Tim Larkin: ...how to survive when your life is at stake
Jan: Welcome to Nobody Told Me! I'm Jan Black.
Laura: And I'm Laura Owens. We're glad you could join us for this very important episode. We're going to find out what you can do if you're in a situation where an assailant is trying to harm, or even kill you. Our guest is internationally known self-defense expert, Tim Larkin.
Jan: Over the years, Tim has trained elite military Special Forces and law enforcement units, in addition to corporate and civilian clients. Tim's books include, How to Survive the Most Critical 5 Seconds of Your Life, Survive the Unthinkable: A Total Guide to Women's Self-Protection, and When Violence is the Answer: Learning How to Do What it Takes When Your Life is at Stake.
Laura: Tim, thank you so much for joining us today.
Tim: Thank you for having me.
Laura: Talk to us a little bit about your background and how you became a self-defense expert.
Tim: I was a Navy brat growing up, my father was a military officer, naval officer. I got introduced to the SEAL Teams when I was about 12 years old. I lived literally right across the street in Navy housing from where the SEALs train. That's what I wanted to do. I had had a martial arts background growing up because, growing up on Navy bases, basically wherever you go, usually there's some sort of a martial art being trained at the local fitness facility on base. I got into martial arts early on, I always had a fascination with it.
When I got into the SEAL Teams, I went through training. I was two weeks away from joining the SEAL Teams, finishing my training, and I had an accident. I had a diving accident that injured my eardrum, burst my eardrum, put me into vertigo. When you burst your eardrum, you can empty out the inner ear of semicircular canal fluid. What that does is you lose all sense of balance. It was the first time in my life that I'd ever lost complete control of my body. This was injury to the human body. It literally ended my career as a SEAL Operator because if I can't dive, which I can't dive because of my ears, you can't, obviously, be in the SEAL Teams.
They switched me over into the intelligence community. What I thought was the end of my career, actually was the starting of a brand-new career that I didn't even know about, was about to happen. It was all because of that injury to the human body. When I understood that being bigger, faster, stronger, doesn't prevent you from being injured, which sounds logical to people. When it comes to self-protection, people tend to get that really wrong. That became the whole turning point in my life where I was able to teach any human being, regardless of gender, regardless of size, regardless of what they think their perceived abilities are, to use this information of injury to the human body to protect themselves against bigger, faster, stronger opponents.
Jan: Your latest book is called, When Violence is the Answer. In it you say that violence is rarely the answer, but when it is, it is the only answer. Tell us more about what you mean by that.
Tim: People love the first part of that statement; violence is rarely the answer. We can all name those times. The more interesting question is why I wrote the book, what about when violence is the answer, when it is the only answer? That's the interesting part. When you clearly define when the tool of violence would ever be justified and being used to protect yourself, you quickly realize that the situations you're talking about, that's literally the only tool left to you. What I mean is, you're at a point where either you've ignored warnings or everything's imminent, there's imminent grievous bodily harm coming at you. Meaning a bigger, faster, stronger person, or people, are trying to control you in some way, shape, or form, and injure you. If you get to that point, the only thing that's going to get you out of there is the knowledge of how to use violence.
Laura: It's never best to try and reason with somebody first if they have a weapon or if you feel like you're in an imminent danger situation?
Tim: I think a better way to put that point across is a story that I use often to talk about the differences. There was a young lawyer in London, he was working late one night, wasn't a bad part of London that he lived in, got off The Metro, The Tube station, and he was followed. He walked through a park, he took a shortcut through a park, but it's very well lighted. He wasn't really taking what he thought were risks. He was followed by two people that followed him off the Tube stop. They attacked him, they pulled knives, they put them up against a tree, and they demanded his watch, his wallet, everything.
That part of the story everybody likes because he was able to use his negotiation skills. He was able to sit there and say, "Fine, yep, take this, take it. What do you want? What do you want? Great, great, great. Take it." Did everything exactly the way that the authorities would tell you to do things. Don't resist, don't put up a fight. They left and that was great. He was relieved, he starts taking off, going back towards his house. All of a sudden, they come running up behind him, they'd come back. This time when they came back, their knives were drawn, their heads were down, there is no communication whatsoever. They ended up stabbing him eight times and killing him. As he was being stabbed, people said they heard this young man yelling, basically, "Why, why, why? I gave you everything. I gave you everything."
It's my goal, whenever I have a new client, that that situation becomes crystal clear to them, the differences between the two. The first situation where he was able to use his communication skills, when he was up against a tree with a knife to his neck. He was able to communicate with them. Even though it was unpleasant, it was basically anti-social aggression, meaning there was still communication going on. He chose to use his communication skills at that point, and it had a favorable result.
The whole reason the book was written on is the second part. The second part is how people end up seeking me out. The second part was when their heads were down, their knives were drawn, they ran him down. The only thing that would have worked is the tool of violence. He had no idea how to employ that correctly, he had no skill sets for that. People always say, "What triggered the fact of them coming back?" They literally walked back, this is from police interviews after, they looked at each other, the two guys that had just robbed him, and said, "He saw our face, that's probably not good." That was it. That was their impetus to just run him down and stab him to death.
I know this is a really extreme story. I know it's hard for people that aren't familiar with these predators and what they're like. But that's my whole goal. There's aggression, which is avoidable. Normally anti-social aggression are things that we think we need to respond to with violence or aggression, but we do it by choice, we still have a choice available. On the other side of the equation, the second scenario that I talked about, the individual is devoid of choice, this act of violence is going to happen regardless of whether he tried to protect himself or not. Not having the skill sets, he basically participated in his own murder the second time. That's not to put him down, it's solely on the predators.
My job is to inform the people that come see me, my clients, of the realities. Oftentimes we have a view of the world that we wish it was a certain way. I absolutely agree, I understand that all things working perfectly, you should be able to go unmolested in your life, you should be able to do what you want. My goal is to really talk to people about the reality of the world and how it actually operates. Oftentimes that involves taking precautions and taking actions that are unpleasant, at times, for us. Meaning it's unpleasant to walk away from somebody that is saying derogatory things towards you or making aggressive gestures towards you, but that's the idea.
When you understand where violence can go, you make much better decisions. That's probably the biggest change in why would anybody even look at the subject. The reason most people, especially women, need to look at the subject, is because we make false assumptions oftentimes. Oftentimes, when we're talking to another individual, we think we're talking in the same social setting with the same mindset. We make these really bad assumptions that the predator on the other side is just like us and would respond to what would work with us. Tragically, that's just not the case.
Jan: What could this guy have done the second time these guys came back and decided that they really were going to kill him because he had seen their faces? What could he have done? Could he have done anything?
Tim: That's the question everybody wants to know, "What's a cool technique he could have done or something?" There's many things. My goal is, when people come to train with me, they don't get lectures, they actually immerse themselves in the physical, in a good educational way. You need to understand how to injure the human body, injuring on the human body. The reason you need to understand injury is because when you truly injure somebody, everybody who's listening has had this type of effect happen to them if they've ever stepped in a sharp object or they've touched a hot stove. What that triggers is, the trauma of the hot stove or the sharp object that you step on, produces enough of a stimulus that your arm automatically moves away from that without thought whatsoever. Your brain has no control over the situation. It is reacting, trying to protect the body. There's a response in the body that automatically does that. After the fact, your brain registers what happened. You say, "I burned my finger." It's done to protect the body.
The interesting part about that is when you understand injury of the human body, you can actually take a person's brain out of the equation to where they can't control their body. That's the value of learning injury because it doesn't matter if the guy's much bigger, faster, and stronger than you. These areas of the human body just can't be protected, no matter how big everybody is. The idea is there are a lot better decisions he could have made. There are many things he could have done prior to the event happening where he could have made better decisions. When it got down to that, basically what he had to do, he had to be able to exploit opportunities. When the predators are close to him, he had to know where to go on the human body to get a result. That's the information he didn't have.
Jan: Where would that have been?
Tim: It depends on what part of the profile that he's facing. There’re over 120-30 targets on the human body, areas of the human body that you can put force into that get a result. We know a lot of the normal ones that people talk about all the time are things like eyes, groin, and throat. There’re many other areas in the human body that you can affect. You don't want to have a tactical conversation right now. Everybody wants the, "Just give me three things to memorize."
The reason we say that all the time, we'd never do that in anything else that was really important. If you were trained to be a doctor, you wouldn't say, "Just show me the three best procedures." I'm not equating this to medical knowledge. What I am equating it to is, you want options, you want to learn principles of protecting yourself. You don't want to learn just one or two tricks. Principles are understanding injury to the human body, trauma to the human body. The idea is, if I inflict trauma on the human body, any one of us will be affected by that.
When you study alpha predators, I go into prison systems and I've studied a lot of the prison gang leaders and how they look at violence and what they do. I do that because, oftentimes some of the best information comes from the worst people and the worst parts of society. We would never employ it in a criminal manner, but the information is still good. I can show an effective injury to somebody that may have been done by a criminal. I could sit there and say, "This was criminal what this guy did. But look what he did, he got a result on the human body. That's good information for us to know if we ever have to protect ourselves." We would never use it in the context that the criminal shows it. In the context of us trying to protect ourselves and save our life, it would be absolutely justified.
Laura: I think it's really interesting, too, that not all criminals are very big. They seem to have more willpower than a person if they're trying to overtake them or when adrenaline is involved. Why is that?
Tim: They have intent, that's all it is. Their intent is the intent to do harm. Intent trumps people, as far as technique and stuff. You'll see very highly trained fighters and martial artists, they look great in the ring, and they do well. I'm not saying that they're not capable of protecting themselves. What I am saying is, they are able to understand that they don't have to compete, they just have to understand destruction. I do the same thing for my clients. My clients think you're competing. Most of us look at a bigger, faster, stronger individual and we start thinking about, "Oh, my God, they're so much stronger than me, they're so much bigger than me." Somehow they're immune to all the things that make us human.
The trick with the predators, the people that you're talking about in the prison system, is two things. One, they don't look at the differences in a human body, they look at the similarities. I won't give you graphic examples of it, I try not to be graphic, I try not to be gratuitous with description sometimes, but oftentimes, it actually does help so if I think it'll help, I'll give you a more graphic example of it. Basically, the prisoners have two things. They look at all humans as the same. They would look at a guy who's 6'7", 280 pounds, not an ounce of fat on his body, and incredibly aggressive. They would say, "Look, he has a collarbone like me, he has a throat like me, he has knees like me." They would look at all the similarities of him, rather than saying, "Oh, my God, he's so much bigger than me, he's so much stronger than me." They understand there's no useful information there. Okay, he's bigger, faster and stronger than me, that's a given.
When I'm going to be facing somebody that's going to put violence on me, most likely, if I'm smart, I've assumed three things. I've assumed that there's going to be multiple attackers, not just one person. I've assumed they're going to be bigger, faster and stronger than me. I'm also going to assume that they carry weapons. That way it takes care of all the potential outliers that are out there. Everything operates in the real world. They look at that.
The other thing that they have is, they never look at violence from anything but the winning side. What I tend to do with audiences all the time when I'm in one of my speaking events, or something like that is, I will show a scenario where somebody is, being choked by another person. Imagine one person, you're just looking at two males, and one male is literally, physically choking the other male, and the other male is reacting to the choke. I'll tell people, this is one of my presentations, I'll say, "What would you do in this situation?" I'll take audience response. Some people would say, "It looks like I could kick him in the groin," or "It looks like I could use my arms and I could knock his hands off of my throat, or some way of wrenching the choke off in some way, shape, or form."
I nod and say, "That's all good information." I go, "Would you like to see what I would do?" They say, "Yeah." Then I replace myself with the person who's choking the other guy. I continue to choke him, then I'll do about three or four more strikes, taking the guy to the ground, non-functional. There's a hush in the audience and I have to explain. They go, "No, no, no. You didn't say that, you said," I said, "No. Listen to what I asked you. I asked you, 'If you found yourself in this situation, what would you do?' You all chose to take the victim profile. You all chose to see yourself as the person being choked because you could never imagine in your mind where it would ever be okay for you to start out choking."
I give them an example. I go, "What if you just finished off your first attacker, you look back and you see, "Oh, my gosh, there's a second guy." The first thing you see is his neck, and the only thing you can think of is just to step in and start choking him. Why couldn't that have been the story that you tell yourself in your head? We've stigmatized violence so that if we ever see anything that we think is unfair, or graphic, or anything like that, we never allow ourselves to be in that dominant position. There's nothing wrong with seeing yourself on the winning side of violence.
As a matter of fact, for everybody listening to this right now, I would give everybody this homework. If nothing else, it'll mentally change how you look at the subject and really help you should, God forbid, you ever need information on self-protection. Every time you see an act of violence, it can be a movie, it can be on TV, it can be on the internet, whatever it is, get over the story, don't look at the story, look at who ends up winning in that situation. When I say winning, meaning the person that walks away, or is dominant in a situation, ask yourself, "What did they do? Where did everything change in the other person's favor?" You'll usually see an injury to the human body.
If you want to make yourself even more immune to defensive thinking, you would say, "How could he have done it better? Was he efficient that way?" From our aspect of it, it sounds really hard to do. Think about yourself as a coroner. A coroner can have empathy for the murder victim. But when the coroner has to start the description of the analysis of everything that they've seen, they get very clinical, they talk in straightforward terms. This is what happened to this person, this is how it happened to them. The knife went in here, they made their defensive wounds here. That's how you should talk and protect your brain when you're looking at violence. You should only see yourself being successful using the tool. That does not mean you condone the criminal act that you're seeing. It's just you protect your brain because that is critical in being able to protect yourself. I hope you understand how that answers the question that you're asking.
They did a study a while back where they showed a bunch of the prison population self-defense videos. They said, "What do you think of this?" The most interesting thing they took away from it was, not one time did they ever look at the defensive side of things where somebody was trying to keep somebody from doing something to them. They only saw themselves on the winning side of violence each and every time. If they made comments, it was to improve upon the violence that they saw. They said, "He did this, he did that, it was okay. But I would have done it this way." You're absolutely protecting yourself. This is not a light subject, very few people teach this aspect of it. This is what can absolutely save your life.
When I talk to my clients, this is, unfortunately, the ones that have had to use the information. This is what they come back saying was the most valuable, was the fact that they immediately focused on what was available to them, what they could do to the other person rather than what was either being done to them, or what they would try to get out of. They wouldn't sit there. Something had already been done to them, maybe they've been thrown up against the wall, or they've had their feet kicked out from under them. They didn't try to undo that last act. What they saw themselves as, "This is the position I'm in right now. There's his body, what's available to me?" The first thing that hopped out of them was a way to injure the person.
Jan: You say, too, that hesitation can really be the difference between life and death. Explain more about that.
Tim: When I train people, I don't want people to ever not have fear. I think that's ridiculous, all these people that talk about 'no fear' and all this crazy chest-thumping. What I want to make sure is that my people don't freeze, that they don't hesitate. You hesitate when you don't have anything in the toolbox, when you don't have an answer. Hesitation in a violent situation, unlike hesitation in a public interview, like if for some reason in the middle of this interview, I just got stage fright and I couldn't continue on, it doesn't really affect whether or not I'm going to be living. I can afford to get away from it. Whereas if I have hesitation in a life-or-death situation, it's probably the difference between me walking away and not walking away. That's why it's really important how you train yourself to look at this subject, there's nothing more important.
If your listeners aren't familiar with me, that's a really good sign. That means you've lived a good life, and you probably haven't had anything really happen to you. The reason I like to do podcasts like this, and I really appreciate the chance to get out to your audience, is I'm trying to reach that 30% in my world. What I mean by that is, of the 100% of my clients, 70% of them come to me after the fact, after violence has already affected them or somebody in their life. I can't undo that. The other 30% are people that were just proactive, they came in, they just wanted to get some information. I'm always happy when those people show up. That gives me the ability to get to them ahead of time and possibly give them really great information that will help them avoid a situation that if they didn't have the information, they may have walked right into it.
Laura: We're always told to be aware of our surroundings. What exactly does that mean?
Tim: Everyone talks about situational awareness. I'll give you a perfect example of the stupidity of it and what real situational awareness is. There's a video training that I put together on my YouTube channel, where I show an elderly couple coming to an ATM. They walk in there, you can see the woman walks up. Both of them are older, they definitely don't move as sprightly as they used to, the one man has a limp, they're both a little bit overweight. They go to the ATM and they end up getting attacked at the ATM. It's a horrific attack and it really is hard to watch.
I've shown this to many of the industry experts and other people and I said, "What could they have done differently? What did they do wrong here?" Everybody starts talking about, "The woman went up to the ATM, the husband should have turned around, faced the parking lot, looked at that. He would have been more aware and he would have seen it coming." Then they'll talk about, "They should have had a car up there. They should have been more aware and everything." That's great. After everybody's done telling me all of this, I say, "Did anybody notice the timestamp on this video?" It has one of those timestamps, what time of night it is. It was nighttime, it was 10:30, I think 10:32 at night. Not one person in my industry noticed that, not one person that I've ever asked noticed that.
My whole idea of situational awareness is, what is so important that you couldn't have gotten up 20 minutes earlier the next day and gone to the ATM in the morning. Statistics, precipitously after 8:30 at night at an ATM, your chances of getting attacked go through the roof compared to any other time. That's real situational awareness, not this false sense of being on guard your whole life and walking around with a head on a swivel, that's just not practical. It's being smart, it's understanding, it's minimizing the chances of violence ever coming into your life. Behavior modification, to me, is far more important than phony situational awareness.
Jan: What is your best advice if a person is walking alone, it's dark outside, nobody's around. How do you become aware of your circumstances there? How do you prevent something from happening?
Laura: Or if you feel like somebody's following you?
Tim: Number one: Don't.
Jan: Don't do what?
Tim: Don't walk around, don't do it. This is life the way I want it. I should be able to walk at night by myself. I hear women say this all the time, "I should be able to jog at night with my Powerbeats on. I can jog at 10:30 at night and nobody should molest me." I'm like, "You're absolutely right, in a perfect world, that's great." Also, in a perfect world, I shouldn't have to lock my doors at night in my neighborhood. I live in a pretty nice neighborhood, I've got a gated community. Guess what? I'll lock my doors and we have a security system.
It's okay, you can do these things. You can say, "I'm going to go to a shopping mall, I'm not going to valet the car because I'm going to save $10 or $20. I'm going to park in the really far part of the parking lot, I'm going to walk by myself through this parking lot, all the way through. I've gotten away with it before, so it'll be fine. Everything will be fine because I've gotten away with it before." I have tons of people that do things that are the equivalent of sleeping with their heads on a railroad track. They think just because a train doesn't come, the train's never going to come. My whole goal is to take your head off of the railroad tracks.
You look at a situation like that man coming out. He didn't have to cut through the park, he could have stayed in a really well-lit straight street that could have walked him home. Sure, it would have taken him probably an extra 10 or 15 minutes, but it would have been much harder for those two predators to run him down in a well-populated, lit area.
Laura: It's all about minimizing your risk.
Tim: Yeah, it's just like anything else you do with this. I tell people all the time that the reason you need to understand self-protection, you need to understand this thing, it's a life skill. It's the same reason that parents want their kids to learn how to swim. I tell people all the time, I'll say, "How many people have kids? How many are teaching your kids to swim?" The majority of them have the ability to say, "Yeah, I want my kid trained to swim." I go, "Great, because you want him to be the next Michael Phelps, right? You want to make sure that he gets seven gold medals." They all start laughing. They go, "No, the reason is I don't want my child to drown. That's why I teach my kids how to swim."
It's the same thing with self-protection and learning this. I don't learn it because I want to use the information. I don't want to learn to swim and then test whether or not I can really push it and drown. I want to make sure that my kids swim so they don't drown. Therefore, in self-protection, I want people to have enough knowledge. It's almost like CPR, no doctor would laugh at CPR. You're certainly not at the level of a doctor, but you can administer lifesaving help with a little bit of training.
That's really what learning self-protection is all about. It's not about competing in a martial art or combat sport, that's completely different information, that's competition. It's not necessarily going to give you a direct path to being able to truly protect yourself in a violent situation. That's not denigrating combat sports and martial arts people, they're amazing athletes, I work with a lot of them. If we just think about it for a minute, what makes a combat sport, like a mixed martial arts match or a martial art that has competition, what makes it so fun to watch? It comes down to the rules.
If you're going to look at violence, and you're going to gamify violence, how can you gamify violence? What's the most important thing? You have to take deliberate injury to the human body out of the equation, which is the exact information that you need if your life's on the line. You don't want to compete with somebody, you want to make sure you can shut them down immediately. The problem is, when I looked at the UFC the last time, they have 31 rules, 27 of the rules outlawed injury to the human body. That basically just tells you the difference. You have to decide why you're training. If you're training for your own self-protection, then you want to make sure that you go direct to injury of the human body. Very, very few people and systems can correctly teach you that information.
Jan: Tim, our show is called, Nobody Told Me! We always ask our guests, "What is your nobody told me lesson?" What is it that nobody told you about self-defense that you had to learn on your own that you wish someone had told you?
Tim: The best way to learn is actually cooperative, not competitive training, meaning the best information comes from modeling information. If you're really trying to improve yourself in any skill set, or way, shape, or form, oftentimes slow deliberate training gets you the best methodologies. I'll give you an example. In shooting, they have a mantra, the mantra is, "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."
When I grew up originally with some of the combat sports that I learned, most of my training was very ballistic, it was very fast, it was very chaotic. When it came down to learning how to really protect myself, I got this originally when I was trained in the SEAL Teams. The first part of training in the SEAL Teams is all physical. It's usually the stuff that most of the people see when they see films of it. It's guys running around with boats on their heads, wet, sandy, miserable, getting yelled at.
What they don't show, oftentimes, is the next phase of training, it was the next phase of training when I went through, which was weapons and explosives. When you get to weapons and explosives, the instructors aren't yelling and screaming, they aren't going crazy, they aren't doing anything ballistic. Everything is slow, methodical, and calm. That's how you need to have this information installed. That was the biggest leap to me. It wasn't this chest-thumping Rambo, tough guy stuff. It was just methodically learning where on the human body to go and slowly and deliberately learning to use the tools of your body and being able to place them in the correct areas of another partner. That partner has to be cooperative. That partner has to allow you to go into these very vulnerable parts of the human body. You get to model injury and you do it slow, deliberate. It's amazing, the learning curve that you get from, they're calling it now deep practice. I saw that you guys had interviewed Daniel Coyle from The Talent Code.
Laura: Yes, yup.
Jan: Right, yeah.
Tim: Daniel, I've interviewed him a couple times, exact same thing. He gives examples of the music school up in upper state New York where the rule is, if a teacher can walk by one of the cabins and figure out the music that the kid is playing on his cello or on his violin, he's going too fast. That was probably the biggest change for me was the experts, the real key people are using some version of deep practice. I was just lucky enough that the instructor that I originally learned from just inherently trained people that way first. You had to earn your right to use velocity. The last thing you need to add to anything is speed.
That problem is the biggest change, especially for a young man. Young men, especially, want to go hard and fast, hard and fast, all the time, they think that's the only way to go. To be able to slow down and do this deliberate practice, which people like Daniel have really brought to the forefront, and then of course a lot of other great researchers. Applying it to your self-protection, I've never seen such gains in people's abilities once they've allowed themselves to do the slow practice.
Laura: That's an absolutely wonderful answer. Tim, how can people connect with you?
Tim: I'm on most social media platforms. @TFTTimLarkin is my Instagram. Facebook is either @targetfocustraining or @TFTTimLarkin, you'll find me either way. Of course the website.
I have a really great masterclass out there if they just go to surviveviolence.com. They can get a free masterclass, which really will take them through the concepts that you and I discussed, that we all discussed today, and I'll go even further in depth. I think your folks would really get a lot out of it.
Jan: What about your YouTube channel? What's on that?
Tim: That's Tim Larkin, again, the YouTube channel. If they go to surviveviolence.com, they'll get contacted, we give them all those assets. You can find me on YouTube too, I'm all over the place.
Jan: Okay, and timlarken.com is also a website for you.
Tim: Yes, it is.
Jan: Okay, perfect. All right. Thank you so much, Tim, for joining us.
Tim: I really appreciate the opportunity.
Jan: Our thanks to our guest, self-defense expert, Tim Larkin, whose latest book is called, When Violence is the Answer: Learning How to Do What it Takes When Your Life is at Stake. I'm Jan Black.
Laura: And I'm Laura Owens.
Jan: You're listening to Nobody Told Me! Thank you so much for joining us.