Podcast Strong Mind Strong Body

Strong Mind. Strong Body: The Psychology of Self-Defense

National Academy of Sports Medicine
National Academy of Sports Medicine
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There’s so much we can learn from the world of martial arts about the psychology of self-defense, from posture and communication, to fear and humility.
Join host Angie Miller, and featured guest, NASM Master Instructor Prentiss Rhodes, to detail ways martial arts can transform our mind and build our psychological defense tools.
 
Prentiss is a martial arts specialist in multiple disciplines, including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Taekwondo, and Krav Maga.
 
 
 
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TRANSCRIPTION:
 
Angie Miller:
Hey everyone, welcome to our "Strong Mind. Strong Body" podcast. I'm your host Angie Miller and today I have a very good friend and a brilliant man, full of lots of energy and insight and his name is Prentiss Rhodes. He is one of the great faces of NASM. And he is also a martial arts specialist with tons of experience. So we're going to talk today about the psychology of self defense. I'm always coming at you with topics that will build a good healthy inside and outside. So we're going to talk about the psychology of self defense and how martial arts can transform our mind and build these psychological defense tools. So I'm going to turn it over to Prentiss, the man of the show and let him introduce himself.

Prentiss Rhodes:
Well, thank you for that introduction, Angie. And thank you for having me on. I hope I can live up to those expectations now. But as you said, I am My name is Prentiss, we can see it right there on the screen. I spent some time as a master instructor with an ASM. And now I do a little more work internally. But related to the topic of the show, I've been a martial artist for about 30 years, which means I'm getting old. And I'm happy to talk to I'm happy to talk to your friends out there about self defense. But before we go, one little disclaimer, I'm not a psychologist, these are some things that that I what we're going to share today just came from my years of practice. It's not the only way. It's just one of many ways that we can all solve the same problem which is achieving strong mind and body.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, and I think that's good. You know, it's good to put that out there printers because yes, I work in the mental health space. But I'm not coming to you as a mental health therapist, I'm coming to you is just somebody who talks to you about topics to get you healthy inside and out. So for instance, I have to ask you with 30 years of martial arts experience in all the things that I feel like is the foundation of martial arts, things like courage and mindset and discipline and responsibility that has to have had just like this massive impact on your life as a father, as a spouse, as a trainer, so you can pick any one or all of those things. But how is martial arts really kind of guided your life and the principles you live by?

Prentiss Rhodes:
Wow, that's a lot to unpack there. So beginning in. So let's start way in the beginning way back in the middle ages, I was picked on a lot. I was I used to get into a lot of fights, I was bullied because of the way I talked and so on. So martial arts was a vehicle for me at that age to number one, protect stand up for myself. And also and also give me power, sort of power where I would normally shy away and not stand up for myself and my sister. And then that evolved into competition. And then moving into my 20s this is something that very This is something that's a little tragic. A very dear friend of mine, a training partner in in Taekwondo was working. He was an immigrant going into nursing school and picking up some extra hours for money working in a bar. And he threw some guys out, were getting rowdy, and they ambushed him. And, unfortunately, unfortunately, he passed away as a result of that ambush. So the question I asked myself as was, with our present knowledge, could we could I have helped my friend stop that attack? And that answer was no. So it took me a while on a different journey of exploring, of exploring different self defense systems, learning about that psychology, some of what I'm going to share today, learning how to keep myself and my family safe. And that has now extended into to do a lot of the things we're doing have to keep my body and condition, relative relative condition. They're things that I've learned about posture and there's there's things one of my favorite martial arts. Maxim's comes from the song The Gambler, you know, know when to walk away know when to run. All of that has now been wrapped up into my self defense philosophy.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, you know what, I think you that I think you said how do I even unpack this and I think you unpacked it perfectly. You said a couple of things and you said you know, when you You were bullied as a kid, it also taught you how to stand up for yourself. But I feel like what I heard in there was it didn't just teach you how to physically stand up for yourself. It gave you the mental skills, it gave you the competence. And then also, I'm really sorry to hear about what happened with your friend. And what I really heard there is that martial arts became a way for you to heal. And I think that's one of our greatest lessons in life is that when something bad happens to someone we care about, we always think about, could I have done something to stop that? Could I have done something to fix that? And often we come up with the answer that you came up with was no. But what we can do as part of our healing process can be to make an impactful difference in this world by doing it ourselves, but also helping other people do it. And those are two things that you've done. So I feel like that's part of the healing, right?

Prentice Rhodes:
Yeah, it absolutely is. And you brought up some interesting things, I did go through healing in that process. First, there was immense sadness, because my friend was he was a young father, he was few years older than than I was at that time. He was a new father had a newborn, and then it was just a senseless loss of life. So that was, I experienced sadness, then I was angry, like, how dare those people do that to him, they could have just walked away. And then after a few more stages, then there was resolution, I found calm, martial arts was a way for me to center myself. And that was a way that that was something that I could then take and pass on to people who trusted me to teach them.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, I love that. And I think that that's, that's so true. I think that a lot of us, I think that's how a lot of traders found themselves into the fitness space was, or their healing of their own selves, or watching other people die from diseases and illnesses that could have been prevented through lifestyle factors. So, um, I kind of want to take this then and talk about if we're talking about using psychological defense tools. I myself, one of my great goals in life is to get self defense trained, and I'm not self defense train. And I want to talk about the psychology of self defense, because I do feel like and you even touched on it right at the beginning. Some of that has to just do with knowing when to walk away knowing when to engage. And so there is a lot of psychology of self defense. And so I want to talk about situational awareness. And before you even go there, I kind of want to share a little story. So I used to work as a therapist in Chicago, and I was in Oak Park, and we were in an old eight storey building, and I used to see my last client at nine o'clock at night. So I would close that by the time I would leave the building was like 1030, at night, old, old historic building. So go down eight floors, it's only me and the people cleaning the building, there was no parking, you just had to grab street parking, wherever you could find it, I would get to the office way earlier in the day. So that's about a half mile down. bitter, bitter cold. We all know what Chicago is, like, you know, 1030 at night, not in maybe necessarily the greatest area. And I remember, you know, I literally had my mace in my hand, I feel like I'm situationally aware, I feel like I've got my head up, and I'm paying attention. And I'm about halfway to my car and out of nowhere, I swear out of nowhere, there's like a big group of guys. And nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened. But it scared the daylights out of me. And I thought, How can I be so situationally aware and yet so not situationally aware, and how quickly things can can happen? And that could have gone very much the other way. So tell us a little bit about situational awareness. How do people like me get more clued in.

Prentice Rhodes:
I don't want to be dismissive because that happens to a lot of people, but simply be be where you are at the time. And it sounded like you were you were doing all the right things you were walking, you were standing up tall, you were walking with purpose, your posture is very important. You had your, your keys, your keys ready to get into your car, and I'm pointing these out because these are things that I would do. But any lapse in, in concentration in focus on that task, you it's very easy for you to run into situations like that, where you get people where you get people in, you see or where you get into that situation and then you're all of a sudden you're in this big group and you're wondering how that happened. So it's just you have to be focused all the way through the task. So your your objective at that point was to get in your car and start your car. So you want to try to if you can, if at all possible. not think about all the things that just happened in your office. Your only goal is to get to the car. And maybe that will help you key in a little more on what's around you.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, actually, that's a that's probably a good point. I mean, think about it, that Chicago, it's the dead of winter was partially aware, and probably partially frozen and actually trying to hunker down and get somewhere as quickly as I could. So I'm sure that I wasn't as present moments that were present moment aware as I thought I was. So we are talking By the way, we are talking about psychological defense, how can even if we are not self defense trait, how do we use human psychology? How do we use posture awareness? How do we use situational awareness and we'll get to some of the other things and I'm talking to Prentiss Rhodes and he is a martial arts specialist. He is also an NSM specialist and works for an ASM and has so much insight to share. So what else besides situational awareness, Prentiss, I heard you say keys, keep your keys out, have your mais or whatever it is that you feel most comfortable using. Always be aware of your space, I even kind of heard you say, don't be focused on where you were, where you're going kind of be focused on where your feet are in that moment, so to speak.

Prentiss Rhodes:
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think you hit the nail on the head that you have to be focused on the task. You You have to again, you have to plan that journey to your car, or wherever it is you're going as one task. And in that task, you're not you're you're walking, you're standing up tall, and I'm repeating this, you're not walking close to buildings where someone can drag in there, you're you're staying in a well lit area, those are some things that you can do to to be more aware, be more present in your surroundings. And again, walking with purpose. And looking, you're going to scan without being obvious, you're going to scan your surroundings, look at those dark corners, look ahead of you don't look down, put your devices away until you get to where you're going. Those are all in that the list can go on depending on what the situation is. But those are things that you can do to help keep yourself safe in the situation.

Angie Miller:
You know, this might sound like a silly question then based on what you just said, which is put your device away. But sometimes I think because because I've toyed around with that myself as the female if you're a walking, is it bad or good idea to have somebody on the phone as you're walking so that if something were to happen, somebody would know? Or is that a terrible idea because you can't be completely focused on where you are.

Prentice Rhodes:
So there's there's a difference, there's a that falls into the it depends category. If you are, if you're looking down and texting and looking at the tick tock videos or whatever, whatever it is one consumes on that device, then that can be that can be problematic. Because if you're looking and texting and you're focusing on what your thumbs are doing, you're not focusing on your environment. But you can use that device as a tool, you can talk to your friend, talk to your husband, have them have him on the phone with you. While you're walking to the mall, you walk into the car, you have your ear pods in and you're talking out loud. And still that doesn't detract too much from you focusing on your your surroundings. So absolutely having that cell phone and talking to someone is perfect.

Angie Miller:
Yeah. And I would also encourage people to have their tracker on you know, so that whoever they're talking to are the people that they care about the most their device trackers on so that people know where they're located when they're walking at night, even when you leave the gym at night. I mean sometimes gyms are open till 10 1112 o'clock at night, and a lot of times it's kind of a desolate area and you walk out there might be a few lights out and then things can happen if you're not fully aware fully paying attention to what you're doing. So, um, you know, is there anything else that we missed, though as far as posture, anything else that you want to touch on before we kind of move on from that whole piece of how you be situationally aware? Is there anything else that you want to kind of mention there?

Prentiss Rhodes:
I think I think number one, number one is standing up tall. And if you look at Discovery Channel, I think we talked about we had a laugh about this. But you you look at the the lion stocking down a herd of wildebeest, they take the slowest, the the sickest ones they don't look at the one they don't go for the one that looks strong, walking with a big chest and kind of walking with purpose. And in a self defense situation predators are very much the same way. It's just being aware of your posture being aware Where your, your body standing up tall, looking at your surroundings with purpose. Even if you do see someone in the street, you don't want to cower and collect yourself and make yourself small like I'm, like I'm doing here you can acknowledge, acknowledge that person, just take a look at them. I see you, but I'm going to keep walking to my car. Yeah. Group, if you see a group like you ran into, it's okay to change. It's okay to change directions. If that's something that you if you're feeling unsafe, you need to listen to sometimes your instincts, they, they're there for a reason. You don't want to, don't necessarily want to deny them. You know, just pay attention to that, and find another route that's safe, that can get you to where you need to go.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, and really what I hear you say there is, it's about confidence and wisdom. I mean, we need and those are things that you learn in martial arts, but we need to have confidence both in our classroom when we're walking, but also even when we're standing in, it's still placed. I mean, ladies, when you go to nightclubs, this has a lot to do with it to creditors can spot it's like you said, there's a there's a lion, I mean, predators can spot emotional predators, as well as physical predators. It's easy to spot that person who is more vulnerable and those who are predatory in nature, there's a lot of research to support that they will find that woman in the room who is easily either emotionally kind of a target for them or physically kind of a target for them. So it is about posture is about standing up tall. It is about making sure that you got your senses about you when you vote when you leave a gym, but also when you're in a nightclub, right? Yeah, if you lose your senses of your friends bring you home.

Prentiss Rhodes:
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And that's just kind of that's kind of speaking with confidence, again, listening to your listening to your internal internal barometer that lets you that does a pretty good job of letting you know when someone has, has bad intentions. And you don't have to you can use your voice, you can stand up tall, eye contact, no thank you, or whatever that word, whatever that phrases that you would use, in a strong voice, not in a in an assertive voice. And there's, there's a difference between assertiveness and aggression. You can be assertive and say, No, thank you, I'm with this group, you know, have a good night. No period, end of story. So there there are things you can do with your posture. Your voice now, your voice now becomes a powerful tool to let you know that to let the other person know that you're aware.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, this brings me this makes me think about communication, because you mentioned in the beginning, and I'm talking to Prentice Rhodes, and he is we're talking about psychological defense tools. He's a martial arts trained specialists. And we're just talking about the psychology of self defense, even if you are not self defense trade. And it makes me think about communication, because you brought up that song know when to engage and know when to walk away. I feel like communication has a big part of that. And when, when in martial arts training, I feel like this is so much of what you're taught, you're taught about responsibility and discipline, because you do there's also humility, knowing that you don't have to engage in every battle, or how about everything doesn't have to be a battle. And so let's talk a little bit about communication considerations when we're talking about psychological defense, because I feel like a lot of things escalate that don't need to escalate.

Prentiss Rhodes:
So, again, going back to situational awareness, and I can I tell you a little story. Some of you may know, may or may not know that I'm from Chicago as well. And I went to one of those nightclubs long, long time ago. But I was there with my friends. And you know how a group of guys are they want to go to where the party is. And they want to have, they want to have a good time. I got in there, and all of a sudden I keyed in on this guy, and he just had a look at a look. I said okay, I'll just keep an eye on him. But we're gonna we're gonna hang out for a few minutes, and then maybe we'll leave. And then I told my friends Hey, guys, let's let's get out of here. I don't feel right. something's about to happen. And then the next thing I know, I look over my shoulder. That guy that I that I keyed in on probably moments within walking in the bar. had someone pinned up against the wall, choking them and then friends got involved and it turned into a brawl. And, you know, we left and it police started flooding in and it was it was an entire scene. So the that's the first step, the venue encounters just recognizing the situation, learning to, without sounding a little too esoteric, but you want to learn and to key in on the emotions, the vibe of the place that you're in.

Angie Miller:
You know what, before you even go any further with that I have to sit with that for a minute. Because I do think that women especially sometimes we don't listen to, you know, what you see is what you see and what you feel is what you feel. And sometimes we don't honor that. And I think what you're saying is honor that if your instinct is telling you something, what would be the harm in being wrong, at least you're not leaving yourself susceptible to that situation. So anyway, that was perfect. Thank you.

Prentiss Rhodes:
And for and for women, especially there, there are gentlemen, there are guys who don't, don't have really good intentions, or they feel that women are objects. So if you're feeling that, and that and you walk away, and you don't want to be involved in that situation, please risk respect, your body is telling you something for a reason, we've been hardwired for 1000s of years to to recognize when danger is imminent. So you don't want to you don't want to squash that. And then if a guy gets offended, that's on him. But you, you walk away safe from that situation.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, you're not responsible for anybody else's emotions. And you know, worst case scenario, you're hurt someone's feelings, but you save yourself. So if you're wrong, then so be it. But let's go back to other communication, you told me when we were talking, you were talking about different conflict phases, you talked about like averting the fire pre conflict, flick phase behavioral communication, kind of go through that when you when you think about communication, in psychological, psychological defense, tell us a little bit about that.

Prentiss Rhodes:
First step, the first step is to number one in any situation, be polite, doesn't cost anything, doesn't cost anything at all to be polite. So as an example, going back to that, crowded those crowded spaces be at a concert or in, in a bar in a bar situation, if you bump into somebody, say excuse me, especially when gentlemen bumped into each other. You know, there's that whole social posturing of Hey, you got a problem with me? That kind of thing. You know, just you know what, man, excuse me, sorry about that. Enjoy your night. And that little thing right there, even though you probably didn't have to, it's crowded in there, the expectation is you're going to bump into people. Excuse me, just saying that, that just you're just defuse the potential situation. Then, if something does escalate, and someone's calling you the worst names in the world, you know, you can say, you can just walk away from that. They're just words, sticks and stones as the kids used to say, or one of my favorite things is the movie Roadhouse and Patrick Swayze. Dalton is training, you know, this scene, right? Dalton is training his bouncers. And the, the the one bouncer asked, Well, what if he calls my mother? So and so I won't say that on the air. And Alton returns will is she? You know, so what they feel. That's not why we're here. We're here to stop engagements, not to escalate them. So if you can say something, to de escalate the situation, whatever that situation calls for, do that. Instead of meeting, meeting that aggression verbally, because you don't know where that that encounter is going to go from that point?

Angie Miller:
Right. Okay. So I'm talking to Prentice Rhodes, and we're talking about the psychology of self defense, and we're talking about conflict, or we're talking about communication and potential conflict and prejudice. Really, what I heard you say is how about just be polite first and foremost, because a lot of times things happen, you're in a really crowded situation, somebody spills a drink on you, somebody runs into you, people don't do things out of malice reminds me of like when I'm driving and somebody flips me off, and I did whatever I did that I'm sure I didn't do wrong. I'm sure it was them. But you know, at the end of the day, I didn't cut them off to be whatever. So just be polite. If somebody clips me off, I tend to wave a smile. Thank you. And then just, you know, walking away being able to no matter what they say their words and their opinions, and they're a digression of the situation. And so who needs it, right? Who needs all that in their life. And so walk away and try to figure out how you can de escalate it. Because it doesn't make you a coward, it doesn't mean that you couldn't do something about it. As a matter of fact, if I understand martial arts training well, which I'm not sure I do, but I would venture to say that in your martial arts training, you learn that even if you could turn around and do something to that person, you're probably taught that that's not really that a little humility goes along away that you walk away from it, because there's really no purpose to engaging with someone like that.

Prentiss Rhodes:
So there are a couple of things in there, Angie, and number one, number one, when I'm in that situation, and you can see I'm talking here, I'm standing here like I can praying. This is my self defense posture, I'm standing with a staggered stance, I would stand with a staggered stance, obviously, sitting in my chair now, just so that I can maintain balance, and I stand tall, right, maintain eye contact and talk like I'm talking to you now. Like, Hey, you know what, Angie, I get it, let's just, you know, I'm sorry about that. Let's, you know, let's move on. But nothing in my posture indicates that I'm going to do anything aggressive. Although my stance is balanced, my weight is centered, I have my hands here, ready to react, just in case you do something to me, I can react in my reaction time is shorter than it would be if I had to bring my hands from my waist or down by my legs. So I'm right here, just pleading with the person this, we see this in various religious groups, some sort of praying posture, this diffuses the situation, it does not indicate to that person that I'm going to do anything. You know what the second part of that is? You don't know. One, one thing that one of my instructors told me is just be careful. Because you don't know what that person's deal is. I would like to romanticize martial arts to the point of like, it's a movie and are you one capable of doing those things for sure. But that person may be better, he may be better at that stuff than than I am. So that's another reason to try to defuse the situation verbally, if you can. The other part of that is, you don't know if that person has friends around. I wish I could tell you how many times people got engaged, get the upper hand on a person. And then that guy's friend say, Hey, you know what, I see my buddy, they're getting in trouble. Let's jump that guy. And one thing that I know, from all of my years of training is you can only fight one person, as good as you are. Let alone there's the whole three, four person thing doesn't really doesn't really exist often. Yeah.

Angie Miller:
Well, here's the thing, you don't know what you don't know, like you said, You don't know if there's other people in the background, and you don't know how good they are at self defense. But also, I think in terms of a female who is not self defense trained, I think in terms of anything I can do to de escalate a situation, not that, you know, some big dudes gonna want to fight the underbar least I hope not. But at the same time, there are things that I can say to other females to other males, though, that won't escalate a situation because verbal communication goes a long way in any situation. And really, I think the scariest people are the people with nothing to lose, you really don't know what's going on in that person's world. So I think that when we also talk about you don't know what you don't know, how about just we don't know what another person is dealing with. And so really, psychologically, we don't know what's going on in their world. We don't know the struggles that they're facing. And so maybe if we just assume we give people the benefit of the doubt, and we don't escalate with them, and instead we have the power to walk away because it really isn't the first person who starts a fight. It's the second person who determines whether or not they're going to engage, right?

Prentiss Rhodes:
Yeah, absolutely. That's the second. It definitely takes two. It takes two to start that encounter. Let me bring up another another point just so that we distinguish that what we're talking about is all socially motivated. Violence. Okay, so that means someone's someone's starting to yell, they're escalating they're they're escalating that situation with their verbal posturing or in the case of a A man and a woman The man is trying to assault essentially assault the the woman. And even though that's not a good situation, it's still social, there's there's, there's some steps that were taken to escalate that situation, as opposed to a social violence ambush attack. You don't see it coming. You don't see it coming. So so those are those are two differences in the attack in different types of attacks. But the last point that I was going to make about, you know, why it's just easier to walk away, because let's say you do get the upper hand or you're you're able to successfully defend yourself, then that that becomes litigated in a court of law. So you have to you have to have confidence in yourself that once you get started, you can stop. So once you defend yourself, and you get the upper hand, you know how to stop in when you have subdued your attacker, and you have to, you have to be sure that the law is going to be on your side, which most in most cases it is. But you know, again, you don't know. Yeah, you don't know the person may be able to lawyer up better than you.

Angie Miller:
Yeah, for sure. Absolutely. And that goes back to you know, I'm sure that that's one of the things that you learn, just because you can doesn't mean you should, and you don't know how far it's going to go. But you know, purchase, I'm really glad you came on. Because I do feel like for fitness professionals especially we can teach these things to our clients. Because actually body confidence leads to transfers into competence in everyday life. And I do think that posture and situational awareness are huge, especially for women. And so anytime that we're out and about anytime that we are amongst society, I think that posture goes a huge, a very long way. Being prepared, having the keys out having the mace out, knowing about our surroundings, being able to hold ourselves upright, always knowing I'm always having people alerted to where we are at all times. And then just confidence goes into that too. But I think that these are easy, simple tactics that we can do. And there's so much psychology and being able to defend ourselves without ever having to go into a physical situation. So what I would say to all ladies is watch yourself, when you're out and about in public, watch the way that you stand. Watch the way that you present yourself, watch your posture, and watch the way that you are aware of your surroundings. Because we've all seen those YouTube videos where somebody is texting on their phone and ends up in a pool in the mall or whatever it might be. So if we're out and about at night, that's the last thing that we want to be doing, right?

Prentiss Rhodes:
Yes, yes, exactly. And I want I want to clear, I want to clear something up. Or just make one point clear, is that these are tips that I would recommend for both both men and women to do. And I think when we talk about, you know, the in cases of sexual assault, a lot of blame is placed on the the women on a woman in that situation. But and that shouldn't be that that's something we as a society have to knock down, we just have to teach our boys better. To not to not do that and understand the social contract, as it were. But these are things that you can do this posturing, you need to protect yourself, think about all these things and recognize those situations as you're developed as they're developing, so that you can be a little bit safer. Yeah,

Angie Miller:
Yeah, I think so. I think just for women, just holding ourselves up writing and being confident, being assertive in our stance and making sure that we own our space and that we manifest that we're owning our space. So thank you so much Prentiss, for being on and thank you for touching on just some simple psychological defense tools. It doesn't have to be complicated. But these are things that as trainers, you can remind your clients as you're walking out to your car tonight, be aware of your surroundings. Try not to be texting, try not to be on your phone, try to hold yourself up right and never assume that just because it's only eight o'clock at night or because there's other people around that your site, because, um, you know, we're never, we can never go wrong by being too safe. So, thank you again Prentiss, for being on. Thanks for schooling us on psychological defense tools. And thanks to all of you for listening. All right, we will see you next time.
 
 

 

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National Academy of Sports Medicine

National Academy of Sports Medicine

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