The question is simple, the answer is involved. What is “self defense”? The answer requires us to look at verbal, non-verbal and physical attacks and the responses to each. It requires us to look at the processes involved to not only keep ourselves safe when under some form of attack, but also the events leading up to it. Possibly the most complex of the martial disciplines, self defense is also the most widely misunderstood.
The Self Defense Process
Also called personal protection or conflict management, true self defense begins long before an attack has a chance to reach the practitioner. There is a distinct process that every self defense practitioner should follow.
Environmental awareness – This is knowing what is around you at ALL times. Know where the dangers are by means of locating uneven or dangerous terrain, knowing where the potential weapons are, identifying strange behavior or things that are out of place and doing so by constantly scanning the environment around you within thirty (30) feet.
Avoidance – By scanning the immediate environment, we picked up potential threats; protruding sharp, steel objects, a car coming in our general direction and a person tugging at the back of their shirt in a way you suspect they might be carrying a firearm. The next step is to stay away from the potential danger you have located. You steer clear of the protruding steel and wait until the car passes, but the person you suspect may have a firearm is coming your way and making obvious efforts to not look at anyone specifically. You can avoid them by turning around and going the opposite direction, crossing the street, ducking into a building or by finding a crowd of people and becoming part of it.
Negotiation – Nope, didn’t work. The person walks right up to you and asks you for a dollar. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What are you planning on doing with the money?” A person talking is less likely to attack you than a person who gets you talking. Keep scanning, but now for a way out. Things are heating up and you may need a quick escape route. The constant scanning will also let you detect anyone who may be trying to sneak up behind you. The person you are talking to may just be a decoy to keep you stationary and distracted.
Indirect Physical Manipulation – While one person is talking, find something to place between you and them. Get yourself to a corner or wall somewhere in as open a location as you can find and put your back to it. Move smoothly and without hurry. Any sudden movements could set the potential attacker off. Remember that you suspect they may be carrying a weapon of some sort. Recall what side of the spine you saw them tugging at. If you see one of their hands purposefully going to that side of their body, it’s time to take direct action.
Direct Action – You decide you are not getting out of this without some sort of physical intervention. You feel definitely threatened and feel justified in your next movements. You keep an eye on your surroundings; open to anyone who might assist this attacker.
Weapons for Self Defense
Self defense is the action of protecting yourself, your loved ones and those who cannot do so for themselves. Weapons are material objects used for the purpose of harming someone or something else. Do you see the conflict here?
Defense protects. Weapons damage. Are there times when you might have to cause pain or damage in the process of defending yourself? Of course. Should you carry a weapon with the intent of using it in the process of defending yourself? Don’t look now, but you already are.
There is a HUGE difference between a tool and a weapon. It has a lot more to do with the way something is used than the way it was designed. There is only one thing I can think of right off the bat that has no other use than as a weapon; a firearm. It is designed to do damage. That is its only function.
Your shirt, your belt, a shoe, the rock on the street, a piece of broken tile…. well, you get the idea. All of those things and many more can be used to fend off an attack and cause enough discomfort to deter further incoming attacks. Learning how to use improvised tool to aid in your safety does one other thing.
It has a psychological impact on the attacker. Picture this. You have spent time figuring out and training with as many improved defense tools as you can. You get attacked because you either missed the first four (4) steps or things escalated so fast you had to jump directly to physically defending yourself. You find out the attacker has a weapon and you need to put something between yourself and the weapon.
Off comes your shirt and you use it with a good amount of skill. Now the attacker is thinking twice about attacking. You glance around an locate possible escape routes. Using your improvised tool, you fend off the weapon attacks long enough to maneuver towards one of those routes. At first opportunity, you take your out. You just survived (won) that engagement. That’s self defense using a tool.
Let Go Your Ego
If you are alone, escape is your best option and should be the foremost thought in your mind. If you are with someone who might also be in danger or you are responsible for another person, you might have to hold your ground until the other person can get away. Either way, this is not a contest of wills or egos between you and the attackers.
Self defense has nothing to do with proving you are right, beating another person/people or “winning” a fight. It has everything to do with getting out of conflict in the fastest way possible. If that means running, you run. If that means holding your ground until you have an escape route, then that’s what you do and you escape at the first chance.
If that means guiding the attacker(s) into a position where they can no longer attack you, do it. If your ONLY choice is to kill the attacker because they just won’t stop, then that’s what’s necessary. In ALL cases, get out of conflict either by escape or putting the attacker in a position where they either cannot or do not want to attack you any longer.
This is NOT a case of, “That person attacked me so I hit him/her back.” That type of mentality is engaging in combat, not self defense. It makes you as guilty in the eyes of the law as the person who first assaulted you. It is a reactionary response fueled by the ego. Does that mean you should allow a second attempt to harm you? Of course not. Remember, though that your first choice should be to disengage and escape. You are safest by removing yourself from the area of danger, not jumping into it and purposely engaging the “enemy”.
You may need to attack to create an opening for escape, but do so AS you are being attacked, not after. If a person attacks you and experiences pain as a result, they will think twice and be a little more careful trying to approach you for the purpose of attacking again. By doing that, you have begun to open up an avenue of escape. Once that opening is wide enough, take it.
The Escalation Process – Armed and Unarmed Attackers
First and foremost, ALWAYS protect yourself. Do not jump head first into combat unless it is absolutely necessary. That is placing yourself in the middle of the danger, not practicing self defense. There are times, however, that you must engage in order to either open a window of escape or to stop continued attacks. Here is the escalation process and some recommended action; situation depending.
Unarmed attacker – Maintain as much distance as possible. If the attacker intentionally advance into a range they have the opportunity to cause damage, do what you need to for the purpose of increasing distance enough to escape. Be creative. Kiss the person, throw sand in their face, act crazy… anything you can think of at the time to buy yourself time. Then, escape. Escaping from an unarmed attacker is VERY easy.
Armed with a bludgeoning weapon (bat, crowbar, chain, etc) – Distance, again, is your friend. It’s obvious by the choice of weapon that they want to keep you at a distance as well while they have the options of beating you into submission. Even these items – though they have a longer range – have range limits. If you are outside that range, you are not in danger. If they advance into range to attack you, move into the attack, not away. One of the vulnerabilities of a longer weapon is that they are weak up close. Then attack the wielder; not the weapon. Continue attacking until they are either on the ground or they start to retreat. That’s your opening. Run.
Attacker armed with an edged weapon – Maintain distance, but be careful. Some people know how to throw knives. Be prepared for that possibility. Get away if you can. Bludgeoning damage can be soaked and you can continue. Getting cut decreases your strength and concentration as time goes by through pain and bleeding; like a parachute that someone is slowly poking holes in. If they get close enough to try to cut you, try to get their attention off using the knife. Hit, kick, bite…. do anything to keep them from thinking about using the knife. Attack the person; not the weapon. Blind them, cause pain in a location furthest from the blade. Break something if you have to. Separate them from the weapon if you have the opportunity, but don’t use that as a first option. Then get out of there.
Attacker armed with a firearm – This one often shocks people, so be prepared. Your safest position is either within your reach or with something between you and the firearm that it cannot penetrate. Guns are designed for killing. In this case, you have only three options.
Find cover that a firearm will not be able to penetrate. This is normally when the attacker is not within reach appears to be prepared to fire at the slightest movement.
Find a way to disarm or otherwise separate the wielder from the weapon. This is a risky move and may result in injury, but it is safer than trying to flee or making any other sudden movements. Let’s face it, your entire body is not faster than their trigger finger.
Render unconscious or kill the attacker. If the intent of the wielder is to kill you with the firearm, you have about three (3) seconds to act. If they are in reach, your safest bet is to go toward the danger and at an angle away from the business end of the firearm. If the attempt to disarm fails, do not try twice. Stabilize the firearm in a direction relative safe to you and work to knock the person out or kill them.
It’s Not the Movies. Stop Trying to Act Like It.
Self Defense, personal protection, conflict management or whatever you want to call it – once it gets to the point of physical involvement – is dirty, nasty and often gruesome business that is dynamic and requires strategic awareness and the willingness to do what it takes to ensure your safety and that of those around you.
An ounce of prevention – in the case of keeping yourself safe – is truly worth more than a pound of cure. Preventing an attack in the first place by being aware of your surroundings and working to avoid such events is the best way to practice self defense. It’s an active measure, but with practice the process can become effortless.
Staying away from the danger is the next step. Don’t be a hero. That’s what police and other paramilitary associations are for. Avoid areas of potential danger. Stay away from people who look suspicious or make you feel uneasy.
If you cannot avoid interaction with the situation, negotiation has its merits. That doesn’t just mean talking to a person. It can be a matter of physical positioning so a clear and present danger will have less effect on you.
If that doesn’t work, start finding ways of placing a barrier between you and the danger. A building, a wall, a crowd or even a trash can can make all the difference between you going home safely and you going to the hospital or morgue.
Finally, physical involvement is the last resort. That is what we train for. We train to be direct, create openings for escape and to minimize the damage to ourselves while we create that avenue of escape. We either escape or put the attacker in a position where they can no longer attack us or don’t want to continue. Good luck and safe living.
If you are interested, in this site are reviews for training equipment or other tools used for self defense that can make a difference. You will also find tips and tricks for self defense and other discussions through out the site. Thank you.