Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nonverbal Communication and Self Defense

Julius Fast's 1970 work Body Language was one of the first books written for the common public on the then burgeoning science of Kinesics, the study of human nonverbal communication. While admittedly dated both in its content and approach, at the time it was an innovative look into a new field; based on pioneering studies like those of anthropologists and sociologists Ray Birdwhistell, Erving Goffman, and Paul Ekman.

One of the more interesting passages for our purposes is the discussion on the possibility of a human instinctual imperative towards territorial behavior.

The Territorial Imperative
Page 15
One of the things that is inherited genetically is the sense of territory. Robert Ardrey has written a fascinating book, The Territorial Imperative, in which he traces this territorial sense through the animal kingdom and into the human,. In this book he discusses the staking out and guarding of territory by animals, birds, deer, fish, and primates. For some species the territories are temporary, shifting with each season. For other animal species they are permanent. Ardrey makes an interesting case for the fact that, in his belief, “the territorial nature of man is genetic and ineradicable.”

From his extensive animal studies he describes an innate code of behavior in the animal world. The key to the code, he believes, is territory, and the territorial imperative is the drive in animals and humans to take, hold, and defend a given area.

There may be a drive in all humans to have and defend a territory, and it may well be that a good part of that drive is inborn. However, we cannot always interpolate from humans to animals and from animals to humans.

The territorial imperative may exist in all animals and in some men. It may be strengthened by culture in some of these humans and weakened in still others.

But there is little doubt that there is some territorial need in humans.”

Understanding the territorial needs of other humans is an important part of practicing self defense. Especially when you consider that in many cases, the humans in question are unaware of those needs themselves. When you are unaware of your needs and the needs of those around you, it is easy to accidentally violate the boundaries of others and cause an unconscious defensive or aggressive reaction in their behavior. Anyone who has ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or had a joke fall flat with good intentions understands how quickly a minor miscommunication can escalate into an argument. Or a fight.

Fast goes on to relate a simple anecdote to demonstrate how these reactions can be subconsciously manipulated.

Page 16
I had lunch not too long ago with a psychiatrist friend. We sat in a pleasant restaurant at a stylishly small table. At one point he took out a pack of cigarettes, lit one and put the pack down three-quarters of the way across the table in front of my plate.

He kept talking and I kept listening, but I was troubled in some way that I couldn't quite define, and more troubled as he moved his tableware about, lining it up with his cigarettes, closer and closer to my side of the table. Then leaning across the table himself he attempted to make a point. It was a point I could hardly appreciate because of my growing uneasiness.

Finally he took pity on me and said, “I just favored you with a demonstration of a very basic step in body language, in nonverbal communication.”

Puzzled, I asked, “What was that?”

I aggressively threatened you and challenged you. I put you in a position of having to assert yourself, and that bothered you.”

Still uncomprehending, I asked, “But how? What did you do?”

I moved my cigarettes to start with,” he explained, “By unspoken rule we have divided the table in half, half for you and half for me.”

I wasn't conscious of any such division.”

Of course not. The rule remains though. We both staked out a territory in our minds. Ordinarily we would have shared the table by some unspoken and civilized command. However, I deliberately moved my cigarettes into your area in a breach of taste. Unaware of what I had done, you still felt yourself threatened, felt uneasy, and when I aggressively followed up my first breach of your territory with another, moving my plate and silverware and then intruding myself, you became more and more uneasy and still were not aware of why.”

It was my first demonstration of the fact that we each possess zones of territory.”

In kenpo, we speak of zones. Zone coverage, zone cancellation. We have white zones, black zones, natural zones, and neutral zones. And in combat, understanding these zones and how to manipulate them makes the practitioner more effective. But understanding the zones of territory that each human surrounds himself with can help prevent those combat encounters from occurring.

Page 18
“No matter how crowded the area in which we humans live, each of us maintains a zone or territory around us – an inviolate area we try to keep for our own. How we defend this area and how we react to invasion of it, as well as how we encroach into other territories, can all be observed and charted and in many cases used constructively. These are all the elements of nonverbal communication. This guarding of zones is one of the first basic principles.

How we guard our zones and how we aggress to other zones is an integral part of how we relate to other people.”

Indeed it is. It is also important to remember that these rules are not universal to all people at all times. A checker at the grocery store will have a different territorial need than a police officer in a bad neighborhood, or a mother with her children in a park. Each encounter requires the student to observe the situation objectively and act deliberately.

Learn to guard your zones, and learn also how others guard theirs. This is the beginning of nonverbal communication. This is the first basic principle.

Drills -
Beginner: Practice the 3 Zone Blocking Drill with a partner. Return your hands every time to the neutral position. Practice moving your hands through the entire natural zone as you defend against your opponent's strikes. Actively practice speaking to people at different ranges. Stand back at a distance and see if they come to you, then slowly and carefully advance into the opponent's personal space until they back away. See if you can practice this without being noticed and observe the subject's reactions.

Intermediate: Practice the 3 Hit Kenpo Drill with a partner. End each of your turns with a pressing check which cancels either your opponent's height, width, or depth zones. Practice the exercise described in the anecdote above. When sitting at a table with others, begin to slowly encroach on the table space unconsciously designated to the other people there. Practice with slow, casual motions. Watch for their reactions.

Advanced: Practice defending against attacks from 3 Perceptual Zones. The White Zone is the area you can see. The Black Zone is the area you can not. The Grey Zone is the area which lies at the edge of vision. Color and shape are difficult to perceive and objects waver between the White and Black Zones. Practice defending from 8 directions by category of attack. Begin slowly and gradually increase intensity. Observe the actions of those around you when in a crowded area. Watch how even as the number of individuals in an area increases, each tries to maintain his own separate space. Observe the methods people use unconsciously to evade and avoid contact with others, even in tight quarters.

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