Defending Against Physical Attack
An Interview with Guy Rossi
by Gila Hayes
In the December, 2015 edition of this online journal, we established the danger of death from physical attack, learning about the results of blunt force trauma from emergency medicine physician Robert A. Margulies, MD, MPH, FACEP. We undertook this study because our criminal justice system has not always clearly understood the issue of use of deadly force to defend against the likelihood of death from serious physical injuries suffered in an empty-hand assault. The Network is committed to educating members about this topic to better inform their self-defense decisions to not only survive the attack, but the legal aftermath, as well.
Although the duties and responsibilities differ, armed citizens and law enforcement professionals face the same criminals using the same force options to commit crimes of violence. Having established the seriousness of injury from physical violence through Dr. Margulies’ instruction last month, we move forward this month to consider how law enforcement is taught to counter unarmed attack. Our instructor for this element is Guy Rossi, an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer specializing in defensive tactics instruction.
Drawing on his background in law enforcement, in patrol, as a trainer and as a Force Science Analyst, Guy Rossi has been qualified as an expert witness on use of force by law enforcement officers in various state and federal courts. Now retired from active law enforcement, Mr. Rossi provides consultation and testimony regarding use of force and risk management regarding law enforcement policies and training as well as judicious use of force by law-abiding citizens.
Guy Rossi pioneered the Defensive Tactics Instructor Program recognized by New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services for instructor training for the Public Safety Training Facility of Monroe County, NY. Additionally, he created the Force Matrix Continuum and training manuals that continue to be used as a foundation of instruction for recruits and police officers for that region. He holds an MA in Adult Education and has developed and instructed hundreds of cognitive and psychomotor skill related programs. Let’s switch now to our Q & A format and learn from Guy Rossi in his own words.
eJournal: Thank you for speaking with us about this important issue. I remember being your student many years ago, back at the National Law Enforcement Training Center, so it’s great to reconnect with you like this. I’m looking forward to learning from you again, this time on the subject of defending against physical attack. If countering an assailant using purely physical force, how can we justify using a gun in self defense?
Rossi: There are different levels of force. You can talk about someone trying to put you in a wristlock or arm lock, or wrestling with you, or trying to push you away in a defensive type of force–or there is active, assaultive behavior where the person is trying to injure you or kill you. A lot of time people react at a lower level of force than the level they are encountering. If somebody punches you upside the head, you shouldn’t try to wrestle this person! He is just going to pound you into oblivion.
What people forget is our greatest enemy is the ground. This was an issue in the Zimmerman case. Once we hit the ground and somebody pounds your head off that pavement, maybe the first time won’t kill you, but the second or third time is definitely going to knock your lights out. If you are armed and the person knows you are armed, now you have an additional issue! Are they going to try to grab that gun or not?
We can’t predict another’s actions, but you are the person that has got to justify what you did. A jury cannot take away your perception. They cannot take away your perception.
They can argue all day long about what other people said, but they cannot argue what you believed at that time. Did you believe that you were facing the imminent use of deadly physical force? Did you believe with all your heart that you were not going to be able to survive the incident or that it was going to cause you serious, protracted physical injury or death? No one has the right to put you forever in a wheel chair or to change your life in that way. No one!
The reality of it is that we have to survive. We’ve got to do it in a way in which we can defend ourselves both physically and in the aftermath of potential criminal or civil proceedings.
eJournal: You cited various levels of force, from a controlling technique like a wristlock or a defensive effort like a shove, but then you discussed assaultive behavior that leads us to conclude that deadly physical force against us is imminent. In a rapidly evolving conflict, how can we gauge our defensive choices so our force is proportional to the level of force used against us?
Rossi: In New York State, a person can use physical force to effect an arrest or to protect themselves or a third person against physical force. They can use deadly physical force when there is an imminent threat of deadly physical force. The law in our state and in many states says a citizen may use a reasonable amount of force to either effect an arrest, protect himself or a third person, whether it is physical force or deadly physical force. The problem is that there is a lot to consider between just talking to somebody and punching somebody’s lights out, or in between kicking somebody, trying to get away from them, and/or shooting them.
So, what is reasonable? Who decides what’s reasonable? A jury of your peers? Please! The reality is, there are not going to be 12 little bald-headed Italian guys who will be there listening to my testimony. Ain’t going to happen! Who decides what is reasonable and what is not? That is why we have good attorneys who understand use of force, that’s why we have experts. A lot of my work more and more is in the area of testifying as to what IS reasonable.
eJournal: You pointed out the big differences between talking, punching or kicking or shooting. How are police taught to determine the severity of an attack and gauge their response accordingly?
Rossi: Number one, we are reading this person’s body language, because body language is critical. There is a higher standard for police officers, but police officers are really nothing more than highly trained civilians. A lot of people don’t see that, but that is what police are. They have mastered the ability to read people’s body language. That is something that everybody needs to learn how to do.
How is the subject standing? Is he staring through you? Are his pupils wide and dilated? Is he sweating? Is he pacing? Is he nervous? Is he looking over your shoulder as he approaches so you turn and look and now he suckers you? All these issues are things that you have to read within about ten feet of encroachment. Police do that subconsciously every day. So, being able to read body language is critical.
80% of our language is portrayed through the body. My son is a professional actor in New York City. He is trained to cry on command; to blush on command. The normal human being can’t do that. When you ask somebody how they’re feeling, and they say [voiced sarcastically], “I’m frickin’ great,” well their body language is saying one thing, yet what is coming out of their mouth is saying another.
Whenever there is a disconnect between what people are saying verbally and what they’re displaying physically, we ALWAYS trust the body language first. Most of us cannot stop body language. We are not trained well enough like my son to not act nervous or not blush in a situation. Our natural reaction to things like the eyebrows frowning over the top of the eyes, or a nervous twitch in the eye or hand, or looking a certain way, looking around you – all these things are issues that you have to take into account.
Watch the pre-cursors to an assault. People will drop their center of balance before they strike. They may be standing slightly bladed to you, and often they will move their dominant foot back a step. The last thing you’ll see before the attack is either a shoulder shrug or the body dropping its center of balance and then…here comes the sucker punch!
I used to teach blocking, by saying, “OK, the bad guy is looking at you, and they’re going to throw this punch, and you’re going to block.” I no longer look at people when I teach them how to block, because 70 or 80 percent of the time assaults occur, especially with males, they use a sucker punch. They look at the target, they look away, they step their dominant foot to the rear, line up their hips, then comes the punch from left field!
When you’re communicating with somebody, you look at their eyes to tell whether they’re lying to you or not. The problem is, once somebody starts swinging or reaches out to grab you, their eyes can’t hurt you, right? At that point, if we have four to six feet of distance between us and the bad guy, we drop our eyesight down to where the 5X would be on a target. Now we see the hands and feet peripherally.
So if you’re getting the proverbial verbal cue from the bad guy, “Up yours! I’m gonna rip your face off,” and the person is demonstrating that level of psychological intimidation at you, forget about looking in their eyes, because you don’t care whether they’re lying any more! Take it as fact that they are thinking about assaulting you! Make distance of four to six feet and drop your eyesight to 5X where you can see their hands and feet peripherally.
Photo, left: Drop your sight to the 5X in the circle when civilized communication ceases or threats are made.
At this point, we’re thinking about a possible fight, or the ability to disengage, run away or retreat. So we’re going to drop our eyes down to that 5X level, and the neat thing is that by doing that, if all of a sudden this guy comes out with a whole handful of knife, guess where my eyes are? Right where my front sight’s going to end up, which is right where my bullet’s going to go.
We’re talking about looking at their body, looking at their stance. Today, we have to also worry about someone gazing down at our legs—a target glance to our legs is dangerous to us. The people that are trained in MMA-style fighting are scary. If a person looks at my legs and they move their shoulder down toward the ground, that means they are going to tackle me. If they’re going to take my legs out from underneath me, the biggest thing I need to fear is a ground and pound situation.
There was a National Geographic special on martial arts, and it showed that while a punch to the head was obviously injurious, you maximize that blow almost seven times if you take that same person and limit their ability to move their neck or head away because their head is against the ground. So literally, that is deadly force. For example, punching a watermelon on a table would likely just dent it. Place that watermelon against the ground and punch it and a five-year old could put their fist through it. The counter pressure of the ground is a force multiplier.
Most of us could take a punch upside the head, at least one, but the ground and pound is something that is deadly physical force. Today, you are seeing police officers respond to that by using a higher level of physical tactics if they can do it and if they can’t, they’re literally using a firearm. It is unfortunate, but none of us are professional fighters.
Ground and pound is deadly force. The average Joe out there is not equipped to deal with it. Trying to get your weapon out when somebody’s straddling you and trying to punch your lights out at the same time is very difficult. When you bring that gun up to your center to use it, and that person grabs on to it, the next thing you know, you have doubled your problem. It becomes very complicated.
eJournal: But concluding that someone intends to put you on the ground and fighting to prevent that is very serious! How can we communicate our perceptions of danger if facing a physical assault and give accurate testimony – be that the statements given first responders that make it into a police report or courtroom testimony?
Rossi: Perceptions of danger are critical. “Perceptions are reality” is a statement that I live by. In talking to attorneys that represent police officers and citizens, I tell them, do not ever try to change the perception of that victim. If that person believes they were in fear of their life, they were in fear of their life.
eJournal: I think part of the problem is how quickly a confrontation can turn into a deadly physical assault. One minute you’re talking to the guy and the next he is lunging toward your legs. In your experience, how fast or how unexpected might a physical assault be? Are there usually warning signs? What are the warnings?
Rossi: Whether you are talking about defensive tactics, personal survival or firearms training, if somebody is planning on doing something to you and they’ve already initiated the act, chances are you are not going to be able to stop it fast enough. The key is seeing it coming down the road.
When your sixth sense tells you something’s not right, 99.9% of the time it’s right. Maybe you walk in to your house and you realize, “Gee, I don’t remember turning that light on when I left…” We tend to put things together in our perception, if 1 and 2 is added, then 3 has to come, too. This is our ability to detect danger, and we get hurt when we don’t listen to that sense.
What’s interesting is that at about 20 feet, when we see a person, we look at that person’s stature just like a dog looks at a person walking down a street, to see if they look like they’re threatening, to see if they’re big and hulking or walking in a way or carrying something that may scare us. At 10 feet, we can now see this person’s face a little bit more and we’re starting to read this non-verbal persona and we’re starting to think about is this a friendly or an unfriendly person.
When this person gets within six feet of us, this is where we are going to have our social contact. The brain may be picking up that a person is well dressed, but maybe he’s acting like he is a little bit high. Maybe you’re seeing that he is a little anxious, and it is resonating in the part of your brain that is saying, “Something is not right.” There are many warning signs.
Nobody should be within three feet of you – your intimate range – unless you’re going to hug or be intimate, for God’s sake! I call it intimate because those are the people we allow that close on a daily basis. A lot of times, people try to act nonchalant and they let this person violate their reactionary gap because they think if they act like they are not scared, that it’s going to show so much confidence on your part that it will make that person reconsider attacking you. That seldom works!
The warning signs are the most important thing. Seeing it coming is what is going to save your bacon. There is no way to outdraw a drawn gun, there is no way to stop a punch that is already thrown, because the startle response is our enemy.
eJournal: A minute ago, you raised the question of proximity. Please tell us more about managing proximity other than keeping everyone six feet away!
Rossi: Most assaults are occurring within seven to ten feet. The reality of it is, the fight is probably going to be up close and personal. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Tueller drill (Editor’s note: See http://www.armedcitizensnetwork.org/images/stories/journal/2008/5-08eJournal.pdf). Here’s the thing: you could have a gun on your waist and somebody lunging at you with a knife, but can you access your gun in time to score a disabling shot? If you go for the gun first at that distance, he is going to be all over you.
As a result of body cams, we have come to find out that a person can clear 15 feet in a second and a half–in a second and a half! That probably is going to be a little faster than the average person can analyze the situation, draw a gun out of the holster and put one round on target. If they are lucky to get a shot off, it is probably going to be low, into the ground or into the legs and it is not going to be a neutralizing stop.
We have got to deal with the threat first. When that person is closing the gap rapidly, you have got to be prepared to deflect the attack and somehow put the startle response back on the bad guy rather than on you so you have time to get your weapon, get it out and prepare to use it.
Anybody who’s been in a life and death encounter will tell you that it was ugly, it wasn’t clean and surgical. There’s nothing clean and surgical about it. If you can’t get that weapon out and the person grabs on to that weapon, you now have two problems. Looking at the Ferguson incident, Officer Wilson was trapped across the front seat of his car, literally fighting for his life. Michael Brown is in the front seat of Wilson’s car on top of Wilson punching him in the face, and Wilson is trying to get his gun out. He literally had to clear his weapon two to three times before it finally went off the first time because Brown’s grip on the pistol took it out of battery.
That’s the reality of proxemics-based training. How much time do we spend teaching police officers how to defend themselves if assaulted while in their car? The short answer is, we don’t. Police trainers will rationalize it is similar to defensive tactics on the ground, but having about one inch of wiggle room between the seat and center console is a lot more restrictive than most ground fights! Talk with armed citizens—how many times do you practice drawing your gun out of the holster while sitting in your car? A lot of people would be surprised to find out that you can’t get to your gun if you are sitting on it or leaning back on it or if it is in an ankle holster and can’t clear your pant leg.
Proxemics play a huge role in your response. Distance is time. Time gives you the ability to think and respond.
You want to respond, rather than react. Response means it is a thoughtful process, vs. reaction, which is like accidentally placing your hand on a hot stove and pulling it away – there is no conscious thought to it.
eJournal: Most Network members have little to no experience in real fights. If we don’t have time to get to the gun, how do we get inside the assailant’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) loop? How do we turn the startle response back on the attacker?
Rossi: Let me point out something very basic: If a person can’t see you, they can’t hit you. Say you are initially facing a subject and the subject lunges at you. If you can move to their back or move at a 45 degree angle to their rear where they literally have to turn around to look at you, that glance takes 3/10 of a second to turn to look at you and it is going to give you the ability to get that gun out in time and get it on target. Learn how to deflect and get around the back of an individual, in other words moving in at a diagonal, deflecting, getting around the back of somebody.
If you can get around to the back of somebody, remember, they have to turn around, locate you first, and it throws the startle response back on them as they see a whole handful of gun, a fist coming at their face, or even just you running away. He is going to have to react that that.
We try to stun the person as we move away¬– a stun like slapping the back of the head, nothing lethal, nothing drastic. Something like my mother used to give me all the time as a kid, something that just rattles the brain from side to side for a second. All you need is that split second to now throw the OODA loop back on them. We know that when somebody moves their head and face away as a natural instinct, it is going to give us a little bit of an advantage. That’s what we are looking to do.
Stepping behind this person puts you in a place of advantage. Now if the person turns toward you, he is showing active aggression. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind, you have deescalated the encounter. In some states like New York State, we civilians have to show that we are attempting retreat first, before we use deadly physical force. By deflecting and getting out of the way of this situation and attempting to create space, we are showing that is what we are doing.
eJournal: What about verbal commands? What, if anything, can we borrow from police training and convert to use for private citizens facing an attacker?
Rossi: Verbal commands are important. You have to be able to raise your voice to say, “Stop! Don’t move! Let me see your hands! Drop the knife! Back off,” and say it with authority. It is very important. A lot of times that will work, if nothing else it may get the attention of somebody else who is standing nearby and it encourages bystander interaction, if nothing else, as a witness.
You need to be able to treat people with dignity and respect. You have to be able to ask people to do things, and be prepared to tell somebody why. A lot of times people don’t go that far. If it is a difficult person, you may have to ask them two or three or four times. It seems tedious. A lot of people forget that the reason we do this is, today usually hanging off a building somewhere or in the shopping mall there is a camera recording the event.
The camera is going to show something they don’t want to show on the 11 o’clock news: four minutes of you saying over and over, “Please sir, I don’t want any trouble. The reason why I’m asking you to move your car is I need to get out of here. I’m not trying to be mean.” It makes boring television. Nobody wants to watch unless it ends up resulting in a shooting in the viewers’ ten second attention span. Being able to verbalize is critical.
If we are treating somebody with dignity and respect, even if the person is a flaming ***, what happens is a bystander watching this thing looks at the citizen and believes that person kind of reminds them of their mother, brother or wife, etc. If it was my mother, what would I do? If it was my brother or wife, how would I act? Bystanders are more likely to get involved and try to help, if you treat this person with dignity and respect because they know you are going way out of your way to try to avoid a fight.
eJournal: You’ve given us a lot to think about. I am sure members like me will want to study more. Can you recommend a book or DVD for further study so we can more accurately recognize danger before it is in the intimate range?
Rossi: I belong to a group called Vistelar, they have a book called Confidence in Conflict for Every Day. The author’s name is Kathy Mangold. It is about reading people and how do we make ourselves safer. The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, that is a little deeper. I highly recommend any of the Calibre Press books written for police officers, about the tactical aspect of seeing a situation unfold before your eyes, and doing something about it, hopefully ahead of time. The other training I recommend is Management of Aggressive Behavior by Michael O’Malley (http://www.moabtraining.com/courses/moab_courses.php), which deals with when you are done talking. If you can take one of their courses, you should.
I also like the book, Left of Bang; it is a great book. It is about how the Marine Corps train their soldiers doing urban patrols. For example, every day this caravan of Marines travels down this main street in Iraq or Afghanistan. Every day there is a little old man having his tea, there are kids playing in the street, people walking around, the whole nine yards. One day this same caravan comes down the street the way they do, and they look down the street and see the old man looks up and sees the caravan coming picks up his tea and walks away, there is a vehicle parked along the road that looks disabled, the little kids are not playing in that area.
In the caravan, they are thinking IED. They are adding things together. It is a piece of the puzzle that paints a picture, that gives you this reasonable belief that something is about to happen–either left of bang before the gun shot or being right of bang after the gun shot. If you’re right of bang after the gun shot, startle response is against you, now you are on your back trying to claw your way back up.
The key is seeing the situation unfold and doing something about it. I don’t go to movies at night any more. I go to matinees. If there’s a festival going on, I’ll go during the day. Right now, with terrorism going on, I’m walking around with a cocked and locked .45 and three magazines, and I store my bullet resistant vest in the trunk of my car in case I need it.
Because it’s Christmas on top of it, commonly the highest time frame for robberies during the year, makes it more likely to happen during December rather than in the middle of the summer. Walking around prepared is a huge thing. I don’t think you can ever be too prepared. Preparation versus paranoia is my motto.
That’s what its all about. Our absolute best odds most of the time are only 50-50. That’s if you have some ability to perceive what’s unfolding in front of you. If the best odds are 50-50, those aren’t good odds to me. A lot of people put themselves in worse odds. Perception is reality, and how we perceive things is very important.
eJournal: That’s a sobering assessment! How can we be better prepared?
Rossi: I encourage people to do ride-alongs with police. Almost every department in the United States allows ride-alongs. It will open your eyes to the types of crimes that are out there in your neighborhoods. I live in a suburban area in Rochester, NY. Who would think there is prostitution in the area where I live? But there is! Who would think there are carjackings that occur here? But there are!
Go to the civilian police academy when offered by your local Sheriff or Police Department. Most departments today offer these. Becoming a friend of the police can only help you in a situation. What happens if one day an officer is driving by, and sees you getting your butt kicked out there, he has to decide in an instant whether you’re the aggressor or the victim. Understand what I’m saying? In a split second he has to make a decision, if he knows you, he can make a more informed decision.
Being a friendly face will go a long way. These people will know you are a law-abiding citizen, that you are out there and concerned about your community. That will go a long way if God forbid you’ve been put in a situation where you’ve had to defend yourself. That whole character witness thing becomes very, very important.
eJournal: That’s great advice! The explanations and tips you’ve given us, along with the skill development you recommend, will go far to help Network members be better prepared. Thank you so much!
Learn more about Guy Rossi and his work as an instructor and expert witness at http://guyrossiandassociates.com.
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