"How do I defend against a knife attack?"
"What do I do if someone is drunk and tries to attack me?"
"What if someone has a gun? What do I do then?"
"What if someone sneaks up in the alleyway and grabs me unexpectedly?"
What if, what if, what if.....
Today, I got to spend a bit of time explaining to the single person who has asked me the most questions about self defense on a daily basis (this guy persistently asks almost every time I see him, and won't really take "no" for an answer) my thoughts on self defense for noobs (or, as he called it, "blank paper"). By the way, this only applies to the general population who has not taken any long-term instruction in martial arts. And, again, it is only my opinion, as is everything else in this blog (because it's my blog). So take it for what it's worth.
You cannot learn self defense overnight.
You cannot practice self defense by yourself.
Just because you take a weekend self defense course doesn't mean you can take on the world.
Just because you know a couple of self defense moves, doesn't mean you will actually use them effectively in an attack situation.
You cannot "learn" (read: memorize) a defense for every conceivable attack situation. There will alway be variables.
Just because someone knows martial arts doesn't mean they can defend themselves in an attack situation.
Just because someone doesn't know martial arts doesn't mean they can defend themselves in an attack situation.
Just because you can find a weapon nearby doesn't mean you should pick it up in a situation where you are being attacked.
Defending yourself is not like it is in the movies.
Martial arts defenses are not how they are depicted in the movies.
I believe that in order to defend yourself in as effective manner as it is humanly possible to prepare for, one needs to have a clear mind and quick reaction/thinking at the time when most people would panic. Like most things in life, it is about learning some basic skills, practicing them in simulated situations with real partners and actually learning how to take a hit, and practicing those things until it's second nature because they're basic. Then you learn the concept of how everything works. And then you can apply those concepts to almost any attack situation.
Think about when you learned how to drive. The driver's ed guy didn't teach you what to do if a dog runs into the street in front of you at 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 feet from the left, did he? What about the right? What if it's a cat? What if it's a kid? What if it's a bird? He also didn't teach you what to do if you're making a left turn and some asshole decides to run a red. Or if he ran a stale yellow. Or if he was just driving super slow at the end of a green. Or if there were two cars instead of one. Or if it was a semi-truck. Do you get my drift? He taught you some basics things on how to operate a vehicle safely, some general guidelines, and then the rest you learned through practicing....a shit-ton. Every time you drive, you practice. You might now know how to parallel park on a 17 degree gradient hill in San Francisco, but the driver's ed guy didn't teach you that. You just know now because you parallel parked in a few other situations, as well as parked on a hill before, and it just makes sense that this is how you should combine the two on a rainy, windy SF day.
Practicing by yourself is also not an effective approach to learning how to defend yourself in an attack situation. Sure, you might have that heavy sand bag propped up, ready for you to retaliate against its imaginary attacks, but you'll never have the timing right. Sure, you could repeatedly smack yourself on the head with a bamboo stick to "get used to the pain," but you'll never know what it looks like when someone else is out for your blood. Think about a deer in headlights. The deer knows how to cross the road. It's simple. It's done it a bunch of times. But now...there're shiny lights coming towards it. Fuck.
Having a partner simulate attack situations is the best way to train what you've learned from whatever self-defense/fighting/martial arts course you've decided to take without actually getting yourself in attack situations. It prepares you for a human being coming at you in real time, so you have to 1) not panic, 2) figure out what defense move will work best for you in that situation, 3) get the timing right, and 4) use the appropriate amount of force and speed to stop you from getting stabbed in the eye with a plastic picnic knife. You cannot effectively train those components of self defense by yourself, or over a weekend course.
The only exception to any of this.....is if you've had previous experience in a combat sport (mostly martial arts) and have actually competed several times. I say this, because if you've gotten to the level of having competed several times in a combat sport, then you've already had a minimum of several months to a few years of sufficient and consistent training of that martial art (unless your coach is a mean, mean person who enjoys watching his students get crushed in public). You have already learned the basics of a martial art, which is really enough to defend most people against the majority of attackers. Having been in competitions means you've trained even more vigorously than normal students, upping your ability and mental toughness. It means you've already been in the situation where someone is trying to win, and you're in the way. You've already had to defend yourself. Several times. You've had accidental knocks to the head, getting your wind knocked out of you, bumps, bruises, bleeding, etc, and you're not phased by them anymore. You know what it's like to be super tired and not be able to catch your breath but still have to fight someone because you can't lose. Not this time. You've had to use your basic techniques in situations the instructor didn't teach you....because that's all you had to work with, and you learned how to make it work. You've learned how to be creative with what little you knew, too, because you've at least started to grasp the concept of this whole "defending" yourself thing. You've conditioned yourself to think that an attacker is just another person, and he will no longer be an attacker if you can control him. No biggie. When do I get my post-competition pizza/ice cream dinner?
However, this does not mean that anyone with martial arts experience (even competitively) can defend themselves effectively. People are still humans, and they will fuck up because it's in their nature. They could have a brain fart and that brain fart could be the determining factor on whether or not they get stabbed. They could still panic in the face of danger, because, well, it's actual, REAL, life-threatening danger, not just a fun competition that you know you'll walk out of alive. Or, I mean, if someone decides to surprise attack you with a gun to your head....I mean....that's a pretty tough one to get out of, even for most experienced martial artists.
Now, the chief complaint I got from the guy I was explaining this to today was that becoming efficient at a martial arts to the point of competing takes a lot of time out of one's schedule. Well no shit. There's got to be a better way for the general population of "blank papers" to have a better than 0% of stopping themselves from getting beaten to a bloody pulp, right? Well, of course there is. And again, I'd like to state that this is all my opinion, so if you ever get in a situation and try any of this and it doesn't work, don't blame me. Actually, just try not to get attacked. That's probably best.
1) Run away (See? This is another reason why sprinting is good for you!). It's too much of a hassle for a random attacker to chase after you, unless you made him really angry. Then you should probably make sure you run faster than he does. If you're being robbed, best thing to do is to throw your wallet/purse in one direction, and then run in the other direction. And always run towards where there are people/lights. Bad guys don't like witnesses.
2) If you're stuck in a situation where you can't run and you have to defend yourself, either stay suuuuper far away (out of range for limbs/weapons to reach you), or get suuuuuper close (think super tight bear hug with as much of your body stuck to their body as possible). If you are in the middle range where their strikes can actually reach you, you're probably pretty screwed unless your inner Kung Fu Panda spirit comes through for you. If you're super close, like, trying to merge two bodies into one close, you take away their attack range. Next time your significant other gives you a super tight hug with their head on your shoulder, try to head butt them and see how effective that is. I can tell you right now, it won't be very effective. Weapons all have a range of effective use. Take away that range, and they won't have an effective use. Also, you could simply do the grade-school thing where you put one foot behind theirs and trip them so they fall backwards. And then sit on them while you make them list 10 candy bars. There's a reason why that worked. Because you took away their range. They can't attack you if you're sitting on them and controlling their arms.
There's no way this dog can hurt me now!!
3) If you haven't been properly trained in the usage of weaponry, don't pick up random objects and try to use them as a weapon. You will probably get that "weapon" taken away from you pretty quickly and then all of the sudden find it being used against you. Damn.
Hey, look what I found! I couldn't possibly hurt myself with this!
4) Make as much of a screamy noise as possible. Get the attention of standbyers. Scream something like "FIRE!" or "OMG, IT'S ROBERT DOWNEY JR.!!" Again, the attacker probably doesn't want any witnesses.
5) Get good at dodgeball. If someone's gonna throw something at you, be it a fist or a knife or a shoe, just remember that you don't deserve to get hit, and you also have the option of NOT getting hit. So just move out of its way.
Ok. So, super long post about how to defend yourself in every situation possible. How about this: Just....try not to get easily attacked. Walk around with confidence, head held high, no headphones in, and best in numbers higher than 1. Attackers want the easiest attack possible. They're like the lioness hunting the gazelles. They know they'll only get the weakest one. Don't be the weakest one. Do your sprints. Lift heavy things. Be confident in whatever you do. Have friends. Enjoy your surroundings. There. That's my advice. Now go.....not get attacked and live your life.