Everything you know about violence is wrong

“Why couldn’t the police shoot the knife out of that guys hand? Why did they have to kill him?”

“Why did they pile on top of him with five cops? Poor guy got crushed! Police brutality!”

“Why did you hit him first? He was only yelling,he didn’t even touch you!”

“Why did he hit me? All I did was say that he’s an idiot!”

These are just a few examples of the kind of questions I have been asked about self-defense and violence over the years. As a rule, the people asking them either have very limited (often none at all) first-hand experience with violence or only encountered it as a bystander. The mere act of asking the question betrays their fundamental lack of information and experience on the subject. Usually, it means they really don’t know what they are talking about.

If you read this last sentence, get offended and start howling at the screen, ready to drink my blood, then let me answer those questions for you first:

Everything-you know about violence is wrong

What real violence looks like…

#1: Shooting a knife out of somebody’s hand only works in the movies. It is next to impossible for the average police officer to pull this off , it’s just too difficult. If you don’t believe me, go to the range and try it. Then, factor in adrenal stress, fear, having to make a the split-second decision to take that shot, the bad guy not standing still like a paper target, etc. See what I mean?

Also, the officer is responsible for that bullet. If he misses (as he likely will with such an impossible shot) and hits an innocent bystander, he’s liable. So by default, he has a vested interest to make sure every shot hits the bad guy. Aiming for the larger target that is center mass (the torso) makes a whole lot more sense and is actually possible, given enough training.

If your response is that officers need more training, then I agree. Not because it will teach them to shoot the knife out of an attacker’s hands, but because they are typically under-trained as is. Go ask a LEO how much firearms training he gets from the PD every year (get ready to weep…). Not what he does on his own time and dime, but as a part of his ongoing training. Then, go find out how much that costs. Then, figure out how much extra training the officers would ideally receive to conform to whatever standard you feel is needed. Tally up that sum times the number of officers. It’ll be a pretty penny, even in small departments.

Final questions: are you prepared to pay extra taxes to fund this? If yes, awesome; you are putting your money where your mouth is and I applaud you. If not, fine, but which departments should get their budgets cut to free up those needed funds?

In other words, it’s easy to say the police need more training. It’s another matter making it happen.

A final consideration: bullets don’t always work like in the movies. How many bullets do you think it takes to kill somebody? 1 or two? 5 or 6 would do it, right? Surely 10-15 or more would be enough? OK, what if I tell you that sometimes even 21 bullets isn’t enough to do the job? Guns are not magic wands that make problems go away with a flick of the wrist.

Real violence, including the use of firearms, is unpredictable and chaotic.


#2: Arresting people without hurting them is extremely difficult when they actively and violently resist. Remember how you had trouble controlling your 7-year old when he threw a temper tantrum and was kicking and screaming all over the store? How easy was it to hold him still without hurting him? Or to make him come along peacefully? Right… You could have slapped him over the head so hard he would have calmed down instantly but that would mean hurting your child and you don’t want that. You could have asked a couple other adults to each grab a limb to lift him up and out of there. That would have worked, right?

It is exactly the same for the police, but multiplied in difficulty and danger: an adult has a lot more physical strength than that kid and can injure both the officer and himself in the process of resisting arrest. That is why officers often use their combined weight to subdue somebody. It looks overly violent to the layperson but the alternative is an officer going one-on-one with a violent aggressor.That’s a recipe for injuries and deaths on both sides.

If you think arresting somebody is easy and the officer should just slap the guy in a control hold, then you really haven’t fought somebody trying to either hurt you or get away. It’s just not going to happen. The only alternative for the officer would be to use an elevated level of force, like pepper spray, his baton or firearm. And then you’d be angry at him for being so violent…


#3: When somebody yells at you and is increasingly aggressive, you have to make a judgement call: can I get away or not? If you can run away, then you should. It’s both the smart thing to do (avoid the fight) and your legal obligation (read up on your self-defense laws, it’s all in there.) If you are in a situation in which running is not an option, then you do not have to wait until the guy knocks you half unconscious before taking action. Most countries have self-defense laws that don’t say you have to eat that punch before you can strike your aggressor, neither is it good tactics:

In the movies, the hero takes a beating and rallies to overcome the bad guy. In real life, the guy who lands the first punch usually wins the fight. And the guy who attacks first usually lands that first punch. So if somebody is increasingly hostile towards you, even if he is only yelling and not physically harming you just yet, the situation might warrant using a pre-emptive strike to stop him from escalating it further.

I use “might” because as with all things, this isn’t black or white. There are more factors to take into account than this, but the principle stands. Pre-emptive striking is a valid tool against violence, providing it is used in the right context.


#4: If in your world view, you can say anything to anybody without repercussions, then good for you. It’s naive and perhaps even suicidal, but it is your right to think that way. Here’s the thing though: being verbally aggressive is often the precursor to violent behavior. Just because you don’t punch somebody, doesn’t mean you are not acting aggressively when you called him a “Goddamned fucking idiot!!!!” You might feel justified, you might feel righteous in saying so, but you are still aggressive, even if you have no intention of turning that aggression into physical violence.

Guess what: some people will take you seriously anyway and assume you’ll go to the violence stage in the next couple seconds. So they don’t wait for your punch to come and hit you first. They don’t know you, they don’t know if you’ll lash out or not. They’ll just assume you will eventually strike, given your aggressive verbal tirade. What’s more, legally speaking, they will be able to present a strong case in their defense because if you are the only one screaming obscenities, you are the aggressor, not they…

Everything you know about violence is- wrong

Verbal aggression is often a precursor to violence.


As you can see, there are reasons why these four questions demonstrate a lack of experience and understanding on the topic of violence.

If you still aren’t convinced, then the next logical step is to seek out more information to debunk my replies and confirm your own arguments. To do that, you need to go to the right sources. In this case, that means people who have actual experience with violence. Not the theorists, but those who are face-to-face with it in their daily lives: police officers, soldiers, EMTs, security officers, bouncers, etc. Whatever your feelings about those kinds of professions, you cannot deny that they have far more actual experience on this subject than you. Go ask them these four questions and see how they reply…

I do ask one thing though: be honest with yourself.

Be honest in admitting that they have relevant experience with a subject that is primarily theoretical for you. So it would behoove you to consider their responses as likely more accurate than your personal opinions. Having an opinion is great, but having an informed opinion is better.

There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. It’s a good thing that you haven’t been exposed to violence all that much. I am not promoting you go out and be violent to learn what it is really all about. What I am promoting is that the large majority of modern society has a flawed understanding of the topic. Personally, I blame politicians and Hollywood for creating a false image of it, but that’s another discussion.

What I am also not promoting is a “kill or be killed” attitude. On the contrary, the most practical and useful self-defense tips have nothing to do with punching the other guy’s lights out. But before you can form an opinion on violence and how to handle it, you need to understand the problem first. Doing so means confronting your own biases and views on this subject with what it is actually like in real life.

That’s scary and uncomfortable.

But it’s also the only way to get a meaningful answer to the question:

“What is violence really like and how do I avoid it?”

With that, I wish you good luck in your quest for information and hope this article helps you on your way. If you still want more information, I can recommend these excellent books on the topic of violence:

In the Name of Self-Defense:: What it costs. When it’s worth it by Marc MacYoung.

Meditations on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence by Rory Miller

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