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Case study 1. Knife attack.

Welcome to the very first of 4 Case Studies within Understanding Modern Violence where we examine real attacks. We will identify the key aspects of the attack which will highlight ways that the attack may have been prevented or avoided altogether had the victim possessed a good understanding of modern violence.

This will be done by drawing on our knowledge of Human Combative Behaviour which was presented in the Manifesto. You have probably read through much of that by now. Any questions you may have will probably be answered as you work through that. We will also draw on our knowledge from the violent crime analysis and modern weapon analysis.

The Incident

Silver Street, Burwell.

Silver Street, Burwell.

At 930pm on a sunday evening, a 26 year old man was attacked with a knife in an alleyway running off Silver Street in Burwell.

The attacker was wearing a white zip up hooded top, was about 6 foot 5 inches tall and of a stocky build. The attacker walked up to the victim and asked him for a light. The attacker then proceeded to hit the victim in the face with a probable knife. The victim received slight injuries and was able to quickly run off.

Detective senior Constable Gayle of Cambridgeshire Police said "This was an unprovoked attack and has left the victim very shaken."

- Source.

Analysis and Lessons Learnt

Firstly, this is a really simple and short case study to get us into them. While this is a short case there are a number of key lessons that can be highlighted here.

The Location

The street is the most likely place for muggings and robberies to occur, as we have seen in the Human Combative Behaviour Manifesto. This is especially so with quiet areas that lead off from busier areas. This was the case here as the victim was walking down an alleyway which runs off the main street of Silver Street.

This is a high risk location for Predatory attacks. A person who understood modern violence would not have walked down that alleyway; they would have stuck to the main roads, got a taxi home (or Uber) or got a lift from a friend of family member. If it was absolutely necessary to walk down that alley an aware person would have been at a heightened state of awareness and would be looking for warning signs of a possible attack. Once warning signs were detected, the person would turn around, call a police or made some other evasive action.

The Time of Day

Most Predatory attacks such as this happen in the cover of night. Also, it is on the weekend where most of these types of attacks occur. For any mugger or robber, this is the time when most potential victims are out and about. There is a large body of potential victims to choose from.

This is a time when, often, friends leave their group to go to some other area such as home, another venue, catch a train, withdraw money etc. They may also leave the group because of an argument, disagreement or fight. Predators often wait for someone to leave the safety of built up areas and get isolated. This is much like what a big cat does when it is stalking for its weaker lone victims to leave the safety of the herd.

This is how Predators operate. An aware person would have known this was a higher threat time for muggings and robberies. Avoidance measures as described above would apply. So we can see we have two high risk factors at play here. Walking through hunting grounds and at night. So we at both a high risk place and high risk time. Best to avoid such situations rather than plan to fight your way out of them if things turn sour.

The Profile of the Attacker

The attacker was a big framed man and was wearing a hooded top. In an alleyway, at night, this is another indicator a possible attack is presenting itself. In and of itself, it doesn't mean much. But knowing the high risk time and location for a Predatory attack was then and now, seeing this man in this profile should have set off alarm bells.

The hooded top is a way the attackers minimize the risk of the victim being able to provide police with a useful description as it obscures much of their features. A mugging can be risky; that is why the attacker wants to increase his chances of success.

Often, an attacker will be physically bigger. If they are not bigger, they will often use a weapon to ensure compliance. They can also use sheer numbers and hunting in groups to increase the chances of compliance. They do not want their chosen victim to fight back.

In an alleyway, at night coming across such a person as above, a more aware person would have turned around and left the alleyway. Fast. That is of course if they absolutely had to go down that alleyway at all considering the risks.

The Activity

The victim was walking from one place to another place. As we saw in the Manifesto, this is the highest risk activity to be doing when muggings and robberies occur. So we have the highest risk location, time and activity for Predatory attacks. With the combination of these three, awareness and alertness to the threat should have been quite high.

This man approached the victim and asked a distracting question. This is a classic tactic of many muggers. By asking such a question even if the victim is on guard due to their hairs standing up on the back of their neck, asking a question prompts the brain to think of a response.

At this time, the brain is no longer thinking of defending itself if the person attacks. Even for just a moment. This gives the Predator the opportunity to launch their attack. An aware person in this bad situation would have been waiting for the approaching person to ask a distracting question and not have even thought about the answer.

This is how knowledge of how Predators operate can better our chances of avoiding or at least preparing for a possible physical encounter. At the very least, it stops us being caught by surprise.

Anyone asking such a question at such a time and location can be considered an almost confirmation that the approaching person is seriously considering launching an attack. The potential victims response right here can determine if the Predator launches their physical attack or not.

If the potential victim looks a bit stunned, weak, meak or surprised by the question, the Predator will most likely make the final decision to attack. If the person responds quickly in a positive and confident manner and seems ready, the Predator will most likely let the person go and wait for an easier mark. But not always. It just increases the odds in our favour.

The Weapon

The knife is the most likely weapon used in muggings and robberies in the UK. That is also the most likely weapon used in Muggings and Robberies in other locations around the world as well. That is, unless you live in the US where firearms are the most likely.

The victim seems uncertain if the attacker used a knife. We can not say for certain from the above information why the attacker thought the weapon was probably a knife. It is possible the victim noticed something in the mans hands and may have also received cuts to the face which indicated the man had a knife. It might have also been some other edged weapon - maybe even improvised.

The victim may not have even seen a weapon at all, but received cuts to the face which prompted the conclusion that a knife had been used. In these situations even close to this one detailed here, an aware person would pay close attention to any approaching persons hands to try to identify a weapon.

Just because the approaching person is not holding a weapon when you first spot them, does not mean they will not discreetly draw one as they get closer. An aware person in such a bad situation would maintain a watch on an approaching persons hands in case they draw a knife or other weapon from some location on the body.

Often, a Predator will use a weapon such as a knife and the victim will not realise until after the event. After any encounter such as this, check over your body for blood as a weapon may have been used. You may not even feel any pain at all. I spend a whole chapter talking about this phenomenon in Self Defense Smarts as highlight a whole range of real world examples where people have been cut in a violent encounter and not realised it until later.


Overall, a Predator is going through numerous criteria to select a suitable victim. A person who seems unaware of the risks facing them is most likely to be chosen as a victim. A person who seems aware of their surroundings and seems to be looking for a potential attacker when in a higher risk area, will most likely be left alone. The Predator may think that person is more like them and street smart. Always remember, the Predator wants a quick and successful attack so they can get away cleanly. Deny them the perception that they can do this with you.

Although the attack is regrettable, the victim should never have walked down that alleyway, on the weekend, at night, by himself, allowed the attacker to approach him, and be surprised by the disarming question. The victim in this case was very lucky with the outcome, as it could have easily been much worse.

This attack could have easily been avoided.

And that is the goal of Understanding Modern Violence. To give you the knowledge to not get yourself in these situations at all. Self defense is not about learning how to fight your way out of these situations. No matter how bad-ass you may be this is a very high risk approach.

Apply your knowledge.

Simply don't be there.