Self-Defence: A Beginner's Basic Principles To Meet Real Attacks

By sensei Stephen Cheney

Your must assume that you will be in FEAR, uncoordinated and in shock. That you will be surprised by your attacker.
Learn about and train for constant Awareness and risk-assessing your environment. Awareness is your early warning system, like radar. Do not ignore your instincts when sensing any possible but as yet unseen danger.
Whoever uses Surprise in a fight has won half the battle.
Train realistically in attacks where Stress and Fear is deliberately simulated. For example, in environments with sudden loud noises, yelling, swearing, punching, grabbing, shaking, rushing at you, in confusion, in exhaustion, collisions, shoving, attacks from behind, being spun in a circle. Choose to deliberately train feeling afraid. To be afraid and yet to act anyway is the mark of a Warrior, one who is learning to achieve self-control. Mentally train, thinking of What-If scenarios and what to do.
Techniques used in life-and-death circumstances must be both simple and devastatingly effective or they will be fumbled when you are emotional.

Your must assume that you are going to get HURT.
Accept that you will be hurt and deal with the attack. Assume that you will be hit and in pain. You must deal with PAIN and physical CONTACT.
If a weapon such as a knife is involved, and unable to escape, accept that you will be cut and bleeding. Commit yourself to continue to fight, avoid and attack until your opponent is brought totally under control. An orderly training hall or Dojo is not the same environment as the complex chaos of the street. However able you are at applying your techniques in the Dojo, be certain that you will not be as able or as smooth in a street attack. Therefore train to get your ability to as high a level as you can.

Know that Larger Size, Strength and Reach DO MATTER in a real fight.
To overcome or survive such advantages in an attacker you need superior defense and attacking skills. Such skills, called upon in a confusing sudden fearful moment, need to be thoroughly trained into your mind and body. The only workable method of doing that is to Train, train, train, practice, practice, practice. Know that it is more effective and important to strike the right vital spots than it is just to hit anywhere very hard. You keep moving, keep your attacker off balance, keep striking until you can safely get away without him chasing you down and tackling you from behind.

There are LEGAL restrictions on what you do to remain in the safe Legal classification of being a Self-defender and to not be charged in court as an Attacker.
Basically you have the right to defend yourself, even to being allowed to be the first to attack: if you have first made it clear to the Aggressor that you do NOT want to fight, but the Aggressor makes it clear to you that he is going to assault you anyway. A pre-emptive attack is often the best defense. In Self Defense courses you need to learn not only Defensive tactics but Offensive or attacking tactics. You are legally only allowed to use reasonable force, lessening any violence, and you must assess what that is depending on the situation. Of course you have to be alive to act legally, so preserving your life (or that of another victim) is a priority. If you win the battle, then you are legally required to take what steps may be needed to preserve the life or well being of your now contained Aggressor. You must not become a violent aggressor yourself even though provoked. Learn to recognize the signs so that when you are attacked you can distinguish a Killing Type of attack from just a Dominating or Nuisance Type of attack, as these different assaults affect your legal responses.

Self Defense courses are normally short with not enough time to learn a full art.
Understand and expect to get limited abilities. Understand that you might not always win a battle and that you can only get results by the efforts you make to learn. You get out what you put in. There is no easy or lazy road to learn physical skills or emotional controls. On the road of life, those who are lazy get run over. The instructor must tailor the teaching to each individual’s specific needs and to their natural abilities or limitations. This needs to be assessed at the start of learning. Techniques need to be simple, few in number, if possible they should be applicable to different situations, and be designed for the most commonly met attacks; longer courses can cover more.

When you have WARNING of an attack:
ASSESS the situation by first using your mind;
SEE your surroundings:
TALK your way out if possible. Next:
USE your BODY to FLEE if possible, or to AVOID his attack if you cannot flee.
USE your ARMS and LEGS to apply your learned techniques to defend yourself.
KEEP FIGHTING until you no longer need to. Fighting means to COMMIT FULLY your Body, Spirit and Soul or you will end up with none of them.
When you completely have the upper hand, when you are in control of the situation and in charge of your opponent’s body, the law requires that you do not take a turn at being an Aggressor also, or you will deserve to be charged with assault just like the Attacker who assaulted you. The attacker was a vicious attacker when you were deemed weak; if you become a vicious attacker when he is weak, then what is the difference between you both except that you are taking turns? The law requires that you do what you can to decrease the violence (his violence), and when that is achieved, to do what you can to immediately decrease your own forceful activity.

When you do NOT have warning of an attack:
You react as trained. This should involve an immediate:
RECOGNIZING your Fear (so your mind can consciously allow for it instead of unconsciously freezing in shock);
LOOKING at what’s happening (no see, no be);
BREATHING out (to survive impacts);
RELAXING of your body (if possible, to gain flexibility and speed);
LOWERING of your hips (to gain balance and leverage for power from the ground);
MOVEMENT of your body (to move the target he intended to damage or grab) and;
SWEEPING your arms up (to guard you and soft-contact the enemy to feel his force).
The feedback to you of his position, force and direction will determine what you will do next.  DO NOT STOP your actions to assess the situation, but assess, if you can, WHILE you are acting.  The FBI teaching is that any situation can only be assessed to be truly under control when you are safely leaving the scene.

Shielding only. It is ineffective to only fight defensively, if you just keep avoiding or blocking and cannot get away then you will eventually lose.
At the nearest opportunity you must Counter-attack.
So for the Defender, the usual sequence is the three A’s:
    - Awareness,
    - Avoidance,
    - Attack.
They all flow one into another, unless the Aggressor stops.

(Image: Archangel Michael - Zischke)


  1. Thank you for this, sensei.

  2. In India, Krav Maga is now all the rage.

  3. Krav Maga seems more practical to me but Stephen is spot on, only practice and training will get us where we need to be to react the right way. Thanks, man.

  4. Cheney, hi!

    Quite a class; one that I enjoyed thoroughly. Keep up the good job because when you're done we will all be able to defend ourselves much better :)
    It's a great complement to our self-defence classes.


  5. Stephen, don't you think it's dangerous to teach about the legal side of it all? But you still the man, great class.

  6. @ Adam. Teaching the legal angle: You can get mugged, survive, end up in court and be mugged again. If you won the fight then the mugger will in court look more damaged than you and thus appear to be the victim. As a court can only make its assumptions on what is presented to it, reality is often left back at the event site. A court passes final judgment, yet wasn't even at the scene. Courts are human beings and make mistakes. A court is bound up tight by its own books. A court is limited in its vision by its ever revisited decisions on what the wordings of its legal texts, its laws and past cases, mean. Thus a court is similar to a religious cult in that the text is all and the world is to be understood only within the writings therein. The world has suffered, and still does; from those who place their whole faith in texts, the current terrorist situation of fanatical believers and a one-sided view of their sacred text is a case in point, as is the past case of the inquisition. True Self Defense includes protecting oneself against misjudgments made by the law, in case the law is called to the scene. For instance you might disarm an attacker and take away their knife, the law arrives and you are standing holding a knife over another person who is unarmed, what would be their first impression? A court is a people of the book. God giveth and the Law taketh away. Any genuine Self Defense course would include something on your legal obligations, and your selected pattern of Defense in a fight should incorporate safeties that will protect you from your current adversary and also from perhaps any future legal adversary. Also ten witnesses can give ten differing versions. In a civilized environment that is not a war zone you need to take into account your whole surroundings and that includes the power that resides over that environment: the local legal system. Normally the legal system protects good citizens, but not always.

    1. Extremely well explained. Cheers, Cheney
      And no, the legal system doesn't always protect the good citizens.

  7. Very good post but I have one question, maybe I didn't pay enough attention but: how do we do if the attacker has a weapon, Mr Stephen? It could be a knife, a gun whatever. How do we do?

  8. Against a weapon a normal person would die; that is why soldiers are armed. A short Self Defence course would not contain much on containing weapons. Weapons are a large subject requiring a lot of skill (and luck) to overcome if you are unarmed. In street defence best to run away if a weapon is displayed. Distance itself is a weapon/defence, so vacate the danger zone (we are creatures of the Space-Time continuum). If you cannot run and are unarmed: best to look for anything that can used as a weapon as an equalizer and that comes down to awareness at all times of your environment and how to use it. If robbery is all that is the aim then best to hand over money. Better to lose money than to lose your life (carry an extra wallet with money and old cards, but no addresses: no come-backs). A weapon is as dangerous as the ability of its wielder. An amateur using a weapon is not the same as an expert: and details that distinguish this need to be learned. A knife is an underrated weapon and in the hands of an expert can kill many. You do not run out of ammunition with a knife. A major advantage of most weapons is the extra killing/maiming distance it provides. A knife gives more reach than your fist. A gun further distance still. Basically, to overcome a weapon you need to keep out of its killing range. For a gun for instance you need to get so far away as to limit its accuracy, or so close as to be able to grab and jam the firing mechanism (plus a lot more). Fighting is not always the best or only option, there is fleeing, negotiating, outsmarting. There is also dying if wrong choices are made. So reading people and what makes them tick or motivated is very important in life as well as in battle.

    There are weapon defences when you are unarmed, but your situation is extremely bad and again your chances only improve if you train hard. Krav Maga, as other arts, has weapon defences in its teachings. The low chance of survival when unarmed against a weapon indicates the need for citizens to normally be armed themselves, especially in dangerous countries or areas. The old American Wild West or Cossack landscape as never left the present time when criminals are always armed and victims only best them if they also carry. Whenever you are attacked by anyone you should ALWAYS ASSUME that the attacker has a weapon on them somewhere or other and the fight can escalate when it is produced: therefore all fights should be concluded fast with the attacker fully subdued or unconscious. You cannot hold back when you are attacked by a killing attack, you can only hold back full responses when you clearly know that the attack is low-level (or just unbidden play). That means fights that you have agreed to and to the rules. Self Defence is combat and often involves deadly responses to deadly attacks and it has nothing to do with sparring, playing or sports martial arts where rules restrict options and outcomes, win or lose, do not matter in real terms. If you wish to know how you will do against a knife: have an opponent armed with a rubber blade, with a lot of lipstick on it, attack you in a wild and erratic fashion with as many slashes per second as possible (goggle-shield the eyes). Stable attacks of long lunges straight, downward or from the side are the norm only with amateurs. If you cannot use it, you are used.

    1. Thank you for explaining, Mr Stephen. And you gave me a good tip, cheers for that.
      God bless you and enjoy the festivity weekend.


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