Violence is chaos in action

An instructor once told me that violence is chaos in action and it’s your job to bring order to the chaos. I believe this is an accurate statement and would add “before it kills you” to the end of that sentence. Violence comes in many shapes and sizes and each situation can be radically different from the next, despite starting off with the same or similar parameters. Predicting how the encounter will unfold is difficult and unreliable, to put it mildly. If you’re truly honest about it, you accept this. But that truth is uncomfortable because, in general, humans don’t like chaos.

We like things to make sense.

We like black or white answers.

We want it to be easy and simple.

It rarely is.

As a result, there is a need to analyze, scrutinize and study violence to put together a system that allows you to handle it when it comes your way. Martial arts and self-defense systems are a part of that. Studying human psychology, the legal system, physics, avoidance and prevention, etc. are also part of the solution. All those together make it difficult again and we typically don’t like that. A commonly used quick solution is to make assumptions by willfully omitting factors you don’t have an answer for or relying on “common knowledge”. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. That is why I always harp on Randy’s quote of “The differences are just as important as the similarities.”

You can take a violent situation and look at the similarities to come to certain conclusions. These conclusions can be completely accurate or completely false, depending on certain parameters you won’t know up front will be present. I covered this dynamic in the first article in my newsletter series, but when I saw these two videos, I found them to be prefect illustrations for it.

Both videos feature a man armed with a gun facing an unarmed man. These are the similarities. My point is that the differences are just as important and the chaos of violence makes it unpredictable what the outcome will be. Let’s take a look.


Video 1

As far as I know, a guy barges into town hall to confront his ex. A security guard tries to stop him and the fight ensues. The guard shoots the guy in the head, killing him instantly. NSFW.


Video 2

A robber sticks a gun in a store clerk’s face and thinks all is groovy. Then he gets a surprise…


In both videos, an unarmed man is confronted with a firearm wielding opponent. Two similarities, radically different outcomes. Why?

Because the differences are just as important as the two similarities.

If you take a minute or two, you can come up with a long list of differences between both videos and come to certain conclusions. The next step is to try and understand why those differences are there, what is their relative importance, how do they influence the end result and how you can account for them in your own training.

Answering those questions takes time and effort, with no certainty of getting things right when you are placed in the same or a similar situation. That’s just how violence works.



What is the point of this article? I have several I want to make:

  • If you only look at the similarities, you ignore the differences at your peril. Taking complex situations and reducing them to the simplest of common denominators is not always the best solution to a problem.
  • It’s easy to make assumptions and ignore the factors that create chaos and unpredictability. Just because it’s easier to practice then or it keeps you from scrutinizing the flaws in your system, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
  • It’s easy to make assumptions that are wrong or incomplete. I’ve heard tons and tons of instructors say you can’t just rip a gun out of somebody’s hand. The second video shows just that… Does that mean you can always pull this off? No. Again, many different parameters come into play (try to list them, just as an exercise…) So be wary of extrapolating general rules from single incidents. As Dr. K. says: the plural of anecdote is not evidence.
  • Contrast all this with the confidence some professionals and experienced fighters have with their techniques. They have a higher success rate with them than people who lack their experience. But does that mean they will work for you? How can you know you aren’t lacking a specific component to get the same result? The professional teaching you his most effective techniques might not know about the importance of that component. He might even take it for granted. Who knows?
  • There are no guarantees. As much as we like things to be simple, they rarely are. Anybody who tells you they have an easy, never-fail solution to violence is either full of shit or he doesn’t understand the true nature of violence.
  • It’s your butt on the line. You decide how far you take things. You decide what your assumptions are, which factors you incorporate in your training, when you re-evaluate them, etc. I can’t make those choices for you as I don’t live your life. My only recommendation is to do all this as a conscious choice instead of blindly accepting information from any instructor, including me.

As always, good luck in your training.


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  1. Hi Wim, you cover good ground as always. Is there any chance of boiling it down to scripts as in Marc MacYoung’s violence is a process idea and there are high chances of certain things happening if you break the script such as the first guy fighting and winning against the armed security guard rather than getting control of himself and not letting emotions control him sadly to his demise. And in the second incident is rather like an incident here last week or so when an armed guy tried to rob a betting shop and the guy behind the counter telling him if you shot me in the face you get nothing so I guess it must have been enclosed in some way as then the robber would have no access and then the guy apparently told him if you shoot me in the arm, I’ll get lots of compensation so basically he seem to psych out the robber who left with nothing.

    However, in a program about American jails last night a woman fought back against an armed guy in a car jacking that ended with her getting stabbed to death (I think they wanted the car and not to take her to a secondary location as I think she refused to get out of the car). The guy or his brother (both 16-18 at the time of the incident, I think) who was his accomplice admitted that the fighting back caused him to do that as though it was an insult to his ego. In both these incidents, I feel their emotions in the form of anger/rage caused their reactions, one was successful and the other sadly not. One brother in the jail program who seems a model citizen, bright and articulate and very remorseful over the incident feeling he deserved to be imprisoned too as he could’ve of stopped his brother by telling him it was a bad idea. The brother that did the stabbing is in isolation as he felt he had to stab a sexual predator in the jail so as not to be seen as a soft target. Perhaps the script idea is a very good basic principle if applied properly but you can get lucky with the successful stories that have been mentioned if you veer off it. So follow the script until the attacker veers off it but then I suppose you really have to had thought what are the scripts and know when they are veering off: So although, it’s a basic principle there’s so much to understand about it. :-)

    • Hi Marc,

      I don’t know if there’s a workable answer to that question. Marc and Rory have done some amazing work in that field but I’m not sure if scripts as a tool can encompass everything. I really don’t know. But it sure looks promising.

  2. Great article, as usual agree with all the points. But I do think the quote at the beginning sets an unrealistic expectation. I would say its our job to escape violence rather than bring order to it, in the same way that in a burning building its your job to flee to safety rather than put out the fire. In my training and teaching I try to encourage people to ‘take whats there’ i.e. recognise the opportunities that the situation provides and use them to build a path to safety. Everything you list is vitally important but I don’t think you can superimpose any training system (no matter how good) on top of a real situation. As Eisenhower said ‘plans are useless, but planning is indispensable’

  3. Good article. You can do everything right and still end up getting murdered. No certanties out there.

    What a disgrace that the guard was unable to fight off a single guy and choose to use deadly force. Makes me wonder why he applied for that job in the first place.
    Also sad to see how he immediately goes for his gun from the start while taking the blows, instead of using both arms for hand to hand combat and creating space.

    The guy in the second video did great however. Amazing that he can perform such a feat and can live to tell the tale.

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