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How Not to Get Hit – Preface

March 11, 2012

Today marks the three month countdown to the launch of How Not to Get Hit, which hits the shores of America and the UK on the 10th June, 2012.  As such I’ll be making increasing amounts of noise about the book in a shameless and ongoing act of self publicity, and have decided to start this painful process by publishing the foreward to the book, an autobiographical account of something that happened to me as a kid that got me thinking about writing this book in the first place.  It’s a bit longer than my other posts, so grab yourself a cuppa and get comfy before you begin – and when you finish, if you could see your way to heading over to our How Not to Get Hit Facebook page and clicking ‘like’ if you haven’t already, well I’d be ever so grateful.

I remember the first time I got hit like it happened only yesterday.

 I think everyone does. The initial shock; the realization that you’re not as invincible as you thought you were; the sudden, glaring and unavoidable fact that another human being wants to cause you harm. It has stayed with me, etched in my memory, a thin veneer of childhood innocence painfully and violently being stripped away.

 Where to start?

 I’d like to impress you by telling you I was a fit, active young sixteen- year-old just heading home from a quick two-mile run before my mum had my tea on the table, and my girlfriend came round to help me study for our English exam the next day.

 I’d like to say the whole thing played out like the hero fantasies we entertain as children, with the young innocent lad bravely facing down seemingly insurmountable  odds and vanquishing the more powerful and evil attacker.

 I’d like to say this, but I can’t. Life, or at least my life, wasn’t quite like that. In fact I was a slightly spotty, slightly podgy sixteen year-old working at a local burger restaurant during the summer break between school and college. On this day I’d just finished a particularly long and tiring shift and had begun the 2-mile walk home, cutting through the city park in my eager rush to jump into a shower and wash away the pungent aroma of grease from my hair which, for reasons I can only speculate at now, I had chosen to grow into a long ponytail on top of my head, yet shaved close on the back and sides. I know. I almost didn’t tell you that bit.

 At this point I’d like to set the atmosphere a little. I’d really, really like to describe a dark, oppressive night—the kind of inky blackness that makes every sound seem like a following footstep, every breeze containing the shadow of movement, the subtle hint of danger from unseen horrors. Or perhaps I could conjure a feeling of uneasiness and fear by waxing lyrical about a silent, watchful half-moon, hanging low in the sky; its soft light casting sinister shadows through the trees, etching out the hidden outline of what could be, just maybe, the silhouette of a haunted figure, standing and waiting. Perhaps I could describe to you how, forcing my way slowly through the driving rain, the wind whipping the bushes and scratching at my face in the darkness I felt, if I squinted, that I could make out several still, silent figures slipping between the trunks of the trees in front of me. Watching. Waiting.

 I’d also like to re-create the sense of dread that I got from my assailants as they loomed on the footpath in front of me—eyeing me care- fully while whispering to each other and handling heavy, sharp objects only just concealed about their persons, planning their strategy before descending on me and leaving me a broken, twitching bloody mess on the ground.

 Yep, that’d be great. I’d dearly love to set that atmosphere…

 In fact, it was an irritatingly pleasant summer afternoon in the park. The sun was shining, the birds were singing. The atmosphere was about as sinister and oppressive as, well, as a summer stroll through a sunny park.  Across the way children were playing at a park, manically trying to vie for attention by performing ever more daring stunts and acrobatics as their mothers, blissfully unaware of their offspring’s latest swan dive from the swings onto the seesaw followed by a triple handspring into the center of the sandpit, chatted to each other on the benches to one side.

My ruthless attackers were two girls, probably about a year or two younger than me, and a ten year-old boy. Not, at first glance, the most intimidating or typical harbingers of doom. As I walked past they were staring at me and I, in my teenage shyness, was staring at my feet in the way only a shy teenager can.

 “That’s him!” One of the girls said, pointing directly at me. “That’s the guy?” The other said, looking me up and down. “Yeah, that’s the prick that got my sister pregnant!”

 Can I just at this point apologize for the use of such colorful language but I feel I’d be doing you a disservice if I told the story in any other way than that in which it actually happened—embarrassing, painful moment after embarrassing, painful moment.  I would also like to assure you that I in no way impregnated anyone’s sister, mother, daughter, or even aunt. I can say this with absolute certainty—to put it tenderly I was a late developer, and that particular pleasure in life was still a few years away for me.

 “You f******* c***, where do you think you’re going?” I know. I’m sorry. I was shocked too.  I had walked past this triplet of terror by now without responding to them, hoping that would be the end of it, but my luck wasn’t that good. As I hurried past, sensing my fear and confusion, embarrassment, and apprehensiveness, they quickly followed after me, dancing round  and shoving me here and there—shouting at me and calling me every name under the sun for impregnating said sister and, apparently, ditching her with the baby.

 They pushed. They spat. The little boy even stood in front of me, jumped in the air and punched me in the face. Yup—jumped in the air to reach my face. This was met with cries of glee from the girls, and then the flood gates opened—I was kicked, my pony tail was yanked (thus compounding my shame for having one in the first place) they tripped me, threatening to get some huge relative who was around the corner to give me a sound kicking.

 I’d like to tell you that my inner hero kicked in at this point; that I held my head high and confronted them head on, stood my ground and bravely fought them off, but it didn’t go that way. I just walked on, head down, and took it.  At the end of the park they gave up, laughing and throwing stones. Humiliated, I hurried  home, trying to make sense of what had happened, why I couldn’t stand up for myself. I was confused, ashamed, and still looking over my shoulder for the figure of some big violent relative who my tormentors had promised was coming to hunt me down.

 At the time I couldn’t understand  why I hadn’t defended myself. I was then, as I am now, six foot two inches tall and muscular. They were younger, the opposite sex and in one case, still in middle school. So what happened?

Well, I’m no expert in psychology, nor am I an expert in self-defense, or security, but now, thirteen years later and looking back, I can at least offer my perspective.

 Clearly, I was uncomfortable walking towards them, and giving off “victim” signals, loud and clear. My body language was submissive— hunched up, looking at my feet. This works on a subconscious level and defines, to an extent, how others not only see you but act towards you.

 My three  assailants recognized I  was uncomfortable  under  their stares, and that I was not about to fight back. The ten-year-old was pretty confident I wouldn’t hit him, and the girls, once they had tested their prey, were quite happy to toy with it and pull its hair, safe in the knowl- edge there would be no consequences for their action. The threat of an imminent, unseen violent force maintained an element of fear that kept me off balance. Once I was there, the momentum, their constant attack, kept me off balance—unable to think for long enough to realize what was happening until it was over.

 I’ve picked such an apparently “non-event” intentionally. You see, not all attacks are orchestrated by physically intimidating chaps with shaved heads and a broken bottle. If they were that would be great (well, in a way), because you could lead a very safe and incident free life simply by crossing the road every time you spotted a maniac sporting a shaved head and waving a broken bottle running down the footpath towards you. But the sad truth is most attacks are psychologically intimidating before they are violent and this is where the battle is won, before you even realize you are being attacked.

 I’m not saying this has scarred me for life, because it hasn’t. But it certainly left me shaken at the time. And that’s the point. In the right circumstances, with surprise and confusion on their side, a skilled attacker can easily get the better of someone many times their size and with the apparent advantage.  

 That’s how packs work. The next time you skip past a wildlife program on TV, take a moment  to look at the top predators. They take their time, and pick out the weakest prey. Then they cautiously nip at its heels, almost playfully, until they are sure they will be met with no defense. Only then will they launch a full-scale attack, and we know where that ends. Top predators don’t seek out the strongest prey in the herd. They might lose that battle. The weak, the slow, the young—these carry no risk and can be picked off with relative ease. In the asphalt jungle where we all live, predators and prey still exist, and follow the same behavior. Only the players are different, acting out the same scene.

 This book is all about surviving that top predator. It’s about not becoming the weak member of the herd who is picked off at the sidelines— about not being that safe bet. Not being a victim isn’t about winning, it’s about not losing. It’s about finding a way forward that avoids conflict by understanding your aggressor’s motivations, and managing them.

 Too many self-defense books try to teach a series of set techniques that may or may not work in a series of specific situations. Too many self-defense books pay little, or no attention to the importance of what happens leading up to the point where you get hit in the face. In writing this my intention is to show you how a few simple rules, behavior changes, and an understanding of what makes people tick can signifi- cantly increase your personal safety and give you a good idea of what to do to minimize harm when your luck runs out.

 You’re not going to find any ultimate techniques here that will help you escape a situation—there are none. Nor are you going to find some clever narrative or conversational thread to get yourself out of a jam, because there isn’t one. In life there is always risk and, just occasionally, you will meet somebody who will want to take advantage of you, take something from you, or do you harm.

 Hopefully, what this book will give you is an idea of how to reduce the risk of this happening, know how to avoid situations that help it hap- pen, learn tactics to recognize and reduce aggression, and understand some basic self-defense principles that will protect you should you find yourself in a situation that requires them. I’ve done this by speaking to experts who deal with violence every day—police officers, doormen, bodyguards, prison officers, the army, even psychiatric nurses. I’ve re- searched the demographics of violence from government statistics and crime reports. I’ve drawn from the knowledge of my years of training in the martial arts, and from my instructors. I’ve researched all the major martial arts, in case you want to take your learning further. And I’ve transferred extensive knowledge of behavior, body language, and com- munication, both verbal and non-verbal, to influence situations taken from the business world and put them back where they first developed: for fight or flight situations. I’ve done all this, so you don’t have to do it.

 My intention  isn’t to scare you, or to make you afraid of shadows. Violence and aggression are, thankfully, rare. The skills talked about in this book are life skills about not being a victim. These skills are as relevant in your social life, your working life or your family life as they are in defending yourself. These skills will help you to assert yourself without aggression, avoiding conflict without violence.

 There is much to be learned from our behavior in stressful or dangerous situations, from our evolutionary psychology, and how we learned to stay alive while living in caves or being chased by rhinos. The stage is the same, only the players have changed—so read on, enjoy, and don’t look back.

To win 100 victories against 100 enemies is not the pinnacle of skill. To subdue the enemy without battle is the pinnacle of skill.

—Sun Tzu, Art of War

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