In wake of more and more terrorist attacks in Europe such as Paris, Nice, Munich as well as the rising frequency of mass shootings in the USA, I was wondering how martial arts deal with the treat paused by such attacks.

This is focused on martial arts, not generic survival nor Rule #1 Cardio tips.

I am interest in both the following: How can a martial art help in keeping oneself (and potential dependents) safe during said encounter? How can a martial art prepare one to take down such an attacker(s)? Clearly, taking out someone with a gun and a suicide vest leaves one very little chance of being alive at the end of the encounter and thus might not be a recommended course of action.

I strongly suspect that the answer is "nothing" and that would make a fine answer provided that evidence is used. Ditto for affirmative answers: I require hard evidence of any claim whatsoever. Good Subjective, Bad Subjective is essential reading.

What I am really not interested in whatsoever:

  • Speculations
  • Wishful thinking.
  • Fabulous mystical power such as dodging bullets.
  • Anecdotal evidence.

Any such answers should be mercilessly down voted into oblivion by everyone.

  • I'd argue the premise of it not being worth your own life to take them down to be faulty. If you're in that situation there's a decent chance you're going to die no matter what. Smothering the gun or vest both gives others a chance to act or flee, and may absorb the brunt of the attack rendering it much less effective in the first place. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 17:48
  • "I require hard evidence of any claim whatsoever." then google might just be a better place to ask? Everyone of us would need to google said evidence first, it's rather unlikely that we have the evidence on our hard drive. Just sayin'. I could think of answers to your questions, some of them first hand, but as I don't have "evidence", I won't bother.
    – AnoE
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 23:05

5 Answers 5


The FBI has done a study on mass shootings which I've found very informative. Page 11, "Resolutions", has a lot of useful statistics. The slight majority of attacks (56%) end because the shooter commits suicide, flees, or gives up on their own. In 13% of the attacks, it states "citizens restrain" the attackers, which is probably where we're talking about how self defense could be useful. As the general advice to the public has been "Shelter in place" or "Evacuate", it's hard to say how the results would change with more people being trained to take on attackers.

A few years back, Jon Meis stopped a mass shooting at Seattle Pacific University by spraying the attacker with pepper spray before disarming him of a shotgun and then restraining him. Obviously, he had several advantages here - surprise, pepper spray, and the attacker was in the midst of reloading, but it does account for something. Getting the knife away after the attacker draws it was definitely something for which hand to hand training was useful, but all of this happens AFTER the gun is out of the picture.

Basically, if you can close the gap and remove the weapon (entirely as in that case) or at least temporarily (disarm, grapple and keep it from being aimed at you) the fight becomes one of hand to hand - and that's where the martial arts/self defense training comes in. Pretty much every modern combative art deals with gun disarm training, and most of what I've seen deals with "within arm's reach" kind of disarms - being held up or held hostage, which MIGHT happen, but also might NOT happen in a mass shooting. So, my guess would be if you're serious about training for this specific thing, I'd be adding some kind of practice in identifying hiding/ambush points from which you can spring out to clear that gap in a mass shooting.

Explosive suicide vests, there's no good martial arts/self defense solution for beyond running away - after all, both the bomb and any empty hand or melee weapons all work at the same range: close.

  • 2
    After several of my friends in different cities all ended up being within a few blocks of standoffs and almost-mass shootings, and a group shooting near my home, all within a 3 day span of time, I decided I needed to do research. Also of note in the study - citizens with guns make up even LESS successful ends to mass shooters, and nearly always those those citizens are security guards or ex-police, AKA, professionals. As far as guns go, by the numbers the answer to mass shooters is a well trained team with longarms (rifles) and a plan - not individuals with pistols.
    – Bankuei
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 11:24

Run, Hide, Fight

Most institutions suggest the "run, hide, fight" approach to such terrorist attacks. You should first run from the terrorist; they can't harm you if you're too far away. If that isn't an option, you should hide from the terrorist (they're less like likely to harm you if they can't see you). If both of those previous options are not available, you should fight the terrorist.

The Fight Option

The 21 foot rule is important here. Particularly note the statements at 2:10; this training video indicated that a drawn weapon will "win" at 10 feet, which is rather close. Martial arts training would be quite helpful if choosing to fight; if you can get within this distance, a well trained martial artist stands a great chance at defeating the attacker. Outside this distance, it is doubtful that any amount of martial arts training will help.

  • Another thing to consider is that many terrorists have little or no formal weapons training. If it's not drawn, or is not on target, you have a smidge more time. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 17:50
  • 2
    @DaveNewton Sadly, I am unsure where to find evidence to backup such a claim. Do terrorists have little or no formal weapons training? Says who?
    – PipperChip
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 22:40

There are some, let´s call them "self-defense system styles" to avoid any martial art or not discussions, like Krav Maga that could potentially be of benefit in such scenarios.

I´m saying potentially as it depends really on the type of thread one is facing, the life experience one might have (war veteran), trained martial artist ... Hitman or a Grandma.

In Krav Maga there are curriculum's or special training classes one can take to get some knowledge about how to act properly in those situations, you can drill them as often you want, you may want to take some additional military boot camps, BUT that will never be a guarantee that one also reacts the right way as fighting for your life ... fearing for your life is a totally different subject matter then being on a tatami or inside a ring and staying calm is mental thing that can not be trained - You have to experience it to see how you react.

Some examples: krav maga for law enforcement agencies.

I know that the answer is a little broad, but to target all circumstances would be a really BIG answer. If you are interested on some specific things I´ll be glad to provide more detail on those...


As I understand it SPEAR by Tony Blauer is the training used by most law enforcement and military personal in the US and in Europe. He has a separate training system designed for civilians.

I can't personally speak for it working better or worse than any other system but it claims to teach the correct skills for the kind of situation the question describes.


The problem that has been made very evident in these incidents is that people who have no experience or training panic. And this seems to be the case whether they have guns or not - if they have not been in a combat environment before, the first reaction is to panic and hide, flee or even stand still and fail to react.

While martial arts training may help one disarm an attacker when close, this is unlikely to happen in the initial stages, when the attacker will have the advantage.

If an incident continues, martial arts training may provide discipline such that an attempt to disarm or take down an attacker by surprise may be effective, however the general rule applies: don't attack an armed man if you are unarmed.

  • Your first paragraph needs references. Your last two paragraphs read like suppositions based on the usage of "may". Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 6:45
  • 1
    Okay - I'll grab the reference for the first one, and it leads directly to the other two
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 7:21

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