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Best Self-Defense: Martial Arts Positions and Techniques in Pictures

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.

Learn how to avoid getting hit when fighting.

Learn how to avoid getting hit when fighting.

How do you keep from getting hit, tackled, or attacked?

This is a basic question that all martial arts answer in some form or another. Of course, this question is answered in the form of blocks, parries, and body and head movement.

However, I would like to present other ways this question is answered in more fundamental ways by way of principles.

Establishing a Base and Covering and Protecting Your Centerline

Establishing a base and covering and protecting your centerline involves getting in a fighting stance. Fighting stances differ from one system of martial art to another, but they all cover certain principles. The first is the establishment of a base; one in which your moves will have power and effectiveness, which protects you from getting hit in vulnerable areas, one which does not hamper mobility, and one in which it is difficult for the attacker to throw or manipulate you.

We will examine what is in Kenpo Karate called the Neutral Bow Stance or Basic Fighting Stance.

The Neutral Bow has height, width, and depth dimensions. Height is covered from head to toe (vertically, up and down) and is determined by the bending of the knees. Width is covered from side to side, and, in the case of the Neutral Bow, is determined by the toe-heel line, which will be discussed presently. The depth of the Neutral Bow involves how far in towards, from front to back foot, your stance is, and is determined by the heel-knee line.

From a normal standing position, with your feet shoulder-width apart, pretend your feet are on railroad tracks; keep your left foot where it is as you slide your right foot straight back, keeping it on the imaginary track until it rests at a point that feels comfortable. In other words, not so deep that it's awkward. Now, pivot both feet to diagonal positions, at 45 degree angles, with your toes pointing towards the corners. Then bend your knees, to the extent that it's comfortable and springy, so you can burst into action. At this point, we can examine the width and depth zones. The front toe will be in line with your back heel if you were to draw a line from your front toe to your back heel. This is the width of the stance. If you were to drop your back knee to the ground, it would be in line with your front heel; this is the depth of the stance. This stance gives you a decent base. The feet and body are angled so that you are planted firmly and are able to launch techniques and keep from being thrown.

In addition, your targets are not easily available to the attacker; you are enough sideways to adequately close off your targets from the adversary. However, you are not so much sideways that you don't have your own weapons available and in line to counterattack your opponent. The stance is not so low, wide, and deep to hamper mobility either. You are not facing your opponent square, which would expose all of the targets, and you are not completely sideways, which would totally close off your targets, but it would make it more difficult and time consuming to use your own weapons.

From this position, the lead hand can cover the upper zone of your head to solar plexus (top of abdomen) while your rear hand can cover the zone from the solar plexus to groin. Below the groin, the legs must cover themselves by way of moving to keep from being injured. Simply put, reaching down to block a kick to the legs with your arms leaves your face vulnerable to attack and your body being pounced on because you're bent over. Therefore, you keep your back straight, head up, let your hands and arms defend targets from the groin up, and let the legs protect themselves with quick moves and their own form of blocks.

What has been described so far is what in Kenpo is called a “cover.” The meaning of the word “cover” is to anticipate motion. It means you are ready for what's coming.


Another way to keep from getting hit is by way of a principle known as “checking.” As “covering” is anticipating motion, checking is to prevent motion. The simplest way to do this is by grabbing the attacking limb. There is also checking by manipulation of other body parts of the attacker to effectively cancel his attack or possibility of attack. Your own positioning can cancel the opponent's attack by cutting off the line of entry to your targets.

Positional Check

The Neutral Bow offers a “closing off” of your targets, blocking an attack's entry to your vital areas. Here we can see how your own proper positioning obstructs the opponent from even “accidentally” kicking you in the groin.

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Checking by Canceling Height, Width, and Depth Zones

Another way to check an attack is by manipulation of the attacker, specifically by controlling his height, width, and depth zones. An attack can come horizontally; by checking the attacker's width zone (distance from side to side), he will be obstructed from attacking along a horizontal plane. By canceling his height and breaking it down, he cannot attack vertically (up or down) or directly (straight in). Checking the depth zone involves pressure into the opponent, his depth zone being the dimension that goes in towards him. For good measure, it is advisable to check at least both his height and width zones simultaneously, as pictured here.

The beginning of the freestyle sparring technique in Kenpo called B1a. Jamie and Glenn face off.

The beginning of the freestyle sparring technique in Kenpo called B1a. Jamie and Glenn face off.

Glenn grabs Jamie's wrist

Glenn grabs Jamie's wrist

Glenn pulls Jamie's arm downward and diagonal, manipulating and canceling his height and width zone, effectively making Jamie's weapons useless.

Glenn pulls Jamie's arm downward and diagonal, manipulating and canceling his height and width zone, effectively making Jamie's weapons useless.

Another method of checking the attacker's movement and height zone is to simply control his head (and therefore body). The head is the guide to the rest of the body, and if maneuvered and controlled, you can control other parts of the body. A simple way to do this, particularly in a clinch, is to grab the back of the neck and put pressure down on the opponent's head and body. This will cancel his ability to kick and punch effectively.


The Hinge Principle

Here I would like to present the Hinge Principle. Essentially, this is related to the fact that an attacker can be manipulated at points where the body parts bend, namely at the joints of the body. An attacker whose body is in some way not stable or bent will not be able to attack effectively and is also vulnerable. Here I present some methods of manipulating the attacker's position by way of his hinges.

Protecting the Legs: Leg Check and Sprawl

As stated earlier, the legs must take care of themselves. Which means they must move so they are not there to be kicked or grabbed. Of course, moving the target is always advisable, including moving the body and head while fighting. A moving target is harder to hit and can't be hit if it's not there. To defend against a kick to the legs, you must either move the leg out of the way of the kick or lift the leg in a position that effectively blocks the kick, as pictured below.


The other possibility is that someone will tackle you at the leg or legs to take you to the ground, at which point you could be in trouble unless you know how to effectively fight on the ground. One of the best, oldest, and well-known defenses against a leg take down is the sprawl. When the opponent shoots in to take your leg, you must shoot your own leg back, drop your hips down and put pressure on top of your opponent with your upper body. In this position, you are on top and have an advantage, and you also have choices on what to do depending on your knowledge and skill.

The Stop Hit or Zero Beat Defense

It has been said that the best defense is a good offense. It just so happens that this is true. The reason why it is true is that action always beats reaction; it gets the job done in one move with no wasted time. Simply put, if you hit the attacker before he hits you, you've beat his action. He will be overwhelmed from the beginning and will have to play catch up, and it will take him more time than you to respond.

Glenn kicks Jamie before he can reach him with an attack.

Glenn kicks Jamie before he can reach him with an attack.

Glenn, again, kicks Jamie before he can reach him with an attack.

Glenn, again, kicks Jamie before he can reach him with an attack.

Jamie hits Glenn before he can initiate an attack.

Jamie hits Glenn before he can initiate an attack.

Ways To Keep From Getting Hit


Position of body blocks your targets

Controlling the attacker's dimensional zones

Moving the target or blocking the attack


In conclusion, and to simplify, it is advantageous, in order to keep from getting hit in a self-defense situation, to study how to position yourself and how to position your opponent to prevent attacks from reaching your vital targets.

© 2012 Nathan Bernardo


Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on March 17, 2013:

Thank you, healthylife, I certainly appreciate your feedback and vote. Yes, the training can be rough and, to be honest, I've slowed way down. But the workouts are great.

healthylife2 on March 17, 2013:

Excellent job demonstrating the proper techniques. The pictures help although the explanations are comprehensive. This reminds me of the techniques I attempted to learn while boxing with my trainer. The stance was very important.I never improved but always got a great workout. After my first nose bleed I quit but still workout. Voted up!

Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on October 23, 2012:

Thank you, GiblinGirl! I'm glad you stopped by!

GiblinGirl from New Jersey on October 23, 2012:

Great pictures. You clearly put a lot of time into your hubs to make sure everything is easily understood. Nice article!

Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on October 22, 2012:

Thank you, Mr. Brusso, I'm glad you appreciated the article and I appreciate your attention and feedback. Thanks for stopping by!

PeterBrusso from Mecca, CA on October 22, 2012:

Good article. I can tell you spent a lot of time on this and it's nice to see! As you mentioned this is very different in each art and it is good to see that you recognize that. Many don't as their art is the only way... good article... keep this stuff coming!

Master Peter Brusso

Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on October 22, 2012:

Precisely; positioning is crucial and timing is always important; can't really pull anything off without timing, especially with the stop hits I cover in this article. Thanks for your interest, comment, vote, feedback, and for stopping by!

Akhand Pratap SIngh from Lucknow(U.P.) India on October 22, 2012:

Nice and useful hub! the techniques mentioned are really very affective if used with proper positioning and timing . voted up and useful!

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