Man lurking in the shadows ready for attack

How to defend yourself against the two most common street attacks.

Have you ever wondered what the most common street attack is? Many times, self defense students ask about the most common punch or the most common grab. But let’s say for a moment that a haymaker is the most common punch. Just because you know how to defend against a haymaker doesn’t mean you can stop it. Why is that?

Not all haymakers are created equal. Neither are all bear hugs, kicks, chokes, or weapon attacks. And that inequality has nothing to do with how well an attacker can punch, or how strong they are.

So what the heck am I talking about then?

The two most common types of street attacks

When talking about the most common street attacks, we group them into two categories: alpha/ego, and predatory. It’s important your self defense training covers both.

What is an alpha/ego attack? Think about your typical barroom brawl. Somebody looked at somebody, bumped somebody… the list goes on. Alpha/ego attacks typically occur in the moment. However, there are subtle cues that tell you one is about to happen.

Understand how the four phases of self defense (awareness, avoidance, deescalation, and defense) apply to both common types of attacks.

Predatory attacks, on the other hand, are exactly what they sound like. They involve stalking a chosen target and getting close enough to launch an ambush without setting off your alarm bells.

But if a punch is on its way to your head, does it matter which type of attack is taking place?

Actually, yes it does.

Why is knowing the two common street attack types important?

It’s important to know the difference between the two common attack types for a couple of reasons. 

First of all, the best self defense is not fighting, but preventing the fight. This is where de-escalation tactics come into play. But while an alpha/ego type attack can usually be de-escalated either verbally or by leaving the area, the same doesn’t hold true for a predatory type attack. We’ll discuss that more in a moment.

The second reason has to do with use of force. Most alpa/ego type attacks are the fist fight type. That means they aren’t usually life threatening. Using excessive force can land you in a heap of trouble. Predatory attacks are more likely to put your life in danger, so using a higher level force is not only more acceptable, it’s often called for.

Do you know who is most likely to face each type of attack?

The most common attack against men

Men are more likely to become involved in alpha/ego attacks. That’s not to say they never happen to women. In fact, I can point to plenty of examples of women involved in alpha/ego attacks (just browse youtube for a bit).

However, when taken as a whole, alpha/ego type attacks are more prevalent in males. 

Alpha/ego attacks are about power, ego, status, and territory. They’re emotionally driven, usually because one person sees an action as insulting or challenging. For this reason, alpha/ego attacks usually happen in the moment.

Here’s an interesting tidbit. Alpha/ego attacks aren’t normally instigated by “alpha” males. Why not?

Remember, alpha/ego attacks are about power and status. The “alpha” male of a group is usually secure in his status and position. Think of a wolf pack. The alpha male in a pack doesn’t instigate fights. He knows his position.

Who, then, commits more of these attacks? The “lower ranked” males seeking to improve their status among the group.

The most common attack against women

While it’s true women may find themselves embroiled in an alpha/ego attack, predatory attacks are the most common attack against women. Usually the attacker is male.

Predatory attacks are stalking types of attacks. Human predators are just like predators in the animal kingdom. They tend to go hunting, looking for a viable target– someone they can catch off guard and overpower. In other words, they’re planned, not spur of the moment.

Predatory attacks are about power, but a different kind of power than alpha/ego attacks. Predatory power is about control and self satisfaction. They tend to not be as emotionally driven as alpha/ego attacks, though emotion is part of it. However, the emotion is usually based on thrill coming from controlling another person.

Types of predatory attacks are sexual assault, rape, and abduction. While women are the most common victim of this type of attack, men can face them as well– Especially when we consider a case like armed robbery.

Another cross-over between sexes are attacks like the knockout game (remember that one in the news?). Both men and women were victimized. Plus, these attacks crossed the “type” boundary. They were status building attacks (alpha/ego), but carried out in the same manner as predatory attacks (hunting for an unaware victim).

Stopping the two common types of street attacks: fighting vs self defense

Let’s be clear. Once a punch is thrown or a grab is made, it’s a fight. The attacker is trying to overpower you. You must find a way to overpower your attacker, even in self defense. Especially in self defense.

Self defense is dictated by why the fight is happening. Two guys squaring off to prove who is tougher is never self defense, even if someone made a verbal threat to kick your ass.

It’s important to understand the phases of self defense and how they apply to both alpha/ego and predatory attacks. And, know where they don’t apply.

We can break self defense down into four phases.

Phase 1: awareness

Alpha/ego attacks are easier to spot. They’re typically in your face, and often gradually escalate. 

Predatory attacks are harder to spot and often require trusting your gut. They rely on luring you into a situation with a false sense of safety, then launching an ambush.

Phase 2: avoidance

Alpha/ego attacks can usually be avoided by leaving. The attacker will often tell you how to keep an attack from happening. Stop looking at my wife. Get out of my seat. You better apologize. These are cues. Do what they want and leave.

The best way to avoid predatory attacks is risk aversion. Not to victim-blame, but do you really need to cut through the empty park at night? Or talk to the stranger? Sure, you should be able to walk anywhere freely without repercussions. But real life doesn’t work that way.

Phase 3: de-escalation

For alpha/ego attacks, think TACOS. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to verbal de-escalation tactics. You can read more about it here.

You can’t talk your way out of a predatory attack. I’ve had people tell me they’d tell their attacker they have kids and plead to his emotions. Remember, predatory attacks aren’t emotional. The predator doesn’t care. If he did, he wouldn’t attack you in the first place. 

While you may be able to deescalate a predatory attack due to positioning, the best de-escalation tactic for this type of attack is usually putting up a fight (ex: abduction) or giving them what they want (ex: hold-up).

Phase 4: defense

The best defense against an alpha/ego type attack is to leave. Don’t turn your back, but comply with their verbal demands while backing away. Trying to look tougher or bigger only challenges them and escalates the situation. This is no time for your ego to kick in.

If they do attack, you are much more bound by the law. These types of attacks aren’t often deadly force type of attacks. And remember, deadly force includes severe injury or maiming like  breaking an arm with an arm bar, or gouging their eyes.

For predatory attacks, it depends on the attack. In a robbery, you may be best served by giving them what they want and getting out of there. But if it’s a predatory attack like abduction or rape, you have every right to feel in fear of your life. In these cases, you are less bound by the level of force you use, and force up to and including deadly force is often appropriate.


While many worry about the most common punch or grab in self defense training, it’s more important to understand the most common types of attacks on the street. There is a big difference in how alpha/ego attacks play out versus predatory attacks. As well, there are different de-escalation tactics, and legal restrictions.

Knowing the most common punch is a haymaker doesn’t matter if you don’t understand why and when it’s happening. 

Make sure you know the two types of attacks and don’t confuse the correct response styles. For instance, throwing the first punch in an alpha/ego situation may get you in trouble, while trying to use TACOS in a predatory attack is a waste of precious time.

Train for both, and don’t restrict your training to physical techniques only. The best self defense training also encompasses awareness skills, verbal de-escalation skills, and boundary-setting tactics.

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