Sofas and Self defence

As a writer about resilience and self-improvement there are sometimes learnings about mental states of mind to be had from physical activity and martial arts training. For me this comes from being a student of Wing-Chun Kung-Fu, a Chinese martial art concerned with the efficient handling of physical conflict.

Although Kung-Fu is the heart of self-defence for me, there are many practises that wrap around this that can help you to stay safe and avoid the high risk of physical combat. If you fight, you will get hurt, as someone with the bruises and experience of fighting once said.

Fighting is largely something you can seek to avoid in life. You can do this by choosing who you hang out with or by using good observation skills, listening to your gut instinct and avoiding ‘that part of town’. I’ll admit as you get older this gets easier, most of this was written in a coffee-bar where the only danger was eating too many cakes, or on my threat-free sofa after KungFu training.

You can practice proactive or preventative self-defence by being alert, by knowing where the doors are in a busy pub and practice the ancient art of leaving if your instincts tell you it’s not looking right this evening. Check down that dark alley before you wander down it alone. Don’t take that short-cut across the moors, stick to the road!  – some of you will remember that film 🙂

Acting with modest confidence and cooperation, but not being passive towards others, is a good mindset for self-preservation where aggressors are sifting the room  for a passive victim. Walk with purpose, stand tall, project a little confidence.

When conflict does come, a helpful way to manage the perception of danger is to use colour-codes for the level of threat. It’s just RAG status – Red Amber Green. It’s a bit like internal state management only for external environments. People (friends or threats) can be Red-Amber-Green too, but this is about scenarios/places.

The details of RAG scenario alerts are as follows. Green is situation normal, there’s nothing untoward going on, just get on with your life. You’re on the Sofa or in your local hostelry and the people around you are behaving as normal.

Amber is about being on alert due to uncertainty about the people around you or the environment you are in. You should be using all your senses in an amber situation. Don’t jump the gun and start the fight yourself, but be on your toes. Things may also be changing, so just like a traffic light you need to be ready to go or to stop suddenly and change direction. It could be Fight or Flight time next so be switched on, scan your environment and watch for aggressive body language.

Red is, as you’d expect, is when physical conflict is starting and it’s coming your way, so now you need to defend yourself. You probably need your hands up and a firm footing on the floor as a potential aggressor closes in – ‘It’s clobbering time…’ as a Marvel comics character put it. As before, avoidance is the lowest risk option, but sometimes it’s not a choice you have.

I have been in a couple of unfortunate places where this has his happened and physically aligning yourself so you have a good stance and are ready ‘for the off’ puts you mentally in the right place. Thankfully nothing bad happened, but it’s comforting to have been ready to fend off a physical threat.

Making use of your surroundings, such as pillars or tables or groups of people is also a good tip for avoiding conflict. Position yourself behind something or someone immovable. I’d also advise against flamboyantly putting up a boxing guard or standing in a martial arts stance. This sends the wrong message and invites in the problems that you’re looking to avoid. Defensive raised hands are more appropriate and give you more options.

By the way, I should point out that the colours/threat level concept is not my system, however I have not been able to directly accredit this – if you know where this comes from please let me know. Maybe it’s a generic way of classifying situations, and provides a helpful visual reminder. (And thanks if it was your idea.)

How you leave (as advised) is worth a few thoughts too. If bad things are coming your way, keep your eyes on the threat as you retreat. Blindly leaving with your back to the problem may be a risky strategy. Stay at Amber (back up, don’t flee) until you’re somewhere less exposed. Use your peripheral vision too, it’s a powerful self-defence tool we’re all equipped with. Make the most of your senses and awareness.

Also if it’s a really dreadful situation, make sure you head away from the danger when you retreat. In chaotic disaster scenarios where complete chaos is happening, people have been known to run towards the fire or the danger out of sheer unguided panic. Rory Miller makes some great points about this in a number of his books. See the links below. 

To sum up, the learning points from self-defence are really about perception and being aware of your surroundings and the situation you are in. Mindfulness teachers call this being present. It’s about noticing when things change and staying in control of yourself during a challenging situation.

Use your senses to notice when things are escalating and take some action when the traffic light colours change.  Less time in the night club and more time on the sofa helps too as we grow older.

Have a quiet weekend, and let’s be careful out there.


Facing Violence by Rory Miller

The Fence, the art of self-protection by Geoff Thompson

3 Lots of martial arts teachers and seminars … thanks for your wisdom and for sharing your experiences.