By Matthew Schafer
Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved
One of the fundamental things that I was taught when I was a young student, and which I make sure to pass along to my students, is that the martial arts have two fundamental purposes: 1.) to teach you how to injure people, and 2.) to teach you how not to have to injure people. Always stressing the latter, de-escalation techniques are something I spend quite a bit of time on with my students.
For the most part, de-escalation, as a concept, is pretty simple. If you’re in a situation where there is no immediate threat you focus on taking the emotional energy out of the situation so you can once again communicate (keeping in mind that 80% of violent assaults and murders happen during or just after an argument). In instances where an immediate threat is present, such as being approached by an individual you feel might become violent, then a more aggressive technique is normally used where you establish a boundary, become assertive, and use body language, voice, and verbiage to let that individual know that if they don’t leave you will defend yourself. Typically that is the go-to technique but in certain instances where you have the ability to leave it is best to take a submissive approach and get out of the area as soon as you can.
A student recently asked me what technique would I use if I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t leave, I was outnumbered and perhaps there were multiple weapons so fighting back doesn’t seem plausible, and the situation was escalating and about to become violent. It was stressed that in this scenario I could not escape and both fighting back as well as doing nothing would probably result in me being seriously injured or killed. He said he saw a guy in a bar get into this exact situation where 5 large drunks backed this guy into a corner, yelled at him, threw glass bottles at him, and ended up nearly beating him to death (he assumes, he and everyone else left the bar before that point).
In this situation there are a few things I would recommend. The first is to never get into this situation. If you pay attention you can see most situations start to build up and you can leave the area before things get to this point. However, if the situation escalated so quickly you found yourself caught off-guard and in this situation the first thing I’d do is ask myself “are these guys about to attack me or are they trying to scare me?” If I believe they are just trying to scare me I’d go with the assertive body language and voice to let them know that I’ll fight back if they come closer and in most cases that does work.
However, with there being 5 of them the pack mentality can set in so even if they don’t plan on doing anything more than scaring me if one of them was to make a move the others would probably join in. If I felt they were about to attack the first thing I’d do is I’d plan my attack. I’d quickly try to assess which one is the leader (because if I take him out first the others may stop), where are their hands (are they in fists, clutching weapons, in pockets about to pull out weapons?), where are my exits, do I have any weapons on me, are there any environmental weapons I can use (chairs or other objects I can grab to use as a weapon or force them into to trip them, objects I can place between me and them, or nice hard surface like a doorframe where I can grab one of their heads and slam it into).
Now that I believe they are about to attack me and that I have to act the first thing I will probably do is to drop their guard and make a stupid mistake; the easiest way to do that is to act submissive to draw them in. I will do the opposite of sticking my check out and puffing up, I’ll curl my back look down and to the left and act as if I’m scared. If a second before the guy was going to pull his gun and shoot me there is now a good chance he’ll walk right over to me giving me an opportunity to disarm him and take him out.
Acting submissive will normally make them think they’ve won so typically they will let their guard down and give you an opportunity to set them up for a surprise attack. If I have a weapon like pepper spray I’ll use my cowering movements not only to lure them in but also to conceal grabbing it and as soon as they’re close enough I’ll hit them all with a stream of pepper spray and run like hell.
If one of them has a weapon either in their hands or sticking out of their pants and they get close enough to me I might disarm them and use it against them.
Perhaps I see that just to my left there is a table and chairs so as I act submissive I move to my right to place the group in front of those chairs so that if I suddenly grab the closest guy and shove them into the rest of the group they’ll have something to trip over and hopefully injure themselves.
A decent technique that works very well when dealing with a group that is standing close together is to let them get close enough and the use the heel of your hand to strike the closest man under the nose and then and then drive forwards. As soon as you strike him his body will loosen and when you drive him back into the group he’ll hit the guys behind them and off balance them and as you continue to drive forwards with all your body weight you can actually drive him backwards through the entire group and then as soon as you’re clear you can run like hell for the exit. This technique is all about physics so it doesn’t matter if the group is 3 people, 30 people, or 300 people once the dominos start falling, so to speak, you can escape.
However, we’re supposed to be talking about de-escalation and there is a last-ditch de-escalation technique that works very well but I would only use it as a last resort.
If the other de-escalation techniques don’t work and you feel you’re about to be attacked and for whatever reason you can’t or won’t fight back there is one technique that does work very well and could save your life. The technique is to do their job for them but only better.
If someone is going to attack you or bully you they’re trying to demean you to a certain level. So, for example, let’s say that on a scale of 1 to 10 that measures you’re self-worth and social standing you’re at 10 which is the normal everyday rating of a typical person. If that person just wanted to kill you they would just walk up and kill you and you probably wouldn’t see it coming, so if a group is ganging up on you and cornering you they’re trying to assert their dominance and take you from a 10 down to a 4 (to pick a number at random). By intimidating you and beating you they are trying to teach you a lesson, make you realize you’re not as good as them, and lower your social standing in the larger group.
Here is the trick, and again only use this as a last ditch effort. If that group wants to bring you down from a 10 to a 4 you then turn on yourself and bring yourself down to a 2. If someone decides that they want to make you look scared in front of a group in order to bolster their social status but as they begin to intimidate you drop to the ground and beg him not to hurt you you’ve just done his job for him. He wanted to make you look scared and now you’re cowering on the ground...at this point he has got more than what he wanted from you and he never had to touch you.
If you do this, and bring yourself down to a 2 when their goal was to get you to a 4 they will quickly realize three things: 1.) you’re probably crazy, 2.) you’re pathetic, 3.) their job is already done. They’ll see that you’re so pathetic they will just walk away and at the most they might hit you once or twice for principle but it won’t be full force.
To make sure you truly understand the concept lets flip this around; let’s say you’re walking down the street and this guy who is half your size suddenly turns and hits his girlfriend. You become outraged and since this guy is half your size you have no problem getting in his face and bullying him to show him what it feels like. You approach him, shove him into the wall, and you get into his face yelling at him about what a piece of shit he is. You’re just about to give him the back of your hand when suddenly he throws his hands up in front of his face, drops down to the ground, and starts crying and begging you not to hurt him. Now what do you do?
Maybe he starts calling himself stupid and worthless and starts to slap himself across the face; perhaps he hits himself hard enough to give himself a bloody nose; maybe he starts crying and urinates in his pants. Maybe he pulls out a pocket knife and starts to cut his arm while yelling how stupid he is.
The point here is that if someone is trying to bring you down to a 4 and you turn on yourself and bring yourself to a 2 or even a 0 there is nothing left for them to do. They’ll see you as sad and pathetic and even if they were amped up to start hitting you and bringing you down to a 4, now that you’re a 2 you’ve taken all the fun out of it and are suddenly not worth their time.
Due to the extremes and the fact that you are debasing yourself I would only use this technique as a last ditch effort but if it is something that needs to be done it does work very well.