In this article I will discuss another vital aspect to Protect's/Senshido's self defense training; de-escalation and verbal diffusion.

De-escalation strategies are predominantly used at the point where the aggressor is intimidating you, shoving you around, verbally abusing you etc prior to the situation escalating to physical violence. The ability to understand and to be able to control the process at this stage is vitally important as it offers you either the chance to talk your way out of the situation, or buys time to position yourself strategically for a pre-emptive or defensive response should one be required.

There are two main aspects to de-escalation; "choice speech" and body language.

"Choice speech" refers to the things that we say to an aggressor, and as importantly the things that we definitely don't want to say to an attacker to avoid the situation escalating to physical violence. Now, obviously we live in a real world and some situations just can't be diffused for many reasons, but this is about loading the dice in your favour and doing whatever it takes to avoid a physical altercation if possible.

Body language is at least 60% of communication and it is important to understand how to position our bodies to send the right congruent message to the aggressor while at the same time offering maximum protection and ability to respond quickly and efficiently should it be required.

Let's look at choice speech first. Let's be clear here, we never teach "scripts" or any kind of pre-rehearsed verbal routine because that concept is ridiculous to say the least. What we are talking about here is knowing what types of things tend to escalate situations and what types of things tend to de-escalate them when you say them to an aggressor(s).

One of the important things at this stage is to know what the aggressor wants. Are they attacking you from an ego level or a criminal level? The two are similar in some ways but have distinct differences which can alter the outcome drastically.

There are three types of things that an aggressor can possibly want from you; your valuables (money, iPod, keys, handbag, shoes, etc), your body (they want to beat you, rape you, humiliate you, belittle you, kidnap you etc), and your life.

Understanding what it is that they want is imperative because that then offers you the opportunity to manipulate the situation to your advantage by asking questions and offering solutions to the specific need.

Also while you are diffusing, you are buying yourself time to assess some important variables such as; "What is my environment and how can that work for/against me?" "What is my situation?" (i.e. am I alone or with friends/family, am I drunk, against the wall, sitting down, in enclosed space etc) "Who am I dealing with?" (i.e. is he alone or with friends, sociopath, does he have a concealed weapon etc) and "Do I have any limitations?" (i.e. am I sick, drunk, high, injured etc).

One of the main things we encourage people to do at this stage of the process is to listen. Hardly anyone listens to each other any more. So often our initial response to an aggressor is one of anger and/or violence, whereas so often a situation can be diffused by simply listening to the person and looking for a peaceful solution. People who have attended our 'Best Defence' seminars know what I mean by that and the importance of it.

The second stage is body language. It is vital that the messages you are sending with your body are congruent with the words/tonality that you are using. There is no point in saying "I don't want any trouble, lets talk about this" to an aggressor while you are standing one foot away from them in a fighting stance, with a look on your face like you are about to eat them! That is incongruent behaviour that will probably not have a happy ending.

The positioning of your body must also be able to provide maximum protection to you against any type of attack, including the sucker punch, and also position you in such a way to deliver whatever level of physical retaliation you deem necessary in the moment.

Other aspects to body positioning include sending the right messages to witnesses, maintaining strategic proximity to your aggressor, and eliminating attack ranges by placing psychological barriers in place.

For those of you who have attended one of our seminars already, you have experienced and worked with our "passive stance" and more importantly, the psychology behind the stance, and you have seen first hand the benefits it delivers in a real situation.

So often, martial artists have a hard time accepting that de-escalation IS self defence because martial arts deal with a purely physical delivery system. My opinion here is vastly different and I am qualified to give this opinion given the amount of violence I have experienced and seen in my life. Avoidance and de-escalation is absolutely self defence in its truest form. The physical bit is the absolute last resort when all other aspects of your self defence fail and you are left with no other option.

If you have a problem with the concept of avoidance and de-escalation in the first instance, instead favouring a purely physical response, I would suggest that you have emotional/self control issues or a gap in your training which needs to be addressed quickly. That attitude is usually borne out of insecurities, fears, self-doubts and limiting self beliefs controlling you, and these things are leading you to a dark place that will only serve to bring you pain.

If you feel that you have to impose your skills upon someone, then your ego is in control and you are going to learn some very hard lessons. Real power comes from getting out of the situation, knowing that you could have beaten the other person, but you didn't need to because you controlled the situation. You can feel good about it because you potentially just saved somebody a lot of hurt, and at the same time you no longer have the aftermath to deal with. Believe me, dealing with the aftermath of real, serious violence is hell. It is a place that you absolutely do not want to be. As I have said many times, no-one wins a street fight. You may survive it. But you don't win it. Nobody does.

We have a saying at Protect; "To engage is to enrage". If you don't engage the aggressor (unless of course you have no choice), if you become detached from your ego-related responses and feel no need to defend a point of view that can not in any way have a positive outcome given the situation, then there is nothing left to attack. When you reach this stage of the confrontation, very often you will find the situation diffused. It is hard for someone to continually attack your point of view when you are agreeing with them or giving them what they want after all.

Also keep in mind that in most situations it is very important to leave a person with a way out. That is, letting them ‘save face'. Ego is one of the main catalysts of all fights and unless you give the person the chance to leave with his/her ego intact (if not inflated) then the chances are they will not go anywhere and the situation will escalate into physical violence.

Now of course, this is all contextual and depends on what the person wants, but when you understand how this works you will find yourself in a true position of power where you can control many situations long before they ever become physically violent. This is self defence.

And why bother with all this stuff? Why not just "knock ‘em out"? Just ask someone who has faced really serious violence, or attended one of our seminars, and they will answer that for you.

Dealing with real violence is not about the courageous, honourable, cool, flashy stuff that is glorified through the media, movies and some martial arts. It is brutal, chaotic, scary, emotionally traumatic, and never…ever…simple. You have to take into account multiple attackers, weapons, gang mentality, drug influence, retaliation against you and even your loved ones, emotional trauma to you and you families, the law, the list goes on and on. It is not a place you want to be, and if it is I suggest you seek help for that because the only possible outcome to that attitude is pain to yourself and those you love.

After all, you can not fight fire with fire. You can not beat violence with more violence. There is an expression that we use: "When you dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change". That is so true. Where possible, fight fire with…water. Beat violence with patience, empathy, understanding and come at it from a place of light, rather than where violence grows from, a place that is very dark.

Of course, there are times when there is no choice but to engage physically bu let's look to exhaust all options before that if possible.

As always, I welcome all feedback, comments, criticisms or suggestions, feel free to contact me at

Stay safe.


Author's Bio: 

Phil Thompson is co-founder of Protect Self Defence. A keynote speaker and highly regarded self-protection expert, Phil leads seminars and instructs a huge variety of students in Protect programmes all over New Zealand and Australia.

Phil has over 25 years experience in martial arts training, achieving Black Belt level or higher in multiple styles. So he knows a bit about physical self-defence techniques. But Phil's impetus with Protect goes far beyond simply memorising techniques for physical conflicts, to dealing with the causes and effects of violence in a truly holistic way.

Phil believes that beyond the physical, effective self-protection involves a variety of behavioural, emotional, psychological, ethical and legal aspects. To understand them all is to truly feel safe.

He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and an acknowledged expert on the pre-contact stages of violent confrontation.

He is also the sole male in New Zealand to be certified by Richard Dimitri as a Senshido instructor (2006). Senshido is a highly influential form of self-defence that uses the body's own natural rhythms and responses to create easy-to-learn instinctive techniques.

Phil has taught self protection to many thousands of people through regular seminars and training sessions.

Students include members of the general public, as well as professionals not new to violence, such as police (including special tactics units), ambulance officers, armed forces personnel and customs officials.

He also regularly teaches corporates, businesses of all sizes, schools, special needs organisations and everyday men and women concerned about their safety and the safety of their loved ones.

Phil can be contacted at