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ARTICLE | THE 3 P’s OF STAYING SAFE | by Orjan Pettersen

Updated: Sep 26

To stay safe in a potential violent conflict, at least where firearms are not applied, three key principles will assist you in avoiding having to fight, if that’s your goal.

These are posture, proxemics and positioning. In this article, I’ve simplified them into the 3 P’s.

The 3 P’s are all about how you appear to an aggressor (posture), how you control the space to him or her (proxemics) and how you observe space as you move safely around (positioning).

If you think about, whether the aggressor is relying on their limbs only for an attack, or indeed is intending to use an edged or impact weapon to hurt you, your immediate safety is maintained as long as they cannot reach you physically or you don’t appear to escalate the situation through your mirrored behaviour (during social violence, where the goal of the attacker agression is about securing ego, territory or status).

Let’s look at these key areas; posture, proxemics and positioning in turn.

Your posture, your appearance or behaviour towards the aggressor, can be the catalyst to violence or the deescalation signalling that determines if a fight takes place or not.

Many people know that body language makes up 60%-70% of how you are perceived and judged by others.

If words used are not congruent, or inconsistent with your body language, people will read body language as the true version of you, rather than what you say.

This applies to violent conflicts, too. If meeting social violence, or someone monkey-dancing over their ego, status or territory, it means little if your words are calming and soothing to avoid the confrontation but your arms are lifted in a ready-to-fight stance and you’re moving around like a boxer or a trained martial artist. Your body is speaking differently, saying ‘I’m ready for you, come and get it!’

POSTURE is therefore critical in staying safe, if you want to deescalate and reduce tension in a situation. Think of it as theatre and you’re an Oscar-winning actor.

Accompanying your words, you must have congruent body language. This means visible palms, an universal sign of honesty and calmness. Ideally, placing your hands up between your face and your aggressor, you’re now offering a perceived deescalation gesture whilst, especially if keeping elbows closer and in front of you, staying ready to strike fast but also having a shield in front of your face and torso.

Keeping a slightly lowered upper body from the solar plexus region upwards (will happen when you close your elbows in front of your chest) with feet pointed forward will supplement the combined body language messaging, protection and striking ability you have, as the slightly bowed upper region confirms the submission associated with deescalation but both legs remain ready to kick if necessary.

It’s theatre and you’re the lead actor. You need to learn your lines, so make sure you practice a convincing stance enough do you can automatically switch the character on whenever needed. It’s a part of your self defence arsenal.

This isn’t true submission. It’s a camouflage that disguises your readiness to strike - preemptively if needed - but is seen by both the aggressor and, equally importantly, witnesses as seeking to avoid violence.

PROXEMICS is about the space you need to control to stay safe. Generally speaking, the further away you can be from a potential attacker, the safer you are. If you can retain a ‘safer’ distance, outside of the reach of an extended weapon or striking limbs, this will at least offer you a small window of opportunity to react if the person steps in to close the distance with an attack. This is probably around 6ft for leg and hand attacks and further away if a longer impact weapon is used.

The so-called ‘social space’ of four feet or less (where you comfortably ‘invite’ friends into) is extremely dangerous ground as action beats reaction and you’ll be lucky to be able to react adequately, and consistently, against an attacker. This is especially so if you allow them into the ‘intimate space’ of around 18 inches or less. Never, ever, let a potential aggressor into the social or intimate space, and don’t enter it yourself as an intimidating movement gesture.

Proxemics is controlled by how you move and there are some biomechanics which can advantage or disadvantage you as you shift positions or relocate yourself tactically around an environment.

Always consider and practice how you move. By making smaller steps you can eliminate the time you commit to a direction, as mid-movement you may be forced to move into a different direction by the attacker, either to confront him or her forwards or to turn and run. As you physically can’t move in to different directions at the same time, smaller steps will optimise your ability to react. Your feet should move on the ball of the foot for extra mobility and ability to change direction and action. Never cross legs as you walk as momentarily you’ll be off balance and having your kicking abilities degraded.

Physiologiocally we are not designed for backwards movement and additionally it’s high-risk as people and obstacles can cause trip or fall hazards at any point. Even a smaller bump into something will momentarily draw your attention away. Always move tactically where your peripheral vision allows you to see, without moving your head from side to side as you need to focus on the threat in front of you.

The speed of your movement is also critical. If your words are soothing and your body language deescalating, but your movement is very fast and jumpy, you may just risk aggravating the tension in the situation. Move slowly and calmly.

Additionally, if you trigger faster movement in your aggressor, whilst you are also dynamic, you make your reactions more difficult as you need to consolidate two faster directions of movement at the same time if having to react to an attack or pre-emptive strike. You also remove or reduce the element of surprise where you shift gears into a speedy attack whilst the aggressor is still slow.

Lastly, POSITIONING is about how you continue to move at a safe distance, looking both to secure barriers between you and the aggressor or getting access to run out an exit. This is tactical thinking. Getting close or behind a barrier or near to an improvised weapon is simply sensible tactics. Having access to exits is even more tactically clever.

The more you’ve studied the positioning opportunities in your environment beforehand, the easier you’ll find this aspect. Even in your own home, do you know what everyday items you could immediately use as improvised weapons if need be? Have you strategically placed these? When entering a new public setting, do you check out what’s available to you and how you tactically can move there? Do you have several options? Simple everyday items, from cutlery, to stationery, to decorations, to lighter furniture can all be applied in self defence. Have you trained on these? Have you checked the exits when you entered the place you’re in? What about points of cover and concealments, especially if you need to hide? Do you have options? Even windows are exits if they can be broken. Are you thinking unconventionally?

Posture, proxemics and positioning is all about manipulating the psychology of the threat and the environment you’re in. It’s part of clever self defence tactics in the same way as your physical abilities are.

It’s time to train even smarter if you aren’t already. Remember the 3 P’s. How will you apply them, wherever you find yourself?


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