It’s funny how we like to compare everything to Hollywood flicks. Especially in the Self Defense Community: we LOVE to take examples from our favorite action movies and prove how they’re different from real-life conflict.
Well, I’ve fallen into that trap too: ever notice how the huge, over-muscular, uber-trained hero with the iron gaze always seems to get pulled into a fight he doesn’t want? It’s a staple of the genre: hero trains hard, beats bad guys, trains more, beats “badder” bad guys, until the climactic final duel with the baddest Head Thug. It’s as if the more he trains, the more he is faced with aggression and violence.
Real life is just the opposite. As a rule (and of course, every rule has exceptions, let’s not forget), people with self defense training are the least likely to get mugged, bullied or attacked. In fact, the first objective of training is to empower the trainee and thus AVOID conflict. To paraphrase Mr. Miyagi himself, “Why do we learn Karate? So that we never have to use it.”
Why? Because preparation equals prevention.
Thug Profit Maximization
The vast majority of aggressors want it easy. They are not interested in picking a fight with someone who will dig in, strike back or draw attention to what’s happening. They want someone who will go quietly, with minimum effort on their part.
In business terms, it’s just profit maximization for thugs.
I like to think of the average human predator as the lowest form there is in the animal world: a scavenger. Sure, he might have the tools to track and hunt, and does so on occasion, but he generally goes after the near-dead, easy prey. Security experts call this a Soft Target.
A Soft Target is someone whose behavior and body language signals to potential attackers, “I am worth the effort.” And believe me, most of our everyday habits just scream this message.
Obviously, outward signs of physical weakness can play a part (nobody wants to get into a fistfight with someone built like a truck) but physicality plays a more minimal role than you would think.
Three Characteristics The Predator Seeks
Research shows that the main criteria for victim selection are:
- Situational awareness
- Physical awkwardness and most of all…
- Self confidence
In the 1980s, a study by Betty Grayson and Morris Stein conducted with inmates convicted for violent crimes specifically identified these criteria, breaking them into different categories that helped them identify potential victims by honing in on weakness and submissiveness:
- Stride: an abnormally long or short stride, shuffling, dragging of the feet
- Pace: victims tend to walk more slowly and hesitantly than the flow of traffic around them
- Fluidity: jerkiness, uncoordinated movements, hands hanging limply or moving loosely as if detached from the rest of the body
- Posture and gaze: slumping posture, a downward gaze or avoiding eye contact
Walking with hands in your pockets and earphones in your ears (being “plugged in”) not only indicates situational disconnection, it also announces your inability to respond to the threat when it materializes. You may as well wear a sign than says “VICTIM. GO AHEAD.”
How to Stop Being a Soft Target – TODAY
You want to be a Hard Target, both physically and psychologically. It’s all a matter of perception – you don’t need to present as a professional ninja assassin (no hoods or nunchucks required) – rather you should give the impression that you are aware of the threat and won’t come quietly. Nine times out of ten, the scavenger will identify you as “too difficult” and simply move on in search of easier prey.
Preparation equals prevention. You haven’t even done anything yet, and you’ve avoided 90% of potential attacks.
There are so many simple things we can do to give the predator that little extra nudge to go hunting somewhere else:
- Keep your head up. Look around. The more you interact with your environment, the more you will be ready for the unexpected. And that readiness can be felt by those around you.
- Try not to fiddle with your phone or text when you are outside – it spells lack of situational awareness. You are not connected to what’s going on around you, and it shows.
- Get your headphones out of your ears! I know. The subway is boring without music. But anything that cuts you off from your surroundings weakens you and singles you out for predation.
- Be erect and confident in your stride. Movements that come from your core, where your body moves as a coordinated whole, project strength. The strong (reality or perception) are less likely to be attacked.
- Make eye contact. You don’t need to stare or provoke (that could bring up a whole other set of problems, where the attacker feels the need to “save face” – it’s the “alpha-male” scenario of wildlife aggression), but you need to exude confidence. I know. Everyone has told you to avoid eye contact so you can remain passive. “Don’t be rude. Don’t stare,” our grandmothers told us. We are not our grandmothers.
- Avoid suspicious places and always have an exit strategy.
What You Can Do In Addition
Most importantly… train. Get in shape and take control of your body. Your movements will naturally project exactly the kind of coordination and confidence we’ve covered here today.
Enroll in a self defense or martial arts class, not because it will make you a fighter, but because it will empower you with exactly the kind of mindset and attitude that may avoid the fight altogether.
The most important piece of street violence – more important than any fancy disarming technique or striking combination – is the warrior’s mindset. And if your priority is preparing for the street, really preparing, then that mindset should be the main focus of your training program.
It’s psychological warfare, pure and simple, and chances are, regardless of your physical aptitude, yours will be the stronger mind.