May he never choose you, but, if he does, surprise him

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

The seventh of Jeff Cooper’s Principles Of Personal Defense is surprise:

This is put last on purpose, for surprise is the first principle of offensive combat. However, the privilege of striking the first blow is a luxury we must usually grant to our attacker, so in a sense there can be no strategic surprise in defense. But that does not mean that the defender cannot achieve tactical surprise. By doing what our assailant least expects us to do, we may throw him completely off. As we have seen, what he usually least suspects is instant, violent counterattack, so the principle of aggressiveness is closely tied to threat of surprise.

One of the most hilarious episodes in recent cinema presents a bank teller debating the spelling of a written demand passed through the wicket by the bank robber. The whole affair shifts from banditry to an argument about whether the money can be handed over in the face of so badly constructed a missive. Pretty far-fetched, of course, but still stimulating. The unexpected is disconcerting. A disconcerted felon is momentarily less in charge of his own thoughts than the moment just before or just after. At that moment, his victim may be able to turn the tables.

On a realistic note, I can point out that in every single successful defense against violent attack that I know of — and I have studied this matter for nearly three decades — the attacker was totally surprised when his victim did not wilt. The speed, power, efficiency, and aggressiveness of the counterattack varied greatly, but the mere fact of its existence was the most elemental component of its success.

If you have friends in law enforcement, ask them to tell you the “April Fool” joke. It’s a bit gamy for a publication of this sort, but it makes a point — and it is very funny. Its moral is the moral of this manual: The criminal does not expect his prey to fight back. May he never choose you, but, if he does, surprise him.


  1. Sam Vara says:

    Does anybody here know the “April Fool” joke?

  2. Freddo says:

    Sam, I used this new-fangled internet search engine technology to find the following thread:


  3. Kirk says:

    In any violent encounter, whether it’s a lion attack, a criminal trying to rob you, or an enemy raid on your camp, there are scripts running inside the heads of the attackers. First thing you want to do is throw those off, because once you’re off script, so are they, and whatever they’ve got rehearsed or expect, you do that and the whole thing comes unglued.

    The use of humor isn’t required, but it does help throw attackers off their stride. Also, acting crazy scares the hell out of them, because once you add that factor in to screwing up the script, they will sense a far greater risk than may actually exist.

    People leave crazy alone, once they identify it. Hell, even wild animals know better–Friend of mine tells the story of being stalked by a mountain lion up in the mountains of Idaho, and how he took some toothpaste and created an image of “frothing at the mouth” nuttiness by a stream edge. Lion’s been following him for most of an afternoon, and once he did that “rabid human” act, rolling around on the ground and making weird noises, it took the hell off.

    Worst thing you can do in an attack is meet expectations and behave the way your attacker has scripted. That chick with the knife I mentioned yesterday is seen in the video apparently reacting to a demand for money by digging through her shoulder-carried huge-ass purse, and then she produces this huge knife and casually slices, dices, and stabs the guy as if she were demonstrating knife-work on a cooking show. Purse never left her shoulder, and she’s going through the drill with that knife like she did it every day. Whoever the hell she was, she had some time training to use that thing.

    They later used DNA to connect the subject of her attentions to a series of rapes and a couple of killings, or so the story went. I think the case is still open, or it still was about 2003 or so.

    Don’t do what they expect.

  4. Ezra says:

    Correct. The criminal is as of the same nature as the predator animal. Seeks out the weak prey that is an easy target. Those targets that suddenly become a danger to the predator as forgotten about. Not work even the slightest risk.

  5. Wang Wei Lin says:


    Get inside the attacker’s OODA loop.

  6. TRX says:

    “scripts running”

    You can find some really good examples on YouTube with the search string “robbery fails.” Things like a thug with a hoodie and a pistol jacking up a store clerk at touching distance, and the clerk beats the attacker off with a bag of potato chips, climbs the counter, and chases the thug out the door. Another time it’s an elderly cleaning lady with a mop, and so forth.

    When the script fails, it fails hard. Of course if they were more ept they probably wouldn’t be committing a felony at a convenience store for $50 or less in a time-lock register…

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