Every now and then somebody either posts a clip on Facebook or emails me a link to Youtube that shows me some incredible dancing techniques. Now my mate and fellow 3rd Dan Dave Withers is also known for his actual dancing prowess as well as his uncompromising attitude to martial arts, he can really dance the tango, samba the night away and he does not need beer like the rest of us white guys.  Like the poster, get the t-shirt 😉


Well the video clips I am referring to do not include Dave’s silky moves, they involve what Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller call Monkey Dancing.  This is the display mode people go into when they experience conflict, if you want the detail read their books, here is a quick quote from Rory.

“What you lookin’ at?” barks a young man, about your size, about your age.

You don’t think you were looking at anything in particular. You also know the smart thing to do is to give a little apology and go back to your beer.

But you’re a young man yourself. Before you even realize it, you are looking dead in his eyes and saying, “Who wants to know?”

“You trying to be smart?”

“What if I am?” You aren’t sure who stood up first, but both of you are standing now. His skin is getting red. He’s flexing his shoulders, looking bigger. You can’t see yourself and you don’t even think about it, but you are doing the same thing. More words are exchanged, some pretty colorful profanities. Both of you step closer and closer. The veins in his neck and forehead are bulging and his jaw muscles are clenching whenever he isn’t insulting you.

You throw a quick glance at the other patrons. Everyone is watching, but no one is doing a thing.

He gets closer—too close—and you push him away, hard.

He responds with a looping overhand punch. In a moment you are both a tangle, rolling on the floor and throwing wild punches until somebody pulls you apart.

You never even thought of the weapon holstered on your hip, and that’s a good thing.”

The monkeys are dancing, in fact it has gone on to heavy petting, and soon full-blown sex in a violence context of course. The  Monkey Dance is the prelude to full on violence, it is the point where display is of utmost importance, impose and belittle is the objective. it happens all the time. It happens in one on one situations and all other numerical configurations. I have been involved in many including hundreds, even several thousand on each side, these were big Group Monkey Dances, how about several thousand or over a hundred thousand? Even a million? I will come back to that later.

The term Monkey Dance was coined in the book ‘Meditations on Violence ‘to describe the human dominance ritual. It’s a deliberately ridiculous name for a ridiculous pattern of behavior. But it is a pattern that young men are conditioned to follow. To me it is spot on in terminology. The monkey brain rules at the slightest insult from some and is not that deep for the majority, the difference is though fear of failure some dare not let the monkey catch breath let alone surface.

So we have the Monkey Dancer what does s/he look like? Well he /she can take on many forms they could look like anything, they blend into the crowd, it is only when they start dancing that they start to become a problem. Lets look at a couple of  guys Monkey Dancing,



Well they really go for it do they not, remember once in control the monkey is hard to put back in his cage and we begin to play the game Marc MacYoung calls ‘escalato’. It is a pattern of human behaviour where the participants become locked in to ‘having to win’.

“Most amateur violence comes about because of this stupid game of escalato. People have no clear-cut idea of what winning means, but by God they know they gotta do it. Think about how many times you’ve seen things escalate way out of control. this simple pattern is behind nearly 90 percent of all conflicts you’ll encounter. Everything from a 3-year-old throwing a hissy fit to a 90-year-old grandmothers having attitudes with one another. People get ‘locked in’ and begin raising the stakes. Each round is more intense. It’s a basic human pattern, no matter where you go.” Marc ‘Animal’ MacYoung, “A Professionals Guide to Ending Violence Quickly”.

So we have all been there, all done it, I know I have, funnily enough I remember the times I walked away after the stakes started getting higher, I remember putting the monkey back in his cage and I will tell you why, because he growled intensely in there for days and he was a dark brooding monkey that SHOULD have ripped the other monkeys head off. So controlling the monkey is incredibly difficult as it is there as part of our evolutionary biology, incredibly deep-rooted behaviour patterns indeed.

That is why the two fellas in the previous clip get more and more excited, they are locked in and verbally raising the stakes. So looking at my joke above re white men dancing, how can we stop ourselves from entering the monkey dance and playing escalato. Well it becomes, in my opinion, easier as I get older, I no longer feel the need to impress the females, real or imagined. I have learned to be happy with who I am and what I do. I feel comfortable in this skin and not threatened by others. This does not mean I am overconfident but the more I study conflict and violence, the more we try to understand what is happening using our incredibly powerful brains, testing and discussing the extensive literature and rapidly increasing use of social media and online learning, the more powerful our analysis becomes.

The monkey dance is the oldest dance in the book, it developed as we evolved and has, ironically as it often ends in violence, saved us from much more serious violence. That is because we all subconsciously know the rules and mostly understand the role threat display plays in our social lives.  Most often one part realises the danger rising with the stakes and backs down. Here are some real monkeys doing the dance.

So Freud’s threat display carried the day against his brother Frodo, they both understand the risk of actual combat.  It is by using appropriate well researched models and frameworks that we can begin to make sense of conflict and violence. once we understand the finally tuned rules that underpin how we engage in them then we can develop strategies to beak the circuit, to stop the monkey getting out without him growling inside you for days afterwards.

Unfortunately most martial arts and self defence classes go straight to the action end of the responses available, it works for them, sometimes only in theory and class), so it must work for you. I have been watching some real beauties on Youtube, on is a road rage attack where in scenario guy gets out of his car as an enraged, and particularly muscled and bare-chested driver wearing a bandana pulls up, jumps out and beats first man to a pulp. In the next scenario guess what, yes the first guy, the good guy uses an elbow scoop etc etc. Why not teach him to get back in the car and lock the door, start the engine and reverse out of there. Call the police, seek help. Because that does not bring in the bucks and the punters, the public believe that is what they want too. This is because the industry is fueled by people who rely firstly on combat skills rather than avoidance and evasion skills. Of course I teach strikes, kicks and escapes too but with a health warning that once you are at this level you are very likely to get hurt even if you win.

Whatever winning is, for me it is surviving with as little damage as possible, preferably none. However, in the martial arts fighting is the thing is it not and therein lies the main problem as I see it, most self defence is taught by people with martial arts background and skill sets, they believe in what they do and believe that what they teach. There are some really great people out there doing a really great job, however, unfortunately there are a lot more who have no idea whether what they teach will work and for who it will never work. I was contacted by a lady who had been raped, she eventually as part of her recovery went to learn a martial art, she did not stay and felt deeply insulted when the instructor told if she learned his techniques no one would get raped. She had frozen though fear when attacked, there was no fight or flight. Remember the female chimp when Freud went for Frodo?

What is the answer well it’s that often used and abused adage education, education, education. Our industry needs to step out of the trap of only using greater force to beat off an attack and put its thinking cap on. Sit back, do the analysis and use the new knowledge alongside traditional methods. We need a duality in our approach that lets our intellectual and physical powers combine to become truly effective. These are my thoughts, I would like to hear yours. Until then I am off to the kitchen to put BBC Radio 2  on for a proper dance, yes I do this a lot in there and I too have some cute moves, I would rather be a cheeky monkey than a monkey dancer anyday.