False Bravado, or “Tough Guys Eat Cotton Candy”

Excerpt from The Psychology of Self-Defense by Chris Sutton

I want you to create a mental picture of a bad guy. Make him the scariest bad guy you can imagine, right out of your worst nightmare.

Maybe it’s a 15-year-old gang banger with a gun. Or maybe it’s the guy in the dark alley, wearing a long, black trench coat and holding a bloody knife. Or maybe it’s the 250 pound bald guy with a goatee, who’s got piercings all over his body, and prison tattoos on his arms and his neck and the side of his head. Whoever he is, he’s walking tough,  he’s oozing bad attitude, and you just know he means to hurt you.

Does this guy scare you? Would you want to fight this individual?

If you create a vivid enough picture of this guy in your mind, you’ll actually start to feel the fear. You’ll feel the adrenalin pumping, and your motor skills shutting down, and everything else that goes along with being afraid.

At this point, you may be worried about what will happen if you ever do run into a guy like this in real life. How can you possibly defend yourself against somebody like that?

Often we can’t fight back the way we want to because we give our opponent too much credit. Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest obstacles people have to overcome when in a self-defense situation.

Why do we give them too much credit? Because we don’t know them. But guess what – they don’t know you, either. That’s a really important concept to understand.

Don’t just focus on the other guy. Also think about what’s inside you — the knowledge you’ve learned, the skills you posses, and the confidence you have to use them. Often the battle is won or lost inside your own mind.

Let’s say a 12-year-old is approached by a 25-year-old man who wants to abduct him. What the child is afraid of is the size and apparent ability and authority of this much larger person. If the child doesn’t understand that he could gouge this guy’s eyes out, bite him, kick him, scream, yell, and throw objects at him, and by doing those things be able to save himself nine out of ten times, then that child is going to be terrified, and he’ll go into shut-down mode, which will leave him vulnerable.

Same thing with a female. If you’re a female you might not be able to defend yourself against a large male or a group of females that approach you, say outside a nightclub. But the truth is, you can – if you know how.

Now, let me qualify all this by saying that you always want to assume that the person you’re going to meet up with is going to be tough and mean and possess the ability to possibly take your life. To do otherwise would be foolish. To go around believing that you can beat anyone and everyone without even trying would be asking for trouble. But to give this person superpowers when he doesn’t deserve them would also be foolish.

Often what you see is nothing but false bravado – a swaggering pretense of courage. It’s the image a bad guy projects in order to instill fear in people. Remember, the kind of bad guys we’re talking about here use intimidation as their chief weapon. They don’t want to fight any more than you do, so they try to scare you so badly that you’ll shut down and be unable to do anything to stop them from carrying out their plan.

What can you do to take this weapon away from a bad guy?

Your body feels the effects of fear, but it’s your mind that creates that fear. I once heard someone say that the word fear stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” In other words, when a bad guy projects an image of being tough and mean and deadly, it’s your belief in that image that instills fear in you.

So the first thing you need to understand is that the individual who would attack you is a human being. Don’t build them up to be more than they are. Don’t give this person more credit than they deserve. Don’t give them more strength, more intelligence, or more skill.

Inside, they’re the same as you. They have the same doubts, insecurities, and concerns that you do. They have a history. Their confidence can be broken. They will tire. When you cut them, they bleed red. They can be defeated.

The second thing you can do is to take your visual image of the bad guy you’re facing, and strip away all the scary parts: The tattoos, the piercings, the dark clothes, the bulging muscles, the tough expression – all of it. Mentally take all that away from them, stuff it in a little box, and throw it in the lake.

Anybody can wear flashy armor. The medieval knights believed that the fancier their armor, the more intimidated their enemies would be. Other warriors put on war paint for the same reason. But again, it’s all about what’s between your ears. Someone with low confidence and a lack of knowledge will be intimidated by what they see on the outside. But now you know better.

It’s just like public speaking. You’ve probably heard the advice, “Picture the audience in their underwear.” Why? People are a lot less impressive when they’re sitting there in their boxers, or a bra and panties. You give yourself a psychological advantage.

When I’m facing off with someone, I strip away everything visible on the outside. I change what they’re saying into baby cries. And last but not least, I put cotton candy in their hand, just like at the carnival. To me this cotton candy represents innocence – someone who is child-like.

So visualize this with me: Now the individual who is standing in front of you isn’t some bad-ass who got off his motorcycle and walked up to you with a wallet on a chain, and tattoos, and sunglasses, and a nasty attitude; he’s a pathetic kid in his boxers, crying, with cotton candy in his hand.

When you do this exercise, it doesn’t have to be cotton candy. You don’t have to strip them down to their boxers. But you need to use whatever image works for you to bring them down to where they look insignificant to you. That’s the first step to overcoming and beating someone – stripping away their false bravado.

Yes, you’re going to be in a fight for your life. Yes, you’re going to fight harder than you ever have, and take this seriously. What you’re not going to do is give them power that they don’t deserve.

And yes, tough guys eat cotton candy.

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