Let’s talk a little this morning about “never,” “just,” and “always,” those common elements of discussion about dealing with all sorts of conflicts and difficult places. You hear them all the time, especially on the Internet:
Never go to the ground in a fight.
Just walk away.
Always be situationally aware.
People love absolute statements, especially when it comes to scary things and ones that they frankly might not know all that much about. Nuance is complicated and complicated doesn’t make for good sound bites or pithy Internet arguments. Unfortunately, that’s not how real life works, especially in the world of interpersonal violence where you are not the only person who gets to vote on how a particular encounter will unfold. For that matter, nobody initially involved will necessarily be able to vote on other aspects like what happens if an uninvolved person rolls up on an incident or how environmental setting and conditions might affect outcome. All of which sounds great in theory, but…
In the same argument where someone will give the advice of never going to the ground in a fight, you’ll probably also hear another person claim that some enormously high percentage of fights end up on the ground so you should always expect it as an inevitable part of a fight. The answer, as always with extremes, is somewhere in the middle. Staying upright and on one’s feet is certainly preferable for many reasons: you will have more freedom of movement, you will be more able to defend yourself from physical attacks, you will simply have more options. Usually. Size and strength disparity being what they are, though, not to mention skill, you won’t always be able to stop someone from knocking you off your feet if they want to or even if they don’t but do it accidentally. An attacker doesn’t need to be an experienced fighter to get you down, although some fighting knowledge is becoming more and more common as Mixed Martial Arts becomes an ever larger form of entertainment. They can do it even if they’re just bigger than you, more aggressive than you, or if they even just trip and fall over on to you as they’re chasing you. That last bit? That’s a thing too. No matter how careful we can try to be when we’re walking around, it’s much harder to make sure you don’t trip and fall in the middle of a dynamic struggle. There are many strategies that can help you not trip and to help you not be pushed over or taken down, but they simply cannot always be successful because the other guy might be bigger, more skilled, or just plain lucky. And then what’s the answer? “Just stand up”? Well…
Just is a tough one too, because it assumes that the offered solution is both simple in principle and easy in application. As I’m sure you all know from other areas in life, it’s never quite like that. Like with “never” statements, “just” answers often forget that somebody else gets a vote. If there were a guaranteed strategy to just stand up in a fight after being knocked down, there are an awful lot of professional MMA fighters who would be lining up to get that magic. You might hear an argument that it’s different in those kinds of situations and that against an average attacker, it’s not so hard, I invite you to try a little exercise with a friend. Lie down on your back and have your friend kneel at your side, facing you so that if they laid down on their stomach, you’d form an X. Tell them to try to hold you down, really try, however they like though I suggest you’d want to set some ground rules about not hitting each other. You then try to stand up. Report back and let me know how you feel about “just stand up.”
“Just walk away” is exactly like that. Have any of you ever been accosted by a pushy salesperson in a store? You know, the one who pops up every five seconds asking if you need some help finding something today even though you have said no a half-dozen times and definitely have on the best Resting Angry Face that you can manage? In the store where you really are looking at things you really do want to buy that nobody else sells? How easy is it to just walk away then? And that guy or gal is just bored, looking for a commission, or trying not to get in trouble with their bosses for not being friendly and helpful enough. Maybe it’s not so easy to just walk away from a motivated attacker or a truly angry person who really wants to start that fight with you. And maybe you can’t go, if there are walls or locked doors or other people in your way, or you’re in the middle of a road rage incident with no safe roads to turn off onto, or you have friends or family with you who can’t easily go too. It’s true that walking away from an escalating situation can be an excellent strategy to try, because losing a little ego is better than being hurt or killed. It’s true that you probably should try whenever and wherever possible, before a tense situation dips over the edge into violence. For that matter, it’s true that other people’s fights are not yours and you shouldn’t hang around to catch them on video instead of noping out of the area as far and as fast as possible. The problem is that you aren’t the only one who gets to decide and someone or something else might not want you to walk away after all. And then what?
As for the always, I bet you can fill in the gaps here on why “always” advice can never work. Is it possible to always be situationally aware, no matter where something is happening around you, no matter what time of day it is? You tell me how that can work out for someone….