How to prepare for sudden and unexpected violent self defense situations

I recently received an email from someone who was going through the Understanding Modern Violence course. This person, I won't name them, had some concerns around their ability to respond appropriately to sudden and unexpected violent self defence situations.

This is a healthy concern to have. Let me explain why.

For people who are not employed to regularly get into violent and dangerous situations (such as police and military or even security personnel) this should be a concern people have. It remains a concern even for many people with experience too.

I did respond directly to the email but I continued to reflect on the topic for days afterwards. I decided to write more in-depth regarding this area and publish a post here on Low Tech Combat so that more people can benefit from it.

First of all, and this will depend on how knowledgeable you already are, do you understand the concern? Does this concern make sense? A lot of beginners, and people who haven’t been exposed to much violence, are not aware of the significance of the physiological and psychological effects of sudden and unexpected violence.

The fact that someone has this concern demonstrates they understand the implications.

The first step is to understand what these effects are so you know what to expect. If you do not know about them and you experience them for the first time in a real self defense situation the surprise of these feelings and sensations will add to the surprise of the actual violent situation you find yourself in. This is all bad and will quickly overload your already depleted cognitive ability.

You need as much bandwidth as possible to comprehend and deal with the rapidly evolving situation. Every single little bit helps.

Know what to expect

Learn the theory of physiological and psychological effects of being in Combat. Know what to expect. This is really the first step along this path. Sometimes we, as people, simply don’t know what we don’t know (yes, there is a little channeling of Rumsfeld here - that statement was much more profound than he got credit for at the time. I think he got it from someone else though? I really should have made this a footnote. Maybe next time).

I won’t go into too much here. If you want to know more, go and read On Killing ) and/or On Combat (the newer one). Just ignore the parts about violent video games being a cause of increased social violence. That claim has a lot of evidence mounting against it. But the rest is generally quite good and is fairly timeless.

I also wrote about this topic in an old post called The Calm in the Storm.

Feel it in safety

Once you know what happens to the body, and brain, during sudden unexpected violence the next step in your preparation is to commence physical training targeting this specific area.

A great first step is to enrol yourself in one of the modern self defence courses that are out there these days. I won’t offer a number one recommendation but will simply offer a range of course options for you to consider.

Good places to start, and in no particular order, are as follows:

ISR Matrix


FAST Defense


Crazy Monkey Defense

SAFE International

There are more. This is a short list. Try one. Many of these focus on that transition from nothing going on, like a normal day, to sudden unexpected violence. They use drills and scenarios to simulate real situations that aim to trigger that fight or flight (or freeze) response.

This is all good stuff. And this will get you familiar with encountering sudden and unexpected violence and give you some tools to draw upon in such a situation.

Really important stuff.

Think under pressure

After this stage, it is time to move onto learning how to think while engaged in a physical encounter - especially for an encounter that progresses past those first few seconds where it is all about reacting. You want to transition to that stage where you get in front of their OODA loop and start taking the initiative. The previous courses will help you get there. But things may get drawn out. The struggle may continue..

This is where combat sports can help. You will routinely train under stress. Training will simulate a real dynamic combat situation that goes for more than just a few seconds - with safety constraints of course. You are of course training and not fighting or surviving. Though it can sometimes feel like it. Which is kind of the point.

The next level up from training in combat sports is to compete in combat sports. This will lift up the stress. It won’t be sudden and unexpected violence but it will be stressful. Depending on the combat sport, you may mix it up over multiple rounds. This is all good inoculation.

And there are more benefits to this sort of training than just stress inoculation. But I will hold myself back from digressing right now.

Avoid surprise

However, probably the BEST pre-emptive and proactive thing you can do to minimise your stress response is to remove those key components of concern raised by the Understanding Modern Violence student.. remove the "sudden" and "unexpected" parts.

If you can ensure you are not surprised you will limit the adrenaline dump. You will be able to see a situation developing and will still be able to absorb new information, think and make decisions. The ability to think and make decisions is severely degraded when experiencing a surprise adrenaline dump. You will be more prone to react. And reactions can be good or bad. You don’t really get to choose in the moment.

If you can see a situation developing you will understand it is happening, can see it happening and can consider your options. If it goes physical you will be engaged in a violent self defence encounter. But at least it will be less of a sudden and unexpected violent encounter.

The physiological and psychological effects will be less. You will be more able to function optimally.


Just one of the above provided options can help in developing your own capability to respond appropriately and effectively in the event of sudden and unexpected violence in a self defence situation. A great first step forward is to work on your weakest area from those identified above.

But a combination, or all of the above, will really round out your skills and experience. The more layers there are to your armour the better off you will be.

Nothing is guaranteed. You can just increase your chances.

What do you think?


If you would like to learn more about our free online course that goes into detail regarding the very nature of human violence, our analysis of violent crime statistics and lots more, follow the link to Understanding Modern Violence.

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