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Doing The Right Thing Right At The Right Time

How To Design An Effective Self-Defense Response System

By Randy LaHaie

Self-defense decisions shouldn't be left to fate, luck or accident. The brain doesn't work well in stressful, urgent situations.

Pressure and fear impair our ability to think logically or creatively. They increase the probability of feeling flustered, confused and indecisive in the chaos of a confrontation.

In a volatile situation, thats NOT GOOD! Proper preparation prevents that from happening.

This article provides you with an outline of the things you need to consider to improve your decision-making skills and your ability to respond effectively in a bad situation.

Get Clear On Your Standards For "SUCCESS."

How you define success determines the actions you take to achieve it. You need to reflect and get clear on what "success" in a confrontational situation means to you. You need to differentiate between just doing things right(technique) and doing the right things (decisions). There's a huge difference!

Unless you do, you can pour a ton of time and energy into self-defense training that will do nothing to improve your safety. Selecting the wrong self-defense strategy at the wrong time can make matters worse!

You Need a System, Not a Recipe.

A recipe is a list of specific steps to take to produce a desired outcome. Lists of things-to-do are fine in accomplishing something that is static, predictable and the same all the time.

In self-defense, its impossible to anticipate every conceivable situation that you might encounter. No two situations are the same. No two people are the same. There are many factors that will impact the outcome.

Simple, step-by-step solutions to such complex situations just won't work. You need a game plan that is dynamic, adaptable and flexible. You need a system. That system has to be the right fit for you. It must take into account not only the unique circumstances you find yourself in but your strengths and your limitations as well.

Systems are built on a clear doctrine or a philosophy. What's yours? A clear self-defense doctrine, preferably written out, provides you with the "compass" you need to choose your best course of action in a crisis.

Once your doctrine is clear, strategies are needed to achieve it. A strategy is a broad plan of action intended to produce a desired result. My self-defense system incorporates five self-defense strategies to consider when dealing with threatening situations.

Tactics are the specific tasks, techniques or actions you take to achieve a strategy. Tactics change based on circumstances and the people performing them. The same strategy can be achieved in many different ways. Tactics change but strategies don't. A well-designed Self-defense Response Strategy System allows you to improvise effective tactics on-the-fly to achieve a pre-determined strategy.

I'll be laying out the steps involved in understanding and designing your own response strategy system in "What To Do In A Volatile Situation."

Know What's Worth Fighting For And What Isn't?

One of the first steps in deciding what to do in a volatile situation is to clarify your values and your sense of what is and isn't worth fighting for. Your perception of "rightness" is important in selecting your response strategy in a particular situation.

What is your moral position about self-defense? Do you know? Have you given it some thought? If not, you stand the risk of being seriously injured or even killed over something that is trivial or easily replaced.

On the other hand, when something very important is threatened, you need to recognize that fact and take decisive action; even at the risk of injury.

Know Your Rights And The Legal Consequences Of Defending Yourself

Did you know that you could go to jail or be sued for defending yourself? Well its true!

I'm not a lawyer and don't hold myself out as one. However, I have provided expert testimony in court about what constitutes justified or excessive force.

If you want to be prepared to defend yourself, you need to have a general sense of your legal right to do so. You also need to know that you can go "too far" and be subject to criminal prosecution.

When I teach this to my self-defense students, I identify four criteria used to determine whether your actions are justified or illegal. This is important stuff and often neglected in self-defense programs.

Diagnose First Then Prescribe!(Situational Assessment)

Before you decide on your most appropriate course of action, you need to read and evaluate the situation you find yourself in and the factors that will impact the success or failure of a particular strategy.

Its unrealistic to think that there is only one way to respond in a threatening situation. Contrary to what you may have been told, a swift kick to the balls isn't always the best solution to every self-defense problem (although its not a bad idea in some ;-)

A strategy has to "fit" to the circumstances of the encounter. It has to be flexible enough to be adapted to a wide variety of situations.

The Five Response Strategies

There are five strategies to consider in a self-defense situation. You need to know what they are, when to use them, when not to use them, how to do them and even what to do if they fail or backfire. Here are the five that I address in my self-defense system:

1. Compliance

2. Escape & Evasion

3. De-escalation

4. Defiance/Assertiveness

5. Fighting Back

The one you chose is based on your assessment of the situation. Each of them is built on beliefs about predatory situations.

For example, your belief about what is and isn't important enough to fight and risk injury for, will determine whether you should comply or resist the demands of an assailant.

A belief that an assailant is in search of a passive, compliant victim may cause you to challenge the assailants demands and send him looking for a more cooperative target.

Our beliefs determine our behavior. You need to consider each of the above strategies and think about what you believe to be true about self-defense situations.

Ultimately, a self-defense response system teaches you what to do, why and how to do it. Your ability to defend yourself lies in doing the right thing right, the right way at the right time.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Statistically, the probability of you ever being attacked is remote. In addition to and along with your ability to make good decisions in a crisis is your "sense" of security. That is very important to everyone.

You obviously can't rely on your repeated exposure to threatening situations to develop your self- defense decision-making skills. However, you still need to practice.

I relate the mental skills of self-defense decision- making to playing chess. Just "knowing" doesn't make you a chess player. You need to practice and play the game.

Its essential to "pre-think" about your response options BEFORE you need them. The more you visualize "what-to-do-if…" scenarios, the safer and more in control in your life you will be.

Come up with hypothetical scenarios or keep your eyes open for predatory incidents in the newspaper and analyze them. What contributed to the outcome of the situation? What would you do if it happened to you?

The more you do this; the more you apply the things that I've written about, the more likely you will do the right thing in a volatile situation.


We've just scratched the surface of developing your own self-defense response system, but it's a start. What I've laid out are the basic building blocks you need to consider to make a legitimate impact on your ability to know what to do in a volatile situation.

Until next time, take care, train smart and stay safe...

Randy LaHaie

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Randy LaHaie has been studying and teaching reality-based self-defense methods for over 35 years. As a life-long martial artist, retired police officer and personal safety consultant, Randy has trained thousands of law enforcement officers, high risk professionals and private citizens.For more extensive and current self-defense advice and resources be sure to visit his blog "The Toughen Up Self-Defense Blog." by clicking here:

Toughen Up Self-Defense Blog

Copyright © 2011 by Randy LaHiae, Protective Strategies. All rights Reserved.