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The Seven Aspects of Self-defense

by Rory Miller, January 13, 2010
Miller outside Rusafa 1 Prison Complex in Baghdad

Miller outside Rusafa 1 Prison Complex in Baghdad

The following is an excerpt from an upcoming book in 2010, tentatively titled 7. The book is divided into seven sections, hence the name. It will explore the seven aspects that are critical to self defense. The purpose of this work is to give you a few hints on staying alive, or if you teach self-defense, some critical information you can pass along to your students.

Each of the following represents a chapter in the book.



  1. The ethical and legal issues that you must understand and ingrain with your training
  2. The dynamics of real violence
  3. How to avoid or de-escalate violence
  4. Automatic response to an ambush
  5. Recognizing and breaking out of a freeze
  6. The fight itself
  7. The potential medical, legal and psychological aftermath

Know the World You Are In

The following excerpt is from Chapter 3 “Avoidance.”

“There are lots of different worlds.  After spending 15 years working the jail, I was rotated to an office job as an investigator.  I got along well with officers and inmates, but headquarters was an alien environment.  I did not understand the core beliefs shared by my fellow cubicle rats and thus could not at first understand their values or respect their etiquette. Worse, I didn’t realize for some time how different their values were and how nervous I made them. Live and learn.

“Jail is different than office is different than home is different than the gym or dojo.  Keep your radar active whenever you find yourself in an unfamiliar place.  Your intuition should give you a little warning bell when you are out of place.  Trust it and then look around.

“Most of the things that trigger it will be groups who stand at a different distance than you do (different ideas of personal space) who maintain eye contact differently (inmates and ex-cons have a tendency to avoid direct eye contact and instead look over each other’s shoulder, mutually looking for danger) and who talk in different tones (some cultures are very loud when they are not angry, other cultures are very quiet, which can feel like everyone is whispering secrets.)

”Blending in is less a matter of imitating these behaviors, than showing comfort with them. Try to be slightly lower on the scale, more invisible, than what you see around you. Don’t freak when someone invades your space, (unless he is doing it much closer than the locals do with each other) but don’t invade other’s space. Talk just a little lower than everyone else.  Make slightly less eye contact than you see around you.

Eye contact

“Eye contact is a tricky one.  Direct eye contact can be required to show respect or be taken as a challenge depending on culture. Evading eye contact can be taken as deference or deception.  My usual tactic when talking with someone who is, or may become a threat is to focus on the mouth. Looking at the mouth in direct conversation shows full attention without triggering a challenge. 

“To scan a room, look at each person, scan the interesting ones up and down once, and move on.  Do not hold eye contact.  When you move on to the next person, break eye contact sideways, not up (can look snobby or dismissive) and not down (which will look submissive).  Unless you detect an immediate, overt threat (like a gun-- think Means rather than Intent) move on to the next interesting person after a scan.  This shows alertness, some skill, and no challenge.

“In the peaceful world most won’t notice you scanning. If you have stepped through the looking glass into a more conflict-prone area, those that do notice will see it as a sign that you know what you are doing. Do not lock eyes during a scan if you want to avoid conflict.  If someone is staring at you, look back, possibly nod, and steadily move your gaze to someone else.  Act as if you see no challenge whatsoever in the stare.

“When scanning, look for ‘interesting’ body language.  Trust your gut first and foremost.  The ones your attention is naturally drawn to deserve the single scan.  If it is a woman, do not scan any slower, and for god’s sake do not lick your lips.  Just sayin’.

“Other things to look for during the scan include who is carrying weapons (concealed or overt, types of weapons) whether the clothing is designed to conceal weaponry, such as untucked shirts or loose open front shirts over t-shirts, and whether weapons, or the possibility of weapons, are the norm or the exception.

Intuition rules

“Borrow intuition.  You can usually assume that most of the people in any given place spend some time there and know the rules and the power structure.  If everyone looks up and checks their weapons when a certain person walks into the room or stands, congratulations. You’ve just identified a dangerous guy.  If most people are comfortable standing very close but leave a wide space around one table, those are probably the players.  If the patrons of a bar are lewd and rude to all the girls but one, you know who the boss likes.  You can get the lay of the land by watching the natives.

“Borrow intuition across gender lines as well.  There are a number of men who almost all women get a “creepy vibe” from who don’t trigger a reaction from men.  If you are a woman, trust the vibe.  If you are a man, notice the signs in the women around you (the guy wants to hug as a greeting, women pull away; women use greater distancing and tend to stay with other women when the guy is around…)

  1. Keep him on your radar.
  2. Don’t leave women alone with him.

“When you are or believe yourself to be on dangerous and alien ground, keep your mouth shut.  This is hard for some people. I can’t help but think that if you don’t have the common sense to keep your mouth shut, or you believe that your opinions and insight are so precious that everyone wants to hear them, that you probably will suck at avoiding conflict and shouldn’t breed anyway.

“Get this. The command presence and facile vocabulary that made you president of you college debating team will be triggers that can get you stabbed or beaten in a different social environment.  The charm and over-the-top personality that made you prom queen can get you gang-raped.

“You must recognize when you are an outsider and know that an outsider drawing attention rarely ends well.

Staying alive

“I don’t give a damn about your self-esteem.  The purpose of this book is to give you a few hints on staying alive or, if you teach self-defense, some critical information you can pass on to your students.  The world is not about you.  Everything that you know about right and wrong is context dependent.  If you go to a place that is outside your context and demand that they treat you by your rules in their world, not only might you get killed, but you will be killed for being a whiny child demanding special treatment. If this is you, grow the hell up.

“If you find that you have stepped into a danger zone, do you need to stay there?  If not, leave. Quietly.  Politely. If you have already entered and sat down (which implies you weren’t paying attention earlier in the book) order one beer, leave a nice tip and go.  You came without friends, leave without friends.

“If you came in with friends, particularly with a woman and you are worried about her safety, leave.  Don’t waste time. And do not spend time, ever, with women who feel it is hot for you to fight for them.  No matter how good the sex is.

“If you get addressed or called into a conversation, be polite. Polite is not the same as meek or timid.  Those can draw attention to the fact that you don’t belong there.  The less tension you show, the less sure anyone will be that it is safe to push you.  Say as little as possible. Listen. The more you talk, the more likely you are to give away a hook (see later).  When violence goes down from this situation it can break as a Group Monkey Dance, a Monkey Dance, a Status Seeking Show or you can earn an Educational Beat-Down.”

Rory Miller has served for seventeen years in corrections as an officer and sergeant working maximum security, booking and mental health; leading a tactical team; and teaching subjects ranging from Defensive Tactics and Use of Force to First Aid and Crisis Communications with the Mentally Ill.



COMMENTS

To the point. no bs. very useful. I highly repect you.
Anonymous – November 27, 2010, 2:57 pm



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