17 October 2008

Alpha Male v Predatory Threat

There is a common phrase which to me is so true,

'Dumb people make simple things complicated,
Smart people make complicated things simple.'
I've seen a lot of conflicting theories and approaches for a whole range of 'attacks' somebody may use. It seems that there is a different counter required for every possible technique an attacker may come at us with! If this were true, it would make the area of Self Protection a very complicated field... Luckily, there ARE some smart people out there who simplify things and make them more likely to succeed under pressure. I have been lucky enough to learn from some of these people.

Fundamental Difference

You see, there are only two types of attack. That is all. One is an 'Alpha Male' and the other is the 'Predator.' F
orget about the technique of an attack for the moment. Think beyond techniques, think mindset. All aspects of an encounter are affected by the type of attack it is. A previous post, The Full Spectrum, briefly touched on Alpha Male v Predatory threats and this will now be discussed in more detail here.

Both groups target their victims differently. They are looking for two very different types of victims. Two very different situations lead up to the attack. It requires two very different approaches immediately prior to the encounter going physical if de-escalation and avoidance is going to be achieved, and it requires a different mindset and commitment if it does go physical.

Alpha Male Behaviour
by NeonMan

The Differences

The 'Alpha Male' is typically an intoxicated male who wants to prove either to himself, his friends, a girl or a combination of the above, that he is the top dog. He can beat anyone. He is a hard man. This type of person will often pick the biggest guy around to fight for no other reason than he is the biggest. HE wants to be the biggest, strongest and fastest male around!

The 'Predator' is very different. He wants to choose a weak victim. He wants someone who will not fight back. The 'Predator' may simply want to take something from its victim such as a wallet or money. Kidnapping is also something a 'Predator' engages in as is Rape. They will avoid the strong and go after the weak.

It is generally only crimes labelled Assault, which are 'Alpha Male' activity. The rest are generally 'Predator' type attacks such as Robbery, Break and Enter, Motor Vehicle theft and as mentioned above, Kidnapping and Rape.

The Approach

Events leading up to an encounter going physical are quite stark in their difference. For an encounter involving the 'Alpha Male', there will generally be some p
osturing much like what is seen between animals of the same species on wildlife documentaries. Chests will be puffed out, loud voices used, maybe some chest poking or pushing and aggressive body language and gestures.

The 'Predator' will be silent. He will stalk his proposed victim and asses his chances of success. He will choose the weakest in the pack. Again, to use the wildlife documentary analogy again, the 'Predator' is like the big cat stalking a group of its prey. It looks for the weakest victim. It wants the maximum chance of success with the least likelihood of s
ustaining an injury in the process.
Stalking its Prey
by griangrafanna

So What?

Understanding these fundamental differences between the two different types of threat will give you a better chance of avoiding them. The following points will act as guidance for strategies in dealing with each of these threats:

Alpha Male

  • Do not appear as a threat
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Do not get sucked into an argument
  • Have thick skin
  • Do not get baited by verbal slurs and challenges
  • Leaving the bar or walking away may be the only option
  • Leave your ego at home
  • Avoid going to places where young males drink excessively
  • Be aware of the threat
  • If you detect a possible threat, get eye contact
  • Let them know you have 'busted' them by the above
  • Avoid areas where 'Predators' lurk
  • Do not fall for distracting questions (this is designed to drop your guard)
  • Walk confidently and with purpose
  • Do not slouch and walk with your hands in your pockets
  • Do not stare at the ground, be aware of your surroundings
  • Know when you are in a higher threat environment such as a car park at night

These points will assist in avoiding becoming involved in these encounters. Having an understanding of both the 'Alpha Male' and the 'Predator' will greatly aid in using the appropriate strategy for the appropriate threat.

There is an excellent article over at the International Hoplology Societies website titled The Two Faces of Combatives which is a more in-depth analysis of the two types of threat from a human combatives behaviour viewpoint. The 'Alpha Male' and the 'Predator' are basically directly related to both intra-species combat and inter-species combat. I recommend the article to everyone interested in Self Protection.

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out,
TMA v Modern Systems or
What is the Most Likely Attack on the Street?

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  1. This analysis leaves out a significant category of violence, domestic abuse. Arguably, it fits into the "predatory" category, but the strategy for dealing with abusers is different than predators. The most important strategy is of course to never again trust someone who is abusive and to separate from them so that they must become a predator to continue any kind of relationship. For women and children, the most likely attacker in their lives will be an adult male that they depend on in someway. Self defense for women and those responsible for the protection of children starts with self reliance so that it is always possible to isolate oneself from abusers.

  2. Domestic abuse, as you say, should never be tolerated.

    I would actually say Domestic Abuse is a warped form of 'Alpha Male' behaviour as it is bullying. Generally there is posturing and threats made in a lead up to the abuse turning physical. This type of behaviour is 'Alpha Male' behaviour.

    An in depth analysis of Domestic Abuse is beyond the scope of this comment, though you bring out some interesting points about it and I thank you for it.

  3. This is a very good concept, and one I've found extremely useful myself as well.

    I follow a similar distinction in my thinking, but with a slight variation. I distinguish social violence in general (intra-species basis in social emotions) from predatory violence (coming from inter-species behavior).

    My reasoning is that essentially, when our species preys on itself, it is leveraging mechanisms evolved for predator/prey interactions with other species. Bur our species evolved with powerful selective pressure for social interaction, both cooperative within groups and aggressive between groups.

    The reason for the difference is that the two types of interaction use different neurobiological mecchanisms, and so the implicit underlying rules that we follow tend to be different.

    Predatory violence is what happens when we "dehumanize" someone and treat them purely as a target. All but a very small percentage of us start out with a powerful inhibition against killing another person outright or using them as piece of meat (see Grossman's "On Killing" for the argument). Various kinds of training or indoctrination or social-political forces can conspire to overcome that inhibition.

    Most human interaction is not predatory, it is rather social, and both domestic and "alpha male" patterns fit into that category for me. Just because there is an abuse of power and sometimes becomes lethal doesn't make it predatory for me, you have to look more closely at the process leading up to the danger points.

    When we train people to kill, we are essentially teaching them to dehumanize their opponent and invoke predator-prey thinking. Some forms of military combatives and "reality" training are based on this principle. According to some, this is presumably neccessary because the other guy is trying to kill us, so we have to fight on his rules. I think a more flexible and human strategy (although more difficult) is to be able to distinguish the types of interaction and train for each accordingly.

    It's a matter of making the basic distinction (predator/prey vs. social interaction); and assuming that either we should prepare for the most lethal but least likely type (predator/prey) or the more likely type (social); and then whether taking a predator stance is really the best choice in each case.

    The most important heuristic for me is that social violence can generally be deescalated or defused, and predatory violence generally cannot, it can only be avoided, defended, or constrained by force.

    The distinction is very similar to arguing with a rational vs. irrational person. In the former case, you present evidence and make arguments and reasonably expect to listen to each other and come to some consensus. In the latter, you set boundaries and establish alternative strategies and focus on the small things where you can be effective, you don't bother trying to argue. However, if you guess wrong in either case, you are going to be less effective.

  4. Todd, I found your comment very interesting. Your view of 'social violence' is very valid. It can certainly be viewed that all social violence is similar in its build up and execution. I think we are of the same mind here. I just prefer the term 'Alpha Male' as it paints and picture quickly in ones mind as to the meaning.

    I am still forming my opinion as to where gang and group attacks fits into the Alpha and Predatory model. For the moment, I am of the opinion that whilst gang members are by themselves or with small numbers, they are essentially Predatory. Yet when they are in a group with significant numbers, they gain strength. They then take on many characteristics of the Alpha Male. However at the same time they can hunt and be Predatory.

    Regardless, thanks for the valuable comments Todd.

  5. IHS wrote about this years ago:



    I think the idea goes back to Konrad Lorenz, if not further.

    Study domestic violence and you'll find that the dichotomy exists even within domestic violence: Gottman and Jacobsen's EXCELLENT book "When Men Batter Women" describes two subtypes of batterers who display distinct patterns of physiology when aggressing toward their partners: pitbulls and cobras. These correspond to a high degree to the alpha male/pseudopredator distinction.

    BTW, anyone who teaches self-defence should read that book.

  6. Hi Anon. I did link to the second IHS link at the bottom of the above post. I also wrote a post about that article here at The Two Faces

    Indeed, that article along with other Hoplology articles have been very influential to me and my overall perspective and viewpoint of Low Tech Combat.

    I am interested in learning more about domestic violence and when I do take action when the time is right, I will look up that book. Thanks for the heads up there.

  7. Hi Adam, I wanted to share a story with you; this happened to me yesterday.

    I was on my way home from training, catching a train in a sketchy neighbourhood at 9.30 PM.

    As I was descending an escalator, I saw a guy looking at me; I thought it was a little suspicious, but didn't really think anything of it. When I looked again a few seconds later, he was still watching me, so I was pretty sure he marked me.

    I'm a 22 year old male, but I'm told I look a few years younger than that. I weigh about 160 lb and am around 5'6. I am short sighted and was wearing my glasses, and I use a schoolbag to carry all my training stuff, which is why I think he marked me.

    Anyway, I happened to be going in the opposite direction, so when I saw him switch platforms I figured it was on; he entered the train on the opposite end that I did, but he walked the entire length of the train (I think he did this in order to check I had boarded).

    I made absolutely sure I knew where he was sitting and then adjusted my position so I could see his hat; however, when we got to the city he exited the train as fast as he could; I followed him as subtly as I could to make sure he left the station, and then took extra precautions on the rest of my way home, as there are a couple of stations within running distance of the city, on my line.

    I believe that this was an attempt at a predatory attack; he thought he had singled out a weak, unaware victim; I think that when he realised that I was aware, he decided to bail.

    I couldn't judge whether or not he could fight, but I have been training Krav Maga for a little over two years, and also I was aware enough to notice that he was sketchy.

    Do you have any thoughts?

  8. Thanks for sharing your story Elias!

    This is very educational. I think you have done the exact right thing throughout. You were aware enough to identify a possible Predator having identified you as a potential victim. This is a very big point. This is where you won this conflict. This is where you defeated the enemy without fighting.

    The Predator is after an unaware victim. A Leopard will not pick a strong Deer. Instead, it will pick a small and unaware one. It wants its attack to have a high chance of success. The same goes for the situation you have identified above.

    You have done the correct thing. You have identified it and maintained a perimeter of awareness, not letting the attacker sneak up behind you as you had 'eyes on' the entire time. No doubt the Predator could sense his lead up to attack was not going well. Perhaps he had a sixth sense telling him to let you go.

    Make no mistake, sometimes the Predator will let a possible victim go purely out of a hunch or gut feeling that the identified person will not be an easy mark.

    It would be interesting to ask the person why they let you go. The response would be enlightening.

    Again, thanks for sharing Elias and I am glad it played out the way it did. Well done, stay safe and happy travels.

  9. Great post and interesting comments. Anon - thanks for the book recommendation. There's a further consideration in the predator's approach I think that hasn't been mentioned - deception. Though I have no statistical back up I'd guess that this clandestine approach is more evident in male on female sexual assaults than perhaps a male on male ambush/assault.

    Female should be very wary of unsolicited approaches and inappropriate social pressure such as refusing to take NO for an answer and "forced teaming" (De Becker).


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