By Drew Goodwin
Making the decision to act in response to a threat from a handgun in a hostage situation requires problem solving dynamic variables, with potentially severe consequences under stress, to identify effective actions while overcoming barriers to act that are unique to each scenario.
In the field of self-defense, defensive tactics or other martial arts numerous solutions have been examined in response to such situations that may or may not produce varying degrees of successful application. Debate may always exist on the correct or most effective solution, which in many cases comes from the improper definition of the problem or operationalization of the relevant variables. Because of the diversity of context in these situations, it cannot be argued that the best defense is one that is based on concept and principle driven solutions that enable the defender to make decisions rapidly, with the best possible outcome in applications that improve chances for survival in as many scenarios as possible. In these situations, we are also required to evaluate and understand the mindset and natural response of the attacker to prepare for the eventual practical evolution of the reaction to the resistance of the defender. Undoubtedly, there exists several possible outcomes of the attacker’s behavior, however, it is necessary to first address the most common and instinctive responses that will most likely be encountered.
In the instances of scenarios requiring a victim to execute a defense against an attacker with a hand gun, it is pragmatic in the evolution of addressing the topic to begin examination of the subject in the common context of the attacker and the victim face to face with the attacker pointing or aiming the weapon at mid chest level to head height to the front of the victim. In this case, we are only addressing the possible action of a civilian, as military, law enforcement and executive protection training, resources and context changes. Other variables such as changes in angle of attack or type of weapon may then be more easily understood following a basic understanding of the concepts and principles used from the foundation technique. In these situations, there may also be other variables that will determine the response of the defender. The scenario may also include variable types of action on the part of the attacker. In one sense the attacker may be actively shooting at victims, in another the attacker may be threatening to do so or demanding some type of compliance with the weapon the means of negotiating such compliance. In one case, the active shooter, there is no choice but to move for the attacker and control of the weapon in the best possible manner, yet the former means of a threat or hostage type scenario, gaining compliance or a kidnapping, may have varying degrees of potential to comply or to decide to act. In this case the process of observing the attack and orienting to possible solutions must happen quickly before the opportunity expires or the situation progresses beyond the ability of the victim to execute a defense.
To address the second topic of a threat, or a hostage situation, we are required to add a layer of time in the defense. The hostage scenario in the beginning may initially be dealt with by compliance. This solution would depend on several variables: What is the attacker asking for? Do I believe that after compliance the attacker will remove the threat? What is the attacker’s mental state, agitated or calm? Are there possible other victims nearby that may be affected by my actions or non-action, and if action is called for what are the variables that dictate my chances of successful defense such as distance, grip, bad guy behavior and movement of the weapon.
To understand the defense, it is first necessary to understand common behavior of the victim and the attacker in a hostage or compliance type of scenario. When threatened, or given a demand to comply with some type of action, a victim may initially react with some type of surprise or confusion about the situation. Victims will commonly ask a question for the attacker to repeat the demand to ensure it was heard and processed correctly. The victims natural mental state will also be expected by the attacker on many occasions and can be used as a tactical advantage in application of the defense. The victim’s natural physical response will most likely be a flinch, or more likely a defensive raising of the hands. This too must be considered when developing solution or deciding to act. It is also necessary to categorize the weapon being used to attack as it will determine the necessary actions. In the most relevant sense, the typical handgun threat is only dangerous from the standpoint of the weapon in a direct line from the barrel, to any considerable distance a round or multiple rounds, if discharged, may travel.
For comparison of solutions or creating and teaching a starting point technique, the most common and practical threat would, again, be a right-handed attacker, holding a semi-automatic type handgun at medium distance pointing mid chest to shoulder level. In this position, as described above, the natural reaction of the victim should be used as a tactical set up. In response to the demand, asking the attacker to repeat the demand, which is a natural and expected reaction will set up the best timing of the technique in the moment the attacker is talking and not prepared for a defensive reaction, or as able to process the new information, of movement of the victim. The physical response of the victim when threatened should also be taken into account as the hands will naturally rise into a defensive position. Bringing the hands up slightly to feign compliance can reduce the time it takes to move to the weapon if executed properly. It would however, be necessary to understand that to fully raise the hands above the weapon, if not already there would cause a less efficient movement to the weapon. As well, if the hands are fully raised then any additional movement may be perceived as a threat by the attacker. Concurrently, too much talking may cause the attacker to become agitated and possibly move the weapon to a less advantageous position.
Once the problem has been correctly defined and the best tactical starting point achieved the relevant concepts, principles and technique can be defined. Assessing the initial priorities, based on these variables, will determine the required objectives and checkpoints. Initially, as we understand how the weapon is dangerous, and the most common natural reaction of the attacker our initial movements can be determine based on previous concepts and movements transferred from other basic solutions. The first objective should be to move as efficiently as possible, in a straight line, with the hand to control the weapon, while simultaneously executing a body defense to move off line from the danger of the discharge of the weapon. Because of the starting position, and the equal distance of both hands to the weapon a tactical decision would need to be made as to moving to the attacker’s dead side, outside of the hand holding the weapon, or to the attacker’s live side, which may move the defender towards the empty hand of the attacker. Based on the attacker’s natural body response from the initial movement and the ability to control, counter attack and applied pressure, the dead side defense would, without other variables such as other civilians or obstacles be the most effective solution.
The initial control and slight redirection of the weapon his necessary to prevent further uncontrolled movement of the weapon, specifically returning towards the defender, while the body defense takes the victim off line preventing the weapon from discharging into the defender. The body defense must be also tactically advantageous and not only bring the defender off line but also assist with the redirection, while simultaneously bringing the defenders body around and in towards the attacker with weight on the toes with the shoulder on the same side of the hand movement going in, in anticipation of the reaction and the next transition of the defense.
It is important to note the number of common mistakes made in teaching and executing the defense that arise due to a lack of understanding of the technical aspects of the solution at this point. First, as we mentioned a proper tactical set up is preferred. However, following the decision to act, executing the redirection of the weapon and a proper body defense are the first common mistakes seen frequently in not only students, but in other instructors. This misunderstanding also leads to some instructors who choose to design and execute a mechanically different defense, with misplaced priorities and objectives, creating a tactically flawed execution of an ineffective solution. Another important aspect of the defense is to understand how the human body perceives a threat and the time it takes for the threat to be processed by the attacker and a reaction executed. Action of the defender, compared to the re-action for the attacker is much faster. When the hand moves to control the weapon, it does so that it is rising at a 45-degree angle contacting the barrel in front of the trigger guard with the inside webbing of the hand, while wrapping around the weapon and making a slight redirection in the same direction, slightly up and away. At this point it is also important to note that the free hand must also be close to the body during the body defense and not pass in front of the weapon at any time. The incorrect redirection is often more of a strike or a punch of which the excessive force moves the weapon into unnecessary negative space that must eventually me accounted for in the transition towards the counter attack and pressure control. This unnecessary travel also has consequences in the use of body weight to achieve final position of the weapon before disarm. Every degree during the redirect the weapon moves, down range of the round, increase the chances of collateral damage to another victim exponentially. Also, a more circular and telegraphed movement may be seen by the attacker, which also takes longer to achieve control. The result of moving the weapon sideways, instead of up and slightly away, may also move the weapon in line towards someone next to the defender. Many mistakes are often seen translated into an improper body defense due to the defender pulling the shoulder back, instead of moving the front shoulder in to assist in the redirection. Most importantly this shoulder forward motion provides a tactical set up that is critical to the transition of the defense going in towards the attacker in due to their natural reaction to retain the weapon and for the defender to achieve a counter attack with more force.
Following the initial control, redirection and body defense the reaction of the attacker to maintain control of the weapon and direct it back towards the victim must be aggressively resolved. By moving to the dead side, with the weight on the toes, the hand motion should be with pressure from the top of the weapon, turning knuckles down with body weight, going in to secure the weapon on the hip of the attacker. The timing of leading with, and connecting early, with a forceful counter attack to the face of the attacker is critically important. Commonly, with the hand controlling the weapon, if it was fired, a malfunction may occur in the weapon, but should still be dealt with and considered a functioning firearm. Once the body is off line no part of it should cross in front of the weapon in the continuation of the defense. It is also important to note the direction of pressure when arriving to the dead side of the attacker. As the controlling hand and arm bring the weapon using weight advantage towards the attacker’s hip, the weight of the defender must remain on the toes, going in with an angled pressure on the hip. This will help secure unnecessary movement of the weapon because of the natural body reaction the force of the counter attack.
Following the counter attack(s) double control is achieved by recoiling the attacking hand to bring underneath the weapon, towards the back of the slide, trapping it from being pulled or retained by the attacker to achieve an effective disarm. Again, as described previously, the weapon must be considered functional at all times. Due to the danger of the weapon used, in this case a hand gun, the danger also exists not only close but at a distance, which necessitates a disarm as opposed to a stick or knife which may or may not require the same decision. To execute the disarm, while the body is positioned to the side and slightly perpendicular to the attacker, following double control, rotation of the weapon towards the attacker will assist in releasing the grip of the weapon, specifically uncoiling the finger from the trigger position which will allow removal of the weapon following a slight opposite redirection back while stepping away, staying off line with the outside foot, puling the weapon out of the grip and off of the finger with force while making a final step away with the inside foot away and creating distance. During the movement away, relevant continued strikes and counter attacks may be made to increase the outcome of the finishing mode. Although the attacker is disarmed and possibly injured they should as well continue to be considered dangerous. Creating distance and circling away to a tactically advantageous position behind the attacker may prevent the defender from being grabbed or lunged at by the attacker if they assume the weapon is not functioning. At this time, the defender now holding the weapon must be accountable for their further actions against an unarmed attacker. The defender should not assume the weapon will fire, nor automatically assume that it is the required use of force to resolve the situation. The weapon may be used as an impact weapon, as a common object, but may also potentially be made serviceable and functioning if the defender has been properly trained to deal with such a condition. In the moment of control and creating distance commands may be given to the attacker, including identifying them by pointing and yelling, with active concern over the control and position of the weapon. Further scanning of the area may identify additional attackers, bystanders, exits or other possible options for further actions.
Other possibly relevant techniques, based upon variables in the scenario may result from a need to move to the live side, across the body, in which case will rely on some of the same principles and concepts described above but include adjustments based on body positioning as well as increased risk to being attacked or restricted by the attacker’s free hand. Additional considerations may include defending against a two handed, or double grip on the weapon and each could be preceded by a push, grab or pull by the free hand. In these cases, additional solutions can be layered into the technique to solve for these problems. The defender’s body position may change from standing to the knees, as well as the distance to the weapon becoming closer, to the forehead, or possibly farther away at which point if too far other tactical preparation may be necessary to close the distance. In any instance, solutions can be generally achieved by relying on previously learned techniques and concepts to solve new problems under stress. The priorities in general remain the same; anticipate natural, direct body movements, redirect and control the weapon, body defense to stay off line, aggressive counter attacks going in, disarm, create distance and angle, scan the environment.
Teaching methods for instructors and students should rely on a history of correctly learning a skill at its base foundational level. Movements such as inside defense and body defense are learned in early stages of Krav Maga training and with proper instruction can be easily transferred to more complex techniques. If improper muscle memory has been recorded by the student, the effects may now become harder to re-train and have consequences with bodily harm more severe than a punch to the stomach or face. Initial training for these types of techniques comes in the Practitioner level, not where the gun defense from the front is introduced in the Graduate curriculum. Once it is confirmed that the basic movements are achieved, teaching the student should begin with defining the problem clearly and explaining options, including forecasting other relevant similar techniques. Explanation of essential details and check points should be confirmed through dry drill and on ramp teaching and practice, before rapid and aggressive full speed training with a more resistant attacker is included. Being able to do the technique fast is valuable, but not at the expense of mechanical and technical performance of necessary checkpoints.
In a defensive tactics system like Krav Maga there may be generally be more than one solution for any given situation. However, there is only one solution that will give the best outcome most often. In a comparison study of other options for a defense against a gun from the front in a hostage situation the first mistakes come from misunderstanding the problem and creating more advanced or complicated situations than are necessary to adequately applying the foundational concepts from which to build an effective response with the best outcome for the most situations. In most instances where other solutions are recommended for the same scenario, the instructor first demonstrates a lack of understanding about the proper method endorsed by the International Krav Maga Federation technique and attempts to disprove a valid solution by making the same common mistakes that students make in training, or create overly complicated solutions that don’t include the critical concepts of redirection, control and body defense as well as moving into a tactically disadvantaged position relying again on uncommon reactions from the attacker. In most cases the first mistake is to incorrectly identify the redirection of the weapon. The correct placement is a small redirection of the barrel, not a large redirection of the weapon bringing the weapon down to waist height where the leverage of the body from above is no longer able to be utilized to bring the weapon to the attacker’s hip and doesn’t compensate for the natural retention movement of the attacker. The correct redirection is small and the body weight is used to move to the hip of the attacker while simultaneously going in, not in a two-step motion where leverage is no longer useable by a smaller attacker. Second, many instructors who lack understanding of proper technique stand flat footed while counterattacking, describing the danger of the attacker’s reaction to the punch as a reason for a change in technique, however, when seen as standing on the feet and not the 45-degree pressure angle of going into the attacker’s body movement and retreat it would seem to cause a problem when performed incorrectly. Many individual instructors or systems also loose context of the audience and who is performing the technique under stress. Most alterative solutions require some type of high level of athletic performance or superior strength, most of which the majority of the population who find themselves as victims do not possess. Further, many of the movements are not short and natural body movements such as the underlying principle that the founder, Imi Lichtenfeld, said were a basic requirement for effective self-defense. Each new technique for each variation of attack require an entirely new set of muscle memory and techniques that without an extremely high level of ability and training would be next to impossible to replicate under real life stress. Many of these types of systems have created 20 techniques for 20 problems, that do not include transferable concepts and principles from foundation techniques that are in direct conflict with the with the core principles of Krav Maga itself. In these cases, it is always the most experienced operator creating solutions to the context of their perspective, but in the hands of the majority of the diverse population and the lowest common denominator would not only be overly complex and unnatural but highly dangerous. In developing Krav Maga Imi needed a system that all types of people could learn quickly and apply under stressful situations, the priority was on the person, the student, then the concepts and principles, not the technique for the sake of making a technique for an upper class of fighter or something that looks good on the relatively new videos being used to trample on the name Krav Maga and the founder’s vision.
Based on this assessment we should also understand, as instructors, how and when to teach such techniques to a population that can safely and realistically perform these types of defenses against an armed attacker. As mentioned before, Military, Law Enforcement or Executive Protection professionals have different skill sets and resources operating under differing agendas and requirements. In the civilian sector, the majority of adults, men and women, should be able to rely on the concepts presented and apply them successfully to protect themselves and their loved ones with proper instruction and application. The part of the population where special concern should be given is when and if to teach this type of solution to children, it is a very individual assessment. There can be no arbitrary line drawn that says at which age and under which circumstances gun defenses should be taught. As a general guideline, the instructor may need to assess certain aspects such as height, reach, mind set and ability to reach the required checkpoints. This should be apparent by their ability to perform foundational defenses and techniques against an adult attacker in other techniques that represent the same family of transferable skills for the gun defense in question. For example; Can they perform a basic inside defense from half ready with a one and a half beat counter to a punching adult? Can they perform a basic front left vs front left chopping defense? Can they perform a basic defense against a low punch to the body with good body defense? Can they perform a basic advancing punch to the adult target with power? Can they reach the weapon and redirect? What is their mind set? Are they mature enough to handle the responsibility of making this kind of decision under stress and being accountable for the consequences? Or is it better to teach tactical compliance and wait for a better opportunity to perform another applicable technique? As a general rule these questions can start to be answered around the age of 12-14, the answer is not automatically yes or no. However, in all cases basic instruction on gun safety, including a background of professional instruction in firearms training coordinated with defensive techniques will lay a proper foundation for respect for firearms and lifelong gun safety, which can also be introduced at an earlier age to introduce basic principles even before teaching complex defenses and disarming techniques. In respect for the variations and underlying principles, using hard and fast rules in Krav Maga such as “always”, “never” or “has to…” places restrictions on the mindset and thinking and slows down the problem-solving process and ability to learn and retain the most effective solutions. Identifying primary concepts and tactics by describing preference and priorities or filters of movement allow for more creative, yet effective, problem solving under the widest number of diverse situations.
In conclusion, making the decision to act in response to a threat from a handgun in a hostage situation requires problem solving dynamic variables, with potentially severe consequences under stress, to identify effective actions while overcoming barriers to act that are unique to each scenario. Every situation, attacker and defender are unique, but with proper knowledge of Krav Maga principles, realistic training with realistic behaviors and the addition of the correct mindset the desired outcome can limit risk with the best possible outcome for the victim, family members, loved ones or nearby bystanders.