Tag Archives: Self-Defense

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.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron.

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.

Okay,
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
immediately.

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

This
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.

It’s
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.

Actually,
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
own.

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.

-Starke

This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron.

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.

LEAVE.

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.)

-Michi

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.

-Michi

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.

-Michi

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.

-Michi

“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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

@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.

-Starke

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

No.

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.

-Michi