Budo Breakdown – Seattle Stabbing

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Chilling video of a stabbing suspect challenged at gunpoint  by an armed bystander coming out of Seattle. Watch the embedded video in the link.

This one shows a different angle. At 10:50 or so you see the confrontation.


There is a lot to unpack here…

This is an example of hesitation, of failure to act, caused either by an inability to conceive of using lethal force in defense of self or others, or more likely a lack of being prepared to actually use lethal force when facing the reality of it.

As this man was carrying a concealed firearm, let’s assume that he had previously considered the possibility of using lethal force in a defensive encounter, even to the extent of acquiring a concealed weapons permit and actually carrying a gun.

And yet, there he was, drawing and pointing his gun at an armed man with bloody hands, walking toward him and in his own words, he was “waiting for someone to help.”

How can that be? 

Perhaps he was not prepared for the reality of actually using deadly force. In training, even high quality technically or physically based courses, one is generally practicing the use of weapons, which is different from the use of force.

Rarely are we confronted with the implication that our actions will result in actual serious harm or death to another, or that these will very likely place us in legal jeopardy, both civil and criminal. This is the difference between training and use of force.

Things get very real, very fast, when a real gun is introduced and pointed at a real person out here in the real world. This can induce uncertainty: fear, doubt, second guessing, and hesitation. Uncertainty increases both stress and anxiety that is of a different nature than the demands of physical and technical drilling, time competitive pressures, or the combinations of these things found in performance-measured training or competition. 

Things get even worse with the increase in ambiguity a particular situation presents. Trainers sometimes improperly use ambiguity, either as a concept in general or when they attempt to induce it in training exercises. Simply having a role player hold a hand behind his back, or thrust out a cell phone instead of a gun does not fully capture the totality of a situation creating true uncertainty and ambiguity. 

So what to do?

Seeking out training that properly induces uncertainty and ambiguity is difficult at best, particularly in the private sector. People pay to shoot their guns, or to learn to hand-to-hand fight at close quarters, and want to use their knives or other tools. They don’t pay for classes in which they DON’T do any of these things, or where they have to choose between several situationally appropriate interpretations, only one of which might involve using deadly force. 

This creates an odd paradox: that when a person trains they train to ALWAYS use force, yet in their day to day life, though, they NEVER use force, especially with a weapon, against another person.

Hence back to square one in terms of hesitation.

The same problem is creeping into law enforcement, where training in de-escalation has become not only problematic, but improperly utilized in discussion and training. The encounter seen here could very easily have been a law enforcement officer engaging this suspect. When public opinion, and standardized training itself injects more uncertainty rather than less, expect indecisive deployment of firearms and other weapons in encounters where the intention is apparently to frighten people into compliance rather than actually use the weapon as a means of defense.

The problem is obvious. When the scare tactic doesn’t work, when the bluff is called, and there is no clear intent to use the weapon – even when justified – a situation is made more dangerous, not less. As was the case here it Seattle.

Most personal defense practitioners will not have the benefit – if that’s what we can call it – of background in both advanced training and varied experience in actual use of force decision making under the eyes of the law and the public. So perhaps a shorthand is needed to aid in making those decisions.

One useful way of reducing uncertainty and ambiguity is to become specifically aware of these legal standards. While use of force case law applies specifically to police uses of force, it can be mined for useful information regarding practical assessment of use of force in the private sector.

Borrowing from case law pertaining to law enforcement, we can apply what is known as the Graham Factors in considering a use of force – including deadly force – in a personal defense encounter. The pertinent elements are addressed below:

Graham Factors

  • The severity of the crime at issue,
  • Whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others, and
  • Whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

Let’s look at these one by one, taking in the totality of circumstances, weighed by the defender at the time for reasonableness, and applying these factors.


The Severity of the Crime at Issue:

Here, our bystander knew what had occurred. He’d heard someone had been stabbed, and he chose to pursue the suspect to do…something. The severity of the crime was an assault with a weapon capable of producing serious bodily injury or death. Someone had been stabbed. This was known.

When confronted, the suspect turned on our bystander, now no longer a bu. He then proceeds to menace the bystander by encroaching on him, hands still bloodied, whether with his victim’s blood or his own from his hand sliding onto the blade,  with knife still in hand.

It is reasonably construed that another severe crime is about to occur: this time against the bystander.

It doesn’t get more cut and dried than that. All the endless babble out there about “he was suicidal and just trying to get the guy to shoot him,” or “twenty one foot” rules and all that simply muddy the water, creates ambiguity, and breeds uncertainty and hesitation. We must learn to be able to reduce the situation to these observable facts and act accordingly.


Immediate Threat to the Safety of (Self) or Others:

I just exchanged self for officer. Common sense.

The suspect has already demonstrated that he is an immediate threat to the safety of others – he just stabbed a woman in public.

He still has the knife, and he is walking in a public place with multiple additional people around. There is no way to know at the time that this was a targeted act of domestic violence: this could well have been an “active stabber” just getting started.

There is no need to divine what is in the suspect’s mind. either. His continuing actions speak volumes. His commentary – seemingly cognizant of how to do damage to a human being – could be suicidal, could be an adrenalin-fueled bravado because of what he had just done, and could be a ruse to get closer to a man clearly not willing to use the gun he introduced into the scene. Regardless, that cognizance he is demonstrating only adds to the articulation of the justifiable use of deadly force.


Active Resistance

Now, the citizen carrying a firearm is really not interested in whether a subject is attempting to evade arrest. That’s a job for the cops. The best bet there is observe and report.

But once the man has been challenged by an armed citizen, it no longer becomes about arrest, it is about his active resistance to the bystander.

Was this man compliant? Absolutely not. He actively verbally engaged and encroached on the man despite being held at gunpoint. (Note) That is active resistance.

The stabber’s actions here determine whether deadly force will be applied, not his supposed intent. Had this suspect stood there, even whilst holding the knife, and simply stared and said nothing, you have a different situation. Had he dropped the knife and begun walking up to bystander, with the exact body language and the exact demeanor and commentary – just no knife – you have a different situation; had he dropped to the ground, proned out, and put his hands on top of his head following verbal commands, different again…the response to all of these is different and is changeable based on what HE does in reaction.


“Decided to Act”

The bystander said that he “decided to act,” but did he really?

Yes, he acted: he produced a gun, he drew the stabber’s attention…but then he “waited for someone to help.”

HE was that someone. He chose  to place himself in that position, and he had the means to do so effectively. And then….he decided NOT go further. He decided to let other people, without the tools appropriate for the situation place themselves at great risk to sort it out. They did so admirably, but let’s be clear, the fact that no one else was injured was due to the stabber’s decisions, not theirs. Note the lack of efficacy of the pepper spray.

It was the man with the knife that decided to not do any further harm.

A sudden attack on the man with the spray, grabbing him and slamming the knife into his guts, or the person taking the first video, could have led to yet another tragedy. Even a sudden lunge at the bystander himself, backing up, often only one hand on the gun, likely would have meant that had he fired reflexively against a close blitz attack, his rounds would have missed, or been ineffective.

You have to train for THAT too….

Or what if the stabber had charged into that group of people on the sidewalk behind the bystander? How useful would the bystanders firearm be now? With no clear field of fire (which the stabber appears to recognize), how good are his marksmanship skills when any error could mean not a C Zone or D Zone hit but a bullet in the head of another innocent?

Or he’d have to close distance to attempt a contact shot, something for which I’m willing to bet he has not trained and is not prepared to do effectively. Even LAPD officers don’t appear to be trained for that.

The reality here is that the man with the pepper spray took more meaningful action, while placing himself at far greater risk, because the bystander with the firearm did not act decisively..

We must beware of following the all too common standard in police debriefs of tactical and use of force incidents: that if “”everything turned out okay”  everything that was done “must be okay.”



I have seen and heard a number of citizen concealed carriers who seem to think that Gunpoint Diplomacy will in and of itself be effective. It is not.

Point guns at people enough and you will find that many are simply not impressed, or don’t think you will use the gun, or are actually savvy enough to know you can’t legally use deadly force. A gun is not a compliance tool, stop thinking of it or using it that way.


  1. Chris, I really appreciate the way you broke down this situation. As I watched the video, I found myself waiting for the armed citizen to trip and fall as he kept backing up. Also, I couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for him. He obviously had the fortitude to step into that situation but his good intent could not cover the gap in his training. Stay safe. Rob C.


    • Hey Rob, how are you??

      I agree. There is a difference between simply denigrating someone’s response and critique, and I hope this is viewed as critique. It could be – is likely – a gap in training or it could be a gap in intent. Absolutely he stepped in and in causing the man to focus on him, could have saved others, and at least saw that the man was taken into custody. For that he should be lauded.

      What too often creeps in to after-action assessments of things like this – at least in the LE field – is that since everything turned out OK, everything we did was OK. As you know that isn’t true. It is the baseline for many in LE administration, but it is not appropriate in terms of debriefing. It fails to identify weaknesses and learning points.

      Things may turn out OK despite what we do, not because of it.

      I hope this man either decides to not carry a gun in the future, or to find some training where he can undergo stress based decision making training versus simply training to shoot.

      Happy Holidays!


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