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Let’s assume that for whatever reason you failed to prevent a dangerous situation arising. All hope is not lost; you can still leave without conflict.
I often joke with my students that ‘the best style of self-defence is the 100-meter sprint’. But there is a lot of truth to it. If you are not being restrained, just run. Don’t think about it, just get out of there, fast.
If you feel uncomfortable around someone, there is a reason for it.
Well intentioned people don’t go around trying to make people feel at risk, in danger or out of place. They will purposefully avoid doing things that they know will make strangers feel uncomfortable. It is basic social etiquette.
What’s more, most people will actively attempt to make strangers feel comfortable in their presence. Giving space at the ATM, moving to either side of the elevator and choosing the urinal furthest away from other users.
We respect personal space when conversing, adhering to the social conventions pertaining to our cultural context. When people don’t do these things we feel perturbed.
To clarify, I am not suggesting that a ‘socially awkward’ person is a dangerous person. Peoples quirks make them who they are.
Some people are loud, and stand close. Others quiet, preferring more distance when conversing. Some people are boisterous, others shy. Some dress conservatively, and others outlandishly.
There is no single factor that indicates a person’s intent.
What I am saying is that if, for whatever reason somebody is making you feel uncomfortable there is a reason for that feeling.
Trust your instincts and act accordingly.
This could mean closing the door on someone shady, crossing the road numerous times to see if you are being followed, or simply running away to safety.
“We are born with our primary form of self-defence… running. If a guy pulls a knife, run away. If three guys confront you, run away. If somebody squares up on you with clenched fists looking for a fight, run away”. Jocko Willink – Retired Navy Seal and BJJ Black belt.
Besides, if you guessed wrong and the person that you just ran away from had good intentions, it is no big deal. All that happens is that a stranger thinks you are rude/odd. Regrettable I know, but the cost of not trusting your instincts could be a lot worse.
This is my advice to everyone, from the day one beginner through to the seasoned fighter. Fights are extremely dangerous and dynamic – with many unknown variables.
How many people could get involved on either side? What is your level of fighting experience? What about their abilities? Could a knife be pulled? How far are they willing to take it? How far are you? What’s your sobriety/tiredness/energy levels like today? How’s your mental state?
‘The loser of a knife fight dies on the street; the winner dies on the way to hospital’
Watch this on the reality of knife fighting.
Seriously, just run. Even if you ‘win’ the fight, you will still lose – can you deal with the potential physical, mental and legal ramifications of the conflict?
Would it be worth it? Can you claim innocence or self-defence (to yourself or the law) if running was a legitimate option?
What if you can’t run?
Obviously some circumstances don’t lend themselves to a quick sprint escape. Perhaps you are in a crowded bar or train. Maybe a family member is present and you don’t want to just leave them.
Who knows, but for whatever reason, a situation has arisen where you need to talk a person (or group) down.
You need to de-escalate the situation.
A simple apology can go a long way. Often it is better to just swallow your pride and walk away safely.
Family and friends would much prefer you at home and safe. Trust me on this, your battered ego will mend a lot quicker than a stab wound or trauma induced brain injury.
The key is to drop your ego. Yes you are getting insulted and yes you are getting angry. But think it through, is responding to the provocation worth the risk?
Two common situations requiring de-escalation:
1) Event – You catch someone’s eye and they take offence. Raising to their feet, they approach you saying ‘what are you looking at’?
Potential response - ‘Sorry, I thought I knew you. Didn’t we meet at the bar/game last night?’.
Result - You have apologised for the ‘insult’ (thus feeding their ego, giving them a ‘win’), deflected the anger and provided a logical reason for looking their way (ego appeased, they can now internally ‘justify’ your actions).
2) Event – Someone is not getting the hint that you are not interested in their advances. They are getting angrier at your refusal to acquiesce to their requests.
Potential response – Politely but firmly inform this person that you are not interested. Don’t be rude, but just be firm.
Remember, you have the right to say no to anything that you are not comfortable with.
If this person persists with their advances, inform them that you are expecting company and need to call to confirm how far off they are. Step to one side, take your phone out and start dialling. When it is on your ear, you can use it as an ‘excuse’ to step further away from the troubling person.
Result – Sometimes, people just don’t get the hint. Perhaps they are too drunk or inexperienced to read the body language of somebody who is not interested in them.
Sometimes, the only way to convey your feelings to another person is through an un-ambiguous statement delivered politely but firmly.
Use your words.
If that is not enough, use actions. Making a call suggests that you are serious that you are expecting people to arrive in the very near future. Combined with your words, consistent actions may drive the point home.
Besides, if the phone is in your hand and you feel it’s really necessary, the police are just a call away. If needed, speak to the operator in code, keeping up your ruse until you are out of earshot.
‘Hey, I am at the corner of X and Y street… Yeah I am waiting for you there. Come soon or you’ll be late! Ok, I’ll see you in a minute then’
You have just provided your location and hinted that you are waiting for them to arrive. Hopefully you have a switched on operator on the other end who could send a police unit to check up on your location.
If in doubt, call for help.
Finally, if you are getting robbed and especially if a weapon is involved, just hand over your stuff and run. Remember, whatever you own is worthless if you are not there to enjoy it.
However, if you or your body are on the line, and escape is not an option, you will have to fight and fight hard (see part three).
Regardless of the particulars of the situation itself, you need to remember what your objective is. Unless you are an on duty, trained professional, equipped, adept and experienced in conflict and conflict resolution, your goal is to leave the situation safely.
So say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done to get away.
Your safety is your responsibility and yours alone.
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Zachary Phillips is an Australian born writer, podcaster, vlogger, school teacher, mental health advocate, motivational speaker and martial artist. He uses these platforms to promote mental health awareness, personal development and self-discovery.
Coming from a troubled past, he began writing as a form of therapy. After finding that sharing his story helped others to move on and heal, he decided to release his first book 'Under The Influence - Reclaiming My Childhood' to the public.
It provides a personal and brutally honest account of the destructive dynamic that a drug affected and mentally ill father can have on his child.
Zachary gives us a sacred peek into his once shattered mind, teaching us that, even against all the odds, a broken mind can not only be healed, but can go on to flourish, inspiring others along the way. - About Under The Influence
"I hope that my work will help to reduce the stigma around mental illness and provide some guidance to those facing similar circumstances."
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