Updated: Jun 12
One of the most important self defence skills you can acquire and apply, without ever setting foot in a self defence class, is how you are perceived by a criminal perpetrator.
Presence, authority, intensity and personal power is a massive turn-off to a potential asocial or predatory criminal (someone who just wants to hurt you or take advantage of you) and to those who want a low-risk mugging target for their possessions. Read on to discover why - and more importantly, how you personally can project these qualities.
These attributes may never be seen by you as working or not - as they are preventative measures, aimed at keeping you safe prior to violence and as a deterrent when being ‘interviewed’ by criminals looking to their next victim.
It’s - to you at least - an invisible skill.
You may know someone with these ‘skills’. The ones you think, ‘I wouldn’t mess with him or her’. Or you’ve seen someone in the street or in a public or private setting and thought: ‘They’ve got authority or something about them’. Did you ever stop and think: ‘What is it with them that makes me feel this way?’
Criminals are not dissimilar to you in this respect. They manage risk in their lives. Does the victim seem an easy or difficult prospect? Will I be in danger in a physical confrontation with this person? Should I find a lower risk target?
Simply, this is what’s happening: They detect your body language. Body language is your unspoken language, evolved according to evolutionary biology before the spoken word and as such a more dominant factor in how you perceive another person than what they say or how they speak. Body language scientists say it makes up 60%-70% of human perception. It’s the most important one.
How you walk, how you posture yourself, how you use your head to look, how you position your arms and hands and how you use your face therefore becomes your first level of self defence and your lowest level of force against a criminal.
How do you create this sense of presence, power, intensity and authority through body language?
Some people can fake the basics of it, but since body language is derived from subconscious reactions in your mammalian (or animal) brain they are instinctive and less controlled by conscious thought. They largely happen in response to immediate, subconscious thoughts outside of your control, although you can become aware and correct your body behaviours. The overall control however lies in managing your feelings, the catalysts of body language.
Since body movement (language) also reversely affects the mind, you can practice having presence consciously and - through your body - train your mind to adapt to it.
Either way, whether it’s more inherent in your nature or not, you can vastly improve this through practice and training. Let’s look at how.
The first rule of presence and power through body language comes from the effect of CONFIDENCE.
Confidence - real or ‘faked’ through body language movement - is materialised through maintaining an upright posture, head lifted upwards, spine erected and arms controlled. If walking, a natural (not too slow or fast) pace and gait will underline it. Arms will naturally move and if engaged socially, be open, visible and used in congruence with the words applied. Eyes will be focused, either on the face of a person or if not in a conversation, scanning what’s around you.
Fitness training, especially where functional movement is applied, whether in Krav Maga, martial arts or other sports will help a person feel at ease in their own body and movement (as they know what it can do), helping it to be in a relaxed, comfortable and confident state.
How you look is subconsciously perceived to be an indication of your overall health. Just like in the jungle, the predator is more likely to seek out the weaker or sick animal than the healthy and strong one. Fitness matters, but not just on the physical ability or self defence side - it plays an important part in how you are perceived.
The second rule is CONCENTRATION. Remaining focused on the world around you, either on the person(s) in your presence or the environment around you, sends a message about your intensity to anyone observing you. To those you talk to, it conveys interest and focus. To others it signals mental awareness, vigilance and sharpness, all ingredients in having authority and power.
Don’t agree? Imagine the person walking with a hunched back, head dropped and dragging their feet? Now compare to concentrated alertness. Concentration is a key gesture of strength.
The third rule is CALMNESS. Feeling comfortable with yourself, confident in the face of what’s around or facing you, is a strong subconscious message to observers that you are not to be messed with - and this is then translated into a perception of power and authority.
Why? Because you must have a reason to be able to stay calm. What are the skills or experiences that make you confident? If someone has a benign interest in you, this is an attractive proposition. To those with a malign objective, it may make them question if their criminal goal is worth it.
Calmness is also an enabler of you being able to assess and apply better solutions to the problem you’re facing, especially in adrenaline-inducing violence, or just generally in life’s challenges.
How do you stay calm? Your body movements need to remain slower and controlled and your volume, tone and pitch when speaking lower and managed. If you want to exert power through calmness you need to remain in facial contact with the person, with a focus on the face, not necessarily the eyes. Without ignoring the person, retain an open and relaxed stance (if at a safe distance), breathe slowly and articulate your words clearly and controlled.
These skills can be practiced. Some professions do this all the time such as public speakers, high-end teachers or actors. You may not be in this category, but this doesn’t preclude you working on the first level of your self defence skills.
The opportunity is around you all the time. Work in the mirror on how you look. Get someone you trust to evaluate how you walk and speak. Practice in your own head how you want to be seen and what to say in potential conflict situations. Practice slow and deep breathing. Make your your fitness training involves functional movement and not just repeated and one-dimensional movement such as weight lifting or running. Read about body language and practice it. Take some acting classes - of just some good self defence sessions.
Self defence is primarily about never having to deploy your skills in anger. The first layer of your defence skills is how you are perceived as a risk to a criminal. This is an invisible skill to you, but highly visual to the perpetrator evaluating your as a victim.
Training hard means to train smart. Being clever in this training helps you, 24/7, to be seen as more powerful, with authority, confidence and presence.
Who wouldn’t want that?