This article looks at the pre-fight stage when somebody is trying to pick a fight with you (social violence). It will not apply to a mugger or any form of “professional” street predator who is more likely to launch a surprise attack (asocial violence).
What is Peacocking?
Peacocking is a phrase usually used to describe somebody dressing or behaving in a manner designed to get the attention of the opposite sex. However, from a martial arts/self protection point of view it is taken to mean how somebody puts on a display of puffing themselves up to make themselves look bigger and tougher in front of a potential opponent. The chest is pushed out, shoulders pulled back, head held high and often jutting forward and arms often held out from the sides of the body.
The purpose of this behaviour is to intimidate the other person and to build themselves up before a fight. Or to put it another way, it is to psych themselves up and psych the other person down. It can however take many other forms such as pointing or shaking the fist at somebody.
Very broadly speaking the type of peacocking will depend on how confident the aggressor feels. A very confident aggressor is more likely to keep his hands out to the sides of his body, which shows his intended victim that he is completely in control of the situation and he can take is victim as his leisure. A less confident aggressor is more likely to have his hands between himself and his intended victim, pointing his finger or shaking his fist. This still gives him some kind of barrier, just in case it doesn’t quite go the way he wants it to.
Why is this important
It is often said that a fight is won or lost before the first punch is even thrown. It is also said that fighting is more mental than physical. Both these statements are true. If an aggressor can mentally intimidate somebody enough before they even attempt to strike their victim, then their victim is likely to hesitate, or worse still, freeze, giving the aggressor the chance to land a successful blow completely unopposed. That gives them the upper hand from the very start of the fight.
This type of intimidatory tactic comes naturally and without any training to those with a bullying mindset. It is very intuitive.
There are basically 2 main ways to deal with this type of threatening behaviour. One is act very aggressively or assertively in order to deter the aggressor, the other is the act passively in order to lull the aggressor into a false sense of security, then hit him as hard as you can with a pre-emptive strike.
There are of course a number of variations on each theme and cross over tactics where you act passively first to let them get confident, then flip the switch and “go mental” to completely confuse them. But for now we’ll stick to the 2 main tactics above.
If you really do not want to fight, then acting aggressively or assertively to dissuade them might be your best tactic. You can “go psycho” on them swearing, snarling, threatening with spittle dribbling down your chin in display of frenzy. This might work and deter them if you do it convincingly enough. However, if you are not convincing enough, you are laying down a challenge which they might take up to save losing face; especially if their mates (or worse still – girls) are watching.
If you can act very assertively without actually threatening them, then should they decide that you might be a bit of a handful they can back out without losing face (because you have not actually threatened them). The key here is to make him want to back out and to make it easy for him to do so.
The video below shows an example of a training session from a FAST Defence seminar using postural and verbal skills to deal with an aggressor in an assertive manner without actually threatening him back.
Note: Contains bad language.
(FAST = Fear Adrenalin Stress Training).
By acting passively, you build up the aggressors confidence letting him think that he has a soft target. This is best for when you believe that you are going to have to fight and that there is absolutely no way out. When you believe that no amount of aggressive or assertive behaviour will detour the aggressor.
The more that you let him feel confident and in control, the more that he is likely to go into peacocking mode. The more that he does this, the more open he becomes to a pre-emptive strike. As he sticks his chest out and juts his head forward, so his neck and jaw line are left exposed for a quick strike. If his arms confidently by sides (like a Western gunfighter) to make himself look bigger, then his arms are out of the way and should be unable to block your surprise attack.
That is why I called this posting the “Gift” of peacocking, because if you get somebody into that mode, they leave themselves incredibly open to you. If you have trained for any length of time and are confident in your abilities, then having somebody leaving themselves so open should enable you to finish the fight very quickly and efficiently.
Here’s an video example below.
Note: Contains bad language
Of course should you ever be in that situation, then whichever tactic you use will be a judgement call at that time. There will never be a completely right or wrong answer as there will always be so many variables and you can’t always predict accurately whether or not the aggressor will back down or not.
Either way, it is worth practising both sets of tactic as drills. This type of type of scenario training can yield quick results, so you don’t necessarily have to practice them over and over again so that it interferes with your normal training. But it is certainly worth seeking out a qualified instructor and doing some courses if your club does not normally do this kind of thing.
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Bonus: Historical look at Bassai Dai, one of Karate’s most pivotal katas