Tuesday, February 02, 2010

self defense

If you think you'll ever be threatened by physical violence (and odds are many of us will) and you've never hit another person you probably should. I don't mean that you should punch the next person that walks by or that you should take up inflicting physical violence as a hobby but I believe everyone should know how to defend himself or herself. And part of that process means getting comfortable with your body and with the other weapons that might make up your self defense strategy.

I suggest learning how to use your body to defend yourself in the same manner I suggest that people who own a gun should learn how to handle it. The human body can be used as a very effective weapon of self defense. You don't need to master any particular form of martial arts to be able to defend yourself but just as with a gun you do need to learn techniques and practice them to increase the likelihood that you'll be able to defend yourself safely and effectively if attacked.

It seems that whenever I talk to other people about defending themselves with their own body specific situations tend to come. "Well what if someone surprises you in a dark alley or a small band of thieves with knives breaks into your home in the middle of the night?" I think I can keep from getting overly mystic and still suggest that learning the art of self defense is a journey, not simply information you can download from the Web. In my opinion everyone should take self defense classes but you're not going to learn how to successfully defend yourself from that band of knife-wielding thieves during week one. It's a process.

Most introductory self defense classes will start by teaching you ways you can begin to use your body to defend yourself as well as weapons you can carry to handle situations you are not yet able to deal with using only your body. For instances, it's fairly easy to learn how to break another person's nose. A properly thrown punch will do the trick even if the attacker is a big man and the person being attacked is a small woman. The great things about a broken nose (or even a bloodied nose) from a self defense standpoint is that it floods the face with blood and tears. Even an enraged attacker (and the big man with a broken nose is going to be angry) won't be unable to see well enough afterwards, let alone operate through the initial pain to be able to chase down the small woman who threw the punch.

*HOWEVER*, the very important question to everyone, including all of the small women who are reading this post is, can you successfully throw that punch? This is where self defense training is useful, not just as a way to learn how to throw that punch (and what to do if you fail to land it on target or with sufficient force) but also what weapon might be appropriate to carry if you are not in fact certain you could throw that punch.

This is especially important to people who have disabilities or for other reasons are not able to physically defend themselves. Learning how to defend yourself isn't just about learning the proper technique or weapon to handle particular situations but rather it's like outfitting a toolbox with all the tools necessary to reliably handle any task that might come up. And it will be specific to each person and their individual needs.

The great thing about this approach is that once you stock your self defense toolbox with a particular tool, you will be able to pull it out at any time in the future and use it. At the risk of taking the metaphor to far it is possible to lose tools, to forget a significant part of a particular self defense strategy but if you properly learn to throw a punch or handle pepper spray it's likely to be an experience there for you to call on if the need arises in the future.

Some tools, like screwdrivers are a useful when taking on any number of tasks. Learning how to throw a punch and how it feels to land it or learning how to responsibly carry and use pepper spray are nice screwdrivers to have in your toolbox. Other more specialized tools like learning how to handle nunchucks are useful but in fewer situations and the consequences of using them improperly could mean greater bodily harm to yourself or others. If you throw a punch incorrectly (the thumb stays outside the fingers when making a fist) you could break your own hand. If you don't properly carry or know how to use your pepper spray you could wind up disabling yourself. This necessity of training is especially true of guns where improper storage or handling could likely lead to death. It's best to start with simple techniques and with strategies that you can safely control and work your way up to more rigorous forms of training and weapons that can do greater harm.

Training to be able to defend yourself with your own body also has other great benefits. Tai Chi is a martial art practiced primarily for health benefits. It's wonderful exercise along with the endorphin release that accompanies any physical activity. It and other forms of physical self defense training will also help you develop balance, flexibility, strength and reflexes. These are useful in situations in which you need to defend yourself but they are also useful in everyday life.

I also don't want to disqualify weapons including guns as effective means of self defense. They can be properly used not only as tools of self defense but also for fun (target practice, shooting skeet) or as a way to hunt for food. Guns are like any human tool, only as useful and as dangerous as the hands in which they're held. I suggest everyone concerned with their own self defense start by training those hands and learning the skills of fighting back with your body. It's training you hope never to need but cold prove priceless if violence threatens you in the future.

Actionable Items:

1. Sign up for a basic self defense class that bills itself as a broad education in what's available.

2. Use this opportunity to explore a self defense system you've always been interested in like Boxing, Kickboxing, Tai Kwan Do, Kung Fu, Goju Ryu, Karate, Judo, Jujutsu, or Aikido.

3. Take up training with a particular weapon like pepper spray, the bow, nunchucks, knives, or a gun.

4. Get a friend, spouse or partner to take a class and train with you. Practice safely on each other.

5. Remember that physical violence is dangerous and that when faced with a confrontation you almost always you have other options. Talking, walking or running out of a dangerous situation are all thought of as cowardly in our culture but they are actually very intelligent choices.


Chile said...

You omitted one of the most effective self defense systems within the martial arts: krav maga. People of any size, including children, can learn basic techniques in a one-day intense workshop. Practice, of course, makes perfect and ongoing classes keep developing the variety of tools in the toolbox.

Also, when training with your spouse, make sure your new big dog doesn't think your spouse is really attacking you...

nulinegvgv said...

chile tends to speak from experience. ;-)

Chris said...

Good idea! Learning self defense should be one of those TO DO items in 2010. I don't think it'll make you violent if you learn it, but you'll never know when it'll become handy (such as when your wife attempts to beat you up because you forgot your anniversary ;-))

Philip Brewer said...

My Aikido instructor used to teach a course aimed at the elderly and disabled, that adapted traditional staff and stick fighting techniques for canes and walkers.

There's a lot you can do with a stick or a staff, and such items aren't automatically viewed as weapons the way something like nunchucks tend to be.

helwen said...

One of the saying I learned in earlier years was "we learn to defend ourselves so that we won't have to" -- doesn't apply in all situations, but sometimes just having the confidence that you can fight back can be sensed by would-be attackers, potentially reducing the number of dangerous situations with which you might have to deal.

My husband and I are both taking kung fu right now. It's been a definite challenge, as older people, but we've been regaining some flexibility, strength, and endurance that we'd lost, so it's been good for more than just learning to defend ourselves. Our school teaches kids as well as adults, and for the kids they have a special part of their program dealing specifically with abduction (including learning effective calls for help and making life as hard as possible for the abductor).

Heather G

Mark from Colorado said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark from Colorado said...

Thank you for the thumbs up to this. I have been thinking of joining an Aikido dojo. I'm 53, have a beer gut and really could use getting in shape. Always wanted to do Aikido. There, spelled Aikido right.

Chris said...

It would be cool to learn about star knives and smoke bombs too, but that's just digressing. I was into kung fu movies as a kid (with ninjas!) Who teaches stuff like that?

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Mano said...


Self defense training can save you from the attacks in the real world. In real world an attack is usually over within a short time. A proper self defense training will allow you to use simple techniques to instantly avoid the attacker.

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I guess it is great idea to keep our bodies training and in this case practice self defense. It could help and give us a different point of view in our lives.

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