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    Silver Sentinel

    The following was posted on Facebook. I am copying it here because Facebook is famous for crashing and burning content. This article is re-posted with permission. – Silver Sentinel

    Drgndrew Guest
    G’day all

    Heres one of my articles that was published in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine (Australia’s largest martial arts mag), I thought it was particularly appropriate to the Conflict Communications page.


    The True Art of Fighting Without Fighting

    by Drew Guest, 2008


    Across the globe in almost every dojo, dojang and kwoon, any place where martial arts are taught, it is preached that what the student learns there is only to be used in self defence and fighting and violence should be avoided. It’s probably the most common mantra heard in the martial arts. Most of us would agree with this tenet, but how do you avoid violence? How do you stop a heated argument turning physical? It is often recommended to avoid violence, but seldom are methods and tactics provided other than the old fall back line of “Just walk away”. Unfortunately as honourable as the concept of just walking away from a fight is, the nature of violence is that simply walking away is not always a safe option. You will often need to create the opportunity to walk away In fact walking away should not be seen as just a rule, it should be seen as an end goal. How do we achieve this goal safely? By using the art of De-escalation: the true art of fighting without fighting.

    De-escalation refers to the reduction of the level or intensity of a difficult or dangerous situation. For self-protection, we are particularly concerned with the reduction of the level or intensity of aggression and thus the resulting violence. For a situation to turn physically violent it has to escalate, that is the level of aggression has to rise. Anyone who has witnessed a real fight start from scratch will have seen this escalation process. The typical scenario will start with one person verbally attacking the other; either by accusation, insult, or threat. The second person will then respond with a greater verbal attack. It goes back and forth until one of the combatants pushes the other and so on until fists start flying. This is only a general example but it should conjure a familiar image to those who have witnessed real world violence, especially street violence.

    There are, of course, other kinds of physical violence such as muggings, rape, etc. but even these require some sort of escalation to become violent (in the physical sense). Most people require a reason or a justification to cause violence on another. The exception are those small number of people who are actual sociopaths (actual as opposed to potential, many who display anti-social behaviour are not actual sociopaths but are simply showing sociopathic tendencies). Professional predators often use escalation tactics to produce a behaviour in their victim too which they can then justify taking the next step of physical violence.

    Let’s have a look at a typical scenario the “what are you looking at” tactic.

    Aggressor: “What are you looking at, mate”
    Victim: “Sorry I wasn’t looking at anything”
    Aggressor: “You were looking at me! Are you saying I’m nothing then?”
    Victim: “I wasn’t looking at you, I was……..”
    Aggressor: “So now you’re calling me a liar, do you have a death wish or something?”

    Victim: “Look mate, calm down, your overreacting.”
    Aggressor: “I am calm mate, don’t tell me to calm down, you haven’t seen overacting yet but if you keep this up you will.”

    “I’ve had just about enough of idiots like you, XXXX off or I’ll give you something real to think about”
    Aggressor: “You threatening me? no-one threatens me…”

    See how the aggressor twisted the things the victim said in order to escalate the situation to a point where he can justify striking the victim. It’s important to note that the victim is not responsible for the violence committed by the aggressor; the only person who can be held responsible for the initiation of physical violence is the person who commits that violence. Even in a self-defence situation where there was no option other then to fight back, you are still responsible for that violence, it may be justifiable to use force but you are responsible for the reasonable use of that force. Anyway back to the scenario. Although the victim is not to blame for the violence delivered upon him, he did make some common (and natural) mistakes. Let’s have a look at these mistakes by introducing you to golden rules of TACOS.

    Avoiding Escalation with TACOS

    TACOS is an anagram for the 5 golden “do not’s” of de-escalation they are based on Richard Dimitri’s Senshido golden rules of de-escalation:

    If your goal is to de-escalate then do not:
    • Threaten the aggressor.
    • Argue or contradict the aggressor.
    • Challenge the aggressor
    • Order or command the aggressor
    • Shame or disrespect the aggressor

    Any one of these things can, and likely will, lead to an escalation in the aggressor’s level of aggression.

    Do not Threaten the aggressor. For example don’t give the assailant an ultimatum. In our scenario the victim made the mistake of returning the shove and saying: “… XXXX off or I’ll give you something real to think about”. This gives the aggressor what he wants, a reason to strike the victim. When faced with a threat, people will either fight or flee, fleeing isn’t going to be an option for the aggressor, he wants to fight. Even if he didn’t he can’t be seen by is peers as fleeing, he is most likely trying to prove something to himself or his friends. Try to avoid saying anything which resembles “if you do/don’t (X), I will (Y)” where (Y) is an unpleasant experience.

    Do not Argue with the aggressor. Avoid directly contradicting what the aggressor is saying or accusing you of. Our victim immediately denied that he was looking at anything at all. This is exactly the response the aggressor was after, now he could accuse the victim of the greater crime of “calling him a liar”. Even if the aggressor isn’t specifically looking to escalate the situation, telling him he is wrong is something an aggressive person doesn’t want to hear, no one does, but for someone who already has a raised level of aggression, it simply results in more aggression. Once aggression takes hold rationality tends to diminish. Disagreeing is taken as an insult which the aggressor then feels they need to defend, usually by applying more aggression.

    Do not Challenge the aggressor. Our scenario doesn’t have an example of challenging, but a challenge is where the victim dares the aggressor to carryout a threat or to do some other act. For example, if you utter the phrase, “what are you going to do about it”, you are in essence, challenging the aggressor. A challenge can be issued in other ways as well, such as the stare down, a come on gesture or finger pointing. Remember body language is responsible for between 80 to 90% of the communication process. Your gestures, posture and expressions can communicate a challenge as well; indeed all TACOS can be expressed without words. (More on body language later)

    Do not Order or command the aggressor. It’s one of the most common mistakes made by all inexperienced de-escalators and is often made by the more experienced as well. That’s because it is so natural to tell someone who is being aggressive to “calm down”, or to “relax”, and almost every time the aggressor will respond with “I AM calm, don’t tell me to calm down” or something similar and usually a little more colourful. We can see this in our scenario, the victim is just trying to calm the aggressor, but none the less, he is issuing a command. No one wants to be told they are out of control, but that is exactly what you are telling the aggressor when you issue the command to calm down. Not only that, salt is rubbed into the wound because he has to be ordered to do it.

    Do not Shame or disrespect the aggressor. As tempting as it is, try not to call the aggressor names, put down, insult or imply that he is lacking or less worthy in any way. Chances are he is lacking in self-confidence and probably his self-respect is waning as well, this is why he is being aggressive towards you. A predatory aggressor, like a bully is trying to boost his own ego. Someone using aggression out of desperation will have already failed to solve the problem in other ways; he already has a diminished sense of worth. Regardless of the reason for their aggression, shaming the aggressor will only inflame the situation. Can you see where the victim in our scenario insulted the aggressor?

    TACOS are simply things not to do if de-escalation of aggression is your goal. If you reverse the application you can see how predatory aggressors utilise TACOS to escalate aggression to verbal violence and physical violence. So what should we do?
    I’ll cover some tactics and strategy a little later on, but one simple tactic, in terms of TACOS, is to do the opposite of what you shouldn’t do, without compromising yourself and your beliefs.

    If someone accuses you of an indiscretion, the TACOS rules tell us not to deny it, but this doesn’t mean we should admit to something we didn’t do. Instead we can provide a “viable alternative” where what he claims could have been true along with a viable explanation. Using our previous scenario as an example, the victim could have apologised if he was looking at him and give a viable alternative as to why he could have been.
    For example:
    Aggressor: “What are you looking at, mate”
    Victim: “ Am I doing that again, Sorry if I was staring at you mate, I’ve had a lot on my mind and have been daydreaming a lot lately, others have told me I tend to stare when I’m like this. Hey man I know it cheeses me off when some guy eyeballs me from across the room, sorry mate, I’ll try to snap out of it and enjoy myself”

    Now this may be a bit long winded, it depends on the circumstance and the environment, but you can see the idea. Our victim didn’t deny looking at the aggressor, but neither did he lie and say that he was. Instead he provided a viable alternative to explain why he could have been looking at the aggressor.

    In short instead of Threatening the aggressor you could compliment him. Instead of Arguing with him provide a viable alternative. Instead of Challenging him, acknowledge his ability to carry out his action. Don’t Order him, instead lead or guide him. Always show the aggressor respect instead of Shaming him (this last one is a big one). One thing to remember is that every circumstance is different. Just like physical combat there are no hard and fast rules. Consider the above, indeed the entire article, as a general guide, you will need to adapt your tactics and responses according to the specific situation and circumstances that you find your self in.

    Two Types of Aggressors: Predatory and End of Tether

    A predatory aggressor uses aggression as a tool to obtain something or to achieve a goal. The most common of these types of aggressors are the bullies. These people use aggression to feed their need to exert power over another. They are usually attempting to fill some aspect of themselves they are lacking; it may be they lack power themselves. These are the typical “What you looking at” thugs. They are masters at manipulating victims so they can “justifiably” escalate the level of aggression. Other predatory aggressors use aggression as a tool of compliance to commit crime. The mugger will often use aggression to overwhelm the victim and induce fear, as does the rapist, but a rapist also uses it as a means to exert and feel power over the victim (the real purpose for the assault).

    Warning signs of a predatory aggressor: (from “Surviving Aggressive People”, S.T.Smith, 2003)
    • Testing rituals
    • Over-accommodation
    • Foot in door tactic
    • Invading personal space and boundaries
    • Exploiting sympathy and guilt
    • Intimidation and exploiting fear
    • Discounting no, and persistence
    • Talking too much
    • Contradiction between words and body language

    Other warning/survival signs (from “Gift of Fear”, Gavin de Becker, 1997)
    • Forced teaming
    • Loan sharking
    • Too many details
    • Unsolicited promises
    • Typecasting
    • Discounting the word “No”

    The end of tether aggressor (also known as the desperate aggressor), on the other hand, uses aggression as a last resort. They see no other option and have most likely exhausted numerous other options in an attempt to solve the problem. They tend to be pessimistic and don’t want to listen. Due to the highly charged state of emotions, they will be hypersensitive and hyper-vigilant, and they will have little concern for consequences. The end of tether aggressor resorts to the use of aggression in an attempt to regain control. These people aren’t criminals but simply stressed out individuals who have come to the end of their tether, road rage, for example, is often committed by normal people who have just snapped. In these cases the perceived wrong against them is just the final straw and is usually unrelated to the true cause of the aggression.

    Warning signs of an end of tether aggressor: (from “Surviving Aggressive People”, S.T.Smith, 2003)
    • Visible adrenaline and fight or flight effects- these include changes in breathing, shaking, unstable voice, flushed face, etc.
    • Agitation
    • Uncharacteristic or poor judgement
    • Paranoia and defensiveness
    • Extreme pessimism
    • Nervous confusion
    • Withdrawal
    • Hurtful language and threats

    Whether predatory or end of tether, the TACOS rules can always be applied to avoid escalating the situation. The difference is that with the predatory aggressor TACOS is used to counter their attempts to manipulate and escalate, whist with end of tether aggressors we are avoiding accidental or misinterpreted escalation. When faced with aggression, having familiarity with TACOS will go long way towards ensuring your safety, regardless of which type of aggressor or aggression you face.

    Let’s talk more about the different approaches

    The Aggressive Approach

    I personally don’t like this approach; Aggression feeds aggression and it takes a certain kind of person to pull it off. In my experience the people who really need self-protection don’t have the required confidence or inclination to safely use this tactic. It is also the approach with less flexibility and the greatest risk. That being said it can work for the right person.

    The goal with this approach is to out aggress the aggressor. Ultimately you will attempt to elicit the fight or flight response (or an adrenaline dump) in your aggressor. Hopefully they will interpret this as fear, thinking they have bitten off more then they can chew and back down. This approach is essentially a bluff, but with all bluff’s you must be prepared to have it called. The problem is if it doesn’t work then you will usually have a bigger problem and more aggression aimed at you.

    Be honest with yourself as to whether you can pull off this approach. Do you have the skills to back it up, because if it fails you most assuredly will need to use them? The aggressive approach can work, but there is no going back once you take that path. So choose it wisely. This approach works best when your opponent only makes a half hearted or uncommitted attack.

    The Assertive Approach

    The difference between being assertive and being aggressive is that when you are being assertive you are standing up for your rights whilst respecting other people’s rights. Being aggressive is standing up for your rights with no regard for the rights of any other person. This is an ideal approach for when you have to stand your ground. The obvious examples are those involved in the security industry or law enforcement, such as Door Staff, Police Officers and other Law Enforcement Officers (LEO’s). However, this approach can also be used by teachers, store managers and supervisors, bus drivers, government workers in fact any position where you have to follow set policies and procedures or you are in a position of authority. That being said it’s an option open to virtually anyone.

    This approach involves remaining calm and in control. You should use clear and specific language, with complete sentences and direct statements. Use co-operative, and empathetic language. Try to avoid “you” statements, as they tend to come across as blaming or accusing. This often leads to the other person becoming defensive, which may block a calm rational discussion. Instead try to use “I” statements, this allows you to own the statement and keeps lines for communication open. If someone is talking they are least not hitting.

    This should be backed up by appropriate eye contact and body language. Your posture should be direct, open, relaxed and attentive. Your stance should be passive and non-violent. You can take full use of the “Fence” and it doesn’t need to be hidden, though be sure not to make it aggressive. Avoid “ums” and “ahs” and constant head nodding. Use minimal and appropriate touch and provide responsive expressions.

    The idea is to project a vibe of confidence and control. You establish your boundary and you enforce it, but in a polite calm manner. Ideally your level of aggression should always be below that of your opponent. This has two effects, firstly it gives you room to move if you do have to raise the level of aggression, it is always easier to increase your aggression then it is to lower it. Secondly, it has an anchoring effect on the other person’s level of aggression, the lower your level of aggression the lower the other person needs to have his.

    The Submissive Approach

    This approach involves submitting and complying with the demands of the aggressor to prevent escalation to physical violence. This has good and bad aspects. On one hand it often prevents physical violence as you are giving the attacker what he wants; on the other hand it does nothing to deter future attacks and establishes you as an ‘easy victim’. It involves giving up your boundaries and your rights. Psychologically, this approach can be quite dysfunctional, often after the event the victim will go through a stage of regret and depression. They may see their action as cowardly, chastising themselves for not fighting back. This can have quite a detrimental effect on every day life as the feelings of inadequacy and the damaged self esteem effect performance and relationships across other areas of life (eg. family, work)

    The submissive approach can work – and often does. You have to decide if being submissive out weighs the consequences of an alternative action. This approach is best used in street crime such as a mugging where the aggressor is after material possessions. I have a saying; “There is nothing in my wallet that is worth more then holding my wife again”. I don’t recommend this approach for bullying situations; in these cases submission only reinforces the bullying behaviour. It may work for a single instance bully such as the pub thug, where you allow the guy to get an ego boost by putting you down; in a sense this is a type of robbery where he steals a bit of ego from you to boost his own.

    You have to decide whether this approach is appropriate for the situation, and that will depend on the situation, circumstances, environment, the aggressor, yourself and a plethora of other variables. Trust your instincts – if you feel this is the time to be compliant – then go with your gut.

    You should avoid eye contact and gaze downward, this doesn’t mean you take you eyes of the aggressor, instead just keep your gaze below his face level, the chest is ideal. You’ll want to project a sense of fear or at least portray that image. Try to appear to be shrinking away from the aggressor. Practice this again in front of a mirror so that it looks genuine.

    The Passive Approach

    The above approaches are extremes; the passive approach is a broader and more flexible approach. It acts as a compliment to the other approaches (except for the aggressive approach). You can be passive and assertive and you can be passive and submissive, you can even be just passive, but it is a bit contradictory to be both passive and aggressive at the same time. Once you enter aggression you leave passiveness behind.

    The key to the passive approach is its flexibility. Think of passiveness as being the part of a scale anchored by full assertiveness at one end, and full submissiveness at the other end. Generally you will start in the middle, which is passive-neutral or just passive. From this point you can move one way or the other, and back again, depending on how the situation unfolds.

    The Passive Stance

    The passive stance is also known as the ‘non-threatening’, ‘non-violent’ posture, the ‘de-escalation stance’ and the ‘negotiation stance’. It is one of the most useful concepts in self-protection. It provides a platform to negotiate from, whilst simultaneously providing an efficient base to reflexively respond to a sudden attack or to launch your own pre-emptive strike from. It naturally incorporates the fence concept (as coined by Geoff Thompson), and provides a physical and psychological barrier between you and the aggressor. This barrier also acts as a distance maker and measurer. The stance tends to have a calming affect on the aggressor. Even if it has little effect, it won’t contribute to escalation.

    It is important not to think of the passive stance as a fixed stance. It should be adapted to suit your purpose; subtle changes can change it from neutral to more assertive or more submissive. The stance forms a part of your body language and should come across as natural. It would be easy to fill this article just with information regarding the passive stance and its applications, in fact entire books and DVD’s have been produced on the topic. For this article a brief mention should suffice.


    #38765 Reply
    Silver Sentinel

    PART 2:

    Now let’s look at some other things we can do. Some of the following tactics and suggestions will lend themselves more effectively to particular approaches, and/or type of aggressor, some are universal.

    Know that you are under attack

    Apathy and denial can get you killed. Thousands of victims previously thought, “It could never happen to me”, only to have themselves proven wrong, sometimes with devastating consequences. This is apathy, and it is a natural defence mechanism against fear. We basically distance ourselves from the fear or being attacked by re-assuring ourselves that it happens to other people not ourselves. Some people are less likely to experience an aggressive and violent encounter than others, but no one can be 100% immunised from the possibility. The simple and empowering counter against apathy is simply accepting that you could be a victim of an attack or aggression. Don’t become paranoid, just acknowledge that it is possible, even if statistically you are unlikely to be a victim of violence (there is a much higher chance that you will experience aggression rather then physical violence, but aggression can escalate to violence very easily)

    One of the most dangerous things to do when facing aggression is to deny it is happening or be trapped in a “How/why is this happening to me” loop, which is essentially a denial loop. If you find your mind saying things like “why is this happening to me” or “this can’t be happening”, then stop it and acknowledge it is happening and it’s happening now. You are more likely to find solutions by thinking about what to do, than you are by worrying why it is happening.

    The first step is to recognise that this is an aggressive situation. Most of the time this will be pretty obvious but in some cases, such as with a predatory aggressor, it may be hidden in the initial interaction. The predatory aggressor will often use the interview stage of an attack to test and manipulate their victim prior to utilising aggression. (See my article Attack by Numbers: A step-by-step guide to an attack” in Blitz, March 2007 for an in-depth look at the stages of an attack). Recognise when the warning signs mentioned earlier are in play. The earlier you recognise them the easier the de-escalation and, thus, the avoidance of violence.

    Listen to your intuition

    Our senses detect a huge amount of stimuli all of the time. We have perception and selection process that filter out most of the stimuli so that only those of interest or importance gets relayed to our consciousness. The other stimuli not filtered are still sensed, it’s just that they are not perceived on a conscious level, rather they are perceived at a subconscious level. This forms the basis of one popular explanation of how intuition works. The gut feeling that you feel is a response to something perceived in the subconscious. Intuition is always a response to something and is usually a warning of some sort.

    1000’s of victims of violence have said that they felt “something was wrong” or “Something wasn’t quite right”. Do not ignore these warning signals, they have evolved in us from the time our species began and are a part of our natural protection system. Regardless of how or what you think Intuition is, it does exist and it exists to warn you of danger or threat. When you feel intuitive signs, stop and ask what it could be. It is better to take a little time to do this than to ignore it and potentially loose considerably more than a few seconds in your day.


    Before anything take a deep breath. This accomplishes a couple of things. It will calm you and acts as a system reset. It is always an advantage to start from a calm, centred position when dealing with aggression. It provides you with room to move and makes it harder for the aggressor to manipulate your own level of aggression. Starting and maintaining your own level of aggression at a relatively low level acts as an anchor for the aggressor’s aggression. It is psychologically difficult to raise the level of aggression when faced with a comparatively lower level; basically the aggressor doesn’t need to raise the aggression level as they are already at a significantly higher, and a perceived superior, level of aggression. As a rule of thumb, you should always try to maintain a level of aggression lower then that of the aggressor.

    The other benefit of taking a breath is that it supplies our brain with a decent dose of oxygen. Our brain is going to be utilised during the de-escalation attempt, we want it to be ready to think, providing it with oxygen will enable it to perform at its best under the conditions. Your cognitive ability may already be, or could soon be, impaired due to the processes involved in the Acute Stress Response, better known as the Fight or Flight response. We want all the help we can get, so take a breath and feed the brain.

    Congruent Body Language

    It’s a well know fact that body language and non verbal cues account for between 80% and 90% of communication (depending on who you ask). This is a huge amount of information that gets transmitted via your body language, gestures, gaze, posture, facial expressions and the tone and volume of you voice. The words themselves only account for around 7% or 8% of communication. Your body language, posture and gaze are the first things that a predator reads in the section process of an attack (for more information on the Steps of an attack, see my article titled “Attack by Numbers: A step by step guide to an attack”. Published in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine, March 2007).

    Regardless of what tactics or strategy you use, when dealing with an aggressive threat, you must match it with congruent body language. For Example if I am trying to convince the aggressor that I do not want to fight, then standing in a fighting stance with my fist up, probably wouldn’t be very congruent to that message. See photos one and two to see what I mean.

    Simply ensure your outward appearance and gestures match the type of approach you choose. If you take on a submissive role then ensure your body language reflects this.

    Particularly take notice of your facial expression, the basic human emotions (happiness/joy, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust) all have distinctive facial expressions. Research (e.g. Ekman, 1994) supports the idea that facial expression is innate and universal across cultures. Facial expressions are the most predominant form of emotional expression in humans, and even cross to similar expressions in animals. Others judge your emotional state by interpreting your facial expressions; often this is done automatically and below a conscious level.

    Faked body language and facial expressions are not as effective as spontaneous or real expression, so you will need to practice. Jump in front of a mirror and practice your stance, posture and facial expressions, this is a common and basic acting technique. If you decide on an aggressive approach then use the appropriate angry expression and body language, if you choose a submissive approach then use the expression and body language of fear.

    Choose the destination, but be flexible in the path

    Your number one goal should be the maintenance of your own safety, second would be the safety of others, and even loved ones. Most of us would consider our loved ones safety as more important then our own, I do too. However you cannot protect your loved ones if you are taken out of the picture, thus the importance of maintaining your own safety as priority. Anyone who has flown on a commercial airline would have heard the safety instructions, they always ask that you secure your own facemask etc prior to assisting any one else even your children. Lifesavers and emergency workers will always maintain their own safety over that of the ones they rescue. After all who would rescue you if the rescuer were injured; the same idea applies when facing an aggressive person.

    Your personal safety is obviously the major goal; other goals contribute to bringing about that safety. Your goals can vary depending on the situation. You may choose a goal that provides solutions to the aggressor and provide help, or returning them to a normal level of rationality. It may be to remove yourself from the situation, or maybe to remove the aggressor from your environment. Regardless of what the goals or sub goals are, you must decide on them early. It is fine to have a general plan to achieving the goal, but you have to be flexible in that plan. Very seldom will an aggressive confrontation work to your plan; the nature of aggression is that it can be influenced by almost countless number of variables. This is why you shouldn’t say ever or always in self-protection, there is always an exception (or more) to every rule. Even the information in this article cannot be taken as absolute or guaranteed.

    The big advantage to working towards a goal is that it helps you remain calm and keep you thinking in a positive direction. You can think of this as similar to driving a car. You set out with a destination in mind, you can even have a general plan on how to get there, but on the way to the destination you must negotiate various obstacles and changes to your planned route along the way.

    Take control of the interaction.

    Try to take control of the interaction by guiding the aggressor along a path of your own choosing. Establish boundaries, set a flexible plan and steer the interaction in that direction. Use the other tactics I’ve mentioned to control the situation. Physically put yourself in the most advantageous position, preferably with yourself between the aggressor and an escape route. Try to avoid being stuck in the position where the aggressor blocks the exit. Don’t be drawn into a fight and don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by threatening and abusive language.

    Decide on your approach and take control early, the earlier the better. Even if you choose a submissive approach you chose it so you are controlling the interaction. To the aggressor it seems that they are in control, it is really you working towards your own goal.

    Listen to the aggressor

    It is important to actually listen to what the aggressor is saying. If we don’t actually listen then we risk misunderstanding the true nature of the problem. Often an aggressor, particularly an ‘end of tether’ aggressor, will believe that no-one is listening to them, if you don’t show that you are listening then you inadvertently confirm that belief and further had to their frustration.

    Don’t just listen, use active listening techniques, repeat and rephrase what the aggressor has said to show that you do understand. Don’t be afraid to let the aggressor talk, often they want someone to talk to not someone to talk AT them. Appear interested and show that interest in your body language. Lean slightly forward maybe with your head tilted slightly so it shows you are listening intently. Use appropriate eye contact so that the aggressor can see he has your attention, but don’t stare and maintain your awareness. You can use open questions to encourage the aggressor to continue talking. The more energy dispersed by talking and venting, the less likely the built up energy will be released in physical violence

    Your body language should be open but not so much as to leave you open to attack. Give the aggressor plenty of room; crowding is one of the leading contributions to frustration and aggression in humans. Try not to make premature judgments or assume what the aggressor is going to say or means. Instead wait till they have finished so that you are sure you have the full story.

    Respond to the message and not the words

    Listening is important but it is equally import to understand the message, not just what is said. An aggressive person will often use abusive and hurtful language; don’t fall into the trap of becoming over focused on the words. This can cause a stopping point, which is simply a point in the communication where you stop listening and only think about the word the aggressor just called you or said. You simply have to ignore these words, they are after all, just letters combined to elicit a response or to express emotion. They are not sticks or stones; so just let them go by and respond to the message instead. Ignore the bait and don’t get drawn into a fight.

    Try to identify the pre-supposition of what is being said. A pre-supposition is the underlying meaning of an utterance. For example, if the aggressor approaches you asking, “What are you looking at, mate”, he is not really asking you a question, he is accusing you of a discretion. Pre-suppositions can change depending on the situation, but are expressed in paralanguage, the verbal aspect of communication other then words, such as volume, pitch, tone, emphasis and so on.


    Empathy is putting your self into someone else’s shoes; it is recognising, understanding and feeling another person’s emotions. Empathy is helpful in an aggressive situation as it allows you see the situation from the others perspective. It goes hand in hand with listening and enables a greater understanding of the problem and the reasons behind a person’s behaviour. Care must be taken though as the predatory aggressor (and even the end of tether aggressor) will often rely on and play on a persons empathy. Use empathy to understand the other person’s feelings and situation, but be careful not to let it drift into sympathy where you begin to feel sorry for or pity the aggressor. Sympathy will often lead us to take action to relieve the discomfort of the aggressor whilst not addressing the problem itself.

    Establish Common Ground

    We tend not to abuse those with whom we share a common link and whom we believe are similar to us. Psychologically similarity is a major influence on attractiveness. I’m not talking physical attractiveness here, though it does apply in the same way, but rather I am referring to liking. Much like Martial artist tend to be attracted to each other due to the common interest of Martial arts. This phenomenon can be traced back to our early evolution, where it was in our species’ survival interest to protect or assist those whom share similar genes to us.

    This tactic is very similar to what Gavin de Becker refers to as “Forced Teaming”. Basically we attempt highlight either real or perceived commonalities between our selves and the aggressor. Simply mentioning obvious similarities in appearance, attitude or circumstances can do this. Exchanging names has a duel effect of re-humanising the victim and increases the level of the relationship. It is much easier to abuse a total stranger, but simply knowing their name closes the psychological distance between two people. Try to encourage or lead the aggressor to a discussion on some commonality.

    You are trying to establish yourself as a friend, a teammate or at least an ally. For example if the guy is wearing a footy team jersey, you can highlight your mutual like for the team, or how you wish you still played the game. It doesn’t matter that you may not like the team what is important is that he believes you do. And when dealing with an aggressive person, what they believe is the important issue.

    Avoid accidental insults and unintended blaming

    This comes under the shame element of the TACOS rules. I think it goes without saying that if you want to de-escalate an aggressive situation then deliberately insulting or blaming the aggressor wouldn’t be a very productive to that goal. When a person is under the spell of aggression it is very easy to accidentally and unintentionally do just that. Stress and danger tends to make people hypersensitive to insults and challenges.

    What is heard by the aggressor may not be what is meant by the victim, and rarely will an angry or fearful person accept criticism. It is more likely that they will believe it is an attack and behave as if it was a genuine attack. Don’t suggest how a problem should have or could have been solved, no one wants to be reminded of there failures. Instead focus on the solutions and don’t dwell on the problem, avoid asking how the problem happened, and guide the aggressor to a solution. Establish yourself as an ally (common ground), and assure the aggressor that he is not the subject of ridicule and that you are taking him seriously.

    Use “Black Tie” manners

    Be polite and use the manners you would if you were attending a black tie gala event. Respect, politeness and manners are at the core of many of the tactics listed here. It reduces the chances of accidental insults and makes it more difficult for someone to maintain aggression towards you. Avoid comments like “calm down” or “relax”
    (‘Order’ from TACOS). Use empathy but try to avoid saying that you “understand” as this often comes across demeaning and inflammatory (accidental insults), the person expressing the aggression often feels like no one understands what he or she is feeling and that there experience is unique. Instead re-state the problem and show that you understand, action often does speak louder then words. You want to portray yourself as being friendly and helpful. We all know how to be polite and courteous, so I want insult you by telling you how to.

    Provide options and alternatives

    An ‘end of tether’ aggressor will often feel that they are out of options; this is may be why they have turned to aggression in the first place. By providing options you allow the aggressor to see that all is not lost and that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. Start by defining an abstract, overall goal, and this will often be a solution to the problem or a way to find the solution. Next highlight some intermediate goals to help the aggressor see a way through the tunnel. Help the aggressor to then plot a course to each of the intermediate goals, at least help them see the first through steps. If possible then assist the aggressor to initiate the action; this could be as simple as agreeing to see a counsellor (for example) and then contacting a counsellor and making an appointment for the aggressor.

    Just simply pointing out options can return the aggressor to a more rational state of mind. Let’s look at a similar concept called loopholing.


    Loopholing is providing and allowing an aggressor to “get out of” the aggressive action whilst still maintaining respect or saving face. Apologising is a simple loophole, even if you are innocent, the aggressor can return to his friends and announce that he made you apologise. Most often a predatory aggressor is simply after a boost to his ego or to look good in front of his peers. Simply feed his ego and he will be less likely to go physical, most people don’t want to fight so provide them with a means to win without resorting to violence.

    Show him respect, what ever you do don’t embarrass or shame the aggressor in front of his peers. If you are in a position of authority and you have to issue a warning or make a request as to their behaviour, then pull them aside away from there friends or audience. Loopholing can take on many forms but the key is to allow the attacker to boost/maintain his ego and status.

    Another example is to offer to buy the guy a drink, or provide some other gesture of respect or compensation. These are simply small insignificant gestures to avoid violence; the cost of a beer is a lot less then the cost of medical treatment and the associated time off work. Loopholing doesn’t have to be submissive but if using an assertive loophole then ensure you don’t disrespect or shame the aggressor, especially in front of an audience.

    The other side of loopholing is where you take advantage of a loophole provided by the aggressor. The simplest example of this is if the attacker tells you to **** off (or any other colourful expression for “go way”), simply say “OK, you win I’m out of here”, and leave. (Don’t turn you back on the aggressor not only does it leave you open, but also, it can easily be taken as a sign of disrespect).

    Grandpa story telling tactic (eg Grandpa Simpson’s waffle, boring baroque)

    This is one of my favourite techniques and it can be very effective in arresting the momentum of the aggressor. The idea is to simply waffle on non-stop, drift off on tangents, and provide so much irrelevant information that the aggressor actually gets bored and finds his own excuse to leave. You can talk about anything and everything; describe some fictitious domestic situation, whinge about your job, the economy, the good ole days, and so forth. The trick is to start at a relevant topic, then lead the aggressor into your story and then waffle like grandpa use to. If you have seen any Simpson’s episode where Grandpa Simpson tells a story you’ll know exactly what I mean. (Who ever thought you could learn self-protection from the Simpson’s)

    Broken record tactic (repeating)

    This is an assertive technique that utilises repetition to reinforce your stance on a subject. Its name comes from the fact that it sounds like a broken, scratched or stuck record (remember those big black vinyl discs, before CD’s) repeating the same words over and over again. Repetition stimulates the pattern recognition ability of the aggressor’s brain. After a number of repetitions the aggressor has no choice but to take notice of what you are saying, eventually they realise it is useless to continue and thus give up. It may not work with everyone, but that goes for any of these tactics.

    Use the same words and repeat them in a calm and purposeful way. Use language that shows that you are willing to help, and have empathy for the situation/aggressor. It’s not a matter of mindlessly repeating yourself, but strategically reinforcing your boundaries. When the aggressor makes repeated requests that you cannot or will not comply to you simply reply with your broken record phrase, when they restate the request you restate the same broken record phrase. If they switch to different request, you can use the same phrase, or a slight variation of it (to suit the new request).

    The most basic and powerful broken record phrase is simply “NO!” stated assertively, in a calm, firm and polite manner.


    #38766 Reply
    Silver Sentinel

    PART 3

    Invoking feelings not actions

    Instead of asking what the aggressor would do in your situation ask them how they would feel. This has the effect of invoking empathy into the aggressor. If you ask them what they will do, their answer will most likely be congruent with their current emotional state, ie. they will reply with a description of an aggressive action. Instead encourage them to think in terms of emotion, particularly another emotion other than aggression. Just thinking about an emotion can elicit that emotion, when you think happy you feel happy. We can use this trait to lower the level of aggression and to allow the aggressor to see how there actions are affecting others. Anger is a powerful emotion so you may not be able to fully replace it with another less negative emotion, but we can at least lower the level of aggression and return the aggressor to a more rational level.

    Using internal and external attributions

    As humans we have a tendency to make internal attributions for others’ behaviour, even when there are clear external/environmental causes, psychologists refer to this as The Fundamental Attribution Error, we simply tend to see a persons actions as a result of there personality, deposition or some other inner trait. For example: “He blew his horn at me because he is a road rage type of person”.

    A related concept is the Actor-Observer Effect, which is the tendency for people to make internal (dispositional) attributions for others’ behaviour, but external (situational) attributions for their own behaviour. For example: “He blew his horn because he is a road rage type of person, but I blew my horn to warn of an obstacle on the road”

    We also have a Self-Serving Bias, that is, we tend to take credit for our successes (internal attributions) referred to as a self-enhancing bias, and we tend to deny responsibility for our failures (external attributions), referred to as a self-protecting bias. We can use these tendencies to our advantage.

    First of all we can recognise when these effects are in place and play to them. We can bolster the aggressor’s ego and self-esteem by highlighting positive internal attributes and play on their belief that our internal attributes did something to affect them. For example, you could highlight their obvious strength (an internal attribute, whether true or not) and mention that even you are stupid enough (a negative internal attribute of yours), to annoy them on purpose (an external attribute, for their aggression)

    The results may be subtle or even non-existent, but we can use these attribution tendencies to help understand the aggressor and when combined with other tactics we can create a smooth natural path for harmonious communication. This is a good tactic to assist an end of tether aggressor to start focusing on strengths and rearrange the way they see the obstacles in their way.

    Using the Sensory Modes

    When dealing with an aggressor, an easy way to form a link and facilitate communication is to match their sensory modes. The sensory modes are simply the senses that we prefer to describe things in terms of. If you tend to use phrases like “This doesn’t look good”, or “I can see the problem here” then your preferred sensory mode is sight. If you use words like “it doesn’t feel right” or “ that guy just rubs me the wrong way” or even “It’s smooth sailing from here” then you have a touch oriented sensory mode.

    We don’t always use the same sensory mode and we may change depending on the situation, but in general, we do tend to prefer one to the others. By matching the sensory mode of the aggressor you again promote harmonious communication; it helps the aggressor feel that they are understood and talking to someone on the same wavelength.

    Remove the audience

    If you are dealing with and aggressor or a situation that has the potential to become aggressive (for example, firing an employee, asking a patron to leave a club) then try to remove any audience. The aggressor will feel pressure from the belief that the audience is laughing at them or ridiculing them, they will be pressured just like if performing in a spotlight on stage. They will feel embarrassment and will often use aggression to regulate the emotion, preferring the empowering sensations of anger and aggression to the debilitating sensations of fear, guilt and embarrassment.

    Often a predatory aggressor is performing for his friends if you are in a position of authority take him aside and set the rules straight this prevents embarrassment which can quickly escalate into violence.

    Of course removing the audience doesn’t mean you do so at the risk of isolating yourself with the aggressor. Remember your number one rule is to maintain your own safety, if possible know where help is and have it nearby. Either arrange for help to come to you or for the means for you to get to help. Pre-planning is vital in controlling potentially aggressive situations.

    Practice and Training

    Like any aspect of the martial arts and self-protection, de-escalation has to be practiced. This is quite simple and can be fun. Obvious scenario training that includes the behavioural pre-fight stages of a confrontation lends itself well to practising de-escalation. Realistic scenarios, including simulated emotion, can help bridge the gap between applying skill in training to using it in the real world, this holds equally true for de-escalation.

    Another more specific training tool is to have verbal sparring matches. One person tries to escalate whilst the other de-escalates. This training method isolates the verbal part of the confrontation, allowing one to develop the ability to think what to say under pressure. This is a simple isolation drill, just like those used for the physical techniques of Martial arts.

    Take virtually any training method for a physical skill and simply adapt it to escalation, instead of throwing combos of punches throw combos of de-escalation techniques, drill specific techniques, drill defences for specific attacks, especially the common attacks. Observe real arguments and confrontations (safely of course) and identify the tactics and techniques used, this is just like studying fight footage, in MMA or kickboxing.

    I won’t lie to you it is probably more satisfying to train the physical aspect of combat, but the importance of the non physical behavioural components can not be overstated. If you control the behavioural element of the fight then you control the fight.


    If the art of de-escalation was an iceberg then the pages of this article would be the proverbial “tip of the iceberg”, there are so many tactics and techniques that I could fill a book. In fact many authors have done just that; The Gentle Art of Self-Defence by Suzette Haden Elgin, Surviving Aggressive People by Shawn Smith and Verbal Judo by George Thompson are only three that come highly recommended, and provide a good foundation for learning the art of de-escalation: the true art of fighting without fighting. Of course, I’m hoping this article has provided you with adequate introduction to some of the theories.


    Smith, S. T. (1990). Surviving Aggressive People: Practical violence prevention skills for the workplace and the street. Boulder, CO: First Sentient Publications.

    Elgin, S. H. (1980). The Gentle Art of Self-Defence. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

    De Becker, G. (1997). The Gift of Fear: And other survival signals that protect us from violence. New York, NY: Dell Publishing

    Vaughan, G. M. & Hogg, M. A. (2008), Introduction to social psychology (5th ed.). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education,


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