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Being the Center of Attention Can Get You Killed

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Christophe and I were the first two people to enter the movie theater. Before anyone else came into the large room I told my martial arts student and friend, who never served in the military or law enforcement, “I want to teach you something about self-defense. Sit right in the middle of the theater, the best spot in the house, and stay there until I come and get you. I’ll be next to the wall over there. Just act normal, and don’t look at me. I’m going to take some photos of you, and I don’t want anyone to know that we are together.”

Christophe was a bit puzzled about my request, and he asked me, “Why?” I responded, “It’s an experiment. I’ll tell you after I’m done.”

He knew that my style of teaching self-defense was using real world situations whenever the opportunity presented itself, and he went along with it and plopped himself down on a cushy seat right in the middle of the movie theater. It was the best seat in the house, because he was perfectly centered to the huge movie screen, and equally spaced from the surround-sound speakers along the four walls.

Within minutes other movie goers started flooding into the theater and started sitting exactly where I knew they’d all place themselves – right in the center of the room near Christophe. These creatures of habit all wanted the same thing: their line of sight perfectly lined up with the movie screen with just the right amount of distance from each of the speakers.

Each new wave of people coming in added another concentric circle that first began with Christophe. Yes, there was the odd ball guy who loved the very front row. Why, I don’t know, because that position always hurts my neck looking up, or the couple that placed themselves in the very back of the theater so they could make out with each other when the lights are turned off. However, the majority wanted to be in the center – center mass.

When there were approximately fifty people in the movie theater, I had the evidence I needed, and I finally caught Christophe’s attention. I waved him over to me. When he came close, I got up and proceeded to the very back row, away from the lovers, and taking an aisle seat not far from the back exit door. I then showed Christophe the photos that I took of him in chronological order. As I slid the screen from one photo to another with my index finger, each photo clearly showed people sitting themselves all around him with the circle growing larger and larger. I told him, “In public places most people, when given the choice, place themselves in center mass. It doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant, a sporting event, a church service, or this movie theater.”

Christophe, who had taken my Terrorism Survival course before, “connected the dots” after my mini slide show, and it dawned on him why I had used him as my bait for the experiment. Although I too personally prefer the center of a movie theater for all the entertainment benefits that everyone else enjoys, it also happens to be center mass, which is the very first area that an active shooter is going to target to start his massacre nine times out of ten. Therefore, I sacrifice a few of my desires in public places and I think tactically, especially in this increasingly violent world. Don't be the center of attention.

So, how did I know in that inside of this movie theater in the middle of Paris, France that everyone would start sitting around Christophe like a bunch of moths around a flame? After all, it wasn’t my country or my people. I just knew it was going to happen because of my extensive law enforcement, military, and counterterrorism background, which taught me human nature when it comes to security issues. Not to mention, I’ve simulated hundreds of terrorist attacks on my students in 20 countries using airsoft guns (training guns that fire a 6mm plastic projectile). I’ve seen the way trained and untrained people react, and all the patterns, and I’ve been sharing my discoveries for over two decades. If you go back into the Black Belt Magazine archives, I was the very first self-defense instructor in the world, at least the only one to be documented as such, to teach (through my articles, books, and videos) the civilian martial arts community how to survive drive-by shootings, gang crossfire shootings, active shooters, and terrorist attacks. It’s hard to believe now, but in those early days of my writing for the world’s oldest and most popular martial arts magazine, “early days” being mostly the years between 2000 and 2010, I received a lot of criticism from my peers for teaching such topics. Yet, history has vindicated me, and it’s more evident than ever that all martial artists (literally “war” artists) need to learn how to survive the attacks that I just mentioned. I’m not stating any of this to give myself a pat on the back, or to say, “See, I told you so,” to all those instructors who wrote scathing letters to the editor about me, but to prove to you that I write nothing but the truth, and the truth I’m writing now about center mass could possibly save your life or the life of someone you’ll pass the information onto.

To help you understand the dynamics of center mass of a group, I’m going to start off with an example from the animal kingdom. If a lion out in the savanna is hungry, and it is stalking a herd of zebras, it does not target a zebra in the middle of the pack. Since a lion does not use tools to kill, it instinctively knows not to run or jump into the middle of a herd. It only kills a zebra running on the outer edge of the herd, the outer edge of “the mass” so to speak, to avoid being trampled to death. In fact, a lion is only interested in killing a single zebra, and even then it prefers a young zebra or one that is injured. A lion is only interested in killing a zebra for food, and once it has one in between its claws, then it is satisfied, and the hunt is over.

People are not animals. Unlike the lion, there is absolutely no reason to kill. And, contrary to the opinion of many politicians and celebrities, it’s never the weapon’s fault. A firearm is just a tool. A human being intent on firing upon a group of innocent people, either out of personal frustrations, revenge, or sport, will deliberately target center mass to hit as many people as possible. Decades of active shooter incidents and terrorist attacks have proven this to be the general rule.

Obviously, there are some factors that keeps the shooters from targeting center mass first, such as:

  • A person in close proximity (being in the wrong place at the wrong time) to the shooter just before the attack, and that person is considered an immediate threat to the shooter, and is shot first.

  • A soldier, law enforcement officer, security guard or bodyguard is shot first to eliminate any resistance to the attacker.

Knowing statistically that center mass (the most concentration of people) is usually targeted first in a massacre, you should place yourself as far away as possible from a group of people in a public place. I stated “as possible” because it’s not always possible. If you’re in a long line to board your plane because your section was just called, you may find yourself in center mass if a surprise attack happens. So, in this case, what do you do? There’s only one thing you can do.

If you are in center mass when a shooting takes place, the best tactic is to immediately drop down to the ground and “play dead.” Whether the bullets miss you, or you’re wounded, dropping to the ground, and playing dead does two things for you. One, it makes you a smaller target profile. Two, the gunman shooting into the group will assume you are one of the casualties; the very result he desires. The more “target rich” an environment, the less time the gunman will verify his kills.

If you’re tactical (aware of the potential dangers and take the necessary precautions), and place yourself outside of center mass in a public setting, that does not mean you are automatically safe from being targeted by the gunman or terrorist cell. You’re still in the kill zone, and as such you must remember that running, sudden movements, or just standing tall may draw the shooter’s attention to you. Therefore, the rule is MOVE WHEN YOU CAN MOVE. HIDE WHEN YOU CAN HIDE. COUNTERATTACK WHEN YOU CAN COUNTERATTACK. But, whatever you do, don’t draw the attacker’s attention. Be the “gray man” or “gray woman” (bodyguard terms). This also includes wearing subdued clothes that don’t draw the shooter’s attention, like a bright red hat or shirt for example.

After all, out of sight, out of mind.

Obviously, there are many more techniques and tactics to be learned when it comes to a center mass attack, and that’s because what you do to defend yourself will always depend upon four factors:


However, this article serves as a good starting point in preparing for the worst.


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