Dear Brendan,

Let’s dive into the topic of how to handle violent situations.  I’m a strong believer that violence is inherent to most people.  It is human nature to an extent and we see this everyday in the media, on the streets, during our commutes and day-to-day life. 

Violence can be as minor as a verbal altercation with someone in a crowed store to mass genocide.  The point I’m trying to drive home is that you have to recognize that violence is all around us, and you have to be prepared to handle violent situations accordingly.      

By handling them accordingly, I mean not having to deal with them in the first place.  Violence should be your last resort.  But when it’s time to stack bodies, go hard and fight to win.

BLUF:  Ever have a gut feeling?  Something telling you to do something a certain way? Those are your instincts. Listen to them. They will keep you alive. Humans, like all other mammals, are built for survival.  When a danger confronts us, our hypothalamus gland dumps chemicals into our blood streams, triggers our nerve endings, and increases our blood pressure, all designed for the split second decision whether you get out of dodge or go hard to take someone out. Listen to those gut feelings and your instincts. They are usually right, and will take care of you. 

Remember all the times we discussed Situational Awareness (SA) and training to develop your SA?  Well here is where SA and trusting your gut comes into play.  Let’s talk about how to recognize that you’re in a bad situation.  It will not always be obvious that you are even in a conflict until it’s too late.  However, if you keep good SA, learn to trust your gut instincts and understand what to look for, you will be far more prepared to deal effectively with whatever may come your way. 

First your primary weapon/tool is your brain, and trusting your gut.  You must be forever vigilant.  If your mind/focus is off in space and you fail to trust your gut, well my friend, you could quickly find yourself on the “X” and with big problems.  Trusting my gut has saved me from bad situations or from getting into a worse situation more than a couple times in my life.  The lesson learned here is to trust your gut instincts.  Your gut and that voice in the back of your head will tell you not to enter a doorway or engage in an argument with some clown in the parking lot or junkie on a street corner.  Ignoring your gut feeling or the voice in the back of your head is usually a recipe for disaster.  Let’s do our best to avoid a train wreck when we should be able to see it coming if we are thinking proactively and listening to our gut.     

Second in your toolbox is situational awareness (SA), which we have covered at length before.  I’ll simply add it’s paying attention to your environment and keeping your head on a swivel.  Example; if you’re out at a restaurant who is likely the biggest threat when you are sitting down and eating?  As you scan your environment and make quick assessments…  Where are the exits, where can you take cover, who is who in the zoo, is there anyone behind you, etc?  It’s great if you can put your back to a wall, but that is not always possible.  Try to have a clear view of the points of entry.  Do try to control your environment the best you can and position yourself for success should something go down.

Maintaining good SA helps you notice potential threats before it is too late to act.  Example; does this guy running off at the mouth have a group of friends/guys with him that are positioning themselves to escalate this verbal conflict to a violent situation?  I suggest you be thinking of three things.  Friends, weapons and options.  Where are your friends and where are your threat’s crew of guys?  What can you use for a weapon if need be and what is in the hands of your threat?  Lastly, what are your escape options?  Where’s the door?   

Now let’s take a look at body position and non-verbals.  Again we have covered this area before in previous discussions and training.  You know how to assess a threat.  You start to assess a threat by looking at body position and non-verbals.  Think of all the violent situations you have either been in or witnessed in your life.  I believe you will find that during most violent situations, the aggressor will take certain postures, positions, to include making a fist and their demeanor will change.  Most of us have seen this firsthand and these are telltale signs that a violent situation is about to develop.  It’s important to note that the absence of these signs can produce some of the worst violent situations.  All too often the criminal element or threat will approach with a smile, handshake or a non-threatening gesture right before drawing a knife to stab you or a gun to shoot or pistol whip you.        

The key is to recognize these signs before there’s a chance for violence.  Ultimately you want to be prepared not only to avoid such violent situations yourself, but also to ensure your loved ones and other innocent people aren’t drawn into a violent situation they could otherwise avoid.

Keeping on the topic of avoidance, please don’t think I mean putting your head in the sand or pretending not to see or hear evil around you. Ignoring evil doesn’t create some imaginary safe space.  I want you to think of avoidance as a tactic, not denial.  The sad fact is that odds are, we will each find ourselves in a violent situation at some point in our lives.  It’s how we handle these situations that matters.

Let’s continue on and discuss not only avoiding conflicts, but also defusing violent situations.  As an example, you are walking through the mall with your family when a gang member shoulders you as you walk past.  Ask yourself, what would you do?  Do you turn around, swear at him and make an aggressive move toward him?  If someone would have asked me that when I was a young Marine Infantry NCO or even later in my mid 20’s, I may have said and done far worse.    

This has a lot to do with the fact that I hate bullies.  I simply hate to see anyone be intimidated or pushed around.  I’m all for standing up for the little guy.  I’ve always been a big believer in fighting the good fight and defending those who cannot fight for themselves.  It is not a bumper sticker saying to me. It’s about honor and living life with a purpose.  It’s about doing right and righting wrongs where you can.  At a fundamental level it’s simply about good vs. evil and making a positive difference in the world we live in.    

As I grew up—from being an only child to becoming a Marine, marrying young and becoming a young father with all the real world experiences that entails– I’ve gained so much from my time with the Marine Corps Infantry and Intel Community, and it has helped to strengthen me as a person across the board. It’s hardened my resolve to stand firmly for all that I love and value in life.  An example could be in how I choose my friends and brothers very carefully and develop life-long bonds and trust that is hard to put into words. 

I suppose my point behind this tangent, as I’ve gotten a little off course here, is that I have a fire burning inside of me to fight the good fight and to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I like to believe that if we, ‘do good, good will be done to us’.  I like to believe that we should live with a purpose while also being humble.  We should let our words and actions speak for themselves. Never forget, too, that what you don’t say or don’t do can also speak volumes. That comes under being modest and discreet.

When I left the USMC Infantry and began working and training for various government agencies, my eyes were really opened.  I began to shift my approach and mindset to be more discreet in what I said and did.  I tried never to openly communicate what I was doing unless absolutely necessary. 

The goal was to stay relaxed, calm and appear harmless.  To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”  Speaking softly means simply that, not raising your voice, not appearing aggressive, etc.  The big stick Roosevelt refers to is your training, having the means to inflict damage only when necessary.  It doesn’t mean you wear that training and mindset on your sleeve or expose your capabilities at the wrong time.

It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not always just you in these situations.  The bottom line is that it really isn’t about you or me, it’s about others.  What I’m driving at is that we have to take into consideration that our actions affect the lives of our loved ones that may be with us when confronted with violence, or our friends who are not trained and equipped to defend themselves.  These good people depend on us to be the bigger, stronger person and will look to us for guidance.

Deescalating a situation doesn’t mean you are necessarily in a conflict yet, however it could quickly take a turn to a violent encounter.  For example let’s look at the situation where a gang member bumps into your shoulder at the mall.  Hey if your SA was out to lunch and you never saw him coming, a simple, I’m sorry about that, or I didn’t see you is all that you need to say.  Take the high ground.  Be the quiet professional and don’t let your ego get in the way.  Remember you have nothing to prove. 

Now if a situation does go south, the best thing you can do is to continue to defuse the situation.  If words aren’t bringing the other guy to a calmer state, and he’s straight up confrontational that you and he collided, taking a non-threatening stance is very important.  Again, stay relaxed and appear harmless. Happily, by the way, that’s also a stance from which you can defend/fight from as we have discussed and covered down on as part of our combative arts program.   

For example, if I was just walking by with my family and saw this situation with the gang member getting in your face and noticed he was making a fist, raising his shoulders and taking a fighting stance, I’d assume he was the aggressor.  Especially if I saw you holding your hands up in front of you, open-palmed, placating the situation or with your hands in a thinking man stance as you back away and to the side, getting outside his elbows.  These are all fighting stances and positioning yourself with a better angle to finish this if he does take a swing at you. 

Simply put going on the offensive may not always be the best course of action. There are times when compliance or the appearance of compliance is your best option.  I’m going to use a quote from Sun Tzu to try and put this into context. 

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence when able to attack, we must seem unable, when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away we must make the enemy believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy.  Feign disorder and crush him.” –Sun Tzu

By displaying compliance, you are using deception to gain a tactical advantage. 

Now it’s time to cover lethal force.  Everything goes out the window when you are confronted with lethal force such as a gun or a knife.  I believe you have no real choice on whether or not to defend yourself and your loved ones.  For even if you comply with your aggressor’s/threat’s demands you could still wind up dead.  Of course there are variables and you should trust your gut and make that decision based on the situation at hand. 

Are there situations where complying could allow you to walk away and fight another day?  Absolutely, however do you want to take that risk?  Only you can answer that question.  If the mugger or assailant is demanding your wallet with a gun pointed at your chest or head he doesn’t have much to lose, so what makes you think that he won’t just kill you after he gets what he wants?  It unfortunately happens all the time here in the U.S. and overseas. 

In past pieces and training we discussed the giveaway wallet and to have a spare car key, cash, ID, etc. elsewhere on your person.  Please look back on the EDC pieces.  This is a good example of when complying could benefit you in such a situation.  History shows that a mugger is not likely to shoot you before he gets what he wants, and depending on the situation, giving him something could give you the advantage you need to decrease the distance to disarm him or go to your own weapon.  This of course is with proper training, which I hope I’ve made clear from past letters.   

As for decreasing distance, let me take this opportunity to mention what is often referred to as the “critical distance”.  This is a range of 4-6 feet, or beyond arm’s reach.  The reason this is called the critical distance, is that anything closer than this, and there’s an opportunity to disarm an attacker with a gun.  However further than this distance and there’s a chance to move out of the line of fire or get off the “X”.  You may still get shot at this further distance, but you are less likely to take a fatal shot.  Remember angles and distance are your friends. You can use them to get yourself out of the line of fire.  But within the critical distance of 4-6 feet, even an untrained person with a gun can do damage to a trained professional before they can react. 

Here are some last thoughts and I’ll wrap this piece up.  This goes with avoidance– keep in mind that as soon as you draw any weapon you’ve now put yourself in the position to deal with law enforcement and any concealed carry permit holders that could be observing this conflict/altercation you’re engaged in.  You have to take that into consideration and the potential to be mistaken as the aggressor/threat in the situation at hand. 

Now, even though this may seem to contradict what I just wrote, in these situations getting out alive is all about choosing the best option between many that may be bad. So, here’s another thing people need to understand.  If you are a Concealed Carry holder, or even if you carry a knife for your EDC weapon, you have to be 100% ready to use deadly force without hesitation if you have no other option.  The odds are stacked against you unless you’re properly trained.  You have to assume that the person posing an imminent threat to you and your loved ones has no morals, and will take everything up to and including your life.  The bottom line is that everyone is a threat until they are not a threat.  You do not know their mental state, what drugs they have been using, etc.  The law requires us to think twice before using deadly force, and while you should think twice, that split second of hesitation could cost you your life or that of a family member.  This is why avoiding a violent situation is so important. Remember the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), and this; do not fight unless you have to.  But when you are in… Go Hard!

FORTITUDE:  Strength of mind that enables one to endure adversity with courage. 

Always Faithful & Always Forward,


SPECIAL: The AM STRONGHOLD team is going to do a Q&A via email.  Please send us any questions you may have.  We will address the 10 best questions and post our answers.