Book Review: Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne & Jason A. Riley

By: Jeff Mount

Rarely do I read a non-fiction book that I end up recommending impulsively to other like-minded folks. Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life is such a book. Given to me by Don Ellis, Force Training Instructor and Youth Program Director, I read it in just two sittings.

Left of Bang outlines the principles taught during the US Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter program. This program, established in 2009, sought to equip Marines in combat easy-to-learn principles to observe pre-incident indicators prior to an attack. It was so well-received by those who had returned for deployments that those Marines stated with remorse that they felt more of their brothers and sisters would have made it home if this instruction had been available earlier. While the primary context is overseas combat, the authors give strong applications for the law enforcement and civilian environment as well. Whereas other books such as The Gift of Fear and On Killing are often touted as essentials for violence prediction and self-protection, I found Left of Bang to be more immediately practical than either of them combined.

The book’s title derives from a timeline approach – to be “left of bang” means to situate yourself and your awareness prior to a violent incident. The entire goal of the book is to take meaningful, proactive steps to ensure your own safety by observing behavior of individuals who might have hostile intent. It focuses on six domains of behavior: Kinesics (interpersonal body language), biometrics (physiological reactions to stress), proxemics (proximity and movement between people and places), geographics (environmental awareness that aid or impede a potential attacker), iconography (human interactions with symbols as indicators of hostile intent), and atmospherics (the collective mood of a situation or place). Using these categories to establish a baseline, the authors then walk the reader through how to identify anomalies. The thought-process of identifying potential threats is this: establish a baseline, identify anomalies, and proceed with pre-determined course of action based on the anomaly.

If all this sounds dry and theoretical, then it’s likely my fault. Many people don’t act upon their instincts and observations because they cannot articulate them, and therefore they or someone else invalidates those perceptions. Left of Bang does a tremendous job of providing language to articulate one’s observations, which has two crucial results; it validates the person’s observations, making them hard to ignore, and it empowers their informed decisiveness, which is the goal of all good self-protection training.

Reading this book makes me want to do two things:

  1. Recommend it to anyone I know who is interested in keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. This includes offering it for sale in the Krav Maga MD pro-shop.

  2. Do as much research as I can to create a course we’ll hold in the next several months at Krav Maga Maryland.

Would you be interested in a course like this? E-mail with thoughts, questions, ideas, and suggestions.

Let’s make this happen!

Rachel Parker