ARTICLE | PRINCIPLES OF DE-ESCALATION | by Orjan Pettersen
Good self defence training will teach a number of elements to deploy to not having to use physical or violent skills. Situational awareness is key. The ability to simply run away at speed is another. Superior thinking and excellent movement with a gear change are amongst the very best self defence skills you can have.
There may be times where these skills do not apply any more. You’re already too late. The situation was unforeseen or you failed to read it. The perpetrator(s) already have you in sight, with exits unavailable, or already engaged in early conversation with you.
Like in many areas of life, there aren’t just a single solution or formula to apply. Just like any health issue, the remedy will differ, or like handing an employee issue at work, the character will determine your best approach to solve it.
Handling prospective violence is no different. The solution to a prospective monkey dancer will be different to a predator, and again, a ‘charming’ one is not the same as an intimidating one.
That said, there are certain principles that apply in how you at this stage help to prevent further escalation of a bad situation, whatever type of criminal you’re facing.
Let’s cover some of these. They are, just like striking skills or techniques of defences, something you need to train and pay attention to, in order to develop and perfect.
Firstly, we live in a visual world and we are visual animals. This means people make a judgement of you based on how you look. It’s a fundamental principle in body language, constituting some two-thirds of how someone builds an impression of you.
The truth here is that you can deescalate prospective violence by how you present yourself. We’re not here talking exclusively about how big or strong you look. That’s an aid, but the key here is: presence. You can’t present yourself as a counter-violence threat is you don’t have it. What does this mean? Being ill-at-ease, uncoordinated or clumsy will negate any size or skills you have in the eyes of the predator. Being athletic and moving freely tells a different story, even subconsciously; you’re trained (in something) and carry some confidence as a result. Your target value just dropped considerably and the risk to the criminal is elevated.
So get in shape. Make sure you can move easily in whatever training you do. Practice flexibility and movement. Tune up agility and grace. This discipline and lifestyle change will help your life in every aspect of it.
Secondly, your face and voice is an extension of your body language. We’re not simply talking words here, but speed, pitch and volume. Adrenaline makes the pitch higher or squeaky. Stress can make speed stop or go much faster. Volume can just disappear, just like discomfort triggers a flight response physiologically.
The presence in the earlier point had less or little value if not backed up by your face and voice. Staying calm and collected (as much as you can) will help you immensely.
Those who have practiced time and time again in systems like Krav Maga (if your training contains this element - it should..), will practice handing the pressure of prospective and unknown attacks, different types of predatory or social violence behaviours and repeatedly embedding your movement, body language, facial expressions and voice in response.
Practice this in your training. Record yourself, listen to your voice. Check your face in the mirror. Get friends or family to feed back what you look and sound like, especially when you ask them to do something. Does your voice and face back up your physical presence?
Thirdly, adapt to the the world you’re in. Many of us will be somewhat different at work to how we deal with family and friends at home or in social settings. That’s natural. Different situations demands different parts of us.
Entering a potential different or threatening environment is the same. It requires a switch-on to the self defence practitioner in you. This could be the unfamiliar drinking place or neighbourhood you just entered, the new situation brewing in a social or public setting you’re in or the stranger who just appeared to connect with you in a context you’re uncomfortable with. Deescalation starts straight away, maybe even before you’ve been personally engaged by anyone.
The first principles are to and observe and show comfort. Who are the people who could provide trouble? What’s the emotional vibe of the place, relaxed or with potential for trouble? What about the physical environment, does it provide exits, defensive opportunities or offensive weapons to use? How are people behaving?
Not making yourself stand out and being noticed, to avoid unwanted attention - assuming you’re already dressed to blend in and you naturally (socially, demographically) belong there is about being comfortable with other people’s behaviours. Not imitating them, but by operating at a slightly lower level.
Are they loud? Be slightly less loud. Are they quiet? Be slightly less quiet. Do they stand far apart/close? Do the same, just slightly less. Be invisible - if you don’t want to stand out.
Scanning a room to learn about it a skill you can learn - by training and by habit. Here’s a good way of doing it.
For people, look at each person in turn, discreetly. Scan those who interest you up and down, once only. Do not keep eye contact. When you move from person to person, move eyes sideways, not down (it shows submission or weakness) or upwards (arrogance or aloofness). If you’re noticed scanning, just gently nod your head, then move your gaze sideways and away, so no challenge is provided by you, or accepted. Scan for interesting body language, human emotions and weapons. Who are the potential trouble-makers?
For the environment, check out some basics. Where are the exits - or potential exits? (An alarmed emergency exit or even a breakable window is an exit if you want it to be). Are there CCTV cameras that later could be useful to you? What’s your best position to sit to observe and get access to exits? What are the barriers you can use if in trouble? Do you have access to improvised weapons close to you? What is your flight plan A and B? What is your fight plan - how, where and with what?
If problems arise or trouble brews, just leave. Keep your mouth shut. Walk out quietly, politely and safely. If you’re singled out, a monkey dance is being set up, just follow the same principle. Leave, politely. Show no challenge or tension. Say nothing or as little as possible. Show your hands, palms out and up, and try to walk out without any antagonistic responses. If you’re blocked, explode through it and run. Self defence disciplines like Krav Maga will give you options on how to do this.
Never being a victim of violence is all about skills, but the physical ones are applicable in maybe only 5% of any potential conflicts. 95% are covered by not being ‘interviewed’ and picked as a victim because of presence and body language. Situational awareness will eradicate much of the rest. Deescalation will remove a lot if you genuinely and skilfully apply it.
Make sure you train the 95%. No athlete would only ever train on a single digit % of their sport.
Why would you?