In an attack situation, options are useful; from avoiding a confrontation with guile, right through to trading knuckle sandwiches. The choices are varied and subjective, but when your adrenaline is racing and your legs are doing an involuntary bossanova, the choice (as they say) will be entirely yours.
I’m sure you have already seen — and are tired of — the wrist-locks and shoulder-throws featured in so many articles and videos on self-defence. They only work in Bruce Lee films and on police self-defence courses, so I’ll spare you the re-run. Instead I’ll stick to the stuff that works when the pavement is your arena, and there are no referees to stop a point-scoring match turning into a blood-and-snot debacle. My premise is basic but empirical and, at some point, it might prove life-saving.
While some situations actually start with a physical response (in which case you either fight like a demon or get battered), most are preceded by some kind of pre-fight ritual and introductory dialogue; even if it is only the uninspiring ‘are you looking at my missus?’
The real art of self-defence is not in bringing the affray to a messy conclusion with a practised right-cross, rather it’s in spotting the attack ritual in its early stages so that a fight can be avoided.
As a man with a varied and brutal background, I can tell you with sincerity that violence is not the answer. My advice is to avoid violence whenever and where ever possible. Make yourself a hard target by giving volatile environments a wide birth. James Coburn was succinct when he advised us to ‘avoid arseholes and big egos, avoid places where arseholes and big egos hang out’. He could have added, ‘don’t be an arsehole and don’t have a big ego yourself’. It helps. The inevitable consequences of toe-to-toe encounters are rarely favourable to either party so negotiations should always be exhausted before sending in the troops.
Pre-fight management is vital if you want to survive an altercation intact; the winner is usually the one who controls the seconds before an affray. Most situations start at conversation range, with some kind of dialogue. If this is mismanaged, the situation quickly degenerates into a scuffle and a scrap on the floor. Some current defence innovators recommend the floor as the place to be. In the No-Holds-Barred one-on-one sports arena they’d probably be right, but on the street, where the terrain is less predictable and the enemy nearly always has allies in tow, taking the fight to the pavement is suicidal. It leaves you open to (often fatal) secondary attacks, especially if you’re facing more than one opponent.
If you’re approached and the dialogue starts (this is known as the interview), take up a small, inconspicuous 45-degree stance and put up your fence; place your lead hand in that all-important space between you and your antagonist to maintain a safe gap. The fence gives you a degree of control without your aggressor knowing. Placed correctly, your lead hand and reverse hand will block, without touching, the attacker’s right and left hand. If he moves forward to butt/kick/punch, be prepared to shove him back and/or attack. Try not to touch the assailant with your fence unless you are forced to, as it can trigger aggression and possibly a physical attack.
If you want to keep your face in place, don’t let a potential attacker touch you at any time, even if he appears to be friendly. An experienced fighter will feign friendliness, even submission, to make an opening for his attack. Another common ploy is for an attacker to offer a handshake and then head-butt/knife you as soon as the grip is taken. If you fall prey to the verbal opener, you will quickly become work experience for a student nurse at the ER, so use your fence to maintain a safe gap until the threat has gone.
Expect to be scared because, no matter how experienced you are, you will be. Fear is the natural precursor to confrontation. I’ve worked with some premier-league players and privately they all tell the same story: at the point of contact, they’d rather be anywhere else in the world. So don’t let self-doubt enter the equation if you feel like crapping your Calvins, because you’re not on your own. We all feel fear, even if some of us pretend that we don’t. Shaking legs, trembling voice and feelings of cowardice are all natural by-products of the adrenal release.
If you find yourself facing Neanderthal man and he starts to growl, try to talk the situation down. Again, the battle will be more with your own ego than it will be with your antagonist. Don’t be afraid to beat a hasty retreat and admit that you don’t want trouble. Better to follow the judo adage and walk away with confidence than to end up in an affray that might change the course of your life for the worst.
If talking fails, you could try posturing. I made it work for me as an 11-stone novice doorman, so you don’t have to be big to be effective. Posturing entails making like a woolly mammoth in an attempt to psyche out your antagonist. Create a gap between you and your aggressor by shoving him hard on the chest. Once the gap has been secured, go crazy; shout, salivate, spread your arms, bulge your eyes and drop into single syllables. This triggers the opponent’s flight response and often scares him into capitulation. As soon as he backs off, beat a hasty retreat.
If escape, dissuasion and posturing crack at the spine and if you have honest belief that you are about to be attacked, you are left with two choices; hit or be hit. As a self-defence adviser, my duty is not to tell you which to choose, only to offer you the options and allow you to select for yourself.
The Pre-emptive Strike
If your choice is a physical response, my advice is to be pre-emptive and strike first — very hard — preferably on the jaw (it’s a direct link to the brain). The concept of defence at the point of contact is not only unsound, it is dangerous and extremely naive. Waiting for someone to attack you is strategic madness because blocks don’t work! The Kwai-Chang-Cain theory of block and counter-attack is even more absurd, especially if you’re facing more than one opponent. There is no finesse about fighting multiple opponents. They do not line up and attack you one at a time, they strike like a swarm of bees and luck is the only thing that’ll keep a beat in your heart.
If you honestly believe that you’re about to become target practice for the hard of thinking, hit them before they can hit you. Once you’ve landed the first strike, run. Many defence gurus advocate a second strike, a finisher. I advise not. Your first strike buys you vital getaway time. If you’re dealing with a determined, experienced attacker and you don’t leg it after the first strike, chances are he’ll turn on you with greater fury. Self-defence is about doing the minimum a situation will allow to ensure your own survival. It’s not about defending a corpulent ego or misguided honour. Having been involved in thousands of real encounters, the pre-emptive attack was the only consistently effective technique I could find.
My advice is to hit as hard as you can, using your hands (or your head). These are usually the closest naturally available weapons to the target (your opponent’s jaw), and offer the safest and most direct route. At this point it would be a great advantage to have a background in a punching art, preferably Western boxing. Most people think they can throw a good punch. From my experience — and certainly under pressure — few can. A great way to learn is to go to a boxing club or do a little focus-pad work with a friend to develop the skill.
If you do employ the pre-emptive attack, make sure you know your legal rights (a little more on this later) or you might be in for a double jeopardy when you have to defend them against the second enemy — the law.
Although it is you who dictates reasonable force, you may have to defend your interpretation of ‘reasonable’ in a court of law. If you are so frightened by an assailant that you have to hit him with everything but the girl on your arm, then that is reasonable force. If, however, you knock someone to the ground and then do the 56-move kata on their head, you might well be stretching your luck.
I can’t guarantee that you won’t end up in the dock, but I feel that it’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.
Forget the films where the empty-handed good guy prevails over the knife-wielding psychopath without ruffling his own hair or popping a shirt button, because on film is the only place it’s going to happen. Someone once asked me at a self-defence seminar: “What could you do against a knife?”
“About 50 miles an hour,” I replied.
I’ve faced a few blades and I’ve been stabbed some in my time (but enough about my ex-wife!) and on every occasion I filled my nappy. If your antagonist is carrying, run. Even with 30 years of martial arts training under my belt, it was providence and not skill that kept me alive.
If you are facing a knife, the best-case scenario is that you don’t die. If a knife is pulled and running away is not on the option list, throw anything that isn’t nailed to the floor at the attacker, and then run. If throwing range is lost, your only other option is to blitz the attacker, ideally with head- strikes, until he is unable to continue his attack.
The rule of thumb here is that stabbers don’t usually show the blade, they just sneak up and insert it when you’re not aware. If they do show you the knife, they are usually just posturing. Always check the hands of your antagonist — if you can’t see the palms, or a hand is concealed, you have to presume they are carrying. If the attacker does have a weapon and doesn’t respond to your verbal dissuasion, you have two options: give them what they ask for (and just hope it’s not your body) or be prepared to get cut in the affray.
Self-Defence and the Law
As important as the law may be, contemplating the legal implications of defending yourself while facing an ensuing attack would be unwise. It can cause indecision, which usually leads to defeat.
DISCLAIMER: Please refer to this page to learn more about where you would stand pertaining to Self Defence and the Australian Legal System to avoid lengthy court appearances and possibly jail time. Know your rights and memorise Use of Force Principle in Section 462A of the Crimes Act 1958.
I call the law the second enemy. This is not meant disparagingly, but, having been on the wrong side of it a few times, I feel duty-bound to highlight the inherent dangers of dealing with what can be a sticky judicial system, post-assault. Many people are convicted for what they say, not what they do. This means you could legally defend yourself and yet still be convicted and sent to jail if you don’t correctly claim self-defence when giving a statement to the police. Many of my friends ended up in prison because they didn’t understand the law. Paradoxically, many known criminals have avoided prison because they (or certainly their solicitors) did. So, if self-defence is your aim, then an appreciation of this judicial grey area is imperative.
Post-assault, you’ll probably be suffering from what is known as adrenal-induced tachypsychia. This can cause time distortion, time loss, memory distortion and memory loss. You may also feel the innate urge to talk, if only to justify your actions (logorrhoea). All of the latter affect your ability to make an objective statement if the police become involved. When/if you do make a statement, it’s hardly likely to be accurate considering these facts.
Six months down the line, when you end up in court to defend your right to self-defence, everything will hang on your statement. So make sure you’re clear about your rights. If you’re not clear, insist on waiting until the next day before making a statement or ask to see your own solicitor or a duty solicitor. It’s your right. Don’t put pen to paper otherwise. A police cell can be a very lonely place when you’re not used to it, and the police can sometimes be guilty of rushing, even pressuring you for a quick statement. This pressure can be subtle but effective; being left alone for long periods of time, being told that you might be sent to prison, even the good-cop-bad-cop routine (yes, honestly). Many a tough guy has turned from hard to lard after a few hours surrounded by those four grey walls. Under these circumstances, it’s very easy to say things you really don’t want to say, just so that you can go home.
If you have to defend yourself and you damage your assailant, my advice is not to hang around. This minimises the risk of legal (or other) repercussions. Attack victims (especially those who successfully defended them selves) often feel compelled to stay at the scene of crime post-assault. Do yourself a favour: make like Houdini and vanish. Your life and your liberty might be at stake. Better still, don’t be there in the first place, that way you won’t have to worry about long months waiting for the court case and the possibility of prison just for defending yourself or a loved one.
Self-defence has been sold and sold to death. There are a million how-to books on the subject and experts are coming out of the martial arts woodwork. They all mean well, but good advice is rare and bad advice can be get you killed. I can save you a lot of reading and a lot of pain by giving you my tried-and-tested, learned-in-the-field system for the physical side of self-defence.
It’s only five words long and that is learn to hit bloody hard!
*Article courtesy of Blitz Magazine and Geoff Thompson.
For more information about what its like to be a Doorman and how to face your fears please watch the following video presentation. You can also order his range of books online, at a reasonable cost, just click the picture below. I recommend you read Dead or Alive: The Definitive Self Protection Handbook and Fear: The friend of exceptional people, I can attest these books changed my life in so many ways.