ARTICLE | SUCKER-PUNCHED! | by Orjan Pettersen
Updated: Feb 10
You never saw it coming. Or at least, that’s what you told yourself. A sudden swing of the right hand from below and up and the crunch onto your jaw sent you tumbling back and down. With several broken teeth and fractured facial bones, your face felt like it was going to explode...
The truth is that in most cases, violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is preceded by signs, messages of the upcoming brutality that’s to follow.
The skill you need, if you have no other route of avoidance or method of deescalation, is to read, understand and hopefully react - ideally preemptively - to these signs.
If you can’t dissect or comprehend them, you’re at a disadvantage from the start.
Spotting an adversary’s ‘tells’ or indicators of an upcoming attack is not always easy, but with knowledge and observation you will know what to look out for.
A shoulder dropping slightly, cocking the arm for the strike. Tensing of the neck preceding an attack. Nostrils opening up for air, or the lips or eyes closing for focus and concentration.
These can be very subtle. Even easier to spot, and where you can read and absorb visual signals in a high-adrenaline shock and stress situation, is the factor you’re looking out for.
Your looking to see CHANGE.
Change relates to movement or differences in energy. Some of the more usual changes can be:
A person standing still, suddenly moves or shifts the weight, maybe even stepping forward or back to set up the now-rear arm for a punch.
The person changes their rate of speech, or tone, pitch or volume of their voice. They become quiet after shouting, or loud after speaking calmly.
A person is looking away (which loads and clears the shoulder for a strike) or they suddenly focus on you after looking away, to aim for the upcoming strike.
The person changes the breathing. Often untrained people will start to breathe shallow and fast in the upper chest whilst trained individuals will breathe slowly and deep, applying their skills from training.
A person changes face colour, either going pale (adrenaline-induced constriction of blood vessels) or red (where vessels dilate). Either way, look out for changes.
The person changes their posture. Again, untrained people tend to puff their chest out and arch their spine to appear bigger (it really is a monkey-dance at this point) and trained individuals lower their center of gravity and closing down their chest and keeping a straight spine.
Some of these appear slightly contradictory - pale versus red, puff out versus closing in chest, but these are purely reactions to training or lack of training. An amateur will try to be big and loud. A skilled person will start to apply the calmness of years of training.
Either way, you’re looking for change in the person.
If you’re in a monkey-dance or in a situation of danger, the most important part is to recognise where you are and not deny the reality in front of you.
Most people are not mentally prepared for violence and with the stress and shock will hope and wait that the situation simply goes away with inaction and time. This is a normal human reaction to stress and danger. If the danger hasn’t killed you yet, and non-action or the status quo has kept you safe so far, the brain is reluctant to change this position. It has worked so far, right? This inaction can be the worst enemy of your survival, yet survival demands you act. Your mind is not your best friend sometimes.
You need to respond appropriately to defend yourself. Distance and avoidance is your safest option, as any conflict, however skilled you are, will risk life and limb.
Even if you ‘win’, your actions - verbally or physically - may not assist you in a claim of self defence and you may be subject to either criminal or civil law repercussions afterwards.
Removing yourself from the situation , even if your ego and pride takes some damage, is a short term price to pay versus the potential long term implications of violence.
If you simply can’t, as exits are not accessible or you are tied to the geography by third parties you cannot leave behind, recognising the ‘tells’ of upcoming violence can be a life-saver for you. Preemptive action, after giving verbal messaging, that protects you in later criminal or civil law investigators may be your best option.
Later, in hindsight, you can analyse and make sense of the situation you are in. Whilst in it, never forget to focus and analyse the person(s) facing you.
Once sucker-punched, you’ve got a hell of long way to go from your position on the floor.
Don’t be there. Fight smart - which mostly mean never having to fight in the first place.