Tag Archives: Self-Defense

I have a female character in her early twenties. How realistic would it be for her to be skilled (enough to hold her own against larger opponents) in hand to hand combat in under two years? If not, what would be realistic for her to master?

It’s realistic, sort of. There’s a few minor issues that don’t
really fit together here, making it (at least seem) unrealistic as written.

Practical martial arts training intended to put someone into
combat lasts far less than two years. You can learn effective hand to hand
techniques that you can then apply in combat in an eight week course. If you’re
coming out of the military or from a police background, your hand to hand
training took, at most, a couple months. Then you go back every six months to a
year, and update it, meaning you learn what others have developed to counter
your training, and how to deal with their counters.

Practical training isn’t so much about spending years
learning how to fight, as checking in often enough to see what’s changed. When
you’re dealing with untrained opponents, it really doesn’t matter. Most people
haven’t been in a fight since high school, and even basic police adapted Judo
from the 70s will take them down.

As we’ve said many
before, most martial arts apply to larger foes without missing a
beat. This is especially true of the adapted Judo/Jujitsu which forms the core
of most American police and self-defense forms. This may be a difficult concept
to wrap your head around, but it is far
easier to put an opponent on the ground when they’re a foot taller, and a
hundred pounds heavier, than the other way around.

Depending on how zealous they are about keeping their
training up to date, someone who underwent training two years ago will have
gone back four to six times, to update. They may have also elected to retake
their training just to, “brush up.” Either way, we’re not talking about someone
dedicating a lot of their life to this.

That said, if you’re talking about someone who signed up at
a Dojo, and has been taking weekly classes, there’s no way to know what they’re
trained to deal with. Some recreational schools will get into practical
applications for their martial art, and offer it as an optional advanced class
for their students. At that point, it’s entirely dependent on her instructor if
she gets in (as an adult, these would probably be open to her if she wanted).
It’s also, depressingly common for a martial arts school to offer, “self-defense,”
classes that are just their normal curriculum with a different advertising
hook. A class like this will not prepare your character for a self-defense

For reference: If you’re taking a self defense class, and
the discussion doesn’t include a serious discussion on situational awareness,
and/or your instructor puts a lot of faith in your ability to overcome via
superior force then you’re probably in the wrong place. Real self-defense
training focuses on creating an opening so you can retreat to safety (if
possible). It’s concerned with your ability to escape the situation and
survive, not your ability to win a fight. Sticking around and dealing with an
assailant is something you would only want to consider very situationally.

Also, in case it’s not clear, when I’m talking about Police
adapted Judo, it is not the same
martial art as Judo. It was derived from Judo after the Second World War, and
the modern martial art still shares some techniques, but there have been
substantial modifications to it, in order to produce something functional for
combat. Judo itself is intended to be a sport martial art, and not something you’d
take into combat.

There’s also no way to know exactly how fast the school
moves its students through, and how quickly your character would advance. These
are all dependant on human interactions and how quickly they learn and
internalize techniques. In a more traditional school, two years is not a lot of
time, but a modern Dojo may move a lot faster. It all comes down to the
instructor’s preferences.

That said, recreational martial artists are not (usually)
trained for combat. There’s a fundamental disconnect between how practical
martial artists approach techniques, and how recreational ones do. They’re
often studying the exact same techniques, but with different goals in mind. The
recreational martial artist is learning to perform it, the practical one is
learning to apply it. This might not sound important, or could come across as
irrelevant trivia, it’s not. This is a large part of why practical training is
so much faster. You’re learning how to do things to your opponent, not how to perform
the techniques correctly.

A character who’s spent two years taking a martial art in a
recreational capacity, may be able to handle an untrained opponent (it’s
actually, fairly likely, assuming they don’t make any critical mistakes, which
is also quite possible), but may face serious issues dealing with a trained
opponent (this will depend entirely on what each character’s training focused
on). Someone who has trained with a practical focus will be able to take on an
untrained opponent (assuming they don’t make any major mistakes or misjudge the
situation). Ironically, they’re also far more likely to attempt to avoid direct
confrontation, and try to defuse the situation non-violently, than a trained
recreational martial artist would.

So, your character’s been training for two years, and you want
to know what she can tackle. If she was simply going to a Dojo twice a week,
that’s not combat ready. That may not even be combat ready, if the Dojo’s “self-defense”
class was run by the same instructors who believe their decade training in a
sport martial art is good enough for “the streets.”

If your character’s been training with a cop, or ex-military,
relative/friend/rando, or been in police sponsored self-defense classes, then
two years is more than enough time to be able to deal with an opponent.

There’s an unrelated issue that Michi would be irked if I
didn’t bring up. (We both started typing up radically different responses to
this question.) Mastery a term that gets tossed around a lot in fiction. In
martial arts, two years isn’t long enough to master anything. It’s not enough time to master the basics, it’s certainly
not enough time to master advanced techniques. Mastery reflects a very high
baseline of skill, and can easily take decades of dedicated training. A
character can become proficient in elements of a martial art fairly quickly.
That is to say, they can perform them correctly, and present a solid (or
effective) technique. But, mastery, in this context, is a much higher bar to
hit, and not one a character will reach within the first few years of starting
a martial art.

There’s one last thing, “hold her own,” is a very difficult goal.
Unarmed combat doesn’t tend to equalize out like this. You either win, lose, or
wear each other out in fairly short order. Combat is extremely tiring, it’s
part of why real self-defense tends to focus on creating an opening and
escaping. Sticking around and trying to win a fight through attrition is a losing
proposition for nearly everyone. Getting a good clean shot in on someone is
usually enough to create the distance you need to escape. It’s not, “winning,”
but, if all you need to do is retreat, that’s all you need. If you’re going to
stick around, then the goal is to take your opponent down quickly and
decisively. Unarmed combat doesn’t allow for protracted dueling the way Wuxia
films present it.


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“When girls and women are taught self defence (and I mean literally taught. Most women have had at least one class in school on it) we are taught that hitting is the absolute LAST resort. Realistically? If a man has actually punched us? 90%+ of women are fucked already. There is no defence against someone stronger than you hitting you.” So can a woman who gets punched can actually defend herself or not?

Women aren’t made of porcelain.

We’re not some separate species, or utterly different physically from men. The concept of “woman” is a societal one. It changes based on socialization, and changes based on the society’s belief on what a woman is. It’s a nebulous concept, with no solid value when hitching one’s identity to it and the same is true for men. Societal constructs like masculinity and femininity are linked heavily to societal expectations and how we’re raised. When someone says, “a woman can’t” when a “man can” most of the time they’re referring to societal expectations taken as fact. These beliefs often have nothing to do with reality, and you only have to look at the vast differences in the United States when it comes to stereotyping women of different ethnicity, various cultures, or income levels just to see how shallow those ideas are.

There are female soldiers, female police officers, female martial artists of every stripe, and the warriors are countless going back generations. You can, in fact, find them if you look. This is before we get to athletes and all the other non-combat positions women occupy today that society said, “impossible!” just a few decades ago.

This is why understanding the effects of socialization is so important. When it comes to learning, what you believe will decide what you are.

Here’s the truth: no one takes a punch well when they’re mentally unprepared for it.

Here’s the other: most people (men included) aren’t trained to take hits.

Notice that you’re instructor told you, “Don’t piss off men. You’re helpless if they decide to physically assault you.”

They did not teach you what it looks like when a punch is incoming, or what the change over looks like. Good self-defense teaches you to be aware of your surroundings and learn to determine when danger is potentially incoming. You can’t respond when you don’t know its coming, and you can’t prepare for it, physically or mentally, when taken by surprise. The first moments of a real fight are crucial. Those seconds it takes to recognize danger and react to it when you’re already in the middle of being hit is too late. You’ve lost the initiative, you’re playing catch up, and that’s a terrible position to be in when you’re trained. It’s pretty much almost always unrecoverable if you’re not.

It has nothing to do with being a man, and its disingenuous from a self-defense perspective to focus entirely on them. While far more likely, men are not the only ones who can or will hit you. Women aren’t any safer, and can be just as predatory.

The problem with these self-defense classes is if you’re really serious about learning to defend yourself then you need to train for it. Good professionals worth their salt will always tell you that you need to be training in some martial art, and practicing the techniques you learned in your self-defense course constantly so that they become embedded in your muscle memory.

When I was forced into one these high school self-defense courses, my seventeen year old martial artist self thought they were stupid and overall pretty pointless, and they didn’t come at us with any of the above bullshit about getting punched. Girls who’ve done an hour of self-defense five years ago aren’t going to be able to perform jiujutsu throws, they’ll be lucky if they remember the bear hug escapes or how to roll the wrist against the thumb and tug if someone tries to take you were you don’t want to go (and then not know what to do once they’ve gotten free because they never practice running). Forget punching, they won’t remember how to do that.

If you aren’t practicing to the point where it becomes second nature, with the added benefit of learning self-defense techniques that are exceedingly easy to memorize (believe it or not, not all self-defense programs will teach these), and doesn’t come with the caveat that if you’re serious you need more education then they’re pretty worthless.

All your class seems to have taught you is how to be a willing victim, and that’s the worst kind of self defense.

“If someone attacks you, you can do nothing so just give up.”

That’s tantamount to admitting that they didn’t really teach you anything, and don’t want you to think they did. You’re not even in exactly the same place you were before you took that class. Mentally, you’re worse off.

If you don’t believe you can, then you won’t and it’s simple as that.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that when it comes to self-defense, you get what you pay for.

Taught is not not taught, the vast majority of high schools don’t have classes. They have one hour a year (maybe) devoted to it (usually P.E.), and sometimes its not even required. If you’re lucky, it’s a seminar of a few days. If you’re really lucky, they’ll bring in one of the female (or male) police officers from a local precinct who specializes in the police’s self-defense training they give the public. However, you are not guaranteed to have a professional, or even just a local officer. Often, it’s just the PE teacher who took a three month course. What girls get in high school depends heavily on what waivers the school is willing to sign and how much liability they’re willing to take on. It also depends on who is doing the hiring, who they are hiring, and whether they actually care.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of people out there who think women don’t need to learn self-defense and don’t want to waste the school’s already limited resources on hiring someone for a few hours. Especially when you can’t learn much self-defense in a few hours, and almost none of it is lasting.

If you’re from a country other than America, it might be different, but if you’re referring American education then its important to remember you’re experiences (whatever they were) aren’t universal. No, really. Education varies heavily from district to district, and can be vastly different within single cities depending on where you live, this is before we get to county versus county, and that’s before we get to the differences between the states. In America, public education heavily dependent on money and property values. The higher the house value, the richer the district, then the better the education. Its important to know, that when it comes to education, segregation is economic. America and Americans have no real true standard for education or education value. What you get depends on where you live, and often on parental involvement.

You can’t learn self-defense in an hour or two. You will be fucked up by shitty instructors, sexist instructors, and negligent instructors. If you are not doing your own research and taking control of learning to defend yourself then you are likely to get one of the above. If you look at self-defense as all being the same, that combat is an innate skill set possessed by only one side of the human species, if you honestly believe on some level you are inferior to men (and if you’re young, white, female, and WASP, you better believe you’ve been conditioned by society at large to see yourself that way) and that there’s no point in even trying, you will be fucked.

Combat is a learned skill.

It is not innate. You have to learn it. It is not inherently masculine. If you are a woman learning to fight, you’re not actually all that special or standout. There are plenty of women out there learning to fight. However, you’ve got to go looking for it. It won’t be handed to you.

One of the most empowering aspects in learning to fight is taking control of your own safety.

You are no longer reliant on the charity or uncertainty of those around you, and that certainty will drive off most predators. Predators don’t want a real fight, they aren’t looking. 9/10, they want victims who are vulnerable and go down easy. So, whether you’re male or female, and you’re worried about your safety then head to your local police precinct, find a seminar, and that’ll point you toward freedom.


Women can take punches but not if they’re not prepared for it and whoever was teaching you is a shithead.

Don’t let their idiocy turn you into a willing victim.

This post is a public service announcement, not martial arts training.

Go get some.


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What’s your opinions on these “learn self defence!” videos circulating around social media? Particularly the ones with the woman doing Krav Maga in staged scenarios, with no resistance from the “attacker”? I’m inclined to side with the majority of commenters that the moves seemed really risky for the given situations and probably would end in serious pain for the defendant. I also have been told Krav Maga was designed for anyone to be able to use effectively. Do these videos mislead viewers?

The biggest problem with the “Learn Self Defense!” videos is the idea that you can learn self defense from a video. That’s pretty much the end of it, honestly. If you want to learn self defense, you need to train in a safe environment with a professional you trust. You also need to train with other students, as that helps you learn to account for different body types, weights, and the other minutia that cannot be gained by watching a film.

Films like that are for martial artists who are in training at a school and already have a grasp of the fundamentals. The student who has been training for some time will be able to see what’s happening in these videos, in ways that someone who has never trained can’t. Videos like this can be educational, but they aren’t for raw beginners. The beginner doesn’t have the knowledge to really understand what they’re seeing and absorb the techniques, much less apply them should they encounter trouble.

When you’re looking at demonstration or how to videos on Youtube, it’s important to remember that they are, for the most part, a marketing ploy meant to attract new students to the school. They’re meant to peak your interest, so you’ll go in and check it out. They are not meant to be your only source of education, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing to begin with.

That doesn’t even begin to account for the bad advice, the risky techniques, and the vast majority of martial artists for whom practical self defense is not their primary focus and not what they specialize in. This includes martial arts like Krav Maga. Martial artists are all different, they come with a wide variety of interests and focuses. It’s important, always, to try and locate who the professionals in the field are and those considered an actual authority by the community they claim to represent.

One of the best places to go if you want to find good self defense courses is to ask at your local police precinct. Many of them run their own self defense courses and there will be those who practice martial arts outside of specific police training on the force. That’s a decent place to start when trying to navigate the overflow of martial arts schools in the area.

You want someone who will provide you with not just the technical skills and techniques, but also the knowledge of what to look for so you can avoid trouble before it begins. It helps to know what predators look for in their victims, how to be aware of your surroundings, and what to do when faced with trouble. These self defense videos, by and large, won’t teach you survival tactics like moving toward other humans when you’re under attack or feel like you’re about to be. If someone is screaming at you on the subway, don’t wait for someone else to get up and intervene. Move toward them. The vast majority of predators want victims who are alone and isolated. They don’t want to engage with numbers. You aren’t guaranteed bystanders jumping to your defense, but they’re more likely to if the guy yelling at you is suddenly yelling at them too.

You cannot learn self-defense from a video. You can sometimes get helpful tips and aids, but it’s not a foundation. Like any house, a solid foundation provides a base to build off of. If the foundation is solid, the house is solid even as you add more rooms on later.

I see it a lot on social media where someone well meaning who suffered a traumatic incident goes, “reblog to save a life, if I had known this…” and I feel for them on that. They’re trying to help others and that’s an admirable goal.

The problem is knowing isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to save you.

You need to practice. You need to train. You need a teacher who can correct all the bad habits you will inevitably create, who can adjust you when you’re going wrong. A woman can throw off a man double her own weight if she trains for it, but she can’t do it just because she knows it’s possible and saw a video where someone else did it. She has to learn how to do it herself.

My advice to social media is to get off the internet, go find an accredited school or even just a course run through your local precinct, and get to work.


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“real fighting but not hurting anyone” anon, thanks for the advice! The problem here is more my phrasing than my actual idea, what I meant was that there’s very little focus on offensive moves not that the offensive moves can’t kill anyone (I’m aware that basically anything can kill people, accidents happen etc) you’d need some actual fight training outside of the class to be likely to beat someone trained, is what I meant, with the class itself being 99% about not getting hit by the other guy.

Yeah, that’s not how combat works. When you’re entering a fight you need
to have a plan to end it. This isn’t optional, or something that can happen
someday when your opponent gets bored. You need to have a concrete way to end
the fight.

Hoping your opponent will get bored and wander off does not qualify.

Dodging all attacks 99% of the time is simply hoping your opponent will get
bored with this. In practical terms, this will
get you killed.

When I say you need a way to end the fight, I don’t mean you need to kill
your opponent. That’s not the issue at all. There are plenty of ways to end a
fight while doing limited harm to your opponent.

Creating an opening to run away is a legitimate way out. This is the focus
of actual some actual self defense training. You’ll strike your opponent in
ways designed to stun or debilitate them, and allow you to escape. For some
people, simply running away is a viable option. Dancing around your opponent’s
strikes is not.

You have a limited amount of stamina. You can engage in strenuous activity
for a limited amount of time before you need to catch your breath. Getting
exhausted in the middle of a fight is a very bad situation. It will get you
killed. To be fair, it’s not like a video game where you’d empty a meter and suddenly
stagger. As you become more fatigued you’ll slow down and your movements will
become less precise.

If you’ve ever engaged in any moderately intense cardio exercise, even just
sprinting, you’ve experienced this first hand. The shortness of breath, heart
pounding, the fatigue, the desire to simply fall over and let the world end?
Yeah, constantly dodging will do that to you, fairly quickly, and that’s before your opponent can lay a hand on

The problem is, it takes far more energy to jump out of the way of your
opponent’s fist, than it takes to throw a punch. All things being (roughly)
equal, you will wear yourself out faster, trying to avoid (or parry) incoming
strikes than your opponent who is simply trying to turn you into chunky salsa.
This creates an inevitable situation: sooner or later, you’re going to start
getting hit, and once that happens, it will snowball fast.

Playing defense exclusively is not an option. You will wear yourself out,
and get killed.

There is also another serious problem with an overdependence on dodging.
Feinting strikes are where you’ll direct a false attack, and then follow with
an actual strike elsewhere. If an opponent realizes you’re simply trying to
step out of the way of their attacks, it becomes very easy to fake you out,
then deliver a strike while you’re dodging, off balance, and committed to the
action by inertia. Of course, this gets progressively easier, as you wear
yourself out, and your opponent realizes this is all you’re doing.

There is a role for dodges and parries in hand to hand, these are designed
to set up counterattacks. You’ll dodge out of the way of a strike because it
allows you to move into a position where you can retaliate, usually past their
guard. Parries frequently work off similar ideas, though you’re usually punishing
the attack by creating an opening in their defense. I’m being vague here
because there are a lot of different potential uses for these, but the
important takeaway is, dodging is about finding and exploiting weaknesses your opponent,
it is not simply getting out of the way.

This is part of why we say, when it comes to self defense, you cannot fuck
around. The goal is to get with as few injuries as possible. That means keeping
the fight as short as possible, creating an opening, and getting out before you
find yourself at the mercy of someone who wants to do you serious harm. You
need a way to end the fight. If your opponent can still stand when you’re done
an ethical decision, but you need to have a way to finish it.

Self defense martial arts like Judo and Aikido have methods of ending the
fight. They’re not simply about being 99% defensive. Aikido is an excellent
example of what I said about parries and dodges. Skilled practitioners will
avoid incoming strike, then use their opponent’s momentum to throw them to the
ground. In a practical situation, this creates an opening for the martial
artist to escape while their opponent has to spend time getting back up. It may
look like the martial art is simply about staying out of your opponent’s grasp,
but the practitioner has a wide variety of ways to end the fight, without
inflicting undue harm.

Relevant to your original question: With highly defensive martial arts it’s difficult
to spar against another practitioner. Sparing involves learning to deal with
your opponent’s attacks and defenses. If your martial art has no real offensive
options, then you’ll need to have something to spar against or find yourself
ill prepared for dealing with opponents who practice more aggressive styles.
You can actually see hints of this in Aikido demonstrations, or the entirety of
Steven Seagal’s film career. It’s a martial art that just does not go on
offense gracefully.


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In my story, one of my main characters must learn some fighting techniques in a short period of time, but my secondary character (who will teach the main characters) would prefer to teach mainly self-defensive moves. I guess, what I’m trying to ask is, are there any martial arts that are either easy to learn, mainly self defence moves, or possibly even both? Thank you so much in advance!

Self-Defense techniques are among the easiest techniques to learn quickly. That’s by design. You have someone for a few hours, at best a few weeks, and you need to instill in them training techniques which are simple, easy to do, and easy to remember. More importantly, the best of them usually make use of the body’s natural movements such as Michael Janich’s self-defense variant based on Silat. The body learns it quicker, it becomes easy to remember, and you fall back into it fairly naturally if taught correctly. This is most, if not almost all, Self-Defense strains of martial arts. Some strains can be overly complicated or are just bastardizations of techniques which will end up being less than helpful if you haven’t been practicing them at least three days a week.

For example, I remember the theory behind most of the wrist locks I was taught to do and I can sort of do them. The only one I can do quickly and reliably enough to aid me in a combat situation is the first escape, where you roll your wrist against the thumb, twist your wrist, and yank free. Why? It’s simple, easy to remember, and doesn’t involve a lot of complex/complicated movement or control over someone else’s body.

Comparatively, the simpler self-defense techniques I was taught, the ones that are simple movements, those I remember. Striking the top of a closed fist along the bone with my knuckles, driving my first knuckle below the belly button and turning in order to empty the bladder, pushing apart two hands testing each other’s grips by applying pressure to their thumbs, etc. That stuff I remember. You also learn faster if your teacher explains the why to you and what the techniques are used for rather than just letting you figure it out for yourself which is the more standard top down approach in some Eastern martial arts.

However, what is most important to understand is self-defense does not equal combat training or having the ability to fight. Self-Defense is not give you the power to kick lots of ass, it’s gives you techniques, methodology, and ways of understanding a bad situation so as better to extricate yourself from it. Self-Defense doesn’t teach you how to fight, it teaches you how to get away.

That’s a very critical and crucial distinction, one that is often ignored.

If you have a character who prefers to teach another self-defense moves rather than combat, it means they’re intentionally truncating what they know in order to focus on one very specific aspect of combat. That very specific aspect is called how to run away.

It’s also How To Avoid Fighting 101, How to Get Away With Your Body Intact, How to Fuck Up Your Opponent So They Can’t Chase You, Did I Mention You Can’t Fight? Run, Idiot.

Otherwise known as: I Didn’t Train You So You Could Go Out And Get Yourself Killed.

If you want that approach, consider it carefully because the teacher’s intentions here are going to be very important. You could very easily end up with a self-defense instructor like the Sheriff’s Deputy who taught Starke when he was thirteen, where the self-defense moves were just standard police training joint breaks. Then, you’ve got martial arts like Aikido which have an inward focus and place an emphasis on peaceful resolution to conflict.

It can go either way, self-defense can either be very violent or not violent at all. Either way, it’s focus is usually on survival, on assessing the situations you’ve found yourself in, on avoiding danger, on using body language to drive off predators, on figuring out that you’re in danger, and assessing how to get out of it. This may involve violent means of resolution, but not always. The true goal of self-defense is to make yourself “not worth it” as a target, thereby ending the danger before it begins.

For women, the best self-defense focuses on threats which begin within an extraordinarily close radius. While a predator popping out of the bushes is a threat, they’re more likely to face trouble from someone they know or someone who has managed to get within their physical comfort zone.

You will get a lot of arguments over what the “best” method of self-defense is, in the same way that they’ll argue over the best martial art, but most everyone can agree that it’s the one which works.

The most basic point of fact is: this character of yours is trained
in what they’re trained in, they choose what they impart to their
students. You can have a character who is trained in a very deadly
martial style but refuses to pass those aspects on to their students. In
that sense, it doesn’t matter which martial art you give them.
All martial arts can serve as self-defense when their teachers impart
the basics plus life experience and nix the deadlier aspects or parts of
the training that they don’t feel comfortable passing on.

At the end of the day, it’s not about the techniques themselves but the teacher, the students, and the intentions behind it. The most gentle teacher in the world can train a killer simply on the basis of the student choosing to use the techniques that way. A student can come out of a purely self-defense background and try to use those techniques in ways that they shouldn’t. A student can be trained to kill, but restrain themselves from it.

Who chooses to do what with what they know is ultimately the real question. Pick the martial art that makes sense to the teacher’s background, then truncate it down after studying the perspectives of self-defense professionals.

I’ve listed a few below in order to get you started, hopefully they’ll help.


References + Resources:

Michael Janich, you can follow him on Stay Safe Media.

I like Janich as a resource because he’s very informative. His focus is on using edged weapons in self-defense, but there’s a lot of helpful information in his videos. They are truncated and a bit of a taster for his DVD series. The first link takes you to Black Belt Magazine’s YouTube channel where you can find a lot of other martial arts professionals featured.

Kelly McCann

McCann has been popular. I don’t agree with him about everything, but different voices are helpful.

Geoff Thompson

Geoff Thompson has a lot of interesting information about street fights versus martial arts, both he and McCann will talk about mindset. I’d go through his videos and listen to him talk. He talks a lot about it from the perspective of personal experience and the unexpected. Other people, improvised weapons, the importance of preemption and posturing, etc. If you like what he has to say, you can check out his website.

Here is a list of martial arts from Black Belt Magazine. It’s an opinion piece so take it with a grain of salt if you disagree or it doesn’t help.

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In my story, I have my main character learning how to defend himself (fist fighting) from his friend who is literally a body guard. How would someone teach their physically weaker friend how to fight? (While trying to not hurt them too much)

Okay, beating on a student isn’t training, it’s sadism. You see this out of popular media a lot. The idea is, that it somehow makes your characters more badass when they come out the other side. The reality is, you don’t learn anything except what getting hurt feels like.

You will see some physically demanding calisthenics in martial arts training, but that’s more about building physical fitness and conditioning. It’s not about beating on the student. That said, a lot of disciplines will also use it to push the student to learn to expand their limits, and try to teach them philosophical clarity through adversity. At the risk of offending some martial artists who follow this blog, it’s not critical for teaching self defense. Also, I’ll stress, I’m talking about exercise. Strenuous, exhausting, exercise. Not beating on the student.

Good training involves showing the student what to do, explaining how to do it, walking them through the techniques. Correcting their form. Practicing. Correcting their form. Practicing. Repeating until they can do it right. Move to a new technique. Repeat. Teaching them to connect what they just learned to a previous technique. Correcting the transition. Practicing. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

You train techniques starting with the foundation of the style, and then branching out into more advanced techniques. Usually this means starting with simple strikes, before moving on to holds, ground fighting, kicks, throws, advanced strikes, and weapon forms. Though the exact order varies based on the master’s preferences.

Depending on the master, training may include a detailed explanation for how techniques function (not how to perform them, but when and why they are used). Complex discussions on combat psychology. Or it may simply involve cryptic comments designed to provoke the student into philosophical enlightenment. Generally speaking, practical martial artists are far more prone to talking about why, but this really is about who the master is, and what their perceptions of “proper training” are.

Second, martial arts are built around the idea that you’re going to be dealing with opponents who are physically more powerful than you are. You learn to fight so that you don’t need a raw strength advantage.

I don’t know what your character would emphasize in training. Self defense is about situational awareness and creating avenues of escape; not being the better fighter. That said, there there are strands of self defense that focus on using the minimum possible force, while others advocate using lethal force to protect your life. Your character could easily end up in either camp, based on their background and outlook.


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About the incapacitation without tying up – we did a self defense unit in physical education my sophomore year of high school. Our instructor told us that if somebody came after you that you could cut their Achilles. I think his point was no Achilles = no walking on that leg. Not sure what you’d consider this, but that’s another way to stop somebody, especially if you want to get away

Sounds like the work of the same sadist who ran my first self defense class.

so, there is a strand of thought in the self defense community that
says, “if someone comes after you; you fuck them up.” Usually,
these guys are adults, teaching other adults, and that’s fine. It’s a
philosophical outlook. You decide to make absolutely sure your attacker stays down. As an adult, you’re expected to
be able to weigh the consequences of your actions, look at the situation
you’re in, and respond appropriately.

They teach you to ramp up
to 10, and trust you to know when not to. So that, some day, if you run
into someone that requires that kind of a response, you can go there

…and then, sometimes, guys who come from that strand end up in a classroom full of kids and everything goes to hell.

is where my outlook on unarmed combat comes from, if anyone was
wondering. A Wyoming Sheriff’s Deputy who probably should not have been
tapped to teach teens self defense.

Severing the Achilles tendon
is one of those injuries that will not heal on their own. If I’m
remembering correctly, the specific result is, you
cannot properly control the angle of your foot without the tendon.
Practically, this means no walking, no kicking, no use of the leg for
anything useful. This is an injury that will require surgery and, up to a
year of recovery time. This is very serious. Not life threatening, but (if untreated) it is permanent.

also not an injury you’d expect to see in a normal self defense
environment. Severing the tendon requires getting a blade in there. This
requires a very low strike (in the literal sense), because the tendon
is almost at ground level. You’re also hoping they’re not wearing
footwear that protects the ankle. Any self defense plan that stops if
your opponent is wearing a pair of boots, has some issues.

I should clarify, it’s not an injury you expect to see intentionally
inflicted in a self defense situation. This does happen as a sports
injury, so this is something common enough that any doctor with a
history of dealing with sports medicine should know what to do. It is
also an injury that can occur when teaching martial arts. Not because
someone cut it, but because they misjudged a technique and tore their

There is a related sword technique called hamstringing, where you cut the tendons at the back of the knee. Same basic result, except it’s their shin they can’t control, not their foot. Nasty, a little tricky to execute, but it does what it says. You’re slightly more likely to have a chance to go after that in a self defense situation, especially since very few people wear any armor there, but I still wouldn’t recommend it, because it’s exceedingly disproportionate.

Here’s the thing about this kind of self defense; It assumes you’ll use it in situations where the alternative is dying. Literally, if you didn’t do this, your attacker would have killed you, and you had no lesser option to save yourself.

Within that range, going after the Achilles tendon is kind of an odd choice. It’s not an easy target to nail. If you’re in some situation where it is available, and those kinds of extreme tactics are appropriate, then, sure. But there are far safer, and easier to exploit, options.


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Hi. I joined a martial arts club so I could learn self confidence/self defense. But yesterday I was taught by a guy who made me so uncomfortable, I don’t want to go again. I cant believe the irony! I wanted to learn self defense against misogynists & ended up being taught by one who roughed me up & pretended it was a lesson. He kept saying “girls are so much worse than boys” (about school bullies, like at over 20 yrs old that’s why I joined?) & when I disagreed he aggressively pulled me. Advice?

Get out of the class.

This guy obviously has nothing to teach that you’re interested in learning and in the words of the Karate Kid: “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” You don’t have to go, you don’t have to stick it out, this is not a toughness test. You have the right to say “no” and go find an instructor who will help you achieve the goals you set for yourself as opposed to working out his personal issues on you.

This is not acceptable. It is not okay. Leave.

I cannot stress that enough.


If this guy is the one running the school, then find another school. If he’s not and is working under a leadership then (if you feel comfortable talking to them), you should let them know. If this is a position or attitude that they endorse, then, again, leave. Unfortunately, that may be all you can do. Safeguarding yourself is important. You are important. You are entitled to a safe, constructive learning environment with someone you trust and who believes in you. This guy is obviously not giving you that, therefore he is neither entitled to your time or your money.

Abusive environments in martial arts schools are not normal. However, they do happen. Assholes exist and, unfortunately, regardless of training, shitty people will continue to be shitty.

So, get out. You don’t want to go back? Great. Don’t. You don’t have to. This is not you giving up. This is not cowardice. This is not you failing. He has failed you. If you do to get a refund, bring a friend. Don’t go back without one, or two, or three. There’s safety in numbers. Whatever you need to feel safe.

Here’s what you shouldn’t do.

Don’t let this guy scare you off getting what you want. Okay? He’s not the norm and those goals you mentioned: building self-confidence and learning to defend yourself? That’s admirable. I’m proud of you for finding the courage to go after what you want. Tackling new experiences is very brave and I’m sorry this situation has been so horrible. All my hugs to you. Those things you want? You deserve them. Find a different school.

Martial arts schools are like any community, they’re all different. Think about the different cliques in your high school, even the people who seem very similar can be vastly different. What you need is to find an environment where you feel comfortable. Find someone you want to learn from.

Martial arts require trust and respect, it’s a shared path between teacher and student. You need to find a teacher you respect and one who respects you. A good teacher is one who believes in you. They believe in their students, they are invested in their development, they are with you ever step of the way, and they are a second family. They will not disregard your fears, they will listen to you, and together you will work toward achieving what you need. It’s a partnership. Because of that, it’s important to remember that not every teacher can provide what you’re looking for. This is why finding the right one is so important. Remember, what’s right for me or Starke may not be right for you. We all learn differently and thrive in different learning environments.

Most importantly: This is supposed to be fun.

I’m going to borrow a section from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi, an article by Dr. John Painter where he discusses selecting a school. This is going to be specifically about Tai Chi, but really, it’s good advice for any martial art.

to find a school to suit your needs, you should first decide just what you expect to gain from studying tai chi chuan. Do you simply want better health, or do you want to learn tai chi to defend yourself, or to enhance your internal power? Or all of the above? Getting in touch with your needs is a good idea before you start your quest.

Where to Look
In most large cities across the United States, there are usually several teachers available. Look in the yellow pages or ask around to compile a list of candidates. Checking with the local community college programs is another option. Anyone who wishes to study this art should identify as many teachers as possible in the area. Then go visit the training sites of each. Some may be in a commercial gymnasium, or a church hall, or a college gymnasium, while other classes are taught in parks. The authenticity of the art does not rely on the place in which it is practiced. However, for a beginner, it generally is best to have a quiet serene environment in which to train.
If the site matches your needs, call the instructor and ask to visit an actual class. It’s most helpful to observe both a beginner’s and advanced class to determine how you might progress as a student of that particular school. Avoid a teacher who will not allow visitors during class time. Legitimate teachers have nothing to hide and do not conduct “secret” classes. (pg XIV)

I also suggest checking Yelp and other sites to see if the school is listed. Not all experiences are going to be favorable, but this is an easy way to check the pulse before leaping right in.

This part is the one I feel is most important.

Once you have located a teacher to visit, do what the Chinese say: “Empty your cup.” Let go of any expectations about how a competent tai chi chuan teacher should look, act, or sound.

Good teachers come in all shapes, sizes, and nationalities and in both sexes (genders). A teacher does not have to be Chinese to have a command of the art. A good teacher has to communicate the basic principles in a clear and concise manner—this is essential.
The hallmark of excellence in teaching is not how the teacher performs, but how he or she gets you to perform. No matter how many awards are won or how perfectly the forms are executed for the class, if the person in question cannot explain in simple terms, or communicate in some way how you can do the technique, you are not looking at a good teacher! (pg XIV, bolded for emphasis)

Learning is about you, the student. The teacher’s job is to serve the needs of the student. If those needs are not being served, then the teacher has failed or is not a good one. When you look for your next school (leave this one), look for someone who makes you feel comfortable, whose class is comfortable and relaxed, who promotes an environment where you feel comfortable learning.

You are not being selfish. It’s okay to say no. If the school cannot provide what you need, then feel free to look elsewhere. This is why looking at multiple schools is important. Much like applying to college, you’re looking for a place where the learning environment is right for you.

Do you trust this person? Do you feel safe? Are there other women present in your classes? Are they present in the higher classes? Are there female instructors? When you observe a class, how does the instructor treat them? How do the students behave? Do they look comfortable and happy?

Again from The Ultimate Guide to Tai Chi:

Taking the Pulse of the Class

When visiting the school, talk to the students and find out what they like about the program. Watch the classes and see if the students are having fun learning. It is best to avoid teachers who run their classes like a military camp or who never smile. Discipline is important and should be part of the class, but remember that tai chi chuan is based on Taoism, and Taoists do not take things as seriously as many of their Zen-oriented brothers in budo. Look for laughter.

You want laughter. You want comfort and friendliness. People who smile, who are warm, friendly, and welcoming. Community is what keeps you going when things get tough.

This is what’s most important. Women are often taught to sacrifice themselves for the good of others, to put aside their own needs in order to make someone else more comfortable. Screw that. Trust your instincts. They are right. If you find yourself having to make a lot of justifications, if this school is somewhere you don’t want to be, if you don’t feel like you’re learning, if you don’t feel valued, and you don’t feel respected both by your instructor and the other students then it’s time to go somewhere else.

Take care of yourself first.

I’m sorry this experience has been rough for you and your instructor is an asshole. Don’t give up. The sense of betrayal you’re feeling right now is natural. It’s not your fault. It’s his fault. You don’t have to go it alone. Most importantly, find a safe place.

Don’t go back.

(If you absolutely must, take a friend. If you are nervous about signing up at another school or even just visiting, again, bring a friend. Someone you trust, someone who will look out for you.)


Here’s renowned self-defense instructor Kelly McCann talking about rage and it’s place in a fight. He also talks a little bit about legality and why jumping in fists swinging just isn’t a good idea.

When working with this in a writing context, it’s important to remember when you’re building characters to moderate their aggression. Combat is about control, controlling your opponent and keeping control of yourself. It’s important not to confuse guided rage with berserker, and also important not to confuse those things with “professional combatant”. No matter who they are, your characters are going to be working within the boundaries of some sort of legal system.

So, try not to go hog wild.


Hi there! I am writing a novel and in it there is a character who learned self defense plus some martial arts skill online- watching youtube videos, and what not. First of all, I want to ask you how effective that would be? And If he comes into a fight with a person properly trained in a martial art, what would be his(online learning guy) weaknesses?

It’s not going to be that effective. Let me break it down.

Self-Defense: Self-defense training isn’t about learning how to fight, it’s about learning some tools and techniques to avoid trouble and extract yourself from a bad situation. All the techniques learned are geared toward providing the trainee to create openings that allow them to get away, to see trouble happening before it starts. “Do what you have to and get away” is the mantra. The techniques should be simple, easy to use, and capable of fitting a variety of situations. This isn’t always the case. Joint locks and throws were very popular in the 90s (and probably still are), the question is of course whether or not the student will remember how to do them a month or two later after only a few days or weeks of training.

Now, there are different schools of self-defense training. They also have different lengths. The best self-defense is consistent training, especially one where the instructor has a practical combat outlook. (The term “practical combat” can be confusing if you’ve never encountered it, it means the martial training has a total focus on “actual combat” or “real world combat” as opposed to sport or exhibition. Training with the expectation of real word application and usually restricted to students 18 or over. Here, you’ll see full contact training without pads because the only way to truly know how to do a technique is to experience it. Military combat styles, Police Academy, etc practice practical combat.)

The late Close Combat and Self-Defense Legend Rex Applegate is a good resource if you want to study the difference, so is Michael Janich. These are usually instructors who have a police or military background first and foremost with secondary martial arts training.

“Practical” self-defense will often include guns, knives, and other weapons as legitimate options to use when defending yourself. Because of the way non-martial artists and recreational martial artists think about the word “practical”, “militant” self-defense is probably a more accurate term to use.

Your character probably isn’t doing this kind of training, but it’s a good idea to stop and really hammer out where they were taught self-defense and what kind of class it was.

Did they pay for it? Go to any YMCA or public gym and you’ll find flyers for different martial arts schools and occasionally self-defense seminars. Many martial arts schools offer their own brand of self-defense as part of their school’s offerings. Any shop, like many privately owned bookstores, might keep around flyers and other sorts of community events (such as cons and author readings). Privately taught self-defense can be expensive, ringing in around $80 to $200 (or more) for just a few weeks. However, colleges and other groups do offer some seminars for free. If your character was in the Boy Scouts (or possibly Girl Scouts), they may have gotten their self-defense training as part of their activities. Sheriffs offices and Police Precincts regularly offer self-defense seminars for free to the public. (The techniques taught are usually the public safety approved variation of Police hand to hand.) I recommend at least looking into these for research if you’re serious about this character as they won’t cost you anything more than your time. (If you’re under 18, you’ll need a legal guardian to sign the waiver and participate with you.)

How long was their session? The guy who put down $200-$400 for a two week retreat into the mountains where he trained six hours a day, every day, is going to look a little different from the guy who spent a few hours learning some throws in the college gymnasium.

Did they earn any certifications? Some courses offer certifications similar to the belt ranking system, but also put in a legal prohibition of teaching the techniques to anyone else. Gun disarm seminars often include these.

Remember, knowing how to do a thing doesn’t mean you’re qualified to teach the thing. Just like me discussing the concept behind a technique doesn’t translate into practical application if you don’t already know how to do it. This segues us nicely into:

Martial Arts Instruction Through YouTube Videos:

No, it wouldn’t be effective. Just like many internet blogs, videos on YouTube are a form of self-promotion. The information handed out by martial arts instructors in those videos is useful for inspiring interest, drum up business for their studio, and help out trainees in their martial style who already have a school and instructor they train with.

Every so often, we get requests on this blog to sit down and teach what we know. My answer is always the same: you cannot learn martial arts by remote. You need the assistance of (at the very least) an instructor and of a training partner to actually learn how to properly do a technique. A video can show you a concept, it can show you step by step how something is supposed to be done, but it cannot correct your bad habits. Bad habits are inevitable. It can’t show you what the technique should feel like, it can’t push you to work harder, and it can’t help you beyond the concept. The concept may give your character confidence, just like reading through a variety of tags on this blog may have inspired you with confidence but what we are able to imagine doing and what we can do are separate things.

Example: Once, outside my apartment, I saw a little girl practicing cartwheels. Each time, she tried it but always stopped halfway and fell over. She tried again and again, but she couldn’t complete the cartwheel. Watching her, I could see what the problem was: at the beginning she wasn’t putting enough momentum in to carry her through the wheel. So, I told her “Hey, you need to throw yourself into it, use your arms more, like this,” and put my hands up over my head I showed her the motion. She looked at me strangely because I was a stranger, but then she tried it and immediately after completed the wheel. Afterwards, she did cartwheels all over the lawn.

When your character is doing the technique wrong, and they will because all beginners do, there will be no one there to help them. For a really good example of the difference, go sit down and watch The Karate Kid remake with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. In the movie, Jaden Smith’s character brings videos from his former Karate school with him to China and tries to rely on them for guidance when he’s bullied by kids who train at the famous Martial Arts school nearby. You can see where he’s going wrong when he’s practicing with the videos, but again, there’s no one around to fix it until he starts training with Jackie Chan. Really, watch it.

This is part of why I, personally, get frustrated when techniques are passed around the internet as self-defense without the context behind them. “Hey guys! Did you know you could choke someone out with your thighs!” Yes, I did actually that’s a triangle leg choke and, like all grappling moves, it’s really difficult to pull off without a lot of… “Pass this around! It could save a life!” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Watching videos on YouTube and even practicing them in your own home is likely to inspire you with confidence that you know how to fight, but is actually much more likely to get you killed. However, as writers, it’s great for conceptual work and studying up on the different personality traits and quirks martial arts inspire in their practitioners. Seriously, I love watching YouTube videos by different experts in the same style. It’s very illuminating about how different kinds of training affect personalities. For me, it’s basically just glorified people watching. For your character, it’ll probably fill them with false confidence.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

Online Guy’s weaknesses versus Martial Arts Guy would be:

Slower: yeah, he may strike first, but he’s gonna be much slower both physically and mentally in terms of following what’s happening.

Lack the Ability to Chain: Martial artists train and train and train so that their techniques become second nature, so blocking or reacting to an attack becomes as instinctual as a non-martial artist trying to swat a fly. They can use their techniques together and switch them up. Basically: one, two, three. Online Guy will be lucky if he can pull off anything other than a one.

Less Adaptable: Depending on what Martial Arts Guy has been trained to do, he or she will probably be more adaptable than Online Guy, simply because they’ve spent more time doing different things. They’re more likely to go with what’s first and reactionary. Online Guy has only been trained to use his techniques in very specific situations, he’s going to have to think about each technique he uses. At the very least, he’s been trained to flee not to fight. (Traditional martial artists weaknesses are often that they’re trained to fight (sport), not to wound and flee.)

Sloppy Technique: Sloppiness, this translates to some holes in his defense and he’ll wear out much faster. Martial arts techniques teach conservation of movement, tighter technique expends less energy which allows you to fight longer. Online Guy will have less control, making him more likely to hurt his opponent even if he doesn’t want to. He will also be unbalanced, lack precision, and his body will telegraph his movements before he moves.

Isn’t Used to Kinetic Impact: Unless Online Guy spends a lot of time actually hitting other people, he won’t be used to the pain that comes from actually connecting someone else. Martial Arts Guy might not be ready for this either, but he has the help of practicing on pads.

Those are the big ones. The big thing to remember about Online Guy is that he thinks he knows what he’s doing, but actually doesn’t. He’s barely a novice, but those qualities are what make him dangerous.


mandy-monstar said: Don’t forget that about 80% of what you find in ‘self defense’ youtube videos is downright wrong, a bad idea, and will get you killed very quickly in real life. Someone who studies from youtube will not just be less trained, they’ll be trained wrong.

Too true. Always source whoever you find.