Overlooked Self-Defense Elements 6: Physical Skills

This is part six of a series of articles where I look at the elements needed for a self-defense or self-protection course to be of real use. In a previous article I listed the required elements as follows:

Physical Skills

The least important element is the most taught (and poorly taught at that).

The physical skills are what you need after everything else has gone wrong. This is where many people who sign up for self-defense classes make their first mistake. All that has been discussed on the previous articles, especially the first four, are the most important information. The information found there is going to be given only the most cursory treatment in a standard self-defense class. They may mention, for example, how important awareness is to personal safety. Then they just might discuss avoiding certain places (and classify that as avoidance), but there will not be much more than a scratching-the-surface type of treatment for either topic. De-escalation is so rarely considered that it is not even touched upon in most standard self-defense courses.

I feel so strongly about this that I am severely tempted to leave this article at that. A strong recommendation to go back and re-read the previous material and visit the recommended websites and books.

But I must give something. I do have people reading this who are not instructors, but are beginners in the martial arts, and they need a full treatment of the subject.

When we take all of the previous information into full consideration, we see that something other than the standard “what to do if someone grabs your wrist” is needed. That falls back on the “one response for one attack” list of techniques, and that will never do. We need to train in something a lot more practical.

You need to train for the common ways that a person will probably attack you. As stated quite clearly by Marc MacYoung, “If you train for what happens most, you’ll be able to handle most of what happens.”

In our current era, everyone and their brother thinks that they are the UFC champ. If you watch a lot of MMA, then you will see most of what they think they can do to you. Speaking in simple terms, they will try to kick you or punch you (or both), they will get close and grab or tackle you. From there they will strike, choke or attempt to joint lock you.  

Put simply, the physical techniques you need to train for are as follows (from Marc MacYoung)

  1. Straight line attacks
  2. Circular Attacks
  3. Take-downs
  4. Chokes and locks

When approached honestly, the list doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this.

In truth, there is no need to separate kicks from hand strikes when they both so easily fit into the categories of straight and circular striking attacks. So if you train to handle straight and circular attacks, you are training against kicks and hand strikes. Take-downs come in many varieties, but most of what you will see is a double-leg takedown (a “spear” for you pro wrestling fans), and a run of the mill football tackle. It would not be necessary in a self-protection class to learn the takedowns, as that turns you into the aggressor, and so you are not at that point acting in self-defense. You do need to train to identify the takedown as early in its initiation as possible, and how to stop it from happening (you don’t want to roll on the ground with the attacker). And we cannot leave chokes off of the list. You need to know how to use them, as they are a relatively safe way to end a fight, and you need to be familiar with the ways to get out of the chokes as well. Locks are not as easy to use as a lot of people seem to think. They take a ton of practice and a lot of time before you can use them the way you imagine.

But to stay on topic, when we are speaking in terms of self-defense and self-protection, you need to remember that choking and locking the other person may not be classified as “self-defense” where you live. You should be looking to

  1. Not get hurt or killed
  2. Extricate yourself from the conflict
  3. Don’t go to jail

Whatever you train needs to address these three needs. Obviously, it isn’t self-protection if you get hurt or killed. But you do need to consider that when the guy attacks you, and through “superior skill and training” you overwhelm his offense and destroy him, in most areas of the U.S. you will be going to jail. In our overly litigious society, you will also probably get sued by the guy you hurt.

This is almost never discussed in the standard self-defense class, but it is terribly important. One self-defense instructor was asked in an interview how he would feel if he found out that someone had used what he taught and actually killed a person, and he matter-of-factly replied, “I’d be okay with it.” This is a blatant disregard for his students. He is okay with them killing a person, when we all know that if you kill someone you will be going to jail. This is far outside of the definition of self-protection.

In closing, I just want to beat an old dead horse a little more. When we speak of self-defense and self-protection, the most important lessons are going to be found in Awareness, Avoidance and De-Escalation. The entire set of “what to do if someone grabs your wrist thusly” is asinine and a complete waste of time.