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8 Phases to Effective Self-defense By Derek Smith

In my special agent combative system, I attempted to include what I felt was the greatest thing missing from most martial arts and self-defense programs. That is a structured and systemized outline designed to help you easily learn a tried, true, and simple to learn, system of self-defense. Special agent combatives are not to be confused with the step-by-step self-defense moves taught in most self-defense courses, the preset techniques or curriculum that spells out what skills and techniques you will learn at what level. Instead I teach a few techniques and then concepts on using those techniques.

I do it this way because what I learned from teaching special agents, those who deal with violence every day, is that learning a lot self-defense moves is very difficult to retain, and when the shit hits the fan, most people will only use a few core moves they are very comfortable with. So in this article, I outline a formula of action that I believe make up a complete system for real-world self-defense.

Below are 8 phases of a complete self-defense strategy. Each element is important for you to ensure you have as many of the right options for handling as many different threats and dangers as possible. Each of these phases makes up your overall strategy for you to devise a predictable approach for dealing with a dangerous situation and be able to handle it effectively.

As I teach self-defense students, there are 8 Phases to effective self-defense:

1) General Awareness

In this phase, you need to be aware and educated about the following areas I will talk about in a moment. Most people I see walking around today are what I call “mouth breathers.” Most are walking around totally oblivious to what is happening around them, talking and texting on their cell phones while walking right into danger. You should be aware of:

  1. The various types of dangers that exist in the world and how they can affect you.
  2. Which of these dangers are most likely to actually occur in your world, affect you so that you can prepare correctly.
  3. Where you might encounter these dangers so you can either avoid them all together, or at least know what to do in these environments. For instance, there are mall and school shootings occurring all around America. You cannot avoid these places, but you can learn how to deal with a threat should you need to.

2) Situational Awareness

Once you start paying attention to what is happening around you and start to notice your environment, it is time to start interpreting the situations that are occurring. You begin to take note of certain things:

  1. What is occurring in your surroundings and what can you use in your environment (what weapons, both real and improvised, are available to you, what obstacles exist, what dangers are present and what options do you have?)
  2. What are people around you doing (who is acting suspiciously, is someone acting out of character, is someone being overtly threatening or aggressive towards you or others?)
  3. What is your own state of mind and well-being (are you alert and aware of what’s going on, are you staying healthy and fit to fight, are you nervous, ill, distracted, or otherwise emotionally unbalanced?)

3) Escaping to safety

Now that you have developed your awareness you should start to think about pre-planning and what you are able to do to stay safe. You should start to consider the following:

  1. If you find yourself in a dangerous environment, how can you escape. Even at a movie theater, restaurant, or wherever I go, I do three things. I place my back to a wall, I ask for a seat where I can see what’s happening (and near an exit if I can get one,) and I take note of escape routes.
  2. Learn to hide or conceal yourself from a potential attacker. Do you know the difference between concealment and cover? Concealment will simply hide you from the threat, but cover can actually protect you. For instance, if you have to get behind your car to avoid a shooting, you would not duck behind the door. That is just concealment and will not stop a bullet. But if you can get behind the engine block, or the wheel well, that is cover and could potentially stop the round from striking you.
  3. Again, seek cover which are those barriers and other shields that will protect you from incoming gunfire, thrown objects or other weapon attacks.

4) Psychological Distraction Tactics

If you find yourself confronted and cannot get away just yet, try confusing or otherwise distracting the attacker’s attention from you as a target. You can do this through the use of:

  1. Acting a certain way (like faking a heart-attack or some other debilitating illness.)
  2. Feigning Ignorance (like pretending that you didn’t hear or understand his threats or orders. Pretend that you are mentally challenged and of no threat to him…until you are ready to become a threat.)
  3. Using Humor (tell a joke or otherwise act as if the assailant is only playing around or that you’re too easy of a target for him and not worth his effort.)

5) Dissuasion Tactics

You can try confronting the attacker with direct, committed, verbal and body language that both give him a last chance to change his mind, AND communicates very clearly that you will not be an easy target and will not allow him to continue with his attack without resistance. You make the call.

If you sense that this will not work and will only anger your attacker, or make him want to eliminate the threat, you, then you might want to avoid this one. At 6 foot, 250 and a bald black guy, I can easily come off as intimidating. Sometimes this is what I want, but other times I want to be the big jovial guy that is seen as a clown, rather than a threat.

6) Physical Self Defense

There may come a time during these phases where physical conflict is unavoidable. It is during these times you will need to resort to using appropriate and properly applied fighting skills to evade and counter your assailant’s attacks using techniques such as those I teach in my Special Agent Combative Course, or some of the other great training products offered by Fight Fast and TRSDirect.

7) Regain Your Composure and Control

During and after a stressful situation there is going to be some post-traumatic stress you need to deal with. You will need to effectively handle and neutralize the effects of this post-trauma stress so that you can acknowledge that your attacker gave you no other choice but to take the actions that you did in Stage 5. I advise you to actually prepare for and practice what you will need to do to deal with this long before a self-defense situation ever occurs.

8) Deal with the Legal Issues

Unfortunately, even if your actions were correct. There may be legal issues to deal with. You may be arrested or the ATTACKER may try to sue you. While defending yourself is perfectly within your rights, you will have to demonstrate that you did everything in your power to avoid physical aggression if you are to convince the police not to arrest you, or jurors not to find you guilty. This is why I gave you phases 1-5 to try to avoid the situation in the first place.

I have found over the years that most self-defense programs mainly focus on the physical aspects of self-defense. While they are indeed necessary, we at Fight Fast understand that strategic thinking and having a goal other than the conventional idea of “winning” as seen in the competitive fighting styles, allows for a sense of control over situations that physical techniques alone cannot provide.

That’s why I teach, and have shared with you these 8 Phases of self-defense. Each one provides you techniques, tactics, and options for your defense. Having a complete understanding and control of these strategies will make you a complete and better warrior should the need arise.

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32 thoughts on “8 Phases to Effective Self-defense By Derek Smith”

  1. Precise outline of what to do and how to do it.
    Written from the perspective of a person who has been there and evolved a method to provide for personal safety.
    When I save up enough I want to order this excellent set of instructions.
    Thanks for sharing this insight Derek Smith !

  2. Lee Bennett, unfortunately being reactive will get you killed. We don’t know what the other person might do, but we have to always be ready for anything.

  3. Sandy Cargile, Timothy Kenyon, George, Robert, Lee, John, Jesse, Brian, Antonio, Mike, Greg, thank you all for your comments and for your support. We try to bring you the best REAL WORLD experience we can. I spent over almost 30 years working in security, serving in the Air Force OSI, Army CID, and Navy Seabees and as a Special Agent for several agencies to amass this knowledge and now share it with you.

  4. Joseph Allen I really don’t think that is a good idea. If a situation is so bad that you have to resort to shooting someone, then you need to have real rounds. If you REALLY want to have a non-lethal alternative then PERHAPS you can purchase bean bag or rubber shotgun shells.

  5. These instructions have all been helpful but what can a 106 pound five foot girl that doesn’t ever fight that has been beat up by guys in the past supposed to do that will be successful. I want to defend me and my children.

  6. Wow Phillip Whitt, that is a scary situation. You indeed did the right thing by seeking cover behind the engine block. People have to know the difference between cover and concealment. Concealment may hide you, but it does not stop bullets. I laugh when I see movies of two people in a gun battle on opposite side of one wall. Dude, you just fire THROUGH the wall. I have to say two things about your friend’s actions. First, tossing the keys and running worked out for him. It distracted the robber for a second so he could run. It turned out well, but it angered the attacker to the point that he took a shot at him and it could have turned out different. Never risk your life for an item or money. Who knows though, the guy may have shot him anyway so it worked and I never back seat quarterback success. Keep training and keep reading.

  7. Jamile Shaheen, yes I was a special agent for almost 20 years. During that time I also worked a human intelligence collection agent. I spent 2 years during the Desert Storm collecting intel while stationed in Turkey. I have also done years of protective service operations. I was often a “Lone Operator.”

  8. Back in 1991, I worked in a hardware store in a rough part of Houston. After closing and exiting the building one night, my co-worker and I were going to our respective vehicles. I noticed a kid about 15 or 16 just standing nearby, and I sensed something wasn’t right. Sure enough, he produced a 9 mm handgun, and demanded the keys to my coworker’s truck. He threw the keys at the robber and ran into the darkness (I never saw anyone run so fast, but he was a football player just out of high school). He fired a round at my co-worker-I didn’t know if he’d been hit or not.

    I was close enough to my car to take cover-fortunately I had the presence of mind to consider placing myself behind the front left tire, putting the engine block between me and the robber. I was in a sprint position in case I had to bolt into the darkness, but he found the keys, yelled some obscenities at me then drove off in my friend’s truck. Thankfully, my coworker returned unharmed, then we proceeded to find a phone to call the police. They found his burned-out truck the next day, but we both escaped a scary situation with our lives.

  9. Very nice introduction to Derek Smith’s concepts and agent training. I was raised military Dad, Uncles Cousin ETC., Some were in very special training and ops that were not talked about but us boys were trained in many things and types of defense. One thing we were always told, you can never train to much or learn to much different types of fighting. This is what I like most about reading what I could learn from these DVD’s. I enjoyed your Tips on “8 PHASES to Effective Self-Defense. I can see where these tips could help you in the correct situation and save a life, yours or you and your family’s

    Thank you
    Gene.

  10. This is very good advice! I believe that it is much better to be proactive than reactive. Be aware and be prepared!

  11. I live in the bay area(vallejo) and it is becoming more like kill or be killed. Just going to the grocery store in broad daylight is becoming ever so dangerous. Luckily i am ex-military and stay in shape. I’ve purchased from you all in the past and will definitely purchase in the future. Thank you.

  12. This is awesome and absolutely true in everyway. And thanks for the reminders.
    You guys are great.
    Jeffery L. Walke U.S.military ret

  13. Where could a person buy two dummy rounds filled with Plastic BB’s to use on and intruder if someone would break into your house? One could say this first round will not arm you and the same for the second round . But if you don’t stop or leave my House this third round will put you down.Seen it used on person in a stalking situation.

  14. Bob and Derek,

    Thank you so much for this helpful information! I appreciate your making this available for free!

  15. Awesome tactics, especially like the last phase, often neglected or downplayed in other programs. An all too real problem in today’s society of too many lawyers looking for someone to sue.
    Keep up the good work & sharing experience.