Self-Defense: Kung Fu Fighting Optional

For the UAS Whalesong

When people hear the words “self-defense,” they think about a lot of different things. This makes sense; there are a lot of different forms of self-defense. You can defend yourself by being a trained martial artist, by keeping a gun on your person, by carrying a fairly sizable knife, etc. While those are great precautions to take, it’s also important to know the basics of how to defend yourself if you’re ever attacked. While some of the following may come across as being common sense, it never hurts to repeat information that might save your life some day – so, without further ado, here are some self-defense tips that I learned as a Shotokan karate student that don’t require you to be proficient at martial arts or with a weapon.

Be loud and be proud about it. If you feel uncomfortable or endangered, be shouty and noisy. Many – not all, but many – attackers target quiet victims who don’t or won’t speak up when they feel threatened. One of the first things we learned when practicing self-defense at my dojo was that if you ever feel unsafe, hold out a hand and yell “STOP.” This makes it clear that you are not afraid to say something if your potential assailant tries anything; it also draws attention to you, which means that there are witnesses. This is also a good tactic because it draws the line between making what you might feel qualifies as “a scene,” but avoids passive acceptance of their behavior, which might make them think they can get away with doing a whole lot more.

If they’re particularly persistent, don’t be afraid to cry or throw a fit. If you’re truly uncomfortable to the point of feeling unsafe, it is so much better to make a scene and potentially be accused of being hysterical and ridiculous than it is to just put up with it and never be seen again. My old first aid teacher, when discussing the topic of taking off women’s bras during CPR, used to say something that I think is applicable to this same situation: “They can’t be embarrassed tomorrow unless they’re alive today.” You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know the difference between when you’re overreacting and when you’re genuinely upset and feeling endangered. Trust your instincts and act on them.

There are three steps to self-defense: distract, disable, depart. A lot of people think that self-defense only involves the first two, but it’s crucial to remember that you are not safe until you’re no longer around your assailant. Just because they are on the ground moaning in pain does NOT mean that they won’t get back up and come after you. These steps are in relation to situations where someone is grabbing you and trying to take you somewhere or do something to you against your will. If you need to escape, you need to follow all three steps.

A distraction can be anything from looking past them and yelling “help” to a flat-out scream to stomping on the bridge of their foot (particularly effective). This is something that is NOT going to make them let go of you, but it can shift their attention and/or cause them enough pain that they’ll briefly lose focus and (ideally) their grip on you will loosen. A lot of people confuse a knee to the crotch as being part of the “disable” step; this is not necessarily the case. My karate sensei said that it only works on about half of guys, and even if it works, someone dedicated enough to lay hands on you and haul you off is probably not going to be that phased by it.

An alternative is that if they don’t have a weapon and they’re trying to pick you up and take you somewhere, use gravity against them and become a rock. It’s remarkably difficult to pick up someone who does not want to be picked up and is refusing to cooperate; especially if this occurs in a public location, your assailant is more likely to give up and leave you alone instead of spend the time trying to pick you up or drag you to their vehicle. It’s absolutely not a one hundred percent effective solution, but sitting down and not getting or allowing yourself to be gotten back up is a non-violent way to fight back that might save your life.

Once your assailant is distracted, you want to disable them. In a self-defense situation, there is no time to be nice. Your number one goal is to get away and to not be followed. You want to deliver fast, hard blows to weak locations until they’re on the ground. Some good ideas for disabling an assailant (warning – don’t read if you’re squeamish):

Kick them in the knee. If their leg is straight, a blow to the front of the knee can do some damage (this will not work if it’s bent, because kneecaps exist); a better idea is to kick it from the side.

Take the heel of your hand and strike it sharply upward against the bottom of their chin. This will snap their neck backwards. That hurts people. The neck is not supposed to move that fast in that direction.

Punch them in the throat. The throat is soft and they use it for     breathing. If they can’t breathe, they can’t chase you.

• Make one hand into a fist and place it into the palm of your other hand. Then, using your hips (not your torso – this is a very grounded move) to create momentum, thrust your elbow as hard as you can into their ribs. Your elbow is sharp and ribs are surprisingly weak to sharp, fast-moving objects.

Poke them in the eyes. This is best if followed up by a previously mentioned move. Things hurt more when you can’t see and don’t expect them.

Punch them in the solar plexus. This is between the belly button and the ribcage; to find it, take your fingers and give sharp taps to that area until you feel like a harder hit would leave you breathless. That’s where your solar plexus is. That’s where their solar plexus is. When people talk about “getting the breath knocked out of them,” that’s what’s been affected. If you do it right, it will take them long enough to be able to breathe again that you’ll have time to run away.

Speaking of running away, that’s where part 3 comes in – depart. In sparring sessions, my partners would fake distracting and disabling me, and then they would just stand there. Our dojo had a rule – if they’re still standing there after three seconds, the person playing the assailant gets to grab them and try again. Even though we practiced self-defense almost every class, this kept happening, so I’m going to stress it again: hurt them until they are on the ground and then GTFO. Don’t stand around and admire your handiwork, or move two feet away and call the police. Run until you’re around other people or somewhere you can lock a door or something, and then call for help. If they really want to hurt you, they may very well not let something like a broken nose or a crushed  foot stop them from coming after you again if you’re still in their vicinity. The end goal of this entire process is for you to get away from them, so please, don’t forget to do that if you ever find yourself in a situation like this.

Whew, okay – that was a lot of being serious from someone who is not used to being serious! But, seriously – self-defense is a very important skill for both men and women to have, and I don’t think enough people know how they would protect themselves in a situation that required it. So be loud and listen to your body, everyone, and hope that you never have a reason to use the skills I’ve taught you today.

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