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Basic Self-Defense Awareness and Techniques

I've been training in martial arts since the 1980s and consistently since the '90s. I am a 2nd-degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.

A on the left and B on the right meet.

A on the left and B on the right meet.

Basic Self-Defense Skills

Self-defense skills are important because having them could mean the difference between being hurt or killed and surviving unharmed if you are ever physically attacked. In such a situation, it is crucial that you have very simple, quick, and effective techniques which have a greater chance of working in a dangerous confrontation. Here, we will examine very basic self-defense techniques that anyone can perform and which can efficiently and speedily end a physical attack.

Psychological Considerations

First, it would be advantageous to explore the psychological aspect of self-defense.

In the ancient Chinese text by Sun Tzu, called The Art of War, it is said the greatest warrior wins every battle without fighting. Considered seriously, the obvious implication of this statement is that you are so aware that you are able to avoid conflict before it happens: you see it coming. It has also been said that the best way to keep from getting hit is to not be there when the punch comes.

This means two things: either you must move in such a way as to avoid being hit or you are never there in that situation in the first place. This means you must be very aware of what is happening around you. You must be observant, sensitive, and perceptive. This perceptiveness is entirely up to you and involves not so much thinking as it involves very mindful watchfulness: not suspicion or paranoia, but simple direct perception, awareness of your environment, and the energy you feel inwardly and from those around you; observation of body language, tone of voice, and movement from others.

Awareness also means that you realize it is a fact of the world we live in that there is violence. It means you don't avoid that fact but prepare yourself for the possible event of violence in your life. Again, this doesn't mean being worried or suspicious, it just means you are aware and willing to be armed with the knowledge of self-defense and a mind capable of full observation of yourself and your surroundings.

So I have put together some very basic self-defense techniques and natural tools, a kit which can be learned and then used when necessary. These tools and techniques can be learned and used by anyone with a minimal amount of physical capability. It is not meant for the ring or the octagon, but for dangerous street encounters; it is meant primarily as a means of escape. Your best move is always to run from physical danger, if possible, thereby avoiding harm altogether. If you can't escape from the very beginning, then there are still ways to get out of the situation even when it has escalated to the point of someone putting hands on you to do you harm. In this way, it is important to understand the effect of distance.

The following instructions are divided this way: a basic stance, basic blocks (to stop a weapon in motion), basic strikes (to do damage to vital areas such as the eyes, cheek nerves, nose, chin, temple, groin, etc. to cause nerve reaction enough to end a fight or to escape), a basic kick (to groin), escapes, and finally, some relatively advanced techniques that require a more elaborate solution to being attacked.

The Ready Stance

The purpose of this stance is to position yourself in a non-threatening fashion so as not to incite an aggressive individual who has, through tone of voice, body language, and energy, displayed that he or she may be going to attack you. This stance provides you with a base, turns your body a little sideways to lessen exposure of your targets, and puts your hands in a position above your attacker's hands (weapons) so that you can more quickly block an incoming attack. The stance is not obvious and is deceptively passive, though it has prepared you for an attack.

In this series of photos, you see A on the left meeting B on the right. B becomes belligerent as shown through body language and words, and you might pick up on hostile energy. A slips his right foot back and raises his hands up to head level in a "I don't want any trouble" position. At this point, using your own ingenuity, you could be talking your way out of the fight. Of course, at the same time, your body is in a suitable position for you to defend yourself.

A steps back with his right foot and raises his  hands, preparing for the possibility of an attack from B.

A steps back with his right foot and raises his hands, preparing for the possibility of an attack from B.


The purpose of a block is to stop a weapon that is in motion. From the Ready Position, your arms are already in position to block a punch or strike or even a grab.

The Inward Block

The inward block moves towards the center of your body and the fist is at eye level so that your arm covers the area of your head. Your forearm is slightly in a diagonal position but mostly vertical.

The Outward Block

The outward block moves away from the center of your body and the fist is at eye level, the forearm is mostly vertical but is slightly diagonal forwards. As you can see, it is directly across from the inward block; if you performed these blocks in succession (which is possible you might have to do in a real self-defense situation), it would look like a sort of windshield wiper effect traveling horizontally.


With these blocks or after performing these blocks, strikes can be added to your technique.

The Heel Palm Strike

Here, in the first set of photos, we have the outward block, coupled with the heel palm strike: the wrist is bent back, the fingers are kept together, the thumb is tucked in, and you strike with the bottom hard part of the palm. The heel palm is a hard weapon and has the advantage of making it very unlikely that you will hurt your hand while performing the strike. There is danger of creating injury to the fingers, knuckles, and wrist while using punches; when hitting someone with the smaller bones of the knuckles, the skin could tear, bones break; and the wrist could hyper-extend, break or dislocate from accidentally bending too far on impact of the fist. So the heel palm is an excellent, hard weapon that best ensures the safety of your own body while using it.

The Finger Strike

The Finger Strike is intended for soft, vulnerable targets, primarily the eyes; obviously it is easy to damage the fingers in violent situations. The point of strikes, and doing such things as attacking the eyes, is to get the mind of an aggressor off thinking about attacking you and on to dealing with his own pain. It is important that these strikes are swift and prompt, possibly ending a confrontation quickly to allow escape to safety.

Elbow Strikes

The elbow is another good weapon: It is hard and compact, and meant for close quarters. As you can see, it is also a fairly versatile weapon.

Here we have the inward elbow, fist in chest, making a compact and hard weapon, and traveling from outside to inside (an inward elbow with the right arm would be traveling from the right going in towards the left).

The outward elbow, travels from inside and goes out (an outward elbow with the right arm comes from the left and goes towards the right).

The back elbow travels from directly in front of you and shoots back.

Finally, we have the upward elbow, which starts low and shoots up.

The Front Kick

The Front Kick is one of the simplest kicks and is effective for self-defense purposes, especially when delivered to a very vulnerable target like the groin, which requires very little impact to cause deep excruciating pain to the attacker: When kicked in the groin, he is likely to forget about attacking you at least momentarily, if not forever.

Impact is made with the shin or instep up into the groin; alternately, you can strike with the ball of the foot by curling your toes back.


Here are some techniques to escape from grabs.

Escape From the Straight Wrist Grab

This first escape is against a straight wrist grab: the attacker is grabbing your right wrist with his left hand. It is important to keep in mind that he is grabbing you for a reason; he is going to pull you somewhere, hit you, or the more sophisticated attacker might apply a joint lock. It is crucial to escape quickly when grabbed.

The attacker (A) grabs B's wrist. B turns his wrist and hand so that it is horizontal and has created a skinny space between the attacker's fingers and thumb from which the escape will be made. Now B pulls his hand towards his chest and thrusts his elbow towards his attacker's arm and escapes the grab. Then B makes his escape by running away.

Escape From the Cross Wrist Grab

In this sequence, the attacker reaches across and grabs A's right wrist with his right hand. A drops and anchors his right elbow into his body, turns his hand to face palm up, and angles his forearm toward the right and pulls his arm back toward his own right shoulder as he step back with his right foot.

The following sequence, we have the same attack; this time the defender A strikes the nerve two inches above the attacker's wrist, while simultaneously pulling his wrist back and down, out of the attacker's grip.

Escape From the Two-Handed Wrist Grab

In the next set of moves, the attacker grabs your right wrist with both of his hands. You jam your fingers into his eyes as a distraction on the way to reaching inside of the attacker's arms to grab your own fist to pull your arm out of the attacker's grip as you step back with your left foot.

Escape From the Two-Handed Choke From the Front

The attacker chokes you with both hands from the front. You step back with your left foot and turn your body, releasing pressure from your wind-pipe. You raise your right hand straight up, and then swiftly drop your elbow down on your attacker's arms to release the choke completely.

Escape From Two-Handed Choke From Behind

The attacker chokes you with both hands from behind. You raise both hands above your attacker, step to the right, turn to the right toward your attacker, and drop your hand across his arm to shed him off.