4 Types of Violence and How to Respond

The monkey dance, the educational beatdown, the status-seeking show…


Rory Miller’s book Facing Violence should be considered mandatory reading for students of self-defense. The principles in this article are taken directly from that book.

Facing Violence

Historically, martial arts schools have taught self-defense in two ways: #1 – One-steps (a basic drill to teach timing and reaction time against a single punch) and #2 – Hold breaks (if someone grabs you this way and then stands there like a brain-dead manikin, you should respond this way).

At Royal West Martial Arts Academies, we use both of these methods, because they are valuable for establishing a foundation. But we also recognize that an attacker never steps forward with one middle punch and then stands there, nor will he grab your wrist and then stand still until you can execute a textbook o-soto gari throw. A foundation of basics, while necessary, is not enough to keep you safe.

Perhaps more importantly, a responsible self-defense curriculum should note that most violence can be avoided or deescalated, and training should emphasize techniques to avoid the fight altogether. We’ve seen a shift towards this thinking in many martial arts schools, but many are preaching ill-informed and unsafe ideas about avoiding danger and violence.

Because not all violence is the same! Different attacks have different motivations, and the techniques to avoid or deescalate one encounter might very well exacerbate another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to self-defense! The real world is just plain more complex than that.

Mr. Miller identifies four common situations that can result in violence. Each one is unique and requires a different approach.


1. The Monkey Dance

This is perhaps the most common violent situation. The Monkey Dance is a verbal altercation which escalates through progressively more heated stages of profanity and insults, finally resulting in a physical altercation. Virtually every bar fight fits into this category. If this dance is broken up by law enforcement, all participants could potentially be charged with assault, including an almost limitless list of aggravating factors depending on who threw the first punch, whether weapons were used, whether officers sustained injuries, etc.

How to respond:

The monkey dance is either the easiest or hardest type of violence to avoid, depending on how you look at it. The purpose of the verbal altercation is to incite the other participant to strike first. Typically the participants both want to avoid the actual fight, but must save face. If you feel yourself being pulled into a monkey dance, violence can be avoided simply by apologizing profusely (regardless of whether or not you were at fault), admitting to every insult hurled at you, and removing yourself from the situation as safely and quickly as possible. This strategy has an extremely high rate of success. However, many people (especially young men) find it extremely difficult to back down from a fight. If you are not extremely patient, mature, and secure, you will find the temptation to escalate the monkey dance very seductive.


2. The Group Monkey Dance

In the Group Monkey Dance, a group turns on one of their own, or on an outsider who has violated some territorial boundary of rule of behavior. Much gang-related violence or violence against law enforcement falls into this category. Mr. Miller describes this as “an orgy of violence,” an apt description considering the tendency of these situations to become fatally, brutally, horrifyingly violent in mere moments.

How to respond:

This is not a situation you want to find yourself in. Once the dance has been initiated, deescalation is not as likely to succeed as in the one-on-one monkey dance. Still, deescalation is a better option than trying to stand your ground. Any perceived insult or insolence will guarantee a violent response from the group. The best option is to avoid situations where this is likely to happen – gang-controlled neighborhoods, for example. When traveling in unfamiliar places, you should be exercising full situational awareness at all times. You should avoid traveling alone.


3. The Educational Beat-Down

A common means of discipline in localities with weak or unreliable rule of law. In this form of violence, a social institution such as a family, tribe, gang, or organization will use physical force to discipline members of the in-group who step out of line. The beatings can be as benign as a slap upside the head, or as severe as the family disciplinary beatings reported in Tonga, where the brutal display of kicking, stomping, and whipping will intentionally leave the offenders limbs broken, so that if unrepentant he will not be able to survive on his own. Other examples include conformity beatings in Asia or hazing rituals in inner-city gangs.

How to respond:

In developed countries, this type of violence is uncommon and not tolerated by law. If you find yourself faced by this kind of violence in a developed nation, law enforcement and the legal system can offer protection. Often there are shelters which can hide you from those who would do you harm. If, on the other hand, this kind of violence is tolerated in your society, unfortunately the best you can do is tread softly, be submissive, admit wrongdoing quickly, and try to escape if possible.


4. The Status-Seeking Show

This form of violence seems random, senseless, and confusing to those unacquainted with a marginal society, but it actually is quite logical. It is common for gang-leaders or other criminals who are seeking a reputation for violence to target vulnerable people who are unlikely to retaliate – such as tourists, the homeless, or senior citizens – for brutal and cowardly acts of evil. This earns them a reputation for being crazy or unhinged, which pays dividends in deference and respect.

How to respond:

Since these attacks are frequently ambushes, and since violence IS the motive, deescalation is impossible. Avoidance is difficult (though again, situational awareness may give you just enough advanced warning to keep yourself safe). In this situation, your best defense is a good offense. Kick, bite, claw, scream. Use a weapon if you have access to one. As with all bully-violence, you were targeted because you appeared vulnerable and weak. Prove the attacker wrong – put up a fierce resistance, and he will very likely bug out and seek a different target. Not unlikely, however, is that he will continue the assault to save face, in which case you must continue to fight for your life.


In any of these cases, avoidance and deescalation may fail, in which case you will need to understand and be intimately familiar with realistic self-defense tactics. These cannot be learned from a book or a YouTube video. This requires constant practice by a certified instructor (such as those at Royal West).

To read more about the types of violence, see Rory Miller’s website and blog.

One response to “4 Types of Violence and How to Respond

  1. Pingback: Choosing your weapons wisely | Armed and Dangerous

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