All posts by Darren

System-subversive, hoplologist, and sport-duelist, I've been focusing on the weapons-arts and human behavior for over 25 years. Let's call what I teach a bastard mix of backyard, low-tech, 3rd-World, shoestring budget methods on a number of different thoroughly-studied arms added to from nature, experience, nurture, influence, environment, and training. Some of the programs will be fight-fundamental-based FMA/Filipino Martial Arts (both my own blend, Terra Firma FMA Adaptations, and my base, Burokil Alambra Arnis de Mano and their various subsystems), Argentinean Esgrima Criolla (both modern and classical), La Canne Vigny, and Chi Kung/breathing/meditation. ALL of these will be directly-applicable to the current time we live in regarding the current global crisis. The world is changing - and I'm changing with it, bringing you programs for new situations, with new training methodologies, and for changing dynamics. Come try! The investment is minimal, the knowledge extensive, the effort intangible.


We all feel it. We all experience it under moments of great duress and confrontation. Military. Law enforcement. Experienced martial artists. Security. Bar fighters. Prize fighters. To a man..or woman. It is inherent and those who will tell you they do not nor never have are one of two things: with mental/social disorder or lying. While some have ways of containing or managing it, we ALL feel it. And know what? It’s normal. Stop feeling incomplete or insufficient and embrace the fact that it’s evolved from thousands of years of evolution and there’s nothing that can be done to completely avoid it.

While we have introduced various concepts on how to cope with it and add it as an element of your training, this is more an article to deal with our invulnerability as martial artists. (and therefore, as people). The belief, both in the community and, in some cases, in some in their own minds, that we are invulnerable or untouchable still abounds in modern society. People poke, take shots or test, trying to prove that we are human when all they need to do with the grounded of us…is ask! Do we get hit? Yes. Can we dodge or avoid all strikes? No. Do we prepare to sometimes “win ugly” in a way different than Hollywood will have you believe? Absolutely. Are we always prepared for every potential scenario possible to be faced? No, I’m afraid it’s damn-near impossible..although we try and, therefore, cover as many bases as we can. Do we feel fear like the rest of humanity? See paragraph one for reference point.

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We train for flaw. We train for perceived physiological drawbacks of the human involuntary system. We train to limit damage. This is the reality of reality. Many martial arts instructors won’t train with their students, barking orders from the sidelines and continuously putting themselves in situations that adheres to the strengths of their abilities to give themselves an air of invincibility in front of their students. (a form of hypnotism) They preach mysticism and quote truths from 500 years ago (which, by the way, are often not relevant to modern day laws, attackers, terrains or garb)

Instead of showing students my “perfection” and immediately making them feel they could never achieve a level that’s unattainable, I find it both humbling and honest to show them (usually involuntarily) flaw at times. I train with my students. I test myself alongside my students. I show them the techniques against resistance. It, counterintuitively to what many believe, does not show them my weakness but instead gives them a confidence that to err is human and that, if I am not perfect maybe they don’t have to be either. Achievability. It gives them strength. And, more often than not, they respect me more for the fact that, more times than not, I can pull these things off with resistance yet achieve it without perfection. And, more importantly, that because of its relatively simplicity it could be accomplished by them as well.

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Many times new students are so hard on themselves when they make mistakes, don’t do the drill or “sequence” as fluently as their instructor or get cut/hit/kicked. Real dynamic scenarios with interactive resistance allow the student (yes, of course going slower with limited resistance in the beginning for learning is appropriate and required!) to feel a greater confidence and understanding of how things are supposed to work and greater belief in their own ability. I once had a student who was a brown belt in another style and we were doing a grappling drill with resistance. It was his first time doing anything with resistance, even though he had been training for years. He admitted to me, honestly and self-deprecatingly, that he was a little concerned and nervous. I assuaged his fears and told him he would do fine. (And I knew this to be true) After the drill was complete, he approached me with a look on his face of sheer enjoyment and self-accomplishment. Though I’m paraphrasing, his response was something along the lines of “fantastic, exhilarating, never done that before!” Remember, every breakthrough shatters self-imposed myths and barriers of fear, breaks new ground. We did breathing exercises, scenario-training, close-quarter tactics (a range beginner students often innately have great fear of) His tools were in the toolbox but he just hadn’t taken them out for a testdrive yet to pressure-test them. (As a sidenote, this student-who had taken only 5 or so classes at this point-was attacked by a patient at the mental hospital where he worked and disarmed the staff-wielding chap-an accomplishment I am still to this day very proud of him for)

I feel fear as well. I have been in situations in which I have been afraid. (both in the self-defence world and in my day-to-day and in which I have both thrived and let fear get the best of me, remember-to err is human and we are most certainly not machines. Even the Terminator himself has come on hard humbling human times lately) Initially, I was distraught after these occurrances but, upon further thought, I realized that although I was determined that it would never happen again that way, that at times we are vulnerable and adrenaline is a protective mechanism the body uses to temporarily make us more impervious to pain, stronger, faster. We learn to accept it, embrace the attributes it provides us and limit it’s negative impact (freezing, inability to act, tunnel vision, trembling, decision-making, etc.) using tools to bring our heartbeat down, calm our nerves and clear our mind. The internal resistance was provided by the myth that it should’ve worked out like it did in the club.

My firm belief is, those that don’t have stories to tell you of their own personal fear (or at least confirming their existence if too proud to admit openly) are not telling the truth. And I have never trusted people without flaws or weaknesses. The forever smiling and surface-euphoric. Everyone has them (flaws). Whether or not they choose to admit it is a flaw unto itself…pride. I prefer to be honest, open and able to relate to my students. Not try and uphold shrouded mysticisms of generations-old chains of unreachable perfection. It IS possible to be grounded, approachable and questioned while still maintaining the ethics and standards of a conceptual system. (And, remember, that’s all any system really is once stripped away to its bare bones) Honesty cultivates self-expression. The ability to develop self-expression creates trust. Trust breeds unlimited potential for learning, which often opens the door to a greater willingness to overcome fears. Didn’t that get wrapped up nicely.

©copyright, all rights reserved 2011 Mandirigma FMA Academy


I remember a few years back there was this big back and forth discussion/debate between an ex-student and his former instructor. The crux of it centered on what hand/side of the body to lead with when in a confrontation. They both had a list of why each was a superior method of defense. The old debate of “lead with the strong side” versus power hand in reserve went back and forth like a veritable game of nunchaku ping pong. This debate went on for page after page on various martial art forums, each having a staunch group of supporters who chimed in with their respective “expert” views. And while both points of contention had a plus and minus column ratio, it seemed to me to miss the whole point of authentic personal protection.

Real self-defense has no “get ready, get set go” option. An attack in real life is by and large an ambush. Of course variations in this theme exist as in a house party or bar situation where you can escalate or de-escalate as the situation merits. But these alternate scenarios are more what I term “fighting” versus true personal protection/self-defense. In an ambush it is a “mugging”. An unexpected attack is usually done in low light conditions, more than one aggressor and the antagonists armed. There is no time and or ability to ask the attackers for a “time-out” so you can position your body to more effectively deal with the attack! Strong side, weak side any side at all is just not going to matter. You need to be able to explode from where you are at any given moment. You have to train yourself to be able to go from zero to sixty in an eye blink. You need to be able to shift in mind set from being semi sleepy, and full of food after a nice dinner and movie with the spouse to being jumped by street vermin.

Be like Shrapnel my friend. You need to literally “explode” from where ever you happen to be in relation to your enemy. No time for posturing, no time for posing. No time outs no second guessing on what the situation may entail. What is required is awareness, decisiveness, aggressiveness, speed, coolness, ruthlessness and surprise to quote the good Colonel as to his principles of self-defense.   You need to be able to swarm real quickly. All your training should have prepared you for this moment of truth. No time to “think” about what to do. An effective training program should have inculcated in you a right combat mind set. The color codes of threat escalation.  The OODA Loop. The idea and difference between fight, flight and freeze.

Real personal protection is not sparring, nor is it fencing or rolling on the ground looking for some form of BJJ/MMA “victory”.  If you have not prepared for what the human predator is capable of, please don’t delude yourself. The predator does not process nor think like the more “civilized” person does. A FOP (fresh out of prison) predator has no empathic filter to negotiate in a moment of violence. I remember a story that happened years ago in the Big Apple.  A young Korean guy, who had several Tae Kwon Do schools in the area, took his dog out for a walk on a hot humid Manhattan night.  He decided to grab a beer at a local bar and tied the dogs leash to a fence while he went to grab the brew. Another guy had a similar idea and ties his dog to the fence as well. As luck would have it, the two dogs went at it and got  all tangled up. When the dog owners attempted to separate the warring pooches, a bit of jocularity between the two dog owners turned into the Puerto Rican fireplug owner saying the Korean guys pussy dog started it all etc. etc. What the Tae Kwon Do did not do was to verbally de-escalate and walk away. Ego, pride and the sure knowledge of his long and hard earned TKD skills prevented him from leaving or losing “face”. One thing lead to another and the stout Puerto Rican ended of shanking to death the Korean martial art “expert”. Dead. Done. Game over. No example of swarming shrapnel here. Things can escalate so quickly that one of the first things you need to ask yourself is “Is it a life and death situation, and is it worth dying over’?

Now I know a lot of people reading this would say that “He just did not meet a REAL Tae Kwon Do master”, and so on. And some may take offense that I mentioned the ethnic backgrounds of these guys. Hey, it could have been the other way around right? No. This is the truth of the scenario. The stout Puerto Rican had recently been released from prison. His martial art was “Shank-Ryu”, not McDojo Tae Kwon Do. And while I mention this incident as an aside to the main concept espoused, the TKD guy did everything wrong. Now he is dead and the other guy was put back in prison. I don’t know what happened to the dogs. Had the TKD guy understood Jungle Warfare and the predatory nature of true survival, he might still be here. But I’m sure his students miss him, and the shiny trophies at the Dojang will continue to collect dust.

I saw the other day a really wonderful video of a traditional Japanese Shotokan teacher helping the viewers understand the true meaning of “dojo” and general Japanese martial art dojo etiquette. Clip your toes nails and finger nails. Stand at attention when Sensei is talking, and how to use the term “Osu”. And on and on….very good information to know in a traditional Japanese dojo. But how many of his students know anything about true to life principles of self-protection?   How many of them have learned how to attempt to survive a vicious unprovoked attack by a true predator? Etiquette and having a nice clean gi is great. A sense of moral justice and respect is a wonderful side benefit in training in a traditional dojo. But true self-defense it is not. All the kata, bunkai and kumite in the world is not going to prepare you to deal with Shank-Ryu. Yes I know many traditionally trained martial artists would staunchly argue with me on these points, and proceed to tell me countless stories of some 17th Century famous Okinawan master defeating a dozen armed bandits in a quiet Okinawan hamlet.  And I know the bar the tooth Fairy and fat santa hang out at.

But take heart dear reader. My intention here is not to bash or trash all traditional martial (recreational) arts. I love them all. I enjoy the bonding and comradery developed through randori, kumite or the wonderful flow of Escrima or Aikido. Most so called martial arts are not even stress tested. Any art will “work” in the safety of the school if there is cooperation. But being able to explode on the predator is generally not taught.

The peace and love taught in some styles of so-called martial “arts” will get you killed. You want religion, go to church. Having a smiling bearded mystic as your spiritual guide is very cool. But he is not going to step in front of that shank for you. In my observation a vast majority of people who go to a “martial art school” want nothing to do with training in a more combative arts program. When I have asked people what they want to learn when I teach a workshop some will inevitably say “self-defense”. But then when I get all gutter fighting on them, they change color and say it’s too intense or that it’s to visceral for them! But do more of an Aikido, T’ai Chi Ch’uan approach and all ears are perked up and big beautiful smiles are seen upon their faces. Oh well. Perhaps I need to be teaching Zumba or a Pilates class, or even better some type of Ka-Robics kick boxing stuff!

Some closing thoughts here. I know I rambled on a bit in different areas. So be it. It was my free flowing stream of consciousness in action! But don’t be fooled. If you claim to be about teaching “self-defense” then do just that. Don’t put up a sign saying “non-violent” self-defense (what a contradiction in terms!). Teach your people the laws of the land. Pre and post conflict. Teach verbal de-escalation methods. Teach real blunt impact and edged weapon work. Learn how firearms work. No excuse here. You may not “like” guns or even be afraid of them, but America especially is a gun nation. And above all learn how a hand grenade operates. Be like shrapnel my friend…..

copyright, 02/10/2017, John Kovacs


I was asked a short time ago is esgrima criolla was a “martial art.” I have found myself thinking on this for some time and debating the answer. Jorge may have some different or complementary views on this but I’ll share my perspective. Esgrima Criolla is inevitably the knife fighting method for the gauchos of old…Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and a number of other places. The lifestyle was hard and born out of need. Many disputes were settled with the blade, as is historically documented, some of which is on this page. The most accurate comparison I can make is the samurai. They didn’t simply practice a martial art of the sword. One size does not fit all so they adapted what was necessary and applicable to them as their life depended on it. It was not the traditional kenjutsu we see practiced now. Even the perpetual Musashi example is a contradiction. The Japanese are often very structured in their martial syllabi and small minutiae are of the utmost importance. Yet Musashi himself, once an outcast and hated in his own society and the antithesis of what a traditional samurai represented, stated that his “style” was inevitably a no-style. What worked. A compliation of tactics and functionality that was sewn together under the pressure of survival and not a penny less.

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Though it will inevitably be lumped into the current martial landscape as a comparative “art”, I dispute this in some ways and in others I hope it never achieves that standard. It was born of a need, not a systemized approach to learning “knife fighting” for the masses with drills and sequences and stoic responses for hypothetical problems. The individual who utilized it learned through trial-and-error, under pressure and if it didn’t work, he (quite simply) lost his life. Quite a high cost. Ugly and without care to “technique” or the weight of how things are supposed to be done from opinion and experience other than their own. Upon the current re-creation and re-connection (whether it be esgrima criolla, esgrima tumbera from South American prisons or esgrima malevo), it took me a long time (due to my previous experience and reference points blinding me) to see the vision of what this was and where it fit in, why practicing “self-defense” against the knife or through a technical knife system was a moot point, why micro-specific striking points simply don’t work when pressure is factored in, why empty-hand counter-knife is simply not as prevalent a skill to develop as equaling and multiplying the level of force needed or conditioning a specific escape response. It’s an experiment in functionality. Granted, there are techniques, terms and methods, types of specific contextual sparring, and labels for distancing, footwork, grips and positions. But this is all done with an experimental eye – does it work with a fully-resisting opponent in front of you trying to cut you? If not, it rapidly gets thrown away. We fight. That’s the end result of how we determine what works for us or not. Pressure-testing. Does it hold up? If not, it’s gone. It’s not tested under micro-scenarios to make the scenario fit the technique. Quite the opposite: if the technique doesn’t hold up under the scrutiny of resistant scenario, it’s invalid and discarded.

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It is a dueling method and, because of this, many people state that it needs other components. That it doesn’t address modern need for the surprise or ambush knife attack, that there’s no “self-defense” methodology to it. I had thought the same at one point until delving further down the rabbit hole. It is entirely because of this that it gives an entirely honest perspective on the state of modern knife combatives and the modern knife attack. There is no room for the hypothetical, you just do. Experiment. And find. Then we come to conclusions that meet in the middle of truth….counter-knife is often a myth when one factors in multiple intent-filled stabbings, ambushes, modern knifer methods and the features of the modern knife. There is no sure solution. Blood, pain, shock and motive are the cold, hard reality of the knife attack. EC eliminates the theory and takes a cold hard look at what really works and what doesn’t, as was one by its ancestors.

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EC is not deeply codified at this moment, is not overly structured and does not go the colored belt or ritualized canon route and this is one of the reasons for its base functionality-and why I gravitated to it. It’s simple, basic and pragmatic. A means to an end. I have no claim to the gaucho or Creole way of life, I’m not Latino and I don’t pretend to be (being a white guy from Canada). It’s not my culture nor my heritage. But I do know pragmatism and function when I see it after 25 years in this business. And, being entrusted with being the English-speaking representative of the beast, my goal is to promote it as such and maintain it via this manner as the English-speaking conduit for the system. It may not (nor may never) hit the masses but it will remain pure and unadulterated. And maybe this is its place, inevitably non-mainstream due to the fact of that cold pragmatism, the types of weapons contained within it, its history, its relative simplicity to learn (without 5-year program to draw out the learning) and its unapologetic matter-of-factness.

It was born not in the current day as the vast number of martial arts you see today (counter to the constant misrepresentation of their origins, most are recently modern, post WWII). It was born in another era where artistic merit was overruled by martial necessity. While kenjutsu has become an avenue of perfection and specificity with minimal or no actual pressure-testing, I hope the same does not happen with EC. From my part, it will not. I have no claim to the gaucho or Creole way of life, I’m not Latino, being a white guy from Canada. I am of the opinion that as a method it serves much greater purpose being low-key, in its original format and without the need to adhere to public opinion. I, in a way, and for what it’s worth, hope it never becomes a “martial art” in the manner that the vast majority of modern and traditional martial arts have. Just this man’s perspective, accepted or rejected.


In many programs the physical realm is the one primarily focused on as it deals with the directness of an immediate aggressive conflict being faced in the moment. But what about other areas that potentially may have avoided the conflict altogether? Personal opinions vary but many times these topics are glossed over and addressed in conversation but paid little attention to after that when these areas serve as a greater importance to the day-to-day. We don’t fight/get attacked every day (although constant training prepares-once again preparing being substantially different than paranoia-for this event on a multitude of fronts) but we do interact with people every day. We do put ourselves at risk in some fashion every day. We do instintively/intuitively read body language and analyze phrase structures and word context every day. That being said I want to address the 7 (we’ll call them) “realms” of self-defence/personal preservation:

1-PHYSICAL-actual physical techniques, scenarios, weapons usage and defence (both external & natural body) and the application of the above, cardiovascular (both aerobic and anaerobic) and resistance training.

2-METAPHYSICAL/INTERNAL-what goes on inside your body: adrenaline dump & fear response and varying proactive strategies to address these natural body occurances: visualization, autogenic breathing (both from the chest during and from the abdomen before/after), meditation

3-INTUITIVE-senses, developed through trust over time/meditation, innate reaction to outside stimulus and our gut feeling towards the stimulus-people, situations, locations

4-IMPROVISATIONAL/SITUATIONAL-weapons of opportunity, escape routes, barricades, awareness of surroundings

5-INTERPERSONAL/BEHAVIOURIAL-body language of others and yourself, signs of escalating anger/confrontation, inevitably profiling of other people we interact with/allow into our spatial awareness

6-ANATOMICAL-quite simply, the study of human anatomy, what happens to the areas of the human body when attacked/damaged with empty hand, weapon or otherwise, muscles/nerves/tendons/ligaments/organs/arteries/veins/joints/bones, kinesiology (animation of motion)

7-TACTICAL-perhaps the most cryptic of the group in that it is situational-specific, submissive posturing, verbal dissuasion/distractions, tricks, subliminal motions, draw/carry points for defence weapons, mental deceptions to mislead and confound potential attacker

(For my curriculum, I compress these into 4 groups for learning and retention purposes: 1. PHYSICAL (including the anatomical), 2. METAPHYSICAL (includes the intuitive), 3. SITUATIONAL (entailing both improvisational and tactical) and 4. BEHAVIOURIAL.

It’s important for us as personal defence instructors/martial arts teachers/law enforcement/military to realize these realms all need addressing..none can be neglected or it is just that for your students…neglect. Personal preservation is more than just physical…we don’t fight or get assaulted every day but every day is a day we strive to be safe and take the necessary precautions to achieve this. This whole sphere of self-defence contributes on a daily basis to keeping us that way. These are all important and require attention so remember to incorporate all of these into your training if you haven’t already. Peace.

©copyright, all rights reserved Civilian Preservation Technologies


Recently I’ve noticed some extremely disturbing  trends in the current martial arts world. Now I realize I may piss off a lot of cohorts by writing about this generally hidden-in-plain-sight issue in the industry, and I’m okay with that potentiality. The martial arts world simply does not provide what the majority of people want nor what they need. A paradigm shift would seem to be called for, as it would in any other industry during evolutionary processes inter-field but, alas, it simply won’t happen in this instance. I just don’t see it. That would take self-reflection. Doing heavy research in a vast number of areas. Handing in our pride, ego and maybe even all those colored belts. (I’m willing if you are)

We are bass ackwards in our view. Title-whoring. Idolatry. Politics. Pecking orders. Elitism. Hell, racism. Skewed histories and downright lies. We are a service industry and people pay us (like a plumber, carpenter, janitor, electrician) to provide them with something needed, hopefully with honesty and ethically. NOT to get a mountaintop guru that feeds them the bullshit they want to hear. We assume secretly that people are stupid and laugh about it behind closed doors with other killers-in-their-own-minds. They, the public, are not. This is, quite possibly, the most information-savvy public in the history of humankind, at this very moment. I hate to say it, but they are often the ones laughing at us.

The majority of instructors, I’d be willing to bet, have never done any market research on what the average citizen is actually looking for. From most average folk that I’ve talked to, the perception is two-fold: 1. The pyjama-wearing, barefoot, color-belted, screamer who hits air and goes through multi-cultural rituals that usually don’t pertain to his/her own. 2. The tough guy who walks around glaring at people and acting out on misplaced child opportunities to express him/herself demonstratively. Very rarely does the cerebral professional whose goal is to train you to stay out of the dangerous spots come to mind. We are missing a huge demographic that will never find themselves on the inside of a “dojo”. They see a never-ending supply of vast physical responses to all situations, outdated methodologies, no classroom time or analysis of current crime and reverse-engineering to address it. A systemic linear curriculum. (From my experience, which may or may not be correct from your vantage point – and that’s okay – violence is not, linear that is: it’s organic, fluid and varying and graduating suddenly on a sliding scale of escalation.)

We continue to play these parlor games of long-term syllabi and progressive learning curve, oftentimes being negligent at best, putting our students directly in harm’s way at worse. Teaching what in the real world would amount to murder. (16-cut lethal knife solution to single right cross, anyone?) No address of local laws. Post-event LE interactions. The varying phases of adrenaline. Spatial considerations. Situational and environmental awareness. Internet safety. Defensive driving and car safety – in the plainest terms, not like Jason Bourne, just learning how to simply drive defensively. Anatomy. Psychology. 1st Aid. What constitutes self-defense and what not. Body language – both yours and “theirs”.

Most seemingly do not understand, don’t care, only pay lip service as it’s boring content or worse, don’t even know about the difference between social and asocial (dueling/matchfighting and violent one-sided crime/victim selection) violence nor the difference in prep for each being unique unto itself. And when this is brought up, one gets the stereotypical response. “Come to my club and we’ll see who knows about violence!” “I’ll meet you at this time and this place to discuss this further” “If I were there, I’d kick your ass.” Listen, when I say the vast majority of martial arts don’t work, I’m not saying physically they’re not capable of being functional. (although this is another issue entirely, just not for this article) What I am saying is they simply don’t address modern needs, modern scenarios, modern problems, modern criminals nor modern legal/ethical/psychological/moral complexities. They don’t. At least not the way the majority teach them. We teach 95% physical, 5% mental. What people face is 95% mental (physiological/emotional/moral/psychological), 5% physical. Ass-backwards. I’ve far too often heard from instructors: “Okay, Johnny, be situationally-aware out there, alright? Great! Now let’s get back to hitting the heavy bag (grappling/striking/cutting ad infinitum)!” Meanwhile, Johnny is left to wonder that something really bloody important was just glossed over at the expense of curriculum/syllabus. As he has no clue of what “situationally aware” means, what he’s supposed to look for and what it means even if he does.

Here’s an axiom I always revert back to, it helps me both sleep at night and look in the mirror the next morning: “I teach nothing that I wouldn’t use personally to defend the lives of myself or my family.” Now, I know this will be perceived as a macho testosterone-filled statement but, in actuality, this also means not taking myself out of their lives and putting in jeopardy my ability to provide for them stupidly and irrationally. It means analyzing situations, both in the moment and well-before (visualization/risk analysis) so I have a plan of assessment as to what constitutes worthwhile and what simply doesn’t. (HINT: Social media doesn’t) It means not getting killed or seriously-injured nor doing the same to anyone else out of pride or ego. It means not screwing my family over with a mountain of legal bills post-incident. And it means not making important decisions with either my lizard brain or what’s conveniently-covered by my boxers. (boxers vs. briefs will be left for a future article) Now I know most would say they want someone who’s been there/done that with regards to violence or at least pressure-testing/resistance-training, and this I agree with. (Delivering damage is different than “squaring off”, all other avenues being exhausted) But I also often ask this as well, to play devil’s advocate, which allows for some thought a little further down the rabbit hole of context on one’s experience with said violence: “Can someone who simply can’t ever seem to stay out of the shit, away from violence, teach someone else counter-violence or personal protection?” It is a fine line and there are those out there who come from both worlds but they are becoming increasingly hard to find.

Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe not. But we run the risk of becoming redundant in the martial arts world. A caricature of ourselves. Stagnant. We walk a fine line of self-importance that quite honestly wouldn’t be tolerated in another line of work or other industries. Hammer and nail theory. Evolution is good. Healthy. Self-assessment and self-realization are the pillars of that evolution. Ego, politics, status and status quo are the destroyers. I’ve chosen not to play the game any longer. The mirror? Well, still having problems but that’s a matter of prettiness or lack thereof, not ability to look.


The art of the gaucho, a simple but hard and proud men, the Latino equivalent of the Wild West cowboys where reputation was everything, living off the land was an accepted part of living and being an outlaw and afoul of the law was a distinct possibility. These were rebels; individualistic and independent from the government, law and political affiliation. Outsiders. Creoles, specifically, are always associated with being from mixed race; local or aboriginal peoples mixed with what is often European heritage. The U.S., Africa, the Philippines, Brazil, Chile, the Caribbean and, of course, Argentina all lay claim to Creole peoples. So how does something from another era pertain to modern day blade usage and personal defense? Let’s go over a few points of interest for those uninitiated and unfamiliar with Esgrima Criolla, and those who speak predominantly English and aren’t privy to the main areas where it’s practiced:

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  1. Focus on multi-use of the blade: eating, hunting, utility…not just self-defense so it pertains to modern legalities and ethical/moral issues regarding use-of-force and reason for carry.
  2. It was not meant to kill outside of something infinitely serious: to teach a lesson, to inflict injury, to disembowel, to mark permanently, to humiliate so it had a biomechanical, psychological and non-lethal focus that very much counters all the murder & knife-fighting we see from so many modern instructors of the blade.
  3. They stressed improvisation: even the varied blades (caronero, facon, daga, verijero, picazo, punal) were crafted with parts of swords and other tools by design. Improvisational weapons were used for great effect for a multitude of daily utilitarian purposes, the boleadoras (bolos, anything projectile and weighted: rock ‘n’ sock/blackjack/poolball in towel), rebeneque (compared to the modern-day sjambok or short whip), poncho (the modern jacket/hoodie)
  4. There was a code of conduct or ethics even within the conflict as they had respect for human life and the value of another man’s right to live, which coincided with the psychological barriers the vast majority of the population has with regards to utilizing violence as a positive tool (depending on circumstance) and reticence to inflict damage on another human being.
  5. Based more on knife dueling than what precipitates flashy knife defense with the idea that it was nigh impossible to deal empty-handed with a man whose very existence was born from the knife and used it every day. The truth is that far too many systems base their counter-knife program on hard-to-learn, harder-to-implement and complex knife defense, which simply won’t hold up to what reality dictates.
  6. The 3 methods of dueling are focused more on context and circumstance, conditioning this psychologically from the start in a very subtle, maybe unconscious way. 1. First blood (developing evasion, distancing, movement, natural bodily survival mechanisms), 2. To a point count of 10 with different values given for head, chest, hands (developing targeting, knowledge of anatomy, accuracy, not exchanging blows), 3. Duelo (showing the biomechanical stopping power of the blade, how to adapt and survive when injured, the desperation of not getting cut) Overall, this is a great way to demonstrate the sliding scale of lethality and use-of-force.

Image result for esgrima criolla blogspot

7.  They focus some attention on grips, deployment and concealment & carry – the fastest way to deploy a blade when needed and the carry stressed this (examples: facon carried blade down at the back of the belt for more rapid draw, the caronero hidden in a subtle pouch while on horseback (same can be done in the modern-day car)

8. It was inevitably big-knife fighting as most of the blades (outside of the verijero & picazo) started at 6 inches and made their way up to almost 4 feet (caronero). The punal was a South American version of the American Bowie knife. This length and size also allowed for blade-on-blade re-directions, flat-of-the-blade and spine usage and beat attacks (using the weighted flat of the blade as an impact weapon)

9. There is nothing complex about it, it is easy to learn. It was simple, functional and pragmatic…more a way of life than a “style of fighting” or “system” with adherent protocols, which was the beauty of the effectiveness. These people lived the blade, utilized it daily, carried numerous for different and specific purposes; it was a part of their existence, which conditions and hardwires the brain in a much different way than training complexity for an hour a week.

10. No politics, no belts, no arrogance. This is not a system as much as a method: what didn’t work was simply discarded as it had to be functional to keep someone alive. The effectiveness is in the trial-and-error and a mutual understanding and cultivating of knowledge. While it is an ongoing historical study, it is a study with direct implications to what modern reality dictates. It will not go the direction of larping, re-enactments and fairs. It is meant for function.

11. Dueling was a foregone conclusion if delving into this way of living. It was almost a right-of-passage so, while this is not accepted in modern society, it puts the impetus back squarely in the hands of the practitioner: you become practical and survive or you don’t, quite simply. No reliance on others, no soft training, no theory – you learned what worked under duress, through trial-and-error and put it into play in real-time…or you ceased existing.

12. Greater attention to the point. As many modern knife combat systems, Esgrima Criolla comes from Spanish influence. As with much of European/Spanish fencing, greater attention is placed on thrusting and becoming proficient at putting the point into the target.

For further information on Creole fencing/Esgrima Criolla, contact Jorge Emilio Prina (whose blog address is below) or myself.


This goes towards ability to relate and humanize potential violent attackers, their trends and their psyche. We continuously (with the media’s help) make the mistake of dehumanizing these people and calling them monsters, animals and predators when we need to be looking at the characteristics they have that are like ours to relate to them. Remember, the more we have in common the more we can start to use the element of prediction.) We have more in common than we know and think many of the same thoughts, if we’re honest. The difference is that these individuals act on theirs where we don’t. The element of shame and guilt shouldn’t factor in as we’re human in nature, truly. It’s not awful to get in touch with your inner monster to be able to relate to the one you may potentially face. If you were a criminal, what would you see in a potential victim:

  1. “Gazelle” group detachment: stragglers, lagging behind, slower/submissive
  2. Submissive body language: see body language program
  3. Lacking in situational awareness: blind spots, location, potential attack spots
  4. Inward body language, introverted
  5. Weakness in physicality: frail, thin, bent, lacking strength, handicap, infirmity, overweight, walking with aid-walker, cane, wheelchair, lacking physical definition
  6. Eye contact lacking, looking down
  7. Uncomfortable shoes: not able to run, high heels, dress shoes, boots
  8. Hands occupied: unable to fight back as encumbered by items carried
  9. Alone
  10. Aged
  11. Looking for someone not able to fight back physically, a target
  12. Attachments to grab for leverage: earrings, noserings, long hair,
  13. Setting: dark, poorly light, low populace, sidestreets, back alleys, rural/urban areas, isolated
  14. Combinations of above (9 & 13, for instance)
  15. Voice: meek, quiet, reserved
  16. Gait: short steps, limited/minimal/no arm movement, hunched over, body movements in, short distance between steps




As a Canadian having now lived in Costa Rica for 7+ years, I often get asked by expats on smooth(er) integration and immersion into a new culture. With some cultures having an innate dislike for foreigners relating to “stealing” jobs from nationals, losing unique elements of culture, cultural disconnects and the like, it can at times make one a target that stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. This article is the result, though not limited to the list itself as this is just the tip of the iceberg. Some conceptual ideas on survival and safety when living abroad as an expat:

  1. Be aware. Situationally aware. Yes, it’s a broad general term but it simply means noticing things that stand out, that don’t seem right, that set off your intuition, that can be perceived to be a potential issue: strange people hovering in the neighborhood, cars parked in areas for extended periods of time, items left in places you don’t recall leaving them. Smoke billowing around corners you have limited vision. Shadow reflections of oncoming unseen individuals. Mirrors to see people’s actions/body language/tells without them knowing. Movement inside a car you thought was uninhabited. Silhouettes in the dark. It can be as basic or as diverse as you want to make it.
  2. Accept the fact that you’re a stranger in a strange land and act accordingly. Whether you fall into this category or not, you are perceived as being “American/North American”, having money and, oftentimes correctly, not being part of “their” world (meaning the criminal). The more you showcase this in public and draw attention, the more you’ll likely receive.
  3. Fit in as much as is possible, even if it means learning a little Spanish and attempting to speak to the locals with it. Get to know your neighbors. Support local business. Talk to people. Be friendly.
  4. Accept the fact that you, too, could be a victim and, yes, it COULD happen to you. Oftentimes people who live scared and pray that it couldn’t happen to them transmit this through body language in public. Be confident, act like a hard target and carry yourself like you know the territory and are comfortable in the culture.
  5. You don’t need a pitbull or Rottweiler. Simply something that makes a lot of noise and draws attention is a) enough to make them go to another house, b) make your house a potentially harder mark than is worth their while and c) give you enough time to clear your head (if in the middle of the night) and take the appropriate steps. (eg. escape, call 911, get to your gun/weapon.) I like the dog idea as much as the alarm idea. This is a loyal friend/family member and if you treat them right they instinctively protect their owner in various ways. If your dog is barking at-length there may be a legitimate reason for it, don’t brush it off. Remember, everything is contextual. If it ends up being the neighborhood kids having a mahenga in front of your house, no harm no foul. It took 10 seconds to find this out.
  6. Weapons are a great force multiplier and are far more effective than anything someone can do without one, which I realize is a moral issue for many…or the majority. That being said, to go heavily along with what Paul said at the meeting, if you have the intention of using one, get training. The last thing you need is a criminal taking it away from you and using it against you. Improvised weapons are everywhere around the house and it takes someone who can envision how to use them, how to handle them and what kind of damage they can do. (flexible, bladed, penetrating, projectile, impact, shielding, etc.) If you have the will to use a weapon, use it with intent. We have a catchphrase: “He who hesitates, meditates…horizontally.” Use it with commitment and visualize what you’re protecting. What’s important to you and what are you willing to fight for. Could you move on having lost them or they you. Be feral and vile if you need to survive. Mindset is far more important than physical skill (But, remember, training enhances this although I realize not everybody can or is able to partake in training nor has any inclination to fight.) Here’s a cold truth most people are not able to accept: the only way to defeat violence (when all other avenues are spent) is utilize greater violence. Be brutal. Self-defense implies that there are 4 elements present: ability, opportunity, intent and preclusion. Your first 3 have already been passed by context, the 4th isn’t required. It is you or them if you decide to act with aggression. If you’re not able to come to terms with this…remember, for those who haven’t delved into this arena, it is not a walk-in-the-park – the pre-, during and post- parts are traumatic and life-changing. Another reason to get proper training on the whys/hows/whens.
  7. Yes, some are expensive but they are a great deterrent and if they work only once they will have justified their cost. (You don’t want to find out AFTER you’ve made the decision that they’re TOO expensive that it was worth the investment. Too late.) That being said, pick someone reputable as there are many offering this service that will immediately in turn pass on the knowledge to their burglar friends of how to trip the alarm. I would recommend going through a reputable security company. Oftentimes, these companies actually monitor through remote CCTV, will let you see the footage and take their business seriously as it’s extremely competitive and losing a client is not something they want, nor the bad reputation that’ll come from taking the above route. (Independent companies may not often care, remember, you’re a Gringo to them and they predominantly work with and in their community)
  8. Pretending to be asleep can sometimes work (as the adamant gentleman insisted at the meeting) and, like the story I mentioned, can save lives. But, remember, from this story, they were actually fully asleep and there were no physiological anomalies needed to be controlled. If the burglars want money (and think you have it), want to kidnap, be violent and take their resentment out on the homeowner for whatever reason, it can backfire. There is no one right solution and a catch-all response to every scenario. Home invasions are always contextual so plan accordingly. (And “pretending” to be asleep is often easier said than done with adrenal dump/tachypsychia-heart pumping 250 bpms, perpetual shaking, uncontrolled breathing, fearful wife or kids beside you, involuntary responses, etc.) Ever tried it with an angry wife/husband after a fight and they’re not quite finished? How’s that worked for you? (If it doesn’t work on her/him it just might not work on them)
  9. Do a quick scope of the house upon return (and upon leaving). Don’t get caught off-guard. This goes for car safety as well. Before getting in your car, look underneath the car, backseat, vehicles beside/behind/in front of. Don’t stop too close to the car in front of you. Lock your doors while driving. Put your seatbelt on after you’ve locked the door and take it off before unlocking to get out. Pay attention to strange cars following you and don’t lead them to your home where you’re isolated. (A better idea is to lead them to the police station or a populated public place you’re familiar with. Act like you’re calling someone to report them WITHOUT getting out of the car. Never get out when challenged or pull over to a place of their terms. Everything regarding safety should always be made on your terms. It’s your life and only you are in control of it.)
  10. Check for escape routes and safe(r) hiding places if needed, both in the house, in the yard and through neighboring land. In a pinch this saves you decision-making time under the effects of adrenaline if the proverbial shit does hit the fan. (And remember, if you can get out of that exit, someone can also get in) The last thing you want is to make new decisions while under intense pressure for your life. Which leads me to my next point….
  11. ….Visualize situations in advance and come up with a plan as to how you would act if…

(eg. Burglar comes in through the back, catches you off-guard in the night, alarm goes off, you hear someone fiddling with the window) Have that reaction hardwired by the time it happens. It takes no time at all and puts you in a state of constant vigilance. Preparation, not paranoia.

  1. With what’s happening in the U.S. right now with law enforcement “profiling” certain races, there’s been a negative stereotype, whether justifiably so or not in certain cases. But profiling can be an extremely effective tool for a civilian/citizen. What have the invaders done in previous home invasions? Were there more than one? What’re the common qualities of the burglar? (lower-class, multiples, from in-town/from out-of-town, poor upbringing, expose to violence at a young age, are they violent, could they be, do they have a history of violence) This is infinite but always better to know what you’re looking at than being caught off-guard by it. What places are populated by this type of person, where are they in accordance to your residence. Criminals are different in every place. A home invader in the U.S. may have different strategies and tactics than in Canada. Canada different than in Costa Rica. It’s not a universal phenomenon. It’s location-specific.
  2. Change routine. Take different routes to work, go to different restaurants, change your activity patterns at home. The more you act in patterns the easier it is for criminals to predict your behavior and take advantage of it. (“Bill goes out for supper with his wife every Tuesday to ChiChi’s at 5:00pm” – they watch and pick-up on these things.)
  3. Learn to think like a criminal. I call it the “Predator-Prey Reversal”. If you were a home-invader/mugger/kidnapper/car-jacker..hell, sociopath, killer, mass-murderer, active shooter, violence-driven individual…what would YOU look for in a victim? Don’t be that. Be specific and be extreme, it doesn’t make you a bad person to get in touch with your inner animal, you’ll find you can relate that much more to how others operate and make yourself less of a victim.
  4. Learn to “people-watch.” I have at times taken students to the mall for class. Just to watch people. Who hypothetically looks like a potential problem, interaction between people, notice suspicious behavior, who’s watching you, why.
  5. The modern criminal. There are two types of violence: social and asocial. Social is at the bar over a spilt beer, two men cockfighting over a woman of vice versa, demonstrations of physicality and an agreement to “settle things.” These rarely turn really ugly as they’re over pride. Asocial violence has a completely different dynamic: it’s to benefit one of the two people/groups involved. It’s not a fight they’re looking for but a victim and they have a profile too. Body language: fearful, slumped, short steps, looking down/only straight ahead, meek, submissive. Don’t be these things. Even if you can’t authentically, ACT persuasively like this in public, when there may be eyes on you. (And, yes, these actions can follow you home so it pertains more than a little to a home invasion, without a doubt)
  6. OC sprays, homemade/improvised sprays, tasers, stun guns. It’s not a guaranteed problem-solver. Know your weapon always if you’re planning on using it and NEVER bluff. If you’re called on it, the ensuing damage could be greater and more personal to the criminal as you’ve aggravated him/her. Practice how to use your tools: accessibility (where do you carry it, can it be deployed rapidly, do you know how to use it, what obstacles need to be overcome to utilize it-locks, switches, Velcro openings, etc.) What are the advantages and disadvantages of using it. (A spray is far more effective in the house than outside with a 30km/hour wind blowing against you) If you think you’re armed simply because you’re carrying a weapon, let me assure you that without this pre-emptive planning, it is a decoration, nothing more.  I haven’t seen many tasers here in CR with the two extendable prongs. The majority being sold are of the stun-gun variety which means what? You have to be up-close and personal with your aggressor to use it. Close-range. If you have no training and have inner doubts that it may get taken away from you, it will. And some sprays don’t work on everyone. They do testing where some people (not many but this goes to pain tolerance, skin resistance, drug/alcohol usage, your accuracy, the volume of spray that actually hits intended targets and other intangibles that you will not know at that moment)
  7. Internet safety. DO NOT post your activities on Facebook or other social media. After the fact is one thing but to do so before invites the criminal to find out when’s the best time to invade your home. “My wife and I are going to the Juanes concert tonight! Can’t wait, it starts at 7!” Not a wise idea, in fact, pure stupidity. And for those of you that say Facebook is safe and you’ve put all the necessary precautions up, you haven’t. It’s free so that means ANYBODY and EVERYBODY is on it, including the criminals. Be cautious of accepting people on your friend’s list that you don’t know, don’t completely trust, just met or are simply friends of people you know somewhat.
  8. Police take in the U.S. an average of 11 minutes response time for home invasions, from what they’re announcing recently in the U.S. and Canada. (ADT advertises in Canada for 33 minutes before police arrive through their monitoring) How much more do you think it’d be here?? Significance? You can’t rely solely on this element to protect you and keep you safe. Most home invasions will be solved, one way or other (if you get what I’m saying) long before the 11-minute mark, if you even have time to put this train in motion. And, remember, police here aren’t always your friend as this is a small country and they may have grown up in the community along with many of the people who have intent to rob you.
  9. Get in habit of “proofing” your house to the extent you’re able…daily. This is one pattern that is a good one for both yourselves and onlookers. Lock windows and doors before leaving. Skylights. Check for other openings that you may not have thought of where they can get in. Are there weak points in your property that open themselves to unlawful entry? Points where the CCTV cameras don’t hit? Areas with poor visual acuity? Blind spots? Be prudent.
  10. Post-incident. Here’s one that doesn’t get enough respect: learn basic 1st You simply never know regarding the aftermath of violence. Loved ones may survive who’ve been left for dead or are dramatically injured, including yourself. A little damage control goes a long way.
  11. Post-incident. Never chase after your aggressor if you’ve managed to survive the initial robbery in-tact. A) Its no longer self-defense. B) You are re-initializing potential violence and C) could end up 6-feet under.


“They’re just words.” Words and their symbolic meaning can have a profound effect on the receiver, one that may not at all be intended by the messenger. We all have our own individual life experience and frames of reference and those uniquely individual experiences can change the way we take in meaning, unique from others. Words like ‘defense’, ‘defend’ or ‘self-defense’, ‘counter’, ‘reaction’  and ‘block’ when turned into ‘greater aggression’ or ‘overwhelming response’, ‘pre-emption’, ‘action’/’counter-action’ and ‘destruction’ can change the entire context of how one may need to utilize violence as a counter-violence measure. Simple changes in vernacular like women’s self-defense to women’s empowerment, self-defense to counter-violence, tactical response to tactical solution can drastically alter perception and therefore the mentality of how it’s absorbed and put into play.

People are innately and unconsciously affected and influenced by the term one gives them. Think of it as neurological conditioning. If, for instance, they believe it’s a strategy, they will act accordingly, that it’s neutral and effective as strategies are perceived as something with contextual positivity, an element that helps their cause. The term submission has an entirely different psychic definition to the vast majority. For example, utilizing ‘submissive postures’ in the interview phase of conflict may and can be a great tool to either de-escalate or to deliver a pre-emptive attack, context-dependent, but the issue isn’t with the concept itself, but in the terminology. Submission may indeed be a form of negotiation but it is widely perceived as a negative by the vast majority in the public. If your goal is to teach someone to utilize it as a tool for mutual benefit or for persuasion purposes, your approach may be entirely correct but if it’s subliminally absorbed as something relating to weakness, loss of advantage or cowardice, it may have the exact opposite impact on them when utilizing or attempting to utilize it. It may also transfer to other areas outside of the given circumstance like a domino effect.

The point isn’t that it’s a conflict with the methodology (whatever that may be), only the importance of the title you give it as it absolutely changes the mindset and implementation of the skillset to the receiver. Inevitably, it’s not the message but the delivery of said message. The meaning is very often in the receiver’s interpretation of it, not the sender’s desired intent and that, my friend, means everything as they are the one putting the skill into play and, in our industry, it could be a high price to pay.

Take the word ‘fuck’, for instance. Adding it to “What do you want?” can turn the meaning into a far more powerful one for the purpose of creating space, both psychological and physical. How the person on the receiving end understands the intent of the question is irrevocably change and may even create a momentary shock as to the audacity. A means to an end. (and preferably not when Mom shows up at your door with a pie and 2 cups of coffee) Swearing can be a useful tool to provide an exclamation mark on intended meaning. The reverse can be true regarding the name of your brand new shiny tactical folder, dubbed by the maker the “Headscalper 3000.” If ever actually needing to use this tool in an actual self-defense scenario (although I realize many simply do this a hobby or pastime and rarely even think of the consequences during their training of what it is they actually do) I’m sure your plea of self-protection may fall on somewhat more deaf ears with judge, jury and LE when explaining why your pet is titled so aggressively. (“Killer” the pitbull, anyone?) This goes towards all logos, school names and techniques as well. They represent you and your intent, your mission statement, if you will. Graphic, aggressive and macho terms, for instance…what you call them may put you in legal hot water later on. Mantras can have the opposite effect in the form of empowerment if utilized correctly and with achievable aims. I see discussions end in hostility, threats and challenges to agreed-upon “violence” on Facebook almost daily now as one word’s meaning can change the entire context of digital graphology. Factor in different cultures, machismo and pride and you have a powderkeg. (Facebook is not a self-defense scenario, by the way, but don’t tell anyone)

Next time you’re unwinding and watching TV or surfing the net, pay attention to commercials and ads. Notice the subliminal words, phrases and images they utilize to manipulate (another word that CAN be beneficial to move someone toward a positive mutual outcome but that has staunchly negative connotation) you into buying their product or service. Political and social propaganda is driven by this same methodology. For Americans, this is the perfect time for you to be aware of this: political rhetoric, subtle media manipulation, negative campaign ads, partial journalistic storytelling without context…they toy with your perception to push you towards another thought process. It is truly everywhere and it has a profound impact on how we think, what we do, our reactions to stimuli and, in this case, our ability to manage conflict or deal with violence once/if that avenue has past. Words have heavy neurological impact based on experience, emotion, trauma, euphoria, societal dictates and a host of other triggers. It truly pays to be cautious in the words you use.


This excerpt is taken from a body language program I had developed some time ago. As with all body language, it is circumstantial, contextual and person-specific. For any of you interested in a purely knowledge-based context, or for those whose lives may depend on profiling, reading or understanding other people’s aggression, I hope this helps in some way.

So much of our body language is through our original protection system developed evolutionarily. Adrenaline dump, fear, flight/fight/fright or freeze, protecting organs and vitals, mobility/respiration/vision flinch response that transfers to regular daily body language, so much of our history is from survival signals/instincts from thousands of years of highly-evolved development

Usually tells are derived from one of the three evolutionary fear responses:

FRIGHT/FREEZE (a neglected and sometimes utterly ignored element of the three, lip service is often only paid to the “fight or flight” axiom-temporary motion stop, visual/auditory/kinesthetic acuity (guilt, analysis of proper response/internal dialogue, emotion, surprise, shock), minimal bodily movement, momentary silence, making ourselves smaller, guilt responses, responses when placed back toward an open door/moving people/open window (increased respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and brainwave frequencies: Caveman reference with communal fire, tent, back to wall for protection from internal or external attack)

FLIGHT-shift feet toward exit, turn away from someone you don’t like, avoid conversations that threaten you, blocking behavior (closing the eyes, rubbing the eyes, placing hands in front of face, leaning away, placing objects on lap (purse) or in front of you, overall “distancing” (barriers, spatial creation, angling, body blading)

*exhibit caution as naturally visual people also lean back, create distance and have greater spatial “bubbles”

FIGHT-argument, insults, ad hominem phrases, counter-allegations, denigration of professional stature, defensiveness, goading, sarcasm; posture, eyes, puffing out chest, spatial violations, aggressive non-physical contact (ritual signs of violence, pacing, emphatic gestures, voice changes in tone), monotone response with minimal bodily gestures/motionless (James Bond/Jason Bourne examples)

Remember, to make a proper analysis non-verbal signs should be taken in clusters as one alone (although there are exceptions to the rule) is usually not sufficient to make a proper assessment of what’s happening internally with a person. Often this is a major mistake by those uncertain or a little too ambitious with their assessment. Since reading is done on the fly and some tells happen in a micro-second to assume is truly to make an ass out of –u and –me. Err on side of caution and if you can’t read properly and more evidence is needed, continue to develop rapport, be patient, keep them talking and ask specific leading questions. The type of question will obviously be different in regular conversation than it would be, for instance, during an interrogation. Connect certain reactions with parts of the conversation and topics that draw them out and ask connecting questions on the fly to determine a cause-effect.

Four intangibles for analysis:

  1. Different gestures mean different things (thus the multiple potential possibilities of so many individual gestures) in different contexts. The same tell can mean something totally different in a social setting vs. business meeting vs. home environment.
  2. This is why it’s so important to get multiples congruent signals to make a proper analysis. Very seldom does one gesture give enough of an explanation to make a firm deduction on its own.
  3. CULTURAL DIFFERENCES. What’s positive in one culture may be entirely offensive in another so factor this in and be aware of specific gestures to culture in question.
  4. Whether the gestures match each other and correlate for an overall picture or not. If differing or opposite signs come up ALWAYS believe the negative one as it’s far more telling and authentic. People can fake happy but don’t put a lot of practice into faking negative emotion, they come far more naturally
  5. Once again an evolutionary tool that’s been honed through centuries. The vaunted “feminine intuition” is prevalent in men as well but, being more logic-based and dismissive with metaphysical areas we tend to neglect development of this trait. Remember, one thing I always abide by: “if something feels wrong, it probably is.” Go with your gut, factor in your instinct along with your knowledge and “deciphering” capability. (Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear” as reference point for this)

Using the acronym, I call this “I4C or “I foresee” to remember the 1 I (intuition) and four C’s in the equation (clusters, culture, context and congruence)

One thing I always do if I’m somewhat uncertain about a certain nonverbal signal is to do it myself (tactfully of course so as not to mimic, an often clearly-perceived insult) and see how I feel or, more accurately, how it makes me feel.

It’s a proven fact that people tend to reveal far more clear and clustered body signals when comfortable than when stressed or tense. When we’re able to be relaxed and at ease we reveal much more than when we aren’t so the bad cop interview no longer holds water. The more at ease a person is and the more rapport we have with them the more important and imperative non-verbals can be detected. Rapport is also a strategy for just this reason. In this regard it is much easier to establish needed baseline behaviors, which cuts down the possibility of making critical errors in assessment. When a person is tense or threatened they tend to give off anxious, tense, nervous body language which can easily be mistaken for lying, aggression or anti-social.


From our evolution and violent past, we often show remnants of body language that had direct purpose to survival but, as evolution always does, times have moved on and different survival systems have developed. These are, debatedly, somewhat scenario-specific:

  • Ventral showing: showing lack of fear by showing organs and sending message of other being non-threatening to person showing. Often in modern violence this show of perceived arrogance and show of vulnerable parts of the body have proven dangerous against an underhanded modern criminal (especially one with a knife) Option? Blading the body. One can still show confidence and status with an open body posture slightly angled in discussion/confrontation
  • Crotch display: showing confidence, machismo and competition to other men and sexual interest in a woman; one needs to be careful in a confrontation when opening legs too far apart and not paying attention to potential genital-related outcomes (including voice permanently etched with a higher pitch) Option? Once again, slight blading/angling of the body can still get the message across without being blindly confident and displaying a message of arrogance
  • Neck show: to show vulnerability and submission, potential attraction from the opposite sex, see number one (contains lots of vital areas vulnerable to attack as well: Vagus nerve, carotid arteries, jugular veins, suprasternal notch as well as the superior and middle thyroid veins, sternocleidomastoid muscle) Option? Slight angling of the head away to keep the vitals partially shielded while still showing polite deference and interest
  • Roots of the eyes: by looking down while maintaining eye contact is often perceived as submissive or negative in nature (though it can be perceived as judgmental as well), this is a very powerful confrontational tool that creates distance and sends a psychic message to one on the receiving end
  • Walking pace: in the modern business world, a brisk pace indicates the desire to get things done, being on a mission and being energetic. When in public and constantly under scrutiny by other testosterone-filled men measuring, a slower but purposeful gait is a powerful show of calm and control (slowER methodical walk though the validity of having a strong gait and purposeful pace cannot be over-emphasized)
  • Thumbs up: in the times of Roman gladiators, the crowd signified sparing or ending the life of the loser by either the thumbs-up or thumbs-down gestures
  • Crossed arms: body protection, in times past it was an intentional sheltering of the body’s vitals including the lungs and heart
  • Open palms: to show others that there were no hidden weapons being carried, a show of trust
  • Nostril flaring: allows more air in with which to oxygenate the body in preparation for either fight or flight when threatened
  • Hand shaking: originated from arm wrestling
  • Territoriality: leaning on our possessions (or neutral possessions) to show ownership and protectiveness: cars, houses, chairs, etc.
  • Hand gestures: karate chops, finger stabs & fist punches all signify reinforcement of message, the final word or emphasis of an important point, although as “communication is how the message is received, not given” these are all received relatively poorly by the one on the other end as they show dominance, aggression and argumentativeness


  • Smiling: originally used by primates as a show of either fear or subordination to a more powerful member of the group; in modern it is similar in that it shows a non-threatening and accepting attitude towards the receiver (in carnivores it’s actually a threat)
  • Chin jut: also from primates, showing aggressive intent for a forward and direct attack
  • Baring teeth and flaring of nostrils: again, comes from the act of attacking
  • Sneering: used as a signal to warn other animals of impending attack or defense if necessary
  • Freezing/stillness: when a predator is in the animal’s area, somewhat of a “don’t pick me” signal

We have many similar signs from the animal kingdom that, when put in proper context and researched, have maintained their validity in the urban jungle to this day. We have a more than passing (and less than coincidental) interest in animal movement, attack strategies and predatory methods and this, in an opinion, is far more valuable than looking back in history at our own past and methods/tactics. Theirs have stood the test of time without change.

One element of learning I try is when one of the family dogs is present, I go through various human body language signs and facial expressions to gauge response and even our friendly K-9s often react in predictable ways towards clear negative and positive projections.

Though not body language, per se, other examples of our survival instinct past and evolution that has manifested itself in modern-day scenarios:

  1. Sitting with your back to the door/open window creates increased blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and brainwave frequencies back from the Caveman days with the communal fire, multiple people eating in the tent after a kill, sitting with their backs to the wall for protection from both internal and external attack
  2. King Arthur’s round table: designed to create neutrality in meetings but not realizing that his own high-status created a pecking order of importance from those seated next to him (higher power) to those further away (lower power) to those seated diametrically-opposed (competitive)
  3. The term “right-hand man” coming from the fact that the one sitting directly to the leader’s right was the least threat due to the fact it was difficult to stab effectively with your left hand, considering in those days left-handed had a negative stigma attached to them and the staunch majority were right-handed
  4. The handshake. Originated from a grasping of the mid-to-lower arm to ensure there were no hidden weapons that could be pulled at a future point in the interaction
  5. 2nd arm during a handshake. Seemingly-kind, at times can be a hidden attempt to control through touch, establish dominance in a subtle and potentially hidden way
  6. Sitting across from each other at a table. Originally coined the “gunslinger” position due to the fact that squaring off the torso of the body was a sign of competitiveness. (although context-dependent in the modern-day)
  7. After eating, stomach takes blood away from the brain to help digestion (similar to fight-or-flight adrenaline response) and causing the person to not think as clearly. Bad for business decisions, good for romance, extremely good to take advantage of a vulnerable opponent with shady dealings
  8. Frontal display, showing confidence by exhibiting glibly one’s organs to show that they don’t find you threatening in any way, has come back to haunt some as they’ve transferred business tactics into the street world, where violence is a threat and this display is highly-unprotected

***Contagious actions that can give psychological openings pre-conflict: yawning, nervousness, confusion.