Under: Self-defense
4 Feb 2012


I have fond memories of kids trying to look mean when starting a fights. They would first call someone out and then they would get into some form of a stance with the mean look to intimidate the other kid. Well I have even seen kids run home to put on a gi or boxing shorts. Then there was the kids that would scratch a line in the dirt and dare the other kid to step across the line.


When the kids grew up they realized that all of the beginning antics were of no use. It did not make any difference what stance you picked, how mean you looked or what you wore before a fight. All that mattered is how got in the first good strike.


Well in this post I am going to talk about self defense stances that will not only surprise your attacker but may surprise you?


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The guy in the video has the right idea but I would like to throw some more ideas at you. Suppose you don’t know how to fight – what would your ready stance look like? I’m am guessing backing away if possible, ready to run. So the guy in the video seems to be ready from a MMA, Muay Thai or Kick Boxing perspective (sport stance that ignores groin shots) but in reality he is totally open. But having said that – you cannot be ready for everything.


Backing up stances are supposed to give one a good foundation or mobility to launch your attack/counter-attack in a fight. Poor stances many times can lead to losing a fight. Much the same can be said of footwork or any other fighting skill set.


Keep in mind as we talk about stances for self defense:

  • distance – the space you or your attacker can strike
  • initial movement – isolating the beginning of any strike to just the striking point and letting the body follow after (to actually hit something)
  • reaction time – the amount of time it takes to react after you first see movement
  • telegraphing – giving away the strike before you have to (allowing the other person to see what is happening before it is too late)
  • surprise – doing something that your opponent does not expect

So if someone agressively walks toward you – you have a few choices:

  • diffuse the situation before he enters your critical distance
  • move away before he enters your critical distance
  • attack as he enters your critical distance
  • do nothing and hope for the best

What I suggest is to use surprise to not telegraph if you have to defend yourself. Firstly you should try to diffuse the situation by talking to him. Maybe say hey what’s up man? Stay back and lets talk about this? Taking a strategy like this might allow you to get out of a fight. Be careful to back away as you have to all the while not getting into any kind of stance.


You may not be able to diffuse the conflict and then you are left with doing nothing (may people chose this – they don’t think they can defend themselves). If you freeze and allow yourself to be hit – you are in reality putting yourself on the attackers mercy by default.


You can run and if you are in fair shape – this is a good option. Let the police deal with it. They have tasers, guns, batons, dogs, and help.


You can fight back when the guy gets too close but before we do that – lets talk about stances.


When I was a kid a guy asked me what I would do to him if he tried to attack. I was standing with my feet together and my hands were at my side. He got into a rear-horse stance with a couple of knife hands at the ready as well a yelled a good Kai!!!


I calmly lifted my knee and struck him in the shin of his forward leg. He went down fast.


why had I not gotten into a stance? I had no formal karate education at that point but read Bruce Tegner’s books about how important surprise was as a defensive strategy.


So here is what I suggest if someone advances on your threateningly – calmly step back while trying to diffuse the situation. Tell him to back off if that does not work. Be prepared to run or attack without getting into ANY stance. If he gets into your critical distance you have only two good choices – run or fight.


If you fight – surprise him without telegraphing by employing initial movement. The first guy/gal to land the blow will win the fight if follow through or at least get away if you don’t think you can win.


Strike the groin, throat, or any other open target. Remember this is not you starting the altercation but you want to be on the wining side of the finish. This is not grade school where there are any rules other than ethically, legally, and morally you should not do any more than you need to do to get away.


You see if you had gotten into a good stance – the attacker who might have some training – might jump into his own stance and make it harder for you to defend yourself. I once had a guy get real mad at me – telling me he was going to kick my butt. I was in a situation where I could not let he do what he was trying to do at any cost. So I put my hands in my pockets and talked soothingly until he put his hands down. Then I knocked him out! Why should I have fought him toe to toe when a bit of stealth worked just as good? :)


So I guess what I am saying is you have a right to defend yourself but please do not be stupid too! Do not look the part but rather do everything you can to get out of the fight but if you have to fight – don’t fight fair – there is no such thing. Just don’t go overboard once you get the advantage.


So my final thoughts are do not get into a stance initially or you will lose the element of surprise. Sometimes surprise is the only edge you will have in a fight. Don’t give it away Grasshopper but expect the unexpected.


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7 Responses to “Self Defense Stances; Surprise Your Attacker!”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    Another excellent thought out piece, John! When I read the first page and watched the video, which I liked, I did think maybe hold up one hand, and have the other a little lower to protect the groin if the attacker went there without warning. I was reminded of one evening when I left a woman’s apartment late at night only to be met by her “boyfriend” who I had known nothing about!
    I managed to avoid a fight, but I stayed very alert until we went our separate ways :-)
    Dr. J recently posted..Lab Notes: Young and Depressed: More Likely Bullied; Broken Heart Syndrome Is RealMy Profile

  2. Matt Klein Says:

    Enjoyed the post, John. Guy in first video makes some good points, he is side-on, protecting the center line. Even though a groin shot could be open, it could be blocked by turning hips/legs slightly. Most likely an attacker will strike to the face, which he is protecting by building his “fence” with his palms facing the opponent. This is the classic “I don’t want any trouble” stance, but can be quickly turned into a palm heel to the nose/chin, or a half-fist/eye poke.

    Like you say, stay calm and try to diffuse the situation. Your voice is your best weapon in most cases. Do not let your opponent engage your ego/pride, and don’t force his hand by insulting his (or hers).

    I would only strike first if I knew an attack was coming or if I was outnumbered and needed to escape, but do agree that getting the first good shot in is a big advantage.
    Matt Klein recently posted..Injured Martial Arts Instructor | Looking at the Bright SideMy Profile

  3. Stephen Del Castillo Says:

    Great Post! Thought I might weigh in with some supportive comments. All martial arts training is good training – but only if it’s realistic training. I have studied many systems over the last 30 years and hold several black belts. It’s my personal opinion that although each style has much to offer, Krav Maga is the ultimate fighting system. Here’s why I believe this – Krav Maga is both easy to learn and devastating in its application – because there’s only 1 rule to learn … which is that there are no rules – except perhaps to get home safely. Moreover, to be effective, I teach my students (1) to know their limitations (everyone’s Krav is slightly different) (2) to know how to avoid trouble to begin with (per the comments on being alert) and (3) how to escape. If your interested in learning more, please visit with me at http://www.kmmaglobal.com …. meanwhile, thanks for allowing me to share. Regards, Shihan Stephen Del Castillo

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Dr J! I love the context! Wow what a way to discover the other guy. Once a fight digresses to actual combat – I’m more of a side stance kind of guy because most people just do not understand what a hard side kick can do. It also keeps them off of me while I have time to figure out their openings. :)

    Hey Matt! I once went to the point of leaving myself open because I had evaluated the guy would not take action unless I was aggressive. That worked out ok but was not ideal. I had the advantage of knowing his buddie – a former heavyweight contender in boxing in the 80’s.

    Anyway whatever happened – I was at the height of my prime and could have taken a couple of shots from almost anyone at the time. NOT a good strategy for most. :)

    Hey Stephen! While I agree that Krav Maga is as good as any system – I don’t think the system is as important as the fighter. I used to fight open tourneys and saw elite fighters of every style.

    More to the point – a world contender of any style can take 99.5% of all fighters. What I mean is a great Judoist or Boxer can take most of the average MMA or Thai Kickboxers just as the great MMA or Muai Thai Kickboxers can take most of the average Judoists or Boxers. This is assuming no rules on the street.

    The thing about champions is they think outside of the box and are the elite of their chosen martial art. They can easily overcome new situations – they are true masters.

    I guess we will have to disagree on any style having an edge. Thanks for your points though. :)

  5. TheMartialArtsReporter Says:

    Why do keep on reminding of me of my yesteryears? 😉
    John, I also happen to have found the side stance with a powerful side kick to be very effective during my Shotokan karate years.
    Later on, I would apply more of what Matt described as “I don’t want any trouble” stance. Hmmm.
    Great post that got me thinking.
    TheMartialArtsReporter recently posted..Antonio Graceffo a.k.a. Brooklyn Monk Is The Martial Arts GlobetrotterMy Profile

  6. Rick Saxby Says:

    This is awesome and hilarious but oh so true. I love that part at the end were you said you put your hands in your pockets to get the guy to put his guard down, then BAM! Very true, don’t lose the element of surprise.
    Rick Saxby recently posted..Act of ValorMy Profile

  7. Zara Says:

    What I would do if someone got aggressive is a) step back in a non-threatening posture (modified fighting stance with hands open and the front foot slightly twisted inward to protect the groin: this is not an agressive, obvious or formal stance) and b) verbal de-escalation. My goal in self-defense is (in order of importance): 1) protect myself from harm and b) make sure I don’t end up with a criminal record and jail-time. Like I stated before on this blog the law here is pretty strict when it comes to SD so I wouldn’t attack first unless he’s really big or he has friends. When he’s winding up for a strike I’ll try to get my kick or punch in first but in the eyes of onlookers I want there to be no doubt as to who started to fight and hence who’s responsible (morally and legally). I don’t want to go to jail because some drunken fool or scumbag tries to get funny although strategicall speaking pre-emptive strikes are great (get him before he gets you; stop hit/kick tactic in JKD) and your best bet at victory.

    In summarizing: I want to avoid the suckerpunch (him getting too close for me to defend properly) and if I really must I’ll take the initiative (e.g you find yourself backed into a corner) but for me there are other considerations than victory alone. First I’ll back off and try to talk him down, if that doesn’t work I’ll blast in as soon as he makes a move but not before, unless the conditions mentioned before were present.

    As to the hands in the pocket situation: it’s great that it worked and clearly much depends on a correct assesment of the situation (yours was obviously on the mark) but to me it does seem rather risky in the sense that the moment you lower your hands he has a free line to your face.