The Need to Quickly Incapacitate in Self Defence
The objective in self defence situations, once they escalate to the point of violence being necessary, is to get home alive. This normally means you want to stop the attacker in their tracks, as quickly as possible and get away from them, where they are no longer capable of causing you, or your family any more harm.
There are a few ways you can achieve this:
Create enough injury to them that will allow you to be able to disengage and run away, without them being able to chase you down and continue their attack, or alternatively, you need to literally knock them out, make them fall down unconscious, completely incapable of continuing their attack.
These two approaches may end up being the same thing in some cases, but that is not always the case. For example, if you can sufficiently damage your attacker’s leg, that gives you the opportunity to run, without them being able to catch you.
However, it can be quite hard for an unarmed smaller person to break the leg or ankle of a bigger stronger attacker.
Similarly, if you manage to jab your fingers hard enough into someone’ s eyes, that will probably give you the opportunity to disengage and run. But that opportunity may only last a few seconds, before they recover sufficiently to continue, so you better run fast, and safety better be nearby.
However most people, no matter how big, can get knocked out, if they unexpectedly received a sufficiently hard, well aimed blow to the jaw. The same goes for strikes to the throat, and certain parts of the neck.
If you are ever unfortunate enough to be attacked, your attacker/s will probably deliberately set up the situation, to place you at a complete disadvantage. You might be ambushed, when you least expect it, and may be out numbered by bigger, stronger attackers. You thus cannot afford any sort of prolonged bout, which you will almost certainly lose, because all the odds are deliberately stacked against you. Your most likely option for success in that scenario, is unexpected, extremely aggressive, explosive action, that overwhelms your attackers before they have a chance to respond. You need to stop every attacker who tries to prevent you from reaching safety, in their tracks, the moment you can.
So in an ideal world, you need to be able to literally knock them out, or at least momentarily daze them sufficiently, to allow you to get away.
That would represent an ideal outcome for you, in response to an attack, where you are caught without a weapon.
So in my opinion this is one of the main objectives you should be training for in unarmed self defence.
Obviously one cannot rely on that outcome only. But it should be Option A, which you try first, in the hope it will work, because that offers the best probability of suffering the least harm to yourself, or your family. Clearly if that doesn’t work, then you will be forced to adopt other more risky options, which you should also obviously be training for as well.
Targets to Aim For
As described above, Option A in an unarmed self defence situation, would represent learning how to deliver a hard strike to a vital target, which will be sufficient to render the attacker unconscious, or at least dazed or injured enough, to give you the opportunity to escape, without them being able to chase you down.
The main targets that will enable you to achieve some sort of knock-out, or temporary incapacity of your attacker, are the jaw, throat and certain parts of the neck.
Blows to the jaw particularly, seem to transmit force to the base of the skull very effectively, which can jar the brain and nervous system enough to trigger a complete system shut down. A clean powerful strike to the jaw, can make someone drop like a switch was activated.
An effective blow to the throat (a much more difficult target to hit cleanly) can also be incapacitating, because it can crush a person’s airway and thus render them unable to breathe.
Blows to certain parts of the neck can disrupt or damage arteries that feed blood to the brain, as well as damage or disrupt nerves running from the brain, that control breathing and your heart.
As you can see, all of these targets have the potential to cause death, or permanent serious injury to your attacker, and thus should not be used unless the situation is sufficiently serious. Remember that in these circumstances, serious injury or death can also be caused by the attackers head or neck hitting the ground very hard, as they fall unrestrained, after being knocked out. You will probably be held responsible, in most cases. So make sure the situation is sufficiently serious and that you can morally justify your actions.
As always, the best course of action is not being there in the first place.
Another target worth considering are your attackers eyes. It is not too difficult to poke a finger into someone’s eyes, and they will almost certainly stop what they are doing for at least a few seconds after that. But unless you can seriously injure both eyes simultaneously, or sink your finger completely into their head, causing very serious injury, a simple poke in the eye may not stop them completely, or slow them down sufficiently, to enable you to get away. So, in my opinion, while targeting the attackers eyes is definitely something you should do if you need to, it’s not Option A. Although, poking them in the eye might be a means to achieving Option A, because while they are trying to deal with an eye that has been gauged or damaged, that might give you the opportunity to deliver a powerful stopping blow.
Precision is necessary for strikes at all of these targets, because missing by even a few centimeters, can result in a powerful blow having no real effect at all.
Lastly, remember that just in the same way that hitting those targets with sufficient force will incapacitate your attacker—the same can be done to you. And remember also your attackers probably have more experience at this sort of stuff, in real situations, than you do.
You need to do what you can to protect your throat, neck and jaw at all times. You do this primarily by keeping your chin pressed down into your chest, hunching your shoulders up around your ears, and trying to pull your head down into your body like a tortoise, while keeping your hands up near your head, to be able to ward off incoming blows. This should become a habit when you practice. You should instantly adopt that posture, the moment you realise you are under physical attack.
You should also try maintain that posture even while you are delivering strikes yourself. As one hand goes out to strike, try keep the other back, up near your head, protecting your neck and jaw.
You also need to look around you, as much as you can, For example, you need to try gain warning of anyone else trying to hit you in the back of the head or neck – which would probably be catastrophic. Use your peripheral vision as much as you can.
How Does a Smaller Person Generate Enough Power?
While the hard facts of life are that a smaller, weaker person, will never be able to strike as hard, as a bigger stronger person, the question is can a smaller person strike hard enough to knock out, or incapacitate a bigger stronger person?
I think the answer is yes, in many cases. That is, if they use the correct techniques and every ounce of their ability. Particularly if they hit their target with precision, as well as harness the element of surprise. But obviously this suggestion is made within limits. A 20 kg person is unlikely to be able to knock out a 150kg neanderthal, no matter what they do, unless they have a weapon.
It all comes down to technique and training.
However, it does mean that smaller people will have to try much harder, to achieve the same result as a bigger person.
But with some simple understanding of body mechanics and physics, smaller people should be able to generate quite a lot of striking force. With enough practice, I think they should be able to confidently deliver an incapacitating blow, if they ever need to.
Engaging Your Body Weight
One of the big mistakes novices make when striking, is they only use the muscles in their arms. They do not engage their body weight. So one sees their body remain relatively static, while their arms jab or flail about, with minimum effect—unless they happen to be a 150kg muscle-bound neanderthal (because then, no matter how they do it, it tends to be effective).
But if one studies videos of athletes throwing javelin, shot-put or discus, or if you watch a golfer swing a golf club, or anything like that, you will notice a lot of similarities in how they all use their bodies to generate quite a lot of power. Plus when done right, it looks fairly clean, flowing and often quite effortless. One also notices that even while bigger athletes and golfers still enjoy an advantage, smaller people can still do remarkably well.
So how do those activities relate to striking in self defence?
The core learning point is that you are not striking with your arms and hands only, those are just the points of your body that make contact.
You should rather think of each strike as a body-slam. You are slamming your whole body into your attacker. Your hand, or elbow, or knee, or foot, is just the part of your body that makes contact. You need to generate that body-slam by getting all your body weight moving, and then direct that energy into your attacker, without overbalancing, or over-committing. If you miss, you should not fall over, or hurt yourself.
There are a few big advantages to this concept:
- First of all the obvious—if you weigh 40kg, being hit by a full 40kg is much worse than just being hit by a 2kg arm. A bag of cement weighs 40kg. There are few people that could take a bag of cement swung at their head with any sort of force.
- We all carry our weight around every day. We move our weight around mostly using our legs and hips. So, when body-slamming, you are mostly using your leg, hip and core muscles, which are the strongest muscles in your body.
- The strength advantage that men have over women tends to be far less, when comparing lower body strength, for the same size of people. Thus by learning how to body-slam with your whole body, it is possible for women and smaller people to hit harder, while using less effort. It becomes more about rhythm, coordination, timing and visualisation.
- Because you slam your body straight into your attacker, there is no wind-up movement necessary, which telegraphs your intentions and thus gives your opponent more warning of what is about to happen. So he gets less time, or opportunity to react. For example, you can get your hands relatively close to him, without then needing to pull back first, as you would normally do to gain power before the strike—you just slam your body into his, in one simple violent slam forwards.
There are various different way in which you can enact this concept.
Here is one way of using this body-slam concept for striking, which can be quite quickly understood and put into practice, to the point one can get going and innovate further on your own.
Think about your body as attached to a hinge running down the side of your body. So think of yourself as a door, with a hinge down one side.
Now just slam that door into your attacker.
What this concept essentially does is make you rotate on one leg – which is very similar to what athletes do when throwing javelin and discus, and what golfers do when swinging a club. They are getting their entire body moving and engaged in the motion, by swivelling it around that one leg.
You can try this yourself quite easily. Stand relaxed with your weight equally on both feet. Now just swivel your weight forward, revolving around one foot, while visualising a hinge running down that shoulder, along your hip and into the floor at your foot. Don’t worry about your hands and arms, they can hang by your sides, for now. Just swivel lightly forwards around that hinge. Don’t go too far. Don’t go to the point you would over-balance and need to make drastic recovery movements to regain your balance. You can do this in both directions, alternatively pivoting on one leg, then the other. It’s not a massively big or exaggerated movement. It will feel trivial and easy, almost like a dance. It should not require enormous amounts of effort. You don’t need to be overly stiff when you do it either. The objective is to try and get as much of your body weight moving, as you swing forward into impact. Think of directing all that energy into someone standing in front of you, in a short, violent, aggressive, body-slam type motion. You should visualise pushing your attacker backwards, or slamming as hard as you can into them, with your whole body.
Once you have done this enough times to get used to it and be able to do it smoothly and easily, now just stick out the heal of your hand, or your fist, or elbow, at the point that you would imagine impact. But keep concentrating on slamming that door, do not revert to trying to strike only with your arms or upper body. All you do is stick out your arm or elbow at the last moment, at the point of impact. Visualise the actual strike being made with your outer hip, which is swinging forward, because that is where the power of your body-slam is coming from. It might help to visualise your arm growing out of your hip to begin with. It’s as much about timing and rhythm and visualisation, as it is about strength. If all your weight is behind your arm at the point of impact, and your weight is moving forward at some speed, you will generate quite a lot of power in the strike.
Using this method for a straight(ish)-arm strike, you need to think about the sort of move you would make with your arm, if you tripped and fell and then reflexively stuck your hand out to stop yourself. It’s that same sort of motion, because the situation is almost exactly the same. Your whole body is moving forwards at speed, and your hand shoots out to stop you slamming into the attacker. The actual power in the blow comes from your body slamming forward. The only upper body strength you need, is to be able to stop your arm collapsing too much as it hits—the more rigid you can make your arm, just for the instant of impact —the more energy will be transferred into your attacker. But be careful not to lock your arm straight, because that will probably cause you injury. Just do what you would do if you tripped and fell, and then stuck your hand out to save yourself. Again, it is as much about timing and rhythm, as it is about strength.
If you deliver a clean strike like that to the jaw, I’m reasonably sure even a smaller person could knock out the average attacker. Simply because a large proportion of your weight and muscle energy is being used in the strike, which if delivered cleanly with good timing and rhythm, will probably be enough. A blow like that delivered to the throat of even the biggest attacker, would probably be incapacitating.
Instead of sticking your arm out, you can also use your elbow, if you prefer, or if that is more practical in the situation you find yourself in. Elbow strikes can be devastating, because your elbow is a very hard, sharp bone.
One way of using your elbow in this “slamming door” technique, is to hold your fist against your upper chest, underneath your chin, and then raise your elbow high, up next to your head, sticking out in front of your head slightly. Now just slam your self into your attacker, swinging your whole weight around that imaginary hinge running down the other side of your body.
There are variations of this “door slamming” technique that also apply to hammer fist blows, side of the hand blows (karate chops), as well as powerful slaps.
It’s precisely the same movement as far as your legs and hips are concerned, but in this case, instead of pushing your arm out ahead of the slamming door, as you would in a straight-arm strike, you now let your arm be pulled along by the “slamming door”, like a whip.
In those cases, as you “slam the door”, just let your hand flick out as it get’s pulled along by the rotating motion of the rest of your body. Again this does not require much upper body strength. Just let your hand and arm behave like a whip. I like to start with my hands up in a placating gesture out in front of me, close to my chest. It doesn’t need a lot of (or in fact any) wind-up movement of your arms and shoulders. The rotational speed and energy is coming from your swinging outside hip, as your body rotates around one foot. It’s all about getting all your body momentum engaged, which “pulls” the strike. Your arm is just the delivery mechanism. And again, you don’t need to first swing away from your attacker to wind up to gain power, and then swing back into him (as you would do with many traditional types of strikes), you can simply slam that door straight into him, in one fast simple move. Which minimises the warning he gets of your strike. The whip like motion of your arm, also allows some magnification of the velocity of your hand, as well.
So your swinging hip, pulls your shoulders, which in turn pulls your arm, all in a fluid whip-like motion. But the actual strike is being made by your outer hip—the rest are all just links in the chain. The better you can visualise this linkage process, the more effective these strikes will become. With practice, these strikes and slaps can become quite powerful.
The nice thing about all these whip-type strikes, is that if during the attack, you pick up something to use as a defensive weapon, such as a small torch, or sturdy pen, screwdriver, or even a small knife, you can use all the same strikes without changing anything in your motion. Just hold the weapon in a hammer fist orientation, and then strike in the same way as you would normally.
These methods of striking described above are slightly unconventional, but they will enable untrained people to gain a reasonable amount of power in their strikes quite quickly, with some practice.
Obviously, if you are a well trained boxer, or similar, you are probably already able to generate powerful strikes.
You Need to Follow-Through with Intent
Strikes in self defence scenarios can be different to sport martial arts, because often in those sporting events, one only has to touch your opponent to score the point.
Do not fall into the bad habit of executing the techniques very well, while leaving out a key component.
You must make sure that you strike with enough follow-through, to actually cause the amount of damage necessary to incapacitate your attacker.
It’s pretty easy to look good by bouncing your hand, elbow, or fist etc, lightly off the target with speed and precision, and with nice fluid motion. But without actually transmitting enough force into your target, such a blow becomes useless in a self defence situation.
Be careful, because if you train that way, you may fight that way in real life, without perhaps realising it. In the heat of moment, one tends to replicate what you have been trained to do. There usually isn’t time to think, or change the way you do things. What you always do, is probably what you will do.
When striking, in self defence, your aim should be to penetrate and cause sufficient damage beneath the surface, with each blow. There is a small but significant difference between delivering a nice fast strike to someone’s jaw, but which just bounces off the surface—as opposed to a devastating knock-out blow. That difference is just you following through with full intent.
The more you can think of striking “through”, or penetrating into your target, rather than merely striking the surface, the more effective your strikes will be.
To place this principle within the context of our “slamming door” analogy, the range between you and the attacker becomes important.
When you rotate around one leg, pretending to be a door slamming into your attacker, you get to a point in the rotation where you have to stop yourself from going too far, because otherwise you would fall over, or perhaps twist your leg. At that point, where you stop yourself rotating any further, you will be transferring zero energy into your attacker, because your body weight has been slowed down to zero. So if that is your point of impact, while it may look impressive, the actual effect will be negligible, because your hand will literally just be bouncing lightly off the surface.
Remember, the objective is to slam your whole body violently into the attacker, not delicately bounce off of him.
Your actual point of impact should be about half way through your rotation, where you have achieved maximum speed of body rotation, but before you start slowing down, to prevent yourself from rotating too far. You thus need to initiate the strike from the correct distance between yourself and the attacker, to make the impact occur at the optimal part of your rotation. This will enable your strike to be delivered at the point when you have generated maximum power, but also where you are still able to rotate further, to allow you to follow through fully (think of the last part of the strike, after your blow lands, as being an attempt to push their head off their shoulders, or shove them backwards).
This “correct” range for effective striking, is relatively close. You need to learn what is the right range for you, for your different types of strikes.
It helps to practice this on a punch bag, or some sort of striking pad, which will give you feedback about how deeply your strikes are penetrating into the bag, as opposed to merely bouncing off the surface.
If you do not have a punch bag or something similar, you need to visualise striking through your target to a depth of at least 10-15cm, after your point of impact, when practicing the movement against an imaginary attacker.
You Need to Practice
The objective of practice is to program your body on how to complete the motions effortlessly and efficiently, without you having to think about how to do it.
Thoughtful, careful repetition, while you visualise what you are trying to achieve with each blow, is the key.
But start off going through each motion very slowly, concentrating on good form, more than speed and power. Do not try go hard and fast too soon, until you have hard coded the sequence of motions into your system properly. You cannot do something properly at speed, if you cannot yet do it properly slowly.
The key point is focus on getting your whole body moving, slamming into the attacker. Focus on your outside swinging hip, as being your source of power.
Focus also on retaining your balance—especially at the end of the rotation. If your blow misses the target, you should not fall over, or hurt yourself from over extension.
Focus on following through with intent to incapacitate.
And then, once you feel you have that motion sequence correct, then start hitting a bag, to gain feedback on how effective your strikes are. Make adjustments to your movements as necessary.
Your objective in training is to get to the point that you know what ranges you can strike from, and are confident that you can deliver powerful accurate blows, without initially telegraphing your intentions to an attacker, all while protecting yourself from blows to your own head or neck.
You should be training yourself to be able to execute Option A, if that opportunity presents itself, during an attack. Which means that if an attacker gets close enough to you, and is not expecting it, you should be able to knock them out, or otherwise injure them sufficiently, with one or two fast sudden blows.
Plenty of good practice will give you the confidence, and honed capability, to achieve that.
The Need for Surprise and Speed
As stated above, the hard facts of life are that any prolonged unarmed bout between a bigger stronger person, against a smaller weaker person, is probably only going to end one way.
The best chance a smaller weaker person will get to prevail, is to catch their attacker completely by surprise, and then get one or two powerful strikes to land on target, before the attacker realises what is happening.
This is completely doable because most people have a “relaxed” reaction time of about half a second. So if they are not expecting a counter attack, it takes them that long, after they see you start to move, before they do anything at all. Which is more than enough time to land one or two good solid blows.
But once the attacker realises that their supposed defenceless prey is fighting back, that opportunity evaporates, and then it becomes a hard one-on-one slog, with all the odds in the bigger stronger person’s favour.
Which is why it is extremely important for smaller weaker people to pick their moment carefully. Once you launch your attack, do so with speed and every ounce of your ability, because that is your one best chance for you to get away unharmed.
Understanding what range you need to strike from, is crucial. Because you need to get yourself within that range, without alerting your attacker to your intentions, before you can launch your attack.
Although usually it is your attacker that is trying to get close to you—for the same reasons.
You need to control the distance between you and the attacker/s, and only allow the range to close at your choosing. Alternatively, be ready to launch as soon as you see that you can no longer keep them far enough away for safety.
Don’t let them get their own blows in first, if you can at all help that. Striking first, when they don’t expect it, is the best option.
This all means that you need to be wide awake to what is happening around you, and be ready to act fast, if need be. If the little voice inside you starts screaming, listen, and react.
The only advantage you may have in situations like these, is that they may not expect you to suddenly counter-attack them in this way. But that element of surprise can only be used once. So use it wisely.