A little while ago, I almost knocked somebody out for being stupid. I’m going to tell that story in a bit as it’s what triggered this post but first something else:
Peyton Quinn has some excellent advice on how to avoid fight (or to avoid getting beaten to a pulp; you’re not always going to win…) In a nutshell, he isolates a couple of practical tips that are easy to understand. He says that whenever you face somebody who is getting aggressive with you or there’s a potential for violence:
- Don’t insult him.
- Don’t challenge him or accept his challenge.
- Leave him a face-saving exit.
- Show (preferably non-verbally) that you know what they’re doing and give them no fear but a relaxed focus in return.
This is some of the best advice you’ll find out there but it’s also not always as easy to pull off. There are several reasons for this:
- Lack of experience. For the most part, people don’t have enough experience handling these kinds of situations. So they don’t know how to handle the adrenal stress, can’t come up with a good solution or get the timing wrong.
- The lizard brain takes over. You default to some primitive reactions, once again because you lack the experience to control them or perhaps because you don’t understand that another part of your brain is now in the driver’s seat. You think you’re thinking and acting rationally but reason and common sense already checked out and are only coming back once you calm down after it is all over.
- Ego takes over. How dare he challenge/insult/threaten you like that! You’re not gonna stand for that, you’re gonna give him a piece of your mind. At which point fists start flying… You have to want to de-escalate a hostile situation. If you’re spoiling for a fight, you’re bound to get one.
- It’s a bad day. Sometimes, Mr. Murphy comes along and you are faced with potential violence at the worst possible time: you’re tired, you’re sick, you weren’t paying attention, etc. For all sorts of reasons, you’re not on top of your game and fail to manage the situation correctly. Not because you don’t know how but because for some reason, other factors made it more difficult than on any other day. And that’s all it takes for things to go haywire.
We’re all only human and prone to make mistakes but if at all possible, you should always try to avoid getting into a fight. Simply because there is so little to gain and a lot to lose. Granted, sometimes you have no other option but to fight but in the vast majority of situations, you can manage to avoid trouble when it comes your way. So it’s with that in mind that I’d like to add some additional practical tips to those Peyton already gave.
- Don’t raise your voice or shout. Right up front, I have to tell you that there are exceptions to this guideline but in many cases, raising your voice or starting to shout at the person who is in your face will only escalate things. Shouting and speaking loudly is an excellent way to trigger an adrenal response and if somebody is already getting agitated, this may be the last little push he needed to swing at you. Remember the last time somebody was yelling at you? How did it make you feel? Calm and relaxed? Wanting to buy him/her dinner? Not very likely… So consider the volume at which you speak when things start going sideways. Louder isn’t always better.
- Don’t get too close. One of the best ways to set off an explosive situation is to step into somebody’s personal space. It feels threatening to the person you do it to and if he’s already looking for an excuse to punch you, that will do the trick. What’s more, you are moving into a distance where you’re very much at risk of getting knocked out. More on this in my “How not to block a punch” post.
- Don’t touch him. I have a very simple rule, nobody but my girlfriend gets to touch me at will. Anybody else needs to earn that privilege. If I don’t know you and you touch me, then I’ll act on it. What happens next depends on how you made contact and the context we’re in, but there will be an action on my part. With thugs and criminals, a touch is often used as a test to see if you’ll defend your boundaries or as a setup for an attack. Either way, the result of me allowing that touch is something bad for me, so I prefer to act on it. This doesn’t mean you have to go ninja-commando on somebody tapping your shoulder to give you back the wallet you just dropped… Part of self-defense training is learning to react appropriately to situations and scaling your reactions up or down is a skill you should focus on. That said, no matter how much you want to poke your finger in somebody’s chest or make contact in any other way, don’t. It is a surefire way to start a fight as it will invariably trigger a response along the lines of “Don’t you fucking touch me!” and then it all escalates from there.
- Don’t test him. When you meet somebody who obviously has some experience with violence, you might feel inclined to test him a little bit to see if he really knows his stuff. It’s beyond me but I’ve seen this happen too many times to discount it as anything but a very real issue for some people. My guess is it comes from a place of insecurity: they aren’t sure they can “take him” so they decide to test the waters. If you meet a capable person on a bad day, he might decide to take you up on it in the blink of an eye. If not, you just pissed somebody off, somebody who’s good at breaking people like you. So don’t move into people’s blind spots to see how they react. Don’t pretend to go for a weapon to later claim you went for your wallet. And especially don’t throw a couple of “playful” punches at them to see how fast they are. You might not like what happens next.
In many ways, these tips are just common sense. It’s not rocket science, nor am I saying anything revolutionary. But it might serve as a reminder to those who, for whatever reason, are a little out of tune with the realities of violence and how fights actually happen.
Now as promised, the story about what triggered this post:
I went to a birthday dinner at a Spanish restaurant in Antwerp and arrived on time for our reservations. They still made us wait for an hour and by that time I was hungry (hadn’t eaten since noon) and tired (worked all day). The restaurant was very loud (for a large part because the owner was yelling all the time) and crowded. A final negative is that the red light district is nearby and some questionable people were in the crowd. Not really an ideal setting for me to be relaxed…
As I often do, I bring up the rear while we walk over to our table and when we get there, I wait for everybody to take his place. Suddenly, I feel somebody grab my upper arm. The movement is too fast and the grip too hard to be innocent. Instinctively, I step away, start spinning to face the threat and work on breaking the grip while launching a counter strike. The only thing that stops my punch is the look on the guy’s face: big eyes of confusion and sudden fear.
Turns out it was the owner of the restaurant who wanted to stick the menus underneath my armpit so he wouldn’t have to come over anymore. Which is perhaps the dumbest and most client-unfriendly thing I’ve ever had happen to me in a restaurant, but I digress.
Here’s the thing: I was tired, hungry and starting to get into a bad mood. While part of my brain acted on instinct, another part recognized in time that he was not a threat and stopped me from throwing that punch. But as soon as that happened, another part started screaming “Hit him! Hit the bastard for pulling this crap on you!” This only goes to show that I’m just as human as everybody else (which I already knew by the way…)
After the adrenal dump wore off, I started thinking about what happened: The owner violated all of the tips I just gave you:
- He was shouting when there was no need for it and I’d already been enduring that for an hour while waiting for our table.
- He was standing way too close to me, which I found out when I spun to strike him.
- He touched a patron, which is a big no-no. What’s worse, his grip had the level of strength you put into taking a drunk outside. That was way too much force if his goal was just to give me the menus.
- This leads me to the final conclusion that we wanted to test me. What gave it away was his “apology” of how a strong guy like me can carry those menus easily.
No blood, no foul as a friend of mine likes to say and the owner probably thinks I’m an asshole. Which is fine by me as I’ll never set foot in his restaurant again.
Wrapping things up, I’d just like to point out that there are many more tips you could use to avoid a fight but they aren’t always as practical because they need a long explanation. With this post here, I wanted to keep it short while also showing how they apply to my incident with the restaurant owner.
If you have other tips you’d like to share, write a comment here below. Looking forward to reading those.
UPDATE: Peyton left an answer in the comments here below and it’s filled with great information. I used it as the basis for Four practical tips to avoid a fight, Part Two
Never a Dull moment when t the idiots with low self esteem have to feel like testing people to boost their ego. Sometimes it’s really hard to get Out of a fight. Over all, it takes a tremendous amount of self control sometimes to wall awAy from a fight. In the end it truly I not worth the hassle.
All good advice, I’ve had those four starting tips in my head every time I’ve been in a situation (thankfully not very many) with the potential of going physical. This is just my two cents, but on the topic of a face saving exit, if you’re a little guy like me and don’t look intimidating at all, playing the “Alpha male, you have nothing to gain from beating me” works pretty well when someone starts Monkey Dancing or Educational Beatdown.
You can train to restrain the ego, and recognise adrenal stress, but I was just wondering if there’s any way to figure out when lizard brain starts taking over?
That’s a good point Mark, feigning like that can be a great way to short circuit the cycle of behaviour. Using the principles of the ‘Fence’ is also great and I think you’re less likely to be attacked if you do let them know that you know the pre-fight ritual and are aware of their tactics. It’s all part of hard targeting. Great article once more Wim, thank you.
This is a complex topic and the comments section is not suited for it but yes, I think you can recognize the lizard rearing its ugly head. One way of looking at it is this: when you are in a situation where violence is about to burst out and take the decision to act, without being able to see several steps beyond what happens right after you do so. Then the lizard is making you do stuff your conscious, rational mind might not agree with if it were in a position to stop you.
That’s one way of looking at it, there are others.
Hope it helps.
Thanks Wim, You’re right it’s a really big topic. Could you post your thoughts on it sometime? It’d be good to get the perspective of someone who’s had experience dealing with it.
I’ll put it on my list of posts to do. That said, it’s a really, really long list so I have no clue when I’ll get to it.
Nicole S. says
Nice summary! Thanks.
Very recognizable indeed. I had a similar incident while driving the other day. Me and my wife were in a cue when all of the sudden a mercedes came from the side, blocked us and the car that came from the other side. That maneuver was bad enough. But when he turned left he (an older man by the way) gave me the sort of cow-like look as if to say : ‘And what are you going to do about it ?’. Especially this last look almost cut if for me but realizing how I was building up my anger I tried to calm down. So let me add giving defying looks to someone who is turning angry.
Been there too Steven. People have this sense of safety when they are in their car, thinking they can get away with everything then. They don’t seem to realize that following them until they have to leave the car is not all that difficult. One day, if they keep acting like that, they’ll find this out the hard way.
Peyton Quinn says
Very well done here Wim and a real service to those who read it and take it to heart.
You are sure right its the ‘adrenal dump’ that often takes away people’s ability to think rationally and avoid the fight. They thus show ‘fear’, or ‘denial ‘or ‘anger’ all of which are so closely realted as to be at times ‘inseperable’. None of these serve them either.
Only ‘measured assertivenes’ will serve them and its also the only one here that is really a ‘choice’ too of the ‘rational mind’. Because Fear, Denial and Anger are not choices that we conscioulsy make at all, they are ‘knee jerk’ adrenal driven responces.
But the person of experience, well he or she has expereinced all this before and learned to deal with that adrenal dump and thus show no fear, avoid disrepecting the verbal aggressor, and yet make it clear (non-verbally is best) that he or she still knows exactly what the aggressor is up too.
It is all part of the same whole, if the aggressor sees no fear or denial or anger he knows his attempt to ‘impair the person’s ability to defend’ has largely or entriely failed. He also knows (from experience) that the only people who can behave this way under his “woof” are ‘ the experienced and capable’ and thus too dangerious for him to play his game with.
Everything in your responce must be CONGRUENT and ‘say the same thing’ though.
This means your eyes, face, body carriage, voice, tone etc. This relaxed but focused congruence alone will not go ‘unobserved’ by most human predators. They are constanly evaluating their prey’s possible danger to them. This is simply because they are afraid they might ‘pick the wrong guy’.
This is why it is so important not to ‘insult’ or ‘disrepect ‘ them too. If you do so you trigger their deepr insecurity and feelings of ‘personal worthlessness’ and thus maybe force them to attack physically. You also make it harder for them to disengage with saving of face if you are so foolish or ‘out of control of yourself’ that you do challenge or insult them.
Think on this I have had large scary guys loom over me and run their verbal abuse and threats (the “woof”). But when I responded as I outline, well they might not of backed of right away, but sometimes here is what occured.
They would all of sudden stop their ‘woof’ smile or even laugh and say something like “I was just jerking your chain Bro’ …to see which way you’d jump, your’ Ok” and then walk off.
But if I had disrepcted them or insulted them then I would have denied them that honorable and ‘easy face saving exit’. A lot about real world self-defense is about giving yourself more and even ‘new’ ‘options’ (through training physical and mentaly) but it is also about “knowing the ways of the enemy’ not closing off options in a crisis too.
Half my RMCAT course is spent ‘role playing ‘these ‘woofs’ situations under real adrenal stress and practising how to deal with them efffectively and thus avoiding the fight all together.
A great analysis on your part my friend and a very good and useful article you have presented here sir. Peyton Quinn
Thanks Peyton! I just used your comment here for a follow-up blog post: https://www.wimsblog.com/2012/10/four-practical-tips-to-avoid-a-fight-part-two/
I have to congratulate you on your restraint and abilty to pull a punch. The timing of this blog is very personal for me, as recently (yesterday), an aggressive friend of a housemate of mine, came into our house for a visit. Despite numerous, previous warnings to my housemate that this guy is aggressive and confrontational (he has a bad reputation), not to mention drunk a lot the time my housemate continually ignored my advice. Lo and behold, yesterday I was sick, and this prize idiot starts mouthing off aggressively because I innocently misunderstood a question he asked me, and we were off…lots of fronting, bad language, him storming off and a very bad taste left in everybody’s mouth. Sometimes it is very, very hard to turn the other cheek and diffuse a situation. There are some very, very pushy, aggressive individuals out there that can effortlessly weasel their way into your mind, not to mention your personal space. I’m ambivalent about a lot of self-defence advice offered partly because they seem to lack crediable, realistic ways of protecting ourselves mentally from pushy idiots. Good news – the guy is barred from the house.
No blood, no foul Sean. That’s the best possible outcome. Though it would have given instant gratification to punch that guy, it is unlikely that you could have achieved this outcome then. It sucks to go through the adrenal dump and not be able to use up that energy but hey, you’re in one piece and the guy is never coming back. I’d consider that a win. :-)
Great post Wim. I posted it to my Your Warrior’s Edge facebook page.