If you find yourself in a fight for your life, don’t do the following techniques or tactics. They will more than likely get you killed. Besides drawing on my own training, for this article I have interviewed experts in both traditional and non-traditional martial arts (taekwondo, jiu jitsu, various forms of Okinawan karate, Marine Corps Martial Arts, and police defensive tactics).
Many techniques are just fine for tournaments or a confrontation where there are rules, and they look impressive in choreographed movie scenes. But if you are in a real snot-slinging fight for your very life, don’t use these six martial arts moves or you may very well end up dead.
1. Going to the ground.
Grappling is great, and to be a “well-rounded martial artist” you need to know how to grapple on the ground and get someone in a choke or joint lock. I have all kinds of respect for those who excel in the grappling arts (jiu jitsu, judo, wrestling). However, in a fight for your life where there are NO rules, you want to end the fight quickly — and that involves striking from the standing position. The fight may go to the ground, and you need to know ground fighting, but that is not where you want to be.
Grappling on the ground involves major body entanglement, and during the time you are trying to get him (or her) in that arm bar or triangle choke, you are very vulnerable. What if your attacker has a knife on him? Remember that his friends can get involved and start stomping on your head (I know of instances where this has happened). The street itself is dangerous — broken glass, rocks, passing cars. You could grapple right into the path of an oncoming car or motorcycle.
The ground is not where you want to be. End the fight quickly with strikes to vital areas (throat, eyes, side of the neck, nose, jaw, solar plexus, groin) while standing.
Combatives expert Nick Drossos demonstrates five effective strikes to end a fight quickly:
2. Wrist throws.
The idea that you can grab someone’s arm “in mid-flight” while they are punching you, put a wrist lock on them and throw them is nonsense. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. Have someone (preferably a boxer) throw a flurry of punches at you and try to do a wrist throw. You will not be able to do it.
Police use wrist locks to control and restrain attackers, but it is usually when there are multiple cops holding the attacker down. It is possible to do a wrist throw IF the attacker is just wagging his finger in your face — and if the two of you are about the same size. But if he’s the size of a house and his hands are like hams, and you’re much smaller — good luck in trying to do a wrist throw.
Here is an Aikido teacher demonstrating a wrist throw.
Notice the man who has his wrist grabbed is not throwing a punch, and he is also not resisting when he’s being thrown. In a real fight for your life, you are (a) probably not going to be attacked by someone grabbing your wrist, and (b) the attacker is not going to stand there while you methodically manipulate his wrist and throw him. He will most likely resist quite a bit … and punch your face in.
Here is police officer Richard Nance demonstrating some of the problems as well as advantages of a wrist lock. Notice he is not doing a wrist throw. Also notice he is trying to control and restrain the perp; he is not slugging it out in a fight for his life. If you are fighting for your life, do not attempt either the lock or the throw. Hit the attacker with devastating strikes and end the confrontation immediately.
3. Kicks to the head.
Kicks are great. I wish I could kick as well as this guy, known as the “Ginger Ninja Trickster” (wow can he kick!):
I practice my kicks every week. For a workout I’ll kick the heavy bag with roundhouse kicks (as well as a variety of other kicks) to the head. But, in a real life-or-death struggle a kick to the head is very risky. One of my friends is a taekwondo instructor, and taekwondo is known for its powerful and impressive high kicks. However, even he warns his students that in a self-defense situation the head is a very small target.
Go for the sure thing — the knees, the shins, or the thigh. Never kick above the waist. Remember, you may be on unstable ground (gravel, snow, ice) so a kick way up high may make you slip and fall if you’re on slippery terrain. It is also easier to block or catch kicks that are above the waist. Kick ’em in the knee with a front kick or a front stomp instead and break it.
What about kicks to the groin? Many women I have taught have said, “oh I’ll just kick ’em between the legs and that will end the fight.” Well, yes the groin is a viable target, but it’s a little harder to hit than you think. Men naturally protect that area, and it requires a lighting-quick front snap kick using either the top of the foot or the toes (if you’re wearing boots). Do you know how to kick like that? Do you practice? If you’re not practicing, don’t try it. You’ll fight like you train.
4. Spinning, jumping, and flying techniques.
Yes, these are mighty impressive. It is amazing to see someone do a spinning backfist or hammerfist strike in an MMA fight. I love trying to practice my “tornado” kick (although I’m not as good at it as the taekwondo guys). Here’s the “Ginger Ninja Trickster (Aaron Gassor) teaching us how to do this amazing technique:
But for a life-or-death struggle would I try to land one of these acrobatic moves? No. Again, here is Aaron Gassor demonstrating his Tae Kwon Do kicks, this time for self defense.
Notice that even though in two of the kicks he is kicking a little higher than I recommend (he is young enough and talented enough to get away with it), he still is not kicking to the head, and he is not using any of the “acrobatic” kicks.
In a spinning technique, I am turning my back on my opponent for a second. That is long enough for the attacker to jam my kick and slam me to the ground or back up so that I will miss. Remember the ground may also be unstable and I could slip and fall. I may be in a crowded area (garage, subway train, bus, or someone’s living room), so doing spectacular kicks or punches that involve flying through the air are just not practical.
Stick with the basics (front kick, side kick, palm heel strike, rear cross, elbows and knees). They are not flashy, but they will save your life.
5. The inside block.
This move is also known as a hard middle block. I have a black belt in traditional Okinawan karate (kempo), and I have lots of admiration for all traditional Asian martial systems. However, I think this block is useless and counterproductive. Here is a video demonstrating what it is supposed to look like:
If someone is wildly and powerfully punching you, would this actually work? In all the years I have watched (and participated in) full-contact sparring, I have seen this block attempted once. Once. If it worked, I think I would have seen it attempted much more often.
Everyone can naturally parry a punch:
Or they can slip or duck or simply move out of the way:
Other times you can block to the outside or use what I call the “helmet guard” defense:
I have never seen the traditional inside block done in a real, unchoreographed fight. It is unnatural, inefficient, and you are blocking bone on bone which probably is not going to feel very good to the defender. Just block naturally, parry, or practice slipping and dodging punches.
6. Complicated moves with multiple steps.
Lastly, if your self-defense requires umpteen dozen steps to get out of a head lock or a front choke or a flurry of punches, you need to re-examine your defensive skills. When you are in a fight for your life, you don’t have time to recall a lengthy list of complicated maneuvers. Your brain shuts down, and all you can do is “gross motor movement.”
A bounty hunter told one of my friends that if your fighting or escaping skills require more than three moves, get rid of them. Simplify. Be a minimalist. Drill on the basic skills that will get you out of trouble and get you home alive.
Flashy stuff is great to wow the crowd. But the basic techniques that are vicious and simple to recall under great stress are the things that will save your life. Here is FightTips coach Shane Fazen demonstrating some of these very effective techniques to practice: