How to Survive Random Gang Violence

Random Violence Survival Skills covers:
    •    Survival doesn’t mean Fighting!
    •    Awareness Skills
    •    People Skills
    •    Physical Skills for Evasion
    •    Physical Skills for Fighting
    •    Fighting when Surrounded
    •    Fighting on the Ground

How to survive a violent encounter with a group of punks:
My topic today is about the needless death of young adults, mostly young men, from violence. We’ve all seen headlines about violence near our homes perpetrated by strangers upon strangers who just happened to be in the wrong place. Sudden road rage or walking past the noisy house party has resulted in death or a year long coma from debilitating head trauma for some victims. Some discussion and a bit of practice can be the difference between life and death or minor and major physical trauma.


Predicting violent behavior is a skill that can be learned:The Gift of Fear  cover of The Gift of Fear

Few people die from the random violence of a single angry stranger. As we have seen reported in the papers, the violence that kills is group violence or violence with a weapon. While tragedies happen, most people do not die from simple punches to the head or kicks to the body. People die when they fall down and are kicked or stomped on the head by a group of attackers or from weapon damage to inner organs. When a weapon is not used, a few survival skills can make the difference in that ’once in a life time event’ of being attacked by a gang of cowards.

Survival is not the same as fighting.
When faced by a violent group, trying to fight the whole group is extremely foolish. No ordinary person can fight a group and win, (no matter what happens in the movies), but there are skills that can be practiced that can help you survive such an encounter.

These skills incude awareness skills, people skills and physical skills for evasion and lastly, for fighting. Who needs them? If I could predict this, I’d make my fame and fortune by helping you folks know how to avoid the violence, not how to survive it. Hopefully none of us will ever need to practice any of these simple things and even just reading about them will be a big help.

A victim checklist is a good place to start. Ask yourself these questions about yourself and your family. Even though you may be a capable adult professional, not all in your family may be as understanding about violence as yourself.
    •    Do you live in a violent neighbourhood?
    •    Do family members go to night clubs or dance clubs where violence can be predicted?
    •    Do family members attend raves?
    •    Do any attend a college? Don’t laugh - google for "college violence" and look at the 26,900,000 hits!

Awareness Skills:
Loud music, rebel yells, 3 or 4 guys and or girls sitting on a car drinking beer. These should all be danger signals, red lights to stop you in your tracks and tell you to go somewhere else. Listen to yourself when a situation feels uncomfortable, it is your mind trying to keep you alive. Don’t argue, minimize or rationalize yourself into potential danger. Deal with reality and don’t deny the danger.

This situation is not of the criminal ambush type which is very hard to avoid (but not impossible) without some well practiced awareness skills.

If you see it or hear it, avoid it!

People walk into a ’rowdy party’ group rather than avoid the situation for various reasons, but young male adults who do recognize the danger often keep going and deny the reality or feel capable of handling it because to ’give in’ to feelings of anxiety is to feel weak and not in control, feelings that may be worse than getting beat up. Macho feelings interfere with good sense. Young ladies are set upon by girl gangs often because they just don’t believe that other girls can be dangerous.

Be aware–like the defensive driving skill of looking ahead instead of at the bumper in front of you, look ahead for social traps as well. Don’t deny reality and walk into foresee-able trouble.

People Skills:              Real Crimes, Real Criminals

When faced by a challenging group, do you
1) call them names,
2) tell them to back off or die,
3) start to cry or
4) stay calm, friendly and try to de-escalate.

There is no guarantee that you can de-escalate but if you get aggressive, it is almost guaranteed to get them riled up. This reminds me of another friend, a Federal US Air Marshal,  who likes to keep telling us civilians, "F-OFF is not de-escalation!"

Once you have wandered into the potentially violent situation, there are some things to try to offset an attack. This is presupposing of course that the group hasn’t made a criminal committment to attack you already.

You can be agreeable:   "Hey, great party" as you slide on past. If the group is large, look to the back and without catching anyone’s eye in particular try: "Hey, guy, how ya’ doing?" to give the impression that someone in the group knows you. You want to be a real person to them to lessen their aggressiveness. Don’t give lip or obvious looks of scorn. Be respectful, be smooth, keep moving.

Keep a positive attitude. As the situation escalates, keep focused on your goal - "I am getting out of this." Do not think about what harm you may suffer, how your clothes may be torn or what jerks they are to treat you this way. Stay focused on getting home intact.

Keeping moving can be hard when someone is using their social ’set him up’ skills to engage you so you stop so you can be surrounded. If requests are made of your resources; "Got a match? Got the time?" or your attention, with, "Hey, who you lookin at?" just keep up a broken record of "Gotta go, man, gotta go." over and over as you keep moving. It is safer to have people chasing you than to be surrounded by them. If you do get stopped and they want something like, "What the hell are you wearing red for - that’s our colour! Take it off now!" then comply. If they say, "get outah here," then get. Fast.

Physical Skills for Evasion:
Be flexible in your route choice. Be ready to retreat if you have too. Be ready to run at any time, look for open avenues of escape while you try to slide past and de-escalate. Keep moving and stay on the outer edge of the group. Don’t get surrounded! Don’t let anyone get close enought to grab you. Keep your distance even if it means giving up your ground and going into the street. Keep flexible.
If someone’s hand comes into your space, avoid it by stepping back and away. Stay ready to slap it aside if it becomes a grab or a punch. No one can outrun someone by running backwards, so don’t try. If you are facing someone and decide to run, step cornerwise back, turning and running at the same time. Start with a skip or a jump to create distance to be able to make your turn successful. Don’t wait until they have jumped at you, that is way too late and you’re caught! Practice this move, then practice with a friend trying to catch you as you turn and run so you can get a feel for the difference between a ’safe’ distance to turn and run and one that is ’too late.’

Run to get away, but as our good buddy Mama Duck likes to tell us, "Run to safety; don’t run from danger."

This will keep you focused on looking for crowds, looking for lights and people to help. Also run to string the group out so if you must fight, you maybe only need to fight one at a time. Run through narrow spaces which force the group to bottle-neck and slow down and string out.

Do you know how to run across a street of busy traffic safely? Some people feel there is less danger in doing this obviously dangerous manoeuvre than to go down under a group bent on violence. It is definitely a last ditch skill to be used only to escape a real ’death is imminent’ situation.

This is a recognized street survival / escape skill, but there are only a few of us who know how to do it properly and who teach it. One is my friend Animal who tells how in his book: Street E&E:cover of Street E&E:Evading, Escaping, and Other Ways to Save Your Ass When Things Get Ugly 

My version goes like this: (caveat warning caveat warning caveat warning: do not try this unless it is worth risking your life to do so. It is very dangerous!)

You must set your run alongside the car in the lane to your left. Of course if traffic is moving very fast, do not try this manouver at all! You can look back and see if the car next in line sees you but don’t spend too much time on it as you need your eyes forward.

It helps if there is no traffic coming towards you so choose a car to cross behind by gauging the traffic flow coming from your front you. Now, while running alongside your chosen car (if it is a large, slow van, you can even pace it better if you can reach out and touch it), edge into the space right behind the back bumper. Likely it is going faster than you so this doesn’t take much time. It is also most probable that by this time the guy behind will have seen you and is going, "Whahhh the @#$%?"

Once the car is gone and you have a clear shot, don’t hesitate or look, just dart across into the middle of the road. If you timed it right, there should be no traffic coming at you in the opposite lane to slow you down.

The secret is to take your timing from oncoming traffic, then from the car you are going behind and not to worry about the most dangerous car, the one coming at you from the rear.

And now you know why this is a very desperate measure not to be tried just for the giggle of it all.

Physical Skills for Fighting:

1) After Running:
Here is where ordinary martial arts fighting skills may be useful IF you don’t stop and try to take on the whole group. If you are caught, the bad guy will try to trip you down or hold you until the rest of the group arrives. Your job is to discourage him, get free and keep moving. Most fighting skills (punching and kicking) except the wrestling / grappling skills, will be helpful here. Darren Laur has an excellent article about how a trained fighter should face a group: Fighting Multiple Opponents.

2) Fighting when Surrounded: How to take a beating and survive.

Most victims tend not to accept that they are in a fight until well after the bad guy has decided that he is going to attack. Although this is normal, it is also mucho dangerous. Most attackers give away their intentions by slowly escalating to a necessary pitch of aggression before attacking. Learn these signals and how to escape the situation. Darren has a great article (his stuff is really good!): Ritualized Combat:   The signs that an attack is going to happen.  It is a great little freebie!

Though we have named the person who escalates secretly until his attack is a complete surprise and a complete victory, (we call him the sucker puncher), most attacks start visibly.

In a drunken group, getting decked by a punch puts you in serious trouble. Two things will save your life: don’t get hit solidly in the head and don’t go to the ground. All your efforts should be directed at these two goals.

Here also, some martial arts training would be helpful. Not to beat them all up, but just to survive. Training will toughen the muscles of your torso creating a body armor so you can take some hits to the body while protecting your head and still stay up and alert. Training should teach you how to twist and shift to minimize the effect of the hit or kick and teach you how to stay calm and aware in the middle of the confusion.

You can learn how to push one attacker into another for advantage, (or down the stairs, into a table, whatever), how to use one as a shield from the others and how to demoralize the group by taking the leader out fast, efficiently and viciously, if you train realistically. But since this article is for the untrained, your goal is too escape, not to win the fight!

Your arms should be used to cover your head to soak up the punches. Crouch only a little to lower your center of gravity and crash around into people–keep moving–trying to find the edge of the group so you can run. Crash around constantly, vigorously and randomly. Be erratic! Don’t quit moving!

Be careful reaching your arm out, it may get grabbed and become a lever to force you to the ground. A boxer’s type of bobbing action, bent from the waist, is not useful here either as it encourages people to jump on your back and take you to the ground.

3) If you go to the ground: try to take someone down with you to hide under. Roll to stay under them, not to get on top. While there is no long term benefit here, you want them to work harder to hurt you and to blow off the adrenaline that fuels their aggression.

[This is NOT THE SAME as how to go to the ground in a ring situation even if it is a no-holds-barred fight; you aren’t under a crowd of boots in the ring!]

If you go down alone, lie on your back, cover your head with your arms, your stomach with your knees and try to keep your heels curled into your butt. Why lie on your back? If you are on your side, all of your back from your head to the base of your spine is exposed to unseen attacks. Stamping kicks to the ear that is up won’t be seen, and are very dangerous. Face up gives you a better chance to see a kick and jerk away, minimizing its force or causing a miss. Keep your fists on your ears and your shoulders shrugged to help to cover the side of the head and the neck. The elbows cover the face and the throat as best as possible. All their attacks must get past your forearms, elbows, shins and knees to hurt your vital organs. When you are kicked in the side, try not to uncurl too much.

If they have to work hard to get you down and to beat you up, their adrenaline rush may soon be over and they may be satisfied with your submissive behavior after a few licks.

Don’t uncurl too soon. There is always the last coward who waits for that moment to prove his inadequacies upon a hapless victim.

Reading these thoughts and instructions will not save anyone who is attacked tomorrow. These skills must be practiced if you wish to maximize your self reliance. Practice with your friends. Think about taking some extended training in a martial art. Short courses don’t cover these or other necessary skills nor do they offer the amount of practice necessary to actually help a person manage to perform the skills they have learned…performance always lags behind learning.

So there you have it. Don’t try to fight a drunken gang out of macho feelings or sheer stupidity but if they make the choice to attack you and you can’t get away, do your best, don’t quit, don’t quit, don’t ever quit. Heart will get you through more than muscle or skill. Use your fear and anger to fuel a rage and use your rage to will yourself to stay alive!


Extra Resources:

Scientific Self-Defense: cover of Scientific Self-Defence


Real World  Self-Defense:cover of Real World Self-Defense