Pre-Attack Indicators
by Kirk Lawson

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In the world of self defense, the prudent person wants to know when someone is secretly preparing to attack them. There are a number of what is often called "pre-attack indicators." These are behaviors that are associated with the person preparing to attack. They are typically subconscious behaviors, but not always. Let's take a brief look at some of the common ones.
  • Direct Threats: Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel is often attributed with saying, "When someone says he wants to kill you, believe them." If someone is making threats to attack or hurt you they may not just be trying to intimidate you. They may be screwing up the courage to make good. Psychologists tell us that by vocalizing a thought or desire, it makes it more real in our minds, makes it easier to do. If someone makes a direct threat, it might be a pre-attack indicator.
  • Clenching: Very often clenching body parts, particularly the fists and arms, is preparatory for an attack. It means that the person is so angry they're ready to use fists and they're getting the fists ready. In a meeting once, I watched a young man clench his fists and inhale sharply when he thought his brother was being unfairly accused. He did this multiple times during the meeting. Apparently no one else there noticed it, but every time he did so, it kicked me into high alert.
  • Loosening Up: Rolling the shoulders and neck, loosening up, is frequently a prelude to attack. Wouldn't you want your muscles to be supple and loose before you went to "go?"
  • Taking off Clothing: Another indicator is taking off an article of clothing which might restrict movement or which the attacker does not want damaged. Before attacking, a person might remove a jacket, glasses, or a necklace. When a person is mentally ramping up to "go" it can also make the body flush and hot. The attacker might take off a jacket or shirt in order to cool down prior to attacking.
  • Dead Eyes: Sometimes called the "Thousand Yard Stare" this is what Psychologists call Flat Affect and is described as "A severe reduction in emotional expressiveness." The face just sort of goes vacant. This might be an actual dissociative event or it might be they're dropping into adrenal dump and the "fight or flight" response is choosing "fight." In any case, if someone seems agitated or angry but is otherwise "there," then suddenly their face just goes dead, that is a sign bad things may be about to happen.
  • Grooming: Wiping the face, running fingers through hair, smoothing down the hair or facial hair are all common pre-attack gestures. They are nervous movements with the hands and it may be that these grooming gestures are subconscious soothing movements as the body ramps up for a fight.
  • Fighting Stance: Getting into a fighting stance, like a boxer, or blading the body to the object of aggression is a pretty obvious tell. Don't ignore it and assume the person is merely posturing for intimidation.
  • Target Glance: This is one that cops in particular watch for. If someone repeatedly and furtively glances at the Officer's side-arm, it might be an indication that they are going to try to grab at it in an attack. In the non-Law Enforcement world, this still holds true. Pre-attack glances are often sent at areas the person means to specifically assault such as the chest or neck.
  • A History of Violence: Mental Health professionals tell us that one of the surest predictors of future violence is a past history of violence. Whether due to mental illness, violence in their long term environment and upbringing, or they've just got a "taste" for it, if someone is repeatedly violent in the past, there's a good chance they're going to be violent again.
While these are only a few of the many pre-attack indicators, they are some of the more common ones. Pay attention and watch for them.