In a general sense you can categorise interpersonal violence into three broad areas of concern;
- Seen-Threats (can be Potential or Active),
- Unseen-Unknown Threats (are Active),
- And Unseen-Known Threat (Has potential to become Active).
Seen-Threats is when you have some idea that a potential threat exists to you in a particular environment that you find yourself in (e.g., someone just hurled an insult at you, or someone actively engages you by using violence). In Seen-Threats that have the potential to become violent, you may have the opportunity to observe pre-fight/violent cues, which can aid in your ability to prime yourself for the potential impending danger. Seen Threats can turn into Active Threats that you have no choice but to engage in, but they can also be a potential threat, that may or may not become active (i.e., the person hurling insults at you, and threatening, changes his mind and walks away).
Then there are Unseen-Unknown threats. These are threats that occur without you having any previous indication that there is a potential threat to your safety (e.g., an ambush or surprise attack). These will take the form of an Active Threat, that you will have to engage with. In other words, you had no idea it was going to happen, but now that it has, you have to deal with it.
Unknown-Known threats, are threats that you are not sure may happen to you, but either through crime trends, or previous history, you are aware that they may happen. For example, in South Africa car hijacking is huge. While I have never been hijacked (Unknown), the risk is still high, it happens often (Known) and as such, I need to take precautions in order to not become a victim. While I don’t know if these threats will materialise, I can apply counter measures to reduce their chances of happening. As a side note, I learned this early on in the military. As part of the VIP Protection Wing we were told often, just because you are body-guarding a Principle doesn’t mean they won’t get assassinated, but your presence makes it less likely.
Prediction May Be Fleeting, But Control is Still Possible
While it may be difficult to predict with any real certainty how an attack will unfold, you do have some measure of control over how you respond once the attack has been initiated. While for example you may find yourself being caught of guard by someone attacking you, once the attack is on, you are at least now aware that your are in danger (of course there may be varied degrees to this awareness i.e. are you still fully conscious)?
While in this example you may not have had any opportunity to pre-prime yourself for a potential threat to your safety (outside of training in self-preservation skills), once the fight is on, what you do next, and how you respond to what I call the In-Contact Response Cycle Phase of survival will define the outcome.
One can think of an actual fight as having three possible outcomes,
- You are able to eliminate the threat before a fight even kicks off proper (e.g., You can remove yourself from the environment before physical violence occurs, you use Verbal Jiu-Jitsu to talk the threat down or if it has gone to blows, you could knock the assailant out before it ends up in an all out fist fight).
- Your assailant eliminates you before an all out fight happens (e.g., you get knocked out or killed. Obviously this is not what you want).
- Things don’t go to plan for either of you, and you both find yourself in an extended all out fight (far more likely and common. Here you still can win the fight, but you can just as easily loose).
It is scenario 3 from above, that this article is focused on.
In Contact Response Cycle
Let me set up a scenario: You are walking down the street. Suddenly, out of nowhere, and without provocation a man begins to attack you with a barrage of punches (Unknown-Unseen Threat). Your initial response may be to flinch, and if you don’t immediately knock him out or if you are not immediately knocked out yourself — you will then find this guy all over you trying to seriously injure you. Said another way, you were caught off guard, you were attacked, but now you find yourself in an extended fight for your life.
I think this above ‘scenario’ is far closer to the reality of fights than what is often portrayed by ‘self defence experts’. How they often present it, is that you are suddenly attacked, you respond with a move, you are then immediately able to take control of the situation, deploy aggressive counter measures, and see your assailant laying in the dust (i.e., Scenario 1 from earlier). I think this kind of scenario, which I would argue makes up almost the totality of self defence training rarely EVER happens this way.
So while things like pre-contact violent cues, pre-emptive striking, the flinch response to a conversion etc, are all important aspects of self-preservation, and are necessary to be understood, to be examined and trained – I would argue, that what is often over looked is the In-Contact Response Cycle. And you guessed it, just like the rest of the concepts mentioned, you have to train for this too. You are not going to just magically know what to do.
I am going to reiterate for affect and focus: You are walking down the street, someone attacks you by surprise, and like it or not (if you not already knocked out) you will find yourself in the midst of the fight (i.e., in the In-Contact Response Cycle). What you do from that moment forward will decide victory or defeat. I am going to say this too, it will be very rare, that you are able to eliminate a threat immediately ( even if you knew the threat was about to attack you). You will likely find yourself in the fight so to speak, trying to both survive, while trying to neutralise the threat at the same time.
So unless you were immediately knocked out, or incapacitated in some way in the first second of the fight, when the fight is on, what you do next, and next, and next will decide if you get out of this or not. Just because you didn’t get knocked out initially, doesn’t mean it won’t happen a couple of second into the fight (see video below). Sadly, very little focus is EVER given to this part of the fight in self-preservation training. Everyone deals with the pre-contact and conversion of the initial attack, which is all fine and well, but fights are far more likely to continue for extended periods of time.
I am flabbergasted that almost no one thinks about this part of survival. It’s also really hard to teach (maybe that’s why?), because while we can all pretend how we will defend an initial attack in a scenario we set up, once the fight goes down, it will get chaotic quickly — and now any kind of long range prediction flies out the window. Sadly, and no where is this more evident than in the world of self-defence, were people tend to work from certainties (If the opponent does this, I do that). The truth is, the Fog of the Fight is always ever present.
“War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.” — Carl von Clausewitz
Here’s The Reality!
Even if you survive the initial onslaught, as you attack back, you still need to continue to survive that onslaught. So one can deduce that surviving interpersonal aggression is a process of surviving the onslaught, attacking back, surviving the counter measure applied by the assailant, you attacking back, possibly surviving a further counter measures by the assailant, and so on, until, and hopefully you are the person who stands victories (and this is what I mean by being in the In-Contact Response Cycle). If you are unable to ride this storm, or you end up making a serious tactical error in the process of responding In-Contact, you will lose the fight.
If your self-preservation system then, doesn’t teach you how to ride these ARCS (Active Response/Constant Survival) between surviving, and attacking, you are dead in the water. It doesn’t fucking matter if you survived the initial attack if you are unable to survive the continuation of the fight itself. Of course I am biased, but I coach all of this in the Combat Intelligent Athlete Program, and hence why I have so much confidence in the program. The truth is, and as I tell my students, there are people who say they study violence – I lived it. The former still remains theoretical, the later is real world experience.