johnmurphyAn Interview with John Murphy

by Gila Hayes

A new voice is making important contributions to the world of practical firearms training. John Murphy now offers his Street Encounter Skills classes, once an east coast training opportunity at FPF Training, at a number of host facilities nationwide. He taught at the range next door to me a couple of months ago, providing the perfect opportunity to sit down and explore threats, defenses and training for today’s world. I think you’ll enjoy his observations, so we switch now to Q & A format and share some of our conversation.

eJournal: I keep running across the term “contextual training” in reference to your work. How does that differ from most training for armed citizens?

Murphy: It is a much more holistic approach which takes into account the average citizen’s everyday environment. People have interactions with other people all the time. Some are pleasant ones, and then some are less pleasant, and if we are not careful, “unpleasant” can become criminal. You have to understand a bit of psychology, a bit of what you are projecting. I would love to claim that this is all original work, but I have drawn it from so many that I am hesitant to start listing them for fear of missing somebody. I absolutely stand upon the shoulders of giants.

eJournal: Still, there’s a particularly practical focus to what you teach that is uniquely “you.”

Murphy: I have found my niche. In training, we learn to shoot bulls-eyes and silhouettes. I can take that skill and expand it and put that skill into a highly consequential environment. By that I mean, if you take a class from a former special operator, you need to keep in mind they had the full faith and credit of the United States government backing up what they did. It is different for us: if we even touch a gun in public, we will be severely scrutinized.

The big lesson I need to drive home to people is “know yourself.” What sets you off? Don’t let people push your buttons! There is a quote from a Roman guy, Epictetus, “If someone succeeds in provoking you, your mind was complicit.” That is really heavy. It came home to me when I had a little bit of a tête-à-tête in an RV park recently where someone pushed a button. I was both shocked and surprised at how quickly my mouth flew in response, when the appropriate response would have been, “Hey, that was an inappropriate thing to say.”

When the gun goes on, the ego needs to go off. I’m sure you have seen it: people let their egos draw them in like moths to a flame, then they find themselves over their head in a conflict. All they have got is their gun and then they apply it wrong. I call it hammering screws. You should have used a screwdriver, but no, you hammered it and now you have a deep, deep problem. There are so many off ramps and potentialities between the point of recognition and the point of action and before that, there’s the decision process – like maybe I shouldn’t even go to that place.

It is all about the context, all the way from a pleasant, “How do you do, sir?” to, “Pardon me, that is my parking spot!” all the way to “Hey, you blankety blankety, blank, what do you think about this!” and how he is going to mess you up. I try to project all of that beyond the realm of simple marksmanship, manipulation, and malfunction reduction. I have to equip people with a scope of skills to match that spectrum of possibilities. It starts with a bit of verbalization. I am an adherent of pepper spray; I think that it is a fine intermediate discombobulator, as I like to call it. Still, we can’t treat that as a panacea any more than we can a .45 caliber bullet.

I am speaking out for a combination of hard and soft skills. In class, I use an illustration of a dial numbered one through 10. I have examples of what each number could look like. One and two is pleasant social exchange; three and four is somewhat awkward social exchange; five and six may be workplace conflict; in seven and eight, words have been exchanged and possibly blows maybe justifying pepper spray; nine is physical violence and ten is lethal force, period.

Now, in the center of this dial, I have a big red button. Sometimes, immediate use of a last resort is called for and you mash the big red button. We go to classes that I call big red button classes where we will practice pushing the big red button for hours on end. In reality, that is a very low-probability, high-impact event. Maybe we should allocate and apportion more from that training time to other eventualities and consequences.

eJournal: The consequences?

Murphy: I teach a very basic Stop the Bleed class. If there has been shooting, there will be bleeding. If it is on the periphery, we want to have the capacity to take care of that.

Here’s another consequence: If an event has a “before” and a “during,” then there is an “after.” There is going to be interaction with law enforcement. You have certain things to say, and you must have the capacity to understand when you have said enough.

I understand that there is a dichotomy. Some people favor giving a basic statement and then calling for the lawyer, and others advocate asking for a lawyer and shutting up from the get-go. In my classes, I give both sides. I can point to people who gave brief statements to police for whom things went really well; I also know of people who gave statements for whom things went really poorly.

eJournal: If we are smart enough and can make decisions well enough to carry a deadly weapon out in public, we had better be able to restrict what we say to the bare facts of what the person who attacked us did. It is very situation-dependent, though. I know a man who got bundled into the back of a police car at the scene and never had the chance to speak before being booked into jail. I mention that because it illustrates how our ability to adapt to various outcomes is another necessary component of going armed.

Murphy: You have got to be able to maintain your emotional detachment in that moment. You have got to be able to recognize what you should be saying and doing right now. Should you establish the active dynamic? Sure, but there are other times because law enforcement, God love them, already has the idea of what they believe happened, that you can get really balled up and shoved in the back of the car.

You also need to understand that law enforcement can run a game on you. That is part of their profession. I spent some time in the booth with my opposite number in Somalia and in Iraq and I know what a professional, trained interrogator can do. This may be my first self-defense incident, but the cop has been to 10 shootings this month. Can I control my mouth if I am in an adrenalized state?

I default to my number one skill for concealed carry: know yourself. Look back at your best moment and at your worst moment and recognize you are probably going to be somewhere in between. I have seen some armed citizens that were absolutely heroic, and I have seen some of whom I had to say, “I can’t believe he did that.” We are entering a judicial environment in this country now in which there are definitely two tiers. How it goes is going to very much depend on what jurisdiction you are in. There was a self-defense shooting in Alexandria, VA a couple of years ago which just went to trial. I thought it was awfully darn legit and the prosecutor said, “No, it is not, we are going to trial on this one.” Shockingly enough, a jury of 12 of this man’s peers agreed with me and the prosecution was sent packing. Now, that could have easily gone the other way.

We could talk about the Rittenhouse trial! Before our moot court in Massad Ayoob’s deadly force instructor course, there was a presentation about the things a prosecutor will do to win. When I watched the Rittenhouse trial, what I saw was like they turned the deadly force instructor class Power Point into a check list that the prosecutor followed throughout the trial:

  • Impugn the defendant for invoking his fifth amendment right;
  • Withhold evidence;
  • Modify evidence;
  • Misrepresent the law to the jury.

They went bam, bam, bam, bam right down the list and after the acquittals the prosecutor, Binger, gave a news conference and said something like, “We didn’t believe we could get a conviction, but we wanted to take it to trial anyway.”

eJournal: Trying to get a win turns into a contest. It gets disconnected from the fact that you are lying about a human being; that you’re inflicting pain on the defendant – someone who is no different than your dad, mom, brother or someone else you care about.

Murphy: Well, by doing that, they shoved that kid through a wringer, and I know that I am not the original person to say that the process became the punishment. Some of these people, I am convinced, derive pleasure from inflicting this kind of pain on people, as if they say, “Sorry about the retirement fund that you had saved up for your golden years. That is all gone now, isn’t it? I lost the case, but, well, did I really lose?”

eJournal: They also got a platform from which to encourage further rioting and destruction. You’re traveling the country extensively. What risks and dangers are you concerned about as a traveler?

Murphy: I think we are entering a very interesting time period. All across the country our viewpoints have become so divergent. A few years ago, what could have been a topic for a relatively pleasant conversation now may become cause for blood. You can encounter emotionally-charged environments–the Floyd riots, for instance. After the defund the police movement, people are now shocked that there is a burgeoning crime wave. Some agencies are so swamped and have been beaten down so hard by their political leadership they now just drive through neighborhoods and smile and wave. It used to be that they would have gotten out and talked to people, but now if they get out of the car, they’re exposed to God-knows-what. It is an interesting time!

The other thing that I’m watching are incidents of recent armed robberies where the criminal just shot the victim. There was no threatened, “Give it up or I will shoot you!” The robber just shot and took what he wanted. That paradigm shift will impact our teaching industry a lot. We used to teach what I called malignant compliance. You would say, “Sure! Sure!” and you gave them your wallet and then you got out of it, or their attention was diverted for a moment and then you counter attacked. If a robber just shows up thinking, “I will just blow a hole in this guy and take what I want,” that makes this very interesting.

eJournal: What are you teaching to avoid mistaking an innocent approach for a shoot-first robbery?

Murphy: See it coming and deflate the attack by what I like to term decisive movement. That can be decisive movement out of the area, or decisive movement to your weapon. I will borrow something from Massad Ayoob and add that you are going to have to articulate what you did and why you did it. The phrase I would use when speaking with responding officers would be something like, “The sum of my training and experience led me to believe that I was about to be violently assaulted. My life was at risk, consequently I produced my firearm, and I gave this guy a verbal command.” 

People have got to understand that there is an element of humanity who will be totally unimpressed with their pistol. Some years ago, I watched a documentary about an ER doctor in Atlanta. In the documentary, he was treating this kid that was shot by Atlanta PD and was losing him on the table. The doc said, “The only thing I’ve got left is to open up his chest and do heart massage.” When they cut him open, his ribs were all wired together from the last time he had needed open heart massage after being shot. He didn’t make it, so the doc had to go talk to this kid’s parents and they said, “Yeah, we knew it was going to end this way.”

eJournal: We expect others to have the same values we do, so that’s hard to understand. For what other situations do you find the average armed citizen ill-prepared? What’s the most effective way to fill in the gaps?

Murphy: The big gap in our training now is mob violence. What’s worse is that what we are facing is state-sponsored mob violence. That is something we have not had to deal with for quite a long while. When the police agency is told to stand down, you are well and truly on your own. If you do act on your own behalf, then you can expect to take the full ride. We must do a much better job of keeping a finger on the local pulse and avoiding anywhere a mob would tend to congregate and do their thing.

I don’t know how much weight to put on it because I read it on Facebook, but there was a kid saying we need to go out into the rural areas now and mess with those people because we own the cities. The response was, “Come on out and do that, Bucko! I think you will find we do things differently out here.” People need to think about organizing into groups, formerly known as neighborhood watches, because these animals don’t know any boundaries. They just don’t.

eJournal: There is, without doubt, a feral subspecies of homo sapiens. They look like ordinary people, so gentle, decent citizens may not recognize when they’re targeted by the kind of predator that kills without compunction. What do we need to know?

Murphy: That is a deep question. I mean, there is so much to overcome. We have been operantly conditioned for generations not to fight back. That’s particularly true now if there is the remotest chance of a racism charge being thrown at you.

I would say you should watch for young men congregating, moving directly towards you with determination in their eyes. I teach intervening obstacles. If someone negotiates an obstacle in order to get proximity to you, they are telling you an awful lot. What they are telling you is my larger point.

You have got to see it coming. You have got to move and if they orient their movement upon you, you must recognize that they have made a very powerful statement.

eJournal: Decisions made on actions, not on how someone looks. That’s useful. What else are you thinking we need to focus more attention on? 

Murphy: We will have to do more training fighting while wounded. That is going to become a big thing. If I am already down, I need to know that it ain’t over until the toe tag goes on.

eJournal: Stay in the fight! That also echoes what you mentioned earlier about your inclusion of Stop The Bleed material in your classes. Readers, browse to where Murphy has a very full calendar of training opportunities all across the nation and don’t forget the videos he offers at


About John Murphy: After a 25-year career in the Marines and the intelligence community, Murphy has retired and now travels widely to teach practical self-defense survival that incorporates the best of the many classes he has taken with leading instructors. Learn more at

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.