In almost every dojo, dojang and kwoon across the globe, it is preached that what the student learns there is only to be used in self-defence and violence should be avoided. It’s probably the most common mantra heard in the martial arts and most of us would agree with this philosophy, but how do you avoid violence in a practical sense? Here, in the first part of a series by Bushi Dojo’s Drew Guest, we learn the golden rules of de-escalating conflict.
How do you stop a heated argument turning physical?
It is often recommended to avoid violence, but seldom are methods and tactics provided other than the old fallback line of ‘just walk away'.
Unfortunately, as honourable as the concept of just walking away from a fight is, the nature of violence is such that simply walking away is not always a safe option. You will often need to create an opportunity for yourself to walk away. In fact, walking away should not be seen as just a rule, it should be seen as an end goal. How do we achieve this goal safely? By using the art of de-escalation: the true art of fighting without fighting.
De-escalation refers to reducing the level of intensity or danger of a situation that involves human conflict, and thus the potential for physical violence to erupt. For self-protection, we are particularly concerned with the reduction of the level of aggression, thus reducing the chance of resulting violence. For a situation to turn physically violent it first has to escalate; that is, the level of aggression has to rise. Anyone who has witnessed a real fight start from scratch will have seen this escalation process. The typical scenario will start with one person verbally attacking the other; either by accusation, insult, or threat. The second person will then respond with a greater verbal attack. It goes back and forth until one of the combatants pushes the other and so on, until fists start flying. This is only a general example but it should conjure a familiar image to those who have witnessed real-world violence, especially on the street or in a pub/nightclub atmosphere.
There are, of course, other kinds of physical violence such as muggings, rape, etc. but even these require some sort of escalation to become violent (in the physical sense). Most people require a reason or a justification to cause injury to another. The exception are those small number of people who are actual sociopaths (actual as opposed to potential; many who display antisocial behaviour are not actual sociopaths but are simply showing sociopathic tendencies). Professional predators often use escalation tactics to produce a behaviour in their victim too, which they can then justify taking the next step of physical violence.
Even in a self-defence situation where there is no option other than to fight back, you are still responsible for whatever injury you might inflict on your adversary. It may be justifiable to use force but you are responsible for the reasonable use of that force in the eyes of the law. This, along with the risk of injury to yourself and your companions, should be ample incentive to take the route of de-escalation rather than see conflict as a chance to test your physical mettle. Let's have a look at these mistakes by introducing you to golden rules of ‘TACOS'. TACOS is an anagram for the five absolute don'ts of de-escalation, which are based on Richard Dimitri's Senshido system's golden rules of de-escalation:
If your goal is to de-escalate then do not:
1. Threaten the aggressor
2. Argue or contradict the aggressor
3. Challenge the aggressor
4. Order or command the aggressor
5. Shame or disrespect the aggressor
Any one of these things can, and likely will, lead to an escalation in the aggressor's level of aggression.
Do not threaten the aggressor. For example don't give the assailant an ultimatum. This gives the aggressor what he wants, a reason to strike the victim. When faced with a threat, people will either fight or flee. Fleeing isn't going to be an option for the aggressor - he wants to fight. Even if he didn't, he can't be seen by is peers as fleeing; he is most likely trying to prove something to himself or his friends. Try to avoid saying anything that resembles ‘if you do/don't, I will'.
Do not argue with the aggressor. Avoid directly contradicting what the aggressor is saying or accusing you of. This is exactly the response the aggressor is after, now he could accuse the victim of the greater crime of calling him a liar. Even if the aggressor isn't specifically looking to escalate the situation, telling him he is wrong is something an aggressive person doesn't want to hear - no-one does, but for someone who already has a raised level of aggression, it simply results in more aggression. Once aggression takes hold, rationality tends to diminish. Disagreeing is taken as an insult that the aggressor then feels they need to defend, usually by applying more aggression.
Do not challenge the aggressor. Our scenario doesn't have an example of challenging, but a challenge is where the victim dares the aggressor to carry out a threat or to do some other act. For example, if you utter the phrase, "what are you going to do about it", you are, in essence, challenging the aggressor. A challenge can be issued in other ways as well, such as the stare-down, a come-on gesture or finger-pointing. Remember, body language is responsible for between 80 to 90 per cent of the communication process. Your gestures, posture and expressions can communicate a challenge as well; indeed all the TACOS errors can be expressed without words (more on body language later).
Do not order or command the aggressor. It's one of the most common mistakes made by all inexperienced de-escalators and is often made by the more experienced as well. That's because it is so natural to tell someone who is being aggressive to "calm down", or to "relax", and almost every time the aggressor will respond with "I AM calm, don't tell me to calm down!" or something similar and usually a little more colourful. No one wants to be told they are out of control, but that is exactly what you are telling the aggressor when you issue the command to calm down. Not only that, salt is rubbed into the wound because he has to be ordered to do it.
Do not shame or disrespect the aggressor: As tempting as it is, try not to call the aggressor names, put down, insult or imply that he is lacking or less worthy in any way. Chances are he is lacking in self-confidence and probably his self-respect is waning as well, this is why he is being aggressive towards you. A predatory aggressor, like a bully is trying to boost his own ego. Someone using aggression out of desperation will have already failed to solve the problem in other ways; he already has a diminished sense of worth. Regardless of the reason for their aggression, shaming the aggressor will only inflame the situation.
TACOS are simply things to NOT do if de-escalation of aggression is your goal. If you reverse the application, you can see how predatory aggressors utilise TACOS to escalate aggression through rising levels of verbal attack to their end goal of visiting physical violence on their victim.
So what should we do? One simple tactic, once you understand the rules of behaviour represented by the term TACOS, is to do the exact opposite, without compromising yourself and your beliefs.