Using Your Voice as a Weapon: Pt. 1

By: Jeff Mount

Throughout history, one of the things that warrior cultures have had in common is that of a battle cry. Spartans, the Roman Legions, Templars, Byzantine kataphraktoi, right down to the Johnny Rebs of the Confederate South, fighters of all shapes, sizes, and organization have utilized the sound of their voice to aid in their military tactics and their morale.

Lt. Col David Grossman, psychologist on warfare and killing, and author of several books, lists a battle cry as an historical manifestation of a more complex matrix of the “fight or flight” instinct. In his groundbreaking book, On Killing, Grossman lists intimidation tactics such as this as a soft version of the “fight” instinct. Combatants seek to avoid a fight by posturing in such a manner that causes their enemy to submit.

This week, I’d like to touch on the actual, literal ways in which it is vital we see our voice as a weapon if we are in danger. For individuals training for self-protection against a violent encounter, verbalization while you are defending yourself has immense value. Imagine yourself walking to your car after a long, stressful day of work. You are looking forward to nothing more than a good meal, your favorite TV show, and an early night to bed. But when you see your car, you see three young men surrounding it. Worse, they see you. They start to approach you, spreading out as they do to flank you. Because of your training, you know you’re going to have to fight. But what do you say during the actual confrontation?

Without getting into intricate details, my suggestion is to say anything. “Get back” works, as do a lot of other things. Most any strong command to stop would work as long as it’s loud, angry, and repeated. Here are a few reasons why this is so important:

  1. It transforms fear into anger – What words we think – and say – have a direct effect on how we feel. If I handed you a sheet of paper filled with hateful words, and you were to read those words, you would begin to feel the emotions contained within the words. If you feel fear at the beginning of an assault, your words can do damage control on your emotions and get you focused on the task at hand – getting home safe!

  2. It keeps you breathing – I’ve never met someone that can simultaneously yell and hold their breath at the same time. During periods of extreme physical effort (like fighting off a violent attack), many people reflexively hold their breath. This will drain your bloodstream of oxygen and lead to early fatigue.

  3. It signals bystanders you need help – For the onlooker standing across the street, capturing a sweet Youtube video of you getting attacked, your verbalizations may be what snaps them out of their voyeuristic complacency to actually, you know, help you.

  4. It signals your attackers you’re not a victim – Predators use pre-fight verbal attacks to see how a potential target will respond. Think of it as a “dress rehearsal” for the actual attack, occurring seconds before. How you respond to your attacker’s words – with words of your own – will signal to them that you won’t take their assault passively.

  5. It indicates who the defender is – If the police arrive, it would be a good idea for them to know who was defending themselves and who the attackers are. Also, if you’re built anything like me (6 foot 5, 250 pounds), or if you’ve trained for any length of time, you may be surprised at the amount of damage you could do to an attacker who attempts anything. If it is clear to the authorities, the videotape, or any other bystanders that you were attempting to stop the attack, not initiate it, you stand to fare much better should you have to answer for your actions after the fact.

So, your voice is a weapon. It can work for you in a violent confrontation if you make it a part of your training. Next week, as in many of my other posts, I’ll be expanding on this idea for the more general “assaults” we all face throughout the course of our life.

For more on Lt. Col Dave Grossman and his research, click here.

Rachel Parker