There are two basic self defense scenarios that I like to characterize as ambush or delayed. In an ambush attack, the assault happens immediately, the attacker leads with violence. Delayed is where there is some interaction prior to the violent act. In both cases, awareness of what’s going on should be your first tool to avoid trouble. Violence is to be avoided at all costs, unless you are in a profession which requires you to confront violence.

In a delayed violence scenario, there may be a few reasons why the attacker delays violent action. The bar fight where angry words are exchanged before violence erupts is one example. Another would be a  mugging where the attacker first uses intimidation before resorting to physical violence.

In a delayed violence scenario, you may still be able to avoid violence, or prepare yourself to mitigate some of the violence. Becoming aware that violence is about to happen is the key. Here are some body language cues that someone may be about to attack:

  • Target staring or glancing – A person may narrow their eyes and stare at a part of your body (such as the chin) looking at the target they intend to strike. They may also begin to look around at other people in the vicinity or exit routes
  • Looking through you – Also known as the “thousand yard stare”
  • Blading the body back – Instead of facing you straight on, someone places their body more or less 45 degree angle, the knees may be slightly bent. THink of a boxer’s stance or Karate ready stance.
  • Hands to the Head, or on hips – Some people who are extremely angry will unconsciously touch their head, some may place both hands behind their head
  • Hands touching or patting potentially hidden weapon locations – Under a threat, people who are carrying a weapon may instinctively move their hands to check the weapon – usually at the belt-line, pockets, or jacket area
  • Suddenly looking away, or turning partially away – This is the typical “sucker punch” maneuver
  • Clenching the fists – Clenching and unclenching, or holding balled fists
  • Bearing the teeth – Particularly the canine teeth
  • Dropping the head – Chin tucked and eybrows dropped
  • Face becoming red, or pale – Rapid changes in blood flow to the face may indicate an emotional change
  • Rapid, deep breathing through tight lips or flared nostrils – May be accompanied by puffing the cheeks
  • Rocking or bobbing back and forth – usually on the balls of the feet, may be combined with looking for targets on your body
  • Shedding clothing – such as removing a shirt or jacket
  • Profuse sweating – watch for sweat of the forehead
  • Excessive blinking – Also a fairly good lie indicator, excessive blinking may indicate emotional stress

These are just a few pre-violence indicators, and it definitely pays to learn them. Most of them are unconscious behaviors, so a potential attacker will not realize they are doing them at the time.

Obviously some other indicators include things like making verbal threats, raising the voice, being intoxicated, and other things we may already know.

Now, what do you do if you pick up on some pre-violence indicators? That depends on the situation, but your guard and your attention should go up immediately. It’s a good idea to make some distance, and take on a safer non-violent posture. Always be aware of what the person’s hands are doing, look for weapons, and accomplices. Look for your best exit.

Again, depending on the situation, you may still be able to avoid a violent encounter by safely leaving the area, talking the person down, or creating some distance.

Whether or not you’d be justified in striking a person first if you sensed them about to attack is a very sticky area of law that I can’t get into as I’m no lawyer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the law is that nothing is 100% sure. Most, if not all, jurisdictions allow the use of reasonable force against the threat of violence. Some people who should be within their rights to defend themselves have undoubtedly wound up in prison. Imagine yourself in front of a jury explaining why you stomped a guy who hadn’t even thrown a punch at you yet. Research the law in your area, talk to a cop and a criminal lawyer sometime,  and use your best judgment.

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