Q&A: The Importance of Deescalation in Self Defense

What do you think of women’s self-defense that puts more importance in verbal de-escalation and not “making your aggressor angry” rather than defending yourself?

So much bullshit bait here. So, let’s unpack some of that.

First, that’s not a gender thing; any competent self-defense instructor will teach you to prioritize other solutions before resorting to violence. It doesn’t matter if the student is male or female, an adult or a child. Violence is the last option on the on the table.

The purpose of self-defense training is ensuring your own safety. In a turn of events that was only foreseeable by everyone with more than three functioning brain cells, getting into a fight is not a safe course of action.

If you get into a real fight against someone you don’t know, you cannot control the situation. You don’t know if their friends will join in. (And if you go up against multiple opponents you will lose.) You don’t know if they’ll pull a weapon. (If they do, your chances of surviving just dropped sharply.) If you chose to provoke them by being a smartass, there is a much greater risk they’ll escalate to violence.

Remember that phrase, “de-escalation?” There’s a point to it.

Intentionally trying to provoke someone is an incredibly stupid, and dangerous, course of action, with (almost) no upside. It’s possible to engineer a hypothetical (or fictional) situation where provoking someone has tactical value. But, that doesn’t often happen in the real world. The frequently cited, “get them angry, make them stupid,” thought process doesn’t work, because, at best, it will cause them to attack you. Worse, it increases the likeliness that they will engage more viciously. Unleash your inner asshole, and you could easily see someone who would have just taken a swing at you instead, pull a knife and shank you six or eight times, while their friend holds you down. They never would have done it under normal circumstances, but you insulted their mother, girlfriend, sister, dead dog, or favorite superhero, and it got them angry. Angry enough that they didn’t think through the consequences of their actions. They’ll have to live with that, but, that’s poor consolation if you died face down in the gutter.

Self-defense is about protecting yourself. The tools you use to do that are not limited to violence. If talking someone down is a legitimate option, it will be safer than getting in a fight. If you can walk away before you need to talk someone down, there’s less risk to you, and it’s far safer. From the perspective of a guy with a background in self-defense, if you see a situation getting out of hand, leave. Get out of there before things go sideways. The safest course of action is to avoid even getting into a situation in the first place. If you’re looking at something and think, “this could cause a problem,” and you don’t need to be there, just don’t walk in.

Self-defense is about safety, not bragging rights. If you can look at a party, and know that the mix of people and alcohol will get volatile, the best way to defend yourself is to walk away, and not engage at all.

Now, having said that, things are rarely that simple. People will go in, because their friends are there. They’ll go in because they want to. When things start getting on edge, they’ll stay, because humans are social animals, and there’s a legitimate point to not wanting to abandon your friends in a bad situation. They’ll stay because they can’t read the room, and didn’t realize a problem was fomenting. Like all forms of martial arts, self-defense will ask you to realign your instincts, or act against them. However, the social instinct to respond in kind to someone lobbing abusive comments, is actively dangerous, and getting into a fight (whether you have martial arts training or not) is very risky.

The combat element of self-defense training is real. In the US, “Self-Defense” as a martial art is based off of Judo, specifically the FBI/Police adapted form that became the norm in American law enforcement after World War II.

The combat goals of self-defense are a continuation of the overall goals. It is still focused on the practitioner extracting from a bad situation as safely as possible.

I’m going to emphasize that last part, “as safely as possible.” If you’re in a fight, it’s not going to be completely safe. The longer you stay in the fight, the greater the risk you’ll be seriously injured, incapacitated, or killed. As a result, self-defense prioritizes quickly hindering your foe and getting out. This this can include strategies like simply winding your foe with a well placed strike or throwing them to the ground, and then fleeing before they can recover. Your primary goal is to escape from the threat.

If you’re thinking of, “defending yourself,” as winning the fight, then you’re partially correct, self-defense doesn’t care about who won or lost, it is only concerned with whether you got out safely. Again, being able to say, “I won the fight,” is pretty damn pyrrhic if you’re bleeding to death from a ruptured kidney.

Self-defense is not about whether you won or lost. It’s not about asserting your ego. It’s about giving someone the tools to ensure they can avoid, or extract from, a situation while exposing themselves to as little danger as possible.

Like I said at the beginning, the question is bait. There is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about treating violence with respect. It’s worth remembering that you cannot fully control violent encounters. You can try to manage the threats, and this is part of what good self-defense training will teach you. However, you can’t fully predict what a potential threat will do, and antagonizing them will only make things worse.

So, what do I think about self-defense prioritizing non-violent approaches to potential threats before resorting to violence as a last resort? I think, when followed, it’s an approach that offers the practitioner the best chance of getting out of a volatile situation unharmed. Which, was the point.

-Starke

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