It was the Slap that launched a thousand takes: At Sunday’s Oscars, Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head (she has alopecia), then her husband (and soon-to-be Best Actor winner) Will Smith ran onstage and slapped him. Once it became clear that the incident was not staged, seemingly everyone felt compelled to form an opinion on it and to share their views with friends, family members, co-workers, social-media followers, their hairstylist, their dog walker, even strangers in line at the grocery store!
Despite your thoughts, our thoughts or anyone’s thoughts on the specifics of the situation, the entire event is something that everyone can learn from. We make no judgement on those involved; we are viewing the situation entirely from a self defence perspective and the takeaways that might advantage YOU in your everyday life. So here are 25 life lessons you can learn for your own safety and self defence from The Slap.
1. VIOLENCE IS UNACCEPTABLE, EXCEPT WHEN IT IS
Violence isn’t ok. Assault is never the answer. UNLESS it is in self defence.
Watching that incident, we see a man determined to protect his wife, but we also saw him use a reckless slap to express himself. Aggression is a natural emotion when someone is mocking a person you love, but the choice of physical violence is not ok. Smith himself said that, “There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.” In his apology, Smith also said, “Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive.”
He is right, but not all violence is the same, and to allow or disallow one kind says nothing of the others. It is worth pointing out that few people have a problem with Ukrainian soldiers and citizens fighting back (lethally) against Russian invaders. And at COBRA, we have no problems whatsoever if you are required to hurt someone in self defence. If a man grabs you in a dark alley and tries to drag you into his car, you must use as much violent force as necessary to escape the situation. Even in the case of The Slap, few people would take issue had Chris Rock pushed Will Smith away in defence. But we see victims of undeserved violence daily and make it our life’s mission to protect innocent people from undeserved violence of all kinds. In this regard, violence is not ok and it never will be.
2. BAD DECISIONS ARE MADE WHEN EMOTIONAL OR DISTRESSED
Certain emotions tend to override a person's rational thinking process. It's a response to the hormonal and chemical reaction that's caused by those emotions, usually triggered by stress, conflict, anger, anxiety or similar issues. Anger, in particular, tends to release a tumult of hormones such as adrenaline, which on it's own can make rationale and logic difficult to maintain. It is well known that an apparent threat to family members or loved ones can trigger anger very quickly and set off inappropriate reactions, just as it did for Smith. In fact, it’s one of the biggest triggers you’ll see in everyday life.
You need to know that people make irrational decisions and can do bad things when in emotional states like this. Always be wary of someone if you have triggered their temper, if they appear particularly stressed, or if you know they have been dealing with a major life event. They’ll be more fragile and, if the situation lends itself, they can be more prone to violence.
3. SPOKEN WORDS ARE POWERFUL
If you take a step back and look at the situation in good faith, you see that Rock degraded a woman in a room full of her peers on live TV, and the world expected her and her husband to take it. Of course, it was done in the context of comedy, but that didn’t remove the impact of his words. Words, like fists, have power, and they can be just as violent. Words can even be more powerful than your actions.
Before you say anything to anyone, think twice. Choose your words and how you say them, wisely. Always remember that, either through texts or spoken words, your words are powerful. Just like electricity, their force is unseen, but its impact can be felt in seconds, when produced. Words can heal, inspire, or hurt.
If you find yourself talking harshly to others, be very careful. You may say the words and forget them, but the listener may overreact. Analyse the risks of the words you say to yourself, and to other people. When it comes to safety and self defence, your words are always worth controlling.
4. SOONER OR LATER SOMEONE WILL PUSH YOUR BUTTONS
At some point in your life, you’re likely to snap. It will happen even if you're a master at managing your emotions, even if you're accustomed to ignoring detractors, and even if you know better than to lose your cool, as Smith obviously does. No matter how collected, mature, and professional you are most of the time, we all also have triggers that can set off emotions too powerful to control. For Smith, what felt like an attack on his wife when she was vulnerable was clearly one of those triggers.
5. STAY CALM AND DON’T SLAP
Your brain is wired to be more reactionary under stress. This can mean that in tough moments you will reflexively narrow and simplify options to all-or-nothing extremes. If you have to deliver bad news, you are either too harsh or too indirect. If you’re overloaded with work, you either over-delegate or try to do everything ourselves. If you have to make a high-stakes decision, you either go with our first instinct or suffer from analysis paralysis. If someone insults your wife, you say nothing or you get up and slap them. Sadly, in extreme situations such as rape, you either fight back with all your might or give in and submit.
Always remember that there are no complex challenges in the world for which there are only two possible solutions. The minute you find yourself torn between two extremes, assume that both are limited, step back, and build a broader menu of options. That’s where you’re likely to find your optimal choice.
6. VIOLENCE CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, BY ANYONE
Will Smith is a wealthy, major Hollywood actor on the stage at a prestigious awards show broadcast globally. If violence can happen at this time, by this person, in this place, it can literally happen anywhere. Fortunately, in this case Smith chose to use an open hand strike and Rock appeared relatively unaffected physically, but it easily could have been a closed fist to a broken nose, or worse. If it can happen here in front of the world, it can happen to you in the corner of the pub, to your child in the park or your sister on her walk home. Always be aware, alert and prepared to defend yourself at all times. Never assume violence isn’t an option based on a person’s socioeconomic status or otherwise.
7. VIOLENCE BREEDS VIOLENCE
Imagine a world in which it was acceptable to slap another human being when you want to, or whenever you take offence to something they have said. It is pretty safe to assume that a world where everyone slapped each other, for whatever reason, would be a bad one and it would get increasingly worse over time. Why? Because violence of this kind only instigates further violence. Few men would accept the hit as passively as Chris Rock did – in most cases some sort of retaliation would have happened, and happened fast.
A society that physically punishes people who cause verbal harm to loved ones would be a society prevalent in violence, and exposure to violence has been consistently linked to antisocial behaviour. For example, violence victimisation is known to be the single best predictor of juvenile violent behaviours for both boys and girls. The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. As Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness.”
8. PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT PERCEPTIONS ON DEGREES OF VIOLENCE
The wide range of views and takes on The Slap incident seem to be limitless, with some calling it a well-deserved knock whilst others declare it criminal assault that could have killed Chris Rock. We aren’t surprised by the strong emotions generated by the incident, and their variety. The complexity centres around the discussions we’re having on a societal level around race, gender, disability and survivorship. All of those things combined impacts the lens in which we see this unfortunate event.
To those who say it’s no big deal, others ask “Yeah, what if he slapped a woman? Or a child? Or a female child? Or a female orphan child? A sick one? Ok, so Will Smith is attacking a little adorable cancer stricken orphan girl, are you ok with that?”. Others ask where the line is. If it is ok to slap someone in the face, can I kick them in the face? Or punch them? Where does it stop?
The reason Will Smith’s slap has gathered such media attention and water cooler conversation is not simply because it is another example of celebrities misbehaving at the Oscars. Instead, it polarises and divides us because, in some ways, it’s a fundamental conflict of attitudes.
This is important to know in everyday life, because your attitude towards acceptable behaviour is unique to you. It can absolutely get you into trouble, and we see it everyday; a guy thinks it’s fair enough to shove a bloke who got too close to his girl in the pub, but then a fist fight ensues. A predator thinks it’s ok to rape a girl because she wore a short dress and was “asking for it”. A schoolboy thinks its ok to grab a girl’s rear end in the schoolyard because it’s “just a joke”. The list goes on, and everyone will have a different view. That is unavoidable; people don’t think the same and some people think very bad thoughts. You don’t have to agree with others, but you do have to keep yourself safe from violence. What’s unavoidable for all is the LAW and what is important for you is your RIGHT TO SELF DEFENCE.
9. POSSESSIVE IMPULSES FEED VIOLENCE
In his statement today, Smith admitted that ,”…a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much to bear, and I reacted emotionally.” Much violence in the world — and the smallest kinds of life — are those which feed off “possessive impulses.” When people are concerned only with their reputation, honour, or prestige, they are indulging these impulses. Even love, when treated carelessly, swells on a tide of jealousy and possessiveness.
In this case, what exactly motivated Will Smith’s slap? Was it because of a perceived offense done to his wife, or was it because of an offense in some way done to him — a slight to his masculinity or a challenge to his narrative of protector and guardian? She is my wife, and I will defend my property. This kind of impulse is never cause for violence. Violence born of possessiveness is, in Smith’s words, “poisonous and destructive.”
For some, Will Smith’s slap was the “natural” action of a loving husband, looking after his wife. In Smith’s own words, love makes us all do “crazy things.” This response reveals the not-so-unconscious attitudes at play here. If we excuse Will Smith’s slap as “what any self-respecting husband would do,” then we risk propagating and celebrating a very particular type of male-identity. It is the view of wife-as-property to be protected and husband as the stalwart Guardian of Reputation. It is a view that perceives a rival or threat as something that must be punished — no one can interfere with my wife. It is a dangerous form of possessiveness to be wary of, because it’s inevitably a trigger for danger of some kind.
10. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT SOMEONE IS GOING THROUGH AND HOW THAT CAN AFFECT THEIR BEHAVIOUR
Life can be stressful – these past two years particularly so – and many people are at their breaking points. We see that stress playing out in harmful ways, with record rates of suicide attempts, opioid overdose deaths, and in verbal and physical attacks on others. Smith has been under severe pressure for several weeks - both due to the exhaustion of campaigning in awards season and the increased scrutiny of his marriage. But few would agree that is an excuse for violence.
We must promote better awareness of and attention to personal mental health, and normalise that it’s OK not to be OK. … It seems Smith might have had some brewing frustrations and wasn’t in the best state of mind to respond to a trigger. He could have benefited from a moment of reflection or meditation and might have responded differently. Hopefully, this can be an example for young people moving forward on what not to do, and we can promote mental wellness, and discuss healthier ways to resolve conflict.
11. ANGER IS UNDERSTANDABLE, BUT EXPRESSION OF IT ISN’T ALWAYS APPROPRIATE
Smith’s anger was understandable, and he was fully entitled to it. However, it is the expression of it that was not appropriate, and Smith himself has since agreed.
He escalated to violence when there were several other alternative responses that might have been more impactful. For instance, if he had emerged on the stage and demanded an apology that would have been far more appropriate to help Chris Rock and the audience understand how hurtful comments about appearance can be, especially if it is a known medical issue. In your own life, you and those around you can be angry. But that anger can not be expressed physically in any way, at any time, for any reason.
12. THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES OTHER THAN VIOLENCE
Will Smith might have believed he was protecting his wife. But violence performed in the name of protecting wronged women only steals away the attention from where it belongs: on the wronged woman. The fallout might have been whatever Jada Pinkett Smith wanted it to be: a chance to raise awareness about alopecia, or to publicly forgive Rock, or not publicly forgive him. She might have talked about how difficult it was to remain in her seat while jokes were made at her expense. And yet remain there she did, for she might have worried that reacting could result in viewers thinking of her as a killjoy who couldn’t take a joke — or, even more unfairly, as an angry Black woman.
Giving Rock a sharp tongue-lashing could have been far more effective than The Slap in this scenario.
13. LOOKS MATTER A LOT
Yes, your physical size matters. Skinny, short, huge, tall, whatever. Imagine it was Dwayne Johnson, not Chris Rock. Or a trained fighter who is also a comedian, like Joe Rogan. Would Will Smith have the temerity to walk up to him on stage to slap him? Just imagine he tried doing that - we may have witnessed a WWE Smackdown live during the Oscars Awards!
Your size could be an unfair advantage at times against bullies, but if you are a child or a woman it will invariably always be an unfair disadvantage against predators. Remember strength is in numbers (try to avoid being alone at dangerous times and places), always be aware and alert of your surroundings, and be empowered with some degree of self defence technique and knowledge so you know what to do should trouble ensue. Try not to look like a victim, and you will be far less likely to actually be one.
14. CHRIS ROCK COULD DO WITH SOME SELF DEFENCE TRAINING
Intelligent options increase survivability, which is why we are passionate about self defence training for all! The premise of self defence is first and foremost avoidance; you can avoid a slap altogether by not talking about a person's wife. Failing that, if you do say something about someone's wife you shouldn't have said in the first place, there are ways you can prevent yourself from being slapped in the mouth. Firstly, Rock should have kept distance between himself and Will Smith. We teach the concept of “4 or more”. If a man is approaching you with possible ill intent, always keep a distance of at least four arm lengths between you. In addition, keep your hands up. This gesture is one of surrender and peace, but also perfectly positions your hands to defend yourself against slap, punches, knocks to the head etc. Physically, in general your moves should be around dodging and blocking the blow.
15. MEN ARE PRONE TO VIOLENCE MORE THAN WOMEN
Rock’s joke was directed at Smith’s wife, Jada, and initially Smooth was seen laughing. However Jada took offence and was displeased by the attempt at humour, prompting Smith to act. But why was it Smith and not his wife who acted in this way, when she was clearly the one most upset and impacted by the comment? In essence, why are men violent?
Worldwide statistics show that men are responsible for the vast majority of violence globally. It is undisputable that men commit horrible acts, while women rarely do the same. It’s important to note that although there is a clear delineation by sex when it comes to violent crime, men are certainly not destined to be killing machines. Most men are not violent, and we also have plenty of examples of women committing atrocious crimes. Nevertheless, a clear sex difference has been documented cross-culturally in the way men and women display aggression.
Men are far more likely to express their aggression directly: through physical violence or verbal abuse. Women are more likely to be indirectly aggressive: to focus on damaging someone’s social standing or spreading rumours to hurt someone’s reputation. This points to a very clear reason why men are overrepresented in violent crime statistics: male aggression is almost always in a form that is criminalised. This has significant implications for everyone is society, particularly children and women: if you are subjected to violence, it’s likely going to be from a male.
16. PLAYING ON WEAKNESSES CAN BE DANGEROUS
If you know about a person’s weakness, never use it against them. You may stir up an action you cannot control. Every human has a weakness, including you. When you touch a person’s weakness, they may tend to act like a child. It hurts! To some, it could be love, affection, money, desire to have a child, or achieve success, or anything. Do not also say hurtful things to them, because you know their weaknesses.
17. MISTAKES CAN COST YOU BIG
Smith has announced his resignation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, calling his actions at the Academy Awards “shocking, painful and inexcusable. The Academy have given him Smith “15 days notice of a vote regarding his violations and sanctions, and the opportunity to be heard beforehand by means of a written response”. While the penalty imposed by the Academy remains to be seen, Smith is facing further blows to his career ; according to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix has “quietly moved” the Best Actor winner’s next project, Fast and Loose, “to the back burner” in the wake of the scandal. It’s the first production of Smith’s to be impacted by the Oscars incident, but it’s looking increasingly likely that others are set to follow.
This is applicable to you in your life; mistakes can cost you big and anything can rob you of your success at any time.
18. RULES WON’T PROTECT YOU
We hear victims explain how they got themselves into dangerous situations all the time; “Yes, the toilets were empty and I was alone, but I didn’t think a man would go into the female toilets”. Or, “Yes, the door was locked but I left the window open because I didn’t think anyone would enter that way”. In this incident with Smith and Rock, attendees at the Awards ceremony were not permitted to go on stage on impulse. It’s a simple little rle that Smith simply and easily broke. Rock could not rely on that rule to stop the violence inflicted on him. The lesson here? Even if you like to follow the rules, don’t assume others will.
People commit crime, or break the law, for six reasons – lust, anger, greed, revenge, excitement or ego. Those are motives. And people don’t comply with the law because they make the rational choice not to. They think their criminal act is worth the risk to themselves. You are always going to have a section of the community who for whatever reason are never going to comply with the law because they see it as acceptable not to. You must therefore be empowered with the skills to defend yourself, rather than relying on rules to protect you.
19. PARENTS MUST LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Parents must be mindful that children watch and copy what they see. Kids emulate their parents first and foremost, and they absorb the emotions of the household, dominant parent or the one they most resonated with. Despite what you or anyone else tries to teach them outside of the home, these teachings will not trump the actions of a father.
Using his power and status, Smiths brought Sadhguru (an Indian guru) to his home in 2020 to teach his children spirituality and non-materialism. But when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock, his example impacted his son more than hours of lectures or teachings by a guru: A few hours after the assault, Smith’s son Jaden Tweeted in support of his father’s violence, “And That’s How We Do It!”
20. THERE IS NO MORALITY IN VIOLENCE
Smith wrote in his memoir, "Will," about the conflicting relationship with his father who would abuse his mother. "My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital. He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies," Smith wrote. "He listened to every record. He visited every studio. The same intense perfectionism that terrorised his family put food on the table every night of my life." Some people may think they can take toxic masculinity experienced as a young boy and use it for good. But we must come to an understanding that toxic masculinity is not a foundation.
Initially, Smith attempted to justify his actions by saying, “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family.” He went on to talk about having to “protect people”, including, he said, the female actors he’d worked with on set. This was a self-serving display. “To protect” does not mean “to slap someone on their behalf”. This attempt to give violence a bogus morality is at the heart of so much crime. Morgues are filled with the victims of this kind of “protection”.
21. WILL SMITH’S SPEECH WAS A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Will Smith won the best actor Oscar last week for his role as Richard Williams (father to Venus and Serena) in King Richard. He was only the fifth Black man in history to win that award. But the evening's most memorable moment is The Slap.
We think that Smith had a chance to also uplift Jada and the awareness of alopecia and sincerely wish he hadn’t struck Rock or angrily yelled profanities. But we wish even more that, when graced with a second chance on stage, he would have said something different. What could he have said?
Something like: “I apologise to my brother Chris Rock, who somehow managed to keep the show going after I hit him in the face. I apologize to my wife, to my family, to the Williams family, and to everyone who has worked so hard to be a part of this celebratory night. I resorted to violence in response to words, and that is not the way. It’s not what I want to be known for. It’s not what I believe I’m called to do in this world. To the little boys who look up to me, I apologise. Sometimes, even us trained professionals lose control of our emotions, and this night has been full of emotion. Chris’s joke hurt my wife, who many of you know suffers from a disease that impairs hair growth. I thought defending her meant hitting him, but I was wrong. As someone who portrayed Muhammed Ali, an advocate of peaceful protest, I know better. As a boy, I missed a chance to defend my mother from abuse. I’ve written about this and am clearly still dealing with it. Apparently I’m dealing with it in the worst possible way, at the worst possible time, right now at the Oscars. Now about this award…”
22. STREET CODE VS PREDATOR BEHAVIOUR
Our street fighting days are far behind us, but in our experience a belligerent man generally signals to his target that he is about to hurt him. There are lots of ways to communicate this malign intent. You can get all up in someone’s face. The two-fingered chest poke is a well-worn technique. Some aggressors have been known to deliver pointed monologues prior to pouncing. But one thing the ‘Code Of The Streets’ demands is that a combatant never hit a person who, like Chris Rock, had his hands behind his back. Needless to say, Smith broke the ‘street code’ with The Slap.
But the point we’d like to make is that ‘street code’ directly contrasts to a predator’s behaviour. A predator will swiftly and deliberately strike without warning so that you do NOT have warning of their malign intent. Most times, they rely on speed and surprise as their primary weapons. This is why awareness, proactive self defence in the way of prevention and using your intuition is critical to keep you safe and free from harm. Street code and predator behaviour are polar opposites.
23. YOUR VALUES ARE MEANINGLESS WORDS, UNLESS YOU ACT UPON THEM
Hollywood and Will Smith endlessly preach via movies, television programs and of course, via interviews and speeches during awards shows. They act holy and righteous preaching values about politics, love, unity, peace, humility, violence, domestic violence, racism, sexism, and prejudice.
But then Smith loses emotional control and slaps/assaults Chris Rock during a live awards show. Alarmingly, Hollywood (Academy organisers and people attending the show) take no action against the violence. They allow Smith to give an acceptance speech while the Hollywood audience gives him a standing ovation.
It is so effortless to speak and make claims about who you are, what you are, and what you stand for. But your values only become known and true when you are tested, and when your actions fully reflect those values.
24. NO ONE IS PERFECT
No one is perfect, and that includes your favourite celebrities. The number of actors, singers, and reality stars who have endured a fall from grace at some point in their careers is staggering. Sometimes there's no coming back for a celebrity who has committed a misdeed — some crimes are just too terrible to forgive — but many famous faces have made mistakes and been accused of crimes at some point in their lives, often making career comebacks anyways. Think Robert Downey Jr, Hollywood's most famous comeback kid. Even Jay-Z, one of the rap industry’s most recognisable faces, put his career on the line in 1999 when he stabbed a music producer.
Let’s hope you never stab someone or need to go to rehab! Our point is that we all make mistakes. Perhaps you have slapped someone before, or been violent in ways you regret. We are all works in progress, and can only try to be better versions of ourselves in a future where violence plays no role.
25. TO FORGIVE AND LET GO IS DIVINE
If you were in Chris Rock’s shoes, would you press charges against Will Smith? Just imagine someone slapping you in public, with several millions more watching. It’s an embarrassment - in fact, he was humiliated! It was a clear assault on him and he has all the rights to press charges against Smith if he wanted to. But Chris Rock has said he won’t press charges against Smith. Not so many people would take it so lightly. In your life, your safety is paramount. You must think about how important you are to your family and friends and always do whatever it takes to make it home safely to your family. If this means ignoring a verbal barb and de-escalating a temper-ridden situation, then good. To forgive and let go can be divine.
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