I have spent my life witnessing, dealing with, and being involved in violence; initially as a child/teenager growing up in Glasgow, Scotland (according to the UN, Scotland is the “Assault Capital” of the world) and then as a security professional, working in bars, pubs, clubs and other environments.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen and been in a lot of fights and physical confrontations, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt, is that the person who throws the first punch or makes the first attack, usually comes out on top i.e. with the least injuries and consequences, etc. If I had to put a statistic on it, I would say that based on my experiences, in 8 out of 10 incidents, the person who initiated the attack walked away largely unhurt and unscathed.
The truth is, few people recover well from being punched/attacked, and find it difficult – sometimes impossible – to get over the sheer shock and surprise of having violence directed at them. The lesson I’ve taken from this is, if violence cannot be avoided, and you have the chance, be the first to attack.
When you are facing an aggressive individual who is intent on causing you harm, you will have many doubts and questions about how you should respond e.g. is it okay for you to punch/hit them? What if your punch/strike doesn’t have an effect, have you just made the situation worse? I refer to these things as “Peripheral Doubts” – the nagging questions that prevent you from being decisive, and acting.
One of the biggest and most persistent doubts around being the person to throw the first strike or punch, is whether it would be legal to do so. Most of us were taught in school, that the person who “starts” the fight is guilty/in the wrong, e.g. a teacher will ask two students caught fighting, “Who started it? Who hit who?” In most legal systems, however, it is acceptable for a person to defend themselves by making a preemptive strike.
In most countries, there are two conditions that need to be met for an assault to occur: a person must fear for their safety, and their aggressor must be in a position to be able to cause them physical harm e.g. if a person stands across a road from you and shouts threats at you, it’s not assault, as they are not in a position to harm you, however if they cross the road, continuing their threats, and put themselves in a position where they are in range to attack you, they are now committing an assault – because of their threats, you have reason to fear for your safety, and they are now in a position where they could cause you physical harm.
If both conditions are met, you have the right to physically defend yourself by striking /attacking first, or pre-emptively. You don’t have to wait for them to take a swing. A good way to understand this, is to think about what you would do if somebody put a gun to your head, and said they were going to shoot you; you wouldn’t wait until they started to pull the trigger, before attempting to disarm them – both their intent, and ability to cause you harm, are evident.
Pre-emptive strikes don’t have to be overly technical or complicated, simply getting a hand in to somebody’s face to disrupt them, and give them a problem to deal with, will suffice – before following up with continuous strikes, and then disengaging. This simple “Stun and Run” approach (that doesn’t involve excessive force) is appropriate for many situations, as a good number of violent incidents can be dealt with using simple/straightforward solutions. Striking/attacking pre-emptively can help ensure that it is the other person, not you, who has to recover from being “attacked” first.