Self-defence. Asking many different people will fetch you many different answers, which are all likely to be legitimate and correct in their own right.
Unless of course you ask a complete lunatic wearing a mask and a Trump T-shirt - That's just a bit too small - Wielding an oversized frozen cucumber.
In which case opinions may be slightly askew to the norm.
Instead of popping out with just one dimension of self-defence in this post, I'd like to talk about lesser known aspects that encompass the topic. Cover all bases and points of view if you like.
I'm going to break down these shenanigans into relatable aspects you can potentially apply with immediate effect. You see, self defence isn't just moves and counter moves, no.
There is a huge realm many of us seldom give thought to which can greatly enhance our own prospects of staying safe. It's how you think.
I conduct 6 week self defence courses of my own, and whilst there are many exciting moves used against heavy punch bags, swift blocks that put Ip man to shame and indeed, some effortless finesse applied to knife attacks.
This alone however, would be slightly missing the point - My first question would be. Why indeed have you found yourself needing to fend off a knife-wielding maniac in the first place? Or even a Trump supporting frozen cucumber man?
Catch my drift?
As a Taekwon-Do instructor - an art I have devoted myself to for nearly 14 years - I have learned many things about what it truly means to defend yourself. That extends beyond the raw grizzly-bear-wrestling skills we can possess.
In my opinion, the most important thing is not so much what you can do if you find yourself in such a situation, rather what you can do to avoid it entirely.
Much like minimising the chances of thieves mincing in through your back door and stealing your biscuits - making a sandwich and like a sly fox, making off with your jewellery. - By preventing them from knowing there is anything there in the first place.
Let me use a slightly better example.
If you had a motor cross bike (I actually do) You wouldn't particularly want to advertise this fact. For if nobody knows it is there, who will intend to steal it? It is much the same with self-defence.
You want to be switched on to your surroundings to avoid your unintended placement in hot water.
You don't want to provide an opportunity for an aggressor to make their move. Let's say you're out on the town, you have just left your favourite joint, you're a little bit worse for wear and talking absolute gibberish to your prospective mating partner.
It is 3am, it is dark, you need to get to a taxi and there are many routes you can take.
Let's be honest, you're likely to be completely unaware of your surroundings. I've been there. I particularly remember walking down the shopping high street in Reading in the early hours of god knows what day. About five of us were swanning along to whatever destination we had supposedly agreed on.
I remember not being quite as legless as my friends and looking up towards the far end of the high street, where I saw an unsavoury looking bunch congregated in the street.
With a gut feeling sprouting, I decided to subtly divert the gang through a different route, making up some excuse that I needed to buy some food or something.
I'm glad we did too, as my hunch was right. Somebody got attacked on that very street by a gang of boys very close to the same time we were there. Funny that, or was it a remarkable coincidence? We'll never know.
Irrespective of whether this is perhaps apocryphal, it highlights a point worth noting.
Simple observation can mean the difference between happy days and disparity.
There are other examples too, for a period I decided to watch some YouTube videos of those ridiculous street fights. The more I watched the more I learned. Now you may be sitting up straight with a scoff, claiming with pride and nobility - "I would never go anywhere near such mindless fiascos! This is irrelevant to me!"
Now you may have merit in saying that, though there are still some valuable things you can learn here. Sometimes an attacker going for you is something completely beyond your control, let's be fair.
If you do find yourself in such a compromising position, here are a couple of pointers I've learnt from the aforementioned videos, as well as real life experiences, that you should consider when applying your own ninja moves.
- At all costs, avoid letting this tussle go to the floor.
You don't know who else is around. It could even be that one of their friends is just a few meters away looking on. In a situation like this you're highly likely to get tunnel vision and focus on the immediate threat.
You'd be amazed at how easily you can miss a figure standing just yards away. If you go to the floor and you happen to have them in an amazing arm bar, you could find yourself receiving a brutal kick to the head, knocking you clean out, or worse. Then what? I dread to think.
Mind you it depends on priorities, if your attacker is holding a knife then that is your immediate threat. Best to be in this sort of position, since you're able to look around:
It begs the question, how does one get into that position?! That is another skill I can teach :)
- Be conscious of your surroundings.
Perhaps a tall order but the more information you can take in during such intensity, the better your decisions are going to be.
Where are you? Who is nearby? Can you shout for help? Can you negotiate? Are your friends nearby? Is it a busy or quiet street? How big are they? Can you make a run for it? What's the square root of 64?
Are you even fit enough to run for it?
These are just a handful of important examples. The more information you can take in the better your decisions are going to be.
- Never allow your aggressor to stand too close.
The most gut-wrenching thing I have seen is a face-to-face standoff whereby the individual wants nothing more than diffusion and to walk away. This individual is too full of pride to take a step back, standing squarely on two feet with straight legs, the aggressor just centimetres away from their nose. Smack.
A punch comes out of nowhere knocking them out on their feet. Smack. Their head hits the concrete with a deafening thud.
Take one foot and place it behind you. Being full facing is a more standoffish and aggressive stance anyway. Stand side facing, one foot back, slightly flexed knees. You have so many more options here.
Judge your distance too, keep them at least their arms length distance away. This gives you much more time to react to one of those sickening sucker punches only the cowardly would throw.
There is an abundance of videos online where people violate all these simple rules of personal safety, assuming you had no choice of say in even being in the situation in the first place.
I think the main reason for the general surplus of people who fail to make such fundamental observations and subsequent decisions that increase their own prospects of "walking away" is something that the military, front line medical staff, police, fighter pilots, commercial jet pilots, air traffic control, royal navy and fire services' call - situational awareness. Here is a nice definition:
"Situational awareness involves being aware of what is happening in the vicinity to understand how information, events, and one's own actions will impact goals and objectives, both immediately and in the near future.
One with an adept sense of situational awareness generally has a high degree of knowledge with respect to inputs and outputs of a system, an innate "feel" for situations, people, and events that play out because of variables the subject can control.
Lacking or inadequate situational awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error. Thus, situational awareness is especially important in work domains where the information flow can be quite high and poor decisions may lead to serious consequences (such as piloting an airplane, functioning as a soldier, or treating critically ill or injured patients)."
So, it is fairly clear that this is a mindset you cultivate for yourself.
That's not to say you need to be as adroit as Jason Bourne, no. That's unnecessary. If you happen to know somebody like this then let me know, we need to hang out.
You don't need to remember every single number plate on every single car you saw that day. You don't need to count every single god damn moustache hair on that shifty looking fellow who asked you for spare change either.
Just take in a few simple and key observations when you enter an environment.
What's the general mood of the place?
How many people are there?
What exit routes are available?
To begin to cultivate a mind whereby you do this without any effort, simply begin with these observations. Mind you, in a dangerous scenario, the real skill is being able to maintain situational awareness and not allow it to go flying out the window. The best way to do that is to begin practicing the very art itself.
Now you might be saying "Well that's very nice Mr Martial Artist, but what about when I do need to throw some shapes and defend myself against a rampaging lunatic?"
There's another thing too that I acknowledge. I don't expect everybody to fervently train to be really strong, just for the outside eventuality that you'd need to defend yourself against Gerard Butler in 300.
Then there is the potential gulf you find in a petite lady looking to just have a good time in life, vs the worlds strongest man after her purse.
Of course there can be a big gulf whereby the defender just feels hopeless.
Whilst I confess that your chances look slimmer, there are opportunities. Absolutely.
This comes down to your ability, not just to stay cool and keep your thinking head on, but to be a rather good actor too. Please understand however, that this is on the basis that the individual has indeed gained an understanding of how to use their body to generate awesome power. Let's get this short story rolling.
A lady - say, early 40's, 5"5 tall, 'average build, not particularly sporty - is walking home from a night out. Turning a corner she is graced with the presence of a 6 foot tall, mid 30's bloke, who immediately introduces himself with harassment.
The lady simply walks past trying not to behave in a way that would exacerbate the dodgy situation. The man continues to harass and it starts to get worrying. All of a sudden, you're shut off from walking and your back is against a wall.
What to do now hmm?
I've been up against a wall, here is one of my responses should the attacker grab my shirt with both hands and pin me back. It should be seen as an opportunity to turn the tables, all that remains is to learn these joint manipulation techniques for yourself.
This is a scary situation, lets assume this man wanted her purse, her money, her shoes?! Know what I say?
Give it to them.
If that is the negotiation then do it. It is hard to swallow at the time, of course, though the potential trade can far outweigh the benefits of denying this stranger his selfish goal.
What if this stranger only wanted to do harm? Then it becomes a different case of whatever it takes. The most likely response for most individuals under attack is a heightened tension throughout the body, widened eyes, shaky movements...
This is to your disadvantage.
Try this. The attacker is going to be dominant in behaviour. They're going to want this to be as easy as possible for them; this is fairly obvious. So if you maintain a tense, shaky and unpredictable demeanour, giving away that you're waiting for your opportunity to strike & flee, you'll elicit higher defence and readiness in your attacker.
This closes the doors of opportunity right in front of your eyes.
You want them to feel like they have this in the bag.
You want to be totally submissive and relaxed, you want to act. Your attacker will begin to exude complacency and confidence. This is where you can place yourself gently in range, spin your hips, spin your shoulders and crack! In comes your elbow right on the jawline.
You really do not need crazy strength to develop sufficient power to incapacitate your aggressor. It is technique. Speed equals power. Speed is maximal when your muscles are relaxed.
Big strong muscles do not necessarily equal power. F = M x A, force equals mass times acceleration. You'll accelerate faster and generate more speed and more power, utilising a body mass transfer, than you will being tense and rigid.
Laws of physics.
So ladies, you needn't be hench for the sake of self-defence.
Note that I mentioned the jawline, not the cheek, not the nose, nor the lips, but the jawline. There are two vital spots along the corner of the jaw line. Starting from your chin, moving out by roughly one inch, you'll notice a very subtle indentation on both sides. If you strike this point, chances are it will be lights out for the bad guy.
This little story is not designed to teach you a specific self-defence move; it is here to give you a different perspective, a different way of thinking. It is here to strike up an appreciation for the reality of what can unfold.
Crucially it should teach you that there are indeed options you can exploit without becoming the next Connor McGregor.
It is one of the reasons I host 6 week self defence courses open to everybody. It is to teach you that you can successfully defend yourself. I assure you this from my own experience.
Being in a scary position with absolutely no idea what to do is a lot more disheartening and damaging than having a plan you can formulate and put to action. Safety first.
If you're looking to learn how to defend yourself, perhaps take a self-defence course much like these lovely people above, or indeed keen to take on any training programme designed around your goals - As a personal trainer in Reading, I can help - Send me a message on the bottom of my website page titled Talk!