How to Survive an Armed Robbery

Robbery. Mugging. A classic hold-up. The threat of violence- injury, or death- if you do not part with what you have. This is the bread and butter, literally, of plenty of scumbags. The quickest way to a man’s wallet is just to stick a gun or knife in his face and ask nicely, or not so nicely.

Robberies can happen anywhere and at any time, from a brazen daylight stickup to a mugging in a darkened alley. While such crimes may yet be unheard of or nearly so in the more idyllic settings of America and elsewhere, they are a common occurrence in larger cities.


There is a small cottage industry of dubious defensive tactics instructors that will purport to teach all kinds of “can’t fail” techniques to thwart muggers and highwaymen with flashy looking and suitably impressively demonstrated martial arts moves where the weapon is stripped effortlessly form the crook’s hand and turned against him.

Whether learned in a far away Eastern monastery or in the shadowy special ops branch of a foreign military, they all have one thing in common: They are liable to get you killed. Surviving a robbery takes a cool head and knowing how to read the situation as best you can, but it can be done.

In this article, we’ll get you started with some hard-earned wisdom on thwarting a robbery before it starts, and getting out of one if you can’t manage that.

How Robbers Choose Targets

Robbers are looking for loot. That means two things they’ll generally concern themselves with when selecting a target mark. First, they’ll want someone that has cashy money, or things they can sell for cashy money at a don’t-ask-questions type of establishment, think jewelry, phones, etc. Second, they’ll need to lift those things off someone they can shake down.

This informs us of their decision making process and some possible second and third order consequences of those choices. First, robbers will go where the “food” is, as will any predator.

ATM muggings, sidewalk shakedowns near affluent parts of town or seedy parts where money and drugs congregate, and parking lot hold-ups near establishment where well-to-do people shop are all likely locales for robbers to operate (and pickpockets and purse snatchers, but that’s another story).

Second, they are looking for prey that will cough up the goods will little, if any resistance. Robbers would prefer to operate quickly and quietly and so attract the minimum amount of attention to their illicit deeds as possible, at least until they are well and truly away from the scene of the crime.

If you look like The Rock, or just some spry and deadly operator type who is no stranger to violence, they will likely leave you alone. If you look like a dog on a slick floor, all darting glances and barely constrained shivers, or a dead-to-the-world dude glued to their phone after dark, you will attract the wrong kind of attention from the wrong kind of people.

Exceptions exist. Respect and attitude is a big component of street culture. If you swagger down the block like some puffed up rooster, a hungry banger might decide he wants to show you where you fit into the pecking order and have you make a donation for the privilege. Some robbers are so brazen, so desperate or just downright crazed they’ll rob almost anyone at any time.

The best thing you can do to prevent being targeted as a victim is to not look like food. The next best thing you can do is be alert to and detect robbers before they close in on you. If you are alert and moving, it is much harder for a robber to get into your bubble where a shakedown takes place.

Don’t Look Like Food

Robbers are looking for weak prey; slow, unsure, isolated, weak, sick, scared. Anything about you that raises this opinion in their eyes increases the chances you’ll be chosen. Anything that lowers this opinion in their eyes reduces your chances.

What can you do about this? Well, let’s consider the least ideal candidate for a stickup: someone who walks confidently, chest out, shoulders back, head up, and eyes scanning. Someone alert who knows where they are going, knows what’s going on around them and knows where they fit into the environment.

Not a swaggering swashbuckler or hardass, but not a meek mouse either. Somewhere in the middle. No matter how old you are, no matter your sex, try to exude those qualities. And you really need to feel it; most criminals and street toughs are great at sniffing out a faker.

Try not to make conspicuous displays of wealth, especially in crime-ridden, poor or depressed areas. Too nice clothes and cars, jewelry, bulging wallets, and high-end phones all mark you as someone worth robbing; criminals are willing to risk prison for the right reward.

If you are scared or nervous, you has better channel that into a cool, confident demeanor; furtive, darting glances, movements or trying to appear smaller is not a recipe for avoiding a mugging. Scumbags can smell fear a mile away. Prey is scared. Don’t smell like prey.

Being distracted by a phone, a woman, or just gazing into the middle distance watching dust motes float on sunbeams are also things that can signal to robbers you are someone who is checked out and therefore easy to close with and overwhelm before you can react. You need to be paying attention to the people and environment around you.

If you do that, you are likely to notice a few things.

Pre-Robbery Indicators

If you pay attention, you might notice behavior from a potential threat that can tip you off to his ill-intent. Before proceeding, pre-robbery indicators look an awful lot like pre-attack indicators of other kinds. You might be dealing with a robber, or a guy who just plans on messing you up and then maybe robbing you incidentally.

If you notice anyone following you, that is a definite clue and you should be on guard and evading immediately. If you make eye contact with them and they look away or down- and I mean clean eye contact, a look, not a glance, but not mad-dogging them or giving them the ol’ Charlie Manson, either- you are probably dealing with someone who is keen to rob you.

Be extremely wary of anyone who enters your personal space without context for being there. They could approach asking for the time, a light, directions, or to tell you about some bullshit charity or fundraiser or whatever.

Be on guard. Someone behind you in line at Chik-Fil-A is most likely okay (but maybe not!) while the guy bee-lining for you across a nearly empty parking lot or while you are standing at the ATM is most certainly a threat.

I hear you out there: Charles! How can we avoid people getting into our space in public? Well, most places you can’t. But you should be very wary of anyone approaching directly or indirectly to get in your space on purpose.

That is when the threat will emerge. You are busy digging for a phone, lighter, map, whatever and the next thing you know you have a gun pointed at you or a guy clamping one hand on you while he reels you into optimum stabbing position- the one where you cannot get away. Whoops.

Moral: there are always gaps in our awareness and sometimes there is so much background “noise” and visual clutter that we sort of turn our radars off. Don’t do that in public! Be alert to the subtle indicators of someone who sticks out.

No Warning

This is one of those times that the Strip Mall Sensei’s and YouTube Guru’s will not have an answer for except “don’t let it happen.” Robberies may often start with an attack. Yep.

You might know you are being robbed when a club crashes into your head, a fist smashes your face or you start getting filled in with bullets (or cut up with a knife).

Your mugger will be all too happy to help himself to your belongs when he lifts them off of your unconscious body or your rapidly cooling corpse.
For those who are unaccustomed to ferocious violence of this kind, it can be truly hard to believe that there are people who would do such a thing. But there are.

Options for Dealing with a Robbery

If you are confronted with a robber, armed or not, who wants something you have, you have three fundamental options assuming they don’t tee off on you immediately:

  • Comply
  • Resist (Fight)
  • Escape

You’ll need to choose well and fast based on the situation at hand, and likely shift to another strategy the instant one stops working. This is not something that can be learned from an article on the internet.

Only training and experience will let you reliably deal with a stickup, as ideally this is not something you are encountering every day or even every year.

We’ll break down the options below.


There is a school of thought that says compliance is your best bet for getting through a robbery unscathed. There is merit to this, as robbery is most usually a form of “social” violence, an interaction; a request is made, and if it is not honored you get hurt.

Compliance will often see you get through a robbery unharmed or with less severe injuries compared to most forms of resistance, but not always. More on that in a moment.

The typical situation in which you will comply or at least feign compliance to create opportunity is when a baddie gets you caught dead to rights. Suddenly, he appears!

And he has a knife or gun pressed to your belly and is making demands for something. In that case, you are bugnuts crazy if you think you’ll straight up beat him to the drop, drawing your own gun or knife to get him before he hurts you.

You might be able to preempt him though, if you feigning going for a wallet or jewelry, playing the blabbering victim the entire time, lets you instead access a weapon when he thinks you are pulling the goodies.

Compliance sometimes straight up will not work, or keep you from being maimed or kilt in da streetz. Scumbags likely flat-out do not care what happens to you, and will shank you, beat you or shoot you after their deed is done for no reason that you can recognize.

You must never, ever, never-ever assume that there are “rules” or a code that these people live by.

There isn’t, at least one that you can recognize. If you decide to comply you may come through things all right, or you might not.


Resisting is a great way to get hurt or killed in a robbery if you do not have the will, the tools, and the ferocity to finish the job and incapacitate your attacker or attackers. Recall if you will you will very likely be facing down two or more.

Passive resistance will get you a dose of remedial violence to encourage you or just get you flat out killed and vultured. Don’t think you can bow up or bluff off a robber who does not have a visible weapon; he might have it concealed and is waiting to access it (low profile, or to avoid a higher charge if caught).

Plus so many of these people are much better at fighting than the good guys are you could risk a beat down and then a boot party.

Resistance might be your only option if you believe you’ll be killed anyway, if the robbers wind up trying to kidnap or otherwise abscond with you (“Get in the car!”) or are demanding something you cannot part with (partner, child). You’ll have no choice but to fight and do it like the devil himself.

But here is one fun fact that the “compliance crowd” does not like to mention, or just does not know: your chances of making it through a robbery unharmed or with minor injuries are highest if you resist with a gun. It’s true. Statistically, your best outcome will be had most often if you deploy a firearm in self-defense.

Now, do not go thinking it is a rabbit’s foot. It isn’t. There are plenty of scumbags who are flat not afraid of guns. They have been shot before. They have been in gunfights before. If you pull it you have to follow through at get to work with it.


If the opportunity to escape presents itself, you should. But the old saw of “just run for it!” falls flat when you consider the totality of the circumstances. Are you going to be able to, from a cold start, turn and run from a younger, fitter male (statistically) before you are shanked or shot?

What if you are old, infirm or just out of shape? This is not to say you should not escape- you absolutely should if you can- but you need to buy the opportunity to do so and then actually get to safety!

Opportunity could come after incapacitating your attacker. It might come if he gets distracted. It might show up when he is busy with his ill-gotten gains. This is why the old trick of throwing down or dropping the wallet is a good one; criminal goes for the goods, and when he takes his eyes off you, you bolt.

Big Brain Moment: Carry a decoy wallet with a worthless photo ID of a John Doe in it, some expired or cancelled universal gift cards (the ones that look like credit cards) and $50 in fives and singles.

If shaken down, make a show of being a babbling baby as you fish the wallet out, drop it from your shaky hands and then run. Or fight. But this can be a good time to run.


Surviving a mugging is doable and statistically likely if you handle yourself well, but you must be able to read the clues in the midst of the event as to the robber’s intentions.

Compliance may see you survive more times than not but some robbers will plan to kill you anyway, so in that case you must fight. The most important thing is to keep your head and think quickly before executing your plan with maximum intensity, whatever it is.

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2 thoughts on “How to Survive an Armed Robbery”

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    Suppose one is old, but armed and physically cannot run. But needs a Heavy wooden cane to walk with and has military combat experience and knows his way with a knife or revolver? Compliance or violence? This man packs three revolvers in different places. One is a mini 22 magnum. Carries a monkey paw key chain and two knives. Robbing this person has been tried twice without success

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