Under: Self-defense
30 Apr 2011


I remember as a small boy wondering if I could ever fend off masked attackers that jumped me in the dark of the night. Kids have active imaginations and I was no exception. I ran through scenarios in my head and decided that my best chance was to become a superhero (with a costume and all)! At the slightest hint of trouble I would retreat to a phone booth (where no one would witness my secret identity) and presto/chango into my super garb!


Let me just say that did not go well for me and luckily I never did run into any bad guys. But I did believe for some reason that I could do something to improve my chances if I ever had to to fight crazed ninjas! I started to read self defense books and sent away for manuals from obsucre masked Kung Fu masters who would be put to death if the other masters ever discovered their secret identity!


I soon was practicing how to throw kicks and punches and even learned how to yell! I learned some tricks with leverage that my friends did not know, so I was confident and started bragging to my friends. They did not really believe me so as I was walking by the 5th grade class of the current Duke of the school, I slammed my fist into my hand while staring at the Duke! He of course slammed his fist into his hand and the challenge had been made and accepted for that day after school!


More on that challenge match later and my learning exeprence but in this post I will explore does self defense work? Since I’ve been blogging I’ve read a lot of websites that purported to have the answer! Yes everyone is an expert when it comes to doling out advice and telling you what to do incase you are attacked! But is this a realistice view? I mean because one guy/gal running a blog says it is so – does that mean (even if it is so for him/her) that it is so for you?


Here is a quick video I found on self defense scenarios as one example of the stuff out there. Read on to hear my opinions on self defense and does it work or the better question is can it be made to work for you?


 

 

 

First off did you notice that the victim always saw the guy attacking? Do you think that is realistic? I liked some of the self defense moves in this video but I think they would only work if the attacker was inept. What?

 

Self Defense is meant to be used as a last resort thing. There are laws that govern behavior that should preclude most attacks or we would all have many weapons with us at all times. So attacks are not that common for most people.

 

The first part of martial arts should be awareness – way before one finds herself in a bad situation. I mean once you are attacked – self defense is kind of like a Hail Mary pass at a football game. Not all that likely to work but something to try.

 

What? I a lifelong martial artist thinks that self defense is NOT the panacea to end all evils and right all wrongs! Why?

 

Anyone can kill anyone else at any time and the victim cannot do much about it if there is no warning. People can smack you over the head when you are not looking. They can stab you from behind when you are not aware. They can probably poison your drink at a club and you would not be the wiser.

 

I’m not mentioning this out to scare anyone but rather I am pointing out a seemingly missing component to self-defense.

 

AWARENESS

 

Awareness along with avoidance, common sense, de-escalation techniques, running away, non-lethal weapons, big dogs, good locks on your doors, and so on can keep a guy safe most of the time.

 

Sorry for all of the doom and gloom but I want to get you into the right frame of mind. This post is about making self defense work so I’ll point out some ways to improve your chances.

 

I have always said fighting is fighting. I mean this is the technical sense of the word and not any legal or social context. If at all possible keep you wits about you and don’t let any threatening people near you. I realize this is not always possible but be aware of critical distance.

 

Critical distance is how far someone can kick, punch, or stab you. If someone you don’t know and you view as a possible threat, tries to get inside your critical distance – you should warn them off while backing away!

 



Yes yell at them that you and he are not buddies and to back off. That puts him on notice that to move in will be a threatening move and lets you know what his real intentions are.

 

Why is this important? Because if a bad guy gets close to you and is a good fighter/mugger/killer – he can take you out before you can do anything about it.

 

Have you ever seen a movie where the good guy if fighting with the bad guy and gets konked over the head with a heavy object? Or the bad guy gets the drop on him and smacks him with a barrage of punches?

 

Here is the deal – in real life and assuming you are not a top level, highly trained boxer, jiu-jitsu, judo, mma, muay thai, kick boxer, karate  wrestler – my guess is you cannot take the first good blow! I mean if someone gets the drop on you – that is it. You have lost! Whatever the stakes are – you are done for!

 

In real life the first guy to connect with a good strike, kick, stab or such only has to mercilessly continue the attack to win!

 

In real life all of the “experts” that say if a guy does this – do that when the attack is coming from inside your critical distance –  that will only work if your attacker is inept!

 

What do I mean by inept? Critical distance is only one part of the puzzle here. There is also initial movement to consider. Do you remember those old cowboy movie bar fights? Those cowboys used to pull their arms way back (to get more power) before punching. The problem is the other guy saw the punches coming.

 

Initial movement is when you start the hand or foot an instant before you move the body (isolation the initial movement makes it almost impossible for the other guy to see before he cannot do anything about it).

 

If I am standing next to someone, inside her critical distance – I could strike her before she would react! She could also stab me before I could react too! 

 

Inside the critical distance the first one to move and follow up wins in most situations unless the receiving guy/gal is a highly trained fighter!

 

Luckily most attackers while strong with surpirse on their side – are inept. But banking on the ineptness of an attacker is NOT a strategy I want to depend on.

 

So looking at this video (and many more like this). you can see trying these self defense moves is good as a last resort but not optimal. A better video I think would be if the victim noticed the bad guy a little farther away. He would have had the time to run away or warn the guy off BEFORE he got close enough to do damage.

 

So now you know what I think of self defense techniques. I think the same of them as I do learning basic blocks. I think of them as a fall back position in case EVERYTHING else I tried did not work.

 

So how did my very misguided challenge match with the Duke of the 5th grade go? We met off of school grounds and the first thing he said to me was, “Don’t do any of those sisy girl kicks or chops – lets fight fair.” And I went for it with all of my supporters that believed in my ancient martial arts skills around me (you see even back then I could talk a good fight). :mrgreen:

 

The Duke charged and then body slammed me into his front lawn. He was going to make my face hamburger but realized that I did not throw one of those “sisy” kicks and he started body slamming me with he chest/shoulder, hips in an effort to knock the wind out of me. His mother happened to come home and yelled at the Duke to quit – went inside the house.

 

The spectators had left and there was only me and the Duke. He said he was getting in trouble anyway and had nothing to lose – either I gave up or he was going to make hamburger face for me. I gave up.

 

The moral of this story is not that mail order martial arts did not work but rather I did not understand what martial arts were all about. I thought it was about fighting!

 

Martial arts are about restraint. A way of being prepared. A way of life. If you want to learn how to fight, go for some type of sport fighting. You will have have fun and get into great shape but you can also train in the martial arts to learn respect for life and the people around you.

 

AND you can learn some self defense moves that do work! :)


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13 Responses to “Does Self Defense work? Can YOU Improve YOUR Odds?!!!”

  1. Jack Says:

    It is very important for everyone to learn some sort of self defense. Many people I know, including myself, have gotten their concealed gun permit. Though it would be horrible to ever have to use it! There are less lethal weapons to defend yourself like a Taser Gun or a Stun Gun or Pepper Spray. Although it is even better to learn close quarters combat to use in combination with a defense weapon!
    You might not always have time to get to your weapon! So it is a good idea to learn to defend without one, also it will give you the skills to hold an attacker at bay so you can draw your weapon! Unfortunately, we live in a world with violent crime growing everyday. So, I like your website, I like what you have to say. Keep up the good work! And everyone else please learn to defend yourself. Get yourself something to carry just in case. You’ll never need it UNTIL YOU NEED IT!
    Regards, Master Jack Eastman

  2. Dr. J Says:

    You are a wonderful story teller and writer, John!

    The first resident I ever trained was the unfortunate recipient of being hit on the head from behind in a public bathroom! He survived, barely, but will never practice or be the same again. It is such a waste!

    A friend was visiting yesterday and has motorcycled all over the US and Canada. His “weapon” of choice is a flare pistol. Looking at the action end of that 12 gauge, I would back off :-)

  3. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Master Jack,

    Totally with you – non lethal weapons are/can be part of any good strategy. I endorse a layered defense kind of like an onion such as awareness, avoidance, running, weapons, self-defense, faking or even acting crazy – whatever it takes to get a momentary advantage to get away. Thanks for commenting.

    Hi Dr. J!

    Sorry to hear about your resident. I like the flare pistol idea.

    One time my girlfriend (now my wife) was helping me move back to San Diego and we stopped at a rest stop south of San Onofre. We both had to take a pit stop but I quickly noticed a guy lurking near the rest room after leaving it before I got there.

    I asked my girl friend to go into the ladies restroom while I did so I would not have to worry about her – then tried to use the mens room.

    He followed me in and we lined up at the urinals. I quickly got a bashful kidney while I was keeping an eye on the weirdo. I quickly back away from the urinal as I realized he was going to try something – keeping my side to the guy at all times and trying to act non-chantilly.

    I did not give him a chance to blind-side me as I left the bathroom. I quickly gathered my girlfriend and kept near the crowds of people.

    Just because I could tear the guy a new a** h*l* did not mean I wanted to do it. We managed to become poor targets as the guy was probably broke and needed to rob someone. That night it was not me. While I’m confident if I was aware of him he would have lost – if I had not noticed him – I would have lost no matter how many degrees my black belt is!!!!

    One thing I’ve hopefully learned is when someone is acting weird or the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – I take notice and action – whatever it takes. It kept me safe while working two years as a bouncer… but it is not good to push your luck.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Dr. J.

  4. SueC Says:

    Great article John- very balanced and very informative. I’ve learnt a lot here both about you and self defence :-)
    SueC recently posted..Happiness isbeing a modern day SamuraiMy Profile

  5. Jamie Hayward Says:

    Great post. Someone asked me the very same thing the other day. As you mention, it’s a good question, as it’s impossible to prepare fully for every situation. You just hope that the thin sliver of knowledge that you have gained is enough to give you the edge needed in a self-defence situation. Plus having that knowledge can also help you avoid dangerous situations altogether.

  6. Matt Klein Says:

    Liked this thought-provoking article John. For me the two most important elements for self defense. Like you say, awareness is supremely important. Walking down the street, iPod on, head looking down while texting. There goes two of your senses–are you going to smell the crim now?

    The second, a willingness to put the hurt on your opponent. I have seen untrained kids kick an attacker in the groin or punch them in the face, then get away. And I’ve seen trained martial artists freeze up and do nothing. Some people do not have the killer instinct. It needs to be brought to the surface.

    Agree that some of these techniques in the video, look dodgy for self defense. Others might work if the defender has the right attitude. I can just picture you out on the roof with your Batman outfit on John, getting ready to save Gotham City. The little kid next door to me did just that, jumped off the roof, spread his little bat wings, and promptly dropped to the ground and broke his arm. That wasn’t you, was it John?
    Matt Klein recently posted..Happy Birthday to Kids Karate Sensei Who Inspires MeMy Profile

  7. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Sue! Thanks for saying that. I guess a bit of me comes out in my writing. :)

    Hi Jamie! Yep I agree. Prepare and then work the plan as best as you can. I used to tell students that stopped half way through a technique when they messed up – why stop… in the street you have to just muddle through.

    Hi Matt! I’ve often thought what we used to call fighting spirit. The unknown part of what drives someone to push themselves and “put the hurt on your opponent.” While I agree that cannot be taught I do think a good instructor can help a student find their motivation much like acting classes can do it for actors.

  8. Pete K Says:

    Great article and great comments. As most have mentioned awareness is the most important form of self defense. In fact your story regarding the “pit stop” incident clearly illustrates the need for awareness. The second phase of self defense is avoidence. And again your story described how you were able to avoid an altercation.

    Everyone needs to be more alert rather than distracted with the various forms of communication and entertainment.

    Thanks,
    Pete
    Pete K recently posted..Simple And Effective Self-Defense Techniques If An Attacker Grabs YouMy Profile

  9. Jacob Says:

    You have a great website. I’ve been researching Kenpo, thinking that I might give it a try. The main reason is that I like the fact that all of the self defense techniques are spelled out. As opposed to other forms of karate where the kata are totally up to interpretation and the original intent is unknown.

    So, now I learn through you site that perhaps the self defense techniques are not all that important because they are unlikely to work in a real situation due to intial movement, etc that you describe. Am I misunderstanding your position? Does this mean that people would be better off taking a more sports focused martial art like Tae kwan Do?

    I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but I’ve read a lot of your articles and value your opinion.

  10. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Pete, Very true about alertness. It is tough to be aware of the need to be alert before one had been in a pickle. But it is better to state the obvious over and over again so some if it sticks! :)

    Hi Jacob, Firstly the style does not make as much difference as how you learn from your instructors. It is true that I’ve picked up a lot how I came up but others probably learned differently and are very skilled.

    So let me try to put this in a high-level overview – I would not trade how I learned for anything. Each step I mastered contributed to my overall understanding of karate.

    One has to learn to crawl before walking, walk be for running, run before winning a race so each skill cumulatively contributes to the whole experience.

    When I started karate in jr. high school I attended a club. I learned stances, how to walk and transition stances, basic blocks and punches. To this day those building blocks help me.

    While sparring I understand when to attack when the other guy is changing stances improperly (give me a momentary advantage).

    One time in a bar I had a guy throwing drinks at me. I got a warning to watch out and was able to throw up double inward blocks – that allowed the glasses to shatter on my arms and not on my face.

    When sparring at times I still throw series of punches with the old-fashion push/pull motion for power and snap instead of boxing style or kumite style punchs (not always but I am able to get power as a change up).

    As far as techniques… in my style of kenpo I learned 17 kata and 240 self defense techniques and as you say they are very spelled out.

    I learned how to throw effective elbows and knees way before I ever heard of muay thai even through I’ve never been able to spar with those moves.

    I have thrown elbows and knees in the many fights I was in as a bouncer for two years. Let me say they work fine.

    Would I trade learning techniques now if I could go back in time? NO! Even though it was tedious learning full techniques that one would never use (unless that situation called for it) – I did train my body how to move and use itself as a weapon.

    One good kenpo movie is called the perfect weapon… many of the fighting sequences are bits and pieces of techniques Jeff Speakman used were actual kenpo BUT put together how they made sense! Just as he was able to use improvised weapons.

    As I am a master of kenpo (5th dan) I do not have to think as I am fighting but rather see what the opponent is open for and use it. Back when I was fighting at the bar and applies for a police job, the panel asked me in the interview after learning that I had been in a lot of fights using karate, asked me how I knocked people out.

    I answered them, “whatever they were open for, a hand or foot, body or head shot – it made no difference.”

    Specifically to answer your question about techniques – I think basics, kata and techniques are for beginners and intermediate students – so they will learn optimum ways to move.

    In a real fight however you will take the benefit of all of your experience and practice alertness, avoidance, and if you have to fight back while you have an advantage because if you do get to the point of letting the other guy get next to you when he attacks – the only way you will win is if he does not know what he is doing.

    I stand by this statement. Most bad guys do not know what they are doing but most sage fighters (have trained and don’t mess around) can take advantage of the others mistakes because of they lifetime of training.

    So to put it in a nutshell – find a teacher you like and can learn from and go for it. The style does not make much difference so long as your are learning continually.

    The reason I started and stuck with Tracy’s Karate is my instructor saw what other instructors taught me but also say and heard my questions of how to put it together in a fight. Strategy is everything. You have to have a game plan. Learning some cool kicks and punches are meaningless unless you can figure out how to win your fight.

    So good luck with your training Jacob!

  11. Thor Securitys Says:

    i really like your post. Most people think that what they see in a video is what will happen if they try it. they go out and act all tough then they find out the truth. It doesnt mean that the techniques they saw doesn’t work but that they just didn’t have enough experience or common sense lol.

    When you learn techniques especially when the person teaching you does a 10 hit combo people think that you have to do it the same way. NO, you learn the combo but you also have to practice so you know what punch to throw and when to throw it. In a real fight your opponent will never be in the same position and angle that the person you practice on will be, which by that i mean standing still and letting you hit him lol.

    Well i’m starting a self defense blog but i don’t write as much information as you do. i basically give my opinion on a technique and see what other peoples opinions are. Check it out and leave your own thought on certain techniques. Heres my blog “Thorsecuritys”
    Thor Securitys recently posted..Krav Maga Self Defense Techniques : Chokes & Bear HugMy Profile

  12. Jack Says:

    Being a Krav Maga Practitioner.

    I can only say for me, practicing any form of martial arts gives you a sense of ease when walking through the world. You know how to protect yourself. You are not living in fear. If the opportunity arises you know what to do..

    I believe this sense of ease passes through all areas of one’s life.

  13. Alamance County Martial Arts Says:

    I request more people would write sites like this that are as a matter of fact constructive to read. it is rare to look over a position like yours instead great work …good point all together