What are the criteria I need to evaluate in order to conclude that I should run away?

Sometimes the right answer is to walk away, sometimes it is to give them your wallet... When is it time to leg it?

  • 2
    Great question. I'm saddened that it even has to be asked...
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 17:57

13 Answers 13


Sam Harris wrote a good article on the principles of self defense. In summary (quotes are from the article linked):

  • Principle #1: Avoid dangerous people and dangerous places.

“What are you looking at, asshole?”

“Sorry, man. I was just spacing out. It’s been a long day.”

De-escalate and move on.

  • Principle #2: Do not defend your property.

Whatever your training, you should view any invitation to violence as an opportunity to die—or to be sent to prison for killing another human being. Violence must truly be the last resort. Thus, if someone sticks a gun in your face and demands your wallet, you should hand it over without hesitation—and run.

  • Principle #3: Respond immediately and escape.

Do not waste an instant imagining that you can reason with him. Most victims of violence are so terrified of being injured or killed that they will believe any promise a predator makes. It is not difficult to see why.


However bad your options may appear in the moment, complying with the demands of a person who is seeking to control your movements is a terrible idea. Yes, there are criminals whose only goal is to steal your property. But anyone who attempts to control you—by moving you to another room, putting you in a car, tying you up—probably intends to kill you (or worse). And you must understand in advance that your natural reaction to this situation—to freeze, to comply with instructions—will be the wrong one.

I pretty much agree with these principles, and Harris argues well for them in the article linked.

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    This was a very good article. I particularly liked "If you find yourself in a situation where a predator is trying to control you, the time for listening to instructions and attempting to remain calm has passed. [...] You have no alternative but to explode into action, whatever the risk. Recognizing when this line has been crossed, and committing to escape at any cost, is more important than mastering physical techniques."
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 12:29

Sometimes the right answer is to walk away, sometimes it is to give them your wallet... When is it time to leg it?

Always. You always need to get away.

If you're going to try to walk away, you need to make sure you can keep them in your sight until you're at a safe distance. Distance is determined by the threat of their weapon's reach. If they are obviously unarmed, 10 feet should do before you turn your back on them.

You should never just hand over your wallet. When I travel, I keep an old spare wallet on me, loaded up with cards like my supermarket club card, or things that otherwise can't identify me but look like actual cards. I also keep a twenty in there, along with old faded receipts or pieces of paper. Tell them you're going to reach for your wallet, remove the dupe from your pocket, flash the twenty, then throw it either past them (if you have an escape route behind you) or off to the side (if you need to get past them). You have to create your escape. Do not stick around, do not passively give up your identifiable information. Remember, someone is holding you up; what's to keep him from coming to your house once he has your ID? Protect your family first.

As for "legging it"? Well, you've got to be able to evaluate the situation...

What are the criteria I need to evaluate in order to conclude that I should run away?

We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.
Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC.

If you have not been training for this from day one, you are behind on your training. Stop everything else, and start practicing to escape. Escaping is not just about knowing when to run, but how to run.

I took a pursuit driving course with a friend of mine a few years ago that covered both how to chase and how to evade. The instructor made a comment that's stood out to me: "Evading a pursuit is about doing what the other guy is not willing to do."

Think about this for a moment: You've got a guy holding you up, for instance. You've already made his job easy by not paying attention to your surroundings. You've screwed up, you've failed. Now what are you willing to do to get home to your family?

Ask yourself these questions (now, before you're in this situation):

  • What are you prepared to die for?
  • What are you prepared to kill for?

Early on in my training, I was surrounded in a parking lot by two men as I passed between cars; I know they intended to rob me, and I know that one of them had a knife he had difficulty getting from his pocket. In the split second it took for me to realize that, I had that adrenaline red out, my brain disconnected and I acted purely on my training. I was in my car, driving away as one of the men was on the ground when I realized what was going on. I didn't remember what happened for another hour or more.

I had walked out of a crowded restaurant still putting away my change, and the two men had been sitting outside on a bench. I know this because I saw them and chose to ignore the feeling I got. I knew they were following me through the parking lot and I chose to ignore the feeling I got. I knew that when I passed between the cars I was making a choice to not show them where my car was, which was probably the best move I could have made after screwing up so bad. Any time that you find yourself in a self-protection scenario, evaluate why you are there in the first place. What choices did you make that got you there?

So, now, when you train, think about those types of situations. Train in environments that put you at a disadvantage and evaluate what you'd need to escape from them. Train in parks, parking lots, offices, night clubs... Any place you might find yourself in a fight but in a manner where you can control the situation. Stop everything if you need to, but in the moment, ask yourself:

  • Where is my exit?
  • If I disengage, does someone I care about get hurt?
  • Could I diffuse the situation?
  • What can I put between myself and my attacker to keep me safe?
  • How far do I believe this person will go?

Ask yourself these questions each time you engage someone so that you can answer them quickly. Then learn to ask yourself these questions before anything happens.

Evaluate your enemy: If he's armed, what's the effective range of his weapon? What does his mental state appear to be (calm? insane? drunk? high?)? [Edit: Evaluating Targets When Surrounded]

Are you alone or with friends? You need to be responsible for your loved ones as well. Provide an escape. If they're frozen in fear, you're going to have to disable the opponent. This means you're going to have to get comfortable with cheating.

Can you draw attention to what's happening? Don't yell for help, yell "I DON'T WANT TO FIGHT YOU! PLEASE DON'T HIT ME!" Things like this. Make a big show of it; he'll either back off (in which case, exit out the back) or when people are questioned later, they'll think it was you yelling for their help (especially when you thank them for their help and call them heroes).

Ultimately, there's one thing you must realize: You are going to die, and nothing you do to try to save yourself is wrong. I consider this my application of Hassan-i Sabbah's "Nothing is true; Everything is permissible."

  • 1
    Noted, but my ordering is correct in the time in which it must be considered. Further, my conclusion is misunderstood: Not every situation is life and death, but you must be prepared for it as though it is; one more wrong move and it may well be just that.
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 1:49
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    Frankly, I don't see the point. My post followed a linear order of consideration: You are learning first for what is worth engaging in a fight then how to properly disengage. It still all boils down to my conclusion: I survived a dangerous situation because I did what I had to do to survive, and that makes my experience correct for me. If you can't understand it, then I say again my answer is not for you.
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 14, 2012 at 21:12
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    @Trevoke - I think stslavik's point is that you should already have "what am I prepared to kill/die for?" answered long before you're even in such a situation to begin with. The answer to those questions are also going to be fairly constant, whereas "where's the exit?", "what weapons do they have?", etc are going to depend entirely on the situation at hand. What you're willing to kill or die for shouldn't be something you're deciding while you're in the middle of an altercation.
    – Shauna
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 15:06
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    @Trevoke Do you love your family? Would you be willing to die for them? What about for your car? Or your wallet? Now that you have that answer, are you willing to live for them with the knowledge that you watched the light go out of a man's eyes for their sake? I'm assuming that you'd probably say yes to your family, less so for your car or wallet. This has nothing to do with your ability to inflict these ends, but your willingness to face them and overcome your own limitations. "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." - Mark Twain
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 17:06
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    @Trevoke - Why can't you answer "what am I willing to kill/die for?" outside of a situation? The question has nothing to do with skill, but what for what you are willing to go to such extremes for. If I don't have the means/tools to kill my attacker, then it's a moot point (and it comes back to "what am I willing to die for?"), but if I do, then I've already come to terms with the very real possibility that the person in front of me will die by my hands. Killing someone, even in defense, is a heavy burden. IMO, you should know what is worth it to you before you're in a position to kill.
    – Shauna
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 17:24

You should never run away. You should always run towards safety. A small but important distinction.

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    There are some arts that train avoidance instincts. I think you mean, "don't run away blindly." That's as exploitable as "charge in blindly." Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 23:06

You should first consider whether you can run away. No point in turning you back to the adversary unless you're quite sure he won't get you.

Me, with my weight and bad knee, it would take an old mugger in a wheelchair before I'd consider this option :)

  • That is an excellent point.
    – Anon
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 0:56

Here are the basic principles I've been taught in regards to self defense:

  • Be vigilant. The sooner you see the attacker approach, you better you can prepare for it--and even better avoid the situation entirely.
  • Never assume the attacker is alone--even if you can't see their friends.
  • Never hand the money to them, always drop it on the ground. If they bend over to pick it up, you have an opening to leave. If they make you bend over to pick it up, you have an opening to disarm them and leave.
  • If you are with someone you want to protect, don't comply--disarm and run.
  • When/if you run, run to a densely populated area, or to the police station. Most pursuers won't follow.

There are some justifications for these basic principles, and they affect how you train for situations like this. The first principle is the most important. If you always assume there is someone else, you aren't going to focus all your energies on that guy--nor are you under the impression that going to the ground is a safe idea.

If you are alone, the only risk you are trying to mitigate is personal harm. If you lose a couple bucks in the process, it's well worth it. Dropping the money on the ground provides an opportunity to fight or flight--or more accurately fight to flight.

If you are with company, the risk you are trying to mitigate is for the attacker to have control of your loved ones. Once they do, you are completely at their mercy--unless you are prepared to lose your loved ones. This is the worst case scenario. I've played it out a few times in my head, and there are always serious drawbacks. If your loved ones know how to avoid being in the path of danger, it helps. For example, if they know to drop to the ground when you move, you'll have more space to work and they will be more difficult to grab. If they know to pin a knife to their chest when the attacker comes behind them, it gives you the opportunity to finish the attacker.

Which brings to the last and probably most important point: the better you are prepared, the more likely you and your loved ones will survive. The problem is that many people think they are better prepared than they really are.


From what I've heard, most of the self defence classes teach students to just hand over the money to the mugger and ask the mugger to spare their lives. They say it's not worth fighting for some bucks when it's the matter of your life itself. I kinda incline to agree with them.

Since muggers will be aiming for the money we've, I think it's ok to hand over the wallet and walk away instead of getting cut or shot. As an addendum, if there's someone else with you, like your own family or a friend, that would add more to the safety issue. So, I guess it's always better to just comply with that guy and get the hell out of that place to safety.

  • 3
    You may want to do as you are told but I wouldn't recommend begging for mercy. That can trigger a violent response from a naturally violent person.
    – jacknad
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 21:17
  • 1
    I would rather call it a compromise than begging for mercy.. :) I do agree that it might trigger a violent response from a naturally violent person as you say, but then, at the end of the day, it's about life itself that we are talking about.. For a person who is highly trained in self defense, this scenario could be a piece of cake but for a common man, it could just spell disaster..
    – Ghost
    Commented Mar 13, 2012 at 4:39
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    "So, I guess it's always better to just comply with that guy and get the hell put of that place to safety." Essentially, however, you're rolling the dice with your life and your family's lives. A basic point of psychology taught in interrogation techniques applies here: "If he's willing to do X to himself, what's he willing to do to me?" For him, X is risking prison time... This is part of why muggings are successful, but also why they often go so horribly wrong. Learning to diffuse these situations is great, but at the end, don't leave yourself or other open to harm.
    – stslavik
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 17:36

Basically it is time to get the fudge out of Dodge when you are in a situation you cannot handle. There are many variables that go in to determining when that moment is, and there is no formula for it (otherwise everyone would know that formula). It is something you learn from experience and from following your gut feeling (intuition).

Should you hand your wallet over? That depends. Do you have an escape route? Is there much money in your wallet? Will giving the guy $10 make him go away? How determined is he to cut you up or shoot you if you don't comply? Is he going to cut you or shoot you anyway? Do you have people with you who also need to escape with you? Are you already standing outside a school of Ninjutsu?


Some great answers here already, but I'll just add that where I used to train, we had a set of "self defence" techniques.

Self Defence #1: Run away.

It's the first thing all students were taught there.

So the answer to your question would be: run away at the first possible opportunity.


There are a lot of good answers and advices for the cases when you already are in trouble. I think martial arts develop an extra sense for danger, which you should use to avoid problems. The best case is that you never need to defend yourself with force.

Unfortunately you can always find yourself in bad situation, no matter how careful you are. I follow these principles:

  • Don't listen to your honor/ego/etc. It had already wasted a lot of lives and saved none. Someone insulted you, made laugh of you? So what? Scrap it, there are more important things to fight for.

  • Avoid dangerous places like dark streets, bad neighborhoods etc. Especially when you are with someone who can't defend him/herself or can't run as fast as you. Always take the safe way home.

  • Look around you and try to notice suspicious people early. Someone is sticking around your car? Is this really the perfect moment to unlock it and enter?


Trying to come up with a checklist of when you should run away is impossible. By myself is one situation, with my 16 year old son another, my girlfriend with bad knees is another, with my 75 year old mom that is out of shape is still another. Then where am I? How many people do I know I'm facing?

Each situation is unique and has to be approached as such. Also, as stated before, run towards safety, don't run away. Have a goal.


A few good and bad answers here. I completely disagree with the ones saying running is always the best thing to do.


  • someone attacks you without warning; you're under attack before you can even react. --do you run? Once the guy is in-close you would probably better off at least giving yourself some time to run, like punching or creating several feet distance. You could then run. But maybe it'd be better to make sure he won't come after you, since you've already knocked him off-balance. Maybe in those few seconds you already saw he

  • The opponent has a weapon. Even if you are proficient in deflecting knife attacks and disarming, you would do best never ever to try fighting someone with a weapon. One little mistake will leave such a big mess. I'd try to talk them off it carefully and otherwise run.

  • As for unarmed opponents you face, when you still have some time to decide what you're gonna do, it's all up to you. If you can estimate how the opponent would fight opposing to how good you think you can fight, you may want to beat him. This might, in some cases, actually be better because turning your back against the opponent is also risky. ---Important though!!!: A guy without a weapon may still be carrying a weapon, which he might decide to wield when he can't win a fist-to-fist fight!! As for that matter I would give my wallet or run after all.

In any case I would try to stay calm and act self-secured, instead of showing fear. It might make some of the more miserable/insecure types get more insecure because fear is what they expect from you.

Also, if you do run, it's a good thing to say/yell something totally weird and unexpected. Could be "frying pan on wheels!" because the mugger/asshole/.. will think 'huh?' which may give you an extra half a second for him to react. (don't try "behind you!" :p) A guy I saw on television told that he pulled his own hair one time when being harassed, which made the 'bullies' back off.


Flip the question and you'll have a good idea: When should I NOT run away?

Your default norm should be to avoid/escape danger and then you only engage it if you HAVE to.

There's a pretty easy pro/con way of looking at this:

  1. If you avoid/run away, the best outcome is that you keep your health and safety and unless they decide to chase you down, that's pretty good odds.

  2. If you engage, the best outcome is still that you only keep your health and safety, but the odds are lower of success AND you may end up having to deal with legal repercussions, or having these people come after you again in the future.

Street violence boils down to people who want money/belongings, and people who want to hurt you.

The former are easy - they want to get your belongings and get out. They don't want to hang around, don't want to risk you ID'ing them, don't want to take the chance of getting caught. Worst case is maybe they punch or push you then demand your goods. It's a few bruises, you're fine.

The latter are hard - because their primary goal is hurting you. They may also have enough sense to want to avoid getting caught, so if you can get to a safe location you can hide in, or a public location, that may deter them. If not, then you'll have to engage them.

The thing is you don't "win" an assault, you survive it. When you take away bullshit machismo from the equation, you realize there's really nothing to gain here - you are simply hoping not to lose anything in the process. There's no manhood expectations about punching out a shark or a bear - people just expect you to run and survive and that's courageous enough. When you look at assaults the same way, you've got the right mentality.

Everything else is just deliberately putting yourself in danger for an idea that doesn't protect you.


On my krav-maga lessons teacher used to say that if escape is possible it is always best solution. Also giving money or anything else is safer than fighting. When being threaten you never know what happens next. Maybe he has knife that is really hard (after some practice I found it undefendable for me) to defend or even worse his friends are observing how their new apprentice is managing and will help him when you will start fighting.

Also if attacker is not negotiative (you fell he will hurt you anyway) it is nice to flee after one (or two hits) that distracts aggressor.

Firstly it was very weird for me that fight-system that shows how to kill people or make them disabled advises that reaction but it really better than risking fight.

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