7 Ways to Avoid Getting Your Ass Kicked | Studying Violence

how not to get your ass kicked
December 31, 2023  
Categories: Op-Eds

Studying violence. What is most important for the civilian combatant to learn? Well…If you don’t want to get your ass kicked…it’s also smart to avoid being stupid.  Breach-Bang-Clear

Studying Violence

There are a few things you might ought to do.

This article originally ran in 2018. 

Some conversations I’ve been in recently on social media have brought up the question of what’re the most important things to study and train in order to become a proficient civilian combatant—in other words, what should people prioritize if they want to avoid getting their asses kicked in the event of a fight. After some thought, I came up with the following list of seven items. I’ve ordered them deliberately, to some extent the order I’d recommend someone brand new to the field approach and prioritize them. Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate on that subject, and I don’t at all claim this is the definitive list. For example, I left off medical training, which I do consider essential to being a good armed citizen, specifically because that’s for dealing with the effects of a fight rather than helping you during the fight itself. But the list was designed to spark thought and conversation.

So without further ado:

1. If You Don’t Want To Get Your Ass Kicked | Fitness

Three components to this. First, you need a decent enough conditioning level so you’re not gassing out 10 seconds into a fight. Whether or not you can keep going is one of the most decisive factors in an entangled engagement of any sort. Plus it helps when you decide discretion is the better part of valor and it’s time to run away.

Second, you don’t have to be the strongest guy/gal in the world, but stronger is better, especially relative to your opponent. Yes, technique is a thing, but strength can overcome a LOT of shortcomings in technique so long as you’ve got at least SOME technique. A recent article at jiujitsubrotherhood.com pointed out what the author called “the biggest lie in jiu jitsu,” the idea that technique overcomes everything. In fact, a strong fighter with decent technique will generally overcome a weak fighter with excellent technique.

Studying the application of violence - if you don't want to get your ass kicked, be fit. Get in the gym.

The truth is a strong fighter with decent technique is probably going to beat a weak fighter with excellent technique.

Sure, excellent technique will often beat awful technique regardless of strength, but if you’re in an entangled fight against someone with even a basic level of training strength makes a huge difference. Plus many violent criminal actors are generally looking for a payday and are less likely to target people who don’t look like an easy mark—muscles help you avoid the fight in the first place.

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, get in the gym.
How not to get your ass kicked - get your ass to the gym.

How not to get your ass kicked – cardio and strength training is important. You’ve likely heard that before.


2. How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked |Decision-Making and Judgement

The ability to a) recognize indicators that shit is about to go down and b) make good decisions to either avoid the shit in the first place or set yourself up for success when it does go down, is absolutely essential to avoiding getting your ass kicked. The easiest way to win the fight is to not be in the fight. Any time you engage in combat, there is a non-zero possibility you will lose. Any time you’re caught unaware and start at a disadvantage, that possibility goes up dramatically. Learn to recognize pre-violence cues and respond appropriately. ECQC and similar force-on-force scenario training is great for this, supplemented by watching videos of others doing it right and wrong with proper analysis (such as that offered by John Correia at the Active Self Protection channel on YouTube).

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, make decisions to avoid it — and pay attention to what is going around you.
How not to get your ass kicked - pay attention and make good decisions.

Officer Michelle Jeter of the Carthage, TX Police Dept. did not pick up several non-verbal cues of an impending attack during a traffic stop that left her beaten nearly to death on the side of the road. We can learn from this, and other lessons, to pay better attention and to make better decisions.


3. How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked | Aggression and “Violence of Action”

This wins an awful lot of fights even in the absence of any skill whatsoever: The mindset that you WILL win. You don’t want to fight unless you absolutely have to. But if it becomes necessary, you want to win, and to win as quickly as possible. You need to train that mental switch to go from “nice guy” to “turbomurder” the instant you decide there’s no way to avoid this fight (though I’d avoid that phrasing if you have to explain yourself to the authorities).

How not to get your ass kicked - make the decision to win, and to win as quickly as possible.

Hesitation and vacillation can get your ass kicked, or even get you killed.

Aaron Haskins, If you don't want to get your ass kicked. Studying violence - a civilian combatant should be able to flip the switch to violence.

Be ready to flip the switch if it’s time to flip the switch.

It’s not a natural thing. No one goes from Joe Schmoe to Viking Berserker without planning to do so beforehand. The idea that you’ll just “see red” and become an unstoppable fighting monster is bullshit, and you should feel free to point and laugh at anyone who claims that’s what they do in a fight.

Studying violence - if you don't want to get your ass kicked, be ready to flip the switch.

“Be nice, until it’s time not to be nice.” James Dalton

Such a response requires mental preparation well in advance of the fight. Get your mind right and your body will follow. In the immortal words of James Dalton, “Be nice, until it’s time to not be nice.”

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, get your mind ready to make that switch.
When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

Tuco may not rank among the great philosophers of the world, but he has this right – don’t posture or pontificate. If it’s time to do work, then get to work.


4. How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked | Unarmed Skills

While the majority of self-defense fights aren’t entangled engagements, a significant number are. There’s no really good dataset, but I’ve heard estimates from multiple experts ranging from 15-35% of fights ending up in extreme close quarters (that is, within arm’s reach, if not actively entangled), if not higher. As Craig Douglas likes to point out, a mugger by necessity has to approach to conversational distance to take your stuff. If it’s a bar fight, you’re likely to be standing really close before the fists and bottles start swinging. At such distances, you can’t rely on the magical talisman of your weapon(s) unless you can effectively deploy and apply it/them. You’d be well advised learning how to deal with the entangled fight, unless you want to roll the dice and hope you’ll get lucky. I’m a gambling man and I know I wouldn’t take those odds. If you choose to study unarmed combat, there are many options.

While I’ll avoid recommending any specific art over others, I’ll say this: I’ve studied martial arts for over 20 years. I’ve got black belts or other advanced rank in styles ranging from Tae Kwon Do and Karate to multiple forms of Kung Fu. I’ve studied Krav Maga and Kali and boxing even a little Muay Thai. And I still got my shit pushed in by a girl 2/3rds my size at ECQC. Why?  Because she was better at grappling than I was.

If you look at successful MMA fighters, you’ll see they’ve all got a couple things in common. Damn near every single one of them uses some form of kickboxing for striking, either western or Thai for the most part, though a couple branch out with things like Sambo. And every single one of them uses some form of grappling for entanglements, generally BJJ, Judo, or western wrestling (or, again, Sambo). Virtually none use fancy traditional martial arts like TKD, Karate, or Kung Fu. This is what is commonly called a clue.

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, learn to grapple.


5. How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked | Non-lethal Options

It doesn’t matter how justified you are in killing someone in self-defense, if it happens, you’re going to have a bad day. Potential psychological trauma aside, think about the legal fight: possible criminal charges, possible civil lawsuit. Even if you were fully justified, there’s a chance you go to jail anyway. How it looks, how the cops respond, and how the prosecutor frames it to the jury will all play a part.

Even if you don’t to to jail, odds are very good you’re going to be out a shitload of money after paying your lawyer to make sure you don’t. And depending on your community, there’s the possibility of social repercussions for your actions, too—again, no matter how justified. So try to avoid killing anyone you don’t absolutely have to kill. Understanding what your nonlethal options are—pepper spray, tasers and stun guns, even a flashlight or an impact weapon—and how to use them properly can help you both avoid an asskicking AND murder charges.

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, learn ways to beat the other guys besides killing them.


Baton strike areas - escalation of trauma by vital and vulnerable striking areas. Don't want to get your ass kicked? Have a less lethal option to resolve a problem.

Do you routinely carry a less lethal option, should violence be called for? Are you at least aware of such options that might be around you?

6. How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked | Bladed Weapons

Anyone studying violence will quickly see that a significant number of fights become close quarters entangled engagements. Often it’s difficult to access and use a gun in that kind of environment. An alternative is a blade. But while many people carry knives, they often have zero training on how to use them.

How many of you reading this carry a folding pocket knife for self defense, but have never practiced drawing, opening, and establishing a useful grip on it under the pressure of someone charging you down intent on murder?

From personal experience, I can promise you that it’s not easy, even with practice.  Force on force training is invaluable here, because it will expose the flaws in your current thinking: if you carry a small fixed blade on your belt angled up, you might discover that it’s a lot harder to draw that way when someone is fighting your arm to keep you from succeeding, while angled down is harder to conceal but more accessible. Or if you carry a pocket knife on your right side, what happens when your right arm is pinned or busy doing something essential and you can only use your left to access a weapon?

Things like this must be considered. This also goes back to judgement: when are you legally allowed to use a knife, given that it’s potentially lethal force? If you ARE allowed to use it, when and how will it be effective versus when will it just be a waste of time and effort? Do you know whether slashing or stabbing is a better option in a given situation? Where should you target?

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, don’t just carry the knife, learn when and how to use it.
How not to get your ass kicked - understand the proper use of multiple weapons, including knives, and know both when to use them and when not to.

How not to get your ass kicked. Let’s not forget, any weapon can be taken away and used against you.

7. How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked | Firearms

There’s a reason I left this one for last.

Studying violence: How not to get your ass kicked - guns are only of use if you know when and how to use them properly...pretty much like any other weapon. Aaron Haskins.

How not to get your ass kicked: guns are not some magic talisman that solve all your defensive problems.

It’s not because I think knives are more effective than guns and should be prioritized over guns. It’s because too many people fixate on the gun as a talisman that wards off all evil. “I don’t need to worry–I’ve got a gun.”


Unless you’ve trained in using it, and (like any other weapon) know when and how to use it properly, congratulations, you’re carrying a cool-looking highly dangerous paperweight. It’s as potentially deadly to you as to anyone else, and there are ALL SORTS of considerations that most concealed carriers never even think about. You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you’re going to carry a gun, GET TRAINING. GOOD training, not a bullshit four hour concealed carry permit course from some random jackass at the local gun range.

Find people who know what they’re talking about and study. Read articles and blogs from famous trainers and gunfighters. Attend high quality shooting and force on force training. Do the dry fire practice. Go to the range and practice the stuff you suck at until you suck less at them, using the drills you learned in training courses. Learn the laws of self defense inside and out in your jurisdiction.

So if you don’t want to get your ass kicked, don’t just carry a gun, know how and when to use it.


Studying Violence : If You Don’t Want To Get Your Ass Kicked

If you aren’t comfortable carrying and using lethal weapons, that’s fine. You do you. The first five will get you an awful long way along the road to not getting your ass kicked. As Tom Givens put it in a recent class I attended, “I’d rather face a doofus with a $3000 Wilson pistol than a hard man with a sharp stick.” But if you ARE going to carry weapons with the intention of possibly using them if necessary, then learn how to do so well.

Guns and knives aren’t talismans. They’re tools. Owning a tablesaw does not a master woodworker make.

Some of my friends have taken to referring to this concept as “The Study of Applied Violence.” We need a better name for it, but it’s not a casual pastime. It’s very much a comprehensive martial art, with distinct yet interrelated components of unarmed fighting, nonlethal weapons, and lethal weapons, unified by a common understanding and mindset. It deserves as much devotion as any other martial art, because a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. If you don’t want to get your ass kicked, do the work ahead of time so you’re ready when and if that day ever comes.

Now, questions for the crowd:

What have me missed? Anything you can add based on your experience?
Know of anywhere readers could go to learn more?


Aaron Haskins is a student of violence and a well respected guest contributor at Breach-Bang-CLear

AH Sends.

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Additional reading: Don’t get your ass kicked


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Aaron Haskins

Aaron Haskins

About the Author

Aaron Haskins is a former Army officer (19A) and combat veteran, turned professional decision scientist. He holds a Master of Science in Economics from Purdue University, and makes his living as a behavioral and complex systems economist and risk management consultant for high risk industries. He is also an NRA certified instructor and amateur IDPA competitor who regularly attends firearms and self-defense training courses, and has studied and practiced various martial arts extensively for over two decades. He is the owner and chief firearms instructor of Acuto Training Concepts, LLC, and is the research coordinator for the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.


  1. QantuumMetricsM

    Self defense is a tricky science as despite formal training, you can lose in the defense unless quick and decisive moves are executed as, in real fight situations, the opponent is often deliberate and lethal in combat moves. Self defence should techniques should enforce decisive reaction and actions to lethal and non-lethal situations.

  2. Paul W.

    I would also add verbal skills. I know de-escalation is the buzz word in policing and many officers might role their eyes at the prospect of going to training specific for this, but two things need to be recognized. First, officers de-escalate people on a daily basis so it is a valuable skill to reduce the prospect of getting in the fight. Secondly, if officer presence is on the force options list, then so too should be verbal skills. Many list this as verbal commands, but I think this should be replaced with verbal skills which include commands and de-escalation skills.

  3. Fred

    Great point about grappling being more important than martial arts skills. Studying TKD and Kung fu left me concerned that once someone got next to me, I was in DS. If you feel lucky, count on stopping the fight with a few fancy kicks or nifty hand strikes but if you’d rather be safe than lucky, try jiu jitso.

  4. Gary K.

    I am not a self-defense guru, but I am a mental health professional who interacts with mentally ill children who can become physically aggressive on a daily basis. It teaches you some things that would also go under the “Decision making and judgement” category.

    First is developing both a short and long term self-control regimen. If you have a lifestyle and/or job that leaves you perpetually stressed, your judgement in an aggressive incident will be already weakened. Being in a bad mood is not a defense to excessive force.

    Second is squaring your values with your personal limitations. I work with lots of well-meaning individuals who honestly swear that they would do anything to save a child’s life, and would probably try, but they are either too old, too weak, or too unskilled to back it up. Heck, I’m getting to an age where I have to start being honest with myself too.

  5. Michael in AK

    Sparring is a must. Even with light gloves, mouthpiece and head protection getting punched is something you don’t want to experience for the first time in a real fight.

  6. Richard Steven Hack

    I love that scene from “Big Trouble in Little China” where Kurt Russell says, “It’s all in the reflexes”… LOL

    As for martial arts, the big lie is that some martial arts are better for self-defense than others. What counts is the martial artist – not the art. Any martial art is good for self-defense if 1) you’re good at that art, 2) you’ve sparred in that art, and 3) you’ve sparred with your art against people from other martial arts (including ordinary street fighting) in training.

    Of course, some martial arts can take longer to get to that level of proficiency than others, depending on how “arty” the art is compared to simpler arts like kickboxing. But you get good enough in any of them, you have a shot at being effective in real world fights, especially if you’re not fighting someone else expert in an art. And despite the number of people into martial arts, most thugs on the street are not proficient in any art and their street fighting experience may be extensive or minimal. So knowing any martial art is better than not knowing one.

    In the end, it comes down to the fighter’s personal characteristics, not any tricks or skills. And a good deal of luck.


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