Thoughts On Self Defense

Remember – PREVENTION before the fact is better than REACTING after the fact.


The biggest part of self defense is avoiding the need to actively, physically defend yourself. If it comes to where you need to actively defend yourself, you are in danger. You need to be able to spot trouble coming and make every effort to get out of the way before it gets to you.

I have a metal sign in my office with an old seafarers saying on it…

“A SUPERIOR SAILOR is one who uses his SUPERIOR JUDGEMENT to avoid situations requiring the use of his SUPERIOR SKILLS”

Self Defense begins with CONSTANT SITUATIONAL AWARENESS. This will help you to “avoid situations requiring the use of YOUR SUPERIOR SKILLS”.


Your surroundings include all of the following…

  • Where you are. Ask yourself: “Where am I right now?”. Be familiar with the territory. This also includes making sure that you are mentally “where you are” and not somewhere else. Keep your mind on – and be aware of – your present surroundings.
  • What are your possible routes of escape if trouble starts?
  • Who is around you? [People, Animals, and Cars for example]
  • What are they doing?
    • Is there someone around you doing something that makes you nervous about your safety or the safety of those you have a responsibility to protect?
  • Is someone around you acting in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable? This may just be a “bad feeling”. Pay attention to those.
  • Should you be where you are now? If the situation looks bad and you don’t have a responsibility to be where you are – retreat.
  • Are you in a position to defend yourself if required?
    • This includes keeping a hand free to handle a weapon.

To some people this sounds like being paranoid. Guess what? There is nothing wrong with that. Some people call it being “functionally neurotic”.

The fact is that in today’s society, the police are there to investigate AFTER the crime has happened. They are NOT a crime PREVENTION organization.

It is up to YOU to prevent something from happening to you. A good way to never have to actively defend yourself is to practice CONSTANT situational awareness.

This is especially difficult if you are a woman herding one or more children while at the grocery store or when shopping, but it is also especially important in this situation because that is the sort of person that the bad guys are looking for – someone who may be too preoccupied to notice their surroundings, and who may not have a free hand when going to their car in the parking lot.

This last part is highly important. You need to keep a free hand to be able to employ a defensive tool in case you can not avoid that trouble.

If a situation feels wrong, feel free to leave it. Sometimes this is nothing more than a feeling that something isn’t right. Some people call it a 6th sense, some call it the Holy Ghost, some people call it “gut instinct”. Whatever you prefer to call it, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to it.

Don’t just go like a sheep walking right into trouble because you feel stupid acting on a “feeling”. Look at the people that have avoided airline crashes because they had a bad feeling. If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of the situation.

That’s your best way to avoid the need to actively defend yourself. If it’s a bad situation and you have the opportunity to retreat – do it.

Ask yourself “Should I Be Where I Am Now?”

If you are herding those kids to your car and you see someone in the parking lot making you nervous – feel free to turn around and go back into the store. Don’t just walk into the potential trouble because you don’t feel you have any other option. Keep your mind active and seek other alternatives. Also, feel free to drop the groceries or ditch the cart.

People come first – get yourself and those you are responsible to protect to safety. Purchases should not be a part of the equation.

People who are looking for trouble often show it in body language. They shift their eyes, can be seen looking through the crowd for an easy mark, can be seen staring at target items – purses or briefcases. In general, they are acting in a way that says “I’m up to something” – you get the feeling when you look at them that something isn’t right.

I encountered this many years ago in Kennedy airport. I was checking in for an international flight and I noted a person who just seemed wrong. He was literally hiding behind a newspaper and was peering over the top of it at the people at the counter.

I was dressed in a very nice suit and overcoat and was carrying a nice bag. I noted that he kept looking at me.

As I left the counter and headed to the gate, I could see in the reflection in my eyeglasses [a skill I have practiced over the years] that he was following me. He was starting to move closer.

I switched hands with my bag, and switched which side of the hallway I was walking on. He stayed with me and was getting closer.

There were no police in sight, so I spun around and walked back the way I had come, skirting around him and staying out of arms reach in the process. He got very flustered when I did this.

I found out why. At the end of the corridor was a man with a radio. He was talking to another man at the other end of corridor. These were police, and the guy was a strongly suspected pickpocket/mugger. He had decided to tag me, and they were waiting for him to actually make a move so they could catch him in the act.

This was a rare situation, the police were actually waiting for this guy to make a move – but he was also in a very confined and security-heavy area where he had been reported to police that were stationed within the confines of the airport. He was also an idiot – working the same area for en extended period. If this had been on the street, the police never would have known about him.

They commended me on spotting him and responding the way I did. They were also a little bit ticked off – they had been watching him all day and they missed their best chance to catch him in the act.

Situational awareness can make the difference between going home on time or spending all night filling out police reports – or having your family ID your dead corpse. It is an essential skill in the world of today.


Along with being aware of your surroundings, you need to be PREPARED to ACT.

You need to have your mind made up that in a bad situation, you will take whatever actions are necessary to protect yourself and those you have a responsibility to protect. You may even want to run through those scenarios for any given situation – “What action would I take if x happened right now?” Those actions could include..

  • Retreat From The Situation – If it is possible to do so without putting yourself or others at additional risk of injury or death, this is the option you should employ first. If you are a LEO or a Security Officer, this option may not be available to you depending on the danger to those you are responsible to protect and depending on your training and experience.
  • Summon Assistance – If you can alert police without risking injury or death to yourself or others, this is the next best thing.
  • Use Defensive Arms Until Your Retreat Is Possible – This could be the use of pepper spray, a stun gun, taser, baton, or even a firearm depending on the situation. Employ the tool only until you have an opportunity to retreat. If this is a level you will go to, you need to get training on the defensive weapons you will carry.
  • Use Defensive Arms Until The Attacker Retreats/Stops – In your home, “castle doctrine” applies (depending on your state laws). In Utah you don’t have a duty to retreat from your own home. If someone tries a home invasion robbery, you can use whatever force required to make them retreat. If you – or someone you are responsible to protect – are in danger of serious physical injury or death – as you most likely are in this case – you can cause the attackers spirit to retreat from their body.
    • In other words, use deadly force to stop them from causing harm or death.

Note also, if you are defending your children in a public place – it may not be safely possible to gather them together to retreat while still covering the attacker. In this case as well, it is the attacker that will need to retreat first.

Also, don’t let your guard down in places that might seem totally safe.

Just because there is a sign on the door of your local sports arena saying that weapons are not permitted – a sign which would be obeyed by a law abiding citizen – doesn’t mean that a criminal – a person who breaks laws – didn’t bring a knife or a gun with them and is looking for the opportunity to mug someone who is not aware of their surroundings and is not prepared to defend themselves.

That’s the thing about criminals – they break laws and commit crimes. Thus, they are criminals. Just because a sign says there are no weapons permitted doesn’t mean that a criminal didn’t bring one. REMAIN AWARE AT ALL TIME AND IN ALL PLACES.

If you have your mind made up that you WILL ACT if required – and you get the proper training on any defensive tools you elect carry – you are already 75% of the way to being ready. .


Having your mind made up that you WILL act if necessary – and seeking training on the weapons you may elect to carry – gives you confidence. You are truly ready and prepared to act. This changes you.

If you are confident in the training you have, and in whatever defensive weapons you elect to carry, you will carry yourself with confidence. In corrections this is sometimes referred to a Command Presence.

Your walk with be determined, your eyes sharp and your mind aware. Those looking at you will see and feel this confidence you have. Those seeking trouble will look for easier marks who show signs that they lack confidence – their eyes watch the ground, they slouch and walk with little determination, and they are not concentrating on where they are and what they are doing.

If trouble is too intent on targeting you, or is too stupid to recognize your confidence, and you did not see it coming – you are prepared to actively defend yourself.


If it comes to actively defending yourself against an attacker, you need to keep the SPHERE OF INFLUENCE principle in mind. This is how you will select the proper defensive tool.

The sphere of influence for a given weapon is the area contained within the maximum effective range for the weapon.

It is not only how far your weapon can reach out and touch your attacker

  • Knowing the maximum range of the weapon
  • and
  • The range in which your skills will allow you to effectively use it

It is also knowing how far an attackers weapon can reach out and touch you.

You need to know the sphere of influence for any weapons you carry – and for those that you are likely to encounter.


My fist has a very limited sphere of influence. It is at the end of my reach – as far as I can lunge. It requires physical contact with the subject. If I can touch the subject, they can most likely touch me – leaving the possibility of harm to myself. I enter a more dangerous zone electing to use my fist – the attacker could pull a knife or other weapon.

A knife or stun gun has a slightly larger sphere of influence, by a foot or so at most. This is slightly safer than using my fist alone, but I am still in danger of the subject being able to touch – and therefore harm – me. There are two other factors that come into play here…


If someone decides to take the action of attacking me, I will be REACTING to their ACTION. They have the advantage – that’s why constant situation awareness is so important.


That means that their sphere of influence is moving with them. They can also lunge and dive.

A person with a knife – which by itself has a sphere of influence of their arms reach plus a few inches – can traverse 21 feet in just a few steps. Knowing this can change the equation for you. A knife is a deadly weapon – and you need to identify the distance at which you would feel comfortable dealing with that individual – how close do you want them to get?.

Most firearms instructors won’t let an individual with a knife get closer than 21′ to 25′ before drawing and firing if the individual continues to approach.

A baton – such as those carried by the police – extends the sphere out yet more – by 2 to 20 feet depending on the length of the baton, and if the baton is handheld in a defensive position, held offensively, or thrown. Throwing a baton is RARE and is generally ineffective unless the subject is totally motionless and blind. I have seen police do this before, it didn’t work out too well.

Most civilians won’t carry a baton for defense, but some do carry the collapsible type such as those from Monadnock and ASP. A baseball bat has a slightly larger sphere of influence, and as always, an attacker can run with a bat.

Pepper spray has a larger sphere of influence. A small can of O.C. can spray 5 to 10 feet, a larger 1-pound cannister can spray to about 30 feet.

The basic premise of the sphere of influence principle is that You don’t want to be inside of the sphere of influence of the attacker. You want to either use something with a larger sphere than his to keep the attacker at a safe distance – or retreat. Since retreat is not always safe or possible, you need to be prepared.

If the attacker has a knife, you don’t want to be inside of his sphere of influence. You want your sphere to be larger than that of the attacker. Pepper Spray widens it out a lot.

A firearm has a very large sphere of influence. Bullets can travel great distances – over a mile or more. This is good in that you can keep a much larger distance between you and the attacker, but you also need to be able to hit the attacker and nothing else unless there are multiple attackers.

This is also understood to be LETHAL force. You are not going to use this unless threatened with serious bodily harm or death. A knife does meet this classification in most circumstances. A baseball bat can also be a lethal weapon.

You need to compare the sphere of influence of your attacker with yours. Remember the idea is to defend yourself. Select a weapon with a greater sphere of influence than your attacker, and only employ it until the attacker has fled, you are able to flee, or help has arrived.

Keeping a REACTIONARY GAP between you and individuals you are interacting with gives you TIME to REACT to any ACTIONS they elect to make.

If you ever watch COPS on Fox TV, you will notice that the police rarely stand right next to an individual they are talking to. They keep a distance between them and the individual, and usually keep their strong side [the side their firearm is on] facing away from the individual. This gives them time to react. It helps compensate for the REACTION rule. You don’t want to allow a potential attacker – or someone you don’t feel right about – to get too close to you.

If you keep these basic things in mind and practice them daily, you should be able to avoid those situations where you may need to actively defend yourself by using Constant Situational Awareness.

Being prepared to act if necessary will give you confidence.

If you do enter a situation requiring that you actively defend yourself, keeping the SPHERE OF INFLUENCE principle in mind along with a good reactionary gap, will help you select the proper defensive tool to keep you safe.

It is our hope that you will seek local, hands-on, professional training on these topics to help keep yourself and your family safe. This article will reinforce some of the things you will hear in a good self-defense course, but it is no substitute for that hands-on training.

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