Self-defense against the knockout game

There’s been a lot of hoopla in the news about the “knockout game” and how horrible it is. Fred asked me on my Facebook Page for some tips on how to defend against it and I thought it could make for an interesting post. So here goes.

First, a couple of points about the knockout game itself and then I’ll get to the self-defense part. I’ll state upfront that some of you will probably not like what I have to say. I understand why that might be so, but I don’t see the point in watering down what I believe is accurate information to please everybody’s world view. It’s not possible to to cater to everyone’s feelings, nor should it be. Bear in mind that this is also just my opinion, I could be wrong. That said, before you dismiss this article wholesale, think about the consequences for you and your family should you be on the receiving end of this knockout game. Imagine it’s your butt on the line. With that as a given, what would be your solution?

This caveat is now out of the way, so let’s start.


What is the knockout game?

Here are the points I wanted to make first:

  • Nil novi sub sole. The knockout game isn’t new, not by a long shot. Here in Europe, they called it “happy slapping” and it’s been going on for years. It usually hits in waves and then simmers before coming back again. The same goes for the US and other countries. For some reason it’s all over the news again now, but it’s been going for ages. It used to be a street gang initiation rite: you had to KO/beat-up or even kill a random person to get in. Sometimes the thing they did was slashing some stranger in the face with a knife. Other times it was just a slap across the face. The details change but the essence stays the same: an unprovoked attack on an innocent passerby.
  • Youtube or it didn’t happen! The last few years, the trend was to make a video of the attack and then share it on Youtube or Facebook. This mainly started when cellphones got to the point where the quality of the videos you make with them was getting good enough. Now, almost every cellphone has a camera more than capable of capturing such an attack. For whatever reason makes sense to them, the idiots who play that knockout game often put such videos online for all to see. I’ve seen lots of them where they comment, cheer, laugh and egg each other on. There’s stupid and then there’s stupid. By doing so, they admit to committing a crime/being an accomplice to one and provide the DA with evidence for when he drags them into court (which is fortunately increasingly the case.) It’s stupid when a guy like Renzo Gracie does that, it’s just as stupid when some 18-year old punk kid does it.
  • You see it in all layers of society. Right now, there’s a lot of push to blame young black men for this trend. For sure, it’s certainly a factor in that group of society. But it happens just as well with rich white kids. So don’t dismiss a group of white kids when they walk up to you, it would be a mistake.
  • Why do they do it? The pundits on the news give all sorts of reasons: those kids are bored, don’t know any better, it’s the fault of violent video games and movies, the economic crisis, global warming (just keeping you on your toes…). Personally, I see bad parenting and a lack of knowledge about violence and its consequences as the root cause. But that’s just me and my pet peeve. The thing about senseless/random violence is that it doesn’t make much sense. Trying to find a reason for it is usually fruitless.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what does the knockout game look like?

Here you go:


These are just a handful of examples of the knockout game, there are many more, with tons of variations. Sometimes the assault is continuous, other times it’s just one punch. Sometimes it’s just one guy  attacking, other times it’s a group. Depending on where in the world you live, the specifics of the variations will differ, so do your research.


Self-defense against the knockout game

How can you defend yourself against people playing the knockout game? In many ways, it’s not that different from any other self-defense situation (though there are some crucial differences) and as such, there is one key concept to focus on:


If you’re daydreaming while you’re walking along the sidewalk, chances are you’ll never see what hits you, just like the schoolteacher in the video. So first and foremost, you need to be aware of your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you need to be paranoid and imagine ninja-thugs on every street corner. It means you have to be alert as to who is around you at all times. This has two distinct advantages:

  • It buys you time to act. If you don’t even notice the guy walking up to you, forget being able to do something about it. There won’t be enough time for any decisive action. But if you are aware of the guy and alert to his movements, you have a chance. It might not be a great one, but it’s more than what you have when you’re in your own world, bobbing your head while listing to the beats on your iPhone…
  • It sends a message. Like all predators, these kids need to pick the right target to get away with it. If they don’t, they risk a beating or worse. Most of them understand this instinctively and try to make sure to pick an easy target. If they see you spotting their movements, there’s a chance they’ll skip you in favor of a more clueless potential victim. There are no guarantees but, it’s possible.


The reason why awareness is so important is that you’re facing an ambush. These kids use surprise and overwhelming force as their main tactics: they attack out of the blue and hit as hard as they can. No feeling out, no going five rounds. Just knockout blows from out of left field.

The thing about these two factors is that they work real well and are hard to defend against. As with all ambushes, your best survival strategy is to not get trapped in one. Hence, awareness.

I know this isn’t sexy or flashy and it kills the myth you see in the movies, where the hero senses an attack and blocks it with ease. But as you saw in the video, in real life it doesn’t work that way. Instead, work on your awareness skills to avoid potential attacks. In particular, don’t let anybody into your personal space when there is no reason for that person to be there. Distance is your friend…


What if you can’t avoid the attack?

Then you have to realize you’re in a bad situation. You’re behind the curve from the beginning and odds of you catching up are not good. When that first blow lands, if you aren’t knocked out already, you’ll be dazed and confused. If you don’t train for such a scenario, it’s unlikely you’ll do well then. Which isn’t a reason to give up but you need to understand that it’s very difficult to fight well when you’re seeing stars and little birds flashing in front of your eyes. In the mean time, your attacker will not wait for you to recover, expect him to press the advantage.

The sad truth is that sometimes, there’s nothing you can do: you lose. If the attacker gets a good enough shot in before you can act, it’s probably game over for you.

If it isn’t, here are some things you might try:

  • Flinch/cover. However you like to call it, it’s all good, just bring up up your arms in a close, defensive position. Whether you call this a flinch response or a close guard, I don’t really care. The point is to stop the next blow from landing and buy some time to get your bearings. Sometimes, instinctively going for a clinch hold next works well. Other times, not so much. Yep, this is a wishy washy answer, but I don’t think it would be fair to state anything as an absolute. Reality would make a liar out of me…
  • Run. If you can, run. Live to fight another day. Again, I know this doesn’t sound all manly but don’t forget that you just took a nasty shot from an unknown attacker. His next move might be to punch you again, or he might run off to avoid a full fight.  No way to tell. What is sure is that he can’t hit you if you aren’t there. So flee to safety if at all possible.
  • Counter-attack. One of the ways the military handles ambushes is with immediate, aggressive counter-attack. You get hit and the next fraction of a second, you are all over your attacker. In theory, this works best. In reality, it takes a truckload of training and a healthy portion of luck to make it work. So don’t expect this to work out of the box. Invest just as much training-time in the other two options, though. Even if you much prefer this one here. Again, it’s not about being cool. It’s about surviving.

I wish there was something that could give you better odds but I don’t see many other realistic options. Which is why I want to re-state the importance of awareness: once the first punch lands, you are already several steps behind. Catching up will be problematic, at best. So don’t get caught to begin with, avoid the problem by being alert.


Self-defense against the knockout game

Some advice for those youngsters…


To the youngsters who play this game…

I remember being a teenager: I knew everything and adults knew nothing. But I was also put in my place a couple of times when I messed up. The adults who took the time to talk to me then helped me avoid a lot of problems later on. So on the off chance that any of the young people who think the knockout game is cool and fun end up reading this article, some thoughts:

  • Actions have consequences. Learning this is the difficult part about growing up, especially as a teenager. Here’s the thing: whether you accept them or not, the consequences of your actions will be still be there. Here are a couple of them when you play the knockout game: injuring or killing a person, serving time in prison, a civil suit and a hefty fine, your parents losing their house paying for your legal fees/fines, your rap sheet disqualifying you from jobs, etc. There’s more but this alone should give you pause…
  • You won’t always “win”. Eventually, somebody will hit back and beat the crap out of you. Or shoot you like this guy and this woman did. Is it still funny then? If not, then don’t come crying about your unfortunate youth and other bullshit. If you take the credit when you knock somebody out, own your stupidity then too, when it blows up in your face. Again, actions have consequences.
  • Switch the victim. If you think it’s funny, is it still funny when somebody does it to your mother? Or to your baby sister? Or your grandmother? If not, why not? Why is it funny when it’s somebody else’s family member instead of yours? See the contradiction there?
  • Be a real man. You want to know if you can knock somebody out with one punch? Go take up boxing or MMA. You’ll get to punch a lot of people there…

I have no illusions any of those teens will read this at all and if they do, agree with me and change their ways. So that leaves the parents. If you have teenage kids (like I do…) teach them the right values so they don’t become bullies and assholes. But most of all, teach them what violence is really like and what price they might pay for it.

That’s it, no more preaching from me.



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  1. Great post. Nice to see you mention “happy slapping” and how it has been going on in Europe for years now. To hear certain people in the States tell it the knockout game is something that could only be invented by black youth and the horrible black culture that they despise so much.

  2. This is very informative. I often use Marc Macyoung’s 5-Stages (of violent crime) model to keep myself safe. I hope I’m not too preoccupied to spot the “interview.”

  3. Good and realistic information, Wim. Too many chest-thumping machos say, “If that happened to me! I’d (fill in the fantasy response).

    No dude, what you would really do is fall down on the sidewalk.

    As you said so well, your first line of defense is awareness in all it’s forms, 24/7, 360 degrees.


  4. Tim Cordrey says

    Hello. Agree with what you said. I am afraid that the pause button in the brain between thinking and doing has been disappearing for the last few generations. I am an older fella as you can tell. It is a sad thing to witness. Stupid also.

    SIde note. Got your Power Controll DVD. Execellent. I am concentrating on the Lower Body section to loosen my hips.



    • Totally agree with you there. My father would have smacked the hell out of me had I pulled even half the crap I see teenagers do nowadays. Guess I’m getting old too. :-)

      Thanks for buying the video, much appreciated. If the hip exercises are difficult at first, do them in a slightly higher stance. When you can do them well, drop an inch and try it there. Repeat until you start making mistakes. That’s the level you need to focus on until you get it right. Takes a while ometimes but it’s well worth it.
      Good luck!

  5. Well said, sir. Especially–

    “The sad truth is that sometimes, there’s nothing you can do: you lose.”

    Yep. Every self-defense course should start with that.

  6. I have to tell you growing up my friends and I did some stupid things but nothing as violent as this. Plenty dumb don’t get me wrong. I love your last part about consequences. This is one of those events that can actually be avoided with serious situational awareness.

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