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Self defense requires this key understanding

BW-FistWhen it comes to self defense, violent criminals or unsafe people fall along a continuum ranging from the difficult drunk who wants to grab your attention to the horribly violent and cruel person who will take your life…or worse.

The continuum is vast. I can’t teach even senior black belt students how to handle every situation represented on the continuum. What I can teach, however, is the key factor for when you find yourself on that continuum. That factor is relationship. A dynamic must exist — however short — in which the bad guys or gals insert themselves into your life in an unsafe or violent way. Violent types or jerks can’t do anything unless another person is the target.

The drunk or the murder can’t bother you if you aren’t there. Awareness, intuition, and recognizing patterns help you proactively avoid entering their selection process.

But even when you are in Code Red and the interaction or violence has begun, you can control and avoid worsening the situation by realizing this is a relationship. You must decide to manipulate or control it to your advantage and for your personal safety.

Dealing with a flirtatious drunk?

Alter any give-and-take nature of the conversation by ending it in a way that tells the person you have a job to do and it’s nothing personal. Learn to be assertive, parental, and as you turn away say, “Have a good day. I must get back to work now.” Be repetitive if necessary.

Dealing with an impaired or unstable person?

If one way of interacting fails try another. Alter your responses to minimize escalating the situation. You may have to agree with them on some minor point, be assertive, or become a parental voice challenging them to “give the other customers a quiet evening at the restaurant.”  And remember, your self defense is always more important than customer service. Never hesitate to get other staff or security to help.

Dealing with a bully?

Bullies can get off on fear, or they think they are doing you a favor by “toughening you up.” They want a relationship in which they control your emotions and reactions. You must find the inner strength or acting skills to thwart this dynamic. More on my blog post here.

Dealing with violent crime?

Some crimes occur in broad daylight, like a bank robbery, and those are often the ones where you should lay low.  In more personal attacks, the criminals will also want control, compliance, and quiet. When it’s just you trying to survive the moment, you may need to disrupt their need for control or work around it. Distraction may help get them off the attack track. Yelling “Fire, Fire, Fire!” may bring help. Feigning compliance for a brief moment so they think they are in control, which may allow their adrenaline to drop, could give you a moment to assess attack or escape plans.

Dealing with a dog attack?

Thinking in terms of relationship — and how to alter it — can even apply to a dog attack. Just a few hours before writing this article, a massively muscular dog came at me as I was taking a walk. Removing my baseball cap, I slapped my leg with it noisily and then pointed it menacingly at the dog. At the same time I used a command voice to tell it “NO! Go home!”

I set the relationship with the dog, not the other way around. If I had turned to run away hysterically, it would have taken me down with ease because the relationship would have been one of hunter and prey. And if not me, then the two small kids on a single bike who were right behind me.

Think Like A Black Belt: When faced with criminals and unsafe people, remember it’s a relationship. If they control the relationship, they get what they want. If you can avoid, alter, or reverse the relationship, then you mess up their plans and create opportunity to escape to safety.

As always, I can’t tell you or advise you what to do in your particular self defense situation. You are the one who will face the moment and the variables involved. I offer options, ideas, and educational material so you can make your own decisions when faced with violence or unsafe people. Each situation is unique and you must decide while in the situation.


Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck


Photo: Untitled blue

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hilary October 19, 2010, 4:45 am

    Hi Lori .. thanks for these .. I like the repetitive advice in dealing with the flirtatious drunk – they’ll be doing that ..; Your other advice is so pertinent .. it’s giving yourself time to ‘relax & breath, work out the best route, not react’ and then deal with the situation somewhat more calmly. Your dog attack .. is also very interesting .. also the two kids could easily have fallen off – becoming easier prey.

    Your ‘relationship’ advice is much appreciated .. thanks .. Hilary

  • Lori Hoeck October 20, 2010, 1:56 pm

    Hi Hilary,
    Drunks do tend to be repetitive, so giving it back to them without escalation can be helpful.
    Emergency Medical Service people are taught to assess and analyze an emergency situation, which objectives it and places responses in a more unemotional “to do” list. Sometimes that “take a step back” attitude helps dial down a situation as well.

  • Barbara Swafford October 26, 2010, 2:39 am

    Hi Lori,

    Just the other day I was watching Oprah and her and one of her guests were talking about how some children (and I’m guessing it happens to adults, too) are sexually abused repeatedly. Oprah mentioned how the abusers “know” who is an easy target based on their demeanor. The information you shared here is a great reminder how when we change the way we react (like you did with the dog), being victimized can possibly be avoided.

    I’m thinking this information could be very helpful to children, as well?

    As always, great job, Lori.

  • Lori Hoeck October 26, 2010, 4:35 pm

    Hi Barbara,
    It would be great if parents taught this information along with strong body language, awareness, and boundary setting skills. Targeting done by criminals, abusers, and office bullies all zooms in on insecurity and lack of boundary setting skills. Those things can be improved quite easily. It’s what I try to do here, so thanks for the thumbs up.

  • Davina Haisell October 29, 2010, 11:54 pm

    This was great!

    What jumped out at me here, Lori was the bit about not making it personal.

    A light turned on when I read that. When I consider this it feels like by not making it personal, the other person… and you, for that matter are disengaged from any possible confrontation.


  • Lori Hoeck October 30, 2010, 11:11 am

    Hi Davina,
    There is HUGE power to disengaging before escalation. I recommend it early and often with bad guys. Sometimes, though, you want to make them think you have taken it personally. In some cases, as with the dog, I had to create a relationship of superiority. That’s a tougher sell with criminals, and why years and years of training or on-the-street experience helps build a “Don’t dare mess with me” demeanor.

  • John Griggs November 8, 2010, 1:02 am

    I was recently taking a ride on my bicycle, and a big pitbull started chasing me. I stopped my bike, and told him “I’m gonna get your butt.” The vicious looking dog immediately wagged his tail and went into a playful mood. I played with him for a couple of minutes and left without incident. I haven’t tried this strategy yet with a human.