Self-Defense – The Myths and Truths. Self-defense doesn’t make you invincible! No matter if you are a black belt in this and a black belt in that, you will get hit and possibly hurt, invincibility does not exist in the real world.
That being said, self-defense does give you a fighting chance, and sometimes that’s the only chance you need to survive. So that’s a good reason to learn, but just because you know a few moves do not underestimate the person in front of you, or the level of violence they may be capable of inflicting on you.
Self-defense myth #1
Self-defense is one of those subjects plagued by myths. The greatest myth, mainly propagated by action movies, is that of invincibility. Here the well-trained warrior always wins through a mixture of way over-the-top techniques and unwavering courage, none of which would help you in a real-life attack situation.
The movie battles are brutally but beautifully choreographed, with astonishing and complex moves, and he ultimately defeats all challenges, again, with techniques that have no use outside movies.
A classic example of this would be the Bruce Lee movies, as much as we all love him, you have to admit the fighting sequences are way over the top, certainly where he’s surrounded by twenty or more guys and he’s blindly flailing those arms and legs and people are dropping like flies! Looks great, but totally unrealistic. But Bruce Lee is a legend and I love him as much as you do, but you get my point, right?
Another example is the Van Damme movies, where in every movie he takes a real beating then miraculously defeats almost everyone with his signature jumping spinning around ballet like kick, looks great, but would you seriously do that in front of someone? No, of course you wouldn’t as 9 out of 10 times you’d miss and end up on the floor at the mercy of your attacker! But again, they are great action movies.
For me, the most realistic martial arts movies were the early Steven Seagal ones, I say early ones simply because later he got so out of shape nothing remotely looked realistic about him or his movies!
Anyway, that’s enough of bashing the actors in these movies, you understand my point, right? They’re good to watch, but if you think you can defeat someone in that manner you’ll be in for a rude awakening.
In reality, no matter how expert a person becomes in unarmed combat, he will always remain terribly vulnerable in a street fight. Ask anyone who regularly faces true violence, such as nightclub doormen or police officers, and almost all will confess to feeling deep fear before and during any fight.
This fear comes from knowing that a person can go from victor to vanquished in a matter of seconds with a single punch. Real fights, unlike those in the movies, always have uncertain outcomes, and it`s not always good. Just because you are the good guy does not mean a thing out in the streets.
Self-defense myth #2
The second myth is slightly more insidious, as it can be propagated even among those who have achieved a high level in the martial arts. This is the belief that somehow fights can be clean and controlled, and that knowing advanced techniques can guarantee victory.
There are many people that have never done martial arts in their entire life, but instead have fought and won numerous real fights. All the martial arts classes and even sparring will not prepare you if you are suddenly confronted with someone who is hell bent on causing you serious injury.
The type that just attack without warning, where you have to act instantly to have a chance, this is where you quickly realize all the training you have done hasn’t prepared you for the level of violence that’s now coming your way. This is the real deal and you better have a plan of action to deal with it quickly, as you may only get one chance to survive.
They may be high on drugs or alcohol which can add to the problems you now about to face. Not everyone is a happy drunk, and when high on drugs, some turn extremely violent.
Nothing will prepare you for a real fight, the level of violence can be shocking, where there are no rules, and if you go down, the attack may well continue. The explosion of adrenaline can paralyze the most well studied fighter if he has only experienced training sessions, who suddenly finds himself in a real-life fight situation. It can and does happen.
I personally know many black belts who look great in training sessions but would have to question their chances in a real street fight. Many get caught up in the game of flying through the different colored belts as fast as possible and getting that fancy certificate, seeing that as the main challenge, rather than truly being able to defend themselves.
What happens when the adrenaline kicks in?
Until you actually do get attacked you cannot possibly know what you would do, you can only imagine what you might do and with the adrenalin flowing like crazy your actions might not be exactly what you had hoped, but I can guarantee you will do one of the following 3 things…
1) Freeze and get attacked and possibly injured!
2) Fight back!
3) Turn and run away!
The last option would be the safest of the 3 options, ensuring no harm comes to you, the first option is by far the worst thing to do as you are going to get attacked for sure in one way or another. The second option is very risky as again you risk being injured; you can only hope your attacker would run away because you took him by surprise by fighting back. But like I said, you won’t know for sure until it actually happens, we can only hope you never have to find out.
It`s impossible to be attack proof!
It would be impossible to make yourself completely attack proof, but you can make yourself be an undesirable target, not by acting tough and aggressive as these actions can trigger an attack, but there are a few measures you can take that will make a potential attacker overlook you and search for an easier target instead by staying focused and looking alert.
Remember if you’re the type that’s wandering around in a world of your own listening to music you are making yourself a very easy target to sneak up on, by the time you realize what’s happened it could be too late.
How a potential attacker sees your posture and demeanor are two highly important things that could dictate whether you get attacked or not, a slouched looking down at the ground kind of posture makes you a much easier target than someone who is upright, alert and businesslike. Think before you act.
Body language must be observed!
You can learn so much by observing someone’s body language. Before getting violent, perpetrators will sometimes do the following to mess with your space and get you rattled:
Any kind of interaction with your belongings. They push aside your beer. They jangle the strap on your purse. They nudge your backpack with their foot. They take a sip of your drink. This is a way that they get in your space and invade your limits.
Any kind of non-welcome physical touch. They flick the side of your lapel. They fluff your hair. They give you a shove on the shoulder or a non-friendly pat on the back. This is meant to be invasive and to see how you will respond.
Hopefully, you will never be exposed to these yourself or see them aimed at a friend. But knowing the predictors of violence are extremely helpful tools to have in your skills-set for whatever situation you may find yourself in.
Also known as a chin jut or a jaw clench, this is when someone grits their teeth and then shoves their jaw out in your direction. When we are feeling angry, we naturally grit our teeth—sometimes to control an emotional outburst and sometimes out of pure frustration. This is also a territorial gesture.
When someone chin juts at you they are threatening your space with theirs. It’s a nonverbal way of saying, “Back up!” Another reason the jaw thrust is confrontational is because it forces the person to look down their nose at you which is a very standoffish gesture.
A nostril flare is when we fan out the outer lobes of our nose, so they are as wide as possible. It’s sometimes called ‘wing dilation’ flaring our nostrils before a fight is a very important survival mechanism, because when we open up our nostrils, we are able to take in more oxygen.
This fills up our lungs and loads our blood with oxygen, so we have the energy to fight. It is possible our nostrils flare before a fight to take in more of the opponent’s smell as some experts think we can subconsciously smell adrenaline and pheromones. Before a fight it is good to know as much about your opponent as possible.
Before getting into a fight our bodies want to get as big as possible. This happens for 2 reasons. First, when we are bigger, we look more imposing to our opponent—and could possibly scare them off. Second, the more space our bodies take up, the more testosterone we produce.
Testosterone (for both men and women) is the strength hormone. It not only makes us perform better and think faster, but it also makes us feel more confident—essential for winning a fight. So, someone who is about to act out with violence will often puff out their chest and hold their head high to look as big as possible.
This is a hard one to catch, but I wanted to point it out. When we are under stress our brain goes into fight, flight or freeze mode where it needs to assess the environment incredibly quickly to decide what to do next. If someone is feeling threatened and is considering getting violent with you, their pupils expand to take in as much of the surroundings as possible—do you have friends with you, could you be carrying a weapon, what’s the escape route? This might even be happening totally subconsciously, but you can be aware of this subtle change to predict aggression.
When someone is preparing for a physical altercation the brain wants to protect vital organs. The way the body does this is by creating a muscular armor around soft tissue. Have you ever seen those videos of magicians getting punched in the stomach?
They are able to do this by clenching their stomach muscles which protect the sensitive intestines. When someone’s entire body tenses up, they are protecting their vitals and getting increased blood flow to their limbs in order to fight or flight faster.
Clenching fists is another type of tightening that happens around anger. When we are angry, we often grip our hands tightly into tough fists. If you are speaking with someone and notice they have just tightened their grip, tread carefully.
Ocular Orbital Tension
The ocular orbital muscles are right around your eyes. When people are suspicious (or at best intensely curious) their ocular orbitals will tighten. You might think of this as a glare or ‘narrowing your eyes’ at someone. This is the best one to prevent escalation, because when suspicion or dislike is addressed early, it can prevent a fight.
Many times, when someone is being threatening and about to lash out or do anything dangerous, they’ll say so through their shoulders. It can be easy to tell when someone’s shoulder is relaxed or raised, and as animalistic as it sounds, it’s something people do instinctually.
The upper chest area is a good spot to look at and examine someone’s breathing. Many times, when we are relaxed, we will breathe through our stomachs, but almost all people who have their adrenaline pumping will breathe through their chests very hard. Be careful around people who seem to breathe rapidly as they are more than likely not relaxed.
Arms and hands
Police officers are trained to keep their eyes focused on suspect’s hands just in case they suddenly reveal a weapon, and this is good advice for anyone in a threatening situation. It may seem obvious to watch out for balled up fists, but it’s a telltale sign someone is thinking violently. Also, it’s important to understand that even crossed arms and hands in pockets could be threatening within certain context.
Feet and legs
This deals with overall stance, and someone’s stance definitely tells a lot about an ensuing threatening situation. The entire concept of blading comes into this type of body language reading, and it’s something that people naturally do when they are threatened. Keep in mind that many people who do carry weapons will blade their weapon side away from someone in order to protect and hide their weapon.
If another person comes into your personal space that’s of course a moment to feel threatened, and there are several ways in which someone threatening could invade your space that you need to be aware of.
Sometimes an invasion of one’s personal space may seem very friendly at first, kind of like what you would see in a Mafia movie, and someone may act very friendly and enter a friends-only space while not being invited to do so. This of course makes people react in a defensive way or submit to their dominance in the space between you.
The closer someone gets to your comfort zone the more they are risking you putting in the ‘first-strike’ that makes detrimental differences in assault cases. They may know this and be baiting you into fighting.
Touch can always be invasive in certain situations and if someone you don’t want to touch you touches you it can always be perceived in a form of threat.
There also many other gestures you should take into consideration as to when body language can be threatening, and these include things like insulting gestures, sudden movements, and mock attacks.
So, use these tips to avoid threatening people, but remember to be smart with this type of knowledge as well and avoid threatening situations!
Always remember, self-defense doesn’t make you invincible! That being said, self-defense does give you a fighting chance, and sometimes that’s the only chance you need to survive. So that’s a good reason to learn, but just because you know a few moves do not underestimate the person in front of you, or the level of violence they may be capable of inflicting on you.
Pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you, if you have to fight, fight like your life depends on it, as that might well be the case, and remember keep the fancy and elaborate moves in the movies, as that the only place they work.