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Is De-escalation, a key tactical component of Self Defence?

Posted January 8, 2019 9:18 pm

De-escalation is a term we use fairly loosely in self defence training, perhaps too loosely.

As there’s simply more to the whole process than meets the eye. Meaning we may not have the option to go to de-escalation at the first instance of trouble and there are other aspects of tactical behavior that should come first.

When we look at the pre fight stages of self defence, we first try not to get into a situation (don’t be there) by being situationally aware and if we feel that we’re headed into an area or situation that may not be good we change course.

In other words we make a clear tactical decision to avoid a situation, group of people, individual or dark ally etc. So as not to put ourselves in harms way.

Sometimes through no fault of our own, or by choice (perhaps in the role of preventing harm to others) we find ourselves in a situation that has either the potential to get violent or is already there.

So, is De-escalation a tactical component of self defence?

To answer the question Yes, and it is also possible to de-escalate a situation even after it has become violent!

In the case of defending ourselves, the best solution would be to de-escalate prior to any punches being thrown which is not always possible, but certainly the best solution.

Communication is key here!

So what are the options?
In the case of a situation that has already turned to violence, obviously we have the option of using force to subdue the aggressor or, we could try to deflect the usual pushing type behavior prior to the attack or defend the initial flurry of attacks and then try to control him/her/them and then de-escalate, or even when the punches are flying we can try to verbally de-escalate the situation!

How do we De-escalate?
Well, it’s a combination of;

  • Body Language
  • Verbal Communication
  • Showing Empathy
  • And even a little bit of ego massage directed at the aggressor if necessary.

Body Language:-
Prior to punches being thrown, appear confident but not arrogant, have your hands up and out in front of you in a manner that doesn’t appear threatening, in other words parallel to each other not in a fighting stance, this gives a submissive appearance.
Have your eyes looking toward their chest and your peripheral vision switched on, again this appears submissive but is actually very defensive in nature. It allows you to detect any strikes very early on and prevents you from being psyched out or intimidated by their aggressive stare or facial expressions.

Do not cower!
As this will almost certainly feed their feeling of dominance and may well be a que for the aggressor to escalate! (think typical bully here).

Verbal communication:-
Before during and after the encounter!
Show empathy towards the aggressor even if you feel that they’re an ass hole!
That will tell them you can identify with the problem from their point of view, hence building some kind of bond or understanding (it doesn’t have to be long term).
Try to reassure the aggressor that you don’t want any trouble and if need be, even apologize for what ever the perceived injustice might be.
Be very careful with the use of threats of police or the damage you may be able to do to them. As in the case of the police it can go both ways and either de-escalate or rapidly escalate the problem, it really depends on the aggressor’s mindset. That’s not to say that that they aren’t appropriate actions under the right circumstances.
Threatening them with violence is never a good option, as it can also rapidly escalate the situation and can also be used against you later in a court of law if there are witnesses present.
Don’t be a smart ass, don’t try to belittle them, again this will escalate the situation.

What if you’re trying to stop a situation between other people?
It’s pretty simple really, firstly be sure of who the aggressor / aggressors are before sticking your nose into a potentially very volatile situation (you don’t need to choose sides here). And be very aware of both parties behavior as you may get an unexpected surprise whilst you’re in the middle of the pack so to speak.
Apart from maybe having to get between the parties and create separation just follow the same process.

Good Body Language and Verbal Skills are the answer!
Having said that it can be that if your social skills or personal development are lacking a bit you may believe that you are de-escalating the situation when you’re actually prolonging the situation unnecessarily or escalating it. So you need to really pay attention to the responses of the people involved and try to understand if you’re making it better or worse, yourself included!

Also you need to be aware of your own triggers, those are the things that will tick you off and fire you up. If you don’t have yourself under control how can you expect to keep others under control?
Triggers! That’s for another blog!

Blog post by Dave Sargent, Senior Instructor at Krav maga Canberra

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