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The more prepared you are to deal with a violent situation, the less likely you will have to.

Preparation Equals Prevention

People are drawn to my Apolaki Krav Maga classes for a variety reasons.
Sometimes, it’s because they’ve been bullied, harassed or victimized in the past.
Sometimes they haven’t been but are concerned about the possibility.  They live in a state of angst from a lack of security and confidence in their ability to control the real and perceived dangers in the world.
We are all born with the need for safety and security in life.  It’s as fundamental as our need for food and shelter.
In this post, I’ll be discussing the dynamics of what human predators look for when selecting their intended victims and what you can do to reduce the probability of being selected yourself.

In Search Of Safety

Many people turn to self defence and martial arts classes to address their safety and security concerns.  It is well know that quality self defence training builds skill, fitness and self-confidence.
People who train soon become more comfortable with the idea of standing up to harassment, whether from a school yard or workplace bully or a drunk at the bar.
They become more aware of themselves, their surrounds and their options to deal with volatile situations. They become more aware of being seen as an easy target.
They begin to prepare themselves for the “next time” they are harassed or confronted.   Armed with their new-found knowledge and skills, they’ll know what to do and be ready, willing and able to do it.
The irony is however, in the vast majority of situations the incidents that formerly plagued them either stop or never happen.  Why is this?

Victim Selection Criteria

Human predators select their victims based on non-verbal (body language) and behavioural signals that they give off.  They will observe their targets from a distance and often approach and then test or interview them to further assess their level of confidence or submissiveness.
In a matter of seconds, the predator acquires a sense of who is and isn’t a suitable target.   For every victim that is attacked, many “fail” their weakness test and are passed over.
So what are the criteria that predators use to select their victims?

What Does A Predator Look For?

victim selection processLike a wild animal, the human predator wants an easy conquest.  He does not want his job to be any more difficult or hazardous than it has to be.
He will seek out those he perceives as weak, submissive and unlikely to fight back.
He doesn’t want resistance and he certainly doesn’t want to be injured himself.  Signs of strength or defiance, whether blatant or implied, are often sufficient to cause him to abandon the selection process and look for a more “suitable” victim.
Bullies don’t pick on people who won’t put up with their sh*t.  Muggers and rapists won’t attack someone who will pound them into the pavement.  Criminals don’t intentionally select people who will confront and challenge their behaviour.  Rapists, muggers, abusers and bullies look for someone they can dominate and control.

The Grayson/Stein Study (1981)

In 1981 researchers, Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein, conducted a study to determine the selection criteria applied by predators when selecting their victims. They made a black-and-white video tape of 60 pedestrians on a busy New York City sidewalk going on about their day.
They later showed that tape to inmates who were incarcerated for violent offenses (rape, murder, robbery, etc.)  They instructed them to rate the pedestrians on the basis of who they thought would make easy or desirable victims.  The results were interesting.
Within seconds, the participants made their selections. What baffled researchers was the consistency of the people who were and were not selected.  The criteria were not readily apparent.  Some small, slightly built women were passed over.  Some large men were selected.  The selection was not dependent on race, age, size or gender.
Many of the convicts didn’t consciously know why they selected as they did.  Some people just looked like easy targets.  It appears that much of the victim selection process is a subconscious decision.
So how is the Predator’s subconscious picking targets?

Body Language Analysis

Still at a loss of specific selection criteria, the researchers did a more thorough analysis of the movement and body language of the people on the videotape.  Here is an overview of their results:
1. Stride: People selected as victims had an exaggerated stride: either abnormally short or long. They dragged, shuffled or lifted their feet unnaturally as they walked.  Non-victims, on the other hand, tended to have a smooth, natural walk.
2. Rate: Victims tend to walk at a different rate than non-victims.  Usually, they walk slower than the flow of other pedestrians. Their movement lacks a sense of deliberateness or purpose.  However, an unnaturally rapid pace can project nervousness or fear.
3. Fluidity: Researchers noted awkwardness in a victim’s body movement.  Jerkiness, raising and lowering one’s centre of gravity or wavering from side to side as they moved became apparent in the victims analyzed. This was contrasted with smoother, more coordinated movement of the non-victims.
4. Wholeness: Victims lacked “wholeness” in their body movement.  They swung their arms as if they were detached and independent from the rest of their body.  Non-victims moved their body from their “center” as a coordinated whole implying strength, balance and confidence.
5. Posture and Gaze: A slumped posture is indicative of weakness or submissiveness.  A downward gaze implies preoccupation and being unaware of one’s surroundings.  Also, someone reluctant to establish eye contact can be perceived as submissive.  These traits imply an ideal target for a predator.

The Impact of Body Language

If you read between the lines of this research, the whole “Preparation Equals Prevention Theory” makes more sense.  The non-victim traits described above are indicators of attitude, athleticism and awareness.  They imply a person’s vigilance and confidence tell the predator’s subconscious that there’s a high potential that they are less likely to be taken by surprise and can and will fight back.
Self defence training develops the qualities of body language that discourage victim selection and projects a “don’t mess with me” demeanor.

How To Apply This Information?

As we have discovered, much of the predator/prey selection process is subconscious.  I believe that it is an evolutionary quality of the subconscious mind that we inherited from our ancestors.  In the days of cavemen and sabre-toothed tigers, it would have been necessary for survival to select prey that would not turn around and bite your head off!  Those who lacked this quality would have soon been eliminated from the gene pool.
It is unlikely that you can consciously and consistently control the non-verbal signals that you project. However, this is not to say that you cannot impact those signals in a powerful and positive way.  Here is how to do it.
Develop your awareness skills: The predator is looking for a victim who is unaware, preoccupied and easy to ambush. By becoming more aware of your surroundings, you not only increase the odds of detecting a potential predator, but you project an image of vigilance.  This in itself can eliminate you from the selection process. Click here to read my other posts about Awareness for Self Protection.
Get into shape: Your level of fitness impacts your ability to defend yourself.  If you are attacked, your ability to run away or fight off an attacker is dramatically impacted by your physical condition.
Secondly, a strong, coordinated and balanced body will automatically project the quality of movement of a non-victim.
Fitness impacts your personality in a positive way.  The increased self-esteem, confidence and emotional toughness that results from being in good shape are non-victim qualities that predators want to avoid.
Get self defence training: Obviously, I’m a strong advocate of self defence and martial arts training.  For reasons I’ve mentioned, self defence training actually reduces the likelihood of having to defend yourself. Learn all you can about confrontational situations and develop skills to deal with them.
Knowledge is power: Knowledge reduces fear and builds confidence.  Confidence is a non-victim quality. Read books, blogs and articles about self defence. Do what you can to clarify your “mental maps” of how confrontations happen, how to avoid them, and how to respond if they do happen.
The most dangerous attitude to your personal safety is the “It will never happen to me” Syndrome.  The fact that you are reading this post already puts you well ahead in the “non-victim game.”
About the Author:
Daughter of a 2-9 British Army Commando and Combatives Instructor, Kelina Cowell grew up on a military base in Dortmund, Germany. Inspired by training with her father from an early age, she continued her combative journey into Krav Maga, Submission Wrestling, Filipino Martial Arts, Pencak Silat and Muay Thai. She searches for the truth in personal protection, simply keeping what can really work on the street and the discarding the “Hollywood” techniques that don’t.
Kelina Cowell is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Apolaki Combat Systems:
  • Apolaki Krav Maga – a unique blend of traditional Krav Maga, with elements of Filipino martial arts, Pencak Silat, Muay Thai and Submission Wrestling. Complete with it’s own 5 Level syllabus and gradings.
  • Apolaki Dirty Boxing – A more in-depth training into Filipino boxing, Western Boxing, Muay Thai and Pencak Silat. Complete with it’s own 5 Level syllabus and gradings.
  • Apolaki SPD: Self Protection for Dwarfs – Co-founded with her student Eugene Grant who was born with Achondroplasia (a form of short-limbed dwarfism). An adapted form of Apolaki Krav Maga suitable for dwarf body types.