top of page

Perception: How it works against you.

I recently had a discussion with a close friend about perception. My friend maintained that a smart and logical person is capable of looking past perception so that it doesn’t have an impact on their decision making. I maintained that regardless of intelligence, perception can undermine what you are trying to do or say before you have even done anything. This wasn’t in regards to Martial arts but after reading a very well written article by Graham Kuerschner in Blitz magazine titled ‘All Eyes On You’ on how the public sees martial arts as ‘glorified brutality’, I was bought back to the discussion with my friend, if you can find a copy its worth a read.

Perception in the world is very important, it’s not always good or accurate but it’s still important. Smart people are just as influenced by perception as anyone else. If not more so. Politicians rely on perception to get into power and a change in perception can cost them their position. Would you vote for a politician that looks corrupt or insincere? Businesses use perception so people will trust their products and buy what they sell. If they are perceived to be cheating employees out of their wages ( or their products are environmentally unfriendly ( or they involved with criminal activity than people don’t buy their products and the company fails. Think about the perception of made in china. Most perceive products that are made in china to be cheap and poor quality even if they are good quality or just as good as products made anywhere else. This keeps prices down and sales lower for more expensive items that have made in china on them. Actors rely on perception for people to want to come and watch their movies. Well know actors are perceived to be draw cards for a movie so can command high pay cheques to get bums in seats. Just think about the negative perception people now have about priests being around children, would you take the risk? No one is going to take the risk on someone or something that is perceived negatively. Just look at our entire economy, it’s based-on perception. The stock market is one big melting pot of perception. As the events of the GFC and even dramatic drops on the Dow Jones (

With this in mind, the perception that others have on martial artists can be a big problem, should you ever be involved in a self-defense situation. As the article by Graham Kuerschner explains, the presence of mobile phones and cameras being everywhere today and how these have changed people’s attitudes towards violence.

Some may argue that video evidence is a great way of proving self-defense by saying the video doesn’t lie. They would be incorrect. Video captures what is in its field of view, from one perspective and at a certain time. If someone pulls their phone out after the fighting has started, then only part of the fight is recorded and most likely the part where (hopefully) you win. It doesn’t capture any insults, pushing or other aggressive and threatening behaviour before the fight starts. The problem there is from the perspective of the video you have just smashed some guy, that’s it. It shows you punching and kicking someone and them on the ground rather than you. From this perspective you aren’t the defender, you are the aggressor.

An example of how things can look bad on camera, a police officer punches a woman she’s attempting to arrest because the officer said she was trying to bite her. The camera angle doesn’t show the attempted biting just the woman’s head lean forward. The footage makes this look really bad.

The officer was doing her job with an intoxicated woman who tried to bite her and had to defend herself. The camera doesn’t show everything and what’s worse you can end up focusing on the reaction not the cause, e.g. the attempted biting.

After any physical encounter incident is over you must remember there will most likely be a police investigation and depending on the seriousness of the incident you may find yourself dragged before a judge and jury.

I’m sure you’ve heard about justifiable force, reasonable response or any other terms used to justify defending yourself, in self-defense situations.

These are terms used by police to assess if you may have not been justified in using the force you did and that means you may be arrested. If you go before a judge and jury, you can argue your case using these terms but you have to be able to justify the force used to the judge and jury. It doesn’t matter if you think what you did was justified, you must convince others of that.

An April 2018 example of this was a case in England where they have similar laws around reasonable force. A 78 year old man and his wife was burgled at night by 2 men under 30, one was carrying a weapon and the 78 year old defended himself which lead to one of the intruders dying. He now has to justify the force he used in a court or law. Depending on how you look at this there would be just as many people who would say he’s innocent because he was protecting himself and his wife as there would be those saying he’s guilty as he went too far. This is where an individual’s perceptions of the incident can cause the 78 year old to lose his freedom for what’s left of his life.

Courtrooms are small micro versions of social media. A group of people that most likely have zero idea about the topic being discussed, zero experience outside of a very limited area but they pass judgement on someone from a comfy chair after the incident has occurred when they are not at risk or in any danger at all. This is how bad or negative perception can cost someone their freedom.

You may be presented with witness testimonials and video footage from a number of different angles. All of which may recount a version of the incident that doesn’t make you look as justified in your actions as you may think. In fact, you may come across as aggressive, over the top and potentially the instigator of the event. People will focus on some areas of the incident more than others. In the above example of the police officer punching a woman who was trying to bite her. The punch looks far worse than it really is, and the footage doesn’t clearly show the attempted bite. The advantage the police officer has in the situation that you most likely won’t is, she has a partner that might be able to corroborate the events that took place and the standing a police officer has in the community in general, can help her story.

With all this in mind, your actions in a real-life situation, you need to consider how the perceptions others may have towards your actions and training the training have undertaken.

This can be done in a few ways.

1. Make sure you do everything to avoid a situation. Make sure if there are others around that are watching, they know you aren’t trying to fight (Remember perception in this situation is how other see things not how you experience them).

2. Don’t hurl insulates at the aggressor. It’ll make you seem just as bad and help fuel the situation. Keep your mouth shut (This can be very hard for some people; practice may be required).

3. The Guard you use is appropriate and looks as defensive as possible. A guard with closed fists looks far more aggressive than a guard with open hands with the palm facing towards the aggressor (But every style has different guards for different situations, take your pick).

4. Make sure all your moves don’t look any more aggressive than needed. Don’t chase after your attacker and continue the fight ( Don’t pick up a bottle or chairs in a pub and smack anyone with them. This looks bad no matter what (Yelling This is Sparta then Kicking the guy in the chest looks extremely aggressive).

5. If the aggressor goes to the ground don’t put a boot in. The fight is done or at least stalled the moment they are on the ground. I know that can be dangerous but if you proceed to jump on the person on the ground, you’ll look much more like the aggressor and your self-defense claim goes out the window. It’ll also make it easier for the aggressors’ friends to take you out (This isn’t the UFC where ground and pound is the be all and end all, it looks genuinely bad here).

6. Should there be any damage done to the aggressor make sure you are the one calling for the ambulance. This shows you are sincere in not wanting to cause the other person harm and are trying to help once the incident is over (it helps if you are sincerely just defending yourself and don’t want to harm other people).

Negative perceptions, rightly or wrongly, can destroy careers, businesses and economies. The wrong perception in a self-defense situation can cost you your freedom. With cameras being everywhere these days, any fight is very likely to be caught on some camera somewhere and don’t think the camera will capture every part of a fight. This means you can’t be sure you’ll have enough support to justify the force you used in a fight if you win. If you lose you can’t assume, you’ll see justice.

Do everything you can to avoid the situation to begin with and make all your actions appear as defensive as possible. That means no putting a boot in once the guy is on the ground. Claiming you did something in the heat of the moment will not help your case. You’ll be expected to have enough control if you have any form of self-defense training. Keep control of yourself.

No matter how persuasive you maybe in your argument or defense you may not be able to change someones perception of an incident or idea (case and point this blog post)

This article is for general interest. This is not legal advice, if any is required you must contact a lawyer.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Social Icon
bottom of page