Rick Tew's NinjaGym Online Personal Security Course Lesson

Personal Security Course / Self-Defense

How to Defend yourself in a Fight

I remember watching a video on Lima Lama and even though it has been over 10 years since I have seen that tape – the words of the narrator still ring in the back of my head: “Notice the master is not intimidated”

Intimidated! By what, one of his students preparing to strike with an obvious attack? Give me a break. Better yet, give the students who want to learn self-defense and watching these tapes a break. I took a closer look and just as the voice stated in the background, the master did not look intimidated.

First of all – no instructor teaching on a video tape is ever going to be intimidated by a throw dummy. About 80% of most traditional techniques performed on self-defense training video wouldn’t work anyway. At least not as they are taught. The real concept should be to train the body and give you a number of tools that you can use in case of a combat situation. So why in the world would you be intimidated when training your techniques?

In a typical class situation there is consent between the attacker and the defender. You are going to hit me and I am going to defend with such and such technique. It is possible to pull this stuff off in a real fight, but totally unrealistic to think that you are training for a real fight. Picture a student punching a Master and then freezing like a statue while the master throws a series of targeted blows to the stiff student.

“Okay, you punch at me and hold your arm out straight while I jump around and do something fancy.”

What is it that we are learning here?

On the Offense
In my opinion, most self-defense systems are focused on the offensive maneuvers in a combat situation. The, “I will do this, when you do that” approach. What I mean to say is that we are so focused on our deadly attacks, that we learn very little about actually defending ourselves. I agree that it is important to learn how to target a kick to the knee – but balance is what you need in order to survive and train for real combat. Remember, it is called self-defense, not self-offense. If you are not learning to train your defenses properly, you will be in for a huge shock when the moment arrives for you to defend yourself.

Being offensive makes sense in the dojo when you are selling a punch. People come there to play Jackie Chan and act like movie marvels. They don’t want to look weak and defenseless. Let’s be honest – do you think you will be able to maintain a certain hero like composure during a combat situation? No, it gets ugly, it is an ugly thing – remember there is the Martial and the Art. So, you have to practice in this arena too.

Okay, I am not talking about the guy jumping on you in the big puffy suit and you throwing a thousand and one punches and kicks while screaming for help. I am talking about an overall focus of self-defense during your training – not just panic attacks or punching a giant ball on the top of someone’s shoulders.

All in all, it comes full circle. You are on the defense, but you win with your offense. The key is to keep these on the same level. Since we already focus so much on technique – let’s talk a little about playing the defense. Below are 9 things to train on to improve you defensive abilities.

01. Natural reactions

Okay – I know we all want to look like we have everything under control and yes, it would be nice to NOT be intimidated by our opponent. But let’s face it, if you had everything under control, you wouldn’t be in this situation. No matter how good you get at driving down a one lane highway, nothing is going to guarantee that the car coming from the other direction isn’t just going to drive into your lane. When that happens, you will react and if time allows – respond. Either way, I can guarantee (unless you are on drugs) that you will not just sit back and smile while Death overlooks saying, “hey, he doesn’t look intimidated.”

So, a natural reaction is something that you need to develop. In class, you already know your opponent is aiming his fist at your face. You know what he is going to throw and you usually know exactly what technique to use. This is okay for practice and the development of specific training, but it won’t develop a natural reaction. Why, because that isn’t how you would move or act in a real situation. The way your body moves and the way your internal systems function will be different in a real life event.

Acting naturally is also the ability to adapt with what is actually happening. In class we try to control the situation or set up a scenario that we can fit into. This isn’t how it works in real life. Punches are going to come and some of them are going to hit you. You can either learn tactics that utilize these attacks to help you defend yourself – or you can get hit in the face.

02. Awareness

You do a forward roll, you get up and you get back in line. This is the typical approach for most training. You do the technique, practice the roll and that is it. But this is only 75% of the training. Awareness is key in developing a true self-defense strategy. For example, if you were pushed into that roll, wouldn’t it be wise to come up with your guard? Perhaps there are multiple attackers, so when you roll you could be looking around and using your side vision. Keeping an awareness requires that you envision an actual situation and or opponent. One way to practice this is to observe before, during and after any technique. We practice these concepts in the Martial Science by actually connecting techniques together in order to keep the student on their toes. We also play games like tossing a pad (or Frisbee) to the person after they roll. This will teach them to get their guard up and keep their focus on the environment.

03. Weapons

With so much focus on grappling, very few people are taking the time to distinguish between the cage and reality. On the street you do not want to go to the ground. It might work in a commercial arena where there are rules, but on the street there are too many elements at work. Your opponent could have a knife, stick or chair. You don’t just dive for a person’s leg when they have a baseball bat swinging at your head. If you practice a traditional system, take a long hard look at your weapons training. Is it realistic? I have seen a number of knife defenses performed in traditional systems that actually give the attacker a better edge. And let’s be realistic, do you really think you can stop a sword with a few fancy moves and some hand claws? This might work in cartoons, but reality offers a different view. Getting on the defensive with weapons is a touchy subject but usually systems focus on two unrealistic concepts:

1. Too slow
2. Too complicated

Too slow
Many systems teach fancy so called weapons defense tactics. The problem is that your opponent would usually need to be loaded up on slow motion pills in order for you to pull it off. Cross blocking a knife thrust for example – often seen in basic karate training. Or how about high blocking the typical psycho stab? Kicking the knife, grabbing the blade and a number of other techniques are not as easy to do when your opponent is truly trying to dice you into small pieces.

Too complicated
Then you end up with these guys who are so good at knife manipulation that when they teach a technique it has like 500 components. Twist here, turn there, flip that and flop those. Just way too much to think about when in fact a knife defense is based on very few yet very important maneuvers.

Good weapons self-defense has to be seen from the Defensive. The first thing we teach when a blade is drawn is to move the body into a position that protects the major arteries. This is a defensive reaction and very important. Another important factor is having the ability to size up your opponent without underestimating his ability. This can be done by first determining whether or not the attacker is a pro or an amateur. This makes a big difference since 99% of all your techniques will only work against an amateur who thrust the weapon or slashes wide.

For practice – try these two simple drills and then try to add more and build on this for a basis for real self-defense.


Give an opponent a wooden knife and simply have them attack you any way they want. You simply react, respond or defend in a manner that you were taught. Pair off with a partner – each of you with a wooden knife. Then, try to cut each other, being careful not to smack the wood into the head. This will teach you professional knife fighting skills.

Knife Defense against Amateurs

Knife Peel and Knife Manipulation


Give you partner a rubber escrima stick (wear head gear during this one) and stand at arm’s reach. Then allow them to strike at you with the stick. You can defend yourself any way that comes to mind.

Defense against Stick Attack

Empty Hand Defenses against Stick Attack Tutorial

04. Multiple attackers

This isn’t something easy to practice. There are strategies, but in a defensive manner it is truly about survival. I am writing this article more as an awareness issue and not as a training solution. Although I offer some tips – they are purely some concepts that will help bring you to a new reality so that you can expand upon the Defensive concept. With multiple attackers it isn’t easy. To start, you can gear up with 3 guys and simply try to spar your way out of a bad situation. On the street, things might be a little different. You could be cornered; one could already have a hold of your jacket. Even a skilled martial artists is in trouble when faced with more than one attacker. What is important to realize here is that your non combative skills will be the most important. Your ability to talk, move, run, evade will be your assets. The second you get into a grapple with one opponent it leaves you open for attacks. So, learn to throw quick punches and kicks that are used for distractions or limiting an opponent’s movement.

05. Push your own buttons

As we move through the world physically it is easy to get caught up with our external life. But in truth you live inside that bone that forms your face. Your entire reality is actually all balled up in your brain. It controls your feet, fingers and attitude. It also controls your state of mind. That it is you, but very few of us actually understand how to gain this Mental Mind Control. In the Martial Science we believe this is an important concept to train in. Why, because we are reactive beings. If I smack you in the face – you will probably blink. If I jump out and scream you will probably have a limiting fear and shock to your system. With some basic training and a few drills on the Mind Martial Science, you will be able to develop triggers that put you into the right kind of mental state. Think about it for a second – if you had a button on your body that you could push whenever you entered a combat situation, would you push it? This would depend on what that button did – right? Well, for most of us that button is a limiting, controlling and fear driven stimulant. However, we can make that button into a turbo boosting, confident, powerful force if we simply reprogram the trigger. It sounds complicated, but it is all very simple. If you don’t learn some stimulus responses- your opponent will jump out and guess what… each time he does your button gets pushed. So why not program it so that you actually become more powerful when something like this occurs.

06. Water fight

Okay, most of us stand like we own the building when a punch is being thrown at our face. This is usually because we know what is coming, eyes wide as we move around acting like Jackie Chan. This isn’t how most people would react if they were blasted with a number of punches to the face. A more realistic approach would be like that of swatting a 100 bees diving in your direction. It is a defensive approach. In this situation your eyes close up, the skin on your forehead tightens and you feel and act in a more realistic manner. Here is a good exercise: have someone squirt you in the face with a water hose. Now defend against that water stream as if they were punches to the face. Bring your hands up, squint but don’t close your eyes. Walk toward the water or away from it. If your eyes are sensitive wear goggles. Make sure you keep your posture for self-defense. Don’t just turn your head all the way around. Once you get used to this, add a ball or other safe object to the situation. You have to catch the ball while being squirted in the face. This will teach you to defend and still be aware and prepared to strike. Experiment with this drill to develop a basic understanding for the way we actually work during a facial onslaught. Makes sure that you allow the water to flow through the hose before you start the drill. Water from a hose that has been left in the summer sun can be scolding hot – so be careful.

07. Combat stance

Intimidated or not, you better get yourself into a low stance. Unless you are boxing or sparring, a low stance will give you stability and control. By lowering your center of gravity you have more balance and it will be much harder for your opponent to take control or knock you over a coffee table. Imagine someone coming up behind you, picking you up and throwing you across the room. Try it – once standing straight up, feet together – then once with your weight low feet apart knees bent like that of a horse stance. It is much harder to throw you when your weight is low. When facing off with an opponent you want stability – especially if you feel you need to gain control of their body while maintaining control of yours. You can push and pull when you are in a good combat stance.

08. Running and Hiding

Okay, so you’re all grown up and you have too much pride to be running away from an attacker. This is simply the hardest thing for a person to do. Walking away is one thing, but running and hiding is simply childish right? Well, if you are trying to protect yourself, the best thing you can do is simply get away. You may have spent 10 years grappling, but if the day comes and you are faced with a biker gang on too much corona- you better know how to use your feet. You can’t grapple your way out of these situations. Also, what if you are in poor shape and facing a group of angry teenagers? Well again, you had better be able to move and move fast.

I climb rocks, walls, fences and trees. It may not seem very realistic and I do it for fun most of the time – but at least I could combat an army simply by cutting down the numbers after a chase. You run and that cuts down 50%, you climb over a fence and it cuts down 25% more. You crawl through holes, roll over obstacles, jump bridges and dodge cars – cutting down the remainder of your assailants. Escape and evasion may not seem like the macho strategy, but it is one that is realistic and again – defensive.

09. Percentage Base

Okay, I believe that at any given moment you have a certain percentage or chance of survival. This is to say that you might have a 50% chance of defending yourself. Most systems focus on the other end of the spectrum with 100% success as their vision. This is truly a goal, but it is unrealistic to think that your techniques didn’t work just because you got beat up. Think about it – you get attacked and if you didn’t train you could have been killed or seriously injured. So just because you get beat up, doesn’t mean that your training isn’t working – it could just mean that you would have gotten beat up much worse. The goal is to increase your percentage base. We do this by training and developing our skills. Increasing this base is focused on the following areas:

– Toughness
– Strength
– Endurance
– Agility
– Technique

Notice that technique is last. Odd as it is, most people focus primarily on the techniques when the other four skills are what usually determine your survival. Another way to increase your percentage base is to determine what your strengths and weaknesses are. By building on these, you can increase your base percentage.

Okay – I can’t go into depth on these training methods – this article is just to give you an idea of what is out there. It is important to understand that you need to be on the defensive and see the situation from that point of view. Having someone swing a stick at you without having them follow a set pattern, truly gives you the ability to taste some of what you are really dealing with. Self-defense doesn’t mean that you can’t have a little art and fun with your training. It simply means that we need focus on a lot of given areas during our training. Since we are learning self-defense as well as a martial art – I believe it deserves proper recognition.


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