There are some things you must never do when confronted with an armed assailant. We mean never, ever, not because these events never end well, but because they usually don’t, and because violating these hard and fast rules takes the agency of your survival out of your own hands. You owe it to Adam and Eve and all the rest of your bloodline to preserve your life.

  • #1: NEVER go with the assailant to a second location. Why do you think he wants you to go there?  (There are actually several possibilities, but they’re all bad).
  • #2: NEVER give up your gun. This standard Hollywood trope, where the hero gives up his gun because the villain is threatening Sweet Polly Purebred or whomever, and then manages to free them both through some brilliant stratagem, only works in the hands of a trained and certified member of the Writers’ Guild. Don’t let him have your gun: just “Let him have it.”
  • #3: NEVER get in a car with someone threatening you with a gun, or even with someone who might threaten or harm you or who has an incentive to harm you.

Here’s what happens to real people who violate Nevers #1, #2 and #3, from the non-fiction movie The Onion Field (1979).

The victims were LAPD officers. The dead guy’s partner lived, but he was finished as a cop and had problems all his life. He died young. The assailants died in prison. They were wrong about the Little Lindbergh Law (a California law, back during a brief moment of judicial lucidity in the Golden State, that made injuring or killing a kidnap victim a capital crime). It did not apply if the kidnap victim was released unharmed, and so was a positive incentive, if only the criminals had understood it. Instead, they misunderstood it as making murder no less capital than the kidnap they’d already done. (Write this down: as a class, criminals are not very bright, and violent criminals are usually the dullest of a dim bunch). The two murderers died in prison, despite the 1960s and 70s California courts’ many attempts to set them free.

The Onion Field killings not only led to a great book and good movie (of which the above is a chilling excerpt), but they changed police training forever. Now cops are told these Nevers. It shouldn’t just be cops who follow these rules: you should, too.

  • #4: NEVER let someone tie you up. He doesn’t mean you well to begin with, and you have just made the decision to outsource your survival to him. Being bound is an intermediate station of the cross on the way to dusty death for many homicide victims.

Here’s what happens to real people who violated Never #4, a non-fiction scene (with dialogue perhaps fictionalized, although the male victim survived) from the fact-based movie Zodiac (2007). We start 2:18 in to focus on the tying-up business — and where it leads. You can slider back to the start of the four-plus minute clip if you want to see where it leads.

Always, fight or run. The cop who ran in the onion field survived, by finally doing something right after doing so many things wrong. Run away from the assailant. If you think he can run faster than you, jink and dodge, and use terrain, obstacles, and darkness. IF you think you’re faster, run straight away on the most level, smoothest ground you’ve got.

What if he shoots at you? Consider this:

  1. He probably won’t shoot. Shooting complicates his life, while yours is pretty simple at this point (Run, Forrest, run!).
  2. If he does shoot, he probably won’t hit. Most criminals can’t hit the broad side of a barn, from inside the barn. Contrary to their portrayal on TV, they’re not IDPA competitors who spend their spare time doing ball and dummy drills.
  3. If he does hit you, it probably won’t kill you. You are not out of the fight (or flight) until you give up. Which brings us to the encapsulation of all rules, the one rule to rule them all:
  • #5: NEVER give up. Never give in. Never surrender. Run, fight, attack. In the aftermath of the Onion Field, LAPD Commissioner “Two-gun” Powers told his men to use any weapon they could, and pointed out that a #2 pencil can kill. (Exercise for the reader: how many ways can you kill someone with a sharp pencil? For extra credit: which way disables him fastest?).

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

34 thoughts on “Five NEVERs of Self-Defense


I’ll bite: Extra credit… put it in his ear, deep.

Bill T

Hit him in the eyes as many times as you can with the point of the pencil. Even if you only pierce one the other one will be full of tears (A sympathetic reaction). This gives you a few seconds in which you can either beat hell out of him or put quite a few yards between you. It will hamper his aim if he has a gun.



Bill: I concur. However, we rarely hear of a victim going for the eyes. I’ve often wondered why that is. I suppose it is some sort of natural instinct that the eyes are sacrosanct.


Was attacked by someone years ago but managed to knock him down. He then proceeded to grab my leg and started gnawing. Well my fingers went behind his ears and my thumbs went into his eyeballs HARD. He released and first crawled then ran away. He looked like a racoon a few days later. Cases against both of us were dismissed.

Bill T

Added: Whatever you do, do it fast and HARD! Your LIFE depends on it. Him blind or you dead, your choice.


My vote with the pencil is to go for the closest squishy part of his anatomy. That should free you up to take advantage of other options.


Hognose: a lot is written about a human’s flight or fight response, but there is another response, “give up”, of which I cannot remember seeing any serious, e.g. academic, discussion. Have you seen anything along these lines? No doubt ‘giving up’ goes to one’s capacity for hope, but in so many situations it is almost delusional to have hope and the response should be fight or flight.

Hognose Post author

Yeah, it’s a panic or resignation response. You see it in some of the dreadful films made by depraved states of their mass murders. Jews shuffle off to the “showers,” or patiently line up in front of a pit in the forest, waiting their turn. Several of the recent massacres by ISIL are that way, and several of the massacres that previous mass murderers in that region did were like that. People just do what they’re told.

In fact, I think in urban, well-socialized humans it might be more common that the fight or flight response. However, one experiment found that a freeze response occurred in 13% of stressed persons, versus flight in 20% (none apparently opted for “fight,” which might be explained by the experimental design, and the researchers not wanting to get their asses kicked.

Here’s what they were trying to learn:

Given the general paucity of research on human tendencies to freeze in the context of threat, as well as the general reliance on retrospective reports in the existed literature, we sought to expand knowledge in this area by providing a laboratory-based exploration of the tendency to freeze in the context of threat. Laboratory-based biological challenges offer controlled methods for understanding biological and psychological factors that influence the generation of fear (McNally, 1994; Schmidt et al., 2000; Zvolensky & Eifert, 2001). The primary aim of the present study was to determine whether laboratory-based threat stressors can provoke freeze responses and, if so, to evaluate the frequency and predictors of these responses.


I’m thinking the references might be of more interest than the paper….


Use the pencil as a catheter then break it in half.


use pencil to write Great American Novel; while bad guy is absorbed reading it, U can just walk away



And for extra credit:

Stab(s) to any of the following areas. More hits is always better.

1: Earhole

2: Eye sockets

3: Nostrils

4: Throat

a: carotid


5: Left side of sternum

6: Solar plexus

7: Groin

8: Femoral

9: Kidneys will also work, if you’ve no better options, but usually, if you can get there, you can do something to the target zones above the shoulders as well, which is always quicker.

10: Base of the Skull is workable, but a bit dicier with wooden implements because of all the bones in proximity.

Two hits to the eyes, and even if he doesn’t die, you’re now the king in the Kingdom of the Blind, and can take your sweet time with further fight or flight.

Anybody too squeamish to think that way when their own head is on the block is following the decision tree best reserved for cattle at a slaughterhouse.

Bill K

Never Give Up! Never Surrender! c.f. Galaxy Quest


I was taught to “stick your hands and feet where they don’t belong”.


I took the Meyers-Briggs test twice, about 10 years apart, and hit the same spot. One researcher looked at the result and said, “You are likely quite good in an emergency, aren’t you?”, which I generally am good at. The comment left me curious as to how it relates to other situations such as fight, flight or give-up situations. Are we each just hard-wired for a certain response or can we be trained to respond specifically? I wonder how much my corpsman training, combat, and emergency response training (radiation, chemical, life saving, et cetera) had an effect on the M-B test. It would be an interesting study to do the M-B test on SOF folks, specifically tested before SOF training and then afterwards. I suspect training makes a huge difference in one’s response, but there may be a predilection in some individuals that would make them better candidates for SOF or other emergency responder roles.

I had a good chuckle at the “stressor” used by the researchers in the article you cited – CO2 (20 seconds of 20% CO2/80% O2)! I would have been laughing my ass off. Granted the 20% CO2 is much more than the usual 0.4% we breathe, the 80% O2 Is a lot more than the 20% O2 we breathe normally. No way this mix is a threat in a 20 second breathing except maybe to the global warming religionists.

Hognose Post author

They say (and cite studies) that the 20% CO2 is demonstrated to produce fear in human subjects. Remember that your system senses the CO2 level independently of whether it’s getting enough O2 to live. The O2 level was raised to insure they aren’t really threatening the lives and health of their volunteer subjects. (Remember, any human experiment has to pass an Institutional Review Board, and IRBs tend to be skittish and dominated by Mr Jobsworths. Of course, Chinese academics would just do this experiment on condemned prisoners, and not up their O2. Charlie ain’t got not IRB).

There is a ton of academic evidence that SF and other SOF have different stress reactions, biologically speaking, to each other and to the gen pop. So, nature (do we select guys with sang-froid?) or nurture (does our training produce an adaptation through stress inoculation?) A guy from Yale, Charles Morgan, has been studying SFAS/SFQC and SERE students for a long time now. (a href=””> He and his colleagues produced the first answer (“these guys are biochemically different under stress!”) but AFAIK is not even close to answer the second (“selection, or training?”). Some of his research has shown each to play a role, for example, soldiers with symptoms of dissociation before starting are slightly less likely to complete SFAS (correlation .6; coin toss would be .5). My guess, as an interested and educated layman who went through SF training (albeit an earlier course design), and who knows literally thousands of guys who have since 1952 to today, is that both are in play here. A lot of us were very different, self-reliant and independent kids as young boys. But I don’t know anybody who doesn’t think the training changed (and generally improved) him all round. I get this from other members of elite units, worldwide, and from a lot of Marines, too, which is an elite of a sort: they joined because they were different, and then the service changed them, improved them, to a greater or lesser extent.

What’s interesting is the degree to which the resilience and stress inoculation research validates training methodologies at least as old as the Romans, Spartans and Assyrians and all those old dead guys.

Here is some lightweight at HuffPo and a bunch of Yalie leftists (but I repeat myself) completely misunderstanding Morgan’s research: Only at the end do you learn that they completely misunderstood what he was doing, but that doesn’t matter, they still don’t like it because “four legs good, two legs bad; nasty legs good, SF bad” or some such deep concept that animates the grievance studies majors in today’s Ivy League.

Here are some more credible reports on Dr Morgan’s research:

Andy Morgan is a good guy and a serious scientist. (I know, I sound like I’m about to say, “Sure, he’s a Yalie, but he’s not like all the others.”) Last I knew he was still solidly respected in SF and SERE. Long ago when I was still serving, I saw his research in one of the first issues of the Journal of Special Operations Medicine, and have followed his stuff since then.

Here’s an interesting article derived from Dr Dennis Charney at Mt Sinai, a sometimes collaborator of Morgan’s.

Subject: predictors of resilience in the human personality. These gibe well with my empirical experience.


aGrimm, I’ll offer a theory about the CO2 effect. Remember that CO2 combines with H2O and becomes acid in the body. The body’s acid receptors, as well as direct CO2 receptors, interpret an acute change as an emergency. The first response is to induce hyperventilation to blow off CO2, which would restore the acid balance (the acid reverts to CO2 when the blood circulates to the lungs, and is blown off as CO2 along with the small amount of free CO2 in the plasma). But hyperventilation is one of the components of the fight-or-flight response, along with other physiological and psychological changes that can occur pretty quickly. So my thought is that the acute significant increase of CO2 induces a quick fear response that an emergency is occurring. The body is fooled into thinking the environment has suddenly become toxic, and the emergency response is an automatic response of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic response). The psychological component is trickier and more variable; but the physiological response is almost guaranteed (though not its extent).

The psychological response is the interesting variable, in my opinion. I’ve known people that can handle someone else’s emergency just fine; but when the issue is personal, they get very anxious and frustrated even though the issue might be fairly minor. Others look at a similar personal or close emergency and even while stimulated (read: mild anxiety), what they’re thinking about is a solution, rather than fear of the problem.

What roles nature and nurture play in both physiological and psychological responses is still very much an enigma.


Medico: thanks, that makes physiological sense. I probably should have done a closer read of the paper, but I have a bad habit with social science papers of: read the abstract and conclusion, if interesting, quick scan the methodology. I might have missed this explanation you propose. Your “… is still very much an enigma” comment is usually what I take away from social science studies (even presuming they are reasonably done – far too many are poorly done). Additionally my bias against the global warming religion colored my thought and I didn’t properly think through the CO2 use. Mea Culpa. : )

Hognose: your experience, and I would bet Medico’s, is like mine. To summarize our discussion here, there appears to be a subset of people who have a predilection to remain calm, cool and collected in stressful situations, and improve on that ability with stress training. Humans are an interesting species of which we still have little clue. And thanks for the links. Any chance you are related to my HS Latin teacher? Lots of homework, which I now appreciate but didn’t at the time.

Bill K

Though I now teach college level anatomy & physiology and have in the past managed a number of patients on ventilators, I am not an expert at the 20% inspired CO2 levels you folks are talking about. But I would agree with medic09’s explanation. Chemoreceptors in the carotid and aortic bodies primarily sense CO2, not O2, and respond to increased CO2 levels by stimulating the vasomotor center in the medulla oblongata to increase the respiratory rate, regardless of what O2 is doing. So these folks would hyperventilate, which is one of the EFFECTS of the sympathetic fight-or-flight response. But you can’t just turn this around backwards and say that since fight-or-flight causes hyperventilation, then ventilation directly causes fight-or-flight. Think of what happens when you run a prolonged sprint; the same increased CO2 causes you to hyperventilate, but your hyperventilation doesn’t by itself cause fear, just exhaustion.

Enter the secondary effect of higher thinking: In a (noncombat) footrace, you know you can quit at any time, so when you feel ‘starved for air’ you don’t panic. But in swimming, say, through a too-long underwater tunnel, when you feel ‘starved for air’ you DO panic, because your cerebral cortex is telling you that you’re toast.

So I would predict that this CO2->hyperventilation->panic response would only happen to folks that did NOT understand WHY they breathed hard, just like the anxiety patient in the ER that hyperventilates, becomes alkalotic, starts feeling numbness & tingling, and then panics more.

But in normal folks, hyperventilation will if anything keep blood fully oxygenated. There’s no need to raise the O2 level to 80%, 21% room air will do just fine. And if you did the same test on docs who were forewarned they would be breathing a 20/80 mix, aGrimm is right, the docs would be laughing their asses off with him.

Psychological tricks are quite effective on the ignorant, and I don’t mean that to disparage non-medical military. It’s just a matter of exposure/understanding. If you allowed these folks to watch their own O2 saturations by pulse oximetry and they noticed that their O2 levels were just fine despite the heavy breathing, the illusion would be popped.

But I’d like to ask aGrimm, “Where did you get the 80% O2?” This reference in PubMed ( mentions only 20% CO2, the rest of the mix would have been air (21% O2, 78% N2, 1%Ar) unless specifically stated. And I couldn’t find that 80% O2 was mentioned.

Bill K

Oops, should have said ventral respiratory group, not vasomotor center in the medulla. I give my students 2 extra credit points whenever they catch me making misteaks…


Bill: Section “CO2 Challenge” states, “A 20% CO2 enriched (balance O2)…” I took the “balance O2” to mean 80% O2. I suppose I could be wrong in taking it that way, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to me to make a mixture like that. Yours and Medic’s responses make a lot of physiological sense, so thanks. Both of you have dredged up some ancient learning in me which is fun.

Hognose Post author

That’s how I read it, also, that the balance was 02… no nitrogen or trace gases.

Hognose Post author 

That’s a good one but the numbers show officers are relatively small, so they’re using a definition of “leader” that includes NCO leaders, down to fire team level.

Does the IDF give posthumous promotions to the fallen, or are the reported ranks what the guy actually attained in life? Perhaps you would know.

This story (linked in the article you sent) is interesting. You have to wonder why Israelis still drop their guard for a Hamas “ceasefire,” though.

Respect to Eitan, and condolence to the family of Goldin.

Bill K

Does the IDF give posthumous promotions to the fallen?

Indeed, yes it does, e.g. the IDF has this list of the fallen during the recent Operation Protective Edge, which currently stands at 60 soldiers:

And per this reference regarding 2nd Lt, now Lt. Hadar Goldin ,, “As is tradition with IDF soldiers killed in battle, Hadar Goldin is promoted posthumously one rank up, to lieutenant.

What about the USA? I’m sure it’s not ‘tradition’, but haven’t there been posthumous promotions? How common are they?


Medic: As I look at our (the USA) history of wars, the lead-from-the-front or lead-from-behind combat leadership concepts seem to change. In the Revolution, Washington and the Redcoats lead from behind. The Civil War had a lot more lead from the front leadership. I see WWII as from behind, though there are many instances of from the front. I’m curious how you and Hognose might classify the subsequent wars – Korea, Nam, Iraq/Afghanistan.

Hognose Post author

That’s a major theme of Gabriel and Savage’s Crisis in Command, that the VN-era US officers did not lead from the front as the WWII Wehrmacht did or even earlier generations of US leaders. The book is more of a polemic than an assembly of data, though.


Washington lead from behind??

Perhaps somewhat, given that he was the supreme commander, but it’s hard to reconcile that position with the account of a British sniper who saw General George close enough and clearly over his iron sights enough to both know who he likely was, and decline the shot out of 18th C. notions of civility under the rules of war.

The Civil War was nothing but a butcher’s yard of stupid tactics not keeping pace with weapons technology, and archaic notions of waving your sword from in front of massed formations, and mainly contributed to the brain drain of experienced leaders both fast and early, prolonging the horrendous slaughter needlessly, while killing wise commanders and poor ones with equal relish. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Given that American lieutenants were in the front ranks of the Revolution, with their captains, majors, and colonels necessarily close behind in ages when messages were delivered by aides-de-camp and fast runners, almost all of our wars have been led from the front until helicopters hovering overhead and radio communications made that generally unnecessary.

One may note how that’s worked out in the strategic-level won/lost column since that point, despite any temporary results obtained on the field, on the day.


Something I learned as a kid, having to deal with a lot of would be bullies and creeps, and having paid attention to all my life was the fact that no matter the size of the opponent, it’s best to go on the offensive as soon as a threat is recognized. No talking, no reasoning, just attacking. This was reinforced during the years I worked as a bouncer. I saw it numerous times. The initial aggressor would be SO suprised that his intended target came at HIM, that there was a small window of opportunity for the intended target to do some real damage. Talkers talk because (my theory anyway) they dont really want to act, or are unsure of themselves. Seeing as I was employed to try to keep the fighting and bad behavior to a minimum, I had to be a bit more diplomatic myself. Most of the time. Repeat offenders got the 3 second rule. I allowed them 3 seconds, after I had their attention, to stop whatever stupidity they were up to. Any more time than that would be giving up a major advantage I felt. It also has been my experience that the more aggressive dirtbag types tend to be pretty stupid. I dont think they take into account any alternate scenarios other than their intended targeting cooperating in being a victim. Im sure someone smarter than me can put the whole theory into some sort if equation. Something involving time and distance I guess. The last altercation I was involved in was resolved because of time and distance. I was rudely accosted by 2 dirtbags, because one had taken great offence at my tapping my horn when he was backing out of a parking spot. They pulled up, began to talk trash, then started to get out of their truck. I had moved back a bit from where I had been standing. That little extra distance bought me the time to fetch my .380 out of my pocket. Politeness and good cheer ensued.


80% CO2? Right. If you have ever taken a snort of any concentrated CO2 you know it burns. It burns the nose, the throat, the lungs, and it does so immediately.

Carbonic acid is formed on every mucous membrane it touches. Not painless. Anybody who works around fermentation tanks knows this.

Hognose Post author

Read the study. It was 20% CO2, and we think (Bill, I think, quoted the exact wording) 80% O2.

Sounds like I’m glad I’ve never worked around fermentation tanks. Lots of different skills a civilization make.


Every time I read an article like this I’m reminded of that awful Tennessee double murder back in 2009 or so. Really cements the desire to die fighting, if at all, instead of die kneeling.

Hognose Post author

Yeah. Those poor kids listened to a generation of idjits on the TV, psychologists, police chiefs, politicians, all telling them, “Just give the criminal what he wants. Nothing is worth dying over.” Well, what happens when that is what the criminal wants?

Even a typical 70-IQ urban yoot knows that the cops have a harder case to make off physical evidence than they do with physical evidence and witnesses. Guess what, as a living victim you’re a problem for a violent criminal.

The funny thing is, the criminals and would-be experts probably agree, deep down, that, “Nothing is worth dying over.” Which is why militant, totalitarian societies are built upon a dual foundation of criminals and policemen.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick

Fine. What if the person who wants to restrain you is a cop? What if the person who demands that you surrender your weapons is a cop or a legislator? Then it’s tricky, but I suggest that the rules still apply.