7 Lessons Learned from Studying Real Self Defense Encounters
Gunfights and other self-defense encounters are fast and brutal. They require emotional strength and sharp skills.
Real life gunfights and self-defense encounters are not like the movies. Criminals don’t slowly follow you while the music builds. Gunfights don’t involve two minutes of bottomless mag shooting back and forth. Knife fights don’t act more like sword fights with parrying and back and forth. Hand to hand combat isn’t like boxing. Real life gunfights, knife fights, and brawls are fast and brutal.
As self-defenders, it is important that we separate Hollywood from reality. Understanding real self-defense encounters the best we can is the best way we can prepare for a real fight – one which we will hopefully never actually have to partake in.
I watch every video, read every article, and listen to every first-hand account that I can of real self-defense encounters. Here are some extremely consistent elements of real life self-defense encounters.
Criminals often run from armed resistance (but not always)
Yes, it is quite true that most criminals flee when the defender pulls a firearm. Criminals don’t want a gunfight – they don’t want to chance serious injury or death. They are looking for easy, defenseless victims.
I’ve seen people take this information and use it to justify getting a weak, low capacity gun or to even avoid training with their gun. That is a very bad idea. Not all criminals run at the first sign of trouble. Even those that do run at trouble, often get shots off while retreating.
First one to get shots on targets usually wins
It takes great mental fortitude to power through a gunshot wound or even retain proper shooting technique when getting shot at. This means that most of the time, the first person to get shots on target wins.
Since defenders don’t get to pick the time and place of the attack, we have to react to the ambush set by the attackers. That doesn’t give us much time to react, let alone prepare. It is critical for self-defenders to be capable of a fast draw from a holster and accurate shots on target right after that.
Often, self-defenders have to counter ambush the criminals after they’ve begun their crime. Sometimes the window for a counter ambush is the criminal turning around to shake someone down or go for the register. Here’s an example.
Do you have the skills to get a quick and smooth draw in a short window of opportunity?
Multiple attackers are very common
In fact, about 50% of the time there’s multiple attackers. Often the second or third attacker is a “trailing accomplice” – someone who hangs behind after the first criminal moves in. In a self-defense encounter, it is critical to avoid tunnel vision and look for a trailing accomplice who is moving in after a delay and could attack you while you’re dealing with the first threat. This commonality of multiple attackers is also why low capacity handguns suck for self-defense.
Most encounters are either avoidable or escalate to violence in less than a second
Violent encounters don’t get telegraphed a minute in advance with a guy slowly stalking a girl, getting noticed, the music builds, the chase begins, and then the attack happens. Most violent encounters are two people getting into an ego contest or happen out of a sudden ambush.
These ego battles are often completely avoidable – de-escalate and avoid. There’s no point risking a violent confrontation because someone threw some mean words your way and you decided to contest those statements. Simply use your words to de-escalate, and then leave the area. Even if your words don’t de-escalate the situation, leaving de-escalates.
The other type of self-defense encounters are criminals looking for victims. These criminals conceal their intent until the last second possible, emerging from around corners, hiding their weapons until they’re up close, and using other techniques to conceal their attack until they are a few feet from you. These are the dangerous attacks – they require self-defenders to be physically and mentally capable of going from a normal day to drawing and firing a gun in under two seconds.
I’ll say it again – practice your conceal carry draw stroke so you can be fast and accurate at a moment’s notice. Try for a goal of drawing from the holster and putting shots on target at 7 yards in under 1.5 seconds.
If you don’t practice your draw stroke, you’re conceal carrying wrong.
Road rage easily escalates to violence
Road rage is a component of ego battles that can be avoided. The best way to defend against a road rager is to simply put your foot on the gas pedal and leave. Don’t chase after road ragers, don’t drive into parking lots with road ragers, and avoid other places where you are forced to come to a stop with a road rager. If the road rager is following you, call the cops and have them arrive and deal with it.
This is also why it is very useful to have a dash cam. They are simple to install into a vehicle and create a rolling archive of video, automatically deleting old videos so dash cams are a set it and forget it setup. This will provide proof of who’s at fault in road rage incidents and automobile accidents. Well worth the investment.
People don’t drop dead when getting shot once
People dropping like a rock and not moving the moment they get shot is one of the biggest firearm lies the entertainment industry gives us. It is very possible to fight through getting shot, or to successfully hit a bad guy multiple times in center mass and still have the criminal shoot back.
Jared Reston was shot seven times but still won the gun fight. If a police officer can get shot that many times and keep on fighting, then a criminal can also get shot 7 times and keep on fighting. It is critical to keep an eye on a downed attacker – the attacker might be able to get back up and keep on fighting.
The good guy often ends up in cuffs
It’s understandable. The cops arriving on the scene don’t know who is the real attacker and who is lying about the other person’s actions. Without witnesses or camera footage to review, their job becomes difficult and the common response is to arrest everyone and let the court system sort it out.
After a self-defense encounter, it is imperative to not talk to the cops. A simple poorly phrased statement can be construed as an admission of guilt and you’re now guilty of the crime even if you are completely in the right. What you say to cops can be used against you in the court of law, but cannot be used in your defense.
After a self-defense encounter, comply with all of the officer’s demands. Tell them you feared for your life and ended the threat. Beyond that, tell them you wish to speak to your lawyer and don’t say anything further until you do. This likely means you will end up in cuffs until everything gets sorted out. But being in cuffs for a few hours is better than being convicted of a crime.
I use US Law Shield, but there are many other similar services out there. For a small monthly fee, I can call a lawyer at any time, day or night, and have representation immediately. If the incident spirals out of control into a full on court battle, all of my lawyer’s costs are covered, which can easily total in the six figures.
Avoiding the fight should be the primary goal
All fights should be avoided if possible. Running away is better than pulling the trigger. Unfortunately, running away is not always an option. We need to be prepared for anything that could be thrown our way.
Written by Brian Purkiss - always a student, sometimes a teacher.
I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.