I know there are a number of touring experts “out there” of late, advising people on what to do when encountering, or being confronted by a suspicious person. So many folks in fact that people ignorantly assume the advice is…new. Invented by these genius youngsters. Well, allow me to resurrect a 27 year-old article (with some newer photos) I wrote on the subject and I have been teaching for decades, that I did not invent either…
So, if it’s not a stone-cold, surprise ambush and you are in a developing encounter with someone who-
is picking a fight with you for whatever the reason, yelling and arguing with you,
is about to commit a crime upon you,
…and things may go physically “south” very fast. How will you stand before this person? In the best aspects of police work, even if someone is screaming at your face? It is still an “interview,” and you have to somehow remain cool, calm and collect. This is professionalism at the police level, and maturity at the civilian level. Smart civilians have to do this too! It’s hard. I know. Thus, the “interview stance” is a ready position, but not too, too ready as if to psychologically escalate the situation, or cause any possible witnesses to think YOU were escalating the situation into violence.
I would like to say that in all my decades of police work I had a trick in this pre-fight instance. If a situation was percolating into physical trouble, my body/feet would be bladed somewhat from that person, but not too far! We call that somewhat “bladed.” Somewhat, which could be one foot an inch off the straight line. Simple walking creates a bladed hip positions. It happens. When you move, it happens. The fight itself will change the push-pull of the footwork, your feet will be bladed or you’ll fall over. Don’t overthink this, it’s situational and positional. Same with putting your weapon-carry side back and away to draw. It’s situational and positional. Just be athletic. And remember the phrase – balance and power in motion.
But in a dangerous moment, I would, inside my pant’s legs, unbeknownst to anyone, bend slightly at the knees. This was a more springboard, athletic position. This turned on the “juices” in my body that trouble was brewing.
I am sure by now you have heard the many experiments where body chemicals were sort of, reverse engineered in this manner. The same is true for other physical responses and body chemicals. I “have made it so,” that when I slightly bend at the knees, I have made myself….”ready.” Ready? Ready to move. Ready to do something physical.
But, if you jump into a fighting stance, “before” the actual fight, which might make good, pre-emptied sense sometimes, be aware that your “action-guy” pose could be perceived as an escalation to violence. This may spur on the other guy, or look like the actual fight-starter to ignorant witnesses –
“Two guys were just arguing, officer and then, the guy in the suit squared off like he was going to fight. Then the other guy did too. Then the fight started.”
Part of many self defense repertoires is the “re-emptive” strike. You know this physical fight is going to happen, so you strike first. This is your own little ambush, usually delivered from a non-fighting stance. Could be a strike or a kick. That is why all unarmed, self defense system must practice all their strikes and kicks from the typical non-fight stances, all which we will review later, along with the fighting ready performance stances/positions, moving and non-moving.
So, your preemptive STRIKE, though soundly sensible for your situation, but could make you appear to be the instigator of the physical part of a fight. Needless to say, the same nearby witnesses may tattle –
“Two guys were just arguing, officer, and then the guy in the suit hauled off and smacked the other guy in the head!”
On the flip side of your concealed knee bend is his knee bend. If it’s visible? If you have a person confronting/standing before you, and he suddenly crouches down? This crouch is a natural athletic move. This is NOT good for you. It is a positive indication that he is about to get physical. Look at the bent knees and the hands up in this picture above. This is a fighting “stance” for when the fight starts. If they “spear” up their hands? Crouch and or, start twisting their torso which is a high percentage, common precursor for a sucker punch, you must act according and prepare for trouble. (Inside my book Fightin’ Words you will find all those pre-fight tips I’ve been collecting since 1973.) Remember all these cues when you must later articulate why you did what you did.
Like so much in life, anything within a certain spectrum of events, good or bad, can happen. May work. May not work. In this particular “stand-off interview” moment, here are some common, even natural responses in the script of life.
1: Leaving, fast or slowly.
2: Cowering, “collapsing” of some facial and physical sort.
3: Automatic anger.
4: Ignoring, in some situations.
5: Command presence of some sort, as in not collapsing.
6: Fighting ready pose.
There are still options for maneuvering in a so-called stand-off confrontation, many are done with simple walking steps. You can:
1: Maneuver a distance from the problem person or persons.
2: Sometimes you can just keep walking.
3: Maneuver near an exit, for a sudden escape.
4: Maneuver over into the sight of witnesses or help.
5: Maneuver to something that can be grabbed as a weapon or a shield.
6: Realize a person or persons may be maneuvering YOU by crowding you, distracting you and getting you into a inescapable position, a no-witness situation. (A pre-meditated ambush is full of these factors.)
7: Orderly retreat as previously defined in other essay, or even running. But how far and fast can you run?
And a Quick Note on Verbal De-Escalators While on this initial confrontation subject, a quick “side step” here from physical movement over to verbal skills. As for all the verbal, de-escalater experts out there? There are many courses available on de-escalation, run by lots of intellectual folks who have never had such attacks and confrontations forced on them, and they over-value the idea that great, practiced orations will interrupt a fight.
You will hear advice from all sorts of people. Remember that de-escalation for cops is different than for guards, different for door men, for soldiers, for citizens on a parking lot, family members in a domestic, or road rage encounters, etc. Run their advice though your Who, What, Where, When, How and Why filter. While remaining within a spectrum of outcomes, the encounter is quite situational for you.
Never forget this guy drawn below. All your non-aggressive, micro-expressions and rehearsed non-aggressive wordings and steps won’t stop him. He has his own script. He follows an antithesis to your script.
“If I pull my knife? And he is carrying a gun? Will this cause him to pull his gun out? Will I cause the problem to escalate?”
An attendee to a seminar in Kentucky, someone with zero martial or martial arts experience, just a regular guy legally walking around with a gun and a knife, asked me this question.
What did I say? I said “yeah, that could happen.”
“That’s pretty messy,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
And everyone stared at me for words of wisdom and solution. I have none.
So often people want Magic Bullet answers to a lot of self-defense questions. There’s always big talk in the self-defense industry about “avoidance.” If too late to avoid, then next up in the event list is what they call “de-escalation.” Avoiding and de-escalating a common knucklehead before a fight starts is a cottage industry. Some folks confidently dole out solutions to confrontations in three to five steps or present mandatory checklists. “Say these things!” “Do this!” “Do that!” “Stand like this!” “Don’t ever….“
Now, I think it is certainly good to be exposed to all these ideas and methods. Sure. Do so. But as an obsessed skeptic, I see the caveats beyond the advice. I don’t know about certain kinds of solutions, magic words, or stances when confronted or attacked.
I have investigated a whole lot of crimes through the decades; and while there are identifiable patterns and surprises, chaos can sure still reign supreme. But let me summarize by calling it all “situational.”
In the end, solutions are situational. Like calling plays in a football game, it depends on the situation. How you stand and what you say or do should be situational. Custom-built. (This essay is primarily about pulling out a knife but does and could certainly relate to pulling a pistol, too. It’s just that if this was a “pistol-centric” essay, I would be writing more about pistol situations.)
So there’s an argument! Then a fight! Given you have already performed all your pop/psych avoidance and de-escalation steps. You are armed under your coat or in your pocket with a knife or even a gun, and this verbal stuff just ain’t working! The mean man won’t leave! Or worse, the men (plural) won’t leave. Do you pull that knife out? That weapon out? There are some situational concerns with doing this; and these concerns certainly do involve his possible knives and guns and the overall escalating ladder of weaponry, violence, and legal problems.
Here are a few facts and related ideas on the subject to kick around:
Fact: Some people do leave. For many a year now, 65% to 70% of the time when a knife or pistol is pulled in the USA, the criminal leaves you alone. (old DOJ stats) Simple statement. I have often heard the easy average of 67% used (sticks, by the way, are not in these study figures.) I must warn folks that this is not as clean and simple an escape as it sounds. There are many emotional, ugly events that happen in this weapon presentation / confrontation, even if the bad guy does leave. In my experience and investigation, if the criminal is alone he might be quicker to leave, if he is in or around a group, “his” group, he puts on more of a show before leaving. Trauma and drama. We discuss these details in certain topical seminars and other specific essays.
Fact: Some people don’t leave. The good news with the 65%/35% split is you may only have to fight about 30% of the time! So 30% of the time, the opponent does not leave and the fight is on, whether he is unarmed or armed. The bad news is when you are now in that “unlucky 30%,” or you might say you are now a 100%-er. You are 100% there and stuck in it. A hand, stick, knife, or gunfight!
Fact: Some people are armed. General USA stats quoted for many years past say that 40% of the time the people we fight are armed. A few years back the FBI upped that anti. More being armed! And another gem to add in is that 40% of the time we fight two or more people. Hmmm. So 40% or more armed times 40% multiple opponents. Not a healthy equation. Lots of people. Lots of weapons. Lots of numerical possibilities. The “smart money” in the USA or anywhere else is always bet that the opponent is armed.
Facts: Times and reasons to pull. Logical and physical. Time and reason might seem the same, but defining times and reasons in your mind and for your training is smart.
Time equals “when” and reason equals “why.” Two different questions. The motive and the moment to move. Either way, remember …
In this age of widespread interest in de-escalation and verbal skills to defuse any and all encounters, this is a tale about how convoluted and difficult a quick, on-the-spot verbal solution might be. It’s a short story from a case I worked on.
A driver pulled his truck up into a handicapped parking space to drop his wife off at a post office. He did not put his truck into “park.” She got out and walked away. He reached down, did something for a second, and was about to back out of the spot, when a man walked by the front of his truck, scowling and yelling at him, waving a hand in the air.
The driver rolled down the window and said, “What?”
The man yelled in outrage about the driver parking in a handicapped spot. The driver, aghast at the outrage said, “I am not parked. I am leaving. I just dropped someone off!”
The man started cursing and closing in. “I had to park over there,” and he pointed down the lot. “You can’t park here!” “I’m not parked here!” he said again. But then he now was, as the driver put his truck into the parking gear and got out, telling me later he thought that the man would come over and kick in and dent his truck, or reach into the open window after him.
The driver got between the man and his truck and said, “WHAT is your problem?” (oh, what a classic line! The classic answer is – “you’re my problem” and so on and so on. The very common low-brow script of a fight). And so it goes. You know the dialogue of this bad movie from this point on. You already know it. I often tell you that these pre-fights words are like movie scripts and usually quite predictable.
The complainer swings at the driver. The driver fights back. There are witnesses. The police are called and the man gets arrested for assault. Later this complainer files an assault case back on the driver and it becomes a “he-said, he-said” deal.
My sad part of the story is that one morning in a detective squad meeting, I got both cases dropped on my desk. My CID Lieutenant says, “this ain’t going away.” Meaning these two guys are calling us and complaining about each other and how each were in the right. And of course, one of the two had even called the chief. Another day in Detective Heaven.
I started with this angry man, the complainer. I asked him to come in and give us a written statement, which he jumped at the chance to vent. He showed up for the appointment, loaded for vocal bear, and in a small, interview office I let him unload. The guy was panting when the oratory was over. I did not say a word.
“Okay,” says I. “let’s get that whole story down on paper.” I had to read him his rights and now the story was officially counted. And line by line, we got it all down as I typed his words as he said them. He calmed down and his remarks took a turn to another topic. The real cause and motivation of his complaining. Handicapped people and handicapped parking…
“What’s the ratio of handicapped people compared to non-handicapped people?” he asked. “I don’t know.” Now he was getting mad at me. “Well you should know. People like you in your business should know.” “Hmmm” “I know this much,” he continued. “I know that there are too many handicapped parking places. There has to be too many of them compared to regular people. If you go down to Kmart you’ll see all those good, front parking places are reserved for the handicapped. What a dozen? Dozen and a half? Are there that many handicapped people parking there, compared to others? A regular person has to hike to the store.”
I did not answer. Then I said,” you want me to mention your parking spot concerns in the statement?” “Hell yeah! Maybe someone will read it for a change?”
This theme rolled on. I realized that the guy wasn’t mad at the driver because the driver had pulled into the handicapped slot for a second. He wasn’t protecting the rights of the handicapped. This guy was mad at handicapped people! And how many parking places they got. He was ripping mad because of proliferation of handicapped parking! It would really be difficult, it is really difficult to de-escalate such an encounter without…ESP.
It’s always wise to explore de-escalation. Sure. But, there are a lot of people “out there” teaching de-escalation. In my opinion, most of them (and I know many of them) are very logical, very nice people but have never really stood before face-to-face rage. Real rage and its bizarre twists. Seen its ugly face. Or stood before someone who fights every Friday night, who just wants to fight for fight’s sake, and its Friday night, 11:30 p.m.!