A good self defense program is based on an observation of reality.  It is based on a practical understanding of potential threats.  By understanding a threat, we can develop a relevant defense.

In developing your approach to self defense, there are many things to consider.  These considerations should affect your decision of what to train, how to train, and how to prioritize what you spend the majority of your training resources (time, energy, money) doing.

Initially, it helps to identify what or who you are fighting.  The following three assumptions about who that is will direct your other training choices.  They are significant because they will frame your entire outlook.  The assumptions are: The opponent is armed.  The opponent is trained.  There is more than one opponent.

The Opponent is Armed

The majority of violent crimes in the US are committed with a weapon.  The US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division reports the following for violent crimes in 2015:

In all violent crimes reported above, the criminals used weapons more often than not.

Of violent crimes committed in 2015, the highest percentage of attacks were aggravated assaults. Aggravated assaults account for 63.8 percent of the violent crimes in 2015.  Aggravated assaults are violent attacks that are intended to produce severe or aggravated bodily injury.  By nature, these attacks usually include the use of a weapon because there is greater likelihood that a weapon will cause serious injury.

Crimes that only include the threat of a weapon being used are included in this category.  However, this fact does not minimize the significance of the high percentage.  We can consider many aggravated assaults as just unsuccessful murders, and murders top the list when it comes to weapon use.  Nearly all murders in 2015 were committed with a weapon.  This is probably because weapons are just more effective at killing than unarmed methods of attack.

Because of the likelihood that a weapon will be involved in a violent crime, you should consider how this affects your training.

Different types of weapons each have unique characteristics and threats. If you train with weapons, you will understand the dynamics behind their use.  By training with various weapons, you will be more aware of the potential dangers and additional risks that are presented when weapons are involved.  For example: Blocking a punch can be a sound and effective technique, but attempting to block a knife attack can leave your arms exposed to secondary attacks or incidental injuries.  If you have exposure to training with impact weapons, edged weapons, and firearms, then you will be a much more realistic understanding of how to defend against them.

Techniques that work in an empty hands scenario may not work when there is a weapon involved. I have often heard the saying, "the weapon is the extension of the hand."  Sometimes this is interpreted to mean that your empty hands techniques are the same as your weapon techniques. Though, in theory, many of the techniques you learn to use against an unarmed opponent will also work against an armed opponent, often there are special properties of a weapon that make this untrue. For example: It may be advantageous to grapple with a single opponent in order to control him, but if that opponent has a knife, a different approach may be more likely to succeed.  This is because the situation is very different.  Different dangers are present when the weapon is introduced to the scenario.

Understanding this will help you mitigate the risks that you take when responding to any attack. In your training, narrow down the techniques that you use to a few primary responses that work in both situations that involve weapons and those with only empty hands.  You may not know if your attacker is armed, but if your primary techniques work in both armed and unarmed situations, then you will be covered.  You will not be taking a gamble, and you will not leave yourself exposed by using a technique that only works in one situation, but not the other.

Weapons can be deadly, even in the hands of the untrained.  Because the capacity for weapons to cause serious bodily damage or death is very high, formal training is not required to be effective with them.  A simple touch with a knife can produce a cut.  A single shot from a firearm can cause death.  Do not underestimate your opponent.

Recognizing how dangerous anyone can be will force you to demand more precision in your training.  You will strive to prevent anyone from touching you or even getting close because, you know it could be deadly.  You cannot afford even one mistake, so the techniques you train must have a margin for error.  A high margin for error gives you a better chance of applying your technique effectively.

Physical size, strength, and tempering can make a big difference in one’s ability to thwart an unarmed attack, but they are less significant in an armed attack.  A knife or bullet will easily penetrate the tissue of both the strong and the weak.  Your fitness and physical strength are important, but you must not rely on them as your primary advantage.  You need tactics and techniques that will give you an edge.  This includes learning to use positioning, leverage, stuns, distractions, and mobility to help you prevail.

If you assume your opponent is armed, then you will not be caught off-guard if he is.  Your training will be more widely applicable to a variety of situations because you have selected techniques that are more versitile.

The Opponent is Trained

The huge growth in popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championships and Mixed Martial Arts in the past two decades has made martial arts and martial arts training much more mainstream.  This shift in popularity has resulted in more trained people and more people who are familiar with techniques that can be used effectively for criminal attacks. A quick search on Youtube offers thousands of options for those who have no formal instruction.  It’s likely that more people are trained today than ever before, and that includes the bad guys too.

Criminal gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their training and are using military style training and tactics. In 2011, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Gang Intelligence Center determined that by 2009, members of 53 different gangs from over 100 different territories within the US joined the military to expand their operations and to bring the tactics they learned back to use in their criminal activities.  This includes gang members who were recruited by gangs and sent to join the military specifically with the intent of learning special weapon and combat skills.

Just the experience of a seasoned violent criminal can make him much harder to fight.  Criminals hone their tactics as they repeat their violent crimes again and again.  A mugger may know, and have actually experienced, the majority of possible responses you, as his victim, may try when he attempts to rob you.  Do not underestimate this advantage.  Imagine: Your assailant has mugged one hundred people, but you have never been mugged before.  His experience far outweighs yours in this situation.  When selecting you as a victim, he is also selecting the ideal circumstances that would give him a win.  He is waiting until the best time when you are most vulnerable.  Your training should include education on common criminal mugging tactics, so you can be better prepared to avoid and survive them.

Preparing for a trained opponent requires hard work and an earnest study of self defense.  If you assume that your potential attackers are trained, then you will push yourself to learn more.  To really prepare, you must understand and anticipate options that your attackers have.  You need to know how to limit those options and how to gain an advantage over your attacker.  You need to know your techniques well.  Know how they fail, and know how to stop them from being countered.  You need to know how to recover if your technique fails.  You cannot afford to leave yourself open by assuming your opponent is going to be unprepared for your defense.  Doing so would be a blunder. When you understand that your survival is actually a competition, then you will work harder to win.  The opponent is training to hurt you, you must be ready to stop him.  Every day you rest, he is training.

You likely will not perform at your best when under the stress of an attack.  Even in training, where there is usually no threat of death, we all have bad days.  In order to really be ready for a trained opponent, you need to master and review your skills.  Do this so that you can still be effective, even on a bad day.

Really, you should not only be ready for a trained opponent, but also for one who is bigger, stronger, faster, and more talented than you.  Focus on training techniques that will still work under mismatched conditions. Again this includes avoiding techniques that rely on your physical skills such as strength and speed alone.  Practice techniques that are magnified by leverage, position, and timing.  Use dynamic training to challenge your ability to apply your skills.  Do not assume your opponent is unfamiliar with what you may do.  Keep working hard to overcome the advantages such an opponent will have over you.

This assumption is really about being ready for someone who is better than you.  If you prepare for someone who is also trained, you will have a better understanding of what you need to do, and you will have the right training to back it up.

There is More than One Opponent

Attacks that involve multiple assailants are common.  Hate crimes, the knockout game, and similar variants are often perpetrated by multiple offenders and can result in death of the victim.  Flash mob thuggery and rioting youth often pick victims who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Common mugging tactics often involve more than one criminal. Typical methods include one person distracting or luring the victim, while an accomplice then approaches from a blind spot for the assault.

Terroristic and other deadly mass attacks with multiple participants are becoming more frequent within the US.  According to the Global Terrorism Database, collected by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, acts of terrorism, that are not state sponsored, have been increasing each year.  In 2015, there were 38 incidents labeled as terrorism in the United States.  These terrorist incidents resulted in 44 deaths and 52 injuries.  In 2014, there were 26 incidents. In 2013, there were 19 incidents, and in 2012, there were 17 incidents.  In just 3 years, the number of incidents more than doubled.  Though some of these attacks are committed by only one person, many terrorist attacks are committed by two or more attackers working together as a team.

Because attacks that involve more than one offender are common, you should train to address multiple attacker scenarios.

The threat of multiple opponents requires continuous situational awareness.  Assume that there are multiple opponents, and train your mind to continually look out for them.  Expecting multiple opponents will prevent you from leaving yourself open by giving 100% of your attention to just one attacker.  Train yourself to scan whenever possible.  Recognizing a threat early will allow you to be proactive.  If you are always looking for an additional attacker, then you are much more likely to see him before you are caught off-guard.

If you look for tactics that work in both single and multiple attacker scenarios, then you can narrow your selection of viable techniques.  This narrowing will allow you to focus your training on the most relevant techniques and, therefore, help you get the most out of your training.  For example: With multiple attackers, you must be prepared to disengage at any time.  Facing off with a single opponent for too long will leave you open to being overwhelmed as multiple opponents surround and close on you.  Instead, you must stay mobile and, whenever possible, avoid using techniques that commit you to a stationary position.  Hit and run tactics will be your first choice over grappling or ground fighting tactics that may tie you up.

Spend most of your time on the training that will create habits that help you in any situation. You still need a wide spread of self defense skills, including grappling, to be fully prepared.  However, by anticipating that any attack may include multiple opponents, you will then logically budget the majority of your training resources for those techniques that will serve you best.


There are many factors that should be considered in your self defense training.  The three assumptions above are important factors that will influence the mindset, direction, and content of your training.  If you start by preparing yourself for the worst case scenario, then you will be ready for anything else. Expect that your attacker is armed, trained, and supported by friends.

Many people believe that they will never be victimized by violence.  They either believe that they don’t deserve to be victimized, so they will not be, or they think they can just avoid it somehow.  Don’t be like those people. Don’t live in denial.  Even if you try to avoid violence, it can find you.  Accept that you could be the target of violence and do something about it. You cannot control what others do, but you have control of what you do.  Study, train, prepare yourself.

Don’t become complacent or put too much faith in your current state of training.  Keep improving your skills and understanding.  Find new sources for knowledge and perspective.  It’s a war, and if you do not continue to train and evolve, you will become obsolete.

If you are interested in learning more about self defense, consider joining the Tactical Arts Academy.  Training includes a learning variety of skills that work against trained, armed, and multiple attackers.  We can help you learn to protect yourself.

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