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Self-Defense: What Do You Really Need?

There are dozens of martial arts systems, and all, in part, can be used for self-defense. There have been endless discussions as to the best system for self-defense whether karate, jiu jitsu, Krav Maga, Muay Thai, boxing – all have good points. The problem is they generally require too much time, effort, and training before they can truly be effective.

Most systems consist of the same basic types of techniques – hand strikes, kicking, grappling, etc. – and there’s not really much difference. As Bruce Lee said, “A punch is a punch, and a kick is a kick.” However, some systems may be more geared toward the practical application, like Krav Maga, as opposed to more competition or ‘art’ based systems.

What is the most effective system? Or, more specifically, what techniques are the most effective? Many of us are searching for the ‘magic bullet’ or the ‘two finger death touch’. The reality for all of us is, we are going to have to actually hit someone at some point in order to use one of these techniques! How is that done, and what tool should we use?

Most humans have many ‘natural tools’ available. Feet, hands, knees, head, elbows. All can be used effectively in various situations. But what are the best ones to use? Again, there will be much debate depending on what system you are most familiar with. Across the board, most practical combatives instructors will limit their recommendations and training to only a few easily executed techniques. In no particular order these include:

  • Elbows (horizontal, upward, downward, to the rear)

    • Focus on the bony tip. The elbow is considered one of the hardest, sharpest, strongest parts of your body to strike with, and it is an incredibly effective striking tool.

  • Closed hand/fist (hammerfist, NOT punch)

    • Closed fists are not designed to hit the bony parts of the head/skull. There are too many small, brittle bones in the hand that are easily injured. But the meaty edge of your fist is an effective striking tool. Punches to the body are okay but often not effective.

  • Knee strikes

    • Use your hips to thrust forward with the knee and not up. Strike the upper and outer thigh, the lower abdomen and groin.

  • Snap kick to groin/low abdomen

    • Use the shin, instep, or toe to strike. The type of footwear you have on is also a consideration.

  • Palm heel/Claw strike

    • Like the edge of your fist, the meaty portion of your palm is a very good striking tool. Hitting the chin, nose or side of the head is effective.

  • Fingers to the eyes can cause severe damage.

  • Knife hand/edge of hand

    • Like the side of your fist, the edge of your hand can be used to strike the neck/throat, groin, face, or side of the head.

Targeting these areas make sense for several reasons:

- They are difficult to defend

- They are easy to access

- They are easily damaged

- Damage can result in disorientation and mobility issues

If an attacker cannot see, breath or move, they will likely cease the attack, or it will give you time to retreat. Other techniques are either too complicated or dangerous for the defender to perform safely. These include:

  • Side kick to knee – too difficult; balance issues; small target

  • Head – possibility of injuring yourself with little ROI

  • Any joint locks or chokes – too complicated to learn in a short time

  • Running – may not physically be able to run

Self-defense is different for each of us. Everyone is built differently, has different needs and has different abilities, strengths and shortfalls. You must be brutally honest with yourself when determining your self-defense requirements and your abilities. This is no place for your ego to get in the way of making objective decisions that your life, or the lives of your loved ones, may be relying on.

As I say quite often, “Self-defense is simple; it’s just easy to screw it up!” Most tend to make it too complicated and in doing so, make it ineffective under stress. Here are some suggestions to get you moving along the right path:

- Develop self-awareness and preventive strategies.

- Be aware of your surroundings. Situational awareness is the key.

- Target the most vulnerable areas.

- De-escalate if possible. Knowing basic verbal and no-verbal disengagement techniques can help you avoid violence and feel more confident if you must defend yourself.

- Plan and prepare your escape route.

- Make noise! Unsafe situations are no time for politeness.

- Use everyday objects as weapons if necessary.

- Train with your tools before you carry them.



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