15 Tactics for Self Defense that Can Save Your Life
This is not what an attacker is expecting.
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Theresa Cain, you're a long way from Nebraska, she thought.
Then suddenly she felt two powerful hands snake around her from behind. One covered her mouth; the other closed on her hips like a vice. Then a soft but agitated voice echoed in her ear.
"Do what I say and I won't kill you."
It was not lost on Theresa that the man hadn't said he wouldn't hurt her.
Suddenly, she was up in the air. Her attacker twisted her around up there and brought her down hard on her back. The shock of it all almost caused Theresa to forget to fall correctly, but she did manage to slap the hard sidewalk and roll a bit with the fall. It was this that kept her from being knocked out.
Then the man, who had a black ski mask on, said, "quiet or I'll kill you," as he took his hand off of her mouth while simultaneously showing her the box cutter in his right hand.Soon after he dipped into her pocket and grabbed some loose cash. Next, he tore her pocketbook off her shoulder.
Theresa hoped he'd leave then. If not, she knew what was coming next. Unfortunately, he didn't leave. Rather, he stared at her for a moment before throwing her pocketbook to the side.
Fortunately for Theresa, his box cutter got caught on the pocketbook strap and fell from his hand. He whispered a few curses as his right hand immediately went for the lost weapon.
And that's when Theresa's training took over.
First, she grabbed his right hand with hers by the wrist. Then her left arm slid up to his elbow, securing the arm. Her attacker immediately tried to pull away, which straightened the arm she'd secured. Then as he struck her in the face with his left hand -- boy did it hurt -- she pushed off of his hips with her right foot and transitioned her left leg to the other side of the man's face.
Then using her core and hip strength, she pulled his arm to her while using both legs to in essence push his body away. The man's arm straightened dangerously. He yelled as he fell onto his back. She both heard and felt three distinct cracks as the man screamed. With his broken arm in hand, Theresa yelled, "fire!" Then she yelled, "help."
And then she got up and ran away as her attacker writhed in pain on the ground.
Theresa ran for the nearest set of dorms and started knocking on doors, at the same time shouting "Call the police!"
She said a silent prayer that her father had decided to enroll her in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class three years ago.
He may not have agreed with the move she'd made. But in the same breath, he was the one who'd gotten her ready for it.
Let's Face It: Hand to Hand Combat Skills Can Help You SurviveIn the fictional excerpt above, a woman was used. However, the fact is that this article isn't necessarily about female self defense alone. What it is about is learning how to defend yourself in a hand to hand combat situation.
First, a one time self defense class is not the answer. Why? That's simple. Self defense is about reacting to a situation without much forethought. When taking only a class or two, instructors will generally go over a couple of hypothetical situations that could occur and a few ways to deal with them.Usually, maneuvers are taught from the standing position only and involve a strike or two. Sometimes, they even involve a one strike and flee mentality.
Let's put it this way -- there are too many ways one can be attacked for just a couple of maneuvers to be the answer. Further, it's pretty impossible for someone to react in a self defense situation quickly when they've only been practicing defending themselves a couple of days.
So, for real self defense skills one needs to actually train regularly. Thus, if you're serious about learning hand to hand combat and protecting yourself, finding a martial arts school is the answer.
Your Fitness LevelIn addition to martial arts, being physically fit can make the difference between escaping harm and getting away without a scratch, or giving up, and letting an attacker either seriously harm you, or possibly kill you. Workouts that build fast, explosive strength can help you overpower an attacker that lacks the same level of strength you've developed from your specialized training. Note: These workouts are a far cry from body building workouts of past years and more on the level of workouts currently used by NFL players, professional MMA fighters, and sometimes military special forces. See: 10 Ways to Build Explosive Power.
How to Choose a Martial Arts SchoolIn the previous fictional excerpt, Theresa was able to defend herself from her own back using Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. To be frank, learning how to defend one's self involves learning how to fight on the ground as well as on the feet (not just standing up as many self defense classes teach). After all, a very high percentage of fights end up on the ground. Further -- particularly when it comes to women -- their attackers are stronger than they are, and typically when a woman is attacked, she's not fighting a group of attackers, typically just one.
Thus, for a woman, learning to fight from one's back is essential.
And that my friends is what Theresa's Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training is all about.
However, stand up fighting is also important. After all, if you're able to punch or kick an attacker in a crucial area (the groin, neck, eyes, throat, etc.) it could get you out of harm's way quickly. Further, learning how to fight on your feet may allow you to avoid heavy strikes by an opponent.
Avoid the Black-belt FactoriesBe wary about martial arts schools that are really only "black-belt factories"; their main interest is to build your confidence by helping you master moves, thus you move up in ranks, achieving higher belts. Sure, this is a great confidence builder for kids, as well as introducing them to the idea of self defense...
But, really, if you're training solely for self defense, or even combining self defense with fighter-level training in mixed martial arts, strongly consider skipping on any schools that assign "belts" to progress; not unless that instructor has true experience in hand to hand combat, and not unless that school is driven for the purpose of teaching true self-defense that will actually work for you in a life-or-death conflict.
Realize this -- many martial arts instructors have never even been in a street fight. How can you teach how to respond to a street fight or violent assailant unless you've faced these conflicts yourself at some point in the past?
Or ... you've at least received highly specialized training for hand to hand combat for a 'no-holds-barred' scenario, such as an attack by a violent assailant. Instructors who have trained repeatedly for 'no-holds-barred' conflict -- even though never having been in actual street fight -- with good training, should be conditioned enough to understand the psychology that needs to be included as part of their teaching.
And so that's probably a good school to consider.
When looking for a martial arts school, here are some questions to ask.
1. Do You Teach How to Fight on the Ground?Please note that some disciplines known for ground fighting are Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Catch Wrestling, and Russian Sambo. Judo, depending on the instructor, might also teach true ground fighting. However, make sure that the instructor's definition of ground fighting is not takedowns alone (some schools teach you how to take people down and avoid being taken down without telling you what to do once you get to the ground).
Other schools like Israeli Krav Maga advise students to keep the fight standing, as much as possible. There is simply too much danger for a fight to go the wrong way down on the ground.
With that said, you should know and understand ground fighting (and how to get back to your feet quickly and ways to defend against a take down) should you be up against a skilled fighter that specializes in taking people to the ground.
When choosing a self defense school, make sure that the school teaches submissions (joint locks, armbars, and chokes) from the guard. Generally, the guard is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu concept that has been adopted by several other disciplines and involves wrapping your legs around an opponent from your back in order to limit their movement on top of you.
However, tactics such as ground fighting, submission wrestling, and grappling are not advised as a defense strategy against multiple attackers -- what men are more likely to face, rather than women.
In a fight versus multiple attackers, the last thing you want to do is go to the ground to try to use your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -- that's when you're likely to be struck from behind, have your head stomped on, etc.
2. Do You also Teach Striking or Stand Up Skills?Stand up skills are important to know. As said above, ground fighting won't do you a bit of good if you're up against multiple attackers, whereas a striking art might. So look for a school -- and there are several of them today -- that teaches a wide variety of skills. A fight can end up anywhere and you need to be ready for that.
3. Are Classes Co-Ed?This question is really only for women to ask. Yes, it seems true that females prefer to learn hand to hand self defense around females. However, think about this one before deciding. After all, what are you afraid of -- an attack from a female or male? Unfortunately, if you've never gone up against the strength of a male in training, it will be a surprise when the real thing shakes down. You may want to limit the surprises you're forced to endure in a real life combat situation.
4. Does the Self Defense Ever Get Real?Some martial arts schools teach fighting without ever fighting. This is rather absurd. In reality, self defense is about learning how to deal with combat situations. If you've never been hit, actually hit someone, or grappled with someone, the real thing is going to be a shock and quite different regardless of how much technical knowledge you have.
In other words, the martial arts school you go to should periodically have you test your skills in at least semi- real situations. This will leave you both more ready and confident if a problem occurs.
Said another way, if you go for a month and don't walk out at some point with at least a couple of bruises, the training may be lacking.
5. Do You Teach How to Fight With / Against Weapons?There really is no hand to hand defense against a gun. Not unless you've got highly specialized training. In these situations, it's best for you to use your brain. However, there are ways to defend against a knife, box cutter, etc. Further, there are schools that teach you how to use weapons to defend against attackers.
6. Do You Teach Psychological Ploys (How to Act, What to Say)?If you're in a situation where an attacker seems intent on stealing from you, are there things you can say or ways you can act that might help? Further, if someone seems intent on raping you, should you yell? What should you yell?
When choosing a martial arts school, ask if the instructors teach the answers to these questions.
7. What is Your Training?This is a simple one. It is absolutely appropriate to ask what kind of training your instructors have. Don't sign any agreements that day. Rather, go home and research the credentials that person says they have.
You can even ask for references.
In sum, hand to hand self defense is about being ready. The only way to really be ready is to train regularly. Further, real self defense involves learning aspects of both the striking and grappling arts. Anything else is only half an answer at best.
And if you don't get credit for half answers at school, you certainly won't on the street.
8. Skills vs. Concepts and TacticsRelying solely on "skills" can cost you your life, as Teanis Tillmon of Street Defense Research advises.
Instead, "strategic thinking" is what can save the day. Teanis Tillmon teaches "tactics and concepts," related to a dangerous encounter. Teanis asks the question, "How long does it take to learn a concept vs a skill?." He adds, "First a concept uses ideas, tips, strategies, and tactics. For example, skills are excellent when mastered. But even well trained people make mistakes. Law Enforcement officers who are very well trained and learned skills still make mistakes. Soldiers who are in battle make mistakes. If you learn a basic survival concept that is the 'now' situation. I have learned shooting skills, etc., etc. They are all good but, in my situations on the street, I have had to become a 'MacGyver Survivor'. What works wins. I have boiled my training down to simple concepts that do not take skill but fast on your feet thinking and survival thoughts."
9. AvoidanceLet's consider a highly effective method for getting out of a conflict with your life -- that is avoidance.
You can escape harm simply by never putting yourself in a dangerous situation. A lot can be said on this topic.
But what if you find yourself in a dangerous situation, regardless -- such as a sudden home invasion, where an attacker kicks in your back door while you're eating dinner alone. He's holding a hammer.
At this point, it's time for a "concept":
10. Distraction and Improvised WeaponThere's no time to run -- instead, your best way to survive may be to fight. You shout "Peter, call the police!" (DISTRACTION, PSYCHOLOGICAL PLOY) even though no one named "Peter" lives at your address, and you're home alone.
You throw your dinner plate at the attacker (food and all, a SECOND DISTRACTION), and jump to your feet.
You flip your dining room table in the direction of the attacker (grabbing the table edges), and charge him, using the table as a shield (IMPROVISED WEAPON).
Can you knock him down violently, leaving the table on top of him? Perhaps that will cause a momentary shock in the attacker (this isn't what he was expecting), giving you now a couple seconds to flee at full speed out the back door that he just kicked in.
Ultimately, using self-defense when attacked may best be said that having concepts and tactics rehearsed in your head will give you the right-way to respond as a situation unfolds.
How will you respond to a work-place shooting?How will you respond to your girlfriend's jealous-ex who corners you one day outside the gym?
Ladies, how will you respond to a stalker hiding in the bushes by your car, as you walk out to your car one morning to leave for work? You might want to have this and other possible conflicts rehearsed so you're ready if and when the time comes.
11. Beware of Over-Confidence in Your SkillsIf you train in martial arts, or mixed martial arts, etc. and even if you were to "master" a number of self-defense moves, your confidence in your fighting skills could cost you your life.
For example, you might stand your ground against a pissed-off ex-con who has bumped into you in the supermarket; instead of him fighting fair, he pulls out a knife and stabs you. You die.
That's an example of how over-confidence in your fighting skills could kill you. Instead, perhaps it would have been a better tactic to size up the person in front of you ... notice his fearless, pissed-off demeanor, his tattoos, his scars, and simply apologize for bumping into him.
He saves face. You show a little humility. And you live to see another day.
Your confidence in your skills doesn't get you killed.
So, "apologizing" can be a tactic to avoid combat. Sometimes though "apologizing" may not be the best tactic -- that just depends on the person you're up against.
12. When There's No Other Way Out -- Vicious First Strike Attack, Head StompSometimes a bold first strike (and continued strikes) may be just what's needed to make an assailant turn up his heels and run, rather than attack, or simply send him to the hospital.
In other words, you attack the attacker. This is a gutsy, courageous move. It takes full mental commitment and belief in yourself that you can completely overwhelm the other person. Some of you are squeamish at this idea. This tactic is not for you, not until you can get it into your head that part of survival is "fight or flight".
How can this tactic work? Because it's not what an attacker is expecting.
Write this down: Vicious, fast, surprising first strikes or a vicious counter-attack can win a fight fast against an attacker.
Going into a conflict, realize this: Most likely an attacker's first punch will be a haymaker. This is an easy punch to read as it takes a few moments of time for a haymaker to connect. Most people knocked down by haymakers simply freeze as the punch is being thrown at them. They freeze because they're not trained to move out of the way or simply block and deflect the punch.
Think of this as deer in the headlights phenomenon.
13. Haymakers Are Easy to Read, Easily BlockedA haymaker is easily blocked and deflected though with a forearm motion that pushes his fist and throwing arm to the outside as it comes in, leaving your attacker wide open for a counter-strike, which -- if you've been training in self-defense or stand-up fighting -- should follow a split-second after your forearm block that deflects his punch.
Your attacker goes down hard as your counter-strike connects with his chin, nose, or throat. You stomp on his head before he can get his wits about him. He's out for the count.
Recap: Knock down your attacker with a surprise first strike or counter-strike and then give a few head stomps to ensure he doesn't get back up.
14. Head Stomp -- How to Ensure A Dangerous Opponent Stays DownThe "head stomp" is not just a tactic used by gangs and prison convicts. You'll find it in military combat styles like Israeli Krav Maga and others like Russian Combat Sambo.
It sounds cruel. But it can save the day.
This of course is an extreme measure of self-defense, similar to carrying a firearm and actually using it one day to take an attacker's life. Sometimes a homeowner has to do this to protect their life and property from a burglar and is often justified in the eyes of the law in doing so.
Sometimes the police have to take a life as well. However, as we've seen in 2013 with the George Zimmerman / Trayvon trial, it's not ok to take another person's life, not unless it's truly and completely self-defense, and your life is actually in danger.
So don't go using a head-stomp in a simple shoving altercation with your neighbor. That is excessive force and you deserve to go to prison for a serious assault.
But if a crook jumps you in a dark-alley one night after work, and you realize that this person may be about to take your life, this is a situation where taking an extreme step like a counter-strike and head-stomp may be the only way out.
I can't guarantee of course that that will hold up in court, if you end up in front of a judge, charged with manslaughter.
15. Non-Lethal Tactics, When PossibleYour best defense may be to avoid conflict as much as possible, using psychological tactics to mitigate conflict, avoid situations and locations where conflict is most likely to occur, and even choosing to learn non-lethal defensive tactics such as those taught to bouncers, security guards, and various levels of law enforcement and corrections officers.
Why take a person's life if you don't have to? Disabling someone until police arrive (if that is possible and if you are capable) may be the best moral tactic to take -- situations vary though. Go with your instincts. Your life and / or the lives of others may be in danger after all.
ConclusionA study of concepts and tactics in regards to combat and self-defense can go a long ways, especially for those who don't have the time for on-going training in a gym that teaches self-defense. Your best defense ultimately though is to be well-rounded: To have a solid knowledge of concepts and tactics as well as actual ground-fighting and stand-up fighting skills.
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