It is a shivery, chilling feeling to know that you are about to be attacked. Out of all the people in the world, a couple of scumbags have picked you out, you, to victimize. It does not matter where, it does not matter why. This is real. It is happening.
The thoughts that go through your head at that moment will likely be torrential if you are not trained. What is going to happen to me? Will I be able to tell my family goodbye? What will happen to them? Who are these guys? Why me? What should I do?
And on and on until they eventually close in, and the attack begins in earnest.
Alternately, if you have never considered what you might do in a situation like, this there is an above-average chance that you won’t do anything; you’ll just stand there and get victimized.
As with any other crisis situation. having some idea of how you will react based on the circumstances and a basic set of procedures that you will apply every time, so long as you have the time, is essential to surviving.
A violent attack is no different than any other disaster in this regard. In today’s article I will give you some food for thought on surviving a violent attack no matter where it happens and no matter why.
Pretty much everywhere on the internet and all over the place in print you will find informative articles, detailed how-to guides and expert advice on exactly what moves you should make and what counters you should employ when some scumbag attacks you.
Some of this guidance and many of these techniques are furnished by genuine experts in their respective fields and you can learn a lot from them. Some of them, on the other hand, are most decidedly not.
Regardless of whether or not the person giving you the advice is a genuine practitioner worth listening to or a poser mall ninja who never even won a slap fight with their sibling is sort of missing the point.
There are comparatively few people in the self-defense sector offering advice on what you should do immediately prior to an attack when you know an attack is imminent.
There’s a fair bit of advice out there on spotting pre-attack indicators and then dealing with the persecution of an attack or defending against it, but not a lot of good wisdom on that little bit of time you might have in-between the two.
If you are fortunate enough to have that time you must not squander it, since time to think clearly, even if it is only for a few seconds, is a precious resource in a violent confrontation.
You must not waste that time with racing, panicking thoughts or being swallowed up by a mental void awaiting your fate, whatever it might be. There is work to be done, and if you train in a couple of good procedures you might have an easier time of it.
The procedures I’m going to share with you are not specific punches, kicks, weapon disarms, chokeholds or even flying back-breakers.
Instead, you can think of it like a pre-fight checklist that you should run through as quickly as you can in order to make a good, informed decision about your first move in the fight, even if that move is to get out of dodge.
It might sound a little odd to you if you are uninitiated; what do you need to practice this stuff for if it is not a physical technique?
Trust me, you will only ever be able to rely on your conditioning in a fight, and that includes your mental conditioning. If you have not trained accordingly to control and focus your decision-making process, that process will break down.
Reaction time as always is a factor in any conflict. The options available to you and how much time you’ll have to parse them out when you are physically attacked is largely dependent on how much time you have to react.
If your reaction time is nil or nearly so, you will be reacting in the purest sense of the word; you know the attack is on only after you have actually been struck and potentially wounded. That is a bad way to start off.
But if you have your head on a swivel, and can see the attack coming, even if it only buys you a handful of seconds, that is a fair amount of time to gather the information that you need to gather and then make a decision to help tilt the odds in your favor and better ensure a positive outcome.
I can hear some of you asking, “But Charles, what the hell can I get done in three or four seconds? I am about to get jumped here!” That is a fair question.
For your edification, three or four seconds is more than enough time for a skilled shooter to draw his pistol and shoot someone a handful of times in the chest.
It is plenty of time for a savvy practitioner of the blade to get their knife in gear or load it into their hand discretely. It is plenty of time for you to look around, find the best possible exit, and then hit the afterburners to get out of the situation.
It is plenty of time to ascertain whether or not the bad guy or bad guys have an unseen wingman hanging off a little bit or closing in from another direction.
When you know what to do and are thinking quickly you can get a lot more work done than you might assume. Depending on the nature of your intervention and opening move, you might yet still avoid the fight entirely or end it before it properly begins.
7 Things You Can Do When You Are About to Be Attacked
As you read over the following 7 things on this list, understand your priorities and the limitations of the hand you are being dealt prior to the attack. You may not have time to rifle through this entire list.
You may only have time to quickly ascertain the status of one or two of them. Certainly if you have the time you should confirm and work through as many as you can. They all add up, increasing the chances that you can successfully navigate the event.
Also keep in mind that these are not in a particular order. Depending on how the fight is shaping up, how well you sustain stress and how quickly you think you might have to just take what you can get and then get on with it.
All you have time to do is give your attackers hands or quick check before committing to ascertain whether or not they have a weapon, for instance, you just have to take it and go.
1. Get Your Breathing Under Control
When you perceive a threat bad enough to trigger your body’s fight or flight response, your stress levels are going to skyrocket. This will trigger all kinds of physiological phenomena, including the loss of visual acuity, auditory exclusion and a host of others.
One of the most important and the most impactful on your performance will be disruption of your normal respiratory rate. Some people hyperventilate under life-threatening stress.
Other people experience a sort of “freeze” response where they hold their breath or breathe very slowly. Neither is conducive to good performance mentally or physically.
If you were fortunate enough to catch the attack before it starts while your attackers are still closing to make contact, it is time to gas up and start breathing properly while you can. You may not have much choice in the matter during a scuffle or a proper fight.
Box breathing is one well-known technique that reduces stress, increases blood oxygenation and sharpens mental performance, but one cycle takes at least 16 seconds with each phase of the breathing procedure a four second interval itself.
If all you have time for though is one good, steady breath that might be enough of a biofeedback mechanism to prime you to fight for your life or escape.
If you have the time to spare to take one deep breath in, hold it for a solid beat, and then release it slowly and consistently that is better than nothing.
It is possible through training and repetitive practice to learn proper fight breathing, whether using a weapon or going hand-to-hand, if you are a serious student of self-defense this is well worth the undertaking.
Professionals of all stripes spend a lot of time learning how to breathe properly even under stress to maximize physical and mental performance. They need every edge they can get in order to survive a lethal encounter; so will you.
2. Find an Exit
A friend and mentor of mine (who has an awful lot of experience working in the world’s most hostile environments domestically and abroad) has a saying that I have found quite helpful for shaping my own procedures and attitudes.
He says that every fight is a failure. Really think that through. What do you think that means?
My mentor does not mean to say that you will lose every single fight you get in, only that, as a civilian and many times as an armed professional, getting into a fight is the surest indicator that there were several, successive failures in your planning, your sphere of awareness and your avoidance protocols.
In essence, since you are stuck in the fight, you have pretty well screwed up everything prior to that point.
While a fight might be truly unavoidable through no failure of your own and part of the job for certain professionals, it is absolutely the last thing you want to get into in any capacity as a civilian.
If there is any way for you to avoid or escape a fight without serious risk to yourself you should. The surest way to secure a positive outcome is to duck a fight entirely.
This is when things get a little complicated. In any conflict, unarmed or not, things typically only get really, really bad for one involved party once they break and try to run.
Attempting to disengage is always fraught with peril, and there is a better-than-average chance your opponent will chase you and can certainly catch you, taking you from behind.
That is a bad day. If you’re already stuck in the fight, you have to earn your opportunity to escape by immobilizing or incapacitating the bad guy.
But what if we didn’t have to get that far into it? In the theoretical scenario we have been discussing within the confines of this article, you have a couple of seconds to react because you were good, smart or just lucky and have seen the attack coming before it begins.
Now is your chance to look around quickly, determine where the best exit is and make for it at best speed in such a way that will prevent or slow pursuit if the baddies choose to pursue.
Much of the time a professional bad guy who is looking to rob you will break off the attack if he cannot initiate at the time of his choosing and in the place of his choosing. In the military this is known as getting off the X, which is the predetermined spot where you will be attacked.
Depending on your environment this could be a sprint to the other side of the road and into a building, out an emergency exit if you are already inside a building, or jumping the curb and driving around the corner if you are in your vehicle.
Your exit might not be entirely conventional, and it might only be an avenue that can put you within reach of possible assistance, witnesses or other elements which are inimical to the bad guys’ objectives.
There might not always be a way out of the situation, but often times there is. If you are quick enough and good enough to recognize it and then act it is rarely too late to avoid the fight.
3. Assess Your Surroundings
Knowing what kind of environment you are fighting in is paramount, and picking where you will fight or what your position will be in the environment if you are able is priceless.
Terrain has a disproportionate impact on the persecution of any fight, armed or not, and you need to look around and assess the environment quickly but accurately with what time you have prior to the beginning of an attack.
If you suspect you are going to be fighting unarmed or with a close range contact weapon like a knife, start looking for anything on the ground that could possibly trip you up or cause you to slip or stumble.
Fights will most often times go to the ground whether you want them to or not, but going down at an inopportune time will only make things worse.
Look for any obstructions that can potentially protect one of your flanks or keep someone from sneaking up on you. Having a sturdy wall or other barricade behind you can also give you something to push off of with power.
If you are carrying a firearm in preparing to use it the stakes get even higher. You need to assess what obstructions around you are the safest possible to place fire into, understanding which walls and other barriers will stop the rounds you are carrying in case you miss.
Also be on the lookout for anyone who could potentially be beyond your attacker and in your line of fire. I must remind you that you are singularly responsible for every, single round you fire even in the gravest extreme. Wherever your rounds land, wherever they get a home, it is on you.
Making this determination may mean that the ideal position to fight from technically could be too much of a liability as far as misses and stray rounds are concerned.
If all you can do is maneuver a handful of steps based on your assessment for better footing or for a safer shot we can count this as a small boon going into the fight.
On a similar note if you suspect or fear guns are liable to come out in the bad guys hands you might want to look for a cover point to initiate the fight from. A short dash into cover combined with your draw may give you advantage enough that sees the bad guys break off entirely.
4. Assess the Bad Guys
Assuming you are unable to make tracks for an exit and escape route to avoid the fight entirely, you need to spare some of this attention for your attackers themselves.
Size them up to see what you’re dealing with, how many of them there are and what they are carrying or what their posture suggests they are carrying. Watch their hands and watch them close; the eyes maybe the window to the soul but it is their hands that will kill you.
Any hand that is hidden from view is an immediate warning sign that a weapon is about to come into play. Crammed into a pocket, fiddling with the hem of a shirt, digging in a waistband or held behind their hip or back are all immediate tells the weapon is already in their hand or will be momentarily.
Also pay attention to any luggage they might be carrying, and I mean any kind of container or bag, even a grocery bag or a sack of fast food; one increasingly common and deviously effective concealment method for seasoned scumbags is to have a weapon concealed inside a thin bag and actually be gripping the weapon through or inside the bag, ready to use.
You had better believe something like a revolver and even potentially a semi-auto can shoot through a thin bag with little chance of fouling for follow-up shots.
Also, a knife that is clutched inside a paper bag will obviously go straight through that flimsy container, and right into your soft belly or kidneys.
Even if your assailants are stalking towards you with fists clenched and no obvious movements being made to access weapons you must always, always assume that they have weapons on them somewhere, and can bring them to bear quickly!
To assume otherwise is foolish, and will put you at risk. Now, and I choose my words carefully here, if they obviously do not have weapons on them or in their hands, this can certainly affect your initial response.
You definitely cannot go into a fight “too light” as far as your response, but you also legally can only use the minimum, adequate level of force to stop or catalyze the attack.
If you meet an attack that does not meet the strict definition of lethal force against you with lethal force of your own, you might have a serious problem later on down the line in court.
I’ve said it once, I will say it again: you must be able to precisely articulate why you used the level of force that you did under the circumstances, and no detail is too trivial.
Remember that the decision you make in that one-half second, a judge and jury will be afforded every opportunity to dissect at their leisure later on in the courtroom.
The only people who say it is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6 have never been judged by 12.
That being said, if you can articulate a clear and great disparity of force even with the seeming lack of weapons in the hands of the bad guys, you might be justified in going straight to lethal force yourself.
Being the recipient of a vicious three-on-one beating and the subsequent guest of honor at a boot party with your head on the pavement is absolutely going to kill you or cause you great bodily harm, and that is the gold standard required legally for a citizen to lawfully, rightfully employ lethal counterforce.
5. Watch for Lurkers
When doing your assessment of the environment around you and the bad guy or bad guys you know are closing in on you, don’t get sucked in to only assessing the obvious.
Keep your head on a swivel and look around closely for another person or persons who might be working in tandem with them. This will be their wingman that will take you from the flank or from behind while you are distracted, or busy dealing with the obvious baddies.
Keep in mind that the third man might not be closing in on you. He could be standing by near the ambush point, near a vehicle or just serving as a lookout or ready reinforcements in case you start getting the better of his co-workers.
He will likely be the least obvious of the attackers, and that means you’ll need to look for more subtle tells for pre-attack indicators.
A person that is way too interested in the proceedings, watching you or the people that are closing in on you intently or for someone who is obviously fidgeting, and has no cover for action or location at that moment.
If you are dealing with very coordinated crooks, it might be a person demonstrating any of the above indicators while also being glued to a phone, actually talking the team onto their target, as it were.
This is a tactic that is almost as old as time, and used to set up all kinds of devious ambushes, envelopments and other traps that will see you screwed over and badly.
It is always the threat you don’t see coming that inflicts the most damage and is the hardest to recover from. You can never assume that the threats you can see are the only ones there are.
So long as you have seen the attack coming it might not be too late to avert it. Most bad guys are classic predators, and predators want a “meal” that is not going to get them so badly hurt that they cannot hunt anymore.
If their timing of the attack, their chosen location for the attack to occur or their assessment of the prey, read that as you, turn out to be wrong or blown they might decide to abort.
Attacks have been preemptively spoiled by intended victims who have confronted their attackers before they are ready to kick off the attack. Simply making stern eye contact and a shake of the head, a sort of “I know what you are up to” gesture could do it.
A loud vocalization telling them to back off, leave you alone or something else that is generally innocuous and what a “victim” would say in those circumstances is also entirely appropriate. If you are completely wrong, all you stand is some embarrassment, and making a minor scene.
If you’re going to attempt this, you must be prepared that your confrontation, even a soft one, could accelerate the attack. It might also fail to work, and your smooth operator scumbags could keep closing in just as easy as can be. Have a Plan B if confrontation fails to elicit the desired response.
The old saw that says the good guys must wait for the bad guys to actually attack before taking action is completely bogus, and bad advice at every level.
We’re getting in some fairly stringent legal territory here if we are talking about self defense in a civilian context where the rule of law is still in force.
But, generally, all that is required for you to use force in defense of yourself is it you must be reasonably sure but you are under imminent, legitimate risk of bodily harm, and under imminent, legitimate risk of great bodily harm or death for you to use lethal force in defense.
Put another way, you don’t have to wait for the bad guy to shoot you, or even shoot near you before you shoot him. When you see he has the gun on him or in his hand and he is threatening to shoot you, you have a legitimate case for pre-empting his action and shooting him in defense.
You don’t have to wait for the mean guy to actually punch you in the head before you take action in defense; when he cocks back his fist and grabs a big handful of your shirt collar with the other hand you officially have cause to defend yourself.
Keeping this in mind if you are certain that you’re about to be attacked, and I mean as sure as you can be, there is no reason why you should not preempt the attack with your own counterforce. If the bad guys are unarmed, this could mean pepper spray or another less lethal weapon.
If they are obviously armed or you seriously suspect that they are armed you might deploy your own weapon in defense immediately, and if you are utilizing a firearm it probably warrants putting them at gunpoint. The bad guys getting beaten to the drop may very well catalyze the attack, and prevent any bloodshed coming or going.
Again, you can never, must never depend on this stopping the fight before it starts. You might just kick off the fight then, and there and you’ll need to be prepared to follow through accordingly.
If you bust up the bad guys’ plans and they quit the field or it buys you an opportunity to escape, that is terrific and the best outcome you could hope for under the circumstances, but don’t think just because you got one step ahead of them temporarily that they no longer get a vote in the proceedings.
If you are fortunate enough to have even a few seconds between the detection of an imminent attack and the beginning of the attack itself you must not squander it.
Using only a few seconds worth of time wisely can give you several advantages going into the fight that you cannot get away from, or even earn you an opportunity to halt or escape from the attack entirely.
Knowing what factors are most important during this limited window of opportunity and knowing what to look for to improve your chances of a positive outcome is a vital skill to develop.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.