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Anatomy of a confrontation


Certain things are common to most any confrontation. 



Every confrontation must have two or more participants. As related to participants, most confrontations have some things in common:
  • Gender. Victims and offenders are usually young males from blue-collar families.
  • Acquaintances. Participants usually know each other except in areas where there is a high transient population, especially on weekend evenings.
  • Poor. Most victims, as well as perpetrators, come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Empty hands. Whereas in most homicides the participants used a firearm, in non-fatal assaults, firearms are rarely used.
  • Multiple assailants are common. Many incidents have others who are present and not directly involved, but who could easily become involved, therefore, any situation where there are others present could easily become a multiple assailant situation.
  • Verbal and body language are important. What is said and especially how it is said combined with body language may escalate or deescalate a confrontation.
  • Fighting. The fighting stage of a confrontation is usually chaotic, especially where there are more than two participants. Environmental factors, such as furniture or a confined space, coupled with a high emotional state and mental confusion contribute to the chaos and confusion.
  • Advantage. The advantage is usually with the aggressors since they probably would not have initiated the confrontation if they thought they might lose the fight.

Mental/emotional states. Certain mental and emotional states exist in most confrontations.

  • Emotions run high. All participants in a confrontation will be in a heightened emotional state, ranging from anxious, fearful, or agitated to panicked, angry, or enraged. These emotional states impair the ability to think clearly and perform complicated actions.
  • Confusion. Since confrontations are unusual for most people, victims usually are confused as they try to make sense of the situation and decide how to respond. Because of this, most reactions are usually instinctive, which may be the wrong responses to a situation.
  • Under influence. Excessive alcohol drinking and high boredom by both the victim and offender add to the chances of a confrontation.
  • Unknown skills. The intentions and abilities of assailants are usually unknown. Participants may be operating by a different set of “rules,” with differing abilities, motivations, and intended outcomes.

How conducted

This pertains to the way a confrontation unfolds and how it is carried out.
  • Rules. The only “rules” are the law (generally not obeyed), social norms, and the personal belief systems of the participants; however, there is no requirement to adhere to these rules. Some of these rules are vague and participants generally do not know what the others' belief systems are, so in effect, there are no rules.
  • Outcomes are not the same. Participants in a confrontation are free to choose any outcome that in their view will conclude the confrontation. For the victim, the desired outcome is usually to leave peaceably. While, for the assailant, the outcome could be a successful robbery, rape, or murder. Participants may also change their intended outcome as the confrontation progresses; if challenged an obnoxious drunk may decide to kill.
  • Weapons may or may not be present. One should not assume that because a weapon is not visible that the other person is unarmed. Many times, the weapon is only produced after a fight has started or it may be improvised from a nearby object, such as a chair, bottle, billiard cue, etc.
  • Most fights aren't deadly. Low-level confrontations, such as verbal exchange, pushing, or grabbing, are more common than serious assaults. So, your self-defense training should emphasize handling these types of attacks.
  • There is always a risk of serious injury. You must deal with the consequences of any hit and must continue in whatever state it in which it leaves you. This heightens the level of anxiety and may cause a situation to spiral out of control and become lethal.
  • Fights have stages. Confrontations have distinct stages as the interaction between the participants' changes. This means there are different skill sets required at each stage. There is usually an opportunity to halt the flow between stages.

Location and timing

This pertains to where confrontations occur, when they occur, and how long they last.
  • Location and time of occurrence may vary greatly. This means that the type of clothing worn by participants at the time of the confrontation will vary greatly. Tight clothing restricts movement. 
  • Fights are short. While the initial stages of a confrontation may last from seconds to several minutes to even days, the fighting stage is often short, lasting only a few minutes if not seconds. The energy expenditure of the combatants in this brief period is high and usually at maximal capacity. Although there is no time limit to a fight, they are usually brief because either or both parties are exhausted, there is a decisive outcome, or at least one side has had enough.


  • Bachman, L. Street Defensive Tactics.
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