Active Shooter

Just because a country has strict gun laws doesn’t mean you are exempt from experiencing such a horrible nightmare as in the movie theater shooting in Denver, Colorado or as of recently the Paris attacks in France. Staying alive is your primary objective during an active shooter engagement and you must plan for it. No amount of martial arts training will help you when bullets are flying around a dark nightclub from terrorists. However, martial arts goes farther than just physical tactics, but also applies to mental tactics as famous swordsman and ronin Miyamoto Musashi describes in his famous “Go Rin No Sho” or “Book of Five Rings”.

“Plan today to avoid failing tomorrow!”

If an active shooter is in motion you can bet that all chaos will ensue. After the panic sets in your heartbeat will increase in addition to your breathing. Some people in panic situations will pass out from breathing too much. It’s hard to plan for chaos from other people around you. Fear has a way of making us do things we don’t expect. Some people will run, others will stand there and scream, while the special ones faint. Psychologists explain that during high stress situations most people experience tunnel vision. So what can you do to prepare?

When an active shooter is in progress, you must have what we call a Direct Action Response (DAR), which are 4 things:

  1. Get off the X
  2. Assess
  3. Create a Plan of Action (POA)
  4. Commit and Act!!!

1. Get off the X

“X” marks the spot! When facing a threat, immediately move from where you are standing, sitting, walking, or whatever. The bad guy could be fixating on you with blinding tunnel vision and adrenalin. People who ran or crawled off the X in both the Denver and Paris attacks survived because they were moving targets. Some who fell down and froze where killed by bullets.

Once you observe the threat, orient to the threat, and make a decision, then act! Stepping laterally to the left or right from where you are will move you out of the blinding tunnel vision of the bad guy. The result is your attacker will have to readjust to you and it is much harder to hit a moving target. In fact, the majority of people who spend time at a gun range do so from a standing static position shooting at a static target. Counter ambush tactics used by many military agencies are very similar: “Run, Hide, Attack.”

2. Assessment

This includes both Situation and Self-Assessments. For example, how many attackers and how many exits are there? Do you have access to a phone? Verify you weren’t shot, bones are not broken, and you are good for an escape attempt.

You might want to remove bright colored items you’re wearing, jewelry that can make noise, or bags that will slow you down. Next, see if you have anything you can use as a weapon.

3. Plan of Action

Next, is to create a plan. Analyze what just happened and replay in your mind how you will get to your exits and get farther away from the X. Stay calm, focused, and accept that you are in a fear state. Just don’t panic and freeze!

Make a plan using no more than 3 steps as studies have shown that it’s easier memorizing things in groups of 3 when under stressful conditions. An example would be:

1. Crawl to the exit
2. If trapped, find a place to hide
3. Call 911 from your cell phone

4. Commit

Time to get yourself together and put your Plan of Action into high gear! Once you’ve gotten farther from the X and executed your Plan of Action, reset the process. Once you’ve gotten away from the shooter, you might find yourself up against another shooter, or possibly to a room that the shooter is moving to next. You have to stay moving! Sitting in one place only creates a target for the attacker to hit.

If you are in a group of people, it is possible to pull them together and set an ambush. This can be very dangerous but if it’s you’re only option next to dying, then do it! Remember, when you decide to commit to your plan you must do it with complete conviction and determination to accomplish your goal. Failure is not an option!

If you are interested in learning more tactics for travelers, executives, or personal protection check out our Self-Defense Training and Education Program for executives.


Written by A.J. Weimer 

A.J. is the founder and Executive Director of the Martial Arts Unlimited Association.  He has been training in martial arts for over 30 years and holds blackbelt rankings in 6 different martial arts.  Today A.J. provides security consulting, close-quarter combat training, and corporate executive self-defense training for businessmen and women traveling abroad.