Several weeks ago my younger brother was a victim of a strong-arm robbery. Two assailants attacked him from behind, immobilized him, ransacked his pockets and stole his wallet and phone. Afterwards, he couldn’t recall how he’d ended up on the ground. You could say that the attack’s success highlights a failure of situational awareness. And you’d be right. But it’s also important because the incident shows the need to “inoculate” yourself against stress. So that you can fight back when you find yourself at a supreme disadvantage, well behind the curve. It’s funny that  . . .

Millions of Americans practice for a defensive gun use (DGU) without considering the real stress of a real DGU. They shoot at targets at various distances at various speeds and draw their gun from concealment (where allowed). Some work on tactical and administrative reloads. Some even practice shooting while moving, or firing from behind cover or concealment. Some do so from a variety of positions. Some even practice herding their precious loved ones and retreating while shooting.

But they don’t train under anything near the amount of physical, mental or emotional stress my brother experienced in the blink of an eye. Especially the physical part. Simply, put falling to the ground can seriously mess you up. Getting struck on the side of the head HARD and then falling to the ground and then trying to acquire a target? Extremely difficult. But worth doing.

If you want to prepare yourself for real world attacks, you have to begin by accepting the idea that a violent assault can arrive completely out of the blue. That a gunfight is a fight with a gun, and it’s not going to be pretty. You may know what you want to do when pushed or knocked around (or stabbed or shot) but you didn’t choose the time, place or nature of the assault. It doesn’t proceed according to your script.

Next, work to create an ability to fight from a position of great weakness, pain and general instability; to increase your odds of doing something when everything goes to hell.

Martial arts can help. Not in terms of learning any particular self-defense technique. For knowing what’s it’s like to be hit. Dazed. Confused. Exhausted. Angry. Obviously, you want don’t want to get the s4it kicked out of you. But fight training will help you understand and recognize your limitations under physical attack, so you can work through them.

Force-on-force (FoF) training is a must. Obviously, FoF is more about mental and challenges than physical damage. But what RF’s AFS vets call “operational familiarity” gives you access to a history of responses to extreme violence. If you know how to escape, evade or retaliate (e.g. throwing an object at an attacker), playing with pain will be a lot simpler and easier.

When you’re at the range, stay out of your comfort zone. Do push-ups to the point of muscle exhaustion and then stand up and shoot. If you wear glasses, shoot without them. Don’t practice what you’re good at; concentrate on your weaknesses (e.g., shooting off-hand). To maintain safety, get someone you trust to play Drill Instructor; making sure you don’t go for speed and follow safety rules. Have them bark unanticipated commands at you.

And lastly, get fit. Fighting fit. Lose unnecessary weight. Gain strength. Increase aerobic and anaerobic capacity. Physical fitness is more important for your survival in a fight than tightening your groups on paper or drawing your gun a fraction of a second faster. Because no matter what you think you’ll need in a self-defense scenario, you will be dealing with tremendous adversity and unplanned circumstance. Get as ready as you can be, and vow to never give up.

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39 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Inoculate Yourself to Physical Stress

    • Two kinds of people: people who plan and people who are prepared. I try to be a prepper, because most plans go to pieces and this has been known for centuries.

      A big part of the issue is realizing that you’re being attacked and getting over the “WTF?”, that’s just time and opportunities wasted. Respond violently and inappropriately to attacks, it’s the best policy. Kick kneecaps, knee groins, punch larynxes, poke eyes, box ears and whatever you need to do to incapacitate the person attacking you and get momentum back on your side. And at the end, don’t forget the mobility kill, stomp an ankle a few times be sure that if they chase you they’ll at least be limping. They initiated the fight, there is no reason to hold back at that point.

      I emphasize fighting dirty and soft and vulnerable targets, particularly with my daughters. I would hope they would never need to use self-defense techniques but better they be armed with some knowledge than not.

      The point about physical fitness is very good. You can count on a pulse rate of 150-180 or more during fighting and when scared or otherwise fully adrenalized, which tends to do bad things to fine motor control and judgment. Increased aerobic and anaerobic tolerance is always helpful in that physiologic state.

  1. Much as we all practice to prevail in self defense situations,there will always be a chance that anyone can simply be surprised.Not many of us have a defensive plan for a normal looking stranger walking past you on the street to turn around behind your back and put two .380 bullets into the back of your head at handshake distance,but its a common enough occurance in some ghettos.While condition yellow is a good state to be in,one should never assume that they are invincible because they are a black belt with Gunsite Top Shot status carrying a Springfield TRP.

  2. Situational awareness is key. Eyes up, ears open will get you out of a lot of situations before they become one. As will staying the hell away from questionable areas to begin with.

    • The “questionable area” in question is broad daylight in the middle of an afternoon on a main street in front of a church and houses. I truly doubt it would have set off anyone’s Condition: Yellow scans by the nature of the area alone. It’s a pretty good stretch of street with no crime that I’ve noticed or any loiterers and it’s a route I used to walk to work and still walk to the same barbershop he was heading to that day.

      I questioned his Situation Awareness but after you get to the bottom of it, kissing concrete needs a page in the playbook just like the entire Appendix on Kicking Ass whether he slipped up or not. That’s my take on it.

  3. Extremely miserable for your brother.
    Not much he could do, though, and starting to shoot in that condition? No.
    Zero tolerance for letting people close with you in a bad area is my advice.
    Once mugged, twice cautious…He’s about to become a conservative.

    • I have warned him and warned him. Now, after the after action paranoia wears off he will be in legitimate Condition Yellow at all times. At least he lived to tell the tale.

  4. Good advice and information, but I’d be very weary about being at a range–or any environment with several people nearby–and firing while exhausted or next to someone in such a state.

    As for situational awareness, a short time ago I and some friends were walking through a downtown after having dinner and a couple of drinks. One of us turned to see a man who was approaching us stop at being seen, turn around and head back. I have no idea what this person’s intent was, but if my friend had not turned around, I may have a much different story.

  5. Great work, finanlly someone else makes the distinction between training to punch holes in paper and training under stressful conditions to replicate the stress response.

    • Thank you.

      Victims learn the difference. I have been mugged and now so has he. The differences are pretty stark and at least he can reconcile them and learn how to properly react.

  6. If you want to become familiar with knowing “what’s it’s like to be hit. Dazed. Confused. Exhausted. Angry.” I would recommend you take up boxing. In a year of sparring in Taekwondo my only injury was one mild black eye. Most martial arts training emphasizes safety, so punches and kicks are pulled and fights are stopped when there is an accident. Boxing, on the other hand, is as much about taking it as dishing it out. I have read that skilled martial artists sometimes lose to boxers just because they have never learned to take a punch. (of course, you need to ask yourself whether being prepared to defend yourself is worth the risk of self-inflicted brain damage.)

    If you want to prevail in a real brawl, I would also suggest you find a program that emphasizes ju-jitsu, because most fights end up on the ground after about 1.5 punches.

    • My brother is just short of Level 4 in Krav Maga. According to his instructors, ground fighting is very useful and has its place as long as you’re fighting one person. If he has buddies, getting the guy you’re tussling with into a good jiu-jitsu guard position makes you a wonderful target for getting kicked in the face by the BG’s buddy. They basically tell him, “If you get knocked down, get back up.” That and viciously counterattacking and then running away.

      I’m really big – 6’5″, 260#, 38in sleeve length. I was told by my first CHL instructor, “Nobody is going to mess with you. Not even drunk.” I hope he is correct. My only concern is the person who decides they need to attack the largest person they can see to prove a point, or a group of people with the same goal. Hasn’t happened yet. I’m polite and nonconfrontational, I don’t take chances, don’t hang out with shady people or in shady places, and so far my CHL instructor has been correct.

      That’s part of why I carry, I can probably get out of a situation with one person but if it’s a group I need friends. If none are available, I need a reload.

      • Krav Maga is certainly the premier martial art for pure self defense; unfortunately there isn’t a school on every corner like there is for Taekwondo. We had a ju-jitsu instructor come in once a week for self defense training, and he agreed with your brother. The techniques he taught were finishing your assailant without getting on the ground, and failing that, how to get up again while the bad guy stays down.

        My place of business offers self defense training through a mixed martial arts school, and they teach a five step attack response — 1) stab eyes or break eardrums, 2) knee to face, 3) push to ground 4) break achilles tendon, 5) run.

        Darren, I’m pretty close to your size and in 40 years since high school I haven’t been in a fight. However, I have been threatened twice, both times while I was in a car. I guess we all look the same size behind the wheel. And now in my old age I don’t have the confidence I once did.

        • On the plus side, you have a car, which unless you’re stuck in traffic is a wonderful way to end an argument by simply departing. The great thing about being old(er) and armed is that we don’t feel the need to proclaim our blood level of testosterone by threatening someone else.

          The other thing that cars have is seats, and the front seats often have back pockets. The back pocket of the passenger seat in my car has a Wilderness Tactical Safepacker in it, and the Safepacker has a Sig P229 in it, and the P229 has eleven Federal Premium Defense .40 S&W rounds in it, along with a spare mag.

          The one time I was verbally accosted by someone it was by some jackwagon who didn’t know how to make a left hand turn on a divided urban street, and thought that my proper turn from the left-hand side of the cutout was an attempt to cut him off. As we were walking into Home Depot he did make some crack about messing up my car the next time I did that. I responded, rather out of character for me, that he’d best be quiet before he embarrassed himself in front of his young son. I wasn’t carrying that day, but I did have about 8″ and 50# on him, and we both went about our business. He decided his honor was fulfilled with his comment, and didn’t pursue the matter.

          If I had it to do over again I would have just gone through the parking lot to the next store and avoided the situation altogether.

    • If you want to become familiar with knowing “what’s it’s like to be hit. Dazed. Confused. Exhausted. Angry.” I would recommend you take up boxing.

      Getting a divorce has the same effect.

    • I’ve gotten into a lot of scuffles, and that’s not always true.

      But I agree with the part about boxing. Its the quickest and easiest way to learn to defend yourself with out a weapon, and you are going to get hit. A LOT.

  7. If there is no pressure to your training you probably won’t be ready when you need to be. Even just role playing to lead into a scenario can add a significant amount of stress. Your heart starts racing when you can’t tell if the other participant is really trying to ‘pretend’ hurt you or not.

    Physicality makes a huge difference in your performance. Even try running forward to your firearm for even 20 feet and you will notice a huge difference in how effectively you can shoot. I would have to second trying to incorporate some physical training that gets your muscles ‘gassed’ prior to shooting. Make sure you do it in a safe environment, but you will be able to see how much that stuff really effects you.

  8. It’s a bit presumptuous of the article’s author to assume we are all basically flexible, mobile, and young. What was once true, is not for me anymore. Orthopedic injuries, and surgeries have ended my jogging and pushup days. I stay as fit and well as I can, but Getting tossed to the mat in a dojo ain’t happenin sonny.

    I make up for it by not going stupid places, hanging around stupid people, or doing stupid things, at late hours.

    In other words, I’m average, not a commando in waiting. Fore sure, the gun, while big medicine is not magic. But I’m not going to practice being beat up. I avoid such things these days. I have to accept that if some punk cold cocks me from behind, I’m in trouble. But he better make oh so sure a job of it.

    • I only said what I did to state that any fitness level can be a victim and that fitness can help. If you are unable to be more fit and flexible then you can only compensate other places in your defense tactic set. I presume we all can be caught off guard by a sudden physical attack and drilling for it could help. No other idea is insinuated and I’m aware what I said here won’t apply to everyone.

    • Thank you. You can’t really forget the things that help you enact any of the concepts we talk about here. Immobilized is a heck of a thing to overcome and it nullifies just about every tactical article you’ve read so confront the idea.

      I’m glad too. He’s now a bit more weathered and aware at the cost of a few hundred dollars and a lot of extra paperwork.

  9. Philly had two attacks recently. One was in the tourist area at 2:30 AM where 3 goons beat a college student to death for little reason and just the other day three teenagers drug a guy out of a cab at a red light and beat him and the driver.
    I think both cases were opportunities for a DGU despite the second guessing at the difference in race between the assailants and the assailed. Who doesn’t pause and question if it’s going to get them in a heap of shit to pull out a gun? It’s a shame the dead guy’s girlfriend didn’t pull a piece out and save her boyfriend’s life. Apparently he yelled at a cab and the 3 guys copped a “you said what to me” attitude and they got out of a parked car. At least that is their story.

  10. Excellent article. Because you are the good guy, everything you do will be a reaction. Even being situationally aware and turning around or whatever is a reaction.

    Fitness allows you to react faster. Knowing what your body can do allows you to react better.

  11. Good article, and some really pertinent comments.

    The photo is a perfect illustration of “Condition White” – totally oblivious to your evironment. I see people walking and talking on their cell phones (or even worse, walking and texting with both hands engaged), and I think “there goes an easy target.”

  12. Good points. I Do wonder, however, why situational awareness needs such reminding.

    Were none of you the green monkey in Jr High? (Also grade school n high school, now that I think of it. Thanks for the reminder.)

    I learned that you sit with yr back to the wall, or u get spit balls on yr glasses for the next hour, for example. I never got actually stuffed in a locker, though.

    And they say school is useless.

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