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Self-Defense Tactics: Defuse Trouble or Run Away : Protection: 'Coping with Threat and Anger in a Violent World' through UCI Extension will focus on aggression in the workplace, how it can escalate and how to avoid it.

November 01, 1994|PATRICK MOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"H e that fights and runs away may live to fight another day. " --Anonymous

Ray Novaco and Alon Stivi see a flaw in that reasoning. In our ever-nastier modern world, they say, the trick is not to fight at all, and to perfect the technique of running away. Life in the '90s is not a Rambo movie.

"No John Wayne stuff," Novaco said. "The most important thing is to survive, and the imperative thing is to run and escape. That's your first course of action."

Not your usual self-defense advice. But the course Novaco and Stivi will teach Friday and Saturday through UCI Extension isn't designed to turn out a roomful of Chuck Norrises. It's designed to show how, in a potentially hostile situation, "you can regulate anger and aggression," Novaco said. "It isn't a martial-arts class. We're going to be talking about survival strategies and tactical awareness."

In short, how to spot trouble and either defuse it or escape from it.

Novaco, a UCI professor of psychology and social behavior who has done extensive study of anger, aggression and stress, said he got the idea for the class after conferring with his self-defense teacher, Stivi, a former commando/paratrooper in the Israeli Special Forces and a counter-terrorism specialist.

The focus of the class, titled "Survival Psychology and Personal Protection: Coping with Threat and Anger in a Violent World," will be primarily on workplace violence, said Novaco, and how anger can escalate to aggression.

Almost all confrontations are predictable, said Stivi, a specialist in the Israeli self-defense and survival system known as Hisardut (literally, "survival").

"If you know what you're doing, there's never anything that happens just out of the blue," he said. "People give you signs and warnings about 99% of the time that they're going to do something. But most people don't know how to read those signs. There are always cues. And they can last a month or two seconds."

Potentially dangerous escalations of anger, in the workplace and elsewhere, can occur "any time a person feels boxed in without many options and . . . highly agitated," Novaco said. "Typically, when confrontations escalate, negatives, such as dismissive behavior, lead to more negatives."

To break the cycles of frustration and anger that can lead to violence, Novaco said students will be taught to acknowledge the person's anger and to give that person "an opportunity to redirect the anger. Ask them to say what's wrong and give them time to tell it: 'Start at the beginning; I'm listening.' "

However, if the situation appears to be spiraling out of control, the students must be aware of "proper distancing, proper positioning, body motion, the ways their surroundings can be used."

Many people in high-risk professions, such as nurses at mental institutions or probation department employees, lack such knowledge, Novaco said.

"You'd be amazed at the number of errors these professional people make in dealing with violent people," he said. "I've seen people position themselves behind a desk with no escape route. There have been instances when people have stood and blocked doors while dealing with highly agitated people. I saw one woman sit down, and the first thing she did was take off her scarf and lay it on the table. That's a potential weapon."

Also, he said, the students will be made aware of how their internal state changes during a threatening situation.

"Emotional arousal," Novaco said, "narrows your attention. You're not considering your alternatives very well."

To give the students the experience of an actual threat, Stivi said that they will be taught in the UCI Social Ecology building's Environmental Simulation Laboratory, an office-like environment where the lights and sound can be controlled and situations can be staged. Novaco calls that process "stress inoculation."

He advised that people be aware of their surroundings at all times. Know what objects in the room could be used as weapons. Decide what the best escape route might be and how many seconds it will take to get there.

Isn't there a whiff of paranoia there?

"Is that paranoid? No. It's cautious," Stivi said. "Ever since you were a kid you were taught, when you get ready to cross a street you look left and right. Is that paranoid? These things that we'll be teaching aren't paranoid because society has created a need for them."

Added Novaco: "There's no use in pretending the need for it isn't there."

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