Self-Defense Strategy: Command Voice

Here’s how to sound like She Who Must Be Obeyed.

by posted on October 27, 2020
Command Voice
Pictured: Your ideal mental image when using your command voice.

Armed self-defense is a different prospect for women than it is for men; some of the reason why is cultural, and some of it is physical. Both of those factors come into play when we talk about one of the cornerstones of self-defense: the “Command Voice.” It’s an essential part of any self-defender’s toolkit, but many women either don’t understand it or don’t know how to use it. That’s a mistake. Here’s how to fix it.

First, a definition: The Command Voice is the voice you use when you have gone Condition Orange, as a last-ditch effort before you go Condition Red. Simply put, this is the part of the encounter where you clearly tell the attacker to leave you alone. Tactical expert Tiger McKee comments, “I like to start with, ‘Stop!’ It’s concise, and most people in the world know what it means. If time permits, I can add additional instructions, such as, ‘Don’t move,’ or ‘Leave now’!” 

What’s remarkable is that, done correctly, sometimes the Command Voice is enough to halt an encounter on its own. It’s that “done correctly” part that is hard for many women. The first thing you need to understand is the psychology of authority. Most people take deep voices more seriously than high ones. Unfortunately, most women don’t have naturally deep voices ... but you can fake it.

Breathe from your belly, command from your heart

The first thing to do is to make sure that you’re breathing correctly to really project your voice. This is done not with the chest, but with the belly. Think about holding your ribs still while you “stick out” your stomach. You’ll feel how much deeper that breath is instantly.

The next thing to do to create and practice your Command Voice is to think of it as a chest voice instead of a throat voice. The best way to envision this is metaphorical: The command is coming from your heart, and your larynx is just there to shape it. Another way to artificially deepen your voice is to turn the corners of your mouth down as you speak.

The first time you practice your Command Voice, you are going to feel very silly. That’s why my recommendation is to practice it in traffic. See that guy who wants to pull out in front of you even though there’s not enough space? Command Voice him with a “STOP RIGHT THERE” right from your diaphragm. (He won’t hear it, and you’ll feel better!)

This isn't a discussion

Of course, you also need to adopt the right mindset to make your Command Voice do its job. Says McKee, “Keep in mind you’re not getting into a conversation. A lot of bad guys will ask questions in order to distract you. ‘Hey,’ they explain, ‘I just need to ask you a question,’ as they move in closer.

This is where it gets particularly tricky for women. Every last one of us has been approached in exactly that manner multiple times in our lives, and most of the time it’s relatively harmless ... e.g., they’re trying to pick you up. Furthermore, there is a very strong cultural directive that women are supposed to “be polite” and “turn them down easy.” That drive to be polite can be a deadly mistake.

When do you begin using your Command Voice? McKee recommends that you start as soon as feasible. “I’d rather tell them what to do from 30 feet away as opposed to waiting till they’re right on me.” Continues McKee, “Distance is time. The sooner you tell them what to do the earlier they comply. The quicker you know it’s time to start ramping up your possible response, for example creating distance or moving to cover. You’re also already establishing for witnesses that you’re the ‘good guy,’ and who’s the threat.”

As with all self-defense advice, none of this is going to help you unless you’re consistently practicing situational awareness. Living in a state of relaxed alertness, always scanning for people and behaviors that are out of place, and removing yourself from situations before they develop is always preferable to any armed encounter. Should one develop, however, you will speak in the voice of She Who Must Be Obeyed.

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