There is a difference between Self-Defense (or "Self Protection" - an increasingly popular term) and Martial Arts. That's not to say that Martial Arts cannot be used for self-defense, but rather that they are a superset of it and more emphasis is usually put on the "Art" or sports element than in the practical self-defense aspects.
Furthermore, since they tend to spend a long time training in one system or another to become proficient at it, there may be a tendency among them to push their style as "the best" and to close their minds to other styles.
These days, with the rising popularity of so-called "reality based" systems such as Krav Maga, many of the traditional martial arts are putting heavier emphasis on the practical self-defense applications of their systems. This is good news in my opinion, but as a side effect it seems many people are now attracted by "the most brutal" versions of self-defense systems they can find. I believe this is because the more brutal/devastating a move seems, the more confidence the student has in its effectiveness. It's a bit of a killing a fly with a sledgehammer scenario.
I'm all for context based self-defense (ie, if the situation calls for brutality, then you should act accordingly), but breaking somebody's neck because you're not sure if they're being aggressive is a bit over the top, as I'm sure most rational people would agree. There are numerous debates on this within the self-defense world but it's not the topic of this article. And anyway - what good are all those skills if you don't exercise proper awareness and behavior in the first place, so as to at least give you a chance of using them if the need does arise?! For example, if you let somebody so close into your personal space that you can't see what he's doing below the neck, they it's no good knowing how to stop a knife attack where you need to see the knife first (a rare occurrence anyway!)
It's fun to learn self-defense situational techniques, no doubt, but before we all go jumping into fancy moves we should remember the goal is self-defense, not showing off our skills, and without a good self-defense game plan it all falls flat anyway.
What follows is one of the simplest, and most effective, self-defense "techniques" (if you could even call it that) I have come across. It has been around in some form or another for a long time, used extensively by doormen and bouncers, yet it's only quite recently come to be known as "the fence" - a title coined by the British former bouncer and self-defense author Geoff Thompson. It basically goes like this:
You simply put your hands out in front, approximately chest height, as you might if you were having a conversation or explaining something to an audience. Another way of doing it would be to put them out as if to say "stop" - the kind of motion you would make if someone was coming onto you aggressively anyway.
That's it! It's a passive gesture, and very non-confrontational, but don't underestimate its power. What you've done in a very natural and undetectable way, is to get your hands up and into range of his face - hopefully much closer than his hands are to you. Furthermore, you've created a barrier (ie, a "fence") between you and the assailant, which gives you enough space to see any sudden or suspicious moves he makes. Any unwelcome gestures (such as blading backwards to throw a hay-maker, or reaching into his back pocket) and you will not only be able to see them, but you'll have the distinct advantage of already having your primary weapons (your hands) at very close range to your primary target (his head), and thus your reaction time, or body movements, don't have to be as fast as they would from an unprepared stance. In fact, you may appear fact if you do react, but it's really just a matter of distance. It's a real sneaky and extremely practical self-defense technique, and I recommend you start to make it part of your everyday life. Your rule going forward should be - "I never let a stranger approach within arms reach of me without having my hands up" (Of course a dose of common sense should be employed - it might not be practical on a busy city street for example, but you get the idea!)
How you put your hands out is a matter of preference. You can turn your palms forward or backwards, you can make the "stop" gesture, or you can look like you're conversing - really just do what feels natural to you, as it's a very natural movement after all. Next time you're at a club and you see someone giving hassle to a bouncer, notice the posture of the bouncer. If he's in any way experienced I guarantee he will have his hands at close range to the aggressor. He might not use the fence as described - he could perhaps be stroking his chin, or imitating an "arms folded" stance, but the main point to notice is that his hands will be above his waistline and at close striking range to the aggressor, if need be.
Once you've made this behavior part of your self-defense plan, then you can start to think about the techniques you've studied to deal with various types of attacks. At least this way you might see them coming!
Whether you've done any formal self-defense training or not, you should check the resource box below for links to more practical self-defense tips that you should incorporate into your game plan.
Paul Duffy teaches self-defense and Krav Maga in Dublin, Ireland. He has trained in several martial arts styles, both hard and soft, since childhood. You can find many more tips and information on his blog.
Paul's focus today is on teaching effective self-defense to everyday people, and devises courses specifically suited to this purpose.
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