in: Outdoor/Survival, Podcast, Skills

• Last updated: January 23, 2024

Podcast #960: A Guide to Protecting Yourself Against Unexpected Violence

When Sam Rosenberg was 20 years old and working as a bouncer in a bar, a disgruntled patron pointed a gun directly at his chest and told him: “Now I’m going to kill you.”

Sam survived the incident but it caused him to question what he thought he knew about self-defense and sent him on a decades-long quest to figure out how people can best protect themselves and others.

Today on the show, I talk to Sam, an expert in personal protection and the author of Live Ready: A Guide to Protecting Yourself in an Uncertain World, about his self-defense philosophy and how you can use it in your life to stay safe from violent threats. Sam makes the case that understanding how the mind works under life-or-death stress is the foundation of protecting yourself. We unpack that idea, as well as the phases of the timeline of violence, the phase you can exercise the most control in to deter a violent encounter and how to know when you’re in that phase, how to convey you’re a hard target that predators don’t want to mess with, and much more.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. When Sam Rosenberg was 20 years old and working as a bouncer in a bar, a disgruntled patron pointed a gun directly at his chest and told him, “Now, I’m going to kill you.” Sam survived the incident, but it caused him to question what he thought he knew about self-defense and sent him on a decades-long quest to figure out how people can best protect themselves and others. Today on the show, I talk to Sam, an expert in personal protection, and the author of Live Ready, a guide to protecting yourself in an uncertain world about a self-defense philosophy and how you can use it in your life to stay safe from violent threats.

Sam makes the case that understanding how the mind works under life or death stress is the foundation of protecting yourself. We unpack that idea as well as the phases of the timeline of violence, the phase you can exercise the most control in to deter a violent encounter, and how to know when you’re in that phase, how to convey you’re a hard target that predators don’t want to mess with, and much more. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

All right, Sam Rosenberg, welcome to the show.

Sam Rosenberg: Thank you very much, Brett. I’m happy to be here.

Brett McKay: So you’ve made a career of protecting people in organizations. You also teach other people how to protect themselves and then how to protect other people. You run a company called Live Ready, which provides training and personal protection. Tell us about your background. How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

Sam Rosenberg: So the short version is 1996, I got out of the Marine Corps. I was a Marine officer and I kind of landed in the close protection world, which I always say is a fancy pants way of saying bodyguarding. Started protecting some high profile individuals, everyone from executives to dignitaries, celebrities, probably the highest profile people I protected at the time were high ranking members of the Israeli government, including Benjamin Netanyahu when he was the former prime minister and protected a variety of other folks from Tom Cruise to Warren Buffett and a variety of other people in between. But in 2003 I had a philosophical shift that to me, it’s good to have a lifeguard, but ultimately you should know how to swim.

So I decided to pivot my career and instead of just protecting people and organizations, really shift gears towards teaching them how to protect themselves with the same skills and tools that we use to protect public figures. And it’s been about a 20-year journey. Currently, we do both. We still do protection services, threat assessment, investigative services, things like that. But my main focus is in really empowering people with these skills and tools so they can protect themselves, their families, their organizations.

Brett McKay: And in your recent book, Live Ready, A Guide to Protecting Yourself in an Uncertain World, you walk readers through a easy to read guide on the principles that direct your protective service philosophy and then also provide very actionable, concrete things that people can do. And in the book, you also take readers on a tour of how your philosophy towards self defense has changed since you got started in the game. And you tell a story about how getting a gun pointed at your chest when you were a bouncer in college, it caused you to question everything you knew about self defense. Tell us about that story and what did it… What shifted that cause in your mindset towards self-defense?

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah, it was an interesting moment. I mean, this is like back in the early ’90s. I was on the wrestling team at the University of Pittsburgh and I’d done martial arts and been in a few street fights, thought of myself as a tough guy. And it was kind of funny. One of my friends comes up to me one day and he says, “Hey Sam, do you want a job where you can meet lots of girls but get paid next to nothing?” And I said, “Of course.” So next thing I know, I’m 20 years old. I’m not even old enough to drink in the bar. And I find myself here as a bouncer in a college bar. And the sum total of the crisis response training that I received at this bar was a short conversation with the manager that amounted to… When there’s trouble in the bar, we’re going to flash the lights in the vestibule where the bouncers hang out and you guys come in and figure it out.

And what happened was, I’m on my second shift, literally, and it’s a Friday night. The place is jammed and the lights flash. So me being the gung ho guy that I am, I got to be the first one through the door. I come pushing my way through this kind of shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at the disturbance of this fight that was going on. And I pushed the guy who was getting the better of this college kid off of him, it was kind of like in my 20-year-old brain to look like an older guy who was probably like 40. Okay. Which is not old nowadays. But the idea was that he didn’t really fit in the context of this college bar. And when I push him off, I pin the college kid to the bar ’cause I didn’t want him to come back swinging. And my assumption was that my fellow bouncer would grab this guy and he didn’t.

And the older guy kind of bounced off the crowd, whips a gun out of his waistband and sticks it in my face and says, “Now I’m going to kill you.” And it was an interesting moment because, you know how they say, Brett, your life flashes before your eyes.

Brett McKay: Right.

Sam Rosenberg: I can tell you that my life has never flashed before my eyes. It didn’t do it in this time. And it didn’t in any other situation that I’d been in that I think would easily warrant the idea of life and death situation. But I can tell you what did happen was really instrumental, not only to my career path, but also to this moment. And what happened was my brain jumped back to this flashback memory of my dad and I having a conversation when I was like maybe 12 and I was doing karate or something at the time. And I said, “Hey dad, what do I do if a guy’s got a gun?” And I remember him telling me in this very well-meaning, but ultimately unhelpful way, he says, “Do whatever the guy with the gun tells you.”

So the problem is I flashback to this moment. This little memory took a millisecond. And the problem is the bad guy’s not telling me to do anything. He had threatened me, but there was no information to follow. So my brain literally just froze and it was like the computer had an hourglass come up on it. It was processing, but there was no information to follow. And this cascade of all the negative effects of adrenaline occurred, tunnel vision, everything getting quiet, everything seeming to go in slow motion and just taking forever to process. All that stuff happened. But what was interesting about it was, I came to a conclusion, literally, it was like, “This is unproductive. I have to do something.”

And I looked at the guy’s face and his body language indicated to me that he probably wasn’t going to shoot me in the face. So I was able to grab the gun and we kind of negotiated our way out of the situation. And what was interesting about this moment to me was not, if you will, how it was resolved because there was no fancy moves or anything. We all just got lucky. Nobody got shot, nobody got hurt. But the interesting outcome of this was a little while later, I’m back in the vestibule of the bar and we’re trying to act real cool and go back to business. And my fellow bouncer turns to me and he says, ” You know Sam, they’re paying us like 35 bucks a night before taxes for this job.” He goes, “This isn’t worth it.” And that was the end of that, for him.

And I thought that was perfectly reasonable, but my brain got stuck on this question, Brett, which was, “What the hell just happened here? Why is it that everything that I thought I knew about violence and its management was demonstrated instantly to be false?” That I’d had martial arts training. I was a wrestler, was division one wrestler. I felt like I had a certain level of competence and grasp on the subject of how to protect myself. But what the hard reality was that the first realization was that it was not my body that had failed me. It was my mind, my ability to think and make decisions and that all of the physicality was irrelevant. I was bigger, stronger, faster, younger than the guy that I was dealing with. I was in great shape, all that stuff.

None of it mattered because my brain did not have the ability to process that information. And this left me very uncomfortable. And it led me down a path where I literally wanted to figure this subject out. I’d heard of people who could think and make good decisions under pressure. And I wondered, Are those skills that can be learned? And if it could be learned, is it something that could be taught? So I pivoted my college career. I was going to become a school teacher. And that was the direction I was headed. And I decided instead, I was going to figure this out and go where I thought the toughest people on the planet were. So I went through the OCS program and joined the Marine Corps, yada, yada, here we are today. So I had a really important and sort of instrumental impact on me in terms of how I think about the realities of what it takes to manage violence versus what we are all sort of led to believe by, in some cases, well-meaning people, martial arts instructor, self-defense teachers, parents, whatever. And the most important junction of that is that it’s really not about being a ninja. It’s really about being able to think and make decisions under pressure.

Brett McKay: Well, speaking to that idea of misconceptions that people have when it comes to violence, another misconception people have, and your dad probably had this misconception when he told you, if you ever get a gun pointed at you, you just do whatever the guy says with a gun. I mean, something else you talk about you learned in that moment when that guy pointed a gun at you is that even if you have a gun, it might not be an advantage in a violent situation because even an attacker has got stuff going on in his head that might cause him to not be able to do what he wants to do.

Sam Rosenberg: Exactly. And this is why at the core of everything, when we start to look at how the brain actually operates under stress and what are the forces in place that make it very difficult to think and make good decisions when we are under stress. And at the end of the day, what it really comes down to, Brett, is experience. The fact that I had been in a few fights and had some martial arts skills, all that stuff was irrelevant because I had no real experience with the gun and with this particular stimuli. And the same thing applies if you imagine if we reverse the logic. If I execute a gun disarm, for example, in a most extreme situation, if I execute a gun disarm against an aggressor, some kind of an opponent, that bad guy thinks they’re in control. In fact, most people would assume that the guy with the gun is in control of the situation.

But the reality is, if I execute something like a gun disarm and the bad guy has no experience with me turning the tables on him, then it really doesn’t matter how big, how strong, how crazy he is. It doesn’t matter the fact that he has a gun or if we were to say it’s a 100-pound woman defending herself against a 300-pound guy. If his brain shuts down in that same type of paralysis, then that means you have control over the next few moments. And very often that’s all you need to get control over the next few moments after that and so on. And this is really the critical junction of understanding the difference between what we are all led to believe about violence and what is real. We’re all led to believe that… We see the movies and we see Jason Bourne or John Wick and we say, “Oh, you gotta really be a skilled martial artist to be able to defend yourself.” But the reality is that’s just the gateway. The real dynamic is being able to think and make decisions, which means you don’t allow your brain or you’ve overridden this process that causes paralysis or panic in a situation. If we panic or go into paralysis, we’ve lost control and our objective is to turn the tables on the bad guy and actually create that same cycle of paralysis or panic in him.

Brett McKay: No. And so you dig deep in this. I think it’s really important people understand what goes on in the brain in a decision-making cycle in any violent confrontation. And we’ve talked about the OODA loop here on the podcast before we’ve written about it on the website. And you highlight a different model of decision-making that’s similar to OODA, but you think it’s better. It’s called SAFE. It’s an acronym. Can you walk us through this decision-making model and how understanding it can help people feel empowered in a violent confrontation?

Sam Rosenberg: Absolutely. So just to be clear, I don’t think that one is better than the other. I think that they’re both valuable. The problem with the OODA loop… And when I was in the Marines, I was first introduced to the idea of OODA, which is Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. And it was originally coined by a fighter pilot named… It was a John Boyd?

Brett McKay: John Boyd, yeah.

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah, John Boyd, so. And the idea was to allow you to have a process by which you make decisions. So the essence of OODA was, you observe the problem, you orient yourself to it, you decide on your course of action and then you take action. The challenge with OODA is that it presumes that you have the ability to make decisions, okay? And what SAFE does is it fills that void. What SAFE stands for is Stimulus Analysis Formation Execution. And what SAFE talks about is the exact linear process that our cerebral cortex goes through in the process of responding to any stimuli. So, for example, you receive a stimuli, a guy pointing a gun in your face, deer jumping in front of your car. It doesn’t matter what the stimuli is. What happens is our brain immediately analyzes that stimulus based on experience.

Sam Rosenberg: If we have experience, then we have the ability to form plans. And at the end of the day, if we have the ability to form plans, we can make a decision of whether or not we want to execute the plan. So the problem that we have is if we hit the analysis phase and we don’t have any experience with that particular stimuli, or if our only experience has been negative, let’s say traumatic experience, then what happens is we literally get stuck on the analysis phase. And this is what causes the panic or the paralysis. And this is what causes, very often, the overreaction of adrenaline, which compounds the problem and makes it much, much more difficult to access our cognitive faculties and make decisions. So the concept of understanding SAFE is understanding the physiological process by which our brain can actually take in inbound stimuli and process it and come up with a solution.

So in order to even execute an OODA loop, you have to have that ability to make decisions. And SAFE does not assume that we already have that decision-making capacity. What is required, once again, is experience, systematically programming our minds so that if we receive some kind of stimuli, if we receive some kind of issue that we have to process swiftly and make decisions that we can.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And I think an important point to point out is this SAFE decision process is going through not only your head, but the opponent’s head.

Sam Rosenberg: Exactly.

Brett McKay: And similar to OODA loop, like John Boyd talked about is that you need to speed up your OODA loop to win. Whoever completes their OODA loop first is usually the one that wins, but then you can do things to slow down the SAFE decision process of the other person or to your opponent. And you talk about different ways you can do that. One is disrupting them, doing something they weren’t expecting. ‘Cause a bad guy usually goes in with a plan thinking, “Well, I’m going to throw this punch. People aren’t going to fight back.” But if you do fight back, that’s going to throw them for a loop and slow things down, which gives you more time to get away.

Sam Rosenberg: Exactly. When you sort of mentally turn the tables on the bad guy, which is typically done by some kind of physical reaction that causes them to have to hesitate and to make decisions, then that’s what sort of gets ahead of their OODA loop. And that’s what gets ahead of this whole process. At the end of the day, if we can cause our opponent to go into some level of panic or paralysis response, then we have control. And that’s really the most important factor, at least on the initial moments of an engagement towards gaining the upper hand and having an advantage. And this is why I always tell people, you really don’t have to be bigger, stronger, faster than your opponent. You just have to be able to make sure that you don’t lose the ability to think. And if possible, to turn the tables in such a way that the opponent is now in this dynamic of stuck in this loop, stuck in this process of analysis paralysis.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Sam Rosenberg: And if you don’t mind, Brett, let me just address one small thing because there’s probably some listeners that would hear this and they’re experienced martial artists, MMA fighters, jiu-jitsu guys or whatever. And they may say, “You know what… ” But when I’m sparring with people, I don’t really see that paralysis that often. And there’s a huge difference between competitive training or training for competitive type martial arts versus street fighting. In the real world, you can exploit this dynamic tremendously. The difference really is in what I call the controls and expectations, that… I am a huge fan of MMA and all of the various combative arts and… But they have to have their place. And the concept is if you and I get into an MMA environment, no matter how stressful that is, I know you’re not pulling a knife or a gun out. Or I know your buddy’s not going to jump me from behind.

And I recognize that, “Hey, if things get too bad, I can tap out or the ref’s there to save me.” And so no matter how stressful it is, the part of our brain that really controls a lot of our stress reaction and our survival mechanisms, the limbic part of our brain, it simply doesn’t address, it doesn’t evaluate that event as the same kind of survival stress as a real world dynamic. And the reason is because if you’re walking down the street and someone approaches you and it becomes dangerous, ultimately there are no controls or expectations in place. And we don’t know where this is going to go, how it’s going to go, what’s going to be involved and neither does the bad guy. So the concept is if we’re competing and we have those controls and expectations in place, it’s very easy to kind of manage this on a more competitive level. And the stress we feel is more what I consider to be performance anxiety.

“What will people think of me if I fail or if I get humiliated or something like that”. When we’re talking about survival stress, that’s where understanding how to program that SAFE process is so vital, because if you don’t program… And that we are more likely to go into a paralytic state than we are to perform well, and that has even demonstrated itself with people that I’ve train who are in fact professional MMA fighters, when they get into a real world situation, things change really fast, and we have to have a different way of looking at it and training our mind and body to address it.

Brett McKay: Okay, so we talk about the decision-making process that we go through in a violent confrontation, but I think knowing that can be empowering that you actually have some control over this, you can actually flip the tables on a bad guy. You also talk about another thing that people need to do in order to prepare to defend themselves is to understand there’s different kinds of bad guys out there, and you say there’s three different kinds. What are those three kinds of bad guys?

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah, so in my personal model, we’ve got three kinds of bad guys, I call them the three Ps, you have at the top of the food chain, professional bad guys, then you have predators and you have then at the bottom of the food chain, what I call potential bad guys. Professional bad guys are a category, okay, and the category would include, for example, any mass killer. So school shooters, workplace shooters, international terrorists, to me they’re all functionally the same, they’re all terrorists, they all have the same MO, the same objectives, and ultimately the only real differentiator is ideology. One may be politically motivated, while another ones personally motivated, but they’re all the same manifestation of violence. In that same professional category, we have people like serial killers, child molesters, serial rapist, things like that. And I don’t denote them as professional by virtue of ability, some are better than others at what they do and how they do it, most of the time I’m really defining it by virtue of this idea that they all share a very specific kind of mission orientation, meaning that they choose their targets under specific circumstances and specific moments for specific reasons.

At the bottom of the food chain, we have the potential bad guys. And a potential bad guy is… I jokingly say anybody on a bad day. So you have someone who’s not necessarily predisposed to violence the way a professional bad guy is, but you have someone who perhaps is affected by situational factors, so they’re drunk, they’re high, their girlfriend just dumped them, their wife’s cheating on them, whatever it is. That you may not even be aware of what’s affecting them, but the dynamic is that if you mis-manage an interaction with them, you could have the potential for violence. And then in the middle, what we have are what I call predatory bad guys. Predators are what we typically think of in terms of self-defend, someone looking to do rape, robbery, murder, assault, some combination thereof, they could be hunting for a target right now or just sort of going about their life and a target just strolls across their path and they snap into that predatory mode.

Sometimes predators, they use force to get what they want, and sometimes they use charm and persuasion, but at the end of the day, what we’re talking about there is a hybrid where they clearly have a mission, they have something that they want to accomplish, but they absolutely must have the right situational factors to pull it off. So understanding the types of bad guys gives us an optic, if you will, into understanding how bad guys choose their targets, why they do so, and really how do we defeat them? How do we outwit them? And there are specific commonalities to all three that we break down in the book, in Live Ready, we talk about what are the universal characteristics here? What do they all universally want in a target? And what are they all universally afraid of? So that we can get the upper hand in terms of how do we manage the situation if we find ourselves being targeted by one of them.

Brett McKay: And you talk about whether a bad guy is predatory, professional or potential bad guy, they all go through a decision process on whether to do something bad, whether to attack somebody, this process can be long, it can be months, maybe years in the making, or it can just happen in a few seconds. A potential bad guy, he’s in that situation, he’s just angry, he’s drunk, and you’re just there at the wrong time, he can make this decision, you call this process an acronym. I love acronyms time, TIME, what’s this process that bad guys go through?

Sam Rosenberg: So TIME stands for generally what I call the timeline of violence, okay, and TIME stands for target selection, interview or intelligence gathering, method of attack and then escape exploitation. And it is literally Brett as you described, it is the specific four-phase process that all bad guys go through in the commission of an attack, and the best analogy I can use is to… The simplest one is something that we’re all familiar with. Let’s talk about 9/11 as an example. So prior to the attack, let’s imagine one of the bad guys comes to the group and says, “Hey guys, got a great idea, let’s target the World Trade Center”. So we now have a proposed target, we have target selection. Another one says, “I got a great idea, let’s fly an airplane into the building”. So now what we have is a proposed method of attack. Well, why don’t they just go for it? Well, they don’t go for it immediately because obviously there’s an inherently high degree, a potential of failure in that mission, simply because they haven’t vetted the plan.

So they enter into what I call the I of TIME, and in the I of TIME is where all this intelligence gathering is happening, so they… All the pre-operational planning, the sort of the surveillance and the assessment of the target, the gathering of manpower and weapons, the testing and probing, maybe even rehearsals, can we fly on the airplanes with our box cutters. And if they get to the point where they’re satisfied that their method of attack has merit, then when they launched the attack, the M of TIME turns into what I generally call the moment of commitment, it is the moment of the attack when the attackers make their intentions known. And this is a problem because when we are on that M of the timeline of violence, then the bad guys have a lot of control. Now, if the bad guys win, then perhaps they have an escape plan, or if it’s like, say, a large scale terrorist attack or a suicide mission, or active shooter or whatever, then there’s usually what we would call an exploitation plan, which is the school shooters manifesto being found in the lock room or al-Qaeda taking credit and saying, “Be afraid. We could do this again”.

So the concept of this is that it is an observable and relatively predictable process that we can see it and we can actually plug in just about any attack into this timeline of violence and we can see the stages as they unfold. But as you said, if we look at street criminals or potential bad guys, they do the exact same thing, it just happens in a very, very compressed time frame. So you could be walking down the street and there could be a 1000 people there at a concert, and not even aware that someone in that crowd is a predatory bad guy looking at people going, “No, no, no, yeah, that one looks like a good target”. For whatever reason. Well, they don’t just go for the attack, whatever their mission or their method of attack is in mind, because there’s still that inherent degree of risk, so what they do is they usually test and probe the target ahead of time, again with the I of TIME, it just takes the form of what we would call an interview.

And interview processes very often take the form of an approach, someone coming up to you and saying, “Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” Or some kind of interaction. Sometimes it’s just someone following you, but the idea here is, it’s still occurring along the same timeline of violence, and what it really means to us is that we gotta get good at recognizing the warning indicators of the I of TIME, because what it means when we are being interviewed is that we have already been targeted, and that I of TIME is there to validate whether or not we’re a good soft target or whether we’re gonna make a difficult target. It’s the bad guy’s validation step. So, I always tell people, I ask the question in classes, I say, “Do you think you can avoid being targeted in the first place?” And the answer that most people say is, “Yeah, I think we can avoid it entirely”. But the reality is you can’t, because it’s the bad guy who controls that.

And as a very simplistic example, if you own a business or you’re a leader in a business, chances are at some point in time in your career, you’re gonna hear something along the lines of, “When you fired me, you destroyed my life”. No matter how good a job you did, no matter how much you try to preserve that person’s dignity, set them on a positive trajectory and do things correctly, ultimately, you can do everything right and still find yourself on the receiving end of a pretty extreme level threat. So we gotta get really good at recognizing the I of TIME and managing the I of TIME, so that it does not escalate into the M in the moment of commitment.

Brett McKay: We’re gonna take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.

And now back to the show. Okay, so time it’s target selection, intelligence or interview, M method of attack, E escape and exploitation, and you’re saying… The argument you make is that we have control in that “I” period.

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah.

Brett McKay: ‘Cause yeah, you don’t have a choice whether a bad guy is gonna target you, you don’t get to decide how the bad guy is going to attack you, and you don’t have a decision how they’re going to escape or exploit, but you do have influence on whether or not they… In the intelligence gathering process, whether you’re a good target or not.

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah, and I would actually say that we can influence and affect the degree of control over everything, in that we can avoid trouble, and of course have good situational awareness and treat people with dignity and all those things that are positive to avoid being targeted or avoid conflicts. So we’re never helpless, even if someone attacks us, if we find ourself at the moment of commitment and we have to actually fight back, that’s where defensive skills come in, but at the end of the day, we can definitively exercise the greatest control over this continuum of conflict if you will, this timeline of violence by recognizing the early warning indicators of the I of TIME and taking the appropriate measures to diffuse that situation or deter it from escalating, and it’s not just about paying attention, because good situational awareness is a very, very positive thing. But paying attention is just the pre-requisite, you gotta know what to look for, you have to be able to recognize the warning signs that you’re being targeted, even if those warning signs are very subtle or being conducted, if you will, by someone who is a master of camouflage and is taking a longer approach towards manipulating you into a position where they can victimized you.

Brett McKay: So what are some of those signs that someone’s in the I of TIME in relation to you?

Sam Rosenberg: So if we’re talking about the easy stuff, if you’re walking down the street and you see someone and you instantly get a bad vibe, this is kind of the Gavin de Becker approach of the intuition type of dynamic, is intuitively we have the ability to read a lot of information, and we’ll very often get a gut reaction of fear, the hair will stand up on the back of your neck, you’ll get this sort of alarming statement in your mind saying, This guy looks like a rapist or a murderer or whatever it is, and those initial warning alarms, as I call them, are your most powerful indicator that you may be in the presence of danger, the absolute indicator that you are now in an interview and must address it appropriately, is when someone actually approaches you and starts to compress that distance, it’s proximity-based. So when someone approaches you and they make you uncomfortable, it’s time to deal with that as an interview, and you don’t wanna override it by saying things like, “Well, it’s probably nothing”. Or dismissing or minimizing your intuition, or your radar as I like to call it. And you also don’t wanna fall into that sort of social contract, there’s what I call the social veil, where we say things like, “But I don’t wanna judge a book by it’s cover”.

What you really wanna do is deal with the facts at hand, which is someone’s making you uncomfortable and they’re potentially too close to you, those are dynamics that you now must address as an interview because if you mis-manage it at that point, you may seem like a good target, and that doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be attacked immediately, it means that someone could see you as a target on one day and choose to attack you or victimized you on another day or hours or weeks later. So we have to be very careful how we manage that.

Brett McKay: So what are some things… Let’s say you talk about this target selection, someone’s engaging in this interview or intelligence gathering process on you, whether to figure out you’re a hard target or a soft target. Hard target means that you’re just harder to deal with, they don’t wanna deal with that, criminals or criminals of opportunity, they’re gonna go for the easiest thing, so what can you do during this process to let people know that you’re a hard target, that if someone messes with you, they’re gonna have a not good time?

Sam Rosenberg: Well, that’s a great question. The best answer to that, Brett, is to say, you actually have to be a hard target. So in other words you don’t have to fake it if you actually know how to protect yourself, and if you’re willing and able to protect yourself, so willingness being a state of mind, ability, being a statement effect, that if you actually have the ability to protect yourself, you exude that level of confidence and competence in such a way that you’re kind of a dangerous person yourself and bad guys will simply not evaluate you the same as someone who is not capable. But for the vast majority of the people out there who say, “Well, I just don’t have the time or I’m not big enough strong enough to get involved in self-defense”. And I would say, “Everyone should make the time”. And there is no limit there, but none the less, you can fake it till you make it. And the best way to fake it is to understand that at the exact same time you are reading them and you are evaluating them and getting a sort of an assessment of fear that this potentially is a problem that this person could indicate danger.

The bad guy is assessing you, and most of that assessment is being done non-verbally, so we talk about in the book, for example, some very simple postures that display confidence and display physical authority, such as having your fingers up to the mid-line with your fingers steeple. We call that the Secret Service stance, or putting your hands out in front of you in a stop sign gesture, managing the interview from one of those postures greatly increases the capacity not only of the bad guy seeing you as a potentially hard target because you’re controlling distance and you’re addressing that interview authoritatively, but it also gives you more reaction time ’cause it actually does control distance. So non-verbals are really, really key, and again, you don’t have to sort of fake the non-verbals when you actually know how to protect yourself, these become natural extensions of that, but the tactics that I display in the book… And the book is not about a lot of physical tactics, but these are things that I do have images of and go into. It talks about how to sort of fake it so that in a bad situation, you can still get yourself out of it.

Brett McKay: No, I love these stances, so the Secret Service stance, I’m doing it right now, so I’ve just got my fingers steeple together at my mid-line. And as you said, this is a very confident stance, we’ve actually had a podcast guest, he’s an expert on charisma, and she loves that stand, the steepling the fingers together, displays power, but another thing it does, it has your hands at the ready in case someone decides to do something, your hands are there to defend yourself.

Sam Rosenberg: Yup.

Brett McKay: And then the other thing you can do if they keep getting closer to you, raise up your hands like the stop and you say you gotta do… You don’t wanna put ’em low, ’cause that’s kinda like, “Oh, please don’t hurt me”. You wanna be very assertive with it.

Sam Rosenberg: And just to touch on that, it’s not so much that they don’t have to be low, you can have your hands extended in front of you, kind of at the mid-line or waistline, I would say, not mid-line, waistline.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Sam Rosenberg: And it’s like low volume, it’s like, “Hey man, take it easy, but I need you to back away from me”. Or they can be up at face level, and it’s really an aggressive stop sign, like you need to back away from me right now. What we don’t want is you to bring your hands into a surrender position where they’re sort of tucked in to your shoulders, because now it’s very, very soft body language, we’re just kind of saying, “Please don’t hurt me”. So we need to demonstrate authority and willingness to respond, and that’s the key to these non-verbals.

Brett McKay: Yeah. And then another stance, you have the listeners pose, so basically you’re resting your hand on your chin, and then you have one arm is kind of covering the mid-line.

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah, and that’s a very purpose-driven position, like if you’re in a scenario where you’re inherently way too close to someone and you’re afraid, but at the same time, your decision-making is like, “If I touch this guy, he’s gonna go off like a fire cracker, and what I really think is he’s probably not gonna attack me so I can diffuse it”. And you’re in this sort of higher level confrontational management mode, that listener pose is fantastic because it conveys the message that your opponent is being heard, so when someone’s upset at you and they’re like, “You don’t understand”. And they’re gesticulating and stuff like that, but you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, I don’t wanna handle this in any more of an aggressive manner, I can just diffuse this.” That’s a protective posture, and it’s something that I found myself using quite a bit in a close protection world because it wasn’t so much the distance from me to those potential opponents that I was concerned about, it was the distance between them and my principal. So I’d find myself in these compromise distances and I’d use that listeners pose quite a bit.

Brett McKay: And this would be a great one to use if you’re dealing with a disgruntled employee or disgruntled customer?

Sam Rosenberg: You got it.

Brett McKay: Okay. And then the other thing you can do to let the bad guys know that you’re not a soft target is just, they’re watching you. You talk about just watch them too. They’re not gonna attack someone who’s got their head on a swivel and paying attention?

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah. And we’re really talking about situational awareness. And as I mentioned, just paying attention, and I always say, is the pre-requisite. In today’s world, we have to tell people, “Take the earbuds out of your ears. Get your head out of your phone, especially when you’re in environments that could potentially pose a risk. And understand where those environments are.” You have to have a decision-making process to say, “Where am I safe most of the time functionally? Where can I relax? And where do I need to have my awareness turned on and switched on a little bit more?” Otherwise, you burn out. But once you understand that, then you gotta know what to look for, and you gotta be able to look. And one of the principles is, you wanna do what I call watching for the watchers. A friend of mine one time summarized like this, and I think it’s wonderful. He used to live in New York setting. He says, “When friends of mine would visit me in New York, I’d tell them that there are three kinds of people in New York. There’s the people who are looking up. Those are the tourists. There’s the people who are looking down. Those are the New Yorkers. And then there’s the people who are looking for who’s looking up and who’s looking down, and they’re the ones you gotta pay attention to.

And I tell people that there’s a great wisdom in this very simple sort of story, and that what you really wanna do is watch for the watchers, look for people who are observing and who are watching who’s coming and going. And the interesting thing about that is just by training yourself to watch with the watchers, you recognize danger way in advance. But on top of that, when a bad guy sees you and recognizes you as another watcher, functionally speaking, it’s like two predators at the watering hole. There’s just way easier prey around, and they don’t need the challenge. And I’m not talking about eyeballing people and getting a staredown contest, I’m just talking about, as you said, keeping your head on a swivel and keeping your head up, looking around. And if you’re looking with purpose, what you’re looking for specifically are people who are observing others. They could be just like you, they could be normal, good, decent people, but they could be potentially bad guys, and you wanna be able to discern that.

Brett McKay: Yeah, you’re looking for people who potentially might be in that intelligence gathering phase at the time, decision process. So yeah, we’ve had… You quote… You talk about Patrick Van Horne. We’ve had Patrick on the podcast talk about his book, Left of Bang. He does a great job talking about how to develop situational awareness. And what it all comes down to is just any situation you’re in, you gotta establish what the baselines are, like, what’s normal, and then look for anomalies. And every situation is gonna have a different baseline. What’s normal in Tijuana, Mexico might not be normal in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And so once you establish the baseline, if someone’s doing something, it’s like, “Yeah, you probably shouldn’t be doing that in this situation,” that’s when you have to think, “Okay, this is a potential problem. I gotta have a plan in case something goes south?”

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah, exactly. And I quote Patrick Van Horne in the book because his model of Left of Bang and TIME are very, very similar. And TIME’s… I’ve been teaching that for significantly longer, but the idea here is the same basic theory, of people coming up with the same theories and the same logic, and I’m a huge fan of their work as well. And the idea of having this baseline is exactly as you describe it. You gotta give your brain a certain amount of time to establish what is normal for the environment. And this is kind of one of the most important rules of situational awareness, is once you have baseline, you don’t have to be paranoid, you don’t have to be constantly on edge, thinking someone’s gonna attack you all the time. You just need to be able to observe and not shun to your normal… Sort of the inputs; the visual, the audible inputs, that you can take in observational cues. And trust that your radar will literally alert you when something is an anomaly to that baseline. You just gotta give yourself time.

If you’re traveling, for example, when you’re going to Tijuana, it’s gonna take you 24-48 hours on average to be able to assemble internally what is normal. And once you get that baseline, then you can trust that your radar will warn you when something’s out of place. And when it is, that’s when you observe. You do what I call a deeper scan. So you take a closer look and you ask certain questions on, “What’s going on here? Is this person using the environment correctly, or are they a watcher? Is this an area of mandatory travel, or they’re… All these different factors that will contribute to you being able to quickly assess what’s really going on there, and is it dangerous, or is it just something out of the ordinary?

Brett McKay: Okay. So in this eye of time part, the goal is to deter the bad guy. So he’s potentially selected you as a target, he’s in this intelligence gathering phase. Your goal is to figure out ways to deter him, and you can do that through body language, putting distance between you and him, watching him, letting him know that you got eyes on him as well. Any other things you can do in this process to deter a bad guy from actually making the decision to attack?

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah. Bad guys, particularly predatory bad guys, the defining characteristic of them is this idea of opportunity. They’re like a hybrid. They have a mission, but they need the right situational factors. And if you control the situational factors, you can limit the likelihood of you ever being targeted. For example, in the most general sense, distance control is key. So for example, if you can control the distance that any engagement is gonna happen, so at the first sign of an interview, you simply leave, you get the hell out of there, you’re going to limit the likelihood of that interview actually manifesting and creating the potential for an attack. And the second you realize you’re in a close quarter interview trying to manage that distance using the stop sign, using some of the body language, those kinds of tactics will diffuse those quite a bit, ’cause they remove opportunity from that bad guy getting the jump on you, getting surprised.

Another example, for example, when we’re talking about deterrence, is not losing control of the situational factor. So if we’re dealing with a social setting. Say a woman’s on a date and she’s getting a bad vibe, well, try not to put yourself in a scenario where you’re behind closed doors and there’s an opportunity for that person to exercise control over the environment. So those kinds of things, like having an acute awareness of, “What are the situational factors that I can control?” Whether it’s distance, whether it’s just being alone with someone and giving them that privacy. All of those factors come into play in how you navigate this kind of uncertain world and these dynamics. But all of it really comes first with an acute understanding of, “When am I in danger?” and particularly if I think I’m being targeted and not dismissing that initial belief.

Brett McKay: Okay, so the best way to defend yourself is just to not put yourself in a situation where you have to defend yourself. And if you are in a situation where you have to defend yourself, your first recourse should just be get out of the situation, do things to deter violence. But let’s say you’ve done all this stuff and the attacker decides, “I’m gonna make a victim of you,” you argue that your self-defense response needs to be vertical, not horizontal, which means… Horizontal self-defense is when you have numerous response options to a situation, so you could do A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Just goes on and on. And that can slow down your response time, ’cause there’s too much decision-making going on. Vertical self-defense is about having a more streamlined approach. You have one, maybe two, options in mind, so either you’re gonna do A, or you’re gonna do B. And by keeping things simple, you speed up the response time. So when it comes to physical responses, the things you teach the people that you train, they’re not complicated maneuvers, they’re not complicated punch, knee sequences, you’re not doing Americana arm locks, it’s just simple gross motor movements.

And we’ve had Tony Blauer on the podcast, and he talks about that. In a self-defense situation, fine motor skills, they just… They go out the window. So you have to keep your responses to big movements with limbs. You can’t really do small ones.

Sam Rosenberg: A 100%. And Tony and I are friends, and he wrote me a very kind testimonial for this book. He was a big fan of it. And I can tell you that Tony is a 100% correct. And he’s one of the pioneers when it comes to physiological response to danger, really studying and understanding it. But that is one of the differences between competitive martial arts and what we see in ring fighting or the movies and real world, is when we hit that level of stress, that survival level of stress, not the sort of controls and expectations driven, competitive stress. When we get into serious life and death stuff, you’re left with gross motor movements, and by virtue of that, what gross motor movements are, keeping it simple, is like running, charging, swimming movements. So we gotta keep it simple, and we have to keep our responses to those violent stimuli into the realm of physiologically appropriate techniques, what works under this level of stress, what has been pressure-tested and proven to work under this extreme, but at the exact same time, how do we train ourselves with what we want to do.

So you’ve got this framework. It says, “Okay, how do I… What do I need to do to handle a knife attack? What do I need to do to handle a gun disarm, or to handle an attack with a guy throwing a punch at me?” And you have to say, What techniques are appropriate? What strategies are appropriate? But how do we accomplish those within the confines of physiologically appropriate stress-induced responses? And that’s what I teach. I’ve got a system that I’ve taught over many years. It’s refined over many years. And I’ll be the first to say, it went from more of the complex martial arts moves, and over time, it was not something that became bigger, it was something that became more refined and smaller in terms of, How do I simplify, simplify, simplify, to the point where someone can do a simple technical approach and establish a position of control from which you can use basic gross motor techniques to win, no matter what the scenario is. And that’s the approach I use. On paper, it’s very similar to what a lot of other systems preach. They talk about dealing with weapons and multiple opponents. My physical training is really, I believe, proven in gross motor enough that it’s achievable for just about anyone under even extreme stress.

Brett McKay: So we’re taking about knee movements. I mean, what… I know you can’t get specific, but generally, what would that look like?

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah. We’re talking simple movements, gross motor strikes, knee strikes and control behaviors that are, again, postural in nature and allow you you to… What I’ve accomplished, that I think is pretty interesting, is what I call an initial position of control. So no matter what happens, guy throws a punch at you, you’re penetrating through their defense, someone tries attack you, someone slashes at you with a knife, stabs at you, whatever it is, that is a very simple vertical way to get quickly into an established position of control from which you can start to fire gross motor movements in knees to the groin, the body that had… Strikes to the brainstem at the back of the neck, simple takedown maneuvers that are gross motor in nature, that lock out the arm or allow you to take someone down if you have to. But the framework is get to the position of control from which you can then do either incapacitation takedown, or in a worst case scenario, some kind of deadly force damage. Does that makes sense, Brett?

Brett McKay: That makes sense. And then going back to what we were talking about earlier with SAFE, that decision-making process, you have to train this stuff because the goal is to know what you’re gonna do right in the moment. ‘Cause you’ve already trained for it. So you’re not stuck in your paralysis by analysis. And then you’re trying to disrupt the decision-making process of the other guy because they’re not gonna be expecting… He wasn’t planning on this person hitting me in the brainstem.

Sam Rosenberg: Yeah. And a lot of it comes back to, if we actually think about what we’re fighting for. Like, one of the chapters in the final component, the final sections of the book, Brett, we talk about the difference between self-defense, what I call defensive tactics, that was colloquially called defensive tactics and then combatives. And it’s important to differentiate, because self-defense, the goal is to escape, to create an opportunity to escape. And as a result, self-defense is… In some way, is the most complex, and at the exact same time, the easiest to achieve, because it gives you a lot of complex scenarios and dynamics. But if the goal is just to create an opportunity to escape, then… And if the bad guy, for example, realizes that they tangled with the wrong person, who’s willing and able to fight back, very often, they just wanna go the other direction. They wanna go one way, you wanna go one way, that’s an easy day. So it doesn’t take nearly as much to overcome the majority of self-defense situations, it just takes a certain level of skills that can work under real stress.

When we get into law enforcement training, which I’ve done quite a bit of, and kind of close protection training in higher level security, defensive tactics is wholly different because now, if a cop, for example, is trying to apprehend someone and that is the objective and the person doesn’t wanna be apprehended, you can have a much, much higher level of violence ensue. So the skill sets have to be a little bit broader, they have to be a little more complex, they have to be able to handle a greater dimension of violence.

And then the highest level is combatives. And combatives is what we typically think of with MMA, or say, military applications or what we see in the movies. Two guys duken it out, nobody back and down, someone’s literally gotta beat their opponent into submission. And the reality is that fights almost never occur in the combative realm. It’s almost always one-sided. It’s either the bad guy seems to have a decisive advantage and is exploiting that advantage to victimize someone with impunity, or the good guy turns the tables very quickly, the bad guy realizes that they’re not gonna have an easy day of this, and they just wanna get the hell out of there. When you get in a combative dynamics, what you’re really looking at is war fighting, and you’re looking at competitive martial arts. And if you’re a war fighter, if you’re a Tim Kennedy, if you’re a Green Beret, I can understand why these guys want people to have real combative skills, because their framework of this is dealing with adversaries who they physically have to defeat. Even in war, that is a relative rarity.

So when we talk about the physical skill sets, I believe in training the whole dimension of it. I really think everybody should have some level of combative skills if they’re gonna be well-rounded. But at the end of the day, the majority of people can make do with just the basics of self-defense so they can recognize danger, avoid being targeted in the first place, manage those interviews and fight their way out of a bad situation, such that they can create an opportunity to escape. And the majority of people can do that with a relative amount of ease.

Brett McKay: Yeah. What I loved about the book when I finished it, the big takeaway I got from it was that you have more control in self-defense than you think. I think a lot of people think, “Well, if some bad guy… He’s got to jump on me, I can’t do anything.” I think the big takeaway from your book was that, No, there’s things you can do. You can actually create situations for yourself that you can protect yourself and your family. Well, Sam, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go and learn more about the book and your work?

Sam Rosenberg: Brett, this has been a great conversation. Thank you. And what I would say is just go to my website. The fastest way there would be That’s the most linear way to get to the website, landing page for the book. The book is available anywhere books are sold. The audiobook is on Audible. And anybody who wants to learn more about me can find their way to my website from

Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well, Sam Rosenberg, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Sam Rosenberg: Brett, it’s been an honor. Thank you very much.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Sam Rosenberg. He’s the author of the book, Live Ready. It’s available on You can find more information about his work at his website, Also check out our show notes at, where you can find links to resources and we delve deeper into this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AoM podcast. Make sure to check out our website at, where you can find our podcast archives, as well as 1000s of articles that we’ve written over the years about pretty much anything you can think of. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate it if you take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or a family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding you to not only listen to the AoM podcast, but put what you’ve heard into action.

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