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Swimming in Shark Infested Waters –  How to Deal With Men and Women of Fear

Several years ago I attended a business conference in I believe it was Denver, Colorado. I sat in on a session where the speaker (whose name I do not remember) talked about something that at the time struck me as major truth.

The subject of his presentation was based on what he called a primer (an elementary textbook that serves as an introduction to a subject of study or is used for teaching children to read.) that was used to teach young Polynesian children and sponge divers how to swim in shark infested waters.

 sharks  photo

Over the years this primer has been used and applied to various settings and situations from; business management, combating bullying, sexual harassment, medical and hospital management and employee relations to name a few.

The original primer is attributed to Voltaire Cousteau, who died in Paris in 1812 and is believed to be a pseudonym. The true identity of the author is unknown according to various sources. The link to the original primer is here.     

Using a combination of my background in martial arts, business and really just plain common sense, I’m going to take the original essay and apply it to how to deal with men and women of Fear any place in the world.

I’m going to use the following premise as the basis to this article.

Every person that we come into contact and or associate with everyday will fall into one of these descriptors:

Those of our color and of our kind;

Those of our kind and not of our color;

Those of our color and not of our kind;

Those not of our color and not of our kind;

Treat all unidentified people regardless of color as not of your kind.

The primary people we want to associate with in our lives are therefore those of our kind, regardless of their color. One can not totally avoid those not of our kind but we can learn to swim safely with or avoid them.

In the context of my book, Men of Color Men of Honor, this premise also holds true in that those who we want to associate with, that will be beneficial to our success and freedom, will be Men and Women of Honor (Our Kind) and not men and women of Fear, (Not of Our Kind), Sharks.

As I go through the rules of How to Swim with Sharks, think of Sharks in the context of men and women of Fear. In my undertaking of this keep in mind that attacks are not just physical but also psychological/emotional. Also understand that men and women of Fear are not restricted to what are commonly called thugs, but include presidents and CEO’s of companies, professionals, teachers, politicians or old Mr. Jones that lives around the corner from you. They can be and are…anyone, and are found in cities, suburbs and rural area alike. A full description of men and women of Fear is contained in Men of Color Men of Honor.

How to Swim with Sharks


Actually, nobody wants to swim with sharks. It is not an acknowledged sport, and it is neither enjoyable nor exhilarating. These instructions are written primarily for the benefit of those who, by virtue of their occupation, find that they must swim and find that the water is infested with sharks.

It is of obvious importance to learn that the waters are shark infested before commencing to swim. It is safe to assume that this initial determination has already been made. If the waters were clearly not shark infested, this would be of little interest or value. If the waters were shark infested, the naive swimmer is by now probably beyond help; at the very least he has doubtless lost any interest in learning how to swim with sharks.

Finally, swimming with sharks is like any other skill: it cannot be learned from books alone; the novice must practice in order to develop the skill. The following rules simply set forth the fundamental principles which, if followed, will make it possible to survive while becoming expert through practice.



Not all sharks look like sharks, and some fish which are not sharks sometimes act like sharks. Unless you have witnessed docile behavior in the presence of shed blood on more than one occasion, it is best to assume an unknown species is a shark. Inexperienced swimmers have been badly mangled by assuming that docile behavior in the absence of blood indicates that the fish is not a shark.

Some men and women of Fear do not look, or act like sharks, but they actually are sharks. Some men and women are not men and women of Fear, but may attack and injure like sharks and not even be aware of it. Some men and women look, act, and attack like sharks. With these people we can not get upset or angry with, because we can usually tell what they might do by their appearance and behavior. Never, never, assume that docile or passive behavior on the part of these people means that they are not dangerous. Every person has the capacity and capability to be dangerous given the right stimulus and or motivation.


It is a cardinal principle that if you are injured either by accident or by intent you must not bleed. Experience shows that bleeding prompts an even more aggressive attack and will often provoke the participation of sharks which are uninvolved or, as noted above, are usually docile.

Admittedly, it is difficult not to bleed when injured. Indeed, at first this may seem impossible. Diligent practice, however, will permit the experienced swimmer to sustain a serious laceration without bleeding and without even exhibiting any loss of composure. The hemostatic reflex can in part be conditioned, but there may be constitutional aspects as well. Those who cannot learn to control their bleeding should not attempt to swim with sharks, for the peril is too great.

The control of bleeding has a positive protective element for the swimmer. The shark will be confused as to whether or not his attack has injured you, and confusion is to the swimmer’s advantage. On the other hand, the shark may know he has injured you and be puzzled as to why you do not bleed or show distress. This also has a profound effect on sharks. They begin questioning their own potency or, alternatively, believe the swimmer to have supernatural powers.

If you are even slightly injured either by intent or accident, you must control your bleeding. The control of bleeding in this sense means the control of our emotions by not reacting or displaying being upset. Also do not becoming defensive or show panic. Emotional bleeding on our part will 9 out of 10 times actually induce and inspire an even more aggressive attack and will also stimulate the participation of others who are not involved and who appear docile.

Two important caveats:

1. If you must bleed, never do so in front of the men or women of fear. Bleed out of sight of he, she, or them.

2. Even if the man or woman of Fear becomes confused and does not continue their malicious ways, they are seldom done with you from this first encounter. Rest assured that they will attempt to test you again, believing that what they experienced was an aberration and that the next time, you will act in the way they expect. This is based on their experiences of similar prior attacks on others.


Sharks rarely attack a swimmer without warning. Usually there is some tentative, exploratory aggressive action. It is important that the swimmer recognizes that this behavior is a prelude to an attack and takes prompt and vigorous remedial action. The appropriate countermove is a sharp blow to the nose. Almost invariably this will prevent a full-scale attack, for it makes clear that you understand the shark’s intentions and are prepared to use whatever force is necessary to repel his aggressive actions.

Some swimmers mistakenly believe that an ingratiating attitude will dispel an attack under these circumstances. This is not correct, such a response provokes a shark attack. Those who hold this erroneous view can usually be identified by their missing limbs.

For most people who have no training, attacking first may not be the best option and not just in the physical sense. What will often counter aggressive action is the learned ability to remain calm and be aware, alert and ready. Never think that being nice, overly nice or even helpful will stop a man or woman of Fear in his or her’s exploratory aggressive actions, it will not. Men and women of Fear do not value you, your life or anything you care about.

We can take a lesson from nature and the animal kingdom for this. Lions will seldom attack a healthy full grown elephant that is aware, alert and ready. Doing so risks the health, safety and life of the lion. Predators will always seek first, prey that is weak and unaware, the proverbial head in the sand potential victim. Do not be the person with his head in the sand, be the elephant.


If a swimmer (or shark) has been injured and is bleeding, get out of the water promptly. The presence of blood and the thrashing of water will elicit aggressive behavior even in the most docile of sharks. This latter group, poorly skilled in attacking, often behaves irrationally and may attack uninvolved swimmers or sharks. Some are so inept that in the confusion they injure themselves.

No useful purpose is served in attempting to rescue the injured swimmer. He either will or will not survive the attack, and your intervention cannot protect him once blood has been shed. Those who survive such an attack rarely venture to swim with sharks again, an attitude which is readily understandable.

The lack of effective countermeasures to a fully developed shark attack emphasizes the importance of the earlier rules.

Out of all the rules this one is by far the most difficult to navigate. As a Man or Woman of Honor it is inherent, a part of our nature to offer and provide assistance and help to others in need. When someone is under either physical, psychological or emotional attack or abuse, recognition of what the appropriate measure called for to help only comes from experience. This is where the novice Man or Woman of Honor is at greatest risk. All to often the novice Man or Woman of Honor will end up being the victim instead of the savior.

Extreme discernment and foresight must be undertaken by any level of Men and Women of Honor, before speaking up for others or coming to their rescue. What must be understood and fully accepted is that any rescue attempt may result in at worst death, and to the lesser extent, being terminated from a job or position, being blamed or facing retaliation if the recuse attempt is successful or a failure. Rescue attempts are far more successful if they take place prior to injury or bleeding. Unfortunately most rescue attempts after injury and bleeding do not generally end well in one form or another.


A constant danger to the skilled swimmer is that the sharks will forget that he is skilled and may attack in error. Some sharks have notoriously poor memories in this regard. This memory loss can be prevented by a program of anticipatory retaliation. The skilled swimmer should engage in these activities periodically, and the periods should be less than the memory span of the shark. Thus, it is not possible to state fixed intervals. The procedure may need to be repeated frequently with forgetful sharks and need be done only once for sharks with total recall.

The procedure is essentially the same as described under rule 3 — a sharp blow to the nose. Here, however, the blow is unexpected and serves to remind the shark that you are both alert and unafraid. Swimmers should take care not to injure the shark and draw blood during this exercise for two reasons: First, sharks often bleed profusely, and this leads to the chaotic situation described under rule 4. Second, if swimmers act in this fashion it may not be possible to distinguish swimmers from sharks. Indeed, renegade swimmers are far worse than sharks, for none of the rules or measures described here is effective in controlling their aggressive behavior.

The critical thing here is about timing. If the time span is to long before again showing that you are aware, alert and ready, men and women of Fear will forget and attack, especially if new persons of Fear have entered the picture and are not aware of who you are. If the time span is to short and repeated to frequently it will prompt persons of Fear to feel the need to retaliate in some way. The best way to guard against the faulty memory of men and women of Fear is to always carry and conduct yourself as a man or woman of honor. Moments of weakness or the dreaded, I can do this just this one time, it won’t really matter, can backfire in detrimental ways.


Usually sharks are sufficiently self-centered that they do not act in concert against a swimmer. This lack of organization greatly reduces the risk of swimming among sharks. However, upon occasion the sharks may launch a coordinated attack upon a swimmer or even upon one of their number. While the latter event is not of particular concern to a swimmer, it is essential that one know how to handle shark attack directed against a swimmer.

The proper strategy is diversion. Sharks can be diverted from their organized attack in one of two ways. First, sharks as a group are especially prone to internal dissension. An experienced swimmer can divert an organized attack by introducing something, often something minor or trivial, which sets the sharks to fighting among themselves. Usually by the time the internal conflict is settled the sharks cannot even recall what they were setting about to do, much less get organized to do it.

A second mechanism of diversion is to introduce something which so enrages the members of the group that they begin to lash out in all directions, even attacking inanimate objects in their fury.

What should be introduced? Unfortunately, different things prompt internal dissension or blind fury in different groups of sharks. Here one must be experienced in dealing with a given group of sharks, for what enrages one group will pass un-noted by another.

It is scarcely necessary to state that it is unethical for a swimmer under attack by a group of sharks to counter the attack by diverting them to another swimmer. It is, however, common to see this done by novice swimmers and by sharks when they fall under a concerted attack.

When under an organized attack by men or women of Fear it is imperative that you remain calm and hold your presence. This is the time when mental flexibility is more important than physical strength. The man or women who has not properly trained to develop discipline will be the first one to panic under the stress of an organized attack. This is never the case of a seasoned Man or Woman of Honor, as they have either experienced first hand or were eye witness to the savagery of an organized attack. They have learned through practice and experience the timing and strategies of what to do to create and implement proper diversion tactics. Unfortunately for the novice this is not the case. It is therefore wise and prudent to attempt to shield the novice from an organized attack as they are a threat to others in the area. The propensity of the novice to divert the attack to another as they seek to save themselves by any means necessary, should be anticipated by the seasoned Man or Woman of Honor. In this instance the novice can be as dangerous as a person of Fear.

I’ve added three more rules to the original essay.


Men and women of Fear are constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated in their development of attacks. Men and Women of Honor must stay ever vigilant and aware of any new methods and tactics used by men and women of Fear.


If , despite your best efforts to avoid being bitten by men or women of Fear you keep getting bitten, you have to strongly consider that the water you’re swimming in is inhospitable for your kind. You may find that you have no other choice but to relocate to a more hospitable environment.


Most fish swim in schools and there’s a reason for that…there’s safety in numbers. The more you’re able to find and connect with those of your kind you will be least likely to be attacked by sharks. Even in a very dangerous body of water, the more of your kind who can come together with resources, knowledge, talent and connections combined with coordinated and cooperative efforts, you very well may be able to make the waters safe for swimming and cause the sharks to relocate or better yet change their behaviors. It may be difficult, but some sharks have learned to change their ways.  

As you take in and ponder the rules for how to swim with sharks I’m sure you’ll see a variety of ways for there use at home, work, school, organizations and communities.

Remember to be like the elephant and hold your presence and never forget these rules, they may one day save your life and freedom.

Photo by Mark McLaughlin

Photo by Ken Bondy

Photo by Ken Bondy

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About Zanti Meko-Qwanzi


Zanti is a prostate cancer surviver and Intimacy with Prostate Cancer™ Speaker and Coach. He is a former: Aide to a US Senator; Director of the Detroit Minority Business Development Center; Regional Director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center and Community Builder of the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. In addition to his achievements in business, Zanti has trained and taught martial arts and self-defense for 30+ years. He lives in SE Michigan with his cat Mr. Tibbs.

I love words. The word for today is:

fantasticate |fanˈtastiˌkāt|

verb [ with obj. ] rare 

make (something) seem fanciful or fantastic: I do not think I have fantasticated these accounts.

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