Body Language and Personal Defense

The best time to spot a potential threat is beforehand.

posted on April 20, 2024
closeup of mans eye

The greatest defensive tool at our disposal is awareness. Having a heightened awareness of what is going on around us gives us more time to simply avoid a problem or, failing that, to prepare to deal with it. Having a good understanding of body language helps immensely in increasing defensive awareness.

Most crooks can’t explain body language, but believe me, they certainly understand it. They will spot a person as a potential victim because that person seems uncomfortable, fails to make eye contact with those nearby, has their head down, shoulders sagging and takes timid steps. They can also easily spot most off-duty police officers and combat veterans, because they move with an air of confidence, head up and on a swivel, continually checking out those around them. Whether we intend it or not, we continually give off body language that speaks to our degree of confidence and awareness.

I once interviewed an armed robber who showed me one convenience store he had no intention of robbing. He said that the evening clerk, a middle-age man, was the kind who would fight an armed robber; the kind who kept a gun handy. He went on to say that this clerk would look you in the eye and greet you when you entered the store. Furthermore, he was continually watching the various customers while they shopped.

My prisoner was exactly right. The evening clerk was a former Soldier who had seen combat in Korea, and he kept a handgun under the counter—a Colt New Service chambered in .45 ACP, if it matters. A likable man, just one who was not going to put up with such foolishness as armed robberies.

So, when we are out in public, we need to be looking at the crooks, because they are certainly looking at us. You might notice someone staring at you and then quickly looking elsewhere when they see you’ve spotted them. Instead of looking away, too, it’s a good idea to take a moment to really look this person over so you can describe them later, if necessary. At this point, you should be in Condition Orange (potential threat), and it would be a very good idea to keep an eye on them as long as they are in the area. You don’t want to act aggressively just yet, but simply give off the appearance of someone who is alert and will probably not be an easy target.

Right in line with body language is what we call a gut feeling or hunch. This is the case when someone suddenly feels uncomfortable with their surroundings and the people nearby. This often occurs because our subconscious has picked up warning signals from something we’ve just seen or heard, and it generally occurs when we are not as aware as we should be. The gut feeling should not be ignored, but it also doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to leave the area. Just get your head up and your eyes open—look for the cause of your discomfort. You must identify it before you can determine what to do about it.

One other area where a knowledge of body language is important is in arguments with people you know, where criminal activity is not yet involved. Sometimes, such arguments can turn into violent encounters before we really understand the potential. However, the other person’s body language will give clues as to what is about to happen.

It is a bad sign when the other person quits talking and just starts staring at you or through you. He or she may also start breathing heavily. In addition, they may have closed, or partially closed, their fists. You may also notice that they have adopted a more balanced stance. This is all part of the fight-or-flight preparedness that our body unconsciously goes through. And, a person who exhibits some—or all—of these characteristics is not getting ready to flee; they are getting ready to fight. At this point, to try to de-escalate the confrontation, create distance or both.

Since the body language we give off is often unconscious, it reinforces the importance of good defensive training. Defensive training builds confidence, and we generally give off that air of confidence whether we consciously intend to or not. We tend to walk about with our heads erect, looking at what is going on around us and seemingly lacking in fear. Trust me, crooks can see this and may well determine that you are more than they want to take a chance on. If they don’t, you’re still ahead, because you have a much better chance of seeing the problem while you still have several options in how to deal with it.

There are interesting articles about body language on the internet, especially at Studying them will certainly enhance—and strengthen—your personal-defense plan.


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