0272 – Threat Responses

I really enjoy teaching. One of the courses I enjoy teaching the most is my Introduction to Fighting Handgun Fundamentals and Ohio CCW course. There are a couple of reasons why. First, many of the students who are taking a course at this level are fairly clean slates. From a teaching standpoint, it is much easier to get the point across that I want to get across when I don’t have to work to dispel years of misinformation, bad habits, and misconceptions. Second, those that do have a firearms background and an open mind give me an opportunity to help them understand the difference between shooting and fighting. Finally, in my CCW course, more than any other there seems to be a density of people who have a desperate need for the information because of their life circumstances. Truly rewarding to work with all of my students, but the ones that need the information now have a special place in my courses. Today we are going to take a look at one of the questions students ask more often than anything else and some ideas we need to consider before we can answer the question.



I am not an attorney.  I do not provide legal advice.  You are responsible for your own actions.  If you have questions about the use of force you should contact an attorney and or consult the law directly.

What Should I do if…?

Some form of this question is the most common question that I get in my introductory courses and for good reason.  Plain and simply, it is a tough question.  A question that I cannot answer.  What I can do, however, is help my students learn how to answer the question for themselves.

When we look at use of force we must understand that it is a complex subject that has many variables.  Action that would be warranted in one set of circumstances would be inappropriate in another set with only a few minor changes.  Students have to understand the concepts of lethal force, less lethal force and the legal standards of ability, oportunity, intent and preclusion.

Just like other areas of training, the legal use of force is an important area for us to study BEFORE we find ourselves involved in violence.  My students are on the right track having this issue on their mind in class.  That is the perfect time for it.  Plenty of opportunity to ask additional questions, review legal materials and moral and ethical view points, draw some conclusions and then consider the justified use of force a closed case ready to move on to other training issues.

Threat Responses

It is important to understand that your response to any given situation will be a personal choice based on your assessment of the circumstances.  Just like anything in life, our response to violence must be balanced. We must consider the totality of the circumstances that we are immersed in at the time and choose a response that is appropriate for the particular circumstances.  We must take into account the legal, ethical and moral consequences to our actions.  Although these considerations are important, there will be little or no time to consider the consequences in the heat of the moment.  Therefore it is important to consider these areas well in advance of your need to use force so that you can make some determinations of what is appropriate and justified.  As long as innocent life is preserved and any use of force is justified, you made the right choice.

Freeze (Hyper-vigilance)

Hyper-vigilance may manifest as a momentary, spontaneous response to confusion, denial, shock or panic, or result in a mental shutdown that lasts for a portion or the duration of the threat.  Hyper vigilance is generally the result of feeling helpless or of not knowing what to do.  Having a plan and shifting your focus from the problem to the solution will help to offset and / or stop this mental paralysis.  A mental “circuit breaker” for anxiety, denial is the mind’s natural defense against the unpleasant.

We train with the specific goal of avoiding hyper-vigilance.  Although even those who are experienced in violence can experience momentary lapses of “is this really happening to me?” our goal is to use training to minimize the occurrence and help to put the problem to solution shift in to overdrive to get on with the solution what ever it may be.

Flee (retreat)

Many people mistakenly overlook flight as an appropriate self-defense tactic.  In my opinion, you should flee from a threat when you can do so and not jeopardize your safety or the safety of another innocent person.  In many places this is more than my opinion, it is a legal mandate.  Called preclusion, unless you are under no duty to retreat, you must preclude all other options before force is used to solve  a problem.  If you can safely walk away to end a situation, you must.  If you can safely run away to end a situation, you must.  The key here is safely.  You are not required to risk your safety or the safety of other innocent people.

As far as I am concerned, this is pretty common sense law.  If I can get away I want to get away.  Avoiding violence is the only way to avoid the consequences of violence.  No matter how well trained, how strong, no matter what weapons you have and how good you are with them you can end up on the loosing side of violence.  You can be injured or killed.  If you can avoid violence avoid it!


This is probably one of the most common responses to threats observed.  Wheater we are looking at two grizzly bears posturing to secure the best fishing hole on the river or two drunks trying to establish superiority on a street corner, animals human or not tend towards posturing.  Posturing is expressing through words, actions and / or appearance that you will not be an easy victim.  Standing up tall, looking someone in the eye, using verbal deflection, puffing up your chest, talking in a deep voice can all be indicators that your opponent way want to look elsewhere for a confrontation.

If you believe that the use of force will be unavoidable, you may want to deceive the aggressor(s) by feinting weakness.  This may provide you the tactical advantage of surprise when your weakness turns instantly into an instant, aggressive and dominating response.  Keep in mind your primary goal is to avoid the use of force by deterrence or de-escalation. Calling out for others, calling for help, activating an alarm, beeping a horn or otherwise drawing attention with the hope of gaining assistance can also be condidered posturing as it portrays you as a more formidable force to be dealt with.  In addition these techniques may create time and opportunity for you to flee and remember, the faster we end violence, the less likely we are to suffer the negative consequences of violence.


I get made fun of for this time and time again.  I guess that because of who I am and what I do many people expect me to be something that I’m not.  Let’s face it, the training world can be ego driven in some circles.  I work pretty hard to not be one of those ego driven instructors.  I firmly believe that there is a time and a place for submission.  Imagine yourself on that cold dark street corner and a kid approaches you, hands concealed, acting nervously.  He produces a small blade and demands your wallet.  Ability?  Yup he has the physical capacity to do it.  Opportunity?  No doubt, he just outside slashing distance.  Intent?  This is the crux.  The big one.  Your Gut tells you nope, he is more scared than I am.  No way he is going to do it.  Ignoring his demands?  That may lead to a change in heart on his part.  maybe you use that throw away wallet to buy some time to skedaddle or to better judge the situation.  Maybe you trade him the wallet for the knife and then offer your coat and to buy him a warm meal.  Only the person standing in that situation can judge what the right choice would be.  Understand that it is your choice and you will have to live with the consequences.  Again, our goal is to AVOID violence.  If we think that submission is the answer then comply with the demands of the assailant with the intent to avoid or minimize harm or to bide time to fight or flee with advantage. Make sure to continuously reevaluate the situation and use your submision to your advantage if you need to change course.

Remember, however, that allowing yourself to be relocated (get in a car or walk to an isolated location, etc.) by the criminal(s) will likely result in your death.  If faced with such a demand, fight or flee but do not comply.


This is the threat response that majority of individuals training centers around.  We certainly want to be effective when we are forced to fight, however, I think it would be fair to say that most individuals will spend more time in their lives using one of the other threat responses.  Remember, if possible we want to avoid violence and thus avoid the consequences of violence.  I wish life were so simple.  Some times, avoidance isn’t an option.  Sometimes, violence chooses us.  Sometimes we don’t know that we are involved in violence until is is already raining down upon us.  Many people  find out that they are in a battle for their life when they realize they are beign hit, kicked, grabbed, cut, stabbed, shot, or shot at.  It is these times that we must use of force to stop a threat or create an opportunity for escape.

When we choose, or are forced to fight there some things to keep in mind.  Many people perceive that a response to a physical threat should start with a minimal use of force and escalate until the problem is solved.  I could not disagree more.  There is no time for escalation.  Remember, in most circumstance we do not have the opportunity to start the fight.  We are forced by circumstances to respond.  This means we are 1.5-2 seconds behind the curve.  The violence needs to end NOW or we are going to continue to reap the negatives.

Our response must be like the flipping of a light switch.  From calmly walking down the street minding our own business to instantly dominating the threat and our surroundings.  When forced to defend ourselves we must instantly bring to bear the maximum force allowable by law with aggressive intensity  and persevere until there is no more threat.

What Should I do if…?

As you can see Our choice of force options must be paired with the threat.  If we use too much force, too quickly or for too long, we risk our freedom and/or our financial security.  If we use to little force, too late or without appropriate conviction we risk our safety, health and maybe our life.  In addition, remember that no matter what choices you have made previously you can always change course.  Posturing, submision, hyper-vigilence, fleeing or fighting might be the best course of action when the decision is made to do so, but with a simple change of circumstances a better option may present itself.

So, what should you do?  I humbly suggest that you train hard now to understand and utilize the threat responses that we have discussed here today.  All of them.  Think about circumstances where you feel that these responses would be appropriate for you.  I would encourage you to gain further understanding by reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker to help and understand how your body can help you to make these decisions.  Finally, when you find yourself in a situation, trust your gut and instantly commit yourself to a course of action until either there is no longer a threat, or you deem that another course of action would serve your goals more effectively.

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