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Assault Prevention: Hard-wired To Survive
By hipper
Have you ever watched one of those television programs that examine the world of animals? Some animals are loners and some travel in groups. Many animals will mark their territory. If that territory is violated by an outsider, there is a good chance a fight will ensue. Human beings, when threatened, will exhibit some of the same behaviors animals do. These behaviors are genetic. Properly understood they can be harnessed and applied in threatening situations, giving intended victims an advantage over the potential Adversary.

Animals mark their territories to entice mates and establish dominance. For example, some animals use scents while others might use sounds. Some may scratch or rub against trees. Others urinate or use their dung to establish territory. Fish use smells and body coloring. Lizards use coloring. Suffice it to say there are a number of methods animals use when marking territory.

When a marked territory is violated by an outsider, usually a fight ensues. The outcome of these violent encounters depends on a number of factors, including species, size and power. It is within these encounters much can be learned about aggression, and how it relates to the interaction between humans in threatening situations.

Personal safety is primarily about the choices you make. The primary safety tool any human being possesses is cognitive function; the ability to think under stress. There are several aspects of cognitive function that need to be considered in personal safety. One of those is what we are all born with; our genetic heritage. The other is to look at how we perform when we are under stress. The focus of this article will be the genetics.

Evolutionary Combative Behavior: the term itself may turn some people off - as it has a rather harsh sound and conjures up images of warfare. Let’s put some perspective to the term. To what lengths would you intervene to protect your child, or a loved one? In a situation in which it is your perception you may lose your life - to what lengths would you go in order to survive?

Combative behavior is part of our genetic heritage and can be developed through training. Human behavior and body movements are closely linked. For example, humans are wired to react defensively to a “looming” threat. The brain is hard-wired in a way that reacts strongly to the visual threat of assault. Typically, if someone is assaulted, their hands go up to ward off the attack while flinching away at the same time. This is genetic; it is instinctive and requires very little thought or cognitive functioning. It is hard-wired within us to survive threat.

We can utilize these naturally based behaviors as tools to dominate and control potential violence and truly violent confrontations.

Ideally, your goals when it comes to personal safety are:
1. To present a professional and confident presence in routine situations.
2. To use appropriate techniques in potentially violent circumstances and emergency situations, with the intent of escape.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines aggression as: the act of initiating hostilities or invasion; the practice or habit of launching attacks; hostile or destructive behavior or actions.

There are several types of aggression.

Affective aggression is displayed towards fellow members of one’s group or species aimed at intimidating and establishing dominance over the opponent. It is typified by high emotional arousal and some kind of aggressive emotional display. This is often typical macho, bravado or “tough guy” behavior. It is displayed because it is unnatural to use lethal dominance against one’s own group. In simple terms, it is an emotional display anger or fear, with the main goal of causing injury or harm in order to maintain dominance or control.

The effectiveness of this type of aggression as it relates to personal safety is poor. This behavior is ineffective and usually exacerbates situations. In one study of police officer related assaults, 75% of officers added to the problem, contributed mostly by body language and words. Example: a potential Adversary approaches. You get in his face using a sumo-wrestler stance and start calling him names. Is this type of behavior likely to calm the situation or escalate it? Certainly, it would not be considered professional with the intent of escape.

A quick primer on perception: it is most people’s reality. Someone’s perception may be far removed from reality, but perception is the basis of thoughts, impulses and behavior. Therefore, we act out based on our perceptions.

The brain is a big computer. It is constantly receiving, evaluating and processing information. You are constantly sending information out to others by virtue of your body language, tone of voice, posture and language. These behaviors are forming the image of who you are in other people’s minds. In this context, they form the Adversary’s perception of who you are. If the potential Adversary’s perception is that you are professional and well trained, they are less likely to resort to violence. Contrast
this to an Adversary’s perception that you pose no obstacle in reaching their goals. Perception is everything!

Read your Adversary. They are reading you. How do they perceive you? How do they perceive the circumstances?

The clues to people’s real intentions:
* Verbal content is 7-10% of true intent. People lie and are deceptive to varying degrees. We all do this every day. How many times has someone asked you; “How are you doing?” Your answer is usually; “Fine.” But is it? Almost everyone is dealing with something that is challenging in their personal lives yet we tell people all the time we are doing well.

* Voice: Listen to the pace, pitch, tone and modulation. This will reveal 33-40% of true intent. Example: a person who is very excited will often speak in a rushed manner.

* Non-verbal body language: Body motion, posture, distance, body movements, stance and hand placement will reveal 50-60% of true intent. Example: people who are nervous tend to be fidgety. Body language is something we do unconsciously and something we process unconsciously.

If body language is the primary source of the message we send out to other people’s perception, and that perception will affect their behavior, we should consciously shape our body language in order to send the appropriate message. This applies to aggression because of some of the natural, hard-wired body language we automatically and unconsciously rely on in threatening situations.

The second type of aggression is predatory. Predatory aggression is exhibited between members of different species. There is little or no emotional arousal, and little emotional display. Typically, the animal assumes a “stalking” posture. In humans, it is often how the hunter will stalk prey. The hunter’s functional posture, stalking, is used in order to be in position for an instant transition to an explosive and lethal attack.

The effectiveness of this type of aggression as it relates to personal safety is poor. It is not appropriate to stalk, hunt down and kill others. Example: a potential Adversary approaches. You get into a crouched position and begin to circle him slowly, from a distance. If the goal is to present a professional and confident presence with the intent of escape, is this type of behavior likely to calm the situation or escalate it?

Finally, there is pseudo-predatory aggression. This aggression has evolved in humans to suit those situations in which neither purely affective nor purely predatory behavior were appropriate. It is aimed at achieving dominance with as little risk as possible, utilizing behavioral and performance traits from predatory rather than affective, although affective aspects can be part of the confrontation.

The effectiveness of this type of aggression as it relates to personal safety and attack management is very good. This type of aggression does not assume a fighting stance. It assumes a semi-stalking posture. This will elicit efficiency of movement, no arousal, no display, and minimal communication with the potential Adversary.

Example: a potential Adversary approaches. You assume a Ready Stance, which consists of:
* Your feet are shoulder width apart.
* Your strong side is ½ step back.
* Knees are slightly bent.
* Hands are above the waist.
* You maintain two-arm lengths distance from the Adversary.
* Your body is at a 45-degree angle to the Adversary.
* You are positioned to Adversary’s side or rear, no matter where they move.
* You look directly at the Adversary and communicate very little, except to advise them you do not want any trouble, and to leave you alone.

If the goal is to present a professional and confident presence with the intent of escape, is this type of behavior likely to calm the situation or escalate it? What message are you sending to the potential Adversary?

To find this position, stand up. Take a half-step back with your strong side. Your body and brain should intuitively know which side that is. Keep your hands above your waist in a natural position. Now bend your knees slightly. In a high stress situation with an Adversary, you would assume this position and keep at least two- arm lengths away from them. You say very little while maintaining eye contact. If they move, you also move - keeping the distance.

If you look like a sumo wrestler at this point you are crouched way too low.
Keeping two-arm lengths away ensures the Adversary will be unable to hit or kick you. The arms above the waist allow for a quick counter response against the Adversary if needed. Maintaining eye contact is a sign of strength. Whatever does come out of your mouth should be measured, direct and natural. This position and demeanor exudes confidence.

You are encouraged to practice this stance until it becomes natural, as it is not a natural movement. However, elements of it are instinctive and genetic. These elements need to be harnessed and directed in a manner that allows us to take advantage of what we are already hard-wired with to survive threat.

© 2008 Terry Hipp
Terry Hipp is a career veteran of the Criminal Justice System. He serves as the CEO and Sr. Director of Training & Education at Assault Prevention LLC. For more than 25 years, Assault Prevention has helped individuals, groups, and organizations proactively plan for successful mitigation of unexpected violence and emergencies-and as a result, bring about a sense of control to their daily lives. He may be contacted at: AssaultPrevention.ORG
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