Should I Defend Myself if Attacked with a Weapon?

by Bratzo Barrena
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Bratzo Barrena, Instructor Systema Ruso Combate Funcional – Peru is a question I´m asked frequently. It’s a controversial subject, with many points of view, each with their own arguments and logic.There’s no simple answer. There are an infinite amount of variables to take into consideration (type of weapon, motive, type of attack, surroundings, etc.) impossible to mention all in this article, but I’ll try to give a clear and realistic answer.

It’s necessary to analyze the views usually given. The immediate answer most people give is “If attacked with a weapon, do not defend yourself, give them what they want”. Those who advise NOT TO DEFEND YOURSELF, assume that the attacker only wants to rob you, they want something material: your wallet, your cell phone, your car. If that is the situation, if you are COMPLETELY SURE that by handing over whatever they are asking for, your life is saved, DO IT!… But are you completely sure that if you give them what they want, they won’t hurt you? The truth is that unfortunately, there are also many cases in which this doesn’t happen. Handing over what they want DOES NOT ALWAYS GUARANTEE THEY WON’T HURT YOU. Maybe the assailant got angry because you didn’t have enough money, maybe he didn’t want to leave witnesses, or maybe he just wanted to see blood. Whatever the reason, there are many incidents where people handed over what they were asked for, without offering any resistance, and they were hurt or killed anyway.

This reminds me the unfortunate case of a couple of grandparents with their granddaughter (about one or two years old) were driving on a main city street. They were on their way home after withdrawing cash from the bank. A band of thieves followed them and stopped the car in plain daylight and before many witnesses to steal their money. But even though the grandfather handed over all the money, thinking they would be safe, one of the assailants shot the baby girl. The wound left her paraplegic and a few years later she died… There was no reason to shoot. The grandparents didn’t offer any resistance and they didn’t present any danger to the assailants; but they shot anyway… Unfortunately, handing over what you are asked for NOT ALWAYS GUARANTEES you won’t be hurt. Now, why only assume that weapons are only used to rob? We must accept that weapons are not only used to steal things, there are situations in which the attacker wants to hurt you, kidnap your child, rape you, or kill you. If you are in one of this situations, the advise “do not defend yourself, give them what they want”, may not be the best one.

In these cases, what is recommended first is to TALK to the attacker and try to make him come to senses, not in an arrogant or menacing way; do not irritate him and DO NOT DEFY HIM.

Keep calm and NEVER present yourself as a threat. Say whatever is necessary to avoid being hurt, but let’s be realistic, trying to make him come to senses doesn’t always work… And if you’re not able to persuade him not to hurt you, would you let him rape you or kill you without even trying to fight back?

One student told me that in a conference she attended, a specialist in women’s abuse recommended that in case of rape, the best thing to do is relax and not offer any resistance. The specialist’s argument was that what motivates a rapist is subduing a woman, and if she didn’t resist, if she didn’t fight back, the attacker wouldn’t feel any satisfaction and he most likely wouldn’t rape her… I think this is a very dangerous generalization. Yes, in some instances this may happen, for sure there would be many other cases where if you don’t resist, he will rape you anyway… But let’s assume you are a woman and decide not to offer any resistance, you give up to being raped to avoid suffering a worst outcome. You must consider that rape does not only produce physical abuse and psychological and emotional trauma. Rape could have as a consequence an unwanted pregnancy or the transmission of a disease like HIV. Would you be willing to take all those risks without offering any resistance?

Another common answer is “If you are attacked with a weapon, RUN.” This is a simplistic answer that doesn’t consider many variables. If you are completely sure that you are going to run faster than the attacker or that he won’t run after you, yes, sure, run… but, are you sure you are going to run faster? Maybe the attacker is younger or in better physical shape than you. What would happen if he runs after you and catches up with you? (you would even be tired). What would you do if you couldn’t run because you had an injury? It’s important to consider that many times you are not by yourself when an armed attack happens, you may be with a family member or another loved person and you may be responsible for defending them. If you are with a child or an elderly person, would you run and leave them to their fate? Could you run if the attacker is holding you? Of course not, first you would need to release yourself. If you are attacked with a gun, would you run faster than the bullet? I’m sure you won’t. Or maybe you are in a closed environment and you can’t run away. Possibilities are limitless… It’s necessary to understand that RUNNING IS A VALID OPTION, BUT IT’S NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE.

Another advice is “SCREAM”, attract attention, if there are witnesses, the attacker will surely run away before hurting you. This happens sometimes, but it’s also possible that he will hurt you because you started screaming and attracting attention. Or maybe you are in a place where help won’t get on time. How many people are hurt or killed in their own houses? Neighbors may even listen the screams, but they decide not to intervene or they just don’t make it on time. And calling the police… they cannot always arrive on time (unfortunately, police cannot be everywhere in every moment). Are you going to let your survival depend on others or would you try to defend yourself?

Those who advise NOT TO DEFEND YOURSELF base their logic in the idea that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to survive an armed attack…, which is not true. There are many cases of people who do survive. Yes, it’s A VERY LOW PROBABILITY to survive an armed attack, but it’s not IMPOSSIBLE. And most people who have survived armed attacks have no self-defense training, they just defended themselves the best they could… Surviving does not only depend on your ability, the attacker’s ability must also be taken into consideration and, of course, the LUCK factor plays an important role. There are people who die from one stabbing and others survive after ten… Sometimes one stab produces a lethal wound; other times, ten stabs don’t compromise vital organs… it’s a matter of luck.

Up to this moment, it seems like the answer is “If attacked with a weapon, DEFEND YOURSELF”…; but, in fact, this is not the best advice either. Defending yourself also involves risks. Those who recommend DEFENDING YOURSELF as the only answer, usually are people with some type training in disarming weapons and they think that by mastering these or those techniques, one is ready to defeat any armed attack… They are completely wrong. Yes, training defense against weapons is useful, but it DOES NOT GUARANTEE your survival.

It’s very important to understand that an armed attacker (being with a hammer, a knife, a gun, etc.) ALWAYS HAS THE ADVANTAGE and MOST PROBABLY you will end up badly hurt or even dead. It doesn’t matter how strong, fast or agile you may be; it doesn’t matter what martial arts you train nor how many techniques in defense against weapons you master, THE ARMED ATTACKER ALWAYS HAS THE MOST CHANCES OF WINNING.

If you defend yourself against a weapon and survive, you will MOST LIKELY end up wounded… and, probably, very badly. It’s almost impossible surviving an armed attack completely unharmed. It’s necessary to understand that defense against weapons should not become a duel, to see “who wins”. If the other person has a weapon and you don’t, and you fight him as if you were in a sports fight or a duel, most likely you’re going to “lose”… and in this case, what you could lose is your life. Never FIGHT an armed attacker, DEFEND yourself from him… Fighting someone is very different from defending from someone. Self-defense dynamics are very different from sports or dueling dynamics (this topic is developed in further detail in the article: SELF-DEFENSE DYNAMICS: Click here).

Many times, I’m asked how to defend from a stealth attack, from someone who attacks by surprise… It seems as if they ask this question expecting some special or magical technique as an answer; but the truth is you cannot defend from an attack you don’t see coming. For example, if someone approaches you from the back without you noticing, and stabs you 1, 2 or 5 times, you will know that you are being attacked when you feel the knife inside your body, and depending on how serious those initial wounds are (if you are incapacitated or if they are only minor wounds), it will be possible or not for you to defend yourself to avoid further damage. The only way to defend from an stealth attack is not allowing it to happen, this means, you must always be aware of your surroundings, especially in places and situations that represent a higher risk. If you are ever attacked with a weapon and decide to defend yourself, you must do it in the best way possible, and knowing that it’s VERY LOW PROBABILITY that you survive…, BUT IT’S POSSIBLE. And the best way to IMPROVE YOUR PROBABILITIES of survival is by appropriate training.

Russian Systema is a martial art of self-defense that helps you develop the physical, mental, and emotional abilities needed to defend yourself in the most efficient way. Through the understanding of the basic concepts and principles, the knowledge of the human anatomy, biomechanics, the interaction of forces and movement, Systema will allow you to develop, naturally and spontaneously, the techniques that best adapt to your physical characteristics, your metal state, and your psyche. Systema will help you keep the emotional calmness and mental clarity necessary to assess any situation and give the most appropriate response, immediately and spontaneously.

Training in Systema will help you increase your chances of survival.

And to finally answer the initial question, Should I defend myself if attacked with a weapon?

The answer is: You must decide… Nobody can advise you to defend yourself, neither can they advise you not to defend yourself. It’s a very personal decision that must be taken in the moment, considering the danger you confront in a specific situation. You must take into consideration the number of attackers, type of weapon, motive, surroundings, you defensive abilities, the risk you face if you don’t defend yourself, the risk you face if you do defend yourself, the possibility of getting help, etc… There are many factors to consider and they can only be assess by being in the situation.

If you decide not to defend yourself, it’s the right answer. If you decide to defend yourself, it’s also the right answer. But whichever decision you take, you must understand that NOT DEFENDING YOURSELF as well as DEFENDING YOURSELF represent a risk… and an opportunity. I hope to elaborate deeper on this subject in future articles. This important topic is covered in great detail in Vladimir Vasiliev’s soon to be released new book EDGE: SECRETS OF THE RUSSIAN BLADE MASTERS.

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