Dealing With Violent Confrontations - ITS Tactical

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Dealing With Violent Confrontations

By Bryan Black

If you’ve been following our articles here at ITS Tactical, you’ve no doubt heard my good friend Jack of The Survival Podcast being mentioned.

I was invited by Jack on Monday, to take part in the filming of the Advanced Ballistic Striking DVD Series that he and his business partner Neil are producing. They flew Systema (Russian Martial Art) expert Val Riazanov in from the UAE to film the DVD’s, and I was asked to assist Val during the weapons disarming portion.

Assisting Val basically meant drawing weapons on him, getting disarmed and thrown to the floor. I’ve trained in Systema before, a few years back when I lived in California, but have never trained with anyone quite like Val.

I learned an incredible amount of information in just the few hours I spent with him Monday, and would like to take this opportunity to share some of that knowledge. I’m also going to heavily note the incredible Podcast that Jack put together that prompted me to write this article of the same headline.

I’d like to encourage every one of you to get over and listen to Jack’s Podcast from yesterday. I feel this is one of his best and most applicable podcast’s to what we do here at ITS.


I’m a strong believer that violence is inherent in human beings, we see it everyday in the news, we see it everyday on the streets, and most of us who commute on a regular basis see it daily.

Violence can be as small as the verbal altercation you got in with the guy who stole your parking space, and as large as genocide where millions are killed. The point I’m trying to make is that you have to recognize that violence surrounds us, and you have to be prepared to handle violent situations accordingly.

By handling them accordingly, I mean not having to handle them in the first place.


Before we get into how to keep yourself out of these situations, let’s first talk about how to recognize that you’re in one. It’s not always going to be outwardly apparent that you’re even in a conflict until its too late, but by learning how use your situational awareness, trust your gut and learn what to look for, you’ll be that much more prepared.

The primary tool at your disposal for recognizing a conflict is your gut. I’ve always felt that if you can’t trust your gut, then you’ve got big problems. Trusting my gut has saved me from more than one dangerous situation in my life, and I truly believe that it’s the only thing you can truly 100% count on in your life. Your gut will tell you when its not a wise move to walk through that door, or start an argument with the guy who just cut you off in traffic. Ignoring this can never be a good thing.

Secondary in your toolbox is situational awareness, which is paying attention to everything around you at all times and keeping your head on a swivel. This means being aware of absolutely everything. Who poses the biggest threat when you’re sitting down to eat in a restaurant, where the exits are, where can you take cover if something goes down, and especially who’s behind you. I almost never sit with my back towards the ingress of traffic anywhere I go, and if I do wind up in that situation, I’m always checking my six. It’s something my wife gripes at me about, but I always want to put myself in the best position to see a threat coming at me.

Situational awareness also means being aware of ALL potential threats. Does this guy that’s running his mouth in front of me have buddies that are moving up to join him? To quote my friend Dion from SCG International, you should be thinking about three things. Buddies, weapons and options. Where are your buddies and where are your opponent’s? What can you use as a weapon if needed, and what’s in your opponent’s hands? And lastly, what are your options for escape as you’re always looking for the door.

Finally we get to body position, which Val mentioned was something that everyone knows how to assess for a threat. He’s absolutely right, I’ve known how to recognize a threat by looking at a person’s body position for a long time now. He was able to relate this extremely well as we were filming, by demonstrating different body positions and asking me what my natural reaction was to these.

During a violent situation, the aggressor will roll their shoulders up and forward, most likely tighten their fists, and their demeanor will shift. We’ve all seen this first hand, and these telltale signs are some of the first things that occur during a violent situation. As Val also mentioned,  the absence of these telltale signs, can produce some of the most scary situations. Someone that approaches you with a smile and a handshake can just as easily be the person who draws a knife with their other hand and plunges it into your liver.

By recognizing these signs before there’s a chance for violence, you’ll be better prepared to not only avoid them for yourself, but for all those around you as well.


Avoidance is not putting your head in the sand and pretending that you can will away violent situations. They can and will happen to every one of us at some point in our lives. It’s how you handle those situations that is important.

During my filming with Val, he made some tremendous points about not only avoiding conflicts, but defusing a violent situation. Let’s take a shopping mall, you’re walking through the mall with your family when a rough looking gang-banger shoulders you while you’re walking past.

Do you turn around, tighten your fists and scream some obscenities at him? If I would have been asked that question 10 years ago, I would have said “Damn right!” That’s just how I was raised, not by my parents, but by my own code. I never wanted to allow myself to appear weak, scared or incapable of defense.

This had a lot to do with how I was treated as a youngster. I had a lot of so-called friends in my pre-teen years and while I wasn’t beat up on physically, I was beat up on emotionally. Constantly picked on by friends and stolen from as well. I had friends that even broke into my house while I wasn’t home to steal my things.

It wasn’t until I got to be around 12 or so that I finally distanced myself from these people, who knows why it went on as long as it did, but the important thing is that I recognized it and moved on. As I grew up I chose my friends very carefully and developed a real innate sense of trust recognition. I still feel to this day that my experiences as a kid really helped to allow me to recognize a trustworthy person and who I choose to associate with.

My point behind this tangent is that I grew up feeling like I had to prove something. Constantly looking for an altercation, I definitely found them in my teens and early 20s. I don’t necessarily mean fist fights or even violent situations, but I’m a firm believer in the vibe that you send out, comes back to you. My buddy Mil-Spec Monkey has a patch that sums this up pretty well “Shit Magnet.”

I’m actually really lucky that nothing happened to me during that time in my life, because I wasn’t trained to deal with it. It wasn’t until I went into the Military that I realized the error of my ways. As I became empowered from my training in the Military, coupled with a good friend who introduced me to Systema, I began to realize the need to be discreet with what I knew. To never outwardly appear as though I knew what I was doing, unless absolutely necessary.

The goal is to stay relaxed and appear harmless. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Speaking softly means just that, not raising your voice, not appearing agressive, etc. That big stick Roosevelt refers to is your training, having the means to inflict damage only when necessary. It doesn’t mean you wear that training on your sleeve or expose it at the wrong time.

You also have to keep in mind that it’s not always just you in these situations. What I mean by that is that you have to take into consideration that your actions affect the loved ones that may be with you when your confronted with violence, or the friends of yours who aren’t trained to defend themselves. These people depend on you to be the stronger person, and will look to you for guidance.


Defusing a situation doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re truly even in a conflict yet, but can mean the difference between one escalating to that level. So for instance, take the gang-banger that just ran into your shoulder in the mall. If your situational awareness was less than optimal and you never saw it coming, a simple “I’m sorry about that, I didn’t see you” is all you need to say. Be the quiet professional and don’t get hung up on your ego.

If a conflict does make a turn for the worse, the best thing you can do is to continue to defuse the situation. If mere words aren’t slowing down this gang-banger, and he’s downright pissed that you were walking too close to him, taking a non-threatening stance is imperative. Again, staying relaxed and appearing harmless, which is also a fighting stance in many combative programs and Systema.

For example, if I was a passerby to the situation of the gang-banger getting in your face and I saw him clenching his fists, raising his shoulders and taking a traditional fighting stance, I’d assume he was the aggressor. Especially if I saw you holding your hands up in front of you, open-palmed, telling him to calm down or down by your side backing away from him. Both of these are the fighting stances I mentioned.

Going on the offensive might not always be the best course of action though, sometimes compliance can be the best option. Let me sum up the kind of compliance I’m talking about with this quote from Sun Tzu:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence when able to attack, we must seem unable, when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away we must make the enemy believe we are near. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Fein disorder, and crush him.”

With compliance, you’re using deception to gain the tactical advantage. For instance, in a kidnapping scenario your captor has already managed to bind you in zip ties. Knowing the techniques we’ve taught here at ITS, you know that these things are no match for you and you’ll easily be able to escape. What you don’t want to do though is to expose your tell before you have the best opportunity to break free. In other words you don’t start maneuvering the zip tie’s locking mechanism to the optimal place to break it while your kidnapper is looking.

Jack made a very good point in his show, in that our western world athletes train to win. The russian philosophy is to train to survive. By being merely surviving and being patient your opponent will present a weakness, and in that weakness you find the opportunity for victory.

Lethal Force

Everything goes out the window when you’re confronted with lethal force such as a knife or in particular, a gun. As Val puts it, you no longer have a choice on whether to defend yourself or not, and I definitely agree.  Even if you comply with your aggressor’s demands you could still wind up dead.

Are there situations where complying could allow you to fight again another day? Sure, but my opinion, and this again is my opinion, why risk it? If that mugger that’s demanding your wallet with a gun pointed towards you has nothing to loose, what makes you think that he won’t just kill you after he gets what he wants? It happens all the time.

We’ve mentioned the use of a giveaway wallet before to add into your EDC (every day carry), and this is one of the few options for compliance that could benefit you in this situation. There’s not a high likelyhood that the mugger is going to shoot you before he gets what he wants, and depending on the situation, could give you the advantage you need to decrease the distance to disarm him or go to your own weapon. This of course is with proper training, which I hope I’ve made a strong case for by now.

Speaking on decreasing the distance, let me take this opportunity to mention what Val refers to as the “Critical Distance.” This is a range of 4 to 6 feet, or beyond arm’s reach. Why this is referred to as the critical distance, is that anything closer than this, and there’s an opportunity to disarm an attacker with a gun. Further than this distance and there’s a chance to move out of the line of fire or get off the X. You may even get shot at this further distance, but you’re less likely to take a lethal shot.

When we were filming disarms with a gun, I was amazed at how quickly Val could move out of the line of fire at this greater distance. Before I brought the weapon up to shoot he was off the X.  Within the critical distance though, even an untrained individual with a gun can do damage to a professional before they can react.

Speaking of disarms, we had a Remington 870 shotgun that Val was using to demonstrate buttstock strikes after takeaways on a heavy bag, and let me just say this. An 870 stock will break during a strike. Jack wasn’t too happy to see his stock break in two, and all Val could say is “That doesn’t happen with AKs.”

Closing Notes

This should have been mentioned with avoidance, but always remember that as soon as you draw any weapon you’ve now put yourself in the position to deal with Law Enforcement and any potential concealed carry holders that could be observing the altercation you’re in. You have to take that into consideration and the potential to be mistaken as the aggressor in the situation.

I’d also like to reiterate some things Jack mentioned in his show, that I really feel everyone needs to understand. If you’re a concealed carry holder, or even if you carry a knife for a weapon, you have to be 100% ready to use deadly force without hesitation if required. The odds are also against you unless you’re properly trained.

You have to assume that the person posing an imminent threat to you has no morals, and will take everything up to and including your life. The law requires us to think twice before using deadly force, and while you should, it could mean your life.


We’re going to do a Q&A with Val via email, and I’d like you guys to send in any questions you might have for him about Systema or anything else for that matter. I’ll submit the 10 best questions to him to be answered in an upcoming post.

Also, let’s get some conversation going in the comments, let me know your thoughts to this article and what your take is on the topics I’ve mentioned.

Update: The Advanced Ballistic Striking DVD Set has now been released!

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  • Awesome post Bryan! I just downloaded and will be listening to the Survival Podcast episode on my flight tomorrow. Also, interested in seeing your cameo in that series!

    I believe that the best thing that most people can do is to be able to recognize a bad situation before it happens. It’s better to avoid an altercation rather than defuse it. I do the same thing in regards to watching the main entrance while dining and such.

    Living in Virginia and working in Washington DC, I see a lot of different people on the Metro (subway system). Being able to read people is a tremendous asset and can help give you the upper hand because you may not be surprised if something were to happen.

    I especially love the quote from Sun Tzu! I act like such a naive, oblivious dude sometimes and no one knows that it’s on purpose! It truly can give you a tactical advantage.

    Great post and I hope to come up with some good questions for Val!

    • Mike,

      Glad you liked it. Avoidance definitely always trumps diffusion. Staying alert yet relaxed is the ticket, I’ve been in too many situations where I get tunnel vision trying to stay too situationally aware. I agree about being able to read people, its a tremendous asset to have. Many discount the small body language clues that people do before they perform any action.

    • Kevin


      I work in the DC area as well… It sure would be nice to meet other like-minded individuals to talk about survival, training, and what-not..

      If interested, send me an email and we can arrange lunch or something..



  • MIKE25

    Excellent article.
    I don’t like to make a habit of posting links on the comment section (please move to the forum if it’s not appropriate), but this is too close to the subject at hand to not post it. This is an officer in Hamilton, Montana (neighboring county) during a “routine” traffic stop.
    The real pucker factor is the fact that you can hear the hammer strike a spent cartridge, before the suspect cranks off a live round.
    The reaction and subsequent actions are a great learning experience.
    Good guys win this one.

    • Kenpojitsu,

      Glad you liked the post, and have seen the benefits of the Sambo/Systema stuff you’re implementing. If you’re not consistently humbled in combatives I say you’re doing something wrong 🙂
      The realistic aspects you’re trying to integrate into your training and the training of those under you is dead on brother. I’ve seen that stuff first hand, where people are so concerned about the traditional in martial arts and lose sight of the bigger picture, and their stubbornness begins to negatively impact their training.

      Val had a good point in the filming where he said that the knife is the oldest weapon known to man, and it must be respected and trained. It’s the easiest for someone to carry and acquire in terms of weapons, and can do just as much damage as a handgun. As I mentioned in the article, a smile and a handshake and the next thing you know you’re bleeding out in minutes.

      Grossman’s books are at the top of my recommendation list for sure, but haven’t read “Living the Martial Way” I’ll have to check that one out. Thanks for all your support, and stay safe!

  • MIKE25

    May we post questions to Val on the comment section, or would you prefer them through the contact page?

    • Mike, prefer them through the contact page. But would love for them to be posted here as well so everyone can discuss them. Thanks brother.

  • Graham Monteith

    Amazing article Bryan! I’ve always been fascinated by these things. One thing to keep in mind though is that when you train for these things train normally then start training you self under stress. Because in a real situation your not going to have all the time in the world to disarm a bad guy. You have to do it quick or he will kill you. That’s just the long and short of it.


    • Agreed Graham, but remember the saying “smooth is fast.” Just watching someone like Val with these disarming techniques was amazing. It honestly looked like he was moving at a snail’s pace, but the speed at which I was disarmed and on the floor was tremendously fast.

  • Bryan,
    Great post! & great timing. Im on My way to a 62nd Annuls Jujitsu Convention this weekend!!
    Ive been training for about 13 years. There is so much to learn. every time I feel like like Im getting a grip on my training something new comes along & I feel like a humbled beginner again & again.
    Me & some of My fellow Jujitsu guys have been playing with some Sambo/Systema stuff & adding it to our tool box.
    I’ve been trying to emphasis more “situational awareness” with my co-workers at the Ambulance. We walk into a lot of shit before L.E. can get there. We never go into an unsafe scene if we know about it, PERIOD, but things can change quick. & We get “tunnel vision” on the Patient a lot of the time.
    You’ve touched on a lot of key points Im trying to bring into the Dojo setting as well. Much respect to My Sensei, but the main focus has been on “Kata” & passing rank requirements.
    I got disgruntled with this mind set a few years after my black belt promotion back in “99” since then I’ve been seeking out more realistic & pragmatic application within the Arts that I study.
    Trying to keep the tradition of the “Ryu” but at the same time progress & adapt as well.
    I now assist in teaching a morning class a few days a week when My schedule permits & My main goal is to cover a lot of the topics you have presented here. I tell the few morning students that we have that Im on a Modern Warrior path & as I travel down it learning “feel free to come along” I also advocate Pistol craft & that it should be just as important as any Technique list in a Dojo. Gun person or not. its what we see & will deal with in this day & age. If you pick one up or take one away. best know how to operate one, even on a basic level. Same with edged weapons.
    I’ve had the pleasure of training with some L.E. & Mil. people in the Arts & their “no Bullshit approach is such a breath of fresh air.
    Detective Ed Fleshman AKA Kodagashi (I.T.S. Reader & supporter) & I have been talking here & there about the importance of taking the fences down in the training & incorporating Hand to Hand with Pistol, Tazer, OC spray etc..
    & we are hoping to get together soon & “play” with this a bit more. but as 2 full time EMS & Full Time L.E. Guys we struggle on just meeting for coffee.
    One reason I became an EMT was to add to My skill set as a Warrior. & seeing what I see has helped me mentally as a Martial Practitioner as well. On cane go through the motions of cutting some one up with a knife in a class room. but how many students see what the real result is out on the street. Defensive or offensive. especially Knife on Knife. Bad news!
    Its easy to take a class, feel good about your self then get face stomped when the hammer drops. There’s so much more that goes with it. (once again, as you stated above).
    Some great books to read.
    (Bryan as you already have read them I’m sure)
    “On Killing”
    By Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman. I have yet to read his other one
    “On Combat”. its on my to do list. also “living the Martial Way”
    by Maj. USAF Forrest E. Morgan.
    Man I could go on & on & on. I love this stuff!! Once again Good Job Guys!!
    Im gonna sport My”I.T.S.” shirt at the Convention this weekend. See if there’s any fellow Plank owners out there!

    • Kenpojitsu,

      Glad you liked the post, and have seen the benefits of the Sambo/Systema stuff you’re implementing. If you’re not consistently humbled in combatives I say you’re doing something wrong 🙂
      The realistic aspects you’re trying to integrate into your training and the training of those under you is dead on brother. I’ve seen that stuff first hand, where people are so concerned about the traditional in martial arts and lose sight of the bigger picture, and their stubbornness begins to negatively impact their training.

      Val had a good point in the filming where he said that the knife is the oldest weapon known to man, and it must be respected and trained. It’s the easiest for someone to carry and acquire in terms of weapons, and can do just as much damage as a handgun. As I mentioned in the article, a smile and a handshake and the next thing you know you’re bleeding out in minutes.

      Grossman’s books are at the top of my recommendation list for sure, but haven’t read “Living the Martial Way” I’ll have to check that one out. Thanks for all your support, and stay safe!

  • Mike

    Anyone watch that youtube video after the Ballistic Striking DVD link at the beginning of this post? It kind of came across to me like a Billy Mays infomercial or a snake oil ad. I’m pretty skeptical of the science/physics of it all. Saying that striking someone with a relaxed arm produces more of an effect because you’re letting the weight of your arm do the work doesn’t make any sense. Attacking someone with a traditional strike and ‘driving through’ the target, your arm still weighs the same amount and its traveling just as fast if not faster…Just my gut $0.02.

    Bryan, got an opinion on ballistic striking? You worked with the guy first hand.

    • Brother, Val’s strikes are like nothing you’ve ever seen. We had a 7-0 local MMA guy built like a tank take hits from him say he’d never felt a jab that hard ever in his training. And mind you that was with and without a chest armor piece. It’s very hard to describe the power behind these ballistic strikes, but Jack had a pretty good analogy.

      Imagine traditionally punching a heavy bag as hard as you can and listening to the sound that echoes throughout the bag. Also watching the bag swing from the force that you’ve used to hit it. Now take a 5 lb. sledge hammer and come just from ear level and drop the hammer into the bag.

      The sound you hear is a deep penetrating sound that spreads throughout the bag and hardly moves it. This is like a Systema strike, and I don’t know about you but I’d rather be hit with a traditional strike than a sledge hammer. A Systema strike honestly penetrates throughout your body and you feel it internally rather than externally with a traditional strike.

      I was lucky enough to form my own opinion of Systema before I even knew what it was, as my buddy just said “Hey, you have to come to this training class with me.” I’m telling you it’s no snake oil. I do feel that some in the art get too much into the wave motion of the energy redirection, as in a real confrontation that would go right out the window.

      Lastly, let me say this. You’re arm does indeed weigh the same on any kind of strike, there’s no denying that. But if you really focus on the movement and muscle contraction/relaxation of a traditional strike, you’ll realize you really aren’t using the weight of your arm against your opponent.

  • julio delahuerta

    Great article Bryan!

    Avoid condition white like bad Mexican food….lol

    Been hearing about Systema for years, your about to tip me over the fence into the “Red” arts 😉

    Thanks again for the info.

    • You’re more than welcome Julio. If you have any questions about Systema, be sure to shoot us an email through the contact forum and we’ll send them to Val.

  • Awesome article.

    I think defusing the situation is a critical skill, but often overlooked. As my sensei once told me, not every situation calls for you to break the guys nose.

    Glad I am not the only catching grief for facing the door at restaurants.

  • Kevin

    It’s exciting to know that Val is coming out with a new product. I currently have his DVD series and wanted more from him. His teachings are awesome and valuable.

    I have trained in Russian Systema since October 2008, and the strikes are REAL… No lie.. Why I 1st got hit, I folded it over and couldn’t breathe… And I’m in good physical shape… The best way to find out it to find a local Systema club and ask the Instructor to recieve a strike.. The proof is in the pudding…

  • Lonnie

    Great article. You might change the “Recognization” into “Recognition.” I would warn you about falling into grammatical condition white as well :-).

  • Dave

    Little late here, but what model of 870 stock was it that broke during the filming? I’m doing some shopping, and think I’ll avoid that one.

  • Zarin

    Very nice post. I have a book called “The Little Black Book of Violence”. It breaks down reality based combat to an informative detailed depth. Great read.

  • Benn

    An excellent post. Those who aren’t aware of the world around them are bound to become victims. The best book on this that I have ever read is called “Meditations on Violence” by Sgt Rory Miller. He made points I had never thought of before and said things I had always just known in a way that made more sense. I highly recommend it for anyone preparing themselves to deal with violence.

    • thebronze

      “Meditations on Violence” was one of the best books on the subject I’ve read in a while.

  • 900189515

    In Albany, GA, a 19 yr old at a self serve car wash was killed and his vehicle stolen. A link to the story follows. As it relates to this article, be aware at all times.

  • Amy

    First of all– from a lurker– thanks for this article, among many here at ITS tactical. It has some great information and it was very interesting to read about Val (and about that Remington stock breaking!)

    That said, I know I am probably a very very small minority of readers on this site that are female, but the avoidance section got me thinking. It’s not that I think the information there is off (it isn’t), it’s just that I think in terms of that (avoidance) — it’s probably better applied to men than women.

    In my experience, I too have been a “shit magnet” but for different reasons than giving off a vibe of needing to prove something– rather, being blonde, slender, young and 105 lbs, plus quiet when you first meet me has attracted many unsavory characters in a variety of settings. After realizing this I made a conscious effort to be more assertive and at least in my anecdotal experience– it made a heck of a difference in how much “shit” I attract. Of course, don’t wear training on your sleeve, don’t go looking for a fight or make people “respect” you but for women I think the problem is being too nice and letting people walk all over us and we end up looking like easy prey.

    • Amy

      This popped up as a link in my RSS reader– just now looked at the date! I thought this was new.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for this article. I stumbled upon your site while browsing the Internet and this is definitely the most informative thing I’ve come across. I commute by public transportation in a shady town, and I feel a tiny bit better knowing some of these tactics for confrontations. People get kind of crazy out here.

    I especially loved the videos about breaking out of zip-ties. I have been rendered helpless by them once before, and even though that was done as a joke, I will never forget that feeling.

    So thank you, once again.

  • cobrasackeater

    One must remember to read the older history of a people. To know specifically, the Russian history, 150 years ago their culture was NOT Communist. The Russians and the world for that matter, were warned in 1917 that Russia would spread their errors and  evil attitudes. Systema came before all of this . But Russia was being attacked from the inside just like another country that you live in at this moment-U.S. But remember Systema is only good to learn if they teach you the techs on overcoming Systema instructed students, KSB, KGB, Viper, Spetsnaz, VIP. Hopefully this gentleman named Val, has a deep sentiment for the original people of Russia before the Commies stood on their shoulders  and murdered them. If not, se la vie Val, see ya on the battle field!
    Brest regards

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