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Do you have a basic understanding of unarmed self-defense? If you think carrying a firearm or knife precludes you from engaging in unarmed hand-to-hand combat, think again! In a potentially lethal confrontation, your gun could malfunction, you could drop your knife, or you may not have sufficient time to draw a weapon due to the sudden or aggressive nature of the attack. Effectively employing your body’s natural weapons against your adversary’s vulnerable anatomical targets could give you the edge needed to win the encounter.

Mindset

The most important weapon is your mind. No matter how big and strong or highly trained you are, if you are not completely determined to do whatever it takes to defeat your attacker, you’re bound to lose the fight – maybe even your life. You need to be able to “flip the switch” and tap into the instinct that we all possess but is often repressed for so long that we forget its there.

Refuse to be a victim! If a physical confrontation is unavoidable, fight to win. Rather than dwell on the potential negative consequences of being attacked such as being injured or killed, focus your mind and body on the task at hand – hitting your attacker as hard as you can and as often as you can until he is unable to continue to attack. Concentrating your efforts on “attacking” the attacker is the best way to ensure your safety.

Blocking

Adhering to the “block and counter” concept advocated in many traditional martial arts is not conducive to real-world self-defense because it requires you make split-second decisions and have lightening fast reflexes to succeed. Remember, the truism, “the best defense is a good offense.” The less time you spend defending, the better off you’ll be.

Practice tucking your chin and using your elbows to shield your head momentarily as you transition to an offensive response. This posture not only helps protect you but could injure the assailant’s hands if they impact your elbow. You should not try to block each blow individually because sooner or later, one is bound to slip through your defenses. Don’t allow yourself to back peddle. In fact, your goal should be to cause the attacker to back peddle. This will compromise his balance, take his mind off hurting you, and create an opportunity for escape.

Based on the circumstances, when you feel strongly that a physical attack is imminent, consider striking preemptively. This allows you to bypass defense, which is by far the most difficult and dangerous aspect of fighting. Verbal provocation alone does not justify striking someone. However, if an attacker tells you that he’s going to “kick your ass” and cocks his arm back, it would be foolish to wait for him to actually punch before taking action. But remember you need to be able to articulate that based on the attacker’s actions, it was reasonable to assume he was preparing to attack you.

Striking

When most people think of a human’s natural weapons, fists are probably the first things that come to mind. While fists can be effective striking surfaces, so can palms, fingertips, elbows, knees, shins, feet (especially when wearing shoes), the head, even teeth. The weapon you choose will probably be based on several factors such as the type of threat you’re facing, the distance between you and the attacker, what target areas all available to you, or whether one of your arms or legs is trapped.

When striking, the goal is to generate as much force as possible to prevent the attacker from wanting or being physically capable of continuing to fight you. To deliver fight-stopping blows, you need to get the weight of your entire body behind each strike by proper hip rotation and follow through.

The key to powerful strikes is in all in the hips. Without hip rotation, a punch simply involves the muscles of the arm. Even a person with large, muscular arms would be hard pressed to generate significant force when striking this way. On the other hand, a smaller person could deliver a much more powerful strike by utilizing proper hip rotation because he is essentially able to strike with his entire body rather than just his arm.

In this context, “follow through” refers to driving through the target instead on stopping at the point of impact. This ensures that the energy generated from your strike is transferred to your opponent for maximum penetration and effectiveness. Visualize literally striking through the attacker so that whatever weapon you strike with comes out the opposite side of the target.

Targets

The vulnerable areas of human anatomy are really no mystery. The head is a preferred target because it houses the brain. A solid strike to the head could create sufficient trauma to render an attacker unconscious, creating ample opportunity for you to escape. Knockouts are particularly common when struck on the chin. (Hence, try to keep your chin tucked to keep it from being struck.)

The eyes are a preferred target area because they are fragile and cannot be conditioned to withstand blows like many other parts our anatomy. Being struck in the eye causes a predictable reflexive response that involves blinking, turning the head away, and bringing the hands to the face. This creates an excellent opportunity to turn the tables on the attacker or escape. Of course, being struck in the eye will impair the attacker’s sight, making it difficult for him to see you. The throat can be a highly effective target.

Blows delivered to the throat are likely to interfere with breathing. If the attacker experiences difficulty breathing, his ability – even his desire to fight will diminish. The throat is a much softer target than the head, which makes punching the throat less likely to result in injury to your hand.
Our knees were designed to move very well in one direction but forcing the knee in the opposite direction causes intense pain and makes it difficult to support body weight. Knees are accessible targets regardless of how large an attacker is. While it would take a powerful kick to inflict serious damage to the knee, even a less than perfect kick to the lower leg can off-balance and distract the attacker, leaving him vulnerable to follow up strikes.

A solid punch or kick to the groin could have a telling effect on an attacker. A knee to the groin might not be a “fight stopper” but it can definitely help tilt the odds in your favor. If the attacker places you in a headlock, several strikes to the groin might compromise his grip and enable you to better your position.

The Clinch

If you are attacked, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself in a clinched position with the attacker. The clinch is an awkward position where most traditional strikes and kicks are nullified by the fact that you and the attacker are so close. At this close range, elbow strikes, knee strikes, and headbutts should be your default strikes. If possible, use the bottom of your shoe to stomp the attacker’s leg below the knee. This should collapse the attacker’s leg and send him crashing to the ground. As with groundfighting, the clinch is a bad place to be when dealing with an armed attacker or multiple attackers.

Groundfighting

With the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), there is more interest in groundfighting than ever before. While it’s important to understand basic groundfighting strategy and practice escaping from various positions, joint locks, and chokes, it’s not usually a good idea to intentionally take the fight to the ground – even if you are a proficient groundfighter. That’s because unlike an MMA competition, the surface you’re likely to fight on will be hard and unforgiving, laden with broken glass and gravel. More importantly, being on the ground significantly limits your mobility and leaves you vulnerable to additional attackers. And if an attacker produces a weapon, the last place you want to be is one the ground with him.

If you are taken to the ground, realize that you’re in a very dangerous position and do anything you can to get back to your feet. Driving your thumbs or fingers into an attacker’s eyes, squeezing his testicles, even biting the attacker are very effective techniques.

To better your odds of staying on your feet, train to sprawl. Sprawling refers to scooting your legs away from an opponent who shoots in for a takedown. This is typically combined with downward pressure on the attacker’s head and shoulder area to drive him into the ground.

Use of Environment

Being aware of your surroundings is paramount to self-defense. Whenever possible, use the environment to your advantage. Try to prevent having your back against a wall, fence, or other object that would limit your mobility. Ideally, you could back the attacker against a solid object. This would intensify the power of your strikes because the attacker’s body is braced by the object. If there’s an object nearby that could trip an attacker, try to circle to a position where you can force the attacker into the object to better the odds of knocking him down when your strike. Another effective use of your environment for self-defense is to take the attacker to the ground while you remain standing. The ground is generally much harder than any striking surface you possess and no matter how hard you slam the attacker down, you won’t hurt the ground (the same cannot be said for your fists). When the attacker is down, don’t be tempted to join him. If you deem it appropriate, stomp the attacker’s knees, ankles, or groin to limit his ability to pursue you as you flee.

Escape!

The ultimate goal of self-defense is to escape. Seek escape at your first opportunity, preferably prior to having to physically defend yourself. It’s far better to avoid a fight that is avoidable. However, when physical violence is imminent, be aggressive and fight to win using your body’s natural weapons. To hang around and beat an attacker half to death when you could have escaped is a good way to wind up behind bars or be sued.

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