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About self-defense techniques


In real life self-defense situations, many of the classical techniques taught in martial arts may not be useful. This may be due to several variables, such as space limitations, attire, weather, number of attackers, current laws, etc. To overcome these variables, you must use a common-sense approach to prepare yourself for a possible attack.

Endless techniques are available

Martial arts schools teach different versions of self-defense. Some teach techniques that only work against a cooperative opponent, such as some release moves. Some teach outmoded techniques, such as, when defending against an attacker who is choking you from the front with both hands with arms extended, you should thrust your arms straight up between the attacker's arms to break the choke and then slam your palms onto both the attacker's ears. Some teach techniques that, even if used in self-defense, would be unlawful acts, such as multiple strikes after the attacker is incapacitated. Some teach techniques with elaborate movements that would be tantamount to suicide if used in an actual self-defense situation. 

There is an endless number of self-defense techniques but the one thing they all have in common is the intended purpose of preventing or minimizing the harm caused by a physical attack. Some techniques cause lasting no harm to the attacker, while others are intended to injure or kill the attacker. Many of the techniques work under the right circumstances, but the problem is in picking the right technique for a particular circumstance. No one technique will work under all circumstances. To be effective, a technique must allow for and adapt to changing circumstances. 

Some martial arts teach many self-defense techniques, but self-defense is not about how many different techniques you know, it is about how well you perform a few. The Koga Method of self-defense, which I taught in college police tactic classes in the 1970s, was comprised of basically one technique (the twist-lock). Instead of trying to learn numerous techniques, students only practiced using one technique from all directions and under all types of circumstances. In a self-defense situation, they reacted quicker and more effectively since they did not have to think about which technique to use.

If a self-defense technique requires more physical strength, dexterity, or speed than you have, it is not effective for you. If it requires more strength, dexterity, or speed than most people possess, then it is not realistic. Always keep your physical limitations in mind when choosing a type of self-defense in which to train. Although your skills will improve with practice, some techniques are too unreliable to use, so it is a waste of time to practice them.


All self-defense techniques involve body shifting to avoid the attacker's blow and/or and some type of counter strike. Sometimes these two things occur simultaneously. To know what to do in a self-defense situation and be able to do it properly requires expertise in self-defense. This expertise can only be attained by increasing your knowledge about criminals and how to deal with them and then training your mind and body to defend against their attacks and render the attackers unable to continue their attacks.

Proper self-defense consists of four major areas of expertise:
  • Knowledge of how criminals operate.
  • Prevention strategies to avoid, deter, and escape would-be attackers.
  • Physical defense skills and skill in the use of weapons.
  • A survival attitude and a warrior spirit.
One must be careful when learning self-defense techniques. The techniques must be effective and easy to use under circumstances one might encounter in ordinary life situations. The following are some thoughts and theories on self-defense. +

It only needs to work once

Some self-defense "experts" defend their techniques by saying the techniques may seem complicated or useless but that they "Only have to work once!" This is misleading. I would say that they "Have to work the first time." A super-modified 44-magnum semi-auto pistol using explosive rounds is deadly–useless if it tends to misfire. If you were a police officer, would you rather carry a 22-caliber revolver that fires every time it is used or carry a 45-caliber pistol that sometimes jams on the first shot? You do not need "deadly" techniques that may or may not work depending on the circumstances; you need reliable techniques that always work to some extent under any circumstance.

Look at the classic battle of the cobra and the mongoose. The cobra has one deadly technique weapon that only needs to work once, and the mongoose will be dead. However, the mongoose has four legs and feet, front paws that act as hands, sharp teeth, high maneuverability, and numerous offensive and defensive tactics. The cobra has no legs, limited maneuverability, and few offensive and defensive choices. In a fight, the cobra only needs to bite once to win, but all the mongoose need do is avoid the bite, while the snake must avoid numerous types of bites, strikes, grabs, etc.

Important points

  • Intimidation. Intimidation may be worse for you than an actual attack. The effects of attack act may only last a short time, but your fear of a potential attack may haunt you for a long period. Never let a threat go unanswered. If you are threatened, then force the situation at that time on your terms. You cannot have a good life while always living in fear of a threatened attack.
  • Expressions. When faced with an opponent in a self-defense situation, you should express emotions. You may want to express your real emotions, or you may want to express false emotions to confuse the opponent. Some basic emotions you should practice expressing are confident, friendly, solemn, unconcerned, contempt, shock, fear, and anger.
  • Defensive stance. Upon warning or indication of an attack, step back with your strong side away from the attacker. Raise your open hands to face level and tell the person to stop. Act passive but be prepared to block an attack and then counterattack with authority. Your goal is to incapacitate the attacker as soon as possible. Do not assume a fighting stance at first. It gives your attacker a warning that you may have some martial arts training and what techniques you may use, and it puts them on guard.
  • Guarding. Keeping your guard up is always important. Even when punching, kicking, blocking, or moving, you must keep your guard up. You must keep everything in your favor as much as possible. Never leave an opening for your opponent to attack. With an effective guard, there will be fewer attacks to block since opponents prefer to attack when there is a chance of hitting the target.
  • Blocking areas. The main blocking areas are high, middle, and low, and right and left. You should use the correct block for each area. Some blocks are more effective in certain areas and less effective in other areas. A block to one area may overlap another area in case of an error in judgment of where the attack is headed.
  • Speed versus power. Do not try to hit hard when you punch. You will just tense up your shoulders and back, and quickly wear yourself out. Instead, attack with relaxed speed, but with your body aligned into the technique; alignment is your power. Plus, tense fighters tend to telegraph their intentions.

Fighting back

Ways to attack

  • Direct attacks. These are simple, powerful, centerline attacks that do not hide their intentions, such as punches and kicks.
  • Angular attacks. These are attacks that are delivered from either side of the centerline or unexpected directions, such as a hook punch to the lower ribs.
  • Indirect attacks. These are attacks that use fakes and feints to hide your real attack, such as a fake front kick to the abdomen to draw the guard down and then changes into a round kick to the head.
  • Trapping attacks. These are attacks that temporarily check and control an opponent's limbs or defenses so that another attack may be used. They are not intended to do damage, they only set the stage for other attacks. For example, closing in to jam a kick while punching to the head.
  • Grappling attacks. These are attacks that secure, smother, damage, or control your opponent through direct physical contacts, such as locks, joint breaks, chokes, and pins.
  • Balance attacks. These are attacks that disrupt an opponent's position, composure, or stability, such as sweeps, throws, pushes, or pulls.
  • Drawing attacks. These are attacks that are meant to lure an opponent into acting so the primary attack may be executed, such as exposing the lead ribs to draw a side kick and then delivering a spin side kick to the head.
  • Combination attacks. These are attacks that use two or more of the other attacks in a single engagement without hesitation or pause, such as a foot sweep that leads into a spin hook kick to the head that leads into a stranglehold while on the floor.

Some tips on attacking

  • The eyes and throat are logical targets for your lead hand. Stabbing with the fingernails may cause great injury and pain as will a palm heel strike to the chin. 
  • The solar plexus and floating ribs are good targets for a punch with the trailing hand. Both will take the wind and spirit away quickly from the attacker and may cause the attacker to collapse. If this happens, remove yourself from the situation at once, making sure you cover your back while you do so.
  • The groin or the knee of your attacker's lead leg are good targets for a lead front or side snap kick. If you are wearing boots or a hard-sole shoe, take advantage of their sharp outer edges when kicking. 
  • The instep of your attacker's lead leg is a good target for a stomp kick. When executing the technique, point your toes toward the outside to increase the area your foot lands on, which should minimize slipping off the target area. 
  • Head butts to the face, elbow strikes to the face or ribs, and knee strikes to the groin or thighs are also effective techniques. 
  • Do not use high kicks; they leave you vulnerable, may be hampered by your clothing, and make you susceptible to falling. 
  • Do not try to grab your attacker for a throw, but, if in the course of events, you do get a grip on the attacker or the attacker gets a grip on you, do not hesitate to throw the attacker. 
  • Be careful of grappling, there may be rocks, glass, etc. on the ground that may injure you or may be used as a weapon by your opponent. Grappling also limits your escape opportunities and it leaves you vulnerable to kicks from friends of the attacker. 

Fighting a larger opponent

  • You cannot stay outside and trade punches with an opponent with a reach advantage. 
  • If you are a kicker and the opponent is not, you can punish the opponent's legs while he or she flails away with his hands at the open-air, forcing him or her to over-commit forward so you fight from the inside. 
  • You can fight inside with power and leverage while the opponent cannot get power behind his or her long arms. 
  • If you are a good boxer, use your overhand punch. This is a well-covered punch that can knock a taller fighter out.
  • Learn to grapple. Since your center of gravity is lower, you have more leverage in close. Learn takedowns that lead directly to the back mount. From there, it is all elbows and naked chokes.
  • Beware of coming inside and holding on to the lower body or legs while the opponent pounds away at you. If you clinch at the opponent’s waist, move around to the opponent's back, where he or she cannot hit you.
  • Do not let the opponent get a hold under your arms or on your legs, since he or she may easily dump you on your back. If you are shorter, avoid the guard position. The opponent's reach and wide base will make it difficult to sweep and the opponent's punches reach further than you can remedy by holding off. If you end up on your back, use the guard to get back to your feet, or to climb on the opponent's back.

              Dealing with law enforcement after the confrontation

              Notify the authorities of an attack as soon as possible. Cooperate with law enforcement officers and be polite. However, do not make any statements about the situation until you talk with an attorney. Any statements you make may be used against you, even if you were not at fault. 

              Be careful of apologizing are saying you are sorry. This may seem the polite thing to do but it implies guilt. Some states have passed laws that say apologies may not be used as admissions of guilt.

              Learning specific techniques

              For specific self-defense techniques to use, train in martial arts or attend self-defense classes offered at YMCA, YWCAs, gyms, community centers, etc. Before attending classes, research the legitimacy of the instructor and what is being taught.

              Just be aware that a little training is usually worse than no training. Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing.

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