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Self Defense/Tactical advantages of staying perpendicular to a suspect?


Hello Mr. Macyoung

I work as a police patrol officer and one of our training during arrest procedures was to never stay at right angle to the suspect facing his nose but stay at 45 degrees approximately with a partner before moving in because it would be easier to control his limbs and perform stuff like gooseneck locks.

But I was wondering if there's any advantages for not doing so by aligning eye to eye with him/her please?

Thanks for your time.

Okay the good news is you spotted what is called "A lie to children" from your training.

A lie to children is the answer/reason/explanation you give people for a massively complex subject when that person doesn't have the understanding or experience to grasp the actual answer.

Sure you could explain to a five year old about the historical, social, legal, cultural, and moral issues of the institution of marriage. But when a child asks "Why do people get married?" the best and fastest answer is "Because they love each other." Technically not a lie, but so simplistic as to be one. But most of all, it's functionally effective.

Easier to control is a lie to children. When you get into teaching, it's easier to say that than to go into all the reasons, tactics and yummy goodness that arises from this very big topic.

That is is a way bigger topic is the not good news if you like simple answers. If you like playing with stuff and figuring things out ... well it's like being gifted with a Legos store. You can make all kinds of cool things.

Start with: Humans are oriented on the 90s

Weird thing about how our brains work. Nose (looking straight ahead) is 0. Left shoulder is 90. Directly behind 180. Right shoulder is 270. We not only 'act' better on these lines, but we see better too.

Oddly enough the analogy I use is a highway patrol car pacing in the driver's blind spot as an easy to grasp example. It seems that the HP car came out of nowhere, when he's been pacing for at least a mile. Thing is this is also where things get woo-woo. When you're directly behind someone, they get the vibes and look in their rear view mirror. Whereas off to the diagonal people are less likely to sense the HP's presence.

That also works on coming in on someone. If you're in front of you, it's easier for him to see you coming at him. Thus giving him time to prepare. From the diagonal it's harder. That's because the human eye sees lateral movement way better than it does movement coming straight in -- this especially in our peripheral vision. There is a lag in perception.

You can check this out yourself by holding your hand out in front of you side ways (your thumb side towards you). Or you can have someone else do this (which is actually better). Split your focus to external and internal. Move your hand left or right and pay attention to how fast you spot which way it's moving. Now move it towards and away from you. There's usually a slighter longer lag with identification about forward and back than side to side (that's why someone else doing it is goofy, but demonstrates this point better). Now looking straight ahead, do the same sets of hand motion off to the diagonal.

The lateral movement is instantly identifiable. Coming at you is way harder to identify. In fact your first response is going want to turn your head and look. That is time wasted trying to identify what is happening before effectively countering.  Against an untrained perp this gives you at least a second of unencumbered action before he begins to resist. (If he's drunk, maybe two.)

Explaining the second point comes from me marrying into a ranching family -- specifically cattle and horses. One of the reasons I love my wife is she explains things to me. Unlike the cowboys. Who if you ask "Does this horse buck?" will answer "no." Then as you're swinging into the saddle will add "Not much." (You may recognize this sense of humor in another group.)A horse will move, spook and jump in a direction, regardless of which way it's head is pointed. Cattle however, will move in the direction the head is pointing. Basically, they look, turn and their bodies will follow. Untrained people are like cattle. Trained/experienced perps are like horses.

An untrained person will turn so you are in front of them so they can attack. The not standing in front is a valid point because you're in the guy's line of fire. And if you have to come in you're running into his defenses(You're jumping onto his horns). Whereas a trained fighter can nail you on the diagonal BEFORE he turns his body.

I don't know if you know, but I train cops. So I'm going to tailor the following specifically in that direction.

Here's where the stand to the 45 becomes a little... problematic. It works great when you have a partner who is doing the talking and standing in front of the guy. The reason is the suspect is oriented on the talker. You ghost to the 45 take a bladed, ready-for-action, gun side away from the guy and you're good to go.

Here is where it is REALLY important that it be a partnership of equals and divided responsibilities. We tend to think of the talker being the one taking the lead. He's talking, you follow his lead. Divide the job. The talker is trying to talk the guy down, the other officer is NOT back up. The non-talking officer is the one who decides when it's time to take the guy down. In this regard the talker is as much of a distraction as a de-escalator. (Basically his attention is focused The suspect is oriented on the talker and WHAM! Next thing he knows he's on the deck and being controlled.

Now some kind communication has to be developed. This could be a code word the talker says that says "Time to go" For example "alphabet" This non-sequitur word focuses the perp's attention even more on the talker while the other patrolman is coming in hard and fast.

If you're the closer, you'll need to communicate somehow to your partner that it's about to go down. I'm not so much a fan of a shout because that turns the perp's attention to you. Conversely if you say something, that brings the suspect's attention to you. That kind of destroys the surprise, but if you shout you can startle him. Hell if you want to turn it into a skit, look at the talker say "Do you think he's a good speller?" Your partner says "Sir do you know the alphabet?" This pulls the guy's attention back to the talker so he doesn't see you coming in. In the meantime you both know it's about to go down.  The neat thing is if your partner thinks he can still talk it down he can communicate that too -- "I don't think we need a spelling bee." Oh okay, but if you get punched don't blame me. ("We don't need a spelling bee" can also be helpful to communicate to a fellow officer to ease off.)

Where this gets real challenging is when you're operating alone. The standard distance I'm told by officers that they're told to distance themselves is five feet. Another lie to children. And on that you have to violate all the time. Here's a freebie.

In an empty hand context attack range is the distance someone can attack without taking a step. This is measured by gauging the distance between his eyebrows and the floor. Then take that distance and lay it on the floor between you and him.  That is the maximum distance he can attack you without taking a step. Now obviously the attack range of a basketball player and a dwarf will be different.  You can safely stand right in front of someone outside his attack range -- but you watch like a hawk for him moving into attack range, especially FAST!

Roughly speaking half of that distance is a person's punching range. So if you stay outside of that distance, you're taking a chance with kicks, but you're still good for him trying to hit you. So if you're testing the waters (or trying to draw him into making a stupid move) standing in front of him (0)is a deliberate move (a recon or a trap).

An area where you can get tricky is when you start playing with subtler angles. Remember the 90s and the eye seeing lateral movement? His nose is zero. But if he sees you moving to the 45 he's going to reorient to put you back on the zero. You can get the advantages of the angles, but still look like you're right in front of him by working slighter angles. Say for example you standing at 20. He thinks you're right in front of him, but you're actually not. You're in a position where you get the benefits of an angle, while reducing the dangers of standing in front of him.

This for two reasons. One if an untrained suspect decides to attack he has to adjust his body position to get to you and -- once you know what this looks like -- it gives you a second's warning. He's got to rotate and close in order to get to you. You see him starting to move this way and you know it's going down.

Two, and this gets subtle. If you initiate it it LOOKS like you're coming in "Hey diddle, diddle, straight up the middle"  And if you were coming straight in, you would be.

Well here's the booger about that. The human body is designed to take impact from the front (and the back). Coming straight in from 0 is the default strategy for 'fighting. First of all, you arrest people for fighting.So don't you do it. Second, this fighting strategy works with how we're designed to minimize damage (kind of like two bighorn sheep butting heads, lots of noise, stress, strain and blowing snot, but little actual damage). Third, what you are doing is NOT fighting. Your goal is to end the violence and gain control of the situation ASAP. Were you to come straight in from 0 you'd be failing all three.

Except, if you come in at the 20 it looks like you're coming in from the 0. He'll see you moving to the 45, he's less likely to see you moving to the 20. And yet, with a little practice you can get the same benefits of being on the 45 -- AND the guy will be putting all his defenses over at the 0.

So start playing with softer angles and see what you can come up with. I guarantee you, you'll find some really cool applications.

Oh and BTW, what I just told you brings your understanding up from a lie to children to high school. There's still a lot more beyond that for you to play with.

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Marc MacYoung


Street self-defense, crime avoidance and personal safety


I grew up in the streets of Los Angeles in 'situational poverty.' I have dealt with criminals and violent people all my life -- both personally and professionally. I have written 15 books and 6 videos on surviving street violence. I was originally published under the name Marc Animal MacYoung. (Animal was my street name). I've taught police and military both internationally and within the US. I've lectured at universities, academies and done countless TV, radio, newspaper and magazine interviews. I'm a professional speaker on crime avoidance and personal safety. And I am an expert witness recognized by the US court system. My bio is at My abridged CV (Curriculum Vitae) is at

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