walk away.

Every single time he'd realise that that we had "tricked" him into being calm, become enraged again and spaz out on us. He was giving out lots of agression, recieving none in return and still "losing" which seemed to make him angrier.

I could not remember that guys face a day later save my life. I thought I saw him around the area a few times after that but I couldn't be sure even though that confrontation lasted at least ten minutes

Which leads to my question:
This always happened to me after a fight/confrontation, I can't remember the other guys face properly, even if I can remember everything else that said and done.

Any ideas why that happens? is it just me?

jks9199 said...

It's an aspect of the adrenaline cocktail...

Rory talks about it in his book; Dave Grossman talks a lot about it. But, in a tiny nutshell, under the pressure of a real violent attack, a couple of things are happening. You're not looking at faces, you're experiencing tunnel vision, and your short term memory is working kind of like swiss cheese. The deeper into "oh shit" territory you are, the more of this is going on. With training and experience, you can widen the range of circumstances that push you into "ready to go!" without going so far as "oh shit!"

Rory said...

Ush-JKS got it right. I think that a lot of the things that are reported as sensory distortion may really be memory distortion. It's also quirky. I haven't heard of not being able to recall faces (though it is common in grieving) in autism spectrum/Asperger's syndrome it's called 'Face blindness'. Are you possibly on the spectrum?
My memory quirk is that sometimes I remember things in mirror image. A couple of times I've compared my reports to the video and every last detail is correct except that a lock that I clearly remember putting on the threat's left side was really on his right. Not every time and I haven't heard anyone else talk about it, but how often do people compare memory with video? There's a lot of stuff that we can't know how common it is until we get a much wider range of recorded experience.

One other thing. Don't know if I've written about the "point of no return" here or not. Intent, Means and Opportunity make a threat. You can be pretty sure when M or O have been taken off the table, but relying on removing Intent, changing the threat's mind is sometimes unreliable. Your experience shows that really well.

Molly said...

I had no idea that "face blindness" was part of the Asperger/Autism spectrum. I had sort of thought that I had managed to be completely off the scale. But, when I read about this syndrome (not related to Asperger's in the text I read), I realized that I absolutely have some small issue with it. I often do not recognize people out of context, unless I observe their movement patterns, or hear them speak. When someone asks what color my husband's or daughter's eyes are, I go through a series of remembered conversations that remind me of the answer. If I have not heard verbal content about a color of eye, or facial feature, I could not give a description. Maybe I'm closer to the gene pool than I like to admit. :-)

ush said...

"It's an aspect of the adrenaline cocktail..."

thing is there was no adrenaline cocktail that day, I'm kinda familiar with what that does to me and this glitch always feels somehow seperate to me. There was no real adrenaline kick that day and it still occured

I think Rory's comment that this might be more a memory distortion rather than sensory distortion is on the button. There could be other stuff that my memory is dropping but I don't notice because I have no need to recall it.

As for autism/asperegers, I don't know, I'm not very familiar with either condition

shugyosha said...

About memory: I have, usually, a very hard time remembering faces. I can remember mannerisms, and some details --of late, some more-- when I try to. I can remember faces seen on photographs.

Some years ago, I had an encounter that ended with a guy lying still. The feeling that led to it was not adrenal, more like 'deja vu', and I didn't get shakes --I walked briskly away; maybe it burned it otherwise?--.

Thing is, I could remember as much of his face as usual --not much, but...-- for some weeks --while I went into orange every time I reached the place--. Then it went 'poof'. And I _know_ my perception of the event has some issues: there are two "snapshots", before and after, with a physical distance in between that _can't_ be there. Not unless someone dragged the body several meters backward while I wasn't looking --and I was--.

jks9199 said...

There was an adrenaline cocktail; you just didn't drop all the way into the "oh shit" end. Your body recognized the situation, and your mind remained in control. Dave Grossman would say that you kept a leash on the puppy brain.

That adrenaline cocktail comes about anytime our body responds to a situation it perceives as a life/death threat. It dumps various hormones into your system to get you set for what might happen, and those preparations do things to your perceptions and to your memory. I recently had a very unexpectedly front row seat at my son's birth via emergency c-section. I remember every moment -- but I know my memory is scrambled a bit, too. (For example, I cannot remember the names of a couple of the nurses that I was calling by name!) My face was pale, my attention was locked where it was supposed to be... But, thanks to training and other experience, I could keep the focus, and maintain control rather than drop into that "oh shit" range.

I work on a police unit that does tactical entries; every time we do one, we're ramped up a bit. Training and experience let us control that, and stay in the point where that hormonal cocktail helps function better.

jf said...

I've been following your blog for a couple of months now and even though I'm far from a martial-arts practicer, I find so much of what you write fascinating and even applicable to non-combative situations.

These last two posts which touch on one's awareness and sensitivity to conditions strikes very close to home for me. I suspect that if I had been a bit more tuned in I might have avoided the trap I blogged about in Down with Swindlers.

That kind of experience almost makes the most pacifistic person want to become a guerilla.

Illogic said...

@ Ush:
It's also possible that your brain wasn't bothering with remembering his face, because it was looking for threats instead. For instance, it might have been looking at facial expressions, body language, hands, arms and feet. The things you need to keep tabs on to stay safe you might say.
But this is generally speaking, so I'm not sure it applies to people with training.
For instance, I'd say most people seeing someone with a knife looks a the knife and not their face.
Like JKS said: tunnel vision because of adrenaline and other hormones.
So, considering that being prepared helps in all emergencies, knowing what to do helps, and being used to similar situations would help too, it's probably a bit/lot different with training.
There's still the same physiological reactions though.

Sounds like a "flashbulb memory". I'm not sure though, because of the distortion, but it's worth checking out I'd say.

(I'm just a Psychology student, no expert or anything, so I'd recommend taking this with a grain of salt.)

shugyosha said...


"flashbulb memory"?

Thanks. [Ferran, BCN]

John said...

"The body language that can make a predator look for easier prey can trigger a status fight."

A little late for a comment, but I was thinking about this subject before reading this.

I feel there's a middle ground between these two that helps me stay out of trouble. I just spent the weekend alone in a relatively rough city where it was obvious that I was an outsider and I was conscious about not looking like a victim without challenging anyone.

Possibly a delusion on my part, but I think there's an art to it, one that goes beyond walking purposefully and not looking lost.