“Tape Loops” and the Verbal Challenge

A couple of years ago, I was at a training class out of state.  The final exercise of the class was for two people to fight, one as an aggressor and one defending.  Both participants were outfitted with protective gear for a full contact fight.

During one of the evolutions, when the two participants squared off, the “defender” yelled, at the top of his lungs:


Afterwards, some constructive criticism of this choice of words was offered.  The “defender” adamantly denied saying it.  In fact, he went so far as to point out that he was an attorney, and would “never say anything like that.”

One of the observers produced a cell phone and showed a video, confirming that he had indeed said the offending phrase.

When you’re stuck in a self-defense situation, you’re going to be under a lot of stress, and natural fight-or-flight instincts can cause you to say (and unfortunately do) stupid things.  This is why it’s important to develop “muscle memory” and practice proper techniques.

It’s also critical to practice proper verbal techniques as well.  John Farnam calls this a “Tape Loop” – a short phrase that you memorize and practice to use in an emergency.

Tape loops can be used for de-escalating and disengagement; verbal challenges; 911 calls, and even when the cops arrive.

Verbal challenges are one of the areas I see failure to use tape loops cause problems.  I’ve seen people in both live scenario-based training and videos of real self-defense incidents draw guns and scream:




These all have some issues from the standpoint of the “ear-witness.”  You wouldn’t want any of those phrases attributed to you in court.  Even before we get to court, any of these might inspire a bad guy to fight.

Another thing I hear people who draw guns yell a lot:


More likely than not, the bad guy is probably not going to comply with this.  And what are you going to do, shoot him if he doesn’t get on the ground?

The situation will dictate whether or not you use a verbal challenge at all.  It’s not always going to be practical to give a verbal challenge.  If events are moving too fast, you might not have time.  If you are dealing with an armed bad guy who is actively murdering people, a verbal challenge is probably not going to be effective.

The verbal challenge’s purpose is to give the bad guy one last chance to not get shot.

Our preferred “Tape Loop” for a verbal challenge goes like this:



Let’s break these down.


Not “hands up”, not “get on the ground”.  The bad guy is trying to murder you, and you need him to stop immediately.  Telling him to get his hands up is tantamount to giving him permission to murder you.  You want him the freeze in place.  Once he does that, you can further assess the situation and disengage.


If the bad guy stops his attack, the next thing we want to do is identify any weapons and get him to voluntarily disarm.  Say this even if you don’t see a weapon – you’d be surprised what comes flying out when you yell it.

Any “ear-witnesses” nearby may take note of this as well, and be willing to testify that you saw a weapon, or at least reasonably believed the bad guy had a weapon.

There’s one optional line to add to your verbal challenge:


When we draw a gun, we are, unfortunately, in the process of becoming a victim of violent crime.  In such a situation, it makes sense to call for the police.

You aren’t claiming to be a police officer.  You’re just calling for the police, the same way that you might yell “FIRE” if you needed the fire department.  It’s not illegal to yell “POLICE” when you need the police!   Any nearby law enforcement who hear this are going to come running.

All things considered, there is certainly very little downside to bystanders and/or the bad guy mistaking you for the police.  This may reduce your chances of being attacked by the bad guy or an attempted disarm from a well-meaning citizen.  The bad guy may choose to run away, which is an ideal outcome.

Despite all this, some folks are not comfortable with that, so if you want to skip it, we’re okay with it.

The complete verbal challenge sounds like this:




It’s important to think about what you are going to say before you say it.  Like any other self-defense skill, your “Tape Loop” needs to be practiced on the range and in scenario-based training.


Erik is the owner and founder of QSI. He has over 35 years of experience as a firearms instructor, including military, security, and law enforcement.