Imagine that an unarmed person has mounted you, he is sitting on your stomach as you lay flat on your back, and he is slugging away at your swelling face. What type of force should you use to defend yourself, reasonable force or deadly force? Should you counterattack by striking back with your fists in the event you can’t get the attacker off of you, or should you do an eye gouge or snap his neck? With all things being equal I believe deadly force is justifiable, and I’ll explain why from a both a tactical and legal standpoint.

  1. An attacker who is on top of you and is striking downward at you, and who is obviously trying to injure you, has more force through momentum than you have striking upward. From your back you have no forward momentum. The attacker also has gravity on his side and he can lean into or drop into his strikes whereas you are fighting the force of gravity. This, coupled with no forward momentum, puts you at a tremendous disadvantage.
  2. If you strike upward at the suspect’s face he can always lean back away from your punches to get out of striking range. If you are flat on your back there is absolutely no escape from his punches. There is no stepping back and no retreating, and thus you will get the full impact of any descending strike. Even if you manage to make contact with the suspect’s face his head has room to snap backward and the neck can dissipate the impact force. Not so if you are on the ground. The ground behind your head will either keep your head in a relatively fixed position forcing the head to take 100% of the impact, and if you do manage to lift your head up slightly the strike to your face will force the back of your head to strike the ground.
  3. If the back of your head hits the ground after being struck in the face we call that a secondary impact. Not only do you receive injury from the attacker’s fists, but also you receive injury to the head when it impacts the ground. How many times does your head need to bounce off of the ground to cause permanent brain damage? It may be one time, two times, or three. I don’t even want my head to strike the ground one time because that impact could possibly knock me out and leave me defenseless. The law states that you do not have to sustain any serious bodily injury in order to adequately defend yourself.

These three arguments give you the legal justification to use deadly force against an attacker who is on top of you slugging your face; provided you fear for your life and were merely trying to stop the attack. Keep in mind that deadly force does not mean that you have to kill someone or seriously hurt them, but does give you that option if no other means are available, such as escaping or using lesser force to stop aggression.

Deadly force on a mounted attacker

If you can legally use deadly force in such a ground situation that I have described then punching back, like many martial arts systems teach using sport-based techniques is an uneven trade off and can get you seriously hurt or killed. If someone is using deadly force against you, you had better use deadly force against him or her if you intend to survive. Deadly force options include eye gouges, strikes to the neck, or the use of weapons. However, deadly force techniques are not going to be natural to you, nor automatic, unless you train in deadly force techniques. The average person is resistant to seriously hurting another or taking a life. Thus, you are only as good as your training.

In my Reality-Based Personal Protections courses I have the trainer (wearing wrap-around eye protection, a mouth piece and boxing gloves) pound on the trainee who is underneath him on a safety mat (wearing only a mouth piece). Contact is moderate for training, approximately 50% force. The trainee will block one or two of the incoming strikes from the trainer, but instead of trying to punch the trainer back, which is an unequal exchange of force, the trainee will grab onto the trainer to pull him down in order to reach for deadly force targets. The trainer can absorb punches, but inevitably turns away from the trainee who is going for his eyes or throat. If the trainer does not pull away, as his human instincts dictate, he is immediately disabled. Either way the trainee can take advantage of the trainer’s reaction and roll or hip buck the trainer off of him and launch a counter attack or escape.

Knowing the right response to a ground attack, through the eyes of the law, is yet another step in making your own training “reality-based.”

Be A Hard Target

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Jim Wagner
Jim Wagner, one of the first self-defense instructor to introduce techniques, tactics, and training methods to survive terrorist attacks and modern crime (active shooters, criminal chemical attacks, drive-by shootings, etc.). His teaching is based on his tactical career as a U.S. Army combat soldier, corrections officer, police officer, S.W.A.T. officer, team leader of a Dignitary Protection Unit for America’s fifth largest Sheriff’s department, a U.S. federal agent counterterrorist during the Global War on Terrorism, Reserve Military Police soldier, military bodyguard, Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO), Security Forces sergeant, and a team leader of a military Special Reaction Team. He worked in the private security and bodyguarding sectors, most notably protecting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and working for the Walt Disney Company. Since 2003 Jim has been teaching his Reality-Based Personal Protection system around the world and in martial arts schools, where he offers self-defense instructors a way to increase their business by teaching Terrorism Survival, Crime Survival, and other courses. If you want to become certified to teach at your school, you can purchase the Jim Wagner Reality-Based Personal Protection Instructor Package at a discount through by using the code USARBPP1706.