Before you even start reading, thank you for taking the time to read this. This blog article is probably a 5 4-6 minute read. If you don’t have 4-6 minutes, then I’m going to give you the main point right now: The good news is that in a common self-defense scenario, the objective is not to send them to the hospital. The conflict ends when the aggressor says “It’s not worth it” and disengages. So good self-defense doesn’t mean that a young lady has to Knock Out or Tap Out her attacker like an MMA fight. It means that she has to get the bad guy to think “Whoa, this isn’t worth the hassle.” That’s when he’ll disengage, and she’ll win.
So if you’re in for the ride, let’s talk about this in detail!
I don’t mean to make light of a serious topic, but I do find it fascinating that as a martial arts instructor, we get to see a whole range of different responses (from parents) to the idea of “self-defense” for kids. When is it appropriate to use self-defense?
Is it NEVER appropriate to strike another kid?
Is it okay to strike if they strike first? “I just want Johnny to block.”
Is it okay to use physical strikes in response to verbal abuse?
What if they grab but they aren’t hitting?
If they punch your shoulder, should you smash their nose in?
So today, we’re going to talk about the root structure of any conflict, and how to manage or even create conflict well.
And here’s why we need to talk about it.
One interesting change I’ve noticed over the past decade is this: 10 years ago, martial arts instructors like myself were putting a lot of effort into explaining to parents that martial arts would NOT make their child violent, but rather, build and reinforce self-control.
Ten years ago, parents were worried about their child misusing their martial arts.
Fast forward to now, and our task is slightly easier: Parents actually already KNOW that martial arts doesn’t make kids more violent. More and more child psychiatrists are strongly recommending martial arts for kids.
So I’ve noticed that concern less frequently. But another concern is becoming more frequent, and we’re hearing it from parents more and more: “My child is NOT standing up for themselves. Some other kid is pushing my kid around and my kid is LETTING it happen. I wish they would stand up for themselves and push back!”
Disclaimer: Both of these concerns are fully legitimate. I am just intrigued by how the frequency of these concerns being bought to us has flip-flopped.
But regardless, it’s interesting – Kids that know how to defend themselves are choosing not to, for fear of getting in trouble. And more often now, parents will say to me “I told him to stand up for himself, but he just lets this kid pick on him!”
I believe the reason is this: Whenever there is a conflict, major or minor, the kid’s decision is usually critiqued, not backed. Because we, as parents, are often uncomfortable with conflict.
It happens when our kids gets upset that someone is trying to take their toy, and we tell them to be nice and share. We want them to create peace (and creating peace is a good skill to have, yes?).
It happens when our kids raises their voice to yell at someone who wronged them, and we tell them to calm down. We want them not to rock the boat.
It happens in the moment that another kid is playing too rough (not necessarily being aggressive or violent, but just not careful) and we see our child make eye contact with us to make sure they aren’t going to get in trouble. They are holding back because of us.
And so, when it comes to standing up for themselves, very rarely is the child’s decision to yell, counterattack, or create conflict. They won’t even tell the teacher!!! (Because telling the teacher is creating conflict, and they remember those times they got in trouble for tattling!)
They are not confident in knowing what the right decision is, so their decision is to do nothing. And this is why I’m making this blog post (and a youtube video, too!).
We, as parents, need to have a CLEAR OBJECTIVE/CLEAR PICTURE of what a successful self-defense would actually look like. This way, we can bestow our kids with CONFIDENCE, not CONFUSION.
So what is the objective of “self-defense”?
What constitutes a “success” here? In most scenarios, the most practical answer is “When the aggressor or potential aggressor decides that it’s not worth it and disengages.” If we as parents can focus in on that single objective, we can give our kids a clearer grasp on what self-defense is, what is appropriate, and what they are going for.
So let’s talk about what creates a conflict, and what the objective is to get out of that conflict.
Conflict happens when Person A attempts to impose their will on Person B, and Person B says NO!
This is true in a physical fight, an emotional conflict, a harassment scenario, a war between nations, a toxic relationship, or any conflict.
Either Person A is trying to get away with wronging Person B, or Person A is trying to make Person B do something that they don’t want to do.
Person A (The aggressor) has some different considerations running through their conscious or subconscious mind before-and-during the conflict. Person B has three options that they can respond with.
Let’s talk about Person A’s brain, PRE-conflict
Person A, the aggressor, is subconsciously running a cost/benefit analysis and a risk assessment before they try to impose their will on someone else.
A toxic boyfriend is looking around to see who will notice him being a jerk, and will measure if he can get away with it. If people are watching, he won’t impose his will. If people aren’t watching, he will.
A physical aggressor is measuring out the perceived strength and the perceived confidence of a potential victim. If they look like they are physically capable of putting up a fight, they won’t try and impose their will. If they look like they are confident enough to be socially capable of making a scene, being loud, and calling all attention to themselves, they won’t do it. Bad guys work in private, in secret.
In short, before the aggression, Person A is asking this question: “Can I get away with it? Is it worth it?”
Let’s talk about Person A’s brain, MID-conflict
Person A will often have a subconscious “this is how I see this going” in their minds. So they will yell at somebody, thinking that they will cower and submit. They will try and hit somebody, thinking that they will back up and cover up. So when things don’t happen exactly the way they pictured, or they encounter more resistance/more cost than they expected, they are likely to disengage the conflict.
We’ll cover this in more detail below, but the good news is that Person B doesn’t need to send them to the hospital to win the fight. All that Person B has to do is get Person A to realize “Whoa. This is not worth it. This is not worth the hassle.”
Let’s talk about Person B’s options
In the face of a physical aggressor or an emotional aggressor who is attempting to impose their will, Person B has 3 options.
- Give in / Placate
- Negotiate / Reason
Giving in / Placating
I know this is a post about self-defense, but let me be clear: Sometimes, giving in is the right call. If an aggressor threatens you for your wallet, I recommend you give them your wallet! If they are angrily honking because they want the parking spot, it is okay to let them have the parking spot. Some things are not worth the fight, and that’s okay.
In a long-term strategy (abuse, bullying), placating can lead to an ongoing problem. So we have to consider the consequences, positive and negative, of all options. Sometimes, turning the other cheek is the right option. Sometimes, if the problem is allowed, then the problem will continue.
Negotiate / Reason
Conflicts can be resolved by meeting in the middle. Sometimes, the aggressor tries to get something out of the defender and the defender says “No. But let’s talk.”
It is possible to negotiate and reason, and still to be on the short end of the deal. But the idea is that the situation ends with the aggressor getting something, and giving agreement. Sometimes, reason hits them and they realize “Oh, I don’t want the police called on me, I don’t want to do this.” It’s not always the option to go with, but it is still a skill that anybody who is interested in self-defense needs to continue to practice and take seriously.
Fight / Resist
This is the option in which the bad guy disengages without getting what they want. This is where the defender leverages the power they have (physical, emotional, social, financial) in order to make things painful/uncomfortable for the aggressor.
The objective of this is to get them to think “Whoa. This is NOT worth the hassle or the pain!” Once they think that, they will disengage.
The good news is that someone who wants to learn self-defense doesn’t have to think “How will I send them to the hospital?” Instead, all they have to do is think “how can I get them to BACK OFF?”
Sometimes, we actually have heard of a kid just blocking and the attacker backing off. “Whoa, this person looks like they know what they’re doing.”
Sometimes, the defender hits a target area that doesn’t escalate the situation. Instead of breaking the attacker’s nose, a punch to the chest (doesn’t send them to hospital, not a critical target area) says “Don’t mess with me. Don’t choose this fight,” and the aggressor says “geez, man. Whatever.” And walks off.
Sometimes, yes, it does take more escalation, like a hit to the face (rarely, fortunately. Usually other measures prevent the fight before it starts.)
Sometimes, just raising the voice or making a scene gets the job done! Again, all we have to do is convince the bad guy that it’s not worth the hassle!
The best alternative: How can Person B get Person A to NOT choose the conflict?
Remember, Person A is running a cost/benefit analysis in his/her head. So what if Person B could subconsciously send a message that said “messing with me will cost you more than you will gain”?
-Confident eye contact, with everybody. Person A’s subconscious knows not to mess with those people.
-A confident, strong voice. Person A subconsciously knows that if I mess with this person, they will make sure everybody hears and sees. Ah, it’s not worth the cost.
-Social skills and courtesy! Person A sees that if a kid has no friends, the consequences of picking on them will be less, and the cost/benefit analysis might make it feel worth it to the attacker! But if a kid is friendly to everyone they meet, if they build the discipline of being courteous (introverts can build a discipline of being outgoing. It’s not easy or natural, but there are benefits. It’s a discipline, like building a muscle. Introverts will just need alone-time to recharge after building social discipline), then an aggressor will perceive that picking on them will cost them, socially.
Our self-defense objective, as martial arts instructors, is to help our students get aggressors to not choose them as targets, and decide “whoa, it’s not worth it.” If the aggressor does, in fact, engage in a conflict, we must help our students show then that continuing this fight is not worth it.
That is what we do, for the physical and emotional protection of our students.