10 Mistakes You Cannot Make When Confronted With Violence
By Jeremy Pollack
As a self-defense instructor, I sincerely hope you never have to face true violence. And the good news is that most of us won’t. But in those rare circumstances when violence does find the few of us, we cannot make the mistakes that can lead to serious injury or major legal repercussions.
Now, I emphasize that most potentially aggressive situations can be verbally de-escalated. That’s because most would-be attackers are just like you—normal citizens who suddenly become very defensive and triggered. In reality, they do not want to attack, but they feel scared or disrespected, and so they become aggressive. Common sense non-violent communication skills can often do the trick to calm these types of scenarios.
This article, however, is not about those circumstances; rather, the following suggestions are meant to apply in situations where an attack is intended, premeditated, and carried out. In other words, when the highest stakes are on the line and mistakes cannot afford to be made, if at all possible.
Here are 10 Mistakes you cannot afford to make during a violent confrontation:
- Believing it can’t happen to you.
Many, if not most, victims of assault are actually victims of naivety. The fortunate fact of the matter is that aggressive crimes are statistically rare, so when you watch crime stories on the news or read about crimes in your newsfeed, it seems like a very distant reality. However, most of the victims whom you watch or read about, I would bet, are just like you. They didn’t think it could happen to them. They never adequately prepared to be victimized. While I certainly don’t suggest engendering a mindset of paranoia or staying in isolation, I wholeheartedly insist to my students that they realize crime CAN happen to anyone. This is the reason to stay prepared by training in self-defense, for example. If you maintain the realistic mindset that it could actually happen to you, I believe this is the first step in self-defense and protective preparation.
- Underestimating the attacker.
Most men think they are better than average at fighting. Statistically, of course, this is an impossibility because by definition most men are average. That being said, never make the mistake of underestimating an attacker’s ability to fight. Likewise, never underestimate a criminal’s will to aggressively assault you. If someone is willing to start an attack, willing to be violent, do not make the mistake of underestimating their capacity for carrying out the most heinous of crimes. In other words: if someone attacks you, assume the worst.
This does not mean assume the worst with regard to humanity in general, but only in the instance of a violent attack. Additionally, on this point, never underestimate a criminal’s willingness to lie and con to get what they want. What they most want, if the attack is premeditated, is to carry out their crime without interruption, which means in as much isolation as possible. So don’t go anywhere alone with a potential assailant. Never trust what they tell you to be true, even if they swear they are “usually a nice guy“ or that they “promise to let you go as soon as they feel safe.” These are all lies. Never underestimate your attacker’s cunning or willingness to be ultra-violent.
- Assuming they are alone.
While some predators hunt alone, others prefer to hunt in packs. Some criminals operate in teams, anywhere from two to as many as six individuals. Sometimes, a violent individual may start an attack without having pre-intended to do so, but has friends in the near vicinity who will quickly come to his aid. So, never assume that an attacker is alone.
If you are able to defend yourself and subdue your attacker, continue to scan your environment until you escape to safety or police arrive. Scanning is what some security operators call “checking your world.” Check your world, the visual landscape, in all directions around you for further potential assailants or dangers until you are safe. Do not simply assume the attacker is alone, only to get surprised by another assault from behind.
- Assuming they don’t have a weapon.
Never assume an attacker does not have a weapon. The first thing you want to be looking for when a potential attacker confronts you is their hands because hands are where the weapons are, and weapons clearly result in the most devastating attacks. Watch for the individual reaching into his pockets or into a backpack. If you are forced to defend yourself, immediately get a hold of the attacker’s hands to control them as quickly as possible.
You’ll notice that the first thing police officers do when detaining a suspect is to pat them down and check for weapons. This is the most important first step in achieving safety. In a violent situation, always expect the worst, and this includes an attacker’s willingness to use weapons.
- Submitting or attempting to gain sympathy.
Human beings are just intelligent animals. And like all predatory animals, human predators look for the weakest prey. So, unfortunately, pleading with an attacker, becoming submissive, or attempting to gain the attacker's sympathy will often only further incite his aggression. This, of course, depends on the situation and can be attempted if done strategically with the secret will to become physically aggressive in the chance that submission does not work.
That being said, submission should never come as a result of quitting. If you determine that gaining sympathy is not a sound strategy in a particular situation, then instead show them you will not be at an easy target, that you will not be a victim, that you are ready to fight as long and as hard as necessary. Show the predator that you will not be an easy prey and it is in his best interest to move along.
- Giving up.
Building on the notion of not being easy prey, commit to yourself that if you are ever in a situation wherein you have to use physical self-defense, that you will not give up until you are safe. Do not make the mistake of mentally forfeiting, of losing the will to fight. Even if you feel you are losing, if you feel you are unmatched, you must continue to fight no matter what until you are safe.
Too many victims simply give up at some point and allow themselves to be taken advantage of because they just do not have the will to continue. You might be exhausted, frightened, angry, and you just want to give up. Don’t! You have more strength than you think. Giving up is simply a matter of motivation. So, at that moment when quitting seems like a possibility, instead think of the motivations you have to survive: your family, your friends, your life. Vividly recall the faces of all those who will mourn you if you disappear. Use those images as motivation to keep going, to push yourself further if you need to. Keep fighting. Outlast your opponent. Use every last bit of energy.
Do not stop fighting until you are safe or unconscious. Those are the only two ways this fight ends.
- Defending property.
In most cases, you will not be legally allowed to violently defend against property theft or destruction. Typically, an attack has to be an imminent threat to a person to warrant aggressive defense; and if lethal force is used to defend, you must believe and be able to articulate why you believed that serious bodily injury or death was at stake.
Even though a few states allow for legal violent defense against burglary or breaking-and-entering, it’s likely you could be sued by the thief or his estate. Plus, do you really want that on your conscience?
For the most part, don’t make the mistake of violently defending property. If an attacker is willing to hurt you and risk his own safety and freedom in order to attain a piece of property, give it to him and walk away to safety. No amount of money or valuables is worth your life, your health, or your freedom.
- Striking first without reason.
Striking first is legal in many places, such as states with “stand your ground” laws. But again, make sure you can clearly articulate why you believed an attack was imminent and why your actions were a reasonable response. Don’t make the mistake of aggressively defending yourself before a defense is actually necessary—before you are truly certain you have to strike first in order to protect yourself or an innocent other. Otherwise, you could end up in a mess of legal trouble and potentially financial trouble. Not to mention you risk getting hurt, which is not a smart decision if that risk was not absolutely necessary.
- Continuing an attack unnecessarily.
In an attack, emotions are high and adrenaline is pumping. Nevertheless, you have to maintain control or you can end up with serious legal problems. Once the fight is done and you are reasonably out of danger, you must stop the counter-attack. Never make the mistake of injuring someone because you were angry or emotional. Many people, of course, will understand how angry or frightened you were, but that will likely not hold much water in a court of law if you unreasonably counter-attack someone.
The law is the law, and you must only carry out the defense until you are reasonably safe. Otherwise, it is considered an offense, not a defense, punishable by law and most likely a lawsuit. And again, you don’t want a mistake you made in the heat of battle to stay on your conscience forever as a result of you going overboard when emotions were running high.
- Not reporting it to the police.
If you should defend yourself from an aggressive attack and then simply walk away without reporting it to authorities, your attacker might go to the police or be inadvertently arrested and then give his side of the story. In that case, you’ll have to defend your position and then answer why you did not report the incident, which may look bad in the case of a criminal or civil suit. Also, someone may capture the incident on a video and turn it over to the police, in which case, again, you want your story to be told first.
After any physical altercation, first consult with an attorney, then go to the police to file a report. But whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking an aggressive assault on the street or at home will just go on noticed. You are a law-abiding citizen, so abide by the law and file a report any time a crime is committed.
I sincerely hope you never have to face violence. But if you do, keep these points in mind because in a violent situation, one wrong mistake can cost your freedom, your finances, or your life.
Remember, physical and mental self-defense preparation is always a good idea. And I always advocate for the legal carry of non-lethal weapons by civilians. I especially encourage carry and use of Tasers whenever legal to do so (you might know them as shooting stun guns, but see the difference between stun guns and Tasers here). You might also check out both personal and home security products from our range of self-protection tools and products. No matter what you choose to defend yourself with, stay prepared, stay smart, and stay safe out there!
Jeremy Pollack has been teaching martial arts and self-defense for more than 20 years. He holds a Black Belt in Hapkido, Instructor rankings in Muay Thai and Krav Maga, and belts in several other martial systems. He is also a former member of the California State Military Reserve, Military Police Unit. You can read more about him at CoachJeremyPollack.com and PollackPeacebuilding.com.