Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Self-Defense Topics

Last week, I took my daughter to the hairdresser. I sat reading magazines while my daughter described the haircut she wanted in detail to the salon owner. My daughter has beautiful thick, shoulder length, wavy, dark brown hair. She usually requests her hair to be chin length, super straight and blond. The salon owner and I have explained on numerous occasions that she is not getting her hair dyed blond at the ripe old age of ten. However, at this appointment she requested side bangs and curls. Thank goodness!

Amid the discussion of hairstyles, the salon owner’s daughter came in and sat down next to me. She asked me if I would be willing to teach private self-defense lessons. I told her that I would and asked her what was going on. The salon owner’s daughter informed me that she would be spending the next college semester abroad. She explained that she would be living with a host family. She knew that she would be traveling and site seeing alone and wanted to learn self-defense.

We set up our first session and I explained that we would start with basic techniques. Whenever I teach private self-defense lessons, I ask the person to make a list of topics or situations that they want to address. Often times the individual requesting has very specific concerns and techniques in mind. I have taught three-hour women’s self-defense sessions, which cover prevention, awareness and basic techniques. I teach self-defense as part of the dojo curriculum. I am preparing for her sessions. I know she has a limited amount of time to learn and practice before she travels abroad.

So…I want to make a list.

What do you think are the most important topics to cover? If you were to request one technique, what would it be? As an instructor, what techniques would you always teach?


Patrick Parker said...

The technical basis of any self-defense class I'd teach would be:

1: step off the line of attack, put your hands on them, and push yourself back away from them to get away.

2) if you can't get away using 1 above, short palm jabs under the chin synchronized with marching steps forward through them (until you can push back and run away)

the rest of any self-defense class would be situational.

Pete said...

Most important thing I'd try to teach is the state of mind. She's "allowed" to bite their throat or whatever is available, claw their eyeballs out, hit their groin, break their eardrums, etc. If her well-being is threatened, she's got to feel like she can do whatever it takes to get away.

To me, that is going to be the most useful thing she can learn, especially in a limited amount of time.

Sue C said...

If it were me and I'd done no self-defense training before I'd want to know what is the very first thing I should do once I felt under threat/attack. It's hesitancy and 'freezing' that lose you valuable time.

John W. Zimmer said...

It depends on how many classes you can teach. If you have more time you can teach more kicks, strikes, distance, suprise and such.

For very short term classes - teaching palms, clapping the ears, eye gouges, snap-kick and rear-heel kick to groin is a lot to cover but try.

As Pat said keeping your distance is a good concept too... all you can hope for is to create a distraction and get away... if you can teach that - you have done your part.

Urban Samurai said...

I agree with John. Teach some distractions and tell her to always look for an escape. If she can't escape teach her to kick, especially in the groin or side of the knee, then run. Basic strikes are all you can really do at this stage, that and learning to control the distance. Also, as one of your other commentators mentioned, attitude is very important. She mustn't hesitate about hurting someone if they are trying to do the same to her. talk to her as well about the fight or flight syndrome so she can expect the adrenaline rush and doesn't freeze. It's a difficult thing to teach in a short time. Just keep it very basic, that's all you can do.

Hack Shaft said...

#1: Awareness. Begin teaching them not to be a target to begin with; leave the purse at home when out alone, take only minimal ID and cash needed for the day, don't pack a fat wallet, be aware of your surroundings, think about escape paths if an area seems risky.

#2: Physics. If someone is coming at you, it's much easier to 'help them' continue moving in the direction they're going than to check a punch or kick.

#3: Targets. Body shots are, practically speaking, useless. Eyes, nose, ears, groin, feet, knees. My school emphasizes 3 things: Take away the attackers ability to see, breathe, or walk, and you improve your odds tremendously.

#4: Escape. Create windows of opportunity to get away as soon as possible, then GO!

Anonymous said...

Hello Michele. I hope that you would have your own effective system of teaching Self-defense, in the next period and your experience will be welcome to many colleagues.
In my dojo I do not have a special course for self-defense and the previous comments provide a solid basis for thinking about the creation of an adequate rate for self-defense. For this purpose, I would certainly included the ideas of post on “women and self-defense” by Felicia, which was published in May 2009. (http://bushidoroad.blogspot.com/2009/05/on-women-and-self-defense.html)
In any case, in addition to a solid basis for the beginning of the program, it is a permanent exchange of experiences with colleagues who are seriously engaged in this special part of martial arts.

Michele said...

Thank you for the excellent comments. The first self-defense session went very well. The student has a good attitude toward prevention and awareness. She also has a good mind set about using the techniques she is learning.

Whenever we teach private self-defense lessons, we ask the student what situations concern them the most. It has been our experience that the first topics self-defense students want to address is being grabbed from behind or being pulled into a vehicle. The current student's initial concern was being attacked with a knife.

As Patrick pointed out...a self-defense class is situational.

Thanks again for your comments!

KenkakuKnight said...

How to fight in street clothes. She's going to be studying abroad for an extended amount of time. It stands to reason that at least once during that time, she'll be compelled to enjoy herself in the current locale's night life. Doing self defense techniques in sweats or a karategi is very different from doing the same moves in a skirt and heels. It's not must a difference in mechanics (restricted movements) but psychologically. I know of one woman black belt who, when practicing in a old skirt, didn't kick as high, pulled her legs under her when she fell, and other subconscious acts for modesty's sake.

Michele said...

KenkakunKnight: Thank you for visiting and adding to the discussion. You make an excellent point. We have "street clothes" sessions every once in a while in the dojo.

Interesting story about the female black belt.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with the general emphasis put on awareness: if you spot potentially dangerous situations you can avoid them thus eliminating the need to use physical techniques which always carry inherent risks, especially for a barely trained individual. What I would do if I were to teach a basic self-defense course is a) let them practice a few basic techniques (palmheel, groinkick, fingerstrike, elbow and knee) on focus-mitts or kicking-shields, b) focus on a few of the most common attacks and drill defenses against them over and over and c) try to streamline the defense so as to make it as universal as possible. Allow me to elaborate on that: there simply is not substitute for impact-training and ineffective strikes are completely useless and very dangerous since they’ll antagonize the attacker even further. It’s better to teach them how to handle a few of the most common situations than to overwhelm them with countless attacks & defenses which they won’t remember anyway. Emphasize principles (evade, parry, counterattack and run) over specific techniques and keep it as simple as possible. My recepy for a sort of ‘universal defense’ would be palmheel to the face, grab and knee (repeat if necessary), finishing with elbows. Kicks to the groin are very effective but if he grabs you they can be counterproductive since you may very well be pulled of balance while trying to kick.

The last place you want to be is on the ground with your attacker still standing or sitting on you, ground-fighting is inherently difficult (you’ll have less room to maneuver, strength and size play a major role) and very dangerous, in my opinion this is not something that can be effectively taught in a self-defense course. There are just too many possibilities and it’s a whole new range with its own rules and do’s and dont’s. Better refrain and try to teach them how to retain their balance and get away while still standing. If they do end up on the ground about the only thing you could teach in that format is to go for the eyes and kick the legs (again emphasizing principles over technique), nothing more. In a paraphrase on Frederick the Great: he who teaches every range teaches no range. With very limited time you can’t afford to brush over every range or possibility since you’ll only clutter the students’ minds and give them no useful tools to work with. It’s better they get reasonably good at a few things than bad at many.

For self-defense the most important thing is aggression and the will to survive no matter what: relentless attacks directing toward the vital targets will give even the most determined attacker pause and this in turn creates the opportunity to run or call attention to your plight. Turning up the aggression-level can be trained using the imagination (someone is out to rape you, kill you or hit your child) and by kicking and punching pads full-power.

I would never teach someone to ‘push back' of their attacker and run: always hit first and when he’s stunned then you can run, not before. If you try the pushing-approach you’ll have done nothing to delay the attacker and he’ll just come after you again, inexperienced people will more often than not present their back to the attacker which is suicide in any serious fight since you’ll have no defense whatsoever. This reminds me of countless horror-movies were people panic and run away from the bad guy instead of offering resistance (the classic takedown on the stairs, followed by a stab in the leg or back) invariably getting killed because of it. I’m sorry Patrick but this is not a good approach, I liked your second option with the palmheel under the chin though. Violence can only be countered by violence or at least the threat of counter-violence, this is a basic truth in self-defense and those who claim otherwise don’t know what they’re talking about.

Anonymous said...

As to your question: for a man I’d pick the classic punch to the face, for a woman the choke from the front. If I could pick two more techniques it would be a hook to the head for men and the bearhug from the rear for women. Men are far more likely to be attacked by other men who’ll use their fists more often than not. Women are very likely to be attacked by men (bigger, stronger than they are) who’ll most likely use some sort of grabbing-attack to gain compliance or take them to another location.

Interesting post generating lots of useful advice and discussion.

Good job,


PS: I very much liked the suggestion to train in street-clothing. I’d like to add the suggestion of training outdoors and in the street whenever possible to make the whole experience as realistic as possible. Having loud music in the background (simulating being in a bar of disco) is a good idea too, as is training in small spaces. I’d even add a training-session while under the influence of alcohol although this might be a bit too extreme or even dangerous. Still, lots of people get attacked going out while tipsy. In any case being drunk can be simulated (to some degree at least) by spinning someone around as fast as possible, this will cause disorientation and loss of balance. You’ll find this very much compromises your defense, this is the reason why I never go out if I’m too drunk.

Techguru said...

How to defeat him mentally