Here’s Exactly What To Do When Someone Grabs You

We all like to imagine what we would do if we were grabbed by some thug on the street. Unfortunately, the reality is very different and all that planning and imagining goes out the window.

Being grabbed or attacked on the street is a nerve-wrecking experience, and these situations can easily spiral out of control and become very dangerous. This is especially true if you make a mistake.

So what’s the worst self-defense mistake you can make when someone grabs you?

The biggest mistake you can make when you’re grabbed by someone – apart from panicking – is not bringing your hands up.

Of course, an even more fundamental mistake that you can make in any self-defense situation is to get into that situation to begin with.

This happens mostly because you were either not paying attention and/or trying to avoid the situation or you thought you could handle it and tried to muscle through it with brute strength.

Mistakes can be Dangerous

Nobody’s perfect, I understand that and so do most people; we all make mistakes. This is especially true when it comes to self-defense situations and we’re under a lot of stress.

Sometimes, we make a mistake by accident because we’re not thinking clearly; this is completely normal, but it doesn’t change the fact that these mistakes can be very dangerous.

Apart from the obvious dangers to yourself, there is always a chance that others can get hurt trying to help you or get out of the way.

More Mistakes you can Make

This is an interesting topic because the answer changes depending on who you ask.

  • Training for self-defense incorrectly/inadequately.
  • Responding to a situation inappropriately (i.e. reacting aggressively to another aggressive person/behavior).
  • Believing you’re getting a fair fight from the bad guys.
  • Overestimating your skills and trying to play the hero.
  • Letting your ego get the better of you.

These are all valid answers, but the most mentioned things when it comes to mistakes and self-defense are awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation. Of these three, avoidance got the most attention.

The biggest mistake is not trying to avoid the situation. To put it bluntly: if you’re in a situation where you’ve been grabbed, it was probably because you weren’t paying attention and/or didn’t try to avoid it.

Too many people nowadays have their noses in their phones while walking around in public. They’re not paying attention to what’s going on around them and it leaves them very vulnerable. They also have little, if any de-escalation skills and don’t know how to deal with these types of situations.

Additionally, everyone likes to think they can handle these types of situations and consequently don’t bother trying to avoid them, preferring instead to just muscle through them.

Why Would an Attacker Grab You?

For those who engage in traditional martial arts and other rigid self-defense techniques, particularly those of a stand-up nature that emphasize striking or arms length exchange of blows, you might be wondering why an attacker would commit to grabbing you in the first place.

Simply stated, in the only context that matters your assailant will grab you to latch on to you. This allows them to do a couple of things:

  • It will facilitate their control of range and prevent you from escaping outright until you clear them off.
  • They might grab you to intimidate you.
  • To control one of your limbs or to immobilize you for an attack.
  • To physically move you.
  • Grabbing with the offhand greatly facilitates rapid and repeated strikes from contact weapons, knives in particular.

Broadly speaking when violence is imminent they are grabbing you to set up an attack either with their hand or with a weapon, to prevent you from going anywhere or to prevent you from defending yourself.

None of these outcomes are good.

A Common Misconception

When it comes to self-defense, there’s this idea that it’s a purely physical thing. This couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing. You have to be both willing and able to defend yourself from an attack.

This idea leads to people focusing more on their physical attributes; strength, speed, endurance, and so on, and neglecting their mental attributes (i.e. mindset, awareness, etc.)

Something to remember is that the end goal of any self-defense situation is to get home safely – ideally without a fight taking place.

The Most Important Self-Defense Tactics

Situational Awareness

There are many skills needed for self-defense situations but the biggest one is situational awareness. So many people are walking around with their noses buried in their phones or tablets almost completely ignorant of the world around them.

What does this do? It makes them easy prey for bad guys. They’re not watching their surroundings and even when they check, it’s not usually a serious ‘are there any bad guys around’ type of check.

De-escalation and Avoidance Skills

The other tool is de-escalation/avoidance skills. You need to be able to de-escalate a situation before it gets out of hand.

Unfortunately, de-escalation is sometimes ignored – to the detriment of all involved. Your ego is something that can get you into a lot of trouble in these situations; you must learn to back off and shove your ego out of the way.

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Ben Parker

Yes, I just quoted a comic book movie but it’s true. So many people (usually rookies or people in their first ever self-defense situation), make the mistake of fighting simply because they can.

Being able to fight doesn’t give you the right to beat the daylights out of somebody!

Reacting Properly to Contact

There’s another curious and cringeworthy behavior I see popping up in martial arts and self-defense circles on the regular, particularly those of the “bullshido” and tryhard poseur variety. 

Some schools and individuals go as far as to inculcate the idea that if someone, anyone, grabs you for any reason you should immediately react and put the hurt on them. To clarify, they espouse a gross reaction to the physical contact of another person outside of any other cues or pre attack indicators.

Maybe they just want to appear that tough. Maybe the notion that someone is literally walking around with a hair trigger response at the ready makes them look skilled, capable or competent. In any case, not only is it laughable but it is actively counterproductive if you are any place that can even charitably be called society.

Yes, if someone grabs you you’ll need to react to it. Depending on how they grab you- wrist grab, collar grab, throat, bear hug, etc.- and all of the other contextual signals and clues in the interaction, will determine your response. If you are grabbed by surprise or in an unexpected way, you might already be behind the reactionary power curve, but not necessarily.

With skill, practice and a more sophisticated understanding of violence the way that someone grabs you will do much to inform your immediate reaction.

Cues for Reacting to a Surprise Grab

So how should you react to a surprise grab? It depends on how you are grabbed! 

Consider that where on your body someone grabs you, how much strength they are using to grab you and the situation around you will all inform your response if you are practiced and prepared for the eventuality.

Consider the following examples:

When you are distracted with paying for your bill at a cash wrap, a stranger gently lays a hand on your forearm.

Walking through a busy concourse in a mall, airport or other croded public place while talking on the phone, someone behind you lays a hand on your shoulder.

Preparing to cross an intersection on foot in a busy metropolitan area, someone firmly grabs hold of your wrist and tugs you backward.

At a rowdy bar or other alcohol-soaked gathering you are suddenly wrapped up from behind in a classic bear hug. You are being held very tightly.

A loud argument and shouting match is escalating, and the person you are arguing with closes in, grabs the collar of your shirt and cocks back their other hand in a fist, rage in their eyes.

Notice a sort of trend in all of these examples? In the first two you are dealing with events that could be and probably are completely innocuous.

In everyday life, distracted or just momentarily zoned out and in condition white someone might be trying to get your attention by making contact with you.

Neither of these gestures are overtly hostile, and no one is trying to restrain you or truly latch on to you (although they could quickly from either position). 

In the third example it is a little more ambiguous, though it happens all the time when strangers, good Samaritans, prevent someone from stepping out into rapidly approaching traffic or other danger that they apparently missed.

But, someone that is grabbing you and trying to move you around warrants immediate focus and assessment, although you should not respond with violence instantly until you have ascertained their intent much of the time.

The last two examples are clear-cut instances of assault that warrant immediate defensive force if perpetrated by strangers (potentially lethal force if you are suddenly in a truly dangerous situation).

Both indicate imminent violence: a bear hug is a classic immobilization technique or the setup for a slam when executed by a large and powerful individual. Anyone who grabs you by the shirt collar or the neck is sure to follow up with a punch, palm strike or elbows to the head.

Sure, sure, in the case of the last two examples maybe it is just an old friend pranking you, but it probably isn’t. React accordingly.

What if you’re Grabbed by a Bad Guy?

Okay, so let’s say you’ve got the situational awareness and de-escalation skills down and, for whatever reason, they fail. The bad guy grabs you, now what? Well…now you have a serious problem.

Grabbing is heavily reliant on physicality – not really a surprise, is it? It’s going to be much easier dealing with a smaller, weaker person who grabs you than it would be if you were grabbed by a 400-pound bodybuilder. It also depends on how you are grabbed.

There are so many ways to grab someone that it’s not even funny. Everything from your wrist to your waist and beyond can be grabbed in some way, shape, or form.

One of the most common grabs that you’ll see is someone grabbing an opponent’s shirt. The important things to do in this situation are demonstrated nicely in the video below.

How to Defend against a Shirt Grab - Self Defense

You get your hands up to allow for an easier offense/defense. You isolate the hand(s) or wrist(s), and then you strike.

This brings us to the question: what is the biggest mistake you can make when you’re grabbed by a thug/attacker? The answer is simple: the biggest mistake you can make – apart from panicking – is not bringing your hands up.

Never Make the Mistake of Thinking You Won’t Get Tangled Up

I want to get one thing straight: don’t let yourself commit the fallacy of believing that you will never get grabbed, that you’ll never get tangled up with an attacker. 

Why might someone feel this way? Maybe is because they carry a gun or other ranged weapon. Maybe it is because they think they can just run away to increase distance or that they are too alert, two situationally aware, to allow anyone to get close enough to grab them at any time.

To anyone who is seasoned in the application of violence, all such lines of thinking are patently ridiculous. A gun, or any other weapon, does not in any way mean that an attacker will be unable or unwilling to grab you for any reason.

Running away at the first sign of trouble belies that you are fit enough and athletic enough to actually get away before you are grabbed. And, of course, believing you are too alert, too switched on, to be taken by surprise or jumped is hubris, and hubris will get your ass stomped.

The fact is that you will get grabbed if you get in enough encounters, and most encounters involve the attacker grabbing the intended victim.

Prevention is Always Better

At the end of the day, prevention is always the best choice, rather than face the actual situation.

If you see or suspect that a possible situation is developing, the best thing is to walk away – avoid the situation entirely, and escape if you can. You’re not Superman, don’t do anything that might injure yourself and/or others.

Self-defense situations aren’t a joke, and should never be treated like one. The world has always been a somewhat dangerous place and as technology advances it gives the bad guys more ways to get to their victims

Don’t make yourself vulnerable, keep an eye on your surroundings and off of your phone; your text messages can wait.

As always, I hope you guys enjoyed the article and found it informative. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you for the next one. Stay safe out there!

2 thoughts on “Here’s Exactly What To Do When Someone Grabs You”

  1. One must understand that studio sparring and ring competition are nice, but in no way meet the standards of fighting. Fighting is an entirely different venue. No rules, no referees, no forms, while being vicious, severely unpredictable, and potentially deadly … and it must be addressed as such.

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