Mastering Your Mental State In A Confrontation

Bob Spour demonstrates self-defence physiological and physical techniques
Bob Spour demonstrates controlling the space physiologically and physically

In my previous post I talked about the 10 principles of Self Protection.

Each of those principles stand on the shoulders of the others, they are for all intents and purposes mutually interdependent.

In this post I want to take one of these ideas and spend some time discussing its importance.

The principle is Control.

Put in the context of Self Protection, we can look at it in two ways.

First of all, there is physical control. This could be the control of your breathing, your stance, your striking or grappling ability. In fact, any of the physical characteristics of your training.

A good instructor should be teaching these attributes, anyway.

(I will spend more time in a future post concerning these aspects of the confrontation).

I have already discussed how awareness allows you to gain control over the environment so we don’t need to bring that into the discussion today.

I am going to focus on psychological control. This is crucial if you wish the confrontation to end without violence.

So what do I mean by this?

As I have said previously, a self-defence system generally gets itself tied up in the defensive blocks and counter attacks against an antagonist likely mode of attack. The Instructor will have you practice methods of defence repeatedly in an attempt to make it a reaction should that event occur.

They base their systems on the different types of strikes and grabs that an antagonist might use against you and they then train you to have a response to these types of attacks.

All well and good.

If you can remember them all.

I have seen them and practiced them, and they number in their hundreds!

Good luck with that method.

Under the pressure of a real fight, against a determined attacker, most students forget everything they have been taught. In an instant!

An unrealistic way to train and can build a false sense of confidence.

When the attack is a determined attack, like an ambush, where you have been unaware of its approach (due to lack of awareness), you will generally end up in A&E or worse…

I want to take a step back from that likelihood however and look at how you would deal with a typical standoff situation.

Not all fights, start with a standoff. But I would say, in my experience, and in the experience of others I’ve spoken to, about 80 to 90% of street confrontations start at this range. This gives you an opportunity to control the space physically with a rudimentary guard and play for time.

I call it “minding the gap”.

An old student and friend of mine, Geoff Thompson calls it, “The Fence”.

Whatever you call it… It allows you to control the space and keep a distance between you and the opponent. Keep in mind that you are not simply playing for time. You will use this time to change your mental state in order for you to control the opponent’s mental state.

It is at this point that the antagonist feels they have the upper hand and will continue onto the next phase… and attack! The attack is often preceded by verbal insults and a lot of shouting.

You must therefore develop an ability to control your normal habitual emotional reaction immediately.

You mustn’t waver.

Now is the time to be decisive and alter your mind set.

You are going to learn a new habitual response.

Sometimes I have seen teachers tell the student to match the level of verbal threat to that of the aggressor and shout back at the attacker. In an attempt to match the level of the attackers aggression. This might work, but may cause a problem later if witnesses are called to testify because you broke his jaw!

Onlookers witnessing the event may be confused as to who is the aggressor and when questioned by the police say they don’t know or may even say you were..

So should there be a fight and the antagonist is injured statements from witnesses may be skewed in the favour of the original aggressor. You could end up in court as the aggressor. I have seen it happen!

So we have to be able to control the attacker by controlling our state and not simply through raising our voice and acting like a psychopath!.

The few confrontations I have had have rarely ended up in an actual fight because I have controlled the aggressor psychologically. I convinced them that it might not be worth turning the confrontation into a physical thing.

It is at this point that they will back off with threats and gestures. Maybe threatening to kill you at some future time!

For me, that’s a great result!

So how do we do this? How do we achieve this control over a habitual reaction?

Like any training method we need to practice.

Just as you practice your striking and footwork in the gym you need to develop a new mental habit. An ability to change your state instantly and we can do it in several ways.

Sadly, in an article of this length I can only give you one method but it is a method that many of my students have found useful and they have gone on to use it in a number of situations.

I run courses and seminars on this very subject and have a number of videos on my YouTube channel for further clarification.

My method is relatively simple; In a confrontation I run an internal dialogue which goes something like this:

“Wow! its going to be my birthday, Xmas and Easter all rolled into one when you kick off. What an opportunity to practice my striking! Yes! Some sparring practice… Cheers mate!”

This makes me feel good and automatically adjusts my physiology appropriately.

I then calmly but assertively tell my aggressor that he should calm down. Being a geordie, I will usually put a reflexive swear word in there too!

I also stare at them with a wry smile on my face, constantly repeating my internal dialogue over and over. Like a powerful mantra. Reinforcing my state of confidence and control.

I have heard students say they can feel it sweep over them when we are training. It’s that tangible.

In fact studies were done on how the body releases hormones when someone is in a heightened emotional state. Check out the following article for more clarification: Live Science – Humans Smell Fear

If your attacker senses your fear the confrontation will escalate. The aggressor will literally smell your fear and take control and attack.

So how do we control this response?

How do we control The Fight or Flight Response?

As you have seen, I use internal dialogue to change my state along with a couple of physical anchors.

In a confrontation, I simply consider this an opportunity for practice.

I remember the thousands of hours I have put into training for this moment and I have a feeling of elation.

The opposite of fear.

The aggressor feels this confidence oozing out of my pores and realises they have bitten off more than they can chew.

I also look directly at the opponent.

I was taught this method a long time ago by my karate teacher.

He told me to look through my opponent as if looking at a distant mountain.

This prevents me from thinking about the physical characteristics of the person in front of me. I don’t immediately start talking myself into a state of fear and panic. Assessing his size and tattoos and how dangerous he looks!

Another Instructor told me to look over the opponent’s shoulder. Do this next time you are in conversation with a friend and watch their reaction.
I’ve seen a doorman use this to great effect. It completely unnerved the antagonist!

Now change your internal dialogue to something more useful! Make it your own and have a think about how that internal dialogue affects your state. I remember teaching a doorman to change his dialogue so that it would sound like Daffy Duck. He said it made him smile internally and couldn’t take anyone seriously after that. Whatever works!

If I am up against a stressful situation, I will always reframe using useful and empowering internal dialogue and make myself laugh.

It works wonders. It changes your mental attitude and those changes are immediately sensed by those around you.

Next time you’re in front of the heavy bag, the speed ball or with your partner on the pads and you’re practicing your palm heel strikes, remember to practice setting your state!

Take your position.

Imagine that you’re the most confident and assertive person in the world.

I mean, Act as if you are that person and build a powerful and enticing internal dialogue.

… and remember:

Stay Aware!

Avoid a confrontation when possible.

If a confrontation occurs and is initiated by dialogue and you have the time change your state by changing your internal dialogue.

… and then reassess the situation as it develops and wait… controlling the space physically.

Stay Safe and Stay Aware…

I will be posting a video on YouTube this week going into more detail. Keep an eye on your Newsletter.

If you haven’t signed up for it, do so now to be updated on all developments.

1 thought on “Mastering Your Mental State In A Confrontation

  1. ok i am a student long time with guro graeme leggat .been with him for over 18 years mark was 5 when i started hahaha. started martial arts in 1969 glasgow. kobi ozaka. ok first thing i am and was VERY small skinny as a child growing up in glasgow you had to be hard. i went from karate tae kwon do kickboxing BOXING etc realy looking for the real deal. i found boxing to be the best as i was never a good kicker. due to my background i was tramatised to violance i froze in real confromtations now i hear the words fight or flight but never freez? now i dont need to tell you that i have ace instructors and freands like guro leggat. mark boyle etc. but its still hard to change your sycolagy of fight. i still have the none action moment and the freez. i use none confrontational methods i dont speek never walk up i will use a fence position but that felling is very powerfull the wating for it to start now i know from guro mark boyle. he says its just adrenalin and not realy fear. he just gose into frenzzy mode and takes out the person. but i cant seam to switch on like that. its ok if the person atacks first i just get into the violance. and deal with it. but thats the triker working.i have them like people who are drunk becose of my past as a child i dont like drunks so i usualy just bang them. i never understode this still dont. now i dont have a lot of learning i never went to school. but i can read. i learnd a thing from a book cant remeber the name but it was about a man in prison. he saw fighting and violance and the lead up to it. he saw himselve as a dog in a dog fight visualy and in a emotional sence. the posture the showing of teeth the rased hagles the growling pre fight. etc and then bang theth and glaws i use this same method. i see myselfe as a dog i go silent and watch the posturing and then when the fangs show bang its a dog fight. now i hope this is of use to people who are the same as me. i saw the vidio you did with guro graeme and he sade two things some people cant use there martial arts come the dog fight becose i think its the ABC thing. i dont have martial arts i just fight like a dog and the teeth and glaws are my martial arts IT HITS. i find your site and web channel very cool stuff. i always say to graeme im not good at martial arts. he always says your better than you think you are. its just that your onest and real a consider myself always a beginer always learning its been a intelectual spiritual jurney sorry about the spelling as i have learning dificultes john fraser student of martial arts.

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