Tag Archives: Self-Defense

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.

I asked you before about what style of fighting my characters might realistically use and you mentioned Krav Maga. I’m planning on going to the library to check out some books on Krav Maga and similar fighting styles, but I’d also really like to actually learn KM (I’ve been wanting to get some self-defense training for a while now) and I was wondering if you have suggestions for finding a good program, and if you had any specific resources for studying it for my book.

I’m not as familiar with Krav Maga training practices as I’d like to be, so I wouldn’t be much help there. Krav Maga is the martial art practiced by the Israeli Defense Force, every IDF member learns it, and since it’s been brought to the United States has become one of the more popular self-defense martial arts for those who want a more actively aggressive style. The most important thing to remember about Krav Maga is that, like Muay Thai, it is a very aggressive combat style.

When it comes to finding a school, the internet and your local YMCA type Health Centers will be your best bet. You can try local schools/colleges flier boards, but it’s a little less likely. These days most martial arts schools have some type of website that give the location of the school and their phone number. Just type Krav Maga, Your City into Google. Once you have your list of places, give them a call to set up a time to meet them and take a list of questions you have with you. Since you’re already starting your research into the style, you’ll probably have a few. Asking the instructors questions and observing their teaching style is key to finding any martial arts school. The goal here isn’t just to learn a style, but to find a master you’ll be happy and content training under. If you feel comfortable enough ask the students about training there, how happy are they, are they chit-chatting with each other after class? Are the teachers supportive of the students needs? Do the students feel confident?

Ask questions regarding self-defense. Check out videos by self-defense experts like Michael Janich online to familiarize yourself with the concepts you’d like to learn. Remember, the best self-defense training is one that provides you with simple, easy to use techniques that are adaptable to multiple situations. They teach you how to extract yourself from situations and use what you know to provide you with the opportunity to get away. Combat training requires upkeep and continual practice. You have to feed the beast, so to speak. So, remember that you’re making a long term commitment (and if you don’t like it in a few weeks or three months, remember that you can leave, other schools are an option).

While everyone may look grim on the training floor, students should be relaxed and happy after class. This is important because a happy safe environment is an important part of learning.

When you’ve done that, check sites like Yelp and others for reviews on the school. Read them and compare their stories with what you saw on the floor.

Many schools offer a free first class, so if you’re thinking this school is right take the plunge.

The goal here is to find a martial art that fits with you, what is best for someone else may not be right for you, and the only way you’ll find out is by giving it a try. Martial arts training isn’t all serious, it should also be fun

The most important thing of all to remember is this: you will hear a lot about what is and isn’t the best, etc, etc. The only thing that matters is that it works for you. Are these techniques you could see yourself doing? Is Krav Maga’s outlook a mentality you want to adopt? Are you comfortable with learning what the style is asking of you?

When it comes to defending yourself a weapon you won’t use is one that is useless to you, it’s like the pepper spray at the bottom of your purse. If you won’t or can’t use it then it’s no good. Find a martial art and a school that builds your confidence, helps you feel secure and safe in the knowledge it gives you. If Krav Maga is right and the school you find is right, then awesome!

The History Channel ran a series called Human Weapon years ago. You can find some of the videos on YouTube, you used to be able to find the full episodes which were great for the interviews with different practitioners (though not wholly accurate, tv). Sadly, I don’t think that’s true anymore.

I hope this helps, let me know how it turns out.


“Practical” Combat

Let’s talk about “practical” for a second. In the world of martial arts, and really everything associated with combat, “practical” is a loaded term; it refers to any style or weapon that’s intended for actual combat. It’s distinct from sport or non-combat martial arts, like Tai Bo. In the case of weapons it distinguishes between actual combat weapons and display weapons, like the rainbow knife on my desk.

So, if you’re asking, what’s the most effective combat style, then, whatever fits. There are plenty of active combat forms available to civilians, and military or police characters will know their organization’s hand to hand form. It’s not uncommon for police to actively start looking into other martial arts as a result of their training. Similarly, as I recall (and I could be wrong about this), it’s fairly common for military personnel in overseas postings, to pick up local martial arts and bring them back.

Generally speaking, practical styles split into two families, with a lot of crossover; subdual and lethal. Subdual styles involve restraining the opponent, and holding them in place, usually via joint locks, throws and holds. Most police hand to hand forms, and almost all self defense training are focused on subdual.

Lethal styles are ones that involve quickly breaking someone so they stop screaming and thrashing. Almost all military styles fall into this header. Some exceptions are Chin Na and modern Systema, which borrow heavily from subdual techniques. Where most subdual forms are content to lock a joint, lethal styles will frequently follow with a break.

If your character is a civilian, then you’re probably looking at any of the modern self defense schools. It is probably the most prolific, practical martial style today, and easy to explain in a character’s back story.

If you’re looking for something slightly more obscure, then Krav Maga or Muay Thai are both options. But, Krav Maga is about a decade out of date from the actual military form, and Muay Thai is technically a sport form. Granted, that sport involves tagging someone in the kidneys until they piss blood and die, but still.

If your character is in one of the few places in the world where they can get training in it, Systema’s also an option. In its modern form, it looks more like a subdual form, but it is quite lethal. Unfortunately, it also means your character needs to have come from someplace with a large Russian population. If the character is American, that means : Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, or Miami.

Finally, if you’re willing to do some research on your own, there are a number of Ninjitsu schools in the US. Functionally, it’s not really that different from any other Japanese form, except that it hasn’t been defanged into a sport form yet. Just make sure, if you go this route, to make that completely clear to the reader.


Hi! Could you please share any information on self-defense? Are there any basic rules that you should keep in mind (Like I heard its good to be confident–attackers can sense fear, etc)? And how many classes/how much time would you have to spend in self-defense classes to be sufficiently proficient? Are there any fighting styles that are basic (easier to learn for an everyday person) and more defensive than offensive? Thank you!

Actually, the advice is “don’t look like a victim,” and “be aware of your surroundings.” Self Defense training places a priority on avoiding situations. What this means is, when you’re writing, and your character is doing something stupid to put themselves in a situation where a fight scene is going to happen; don’t. That’s the precise opposite of self defense training.

At a more advanced level this evolves into keeping track of where everyone is in relation to you at all times. In most urban environments, the other people on the street with you are going to do things that will let you know they’re there.

All that said, attackers aren’t The Shadow, they can’t sense fear. All they can do is make an on the spot threat assessment, and go after the people who look the least likely to fight back. This isn’t specialized training, you can play along at home. Go someplace with a lot of people (a parking lot, bus station, mall, a mall parking lot, wherever) and look around. Ask yourself, “if punched that one in the face, how would they respond?” (Just, not aloud, that would get strange.) Odds are, the people you don’t think will fight back are probably the same ones an attacker will single out as potential victims.

Depending on your skill for self-analysis, you also be able to step back and sort out why one person looks like a victim and someone else doesn’t. But, boiling it down to showing “confidence”, isn’t really instructive. With some practice you’ll be able to sort the people faking confidence from people who don’t “look like victims.”

Now that I’ve made that suggestion; this is something, as a writer, you should be doing whenever you’re around people. Watch them, and listen. Just pick up a library of people’s behaviors and speech patterns. What they say isn’t important, how they say it, is.

Also, and I know I’ve said this before, but, seriously, if you’re reading these articles about self defense and it is not for your writing. Stop, go find a self defense class right now. From what I remember, a lot of gyms offer self defense classes. If you’re going to college, your school probably offers self defense, if it doesn’t it will offer a martial arts class of some sort, and you can talk to the instructor about getting pointed towards a good self defense class.

How long you’ll need to be in it will vary pretty wildly. But, if it’s a personal safety issue, my advice is don’t stop going. When you stop training your skills will degrade.

Also, we tend to be a little general when talking about self defense, but it really is its own combat form, that focuses on getting out of combat and to safety. It really is the basic defensive martial art.


How would you write somebody who’s trying to get out of somebody’s grasp? (ie. a guy comes up behind the MC and has them in a hold. What does the MC have to do to get out of it and get the upper hand? Curious to know what a female and male would do in that situation.)

Honestly, this one’s non-gendered. Remembering that Michi and I have vastly different histories with hand to hand training, we both got almost identical instruction on how to deal with someone grabbing you from behind.

If the attacker grabs someone under the arms, then the victim should hunch forward, and pull their feet up. This forces the attacker to actually take the victim’s weight. When this happens, and they start to roll forward, the victim puts their feet back on the ground and propels themselves back up, into their attacker.

If the attacker grabs over the arms, like a bear hug. The victim makes a fist with one hand, and wraps the other hand over it. (I’ve also been told to interlace the fingers, instead of making a fist, with this technique.)

They straighten their arms so they’re forming a wedge shape. Now, the victim drives their fist up and away from their body (without bending their elbows). When this disrupts the attacker’s grip, the victim shifts their hips out of the way, and they drive their elbow back down into the attacker’s stomach.

If the attacker only grabs the victim’s arms or wrists, then they’re either an idiot or untrained. Quickly twisting the arm or wrist while pulling away from the attacker’s palm will break most grabs. This is one of the first things that will get covered in most self defense classes.

One last outstanding possibility, if the victim is being held as a human shield, the best option is (usually) to go completely limp. This forces their attacker to decide between abandoning them or trying to drag 150-200lbs of dead weight around.


@writer-of-whatever said: That last part is kinda hard for those of us who are below 110…

No, even 50 extra pounds of dead weight are a pain for someone in decent physical condition. I was being a little flippant when I said 150-200lbs, but the fact is, an 85lb teenage girl who goes limp is still going to be a real pain in the ass for someone trying to use her as a human shield.

There are ways to pick someone up and carry them off, but the usual human shield setup doesn’t work for any of those.


Can you guys write an article on training exercises and techniques to learn how to fight BACK?


This is a writing advice blog, sometimes we get our personal pronouns a little confused and we do discuss the realities of combat. But, no. It’s not that I wouldn’t be qualified to teach you, I am, but the lessons I could impart would require you to be in the same room as me. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise. This is also why, for the most part, I don’t really recommend articles or videos for actual self-defense instruction. There is no video or article in the world (though the Michael Janich ones are very good) that can make up for the presence of a flesh and blood instructor.

For a raw beginner, their fighting style will simply generate too many flaws and when those flaws go uncorrected, they can be damaging to the student’s fighting ability in the long run. It’s not enough to know what to do, you need to know how to do it and how to do it properly so that you don’t hurt yourself.

If you are serious about learning how to fight back, then there are steps you can take:

1) Check out your local police precinct to see what they offer for self-defense courses, I know that may be asking a lot depending on who you are, but the truth is that the police do have some of the best self-defense programs available at the best costs and some of them are even offered for free.

2) Look into the different martial arts programs in your area, if your worried about your personal safety, find instructors who put their primary focus on real world application and self-defense training. Many of these sorts of instructors won’t take students under the age of 18 because of the seriousness of the knowledge they are imparting, but that’s the way it goes. Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Jiujutsu are all solid choices in that arena. But, find an instructor who teaches what you want to learn. It will be time consuming and hard work, but the hardest path is often the most rewarding one.

The added bonus of learning an actual style is that it will make you less of a target. For most predators, the risk has to be worth the reward and picking a style with an established reputation in popular culture can go a long way towards driving people off before the first punch is ever thrown. Ask yourself, which sounds more scary: “Back off, I learned how to fight from a blog on Tumblr!” or “Back off! I skilled in Krav Maga, the style of choice of the Israeli Defense Force!”.

3) Your local college or community college will probably have a martial arts class in the school catalog (or several if you’re lucky). Even if you’re still in high school, it wouldn’t be too hard to talk to a guidance counselor and sign up for classes. Many martial arts professionals also run classes at the YMCA and other similar places (transfer this advice to what’s applicable in your own home country as needed). If you are a minor, this approach may go a long way towards convincing your parents to sign the consent form. I’ve known some great martial artists who got their start running classes at the Y, sometimes you can find a real diamond in the rough there.

Finding a real place to train and practice with an “in the flesh” instructor to learn from will also have a greater benefit of: building your self confidence through praise, give you other students to train with thus the ability to practice with different partners of varying shape, background, and size. Real world experience will make the difference in a tense situation, whereas just spending your time thinking about it or shadowboxing won’t really help when the time comes to hit someone.

We focus on fiction on this blog and post references for writers. This is because concept work is the limit of our ability to assist you. Bad advice can be just as harmful, if not more devastating, than no advice at all. If “fighting back” is something you are dedicated to pursuing, feel free to come off anon and we can discuss your situation in private and perhaps get you started on locating a school that’s right for you.

Until then, this is the limit of our ability. I’m sorry.


meltedwaxwing said: I figured the asker meant if an assailant has you by the hair, what is the best way to get out of it (have them let go so you can escape)? At least that’s what I wonder.

I interpreted it as “Someone is pulling my hair and I want to punch them, what do I do?”. Not, “if someone is pulling my hair and I’m in danger and I need to fight back, what do I do?”. The question was vague enough that it could mean anything. They could be getting their hair pulled by their best friend, the high school bully, or their little sister. So, it’s best to cover the bases to make sure. However, we did do an article on that. So here, have fun.

Fight Write: On Hair Pulling

For the OtherSidhe, nine times out of ten whoever gets to the nearest authority figure first to report the incident is going to look like the victim to that person, regardless of what actually happened. The guilty party is already framed in the mind of the authority figure, they’ve already made the decision by the time the second person gets to them and they act accordingly. They’re own prejudices also influence that decision.

But “hit them, then run to a teacher and lie your ass off” is a far more devious suggestion than I feel comfortable giving. Nevermind the fact that what we say on the internet can have real and lasting consequences in the “real world”.


For Starke: Are there any weapons that you can legally carry around anywhere? And Michi, how much damage can one do as retaliation to an attack? Is it a punch in return for a punch, or can you do more? And are you allowed to act if they threaten to hit you, or do you have to wait until they start to do so?

Okay, these are actually both legal questions, so I’m going to take them both. Up front, I’m not a lawyer; I took a few pre-law classes in college before realizing that my liver wouldn’t survive law school. So, if you’re in a situation where these aren’t abstract questions for writing, go find an actual lawyer immediately. Now, with that out of the way:

On weapons? Short answer: no. If it’s a weapon, there’s going to be places you can’t take it legally. This goes across the board from firearms to staves, to knives. Sooner or later, you’re going to go one of those places.

On top of that, weapon laws vary pretty wildly based on a lot of specific details. A knife that’s legal in one state won’t always be legal in another. For instance: spring loaded knives (Switchblades and OTP tacticals) are legal in South Dakota and Wyoming, but illegal in Washington and California. Some states measure blade length, but stop measuring it when the blade becomes serrated, while others don’t care about serration, and will simply classify a knife as a weapon based on its overall length. A pocket knife (with something under a 2 inch blade) is perfectly legal in most places, but you can’t take it into a TSA cordon. Even, Firearms, which are legal with the proper licensing in most places, are illegal in DC.

There are improvised weapons you can usually get through a security checkpoint, or even a frisking reliably. A heavy key ring or a nice heavy ballpoint pen, for instance. But, police and security guards who are working a checkpoint have one job; keep people from taking things through. Tactical pens may sound like a good idea, but it’s a huge red flag to a cop at a checkpoint. They read the same things you do, and they know when a pen is designed to be a concealable weapon.

As to how much force you can use to defend yourself? Yeah, this is also a very complex subject. Basically under most American law, if threatened, you can defend yourself, but you can only use enough force to allow yourself to retreat to safety.

What constitutes a threat varies from state to state, and can vary from case to case, based on context. Sometimes, technical assault is necessary before you can defend yourself, other times, the threat of violence is sufficient.

How much force you can use depends on who you are, how well trained you are, and what the situation is. If your character is a black belt, they’re going to be on a much tighter leash than someone who had one self defense seminar in college.

Justifiable homicide requires that you are in immediate, reasonable, fear for your life, and cannot retreat to any safety. Someone must be trying to kill you, and you cannot have another option. But, we’re back to the context part, some states have laws called “Stand your Ground laws”, or “Castle Laws”, these allow you to use lethal force when you have an option to retreat. Some states, require that you be in your home for them to take effect, (California and New York, as I recall), while others only require that someone is attacking you, (Texas and, now rather infamously, Florida).

Also, justifiable homicide is, what’s known as an “affirmative defense”, that means, you’ll get arrested, go to trial, and then, instead of saying, “no, I didn’t do this,” you effectively say, “yes, I did this, but I had to because of X.”

I’m going to step back a bit, and say this; if you’re going to use the law and legal consequences in your writing, you’re going to need to do a lot of reading, and a lot of research. Watching a lot of the original Law & Order series is helpful, but it’s not going to cut it. Most states have their criminal code posted online, these days, and from what I remember, most libraries should have a legal section.

When you’re reading it, just take it slow, and be very literal about everything. When you hit a reference to somewhere else in the code, look it up, find out what that means, and come back. It can take some time and effort, but it will give you useful information.

Additionally, you should find a friend or friend of the family who is a lawyer and pick their brains for as much as you can. Law, like medicine and a few other fields, is one of those areas where it’s basically impossible for a writer to fake it, and still get a good story.


I’m a seventeen year old girl and I haven’t fought or done anything like that before and I was just wondering if you had any tips you were willing to share for a complete beginner?

I’m sorry, the focus of the blog is fight scene writing advice, not fighting advice.

There’s a really simple reason for this: you can’t teach someone how to fight by talking about it. Sooner or later, you need to be there. A lot of hand to hand training depends on muscle memory, get that wrong, and you’re screwed.

The only way that’s going to work is if you go out, find a dojo or school, and start taking lessons. Many four year colleges offer Karate as a physical fitness requirement, so if you’re planning on going off to college this year or next, you can start there.

If you’re not, Karate schools are all over the place, if you’re in a larger metro area you can probably find Krav Maga, Jujitsu, or any of the dozen other martial arts that bill themselves as “self defense” forms.

But, actually teaching you just isn’t something we can do in this format. I’m sorry.


Starke is right, training for fighting is a very hands on experience. For a complete beginner, you really need an instructor there to correct bad posture, fix your stance work, and adjust your punches and kicks. This isn’t something we can do by remote, or frankly that you can learn from a video. This is why I get so irritated with the self-defense videos that occasionally float around, it isn’t that the information in them isn’t good, it’s that a raw beginner won’t get what they need from them. Combat is no good unless you practice.

However, if learning martial arts is what you want to do, whether it’s for self-defense (you’re seventeen, you may be going off to college this year or next) or just because you’re interested, then I can give you some advice on how to get started (and how to convince your parents to pay for it, if you can’t yourself).

1) Spend some time researching different martial arts styles online before you approach your parents with the idea, if you decide to start when you’re eighteen then legally it’s not a problem, but your parents will probably want to be informed anyway. Know what you want (and how much it’s going to cost) before you ask, be as informed about it as possible. If you can, try to find some different schools in the area that support the style you want to learn and visit them with one or both of your parents. Spend some time talking to the instructor (have a list of questions ready) and chat with the dojo students after class (they’ll be in a rush before class). Decide for yourself if this is a learning atmosphere that will fit you. Since you’re seventeen, you’ll probably be in the adult class in the evening, so check to make sure your class schedule will fit with the school’s hours. Because you’re a minor, your parents will need to be present to sign forms with you if you decide this is what you want and having them get to know the school’s instructors will give them another reason to pay for your lessons if you can’t afford them yourself.

2) If you take Starke’s advice about physical fitness programs at your college then disregard this. So, you’ve found your martial art but you haven’t visited a dojo yet with your parents or your guardian. I don’t know them, so I can’t give you any specific advice on temperament, but here are a few options that I know have worked for other students of mine and their families in the past:

a) The self-defense reason is a big one, as a young woman you’re going off to college or in your final year of high school, where you’ll be alone without your parents or guardian possibly for the first time. Any parent would feel uneasy about this with their children, but it’s hard for girls. I know I worry about any future daughters I might have and I don’t even have kids yet. The threats you could face in college are a real, honest reason to want to learn to protect yourself and one your parents can probably relate to (if they’re good parents who worry about your safety). By doing the ground work yourself, you show them how serious you are about it, which puts you in a better position than just saying “I want to learn how to fight”.

b) If this is your last year of high school or you’re going to a college that’s close to home, suggest taking lessons as a family bonding exercise. I know a lot of parents who signed up with their children or their teens (and who kept practicing long after their kids stopped coming). It can be a great, stress free way to get to know your parent and them to know you. If you don’t think it will appeal to your parents and you have siblings (who are of a similar age and you can convince to go with you) then recruit them to help gang up on your parents. It’s easier with two, especially if you have research to back you up. (This is not how my brother and I did it, I started and then my parents thought the school was so good that they enrolled him, but my mother used it as a sibling bonding exercise. I can’t say it worked, but we both got to third and fourth degree respectively, so who knows.)

Look, martial arts are something you can start at any age, I’ve seen everyone from twelve year olds to cancer survivors earn their black belt.

I don’t know if that answers the question, but I hope it helps.


[Same Anon who asked about the training]For example, different exercises to learn reflexes, balance, defense, concentration and stuff like that. Sorry, I just thought I wasn’t that clear on the last question.

No. You don’t actually learn any of that in a basic self-defense course. You won’t actually learn any of that in any self-defense course unless your character is actively studying a martial art. The reason for this is that self-defense focuses on three major objectives: deterrence, stopping power, and escape.

The stuff you’re asking for is the stuff they teach in martial arts courses or in general combat training. And while it could be vital, it’s mostly superfluous for what the student actually needs, what they have time to learn, and how to keep them from ending up in jail on charges of assault and battery, even if it was done in self-defense. Please, try to keep in mind that fighting in self-defense doesn’t actually get you off on charges with the police, your character will be liable for any blows they land and any injuries their opponent sustains. So, the answer to what does a self-defense student learn is actually: not much.

What does self-defense teach?

Escapes. These are completely pre-cooked technique strings that you can’t break apart unless you are martially trained.

They’ll teach things like: how to get out of holds, clinches, and chokes. Knees to the groin, then grab the head and ram it into the knee. The forehead slam into your opponent’s face. How to make a fist without dislocating your thumb. They’ll teach you how to drop your weight if your grabbed from behind in a bear hug. They’ll teach you throws, usually the most basic ones. You might be familiar with this one: grab the wrist and toss them over your hip. They’ll teach you wrist releases. Ground fighting (kicking from the ground and basic strikes) and ground escapes (the shrimp and twist), but nothing fancy. As in, no chokes, no arm breaks, and for the most part no jiu-jutsu style grappling. The basic self-defense student wouldn’t have the flexibility for most of it anyway and usually lacks a practice partner to make it effective.

If your self-defense teacher is competent, they’ll generally dedicate a portion of the time to talking about predator and prey behavior, how to avoid dangerous situations, and what to do when you get mugged. Different teachers will give different answers.

What they won’t teach:

No wrist locks, no joint breaks, no conditioning, no stretches, none of the stuff built around creating a better fighter. They don’t need that, self-defense doesn’t teach you how to win fights, it teaches you how to get away from them. In fact, self-defense training doesn’t want you fighting at all unless it’s necessary.

They also don’t teach weapons, unless it’s a special course. No knife disarms and no gun disarms. The advice I got from my self-defense instructors were: “If they’ve got a knife or a gun, give them your wallet. The money is replaceable, you’re not.“ The only time they advised against doing what the attacker said was if they wanted you to get into a vehicle, because if you do, you’re going to be dead anyway. Don’t get in the car.

The droid you may be looking for:

1) That said, I really do recommend you looking up Michael Janich and Stay Safe Media. His stuff is a little more advanced, but it’s a very good example of what you can get out of a martial arts style that’s billed as self-defense. The bite-size chunks that are available on YouTube really are worth the watch and they’re very educational, they go into what you need and with visual examples. He’ll have techniques and different exercises that you may be able to incorporate for your characters. When I have the money, I actually intend to get his videos. He’s got some really great advice on how to keep yourself safe. So, really, look him up on YouTube.

2) Check out Aikido, Jiu-jutsu, Taekwondo, Muay Thai, and Krav Maga. Aikido is often billed as self-defense style, I don’t personally find it practical but a lot of people do. It’s going to have the spiritual element and the focus on balance that you may be looking for. It also puts a primer on techniques that will not injure the opponent. Taekwondo with it’s focus on balance and precision, Muay Thai’s practical brutality, and Krav Maga as a fighting form are also worth looking into as common self-defense styles. Jiu-jutsu is where the really solid joint locks, throws, and arm breaks come from. This will fill out your education in the places where the others might be lacking.

The thing of it is and I’m going to be bluntly honest here: the training you get from a basic self-defense course and the training you get from martial artists who teach martial arts billed as self-defense courses is utterly different. Each comes with an individual mindset and the two don’t cross-thread. It’s frustrating I know, but like I said in response to your first question: self-defense training isn’t The Karate Kid, where the student learns martial arts from an old master over the span of a few weeks and months in order to defend himself from bullies (bullies who happen to be training in the same martial style). Though, cliched as they are, both the original and the remake may actually be helpful to you in that respect.