Every top professional in the industry seemingly has their own terminology, whether it’s based on personal linguistic preferences, intentional marketing to draw in greater student volume, or to differentiate from other instructors. Sometimes, when we get-together and “talk shop”, many of us can come to a consensus on what the definitions are of the terms used, regardless of the language used. There is a lot of talk on, and therefore confusion on, symmetrical vs. asymmetrical violence, social vs. asocial violence, whether they are the indeed the same terminology, and what constitutes one over the other. I want to clarify here that these are the definitions and explanations I give, personally, when discussing these terms. If you disagree, vehemently or not, that’s okay. To each his own and I’m not one who’s interested in getting stuck on terminology, as long as we acknowledge that there are unique scenarios involved here. There is some overlap here, admittedly, but I define each of the 4 uniquely from the other 3.
SYMMETRICAL VS. ASYMMETRICAL.
SYMMETRICAL VIOLENCE. As the diagram shows, symmetrical violence would be 2 combatants, agreeing either by stated or implied intent, to “duel.” Over a perceived offense or slight. A female/male interest. Drunken misunderstanding or miscommunication. Interpersonal dislike. And a host of others. Though predominantly illegal in the West, which most don’t seem to acknowledge, it’s a willing participation without outside interference. MMA fights, boxing and kickboxing matches, full-contact karate fights, grappling tournaments, prize fights in general…all symmetrical. Opponent is known. Environment is relatively controlled. Agreement is present. Prior build-up as well.
ASYMMETRICAL VIOLENCE. An altercation where unknown intangibles factor into the outcome. A third-party jumping-in. A sucker punch. Multiple attacker scenarios. An attack by an animal, which changes the dynamic entirely. An ambush where uneven advantage is taken. Weapon-introduction mid-conflict which drastically alters the favor. Obstacles, barriers, or moving parts. This is where things deviate from the standard “mano-y-mano” situation. The same conflict can evolve from symmetrical to asymmetrical seamlessly and without warning or awareness. Just as asymmetrical, upon strong counter-ambush, can at times becomes symmetrical.
SOCIAL VS. ASOCIAL.
SOCIAL VIOLENCE. Some overlap here from the symmetrical category. The factors that make for social/asocial vs. symmetrical/asymmetrical are location and dynamic. Bars. Public. Social events. Over elements of social consequence and cause. Spilled drinks. Public insult. Things caused by social norms and acceptances that have been broken or crossed. Educational beat-downs and public-exampling would also be included here, even if asymmetrical in nature.
ASOCIAL VIOLENCE. Home invasions. Muggings. Robberies. Kidnappings. Random street assaults. Rape. Isolated, apart from regular society and areas constructs frequented by large public membership or attendance, predominantly. Not caused by social offenses or broken public-acknowledged protocol. It has a goal or motive driven by a criminal means, by nature.
Now, within asocial violence dynamic, we have 2 types of predators, high-order and low-order. High-order are far more dangerous as the stakes are exorbitantly higher. They will kill, maim, rape, or otherwise brutalize the victim to accomplish their objective. Sometimes the act is the objective. Assassins/sicarios, serial-killers, serial-rapists, violent home-invaders, mass murderers…all fall in this category. Some call this a “process predator”, as the process is the focus. They enjoy it, have need for it, crave it, or love the fact they impart deep fear in their victims.
Low-order, though some of the above outcomes may result, due to botched scenario, are decidedly more driven by necessity. Your wallet, your car, home valuables. The less need they have to utilize extreme violence, usually the better. Their goal is to obtain something of need or desperation or survival. Others have called it a “resource predator.” While I’m sure these 4 terms (resource vs. process, high-order vs. low-order) could be separated and broken-down as well, not the scope of this article.
If this doesn’t correspond with your current teaching definitions, that’s fine. The issue is we hear so much industry jargon floated around by industry people that it becomes hard to keep up as explanations or precise definitions are rarely given. (read: unnecessarily complex) The goal is to a) educate yourself and expand your knowledge base so as to become a better teacher yourself, or b) be able to impart that very knowledge in as succinct and easy-to-understand manner to your students as possible without confusing them.
Another major issue is that, as we’ve mentioned, so many self-defense/combatives/martial arts/personal protection instructors give universal catch-all responses to all attacks, regardless of whether the above types of crimes/criminals are factored-in, whether the “attack” is or starts off as psychological/emotional/mental, regardless of social dynamic involved, and regardless of bilateral elements/intangibles present that can drastically alter outcome. (see: context ignored) Cookie-cutter and one-size-fits-all approaches to violence, crime, conflict, or psychological attack are NEVER viable or even valid.