What is effective self-defence?

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There are just so many video’s, blog’s and information on self-defence out there, who and what should I trust?  I would start with what is not self-defence, self-defence is not;

  • a sport
  • a fair fight
  • a fight against a well-trained opponent(s)
  • a fight against an unarmed assailant

My view tends to be self-defence is against the unskilled or semi-skilled opponent and probably not a professional, that is very different set of skills, and there maybe multiple opponents not just a one on one fight, if they are using a weapon they are probably not that sure of themselves, i.e. if I want you to comply and I do not feel you would comply if I asked you to, me having  a weapon may change your mind.

So if you do a self defence course you should be taught things like eye gouges, spitting and biting as well as striking with elbows, knees and improvised weapons.  But far more important is avoidance.

That being said I tend to teach self-defence as 5 A’s; Assess, Aware, Assert, Action, Afterwards

Assessing your routine

This is really common sense; you need to sit down and think about your daily routine and assess what you do regularly.  Look at it from an attacker’s point of view, where could you hide, how would you approach a potential victim.  Some of the things you might want to think about are;

  • When you open the door to a stranger, how would you stop someone pushing their way in, do you have a security chain on the door or a peephole?
  • When you park your car in the daytime do you consider its position if you have to return to it after dark.  Is it near a streetlight or dark alleyway?  Do you carry your keys in your hand when you approach the car or do you fumble in pockets or bags?
  • When walking down the street on the way to work do you walk near the road or the shop fronts?  When you walk round a corner do you leave enough room so you can see what is around the corner?  Are there bushes or low walls someone could hide behind?
  • If you go down the pub and there is trouble, how will you get home?  Will you walk or drive?  Is the car close by?  Do you drive forward into a parking space or reverse in?  Do you leave some money at home so if you had to get a taxi in an emergency you could pay for it?
  • Some scenarios you need to assess are, in the car or approaching the car, security at home (you can ask the Police to do a check and give you security ideas), when travelling on public transport, in public places such as bars, restaurants or night clubs, and when walking at night or during the day    


This again is common sense, you need to be aware of your surroundings so don’t have headphones in or looking at your phone, you should be aware of what is around you and places of safety.  You should also be thinking about how close someone is to you, you should not let a stranger get closer than 3 foot from you.

You should also consider if you want to stand your ground and fight or walk away, basically draw a circle around your feet roughly 3-4 foot in diameter.  Now ask yourself this question “is the ground I am standing in worth my life”?  If it is then you will possibly have to either negotiate your way out of the situation or fight your way out.

Trust your instincts, they are more truthful to you than you think.

  • If there is a gang of youths in the street consider crossing the road even if you do feel silly, this way they have to come to you and you already have a head start. 
  • If you go into a pub or nightclub and there is a noisy group or a drunk that makes you feel uncomfortable, move to another part of the building and if they follow leave and go somewhere else.
  • Consider what you wear when you go out, this does not mean don’t dress up, but if you do then you will need to be more vigilant and more aware than usual, after all if you dress up it is to display something and attract attention, but that may not be who you want it to be.
  • People are magpies, if you wear an expensive watch that stands out then it will attract notice to you, not always good.

Be Assertive

This is basically a confidence thing, if you watch animals in the wild if confronted they will puff themselves up and make loud noises.  Watch a domestic cat, it can almost double in size when it puffs up. 

  • Staring at the ground and walking all hunched up and holding your hands in your pockets gives the message “I’m weak and vulnerable”.  Instead make eye contact with people in a way that lets them know you have seen them, swing your arms and take up space by pulling your shoulders back, and walking tall.
  • Have strong body language and be confident in yourself, this lessons the chance of someone picking you out because it says “if you attack me I WILL fight back and make a scene. 
  • Verbally assert yourself, if someone’s behavior is making you feel uncomfortable, or scared, do the following a)Name the behavior, b)Criticize it, c) Tell them what you want them to do.  For example “You keep touching me, I don’t like it, stop it”.
  • Use commands and never ask.
  • If they continue repeat the same phrase again and again until they stop what they are doing.
  • If someone is bothering you in public make a scene, they will be more embarrassed than you are also if something happens later you will have witnesses to the initial incident.
  • Stand 10 feet from a friend and pretend they are touching you, now use the same words so that they can hear, this forces you to speak loudly and in a commanding voice.
  • TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS, they warn you that danger is around.

Take action

This is what everyone thinks of when self-defense is mentioned, but if you pay attention to the first three A’s you will pretty much only ever get into a fight in a martial arts club or with play fighting the children (you always seem to loose to your children).  You also need to remember;

  • Self-defense is not a stand up fight, the idea is not to win, but to survive the encounter and get away.
  • There are different levels of assault from someone trying to drag you to the dance floor when they are tipsy and you do not want to, too someone trying to rape or kill you.
  • If someone threatens you with a knife, gun or other weapon, the fact that you are not dead or injured yet means they want something from you.  It might be they want you to go somewhere quieter to rape or kill you in which case you have no other choice but to fight for your life.  Or they might want money or jewelry in which case the general rule of thumb is give them what they want.  At the end of the day you have nothing on you worth your life or a permanent scar.  Slowly hand over the money, or throw it to one side and step back and take time to notice what they are wearing, their size etc (see Aftermath below). 
  • Or it is just bravado in which case you might want to apologise and back off even if you did nothing (do not turn your back).  Always be confident and assertive.

Deal with the aftermath

If you do find yourself a victim of crime or witness then you may need to deal with the aftermath.  There are many other things to remember but these are just a few. 

  • Take a basic first aid course, contact St John’s ambulance or the Red Cross.
  • Take note of the attackers height, for example if you are sitting down and they are standing, takes a note of something at around the same height as the top of their head.  That way even if you can not estimate heights if you go through it with the police afterwards you should get a decent measurement. 
  • What color are their eyes, and hair, has the hair been dyed? 
  • What are they wearing cloths wise?  Be careful with cloths as they can be changed a better thing to remember is what shoes are they wearing.
  • What shoes are they wearing, most men do not have many different shoe and most can change their clothes quickly but will not change their shoes.
  • Do they have any piercings (ears or body), tattoos, or scars (hands and face).
  • If raped or assaulted DO NOT WASH before you see the police, otherwise you wash away vital evidence.

One thing I would say is that it is worth doing a martial arts class, not because it will help you defend yourself, but rather it will make you confident and stand and walk with confidence, this alone will probably stop most incidents happen.

Remember self defence really is only this;

The antagonist will pick on the weaker, your goal should not be to look strong but to make the antagonist pick on someone else who looks an easier target.

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