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Top 5 Self-Defense Concepts and Skills

Updated on December 13, 2016

Martial Arts and Karate Training

Martial Arts Training
Martial Arts Training | Source

My in-depth look at the five most important things you should know to effectively defend yourself.

For most people, having to defend yourself in a situation where you're being threatened with real physical harm, although statistically unlikely, is a frightening thought. My aim with this article is to provide some basic knowledge of what you can expect in a real fight and what you can do to increase your chances of making it home without serious injury.

Before we delve into the list and further details, I'd like to address some misconceptions about real-world physical confrontations.

Fights are unpredictable. Anything can happen in a real fight, and you should never plan ahead in your mind or try to anticipate the flow of the situation, the moves an opponent will attempt, or even the moves that you're going to do. When things get real, you have to be fluid and adaptable. If you get stuck in your head or hesitate, you might as well be planning your defeat.

Accept that you will get hurt - Time for a reality check. If a human being is truly attempting to cause you bodily harm, do you think that you will make it out unscathed? The hard truth is that you will almost invariably take some degree of punishment and sustain damage. It's important to understand that beyond technique, the most valuable thing you can possess is heart and determination. Quitting is not an option, and you need to accept that getting hit and hurt is the cost of survival. Expect it and mentally prepare to keep going no matter what. "You got heart kid!"

Most fights go to the ground - In a street fight, the chances are that everyone involved is untrained and, even if trained, unskilled at hand-to-hand combat. This situation leads to two or more people, off-balance, flailing at each other. Where will it end up? On the ground. Your goal is never to be there, and if you do end up on the ground, to get up as fast as possible. Even if you're experienced in wrestling, jujitsu, judo, or any of the other grappling arts, it's never a good idea to be on the ground. There's a myriad of things that can go wrong, from other people joining in, to being hurt as you fall to the ground itself. Avoid it at all costs.

There are no rules - In a street fight, there are no rules, no tapping out, no illegal strikes or moves, and no referee. Don't be lulled into doing something you've learned that will "cause them to tap" or is "a guaranteed fight stopper." The best thing you can use is, well, everything at your disposal. Your entire body can be purposed as a tool for self-defense, as can your environment, including the ground, walls, corners, or simple "non-traditional weapons" like bottles, keys, a belt, even other people. Obviously, some things are better tools that others, just recognize that there are no limits when it comes to self-preservation.

Reality Check

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Martial Arts Training and Lessons Can Provide Life-Saving Skills and Information

1. A Solid Base - A solid base incorporates multiple factors such as posture, balance, footwork, and body position.

Posture relates to the position of your spine and center of mass. Balance is affected by your posture but also your stance (how wide or narrow your feet are and how you're angled to your opponent), weight distribution (Is your weight more on one leg than the other? Are you on the balls of your feet (or at least even), or are you on your heels? Footwork is essentially keeping your center of mass supported while you move either forward, back, laterally, etc., and also as you generate power for attacks, or brace yourself in defense.

As you move, always bring your base with you. Let it lead or follow, but you should never be in a bio-mechanically disadvantageous position. Make sure you're angled to utilize all your limbs (you shouldn't be turned completely to the side with your rear arm and leg too far from the opponent). Keep your feet slightly more than shoulder-width with your weight even about your legs. Maintain a slight bend in your knees and be light, mostly on the balls or your feet. Try not to cross your feet and let your posture be natural and relaxed, ready to become aggressive and forward when an opportunity presents itself.

2. Awareness - Have your eyes up and ears open.

You need to be able to see both the people around you and the environment, including your position relative to routes of escape or areas where you can be cornered. Constantly be scanning the area for signs of changes in movement near you. Always consider if your opponent has allies, and if so, where are they? Is there a group of people forming? What areas do you need to avoid? What are the closest escape routes?

Be ready to adapt as the confrontation develops. You should be able to re-position with minimal effort. Also, be ready to take the offensive or surprise your opponent if you perceive an opening. Don't let yourself be surrounded and keep your base like we discussed in the first point. Be alert for any threats (other than the obvious) and any opportunities. A simple way to think about it may be, how can I best position myself for success given the circumstances I'm currently in? Take the high ground and hold it.

3. Fighting Guard - Always maintain a good guard. It is your first line of both defense and attack, and using your arms and hands to block or deflect attacks can save valuable time and create openings for you to exploit.

Details for your guard: Hands are staggered with your front hand matching your front foot. Palms face towards each other, with elbows down. Hands and forearms should be positioned to keep your center-line safe. Don't give them an easy target. Tops of the fists should be just below the eye line, covering as much surface area as possible without obscuring vision. The hands protect your face, head, and neck - the elbows and forearms protect your torso, including the ribs and internal organs. Don't contract your muscles until you need them. Staying rigid can drain your energy and make your movements sluggish. Be loose and flowing, able to react quickly to incoming attacks or openings in an opponent's guard.

People will often attack with some variation of a straight punch through the middle, a wide, heavy strike, like a hay-maker or hook punch, or some combinations thereof. Your guard should allow you to deal with common and uncommon avenues of attack with smaller compact movements to reduce the amount of energy you expend on each defensive motion. Don't try to push strikes away with your blocks and don't move more than you need to when you're deflecting or evading attacks. Remember, whether a punch misses by an inch or a foot, it's still a miss.

4. Be Energy Efficient - Being in a real fight is extremely taxing on the body's neurological and metabolic energy systems. Increase your chances of success through efficient, effective expenditure of energy.

As I mentioned in point #3, don't waste energy over-blocking, or over-dodging. Move only as much as you need to avoid damage. On attack, you should aim for shorter, straight line strikes, or something heavy enough to cause significant damage even through an opponent's guard. Short, fast, straight line attacks, such as a simple jab or cross, are easy to execute and aren't metabolically expensive. Jumping, spinning, crescent kicks, on the other hand, are slow, telegraphed, and waste a ton of energy before you even release the intended strike. A tight, sharp elbow strike from an angle, is easy to pull off and can pack enough power to break through an opponent's guard even if they are braced for the impact. Avoid flowery or fancy movements for compact, short, solid attacks. Don't force yourself to overextend and give your opponent an opening.

Striking efficiency is also about target selection. Look to land attacks in vital or sensitive areas. There are plenty of options, and it's best to keep it simple; the eyes, throat, groin, nose, neck, knees, ears, jaw, etc. The chances are that you won't land a perfectly placed leopard strike to the left carotid artery. However, using an elbow, forearm, or hammer strike to the side of the neck will deal damage whether it hits the neck, the ear, the jaw, or the clavicle. Anything that limits a person's senses or movement (like striking the throat or knee) are worthy targets for attack. These areas are usually more sensitive to pain, make it more difficult for an attacker to harm you, and start to open a window for escape or to otherwise fortify your advantage.

5. Be Fast and Decisive - Once you decide to go, you've got to commit all the way (this is where "heart" comes in).

Don't hesitate when you see an opening; it may be the only opportunity you get. When it's time to be explosive, bring everything we've covered to bear and press hard. This isn't a boxing match or point sparring. You can't do one or two strikes only to back out and reset your position. You have to go in and overwhelm your opponent with multiple strikes at various angles. Your hands, when not striking or blocking, should return to your guard fluidly. Your attacks should be measured and swift, continuous, and change as your distance to the target changes (striking with the hands at arms-length, elbows or knees in clinch/super close range). Remember, your objective here is not to look good, it's to do damage, make sure that the fight is complete i.e. the opponent is incapacitated to the point where you have the freedom and time to escape without further confrontation.

Karate Legend
Karate Legend | Source

Summary and Conclusion

Let's recap the list:

1 - A solid base

2 - Awareness of people and the environment

3 - A Fighting Guard

4 - Don't Waste Valuable Energy

5 - Be Fast and Decisive

In closing, there is no one catch-all technique, nuclear strike, or sure fire way to win. Do what works and what buys you enough time to escape. It's worth noting that, even though you're not the one initiating a fight, you still need to exercise the responsible use of force. If your assailant is unconscious, unable to defend themselves, or has otherwise discontinued their assault, don't stand over them and continue to rain down strikes to prove a point. It doesn't make you look tough, and it will most certainly lead to legal ramifications.

If you enjoyed this article and found something informative, please leave a comment or contact me directly to share your thoughts. For visual learners, I've provided a link to the video I created covering this subject matter. Also, if you're interested in reading more about these and similar ideas, or are curious how to begin training if you're new to the martial arts, you can visit the links in my profile to get more information.


Michael Nahan

5 Most Important Things in A Real Fight

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