Whenever an incident like the entirely justified shooting of Michael Brown by former Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson is forced into the public consciousness, predictable–and dangerous—assertions spring up. Such assertions are fueled and informed by ignorance, righteous imaginings of how things ought to be, novels, TV and movies. While they’re entertaining and dramatic, the actions suggested are virtually always practical, tactical disasters . . .
I speak of the dynamics of fights, assaults and deadly force encounters. Fictional depictions of these deadly serious interpersonal conflicts have, in a sense, poisoned public discourse. I say “in a sense,” because for the advocates of “social justice,” fact and logic have little or no meaning. For them, a proper, politically correct narrative, regardless of fact, is all that matters. The ability to agitate and avoid consequences, even more than many ends, justifies the means. But for those that live in a world where fact, logic and the laws of physics matter, a rational understanding of these dynamics is a matter of life and death.
The Invincible Hero: A staple of fiction, these are heroes so strong, skilled or otherwise capable they are able to overcome multiple attackers in mere seconds, dispatching them with single blows. Attacked by many villains, the hero is able, empty handed, to finish them all and emerge absolutely unscathed; the bad guys never lay a hand on him.
These heroes range from James Bond, who might overcome 2-3 bad guys, to Bruce Lee, who would routinely flatten many times that number. In many of Lee’s movies, a bit more realism was introduced in that he usually used weapons when fighting large numbers, and without question, he was unusually skilled in hand to hand combat. When he starred in The Green Hornet, he was so fast in fight scenes, he had to significantly slow down or viewers would see only a blur.
These superhuman abilities are also transferred to armed heroes. In Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano overcomes more than 10 attackers, all armed with swords and daggers. He manages to stay ahead of them by clever use of convenient urban terrain, and at one point, manages to disarm three at the same time.
Contrast this with my experience in teaching modern sport fencing. The basic weapon every fencer learns is the foil, a very lightweight version of the rapier, the kind of sword wielded by Cyrano, the Three Musketeers, and most other post-Medieval European or British heroes. Inevitably, students begin to imagine themselves capable of fending off and even defeating multiple attackers, until, that is, I arrange for them to take on a mere two. It takes only seconds for them to be “killed.”
This is so because while one attacks, the other is able to slip their blade past the guard of the defender, producing a deadly thrust. One might think that with real swords, a defender might triumph. After all, sport fencing has rules that prevent the use of hands, feet, or anything else at hand. In reality, the lack of rules in actual combat makes a quick death for anyone attacked by multiple assailants even more likely.
Distance and Timing Matter: In hand-to-hand fighting, a single defender attacked by several can survive only so long as he can keep all of his attackers at arm’s length–or greater distance–while still being able to leap in to deliver punishing, unreturned blows when desired. Such contests almost immediately degenerate not into a choreographed movie fight ballet, but into a very one-sided wrestling match on the ground where the defender is quickly overcome and killed.
It is indeed true that an extraordinarily skilled and experienced fighter or fencer might be able to overcome two or three opponents, particularly if they are less skilled and not absolutely dedicated to doing whatever is necessary to kill them, but such people are rare indeed, and few outside those exalted ranks practice empty-handed combat against multiple opponents.
For almost anyone not armed with an effective firearm and the knowledge and will to use it, being attacked by more than one assailant inevitably leads to very rapid injury or death.
One On One Combat Is Predictable: Why didn’t Darren Wilson simply take Michael Brown down hand-to-hand? Shouldn’t any police officer be able to do that? After all, Wilson and Brown were both the same height—6’4”—and Wilson was a trained police officer.
The truth most police officers don’t want the public to know is that very few of them are trained and experienced martial artists. They are taught a small number of striking and restraining techniques in their early days as officers, and if fortunate, they get a yearly refresher. Most do not get even that much training. Most police officers have never been in a desperate, no-holds-barred fight. They rely on situational awareness, smart tactics, the authority of their office, their persuasive abilities, and greater force of numbers to avoid fights, and when they can’t, to end fights quickly without serious injury to themselves or those they must arrest. In truth, a single blow to the head can all but incapacitate, and Wilson took several.
People often see multiple police officers wrestling with suspects and become angry, thinking they’re picking on the poor bad guy or using excessive force. While such is possible, normally, officers absolutely avoid single combat. They’re required to use the minimum force necessary to make arrests. Using multiple officers tends to prevent having to fight, and when it does not, allows competent officers to avoid using excessive force.
When forced to engage people one-on-one, police officers are often at a serious disadvantage, as Darren Wilson was. This is so because people willing to attack police officers tend to be violence prone and experienced. Many of them have experience in street brawling, or are so generally violent and uncivilized, they’re willing to get hurt, perhaps even killed, in order to harm or kill others. Anyone attacking a police officer must understand that they are potentially provoking a deadly force encounter. No police officer can allow them self to be overcome or rendered unconscious. They understand that if they are, they’re going to be killed.
In the real world, size, strength, aggression, experience, skill, good fortune, terrain and good tactics matter a very great deal. This is why not only carrying a handgun is important and potentially life-saving, but it is only one of several steps necessary to survival.
Situational Awareness: Anyone carrying a handgun must develop this skill. Think of it as a sort of sixth sense, an ability to “read” one’s surroundings and predict danger. In a way, it’s the ability to move outside oneself, watching, as though seeing an interactive movie. Another way to think of the concept is to continually ask oneself “what if?” What if that guy approaching and reaching into his coat comes out with a handgun? What if those two guys lounging on that bench suddenly decide to attack? Where do I go? How do I create distance? Is there any available cover? Which of the two is the most dangerous? What if I’m attacked when I’m pulling into my driveway?
Virtually anyone can develop some degree of situational awareness, but not everyone can excel. The greatest benefit of solid situational awareness is the ability to detect danger far enough in advance to avoid it. If it’s not possible to avoid it, situational awareness can often provide the time and distance necessary to enjoy a tactical advantage over an attacker or attackers.
Time and Distance: There is no question that a concealed handgun can allow even a slight woman to survive an attack by multiple criminals. However, handguns aren’t Star Trek phasers. They have no “stun” setting that works every time. There are more than a few cases on record of police officers shooting attackers multiple times–enormous numbers of hits–even inflicting mortal wounds, only to have those attackers seriously injure or kill police officers. The human body is at once amazingly fragile and incredibly resilient. Even someone shot in the heart, if close enough, may still kill the armed innocent they attacked. Distance is always supremely important.
Ideally, keeping cover and difficult-to-bypass obstacles between oneself and attackers is desirable. Displaying a handgun and the obvious skill and determination to use it can often end a confrontation immediately. If not, being able to maneuver to keep a safe distance between oneself and attackers is essential. If those attackers are armed with less than firearms, or are unarmed, they must be kept as far away as reasonably possible. If they can close to grappling distance, the advantage of a handgun may be quickly negated. If they’re demonstrating the willingness to take bullets to close that distance, the ability to maneuver and stay away from them is critical.
Even in my youth, at my physical peak, I wasn’t foolish enough to imagine I could take on multiple attackers hand to hand. In fact, I wasn’t anxious to take on single attackers, figuring that anyone willing to do that with a stranger was either an experienced brawler, incredibly stupid, and dangerous either way. Now, past middle age, I go nowhere unarmed, and I work very hard to ensure I meet with no surprises.
I also have no delusions that I am an action hero or starring in a movie. Let social justice hustlers disparage people that accept the responsibility for the protection of themselves and those they love. They live in a world they’re always trying to create, a world eternally under construction, that never quite exists. I live in reality.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.