Basic Concepts
  • As soon as you sense some sort of threat to your well being, don't continue to go about your business, immediately attempt to escape, and decide exactly what you will do if you can't.
    Example: You think that someone is following you to your car which is parallel parked on the sidewalk. Don't keep walking to your car, immediately change direction, cross the street if possible, and go somewhere that there are a lot of people. If you have pepper spray, or another personal defense weapon, prepare it while you are walking. Decide what martial arts move you would like to attempt. Think, "If he gets within 20 feet of me, I am going to yell stay away from me. If he gets closer I am going to try to kick him in the knee."
  • Do not let your attacker set you up. Many experienced violent criminals interview their victims before attacking them. They attempt to distract their victim and get them to feel at ease before suddenly attacking. Trust your feelings. If you think that someone is going to hurt you, don't be afraid to be impolite. If they get close enough to you to throw a rock, tell them to "stay away" or "leave me alone". If they try to get within arms reach, immediately put your hand up in their face to disrupt their vision and keep them from getting closer. If you are sure that they will attack, hit them first.
  • Don't make yourself an easy target. Don't wear clothing that restricts your movement. Don't carry anything that you can't quickly and gracefully put down.
  • If you suspect that someone is going to attack you, don't take your eyes off of them for more than a second. If you do take your eyes off of them, it should be to look for a weapon, escape route, or to check and see if they have any friends nearby that are going to help them attack you.
Theory Vs. Practice

Many martial artists, experienced or inexperienced, will say something to the effect of "If my attacker does this, I will simply do this. End of story." When someone really wants to hurt you, kicking them in the nuts is not so trivial as just walking up to them, screaming a loud "Ki-Ahi" and swinging your leg.

Strategies that only involve causing pain to your attacker may not work. If your attacker is on drugs, on an adrenaline high, or has even had a few beers, most pressure point techniques, dim mak, finger breaking, or even a kick to the chest or testicles may not stop them. Your best bet is to use moves that stop some part of their body that they need to fight from working properly. This means strikes to areas like the head, knees, bladder, kidneys, throat, and floating ribs. Joint-locking and throwing techniques of styles like aikido and jujitsu will work very well, but only if you have practiced them aggresively with a partner that has attempted to resist you.
Side Note:You can take aggressive actions without having aggressive feelings. Although aikido is all about non-aggression, you must force yourself to calmly and determinedly move towards your attacker in the face of fear and move your body in a way that will hurt them if they give you the opportunity to do so.

A good fighting strategy involves more than just what move to do and what area of the attacker's body to target. You must decide how to close the distance between yourself and the attacker, how to prevent them from getting too close, what sort of timing will trigger your attack, and what you will do if they attempt to defend themself from your attack or if your initial attack fails for some reason. You must also develop pre-fight and post fight strategies. Decide how you want to lure your attacker into a position where they are at a disadvantage without letting them use that trick on you. Plan on immediately un-burdening yourself and looking around for escape routes, weapons, and other possible attackers. Decide if you want to do a preemptive strike. After a fight, plan on escaping to a safer location quickly before calling the police. Don't let them play dead then attack you suddenly as you walk away.

The martial arts cliché that a smaller, weaker would-be victim can defend themself from a larger, stronger opponent is quite true, but only if the right strategies are employed. Even small girls can deliver devistatingly powerful strikes if they have trained well. What a small girl probably does not have is much staying power or reach. They must rely on their first strike abilities, selecting a highly vulnerable target like the knees, eyes, or bladder, and strict avoidance of wrestling or a fight that lasts a long time in which many blows are exchanged. Comedian Andy Kaufman defeated even the very best female wrestlers. Skill is not always a match for size, strength, or natural ability.

  • Train regularly and practice the same things over and over again. Repetition is one of the most important aspects of training. Find three or four moves that you are really good at, and practice them ad nauseum. At least of them should be very different from the others. Find a partner that will be challenging and ask them to try to do anything they can think of to screw up your specialty moves.
  • As soon as you have learned enough to practice aggressively but safely, do so. If attacked on the street, you will fight the way that you practiced in class.
  • Don't practice with excessively-compliant partners. You may overestimate your abilities, and worse you may never learn how to deal with situations in which your plans go awry. Be stubborn with your partners, and make sure that they are stubborn with you.
  • Learn to fight at all ranges. This means kicking range, punching range, knee strike, elbow strike, and joint lock range, and grappliing on the ground. You will probably find that you favor one of these ranges over all others. If that is the case, try to make sure that when you fight your attacker, you fight them at that range.
  • Before you learn to defend yourself from unusual attacks, learn how to deal with common ones.
    Example:Many martial arts schools teach knife defense techniques for high overhead swings and slashing motions that follow a wide arc. Police reports have shown that most injuries caused by knives are from smaller motions such as a "pecking" motion in which the knife starts approximately at chin level and is stabbed downward with quick motions of the elbow.
  • Roleplay pre-fight decision making in a variety of settings. Be sure that the person that is playing the attacker tries hard to put you at a disadvantage before attacking.
  • Regardless of what move you are learning, understand that there is always room for improvement and that subtle changes in the way that you do things can often greatly improve your power to succeed.
    Example:By slightly changing the path that your fist takes during a punch, you may be able to greatly increase your chances of hitting your attacker and enough causing damage to stop them.
Skills to Practice
  • Quick footwork and balance
  • Long range striking: including kicks, punches, backfist strikes, eye gouges, and sweeps hammer fist, and a variety of open handed strikes.
  • Sort range striking: knee strikes, elbow strikes, backfist, hammer fist, sweeps, eye gouges, and a variety of open handed strikes.
  • Short range non-striking: choking, joint locks, takedowns, eye gouges, fishhooking, groin pulls, bladder pushes, digging fingers into the eyes, ear pulls.
  • Escapes and evasion from: joint-locks, chokes, bear hugs, eye gouges, fish hooks, bladder pushes, and takedowns.
  • Blocking, Shedding, and Evasion
  • Ground fighting techniques: chokes, eye gouges, ear pulls, groin pulls, sweeps, joint-locks, escapes, knee strikes, eye gouges, elbow strikes, punches
  • Falling safely
  • Keeping hands in a guard position
  • Not jerking backwards or blinking in response to an attack
  • Closing the distance between attacker and defender
  • Keeping distance between attacker and defender
  • If youre hardcore, practice taking a hit, especially to the shins, forearms, and abdomen. Your stomach muscles should be tight, but the rest of your body should be relaxed. Practice sliding back slightly without leaning to lessen the effect. Start small. Don't do this without proper instruction. Boxing instructors are among the best people to teach this.
  • Reaching for and arming pepper spray without fumbling
  • Psychological Preparation: pre-formulated fighting strategies, aggression control, understanding of distance and timing, pre-fight strategy
Decisions to Make Before a Fight

Some of them should be made WAY before a fight. Even right now! It helps if you think about the answers to these questions a lot.

  • Where can I escape to? Where can I go that will give me an advantage if I am forced to fight?
  • Should I do a preemptive strike?
  • What is the person that concerns me doing with their hands?
  • Does the person that may attack me have any friends?
  • Do I have anything that I can get to QUICKLY and WITHOUT BEING NOTICED for use as a weapon? Is there anything nearby that I can pick up and use as a weapon? If you do, go for it immediately. A hand that reaches for a weapon reflexively when danger is in the air is a good hand.
  • What will I say if they get within a stone's throw of me?
  • What will I do if they get within kicking range? What range am I most comfortable fighting at? How will I close the distance? What moves am I really good at? What is the first move that I will try to do? What part of their body will I target with it? What do I do if that doesn't work?
  • Do I have any special limitations? How should that affect my strategy?
Decisions to Make After a Fight
  • Am I injured? Do I need to call an ambulance for myself? Many people fail to notice that they are injured until well after a fight.
  • Am I sure that they can't hurt me now?
  • Now can I find a weapon in case they get back up or their buddies show up?
  • Where do I go to call the cops?

A young professor and recent shotokan karate blackbelt and tournament fighter was leaving a post office when a man yelled some racial slurs at him. The man was holding a crowbar. The professor decided that if the man got within three meters of him, he would rush him and try to stop his arm before he could lift the crowbar while punching him in the face with the other hand. If he managed to begin swinging the crowbar, he would attempt to block it with his left hand and use his right hand to punch the man. The professor said, "I am sorry if someone of my race has offended you." The man yelled some more slurs then took two determined steps forward while bringing the crowbar up over his right shoulder. The professor took that as his cue to rush in and seize control of the crowbar. With his left arm, he struck his attacker's right arm just below the elbow with a rising-block like motion. Simultaneously, he executed a reverse punch with his right hand which hit his attacker in the cheek. His attacker spun around and sprawled out on the hood of a truck. The young professor was then accused by an elderly white woman of attacking the man who had the crowbar still in his hand. The attacker started to stand up, and because of the screaming of the elderly white woman, the young professor did not restrain him. The attacker got into his truck and drove away. The young professor filed a police report. Several days later, he was notified that the attacker had been arrested and that he had perpetrated many a series of over ten violent hate crimes in the area.

A woman with no martial arts training that had just exited a convenience store with a large bag of groceries and other products saw two men standing by her car in a small parking lot. It was parked just five meters from the store. She was concerned by the way that one of them followed her with his eyes as she walked. When she began to put her keys in the lock of the door, the two men surrounded her between her car and another parked car. As they hit her repeatedly, she kept holding onto her bag of groceries and kept trying to open the door of her car. After beating her severely, they took some of her belongings and left. Had she gone back into the convenience store and waited for them to leave, she may have been ok. If she did not do that, she could have at least thrown the bag of groceries at one of them, struck him, and tried to run past him into the store instead of trying to key into her car.

After leaving a gun store empty handed, a young man was approached by a relatively attractive woman who very directly came onto him. Cynicism may have saved his life. He politely refused the woman's advances and immediately moved sideways in an attempt to walk around her and return to the store. As he did that, he looked around and saw someone coming up behind him quickly. He skillfully executed a back-kick which caught the man at the base of his ribcage, breaking several ribs and knocking him over. He then shoved the woman out of the way and ran into the store to call the police. When he went back outside, his attacker and his attacker's partner were not there. Later, they were picked up by the police at the hospital, where he was being treated for serious chest injuries.

A female college student with several years of experience studying ju-jitsu was suddenly grabbed and dragged off of the sidewalk onto the grass at the edge of a park while walking alone to her apartment late at night. Reflexively, she executed a simple wristlock that she had practiced repeatedly for many years. This broke her attacker's wrist. She then ran back to her apartment where she called the police.

While walking down the sidewalk in a busy urban area, a junior high school student was grabbed just above the elbow by a recent graduate of a high security correctional facility. Without attempting to break free from his attacker's grasp, he executed a roundhouse kick to the side of his attacker's knee, breaking it. Although he suspected that the man that grabbed him was going to try to hurt him in some way, he had continuded walking towards him. He was very lucky that he was able to suddenly deliver a hard kick and escape.

As a young, tall dancer was entering her apartment, a man in the hallway began talking to her and walking closer to her. She became nervous. When he got within arms reach of her, he suddenly shoved her against the door of her apartment then told her to let him in. Several years earlier, her brothers had shown her some of the Tae Kwon Do moves that they had learned, and made her practice them on several occasions. She kicked the man in the thigh with an almost stomping side kick motion, then hit him in the face with a jab like punch. He ran down the hallway and out of the building.

I am a 6'3'' white American teenage guy. This fact can pose serious problems when I have to deal with the aggressive behavior of others.  I am required by my culture to adhere to codes of behavior which are often contradictory.  For example:

As a young, strong male, I am expected to be powerful both in body and will, and make this clear to those around me.

As a young, strong male, I am pretty much required by law not to act in an intimidating or threatening manner to anyone who is a public servantfemale, significantly older or younger than me, smaller than me, in my temporary care, or a relative of a girl I am dating.  No matter what the situation, as long as my life is not in danger, this rule applies.

Now, on the surface, there seems to be little contradiction between these two 'unwritten rules.'  But in fact this makes self-defense very difficult.  Consider the following situation:

A female friend of mine is upset with me.  She begins to punch me, as hard as she can.  While she isn't doing serious damage to me, it hurts.  I ask her to stop and she refuses.  Theoretically, I have the right to prevent unwanted physical contact.  There are two ways for me to prevent her from continuing: I could flee, or I could physically hold her hands down or push her away.  But either of these actions would constitute breaking one of the above rules.  Any physical intervention on my part is almost certain to be interpreted as aggression by a third party.  After all, she's a female, and I'm a big guy.  And my other option, to flee, is in its own way just as bad.  I communicate to others that I am either not able or not willing to defend myself.  This makes me a target for other, more serious confrontations, which I would rather avoid.

So, in this situation, I need to find a way to convince/force this female to stop hurting me, without using my superior strength.  On top of that, I must appear strong but not intimidating.  That's a tall order, especially considering I have done nothing wrong in this situation.

Another example: I am at the home of a young girl I wish to date.  Her father asks to speak to me privately, where he does the standard "don't hurt my daughter" spiel.  But he uses phases like: "If you upset my daughter I will kick your ass" or "I'm not afraid to go back to prison."  Then he takes a step towards me and grabs my arm.

Now, a full-grown man has just threatened me and proceeded to initiate agressive contact.  From a purely tactical standpoint, not retaliating would be a bad move at best, suicidal at worst.  He's established that he's willing to harm me, and has moved against me in an aggressive manner.  Any reasonable person would be justified in assuming that they were under attack.  In fact, by not retaliating, I allow him to gain control of my arm, which would make it very easy for him to hurt me seriously.  But think about how other people would see this: a guy beat up his girlfriend's dad before the first date.  I would not get much leeway from the law for this kind of response.  However, if I do not react, I let him know that I am not willing to defend myself, establishing weakness and giving him an excellent opportunity to hurt me.  Once again, I find myself in an impossible situation.  How am I to defend my well-being and my reputation without severe backlash?

I have seen people who are fully capable of defending themselves be seriously hurt because they refuse to harm or intimidate their attacker, and can't leave because it will make them seem weak.  Battered husbands, for example, suffer extreme distress and emotional damage (not to mention physical injury) because they feel they are not permitted to defend themselves against abusive wives.  And those that flee or seek help from others are seen as weak and often not taken seriously as a result.

Physically imposing young males are caught in a convergence of social norms: We have to appear powerful, but never use that power.  We have to dissuade most attackers without the benefit of intimidation and still seem strong.  When another person creates a dangerous situation, my actions, the actions of the victim, are subject to much greater scrutiny than the person who caused the incident.

Of course, these rules stop applying if I feel my life is in serious danger.  If the attacker has a weapon, if they are attempting a full-body charge or some other unusually harmful maneuver, or there are multiple attackers, I feel no qualms about running or defending myself.  And in such a situation, I would not be worried about being misconstrued as the criminal instead of the victim.  But for the majority of cases, the attack is not so serious, and thus my response could be interpreted as a crime against someone less able to defend themselves.

I personally am very much afraid that I will either one day be charged with a crime for defending myself, or be seriously hurt because I felt I could not protect myself in an acceptable way.

Self`-de*fense" (?), n.

The act of defending one's own person, property, or reputation.

In self-defense Law, in protection of self, -- it being permitted in law to a party on whom a grave wrong is attempted to resist the wrong, even at the peril of the life of the assailiant.



© Webster 1913.

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