Winning the Confrontation

“How do you win a confrontation?” It’s the classic question. The answer: “Don’t be there in the first place.” Indeed, the best way to win the confrontation is to avoid it entirely. That gun on your hip or in your purse isn’t the best tool to win any confrontation. The best tool is your own situational awareness.

Untrained people usually show poor situational awareness (SA). What’s worse, today we have all manner of electronic devices contributing to task fixation, further rendering us less attentive to our surroundings.

Gas stations, for instance, present all manner of attention-grabbing input to customers. Credit or debit? Rewards member? Car wash? Additive? Enter your zip code please. Select grade. Is it any wonder gas stations are one of the three locations the average person is most likely to become victimized?

To illustrate this, play a little game when you’re out and about. You can do it next time you’re at the mall, Walmart or any other public place. It’s the “Who would I victimize today?” game. Watch people around you and pretend you’re a criminal attacker. Pick out the most ideal candidates to victimize. Then ask yourself, “What physical attributes or characteristics are they exhibiting that make them an easy mark?”

At this point, do some introspection to see if you share any of these ideal victim traits. Ditto for any loved ones. If you – or they – exhibit these victim characteristics, it’s time for a heart-to-heart intervention in order to avoid membership in the “Future Crime Victims of America” club.

The four primary levels of Situational Awareness

Condition White is a state of obliviousness. It used to be the college coed jogging with her ear phones on after dark in a desolate area. Today, they call ear phones “earbuds.” We can see the smart phone task fixation plague everywhere we go, especially among younger people.

Condition Yellow means you’re aware. You know where you are, who’s around you and where the exits are. Your eyes are open for potential threats – including, but not limited to things and people who fall outside the baseline of normalcy for your environment.

Remember that “baseline of normalcy” concept. Burn it into your mind. It varies depending on your environment, but anyone or anything way outside that baseline bears further serious scrutiny. The quiet, angry-looking person in a crowd of otherwise happy, cheering people is a potential problem. As is a shouting lunatic in a public library. The same goes for the guy in a trench coat with a heavy backpack at the mall on a hot summer day.

Condition Orange: you’ve seen something that doesn’t look right or your spider senses warn you something is wrong. You scan for more information and maybe add distance or obstacles (or exit altogether). You’re formulating a plan in case things go sideways.

Trust your intuition here. Your subconscious processes information much faster than your conscious mind does. If it senses a threat to your well-being, it alerts you with that feeling of danger. Two things to remember about your intuition before you even consider dismissing that feeling:

1. Your intuition always has your best interests at heart.

2. It is seldom wrong.

If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Leave the area or take other action.

Finally, Condition Red is when things have gone sideways. You are (re-)acting: fight, flight or submit.

We should try to live in Condition Yellow, even to some degree at home. If you practice awareness regularly, after a few weeks, it becomes second nature.

Bad guy behaviors

One big bad-guy behavior anyone can spot, even from a long way away: loitering or moving without a sense of purpose. That might as well be a big sandwich board hanging from their shoulders that reads “predator”.

Then there’s the OODA Loop and its role.

People, both good and bad, process information in an OODA loop. We observe something, orient ourselves to what’s happening, decide on a course of action, and then act.

If you break out of a bad guy’s OODA loop in victim selection anywhere along the continuum before he acts, you’ve won that confrontation. He looks for the next target. You walk away unmolested.

Example: Did you exhibit good situational awareness and carry yourself with confidence so the bad guy looked right past you to the person wearing earbuds updating their social media status on their phone? You won.

Advanced situational awareness comes in handy in recognizing behaviors of bad guys who have moved past observe and orient in the loop and on to the Decide stage. They’ve identified you, decided on a plan to attack you and are moving to close the distance to “Act”.

Bad guys “leak” tell-tale signals and behaviors unconsciously as they go about their business. They can’t help it for the most part.

Here are some bad guy behaviors that should serve as huge waving red flags: they will follow you, bracket (or flank) you, and they may communicate with fellow bad guys, either verbally or non-verbally. Sudden appearance and concealed hands stand as two more tell-tale indicators of potential trouble. If these potential aggressors are dialed into you, it’s time to take action.

The primary aggressor(s) will close on you in a classic straight-line approach. Once at conversational distance, the suspect(s) may engage you verbally in an “interview” of sorts to test your submissiveness. They may also use a ruse to continue moving further into your personal space.

If they get to within six to nine feet of you, they can strike with a blade or club before you can react. They can tie up your ability to draw your sidearm if you’re foolish enough to attempt it without creating distance. If it’s a really bad day, the bad guy(s) may tie up your draw while poking you with their blade.

Respond to that “interview” with steadfast determination, a steel nerve and an assertive voice. Put on your big boy (or girl) panties and tell them to “GET BACK!”. Got a light? NO. GET BACK! Got the time? NO. GET BACK! Can you…I CAN’T HELP YOU! GET BACK!

While you’re telling them to “GET BACK”, watch their hands. Make sure they’re visible and empty.

If they’ve gotten in close, there are a host of behaviors almost universally exhibited immediately prior to an actual attack. Things like grooming, rehearsing, target glancing, loading, blading and so forth. Why is this important? If you see some of these behaviors, it’s time to strike pre-emptively.

Striking first

Serious fighters have an old expression they always deliver with a smile: no plan survives getting punched in the face.

Seriously, the first person to strike an effective blow in any confrontation puts themselves at a huge advantage to “win” the conflict. If you see signs of a physical attack, you don’t have to wait until Mongo the Massive pulls a blade. Make the transition from passive to aggressive and strike first as appropriate.

In short, the best way to avoid being victimized is to carry yourself with an air of confidence, with your head on a swivel while maintaining good situational awareness. Use common sense about what you do, who you do it with and where you do it. If you look like a hard target, bad guys will bypass you in favor of a softer, more inviting target. Should they manage to get close to you, take action to confront them, maintain your space and defend yourself.

In any event, stay aware of your surroundings and you’ll stay much safer out there – and win confrontations by avoiding them without even realizing it.

41 Responses to Self Defense Tip: Avoid Confrontations…But if You Can’t, Here’s How to Win One

  1. It goes against conventional thinking, but I’ve always made a practice of looking bad guys directly in the eye. I don’t let them win the intimidation game and it let’s them know at the same time that I’m aware of the threat. The worst thing you can do is to appear frightened or intimidated. Might as well wear a T-shirt with the word “Victim” on it.

    • You posted your comment while I was typing long winded one below; I totally agree with your comment. As I stated in my comment, showing fear is a losing game. I take it to an extreme level, but it has never failed me. Attack dogs do not bother me, neither have bears, bobcats & some other stuff. Imagine (used to ride bicycles everywhere) being suddenly confronted by 7 wild dogs in the middle of no where; actually stopped the bike & waited for them, looked all 7 in the eyes & said ‘what will it be?’ Sat down & let me ride away; try to outrun them & you’re dead. Once my ‘radar’ told me I was being stalked, (just last year) so I looked for it; a bobcat was sizing me up. Looked it in the eyes & with non verbal ‘communication’ told it we were fine; left the area & left me alone. I have well over 50 accounts where ‘eye contact’ totally rendered a hazardous situation neutral. Like you said, showing fear only paints a target on you.

      • I have heard more times than I can remember that you should never look a wild animal in the eye, as it will interpret it as aggression and will attack. I don’t get it. Passivity is a great way to be attacked. Human animals and wild animals are the same–meet aggression with aggression.

        • Not sure how I am wired, but I have looked at dogs on the attack from as far away as 50 yards & they instantly cease. This has absolutely freaked out people who I have been with when this happens. Did it on a group bike ride one evening when everyone was having a full blown panic attack I stopped the attacking dogs with just looking at them.

        • Soooo, “Unknown”…….you’re basically The Man Who Stares at Goats (and dogs, and bobcats, and lions, and tigers, and bears)? Oh my!

      • Well, it’s like this…
        Prey animals – say, a rabbit – will not look the dog in the eye; it will cower and remain still until it’s certain it’s been spotted and then try to run for it.
        A strong prey animal – a bison or bull moose – may look that dog straight in the eye and ask Fido “wanna make something of it?”
        A fellow predator – like my ferrets when meeting a strange dog – will not run but might look the dog over and decide “yeah, I think you look like you’d be fun to play with or possibly eat” and may lunge forward to introduce itself to the dog; resulting in a usually freaked-out dog.
        The moral here is: when dealing with dogs or feral humans, don’t act like the rabbit.

    • While I do agree w/ your approach and w/ the author’s here do know that it can backfire. There are times that people will attack because you are strong. Bruce Lee got attacked on the street often, and by random people, simply because he was Bruce Lee. There are times perps are looking for victims based on criteria other than potential resistance. While the numbers are probably in your favor, there is a small percentage of people who are not predators (but have attitude) and will meet your perceived aggression with aggression where it would not have existed before.

    • When I lived in LA in the 80’s, I developed the habit of looking at thugs directly, and then smiling like a crazy man.

      Criminals seem to not like the mentally disturbed any more than anyone else.

  2. Some experts say you need to go a step beyond situational awareness, because criminals know that you can’t keep it up for long. They will simply wait you out until you inevitably drop your guard. Going beyond situational awareness is tactically too complex to outline here, but google “The Myth of Situational Awareness” for more.

    • The ole adage “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you” would apply here. Your point that people cannot possibly be on 100% is true, but one doesn’t necessarily need to be. One just needs to be a little more aware than the drones walking about with their ear buds in while staring into their phones. Human predators, much like their animal cousins tend to pick the weakest of the herd.

    • Also, I think there is another important point to be made about Condition Yellow and situational awareness. Cooper talked about it in a video that is still on YouTube. While it’s true you can’t be 100% aware of everything all the time, Condition Yellow is also the complete acceptance of the fact that anything can happen, anytime, anywhere. The person in Condition White is not only unaware, he has to go through a chain of thought when something does happen that goes something like: “This isn’t really happening > Oh, hell, it IS happening > But certainly I won’t actually get hurt > Oh, hell I am getting hurt > what do I do?” A person in Condition Yellow may not be 100% aware all the time, but when something does enter his consciousness, he does not have to go through that thought process.

      Also, Condition Yellow people are more aware of what they need to be aware of, if that makes sense. So yeah, you may not notice the color of the lady’s dress that just walked past you, but you know to do a 360 scan before you get out of your car and before you get in it, and every couple of seconds if you are loading the car. You make it a habit because you know you are vulnerable and you accept that. That makes the BG’s job harder. BG’s are not perfect or they’d never get caught.

      We were taught about this when I was a Navy aviator. You strive for 100% awareness when you’re flying, but your mind will wander. But you know to scan everything every 30 seconds or so and you have planned reactions to anything that might happen. If I got a right-engine fire light, I did not start with, “This isn’t happening, etc.” I went immediately into Procedure 1, Procedure 2, etc. No hesitation. None.

      Self-defense has to be like that or it won’t work. People talk about styles and techniques. The truth is that is secondary. It’s the mindset that’s primary.

  3. Condition yellow is my normal, never below it even at home; armed everywhere I go & carry at home. If someone decides to kick in the door, you have no time to retrieve a gun from somewhere, have it on you. Walk briskly with your head up, scanning side to side & if walking a distance down a sidewalk without other people around, quickly turn & glance back while walking forward to check for ‘followers’. I IWB & Pocket carry both; the other day (at night), without seeing or hearing anything, I reached in my pocket & partially drew my LCP; within a few seconds 3 people came out of the dark, looked & nodded at them, and we all passed fine. It only looked like I my hand hooked on my pocket. People predators are like animal predators,; showing fear works in their favor, don’t do it. I have already crossed a street because of what I saw at a considerable distance I did not like; I was correct, but it was too much effort on their part, so off to an easier target Have a vehicle with auto lock doors (I lock myself as soon as I close the door) so that the doors are always locked–look at the people who are at a SS, etc, their door gets jerked open & they are pulled out (or worse, taken hostage). Also DO NOT open your doors until you scan ALL mirrors & surroundings & program your locks so that YOU open them. By actual experience this saved my wife & BOTH once; without warning I started the car & drove off. Look, watch, notice, scan, predict behavior, execute a plan & get the hell out if there is still time.

      • I hate auto locking doors too. I hate every automatic feature in a car. I want to be in control of the car. I don’t want it doing random crap on its own without me telling it to.

        • Don’t even get me started on the stupidshit design of locking on GM cars. I’m not sure why they even put keyholes in the doors and trunks of their piece of junk cars, because if you ever actually USE the key, the alarm goes off.

          Given that I rent their cars, never own them, and my personal vehicles all date back to the 90s, using the key is a hard habit to break for a week.

          When I decided I was sick of the alarm going off, I found out that if you lock the door with the key, from the outside, the alarm is not enabled. Mind you, using the electric switch inside the car, instead of the button on the fob, is not enough: you have to use the key to lock the door.

          Problem is all four doors unlock when you open one door.

          Window licking morons. This was years ago, but I’d still like to get the asswipe who came up with this design in a room with a rubber hose.

      • I’ve always thought that that was a particular stupid feature. Just because you’ve stopped and turned off the car does NOT mean you want to unlock all of the doors, and more often than not, you really don’t. And if you have a key device to unlock the door, it should ONLY unlock the driver’s door unless you push it more than once, because if it unlocks more than one, it gives a BG an opportunity to enter another door. My Toyota is like that, one beep driver’s door, two beeps the rest, one beep to lock all, but my Miata unlocks or locks both doors. No clue as to why.

        • Because the idiot engineers don’t think.

          And I say this as an engineer. These people are a disgrace to my profession.

        • Because market said it was a “feature” and some engineer didn’t grow a pair and tell marketing to pound sand.

          There’s more than a couple of engineers these days I tell to grow a pair, or go to their MD and get synthetic testosterone.

  4. Head on a swivel. Always scanning my surroundings. My wife thinks I’m nuts being armed taking the garbage out. So be it. And I’ve been in some of the worst Chicago neighborhoods and survived-unarmed. How much easier with a gun?

    • I’m out in the country; coyotes, bears, rabid foxes & coons, & the damn loose dogs–damn right I’m armed taking out the garbage, but I am everywhere. Ignore those damn ‘no weapons’ signs & don’t go anywhere where they search or scan you; I can live without whatever they have there.

  5. When I enter a small business establishment, say a “Quickie Stop” type gas and food mart, and don’t spot an employee or anyone else, I always go to “condition orange”. How am I to know whether the clerk has stepped into the back room or been killed or abducted, or whatever?

    • Happened to me just last week for me. No clerk for easily the first minute I’m inside. No sounds. No nothing except the humming reefers. My first instinct was to go condition orange.

      He magically appeared from the back (I wasn’t quite ready to go looking for him or trouble, either one). I’m glad he not only had a nametag on and acted like he knew how to get me a receipt after the pump wouldn’t print one for me. I didn’t relax until he handed me that receipt.

      Really, condition yellow isn’t that big of a deal after you’ve done it for a while. You don’t even think about it, frankly.

      John

  6. Three things I’ll add:

    First, watch your local police blotter for common crimes and get to know what people around you wear. Criminals, for all their faults, are shockingly knowledgeable about clothing, cars, jewelry and electronics. Yeah, Dead Bird jackets, clothing and accessories are awesome and look badass. They also signal street criminals that you’ve got money.

    Second, Be aware of people who are aware. There are two types of people who “have their head on a swivel” good guys looking for bad guys and bad guys looking for victims/good guys. Someone who displays unusual curiosity about their surroundings is outside the baseline and you should keep an eye on them. They might be an undercover cop, vet or just a CCW carrier but they could also be looking to rob someone. Keep an eye on them until you’re out of the area or know that they’re a good guy.

    Secondly, two things with the “strike first” idea:

    First, be careful with this idea. If you make a mistake you could end up facing serious charges. Even if the guy was going to rob you, you can’t just hit him first and say “Well, I thought he was going to rob me” because he’s going to deny that. Now it’s he said/he said and the only thing the cops know for sure is you attacked this guy and did so apparently without provocation. You better have a damn good reason for hitting someone.

    Secondly, the chances you’ll manage to react to an actual attack like this and strike first are slim to none. Unless you’re Bruce Lee you’re not that fast and they’re already moving before your reaction time even comes into play. Keep your hands or a hand up at all times when facing someone who’s aggressive. In a “bar fight” or “you talkin’ to my gal?” type situation at’s a semi-submissive posture that will sometimes defuse angry people. In the event that this person, angry bar patron or robbery boy, is going to attack you anyway you now have something between you and them. This greatly reduces the chances that their first strike is devastating and puts you in a fighting stance right from the jump. It allows you to block, grab, throw and throw strikes while preventing you from taking a fist/elbow/whatever right to the kisser in this guy’s opening salvo. Two hands are better than one for multiple reasons but as the article says, if you’re this close to someone your gat isn’t an option unless you can create some space. In fact, don’t reach for anything other than them unless you can get away. The collar on just about any garment can be used to choke someone out in seconds if you know how to do it and 99% of people won’t see that coming. Clothing also offers numerous options for control of another person, to throw them and/or to start breaking bits of them.

    • If appropriate for the season, a hammerless snub nose revolver can be fired from a jacket pocket for a contact shot; nothing to snag, jam or misfeed. Depending on weather, attire, location, etc rotate thru about 5 different Rugers for CCW, usually carry two firearms & two assisted knives; sometimes more.

      • If they’re close enough to grab you reaching for anything is a bad idea. Reaching for that gun/knife/whatever with your right hand seems like a good idea (If you’re a righty) until you catch their left on the button and are on your ass taking a knee or boot to the face, or worse are lights out from the strike or from hitting your head on the ground.

        • A hand already in a jacket pocket on a snub nose, element of surprise. You’re not reaching for anything.

    • Strych9’s right on in his comment on both counts. In the first half, talking pre-emptives, it all comes down to “Can You Articulate” the threat. Most of the time these mopes that mug people are veteran criminals. You give good articulation why you took a Ne’er-do-well off his feet or rang his bell with a power slap, then and ran off to call the police to report an attempted mugging, you’ll be fine in most places. Just make that call before someone else does.

      In the second half, he’s talking about what we call “The Fence” position in Krav Maga. This is getting into beyond this introductory piece.

      Yes, “The Fence” is wonderful. It looks submissive, but it’s actually aggressive. You can index your gun, block, strike, disarm, and a billion other things if your hands are up in a close-in confrontation. It looks like you’re surrendering, but action beats reaction and you can strike faster than they can react.

      The more tools you have in the toolbox, the better off you will be under a critical threat incident.

      • John,

        I agree that with a veteran criminal if you make an immediate phone call and they have a rap sheet you’ll probably be fine.

        Here’s what worries me about this. A lot of self defense classes teach things that will seriously hurt someone if you actually go 100%. This is a problem I recognized after years in karate. The stuff they teach you at the beginning is effective but what you don’t have at that point is the skill level to do anything other than destroy someone. There’s not fighting and then there’s seriously wrecking your opponent with little to no middle ground. Half-fisting someone in the throat as hard as you can is likely to kill them.

        The problem is that the average time people take martial arts is six months and that’s if they take martial arts at all. That’s not enough time to really understand what you’re doing and develop a lighter “touch”. We constantly stress with new people that when you learn certain things you may want to consider “pulling” them or modifying them in the gym so that you have an alternative to driving someones head into the ground at multiple times the force of gravity.

        There have been cases where someone did everything right but seriously harmed or killed their attacker. The fact that they “had training” became the issue. For some reason some people are convinced that if you step into the gym you are instantly a black belt. That means you should have been able to defend yourself without inflicting the kind of harm you did. When you use force you’re going to have to explain why you used force and why you used the level of force that you did. That’s difficult to do when the other guy thinks you’re a Jedi Master but really you’ve barely mastered the basics. That “training” becomes a legal millstone around your neck because you’re “trained” and dead/injured guy is not. You should have been able to simply disarm him or take him down without hurting him as badly as you did. Even if it’s not a criminal issue if you have any money you better be prepared for a lawsuit. It’s like the whole “Why didn’t you shoot him in the leg or shoot the gun out of his hand?” thing. A shocking number of our “peers”, the ones who will decide what happens to us post use of force, believe this nonsense.

  7. Join the USCCA. Insurance at 3 grade levels (I’m Gold Plus). Covers your self defense actions with any type of weapon, hands/feet included. Bail, liability coverage and a top 2A defense attorney. If just you join, covers anyone in your household at HOME. For spouse, etc. in public need additional policy. Does not matter if you walked past that ridiculous ‘no weapons’ sign either. Of course you can not be committing an actual crime. Check it out.

  8. I play a similar game at Walmart. I look to see who would make a good victim…..then I rob them. The ensuing sprint to my car is great cardio, I get to work on my kung fu with store loss prevention, and my situational awareness is in overdrive watching for the 80 year old door greeter with the “I’m old, angry, and don’t give shit” attitude who will most likely try shank me his Spyderco that he got from his mall ninja grandson. So far, I am 26-0. Hooray!

  9. Jesus, do any of you live in a city?

    You can’t just go barking NO! I CAN’T HELP YOU! BACK OFF!! to every junkie, hobo and watchless rando who approaches you on the street every day.

    That’s a good way to end up talking to someone in uniform yourself, frankly.

    How do I deal with the obvious hustlers, dealers and potential muggers? It may sound funny, but I shake them off, like a pitcher. If I see someone shady beelining for me, I look at them in the eyes and shake my head just enough that they can see it.

    It works well for me. I’m no tier one operator or grizzled cop, and I certainly don’t look as tough as I did before life got more comfortable than it used to be (no complaints), so letting someone know that I know why they are smiling at me like that and walking towards me saves us both a fair bit of time and bother.

    • I moved out of the city specifically to avoid dealing with random assholes on a regular basis because that got tiresome.

    • I think we live in the same city, Seattle, and pretty much every long term Seattleite will have mastered the “sorry, man” accompanied by the firm head shake and confidently striding on about your business. Nope, can’t help you, moving on….

      • Hey Carlos, I live in Renton. Did you see that Ferguson released his assault weapon/magazine ban bills this week? Please help fight this and contact your legislators.

  10. ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS watch for the “groom” where a attacker “grooms” themselves ie. brushes their hair with their hand, touches their face, adjust their pants or straightens their shirt etc. it’s their subconscious, them being nervous and looking to act “innocent” when in fact it’s the prelude to them striking. Also look for the shifting stance/posture, again they themselves a bit uneasy yet readying for attack.

    The worst thing here is thanks to the laws in most states a victim MUST wait for them to attack before they can act, we all know what’s coming but the legal system offers criminals certain protections and woe be onto someone White who dares defend themselves from a thug “of color” the news and snivel right’s agitators/race-hustlers will spin a narrative that makes a victim look like a psychopathic, racist killer.

  11. All the training, prep, Glocks and color codes in the world fall to crap when some pissed off dude comes after you with a 2 shot Derringer. So much for eye of the tiger.

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