3 Mindsets That Will Keep You Safe, When It Matters Most

Much of what gets peddled and passed off as ‘self-defence’ training on YouTube has nothing to do with the defence of the self. While the possibility of going hands on with someone who is being an aggressor is ever present, this should never be ones first action.

This starts with making a distinction in ones own mind if the threat one is encountering is ego based or really self-preservation?

Bumping into someone in a bar for example, who spills the drinks you are carrying, who you then argue with, that then leads to an altercation — is not necessarily ‘self defence’.

Let me explain why….

Let’s re-run the same example. But this time, you realise that the person who just bumped into you didn’t see you, and he apologises — which you politely accept. This was an accident.

Let’s re-run that example again. Someone bumps you, and spills the drinks you are carrying. Even though the person apologises you flip out, and begin to use all kinds of profanity. The guy, who was just about to apologise gets really upset, an argument ensues and before you know it – you are both rolling around on the bar floor trying to punch each other in the face. This was an ego fight.

Lets re-run the example for a second last time. Same scenario, drinks are spilled, you don’t get upset and you don’t use any profanity, but the other person does. You get upset, the situation escalates, and before you know it – you are both rolling around on the bar floor trying to punch each other in the face. This was an ego fight.

And here we are, one last time. Same scenario as before, drinks are spilled, you don’t get upset and you don’t use any profanity, but the other person does. You keep your cool, and use verbal jiu-jitsu to de-escalate the situation. In other words you both don’t end up rolling around on the bar floor trying to punch each other in the face. This was self preservation.

In each of the examples above context was key. Knowing what constitutes an ego fight, versus a self preservation incident – is imperative when we are talking about survival. A man’s ego doesn’t like this approach, and even some reading this won’t like it either. You see, most fights have little or nothing to do with self-preservation, but as noted in the examples above are often more than not ego defensive in nature. In other words “I am not going to back down for any man” kind of attitude. That’s fine, but then don’t call it self defence, or teach it as such, because it isn’t.

A Decentralised Focus Mindset

Back to our final example from above. You are using verbal jiu-jitsu in an attempt to calm the other person down. But lets be real, this other person is being aggressive. While it hasn’t gotten there yet, the possibility of going hands on with an aggressor is ever present. While you want to keep focus on the main threat, you need to be decentralised to a degree with your focus. In other words don’t place ALL your focus on the immediate threat in front of you.

You want to immediately begin scanning the room for other potential threats. Signs like, you just saw the people he was sitting with get up as they saw him begin to argue with you. What kind of potential weapons are lying around, either that can be used against you, or if you need to use one if this thing gets out of hand.

What is vital here to understand, is that while you may be unsure of the intentions of the person arguing with you, being sucker punched or blind sided is one of the biggest threats to your safety. While you can handle a threat that you have eyes on, many altercations have been lost when someone focuses so much on the immediate threat, but fails to take note of their surroundings.

As sad as it is, the person you are dealing with may have bumped into you on purpose, to get a rise out of you. While you are dealing with the immediate threat, and if you are not aware, his friends may have encircled you, waiting for an ideal opportunity to attack you. The predatory nature predicts that those who use it will look for vulnerabilities, and one of those is a lack of awareness to ones surroundings. Animals that hunt in packs use this same strategy. They attack from one side, while the others come from the rear where the wounded animal cannot see. The cycle is repeated until the pack has taken down their prey.

My advice to all my clients when coaching them on dealing with interpersonal violence is to ‘assume’ the worst, but don’t show it. Use verbal jiu-jitsu to talk things down, be confident, but don’t be aggressive. Use correct strategy like scanning the room, and not being centrally focused on one threat. If it turns out to be nothing, then simply stand down. But always assume the worst.

Distance Management Mindset

So here you are in a situation you don’t want to be in. You scanning the room. Your focus is not centralised solely on one threat, and you are using your verbal jiu-jitsu. The next strategy you want to employ is distance management, or what I call a proximity alert. In other words, where ever possible keep all threats in arms distance from you. Don’t let the threat encroach on you, and break your personal space barrier.

Here is the reality of interpersonal violence (without some kind of projectile weapon), a person has to get close enough to you, to put their hands (or feet on you) in order to hurt you. Preventing that, ensures that you are ‘safer’. Of course this isn’t always possible but you at least want to try achieve it if the situation allows.

An aggressor will use various ploys to get close to you. Sometimes they are overly aggressive, like posturing, pushing out their chest, or they try to push you – or maybe it is more subtle, like pretending not to be overly aggressive by offering up their side while they move towards you. In either case the objective is the same, they want to get close enough to strike. Animals in the wild do this too. A Lioness in tall grass, slowly creeps towards a zeal of Zebra. When close enough she darts out and charges.

Keeping potential threat/s at arms distance from you, along with decentralised focus are important tactics in a self-preservation situation.

An Evacuation Plan Mindset

While all this is going on, you need to know where the exit is. If suddenly things kick off, and you have to protect yourself, you want to only do so long enough to get out of the situation you find yourself in. Yes, I know, this doesn’t sound all Hollywood, but remember is this ego defense or really self preservation?

As a doorman for several years I can’t tell you how many times I saw people get into altercations where an opportunity presented itself for the loser to evacuate, but he still decided to stick around. At worse, he comes back and tries to continue the fight (there’s that ego again).

If the situation you find yourself in, is really a threat to your safety, then leaving the scene as soon as you can is what it means to truly defend oneself. I know I want to go home and see my children. One ego driven fight could end all of that for me, or worse still I may end up paralysed for the rest of my life, relegated to watch my grandchildren from a wheelchair.


My concern with so much of the stuff consumed daily on YouTube under the banner of ‘self defence’ is that people who really need to defend themselves may begin to think that the only way to deal with an aggressive situation is with aggression. As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

Of course there are times where there is zero choice but to go hands on with another human being to protect yourself and those you love. I live in Johannesburg, one of the most violent cities in the world, so I know that better than anyone else. But because of that I also know the reality. Almost never will you be attacked one on one. Everyone uses firearms or some form of weapon like a blade and they are not afraid to use them either.

About 2-years ago both myself, my wife and our two boys were in a store that got held up. The robbers where all armed. To not cause to much panic they didn’t openly pull their firearms. We could however see what was going down. I took my own advice in this article. I decentralised my focus on the guy at the cash register, who handed over a bag for the cashier to fill up, and scanned the environment. In a second I placed where my kids and wife were in the store and where they were in relationship to the robbers. I quickly, and quietly got everyone together. As we walked to the door the guy who was blocking the entrance stepped towards me to block us from leaving. I immediately placed myself between him and my family, smiled and said “hey bud how are you?”, while going into the Bear position, and keeping him at arms distance while my family walked behind me and exited the store – still keeping my eyes on the robber (and his friends) I then did the same and we walked away.

No ego. No foul, aggressive language, just smart tactics. And here I am writing this today. Things could have quit easily have ended up differently (especially if I took the advice from these reality based self defence nutters on YouTube).


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