There is much more to Self-Defense than just the physical aspects of the ‘fight’. Here are some key concepts regarding self-defense, before the ‘fight’. Many times, if you can use these concepts effectively, fighting becomes completely unnecessary. When fighting back does become necessary, this article should help with some great insights about proper self-defense and laws regarding self-defense
Situational Awareness- In most confrontations ending in violence, an assailant will usually make a conscious decision to attack based on perceived superiority: physically, tactically, mentally, and emotionally. This assessment stage, prior to attacking a victim, will usually serve as a litmus test for the assailant, as to whether the potential victim will be an easy target.
The first step in self-defense is to be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially when alone or at night. This means being vigilant of everyone in your general proximity. One effective measure is to look everyone you come across in the face. Make a point to try to remember that face. This may seem counter-intuitive due to familial or cultural upbringing, but it serves a necessary purpose. This shows a potential assailant that you will recognize them in a police lineup and are less likely to be tagged as an easy target. It also gives you the ability to recognize any precarious actions or indicators that may seem suspicious to you. This will better trigger your defensive mechanisms and better prepare you for the unknown events that may or may not ensue.
Being aware of your surroundings includes more than just people, but also being areas of tactical advantage and disadvantage for potential assailants. As you walk out of your apartment building, are there areas with low visibility, such as bushes or walls, places to hide behind? If so, be cognizant of them and attempt to walk around them. When driving alone to the store, do you look for well-lit areas to park at night? Are you keeping your head on a swivel, when walking back to your car, with keys in hand, devoid of distraction? Do you make sure to lock your car with all valuables out of sight? Are you aware of places that are safe for escape and evasion, i.e. crowded areas full of people, whom may be willing to help, if needed? Do you look at your phone more than your surroundings, when walking alone? Do you wear headphones, when running? If so, is the music too loud to hear cars or people approaching you? There can be an infinite amount of things to question. The main point is for you to make an assessment of your day to day habits, and truly gauge your amount of situational awareness.
There are three basic levels of awareness to consider, when dealing with self-dense.
- Situational Awareness- This accounts for all activities within the normal realm of your daily routine. Be aware and cognizant of your surroundings. Take measures to ensure your safety through habits that make you a hard target. Walk with vigilance and confidence. Avoid dangerous situations, if at all possible.
- On Guard- This is the point at which the defensive stance comes into usage as well as verbal diffusion techniques. You have recognized a potential threat to your safety, through someone’s precarious actions, aggressive verbiage, or your gut instinct. You are using a strong voice to let the potential assailant know to stay away from you, and show you are not going to be an easy target. This will also to bring attention to your situation, if people are around. You are ready to defend yourself, if need be. You look at the potential assailant’s body gestures to give indication of an impending attack.
- Fight or Flight- The attack has begun. You protect the vital areas of your body, while launching decisive counter attacks from your fighting stance. You fight back until you have reached a reasonable conclusion that your attacker no longer is an immediate threat to your safety, or until you have the ability to flee the situation. You leave the unsafe area and get help immediately.
Avoidance of Dangerous Situations- Once you have identified precarious or ominous behavior from a person or people, separate yourself away from him/her or them as far as possible. This can be leaving a bar or party, when someone starts to get rowdy, instead of allowing them to draw you into a scuffle. It can also mean avoiding places, where people drink alcohol or abuse drugs altogether. It can be getting in your car and locking the doors, before driving away. You can cross the street, if you are any feeling discomfort with a person along your walking path. The avoidance of danger and potentially dangerous situations is absolutely the most important concept of self-defense. Using the buddy system is a key component to the avoidance of danger. There are both an objective and a perceived strength in numbers. Traveling in groups, especially at night, or in secluded areas, will help to lessen the danger of violence done against you. Note: Be mindful of whom you travel, hang out, or associate with, as this will also lessen your chances of dangerous situations.
On Guard- Avoidance of dangerous situations generally works most of the time. The key phrase to consider is ‘most of the time’. There will be some times, when people will approach you, whom you don’t know and with whom you feel a sense of anxiousness or just a bad feeling. This is a time to be on guard. First, don’t allow that person to come too close to you. A general rule of thumb is to maintain a distance two full arms’ lengths away from him/her them. Assume a defensive stance, unaggressive yet confident. Speak to the person politely yet firm at the same time. If they get too close to you, tell them in a loud authoritative voice, ‘Back up!’ or ‘Back off!’ You can also use the word ‘no’ as preclusion to your statements. ‘NO, BACK OFF!’
This psychologically puts you in an advantageous position, as people are conditioned from infancy with the word, ‘no’. Because your voice is loud and authoritative, a potential assailant may assess you as a target, which would cause too much trouble to him/her.
Many times, prior to a person trying to enter too close into your personal space without your permission, words will be exchanged. These words may either be of an aggressive kind or for the purpose of interviewing someone for the job of being an easy victim.
If the verbiage is aggressive, try your hardest not to let the person push your buttons and make you angry. Anger leads to fighting; fighting is not the same as self-defense. Public affray (fighting) is punishable by law. Use your defensive stance, using your front hand to potentially guard an attack and to use gesticulations while talking. Be calm in your wording, trying not to escalate the situation further.
Examples of this are:
‘I am sorry you feel that way. Let’s go our separate ways and not make a deal out of this, please.’
‘I can see that you are mad. I don’t want to fight you. I’m sorry, if I offended you.’
While attempting to be calm, try to be loud enough that others hear you. This will help in case you need witness statements later. If the person still persists on entering your space, being aggressive, keep your defense stance and yell, ‘No! I don’t want to fight you! Back off!’ If the person proceeds further to attack you, be absolutely decisive in defending yourself and/or flee, if possible.
If the verbiage seems to be used as an interview, you must convey to the person that you are not an easy target. Assume a defensive stance, unaggressive yet confident. (Get used to doing this with all situations, in which people you don’t know approach you.) The verbiage will usually be questions for help, asking to help, giving you a pity story, giving compliments, or asking questions that are personal, to get close to you.
Some examples include:
‘Hey, do you have a cigarette I can bum from you?’
‘My car ran out of gas on my trip from Arizona, can I have a dollar or two, to get some gas?’
‘It looks like you are carrying a heavy load of groceries. Let me help you out with those.‘
‘Hey sexy, what are you doing out here all by yourself? Someone like you should have a boyfriend with her.’
‘Nice car! I’ve been looking at buying one like that. Can I take a look at the interior?’
‘Sorry to bother you, but I lost my phone. Can I borrow yours to get a ride from my friend?’
There are an infinite number of ways this can play out. The key is to keep your wits about you and be on guard. Don’t let anyone get close to you without your permission. And, don’t be naïve, always wanting to help everyone, especially while you are alone. Also, remember that not all perpetrators are scraggly, unkempt, and speak like thugs and bikers. Some of the most notorious serial killers in history have been known to be well mannered, good looking, and charismatic.
In this scenario, you should use your defensive stance and verbal diffusion techniques. Politely let the person know that you are either unable to help them, that you don’t need help, that you have no need to answer unsolicited personal questions and most importantly, set your boundaries for space between yourself and the other person. (At least two full arms’ lengths) Denying the person what he/she is asking for, politely and firmly, will show you their true intentions. They will leave you alone and go bother someone else, or they will start to become aggressive. If they do become aggressive, refer to the instructions above about handling someone who is using aggressive verbiage.
Key Concepts to Understand in Self-Defense:
- Physical self-defense tactics should only be used to protect your body, your loved ones, or other people, not your ego. Ego is all about fighting. Self-defense is about fighting back.
- Situational awareness, avoidance of danger, and verbal diffusion techniques are much more favorable to your physical, mental, and legal wellbeing than physical altercations. Use physical techniques, only when they are truly necessary and can’t be avoided.
- You must understand that physical self-defense takes an all or nothing mindset. This means that you must be willing do what is necessary to ensure your physical safety. The thought of hurting someone should feel counter-intuitive to most people, but may be an imperative means to an end, if that person is attempting to harm you.
- True self-defense is asymmetric. The conditions of altercations are never exactly the same. These environmental conditions are usually in favor of the attacker, since they get to choose when and where to attack. You must be strong willed in protecting yourself and be able to adapt to chaotic situations.
- Proper self-defense techniques should eliminate the primary threat of bodily harm first, while preparing you for following threats. They should never open you up to high levels of danger.
- In physical self-defense situations it is nearly impossible to prevail without small levels of injury. Realistic, intense physical training is necessary, to help you be used to getting banged up and still being able to fight back.
- If physical techniques are truly necessary for self-defense, be ready to be more violent than the person attacking you, until that person is no longer willing to attack you or until you can escape to safety.
- Be generous with pain- It is more effective to hit multiple areas of the body, essentially shocking the nervous system, than to just hit the face. e. Hitting the groin, poking the eyes, striking the throat, and hitting the chin gives an attacker pain throughout the body, shutting down their thought processes and nervous system, giving you a chance to get away.
Continuum of Force: Unlike some other states, New Mexico does not use the ‘Castle Doctrine’ nor does it have ‘Stand Your Ground Laws’. New Mexico’s laws regarding self-defense are very vague in nature and can definitely be open to interpretation by law enforcement officials and in circumstances of litigation. The NM laws regarding self-defense can be basically summed up with the following statements: If you have the option to flee from a physical altercation, you are legally required to do so. If you cannot flee from a physical altercation, you may only do what is necessary to stop the physical threat from the assailant/s. If you truly feel your life is in danger you may do what is necessary to stop the danger. In all cases be ready to prove you were defending yourself.
Using and understanding a continuum of force model in self-defense will largely protect you from getting yourself in legal trouble. The movies where the ‘good’ guy breaks every bone in a ‘bad’ guy’s body, is not realistic. This would lead to severe legal ramifications, including imprisonment.
The following Continuum of Force Model is used in teaching self-defense to students of Maximum Martial Arts Center: (Disclaimer: The author of this manual and Maximum Martial Arts Center does not guarantee legal immunity nor does he/it guarantee absolutely physical safety from using this model.)
- Verbal Insults: Use verbal diffusion techniques and attempt to flee from the situation. Do not escalate a situation by becoming angry and reciprocating with verbal insults.
- Threats of Bodily Harm: Use verbal diffusion techniques while assuming a defensive stance. Attempt to make physical space between yourself and the person making threats. Be firm in your intent, using your voice, to not have the person come any closer to you. Be ready to defend yourself, but attempt to leave the area if possible. If the threats are deadly in nature, alert authorities immediately. If a person is showing evidence that he/she is absolutely going to attack you, it is reasonable to strike first in order to gain a tactical advantage.
- Pushing: Do not push back unless you have nowhere to flee. Assume a defensive stance and attempt to make physical space between yourself and the assailant. Be firm in your intent, using your voice, to not have the person come any closer to you. Be ready to defend yourself, but attempt to leave the area if possible. If a person is showing evidence that he/she is absolutely going to attack you further, it is reasonable to strike first in order to gain a tactical advantage.
- Clothing Grabs/ Wrist Grabs: You must make a determination if the person is trying to be annoying and abrasive or if the person actually has the intent to hurt you.
If the person is being annoying and abrasive, do what you need to get yourself free from the hold, while verbally telling them in a loud voice to stop. Assume a defensive stance and attempt to make physical space between yourself and the assailant. Be firm in your intent, using your voice, to not have the person come any closer to you. Be ready to defend yourself, but attempt to leave the area if possible. (Determining intentions must be made using your best intuition)
If you have made the determination that the person intends to hurt you, hit that person, use escape tactics, and hit again until you feel safe. Use your voice in a loud manner telling them to stop. Get attention to your situation with your voice. Immediately look around and assess the situation for any further threats, and flee if possible. Alert legal authorities immediately.
- Lethal and Non-Lethal Battery: Cover your vital areas; stop immediate threats; and counter attack decisively until the attacker is unwilling or unable to continue attacking you or until you can safely flee the situation. Alert legal authorities immediately. (Do what you must to protect your body)
- Disparity of Force: When you are much smaller than an assailant, there are more than one, or there is a weapon being used by the assailant, higher levels of force can reasonably be used to protect your body. In some instances, it may call for lethal force, but the choices and ramifications are entirely yours to make and deal with.
- Children with You: Higher levels of force, including lethal force may be reasonable, if the assailant poses a definite threat to your children, especially when safely fleeing is not an immediate option.
Note: Defense of your physical wellbeing and that of your loved ones is of utmost importance. You must be mentally prepared to deal with the stress of defending yourself, while not allowing yourself to unduly go further than needed, using excessive force. After any dangerously physical self-defense encounter, the phrase, ‘I felt my life was in danger’ can be helpful, when dealing with legal authorities. Saying, ‘He tried to choke me, so I beat the shit out of him’, will get you in trouble. Self-Defense is NOT against the law. But, the wording used to explain why you were defending yourself, is just as important as what you do during the actual situation. Law enforcement officers have the duty of making a thorough investigation after violent crimes occur. Sometimes the victim, who successfully defended him/herself, may look like the assailant, and may have to show good cause for defensive tactics.
In all situations, your gut instincts and common sense play a major role in making decisions that will ultimately make you stay safe. Stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t seem right, or things just don’t match up to what someone is telling you, allow your defense mechanisms to kick in full force. These ideas and concepts are not meant to put you on edge about every person you encounter. Ninety nine percent of the people in the world are good people. But, there is that 1% that you must be aware of and try to avoid or be ready to defend against.