To keep from over-complicating the process of personal defense, it’s better to remember that less is more. Reflecting back to my post on Hick’s Law, teaching too many responses to any given situation decreases the overall response time of the defender. Thus, it becomes important to teach as few techniques as are necessary to offer sufficient defense under a given threat.
Let’s extend that same concept to human weapons – that is, the empty-handed weapons we have on us by virtue of our anatomy. Our karate dojo teaches an extensive array of kicks and strikes ranging from a simple jab to flying double kicks. From those basic techniques, one can derive thousands of variations that are practiced over and over until they become second nature.
Unfortunately for a self-defense student, learning that much material in a 16-hour series of classes is impractical and, frankly, ineffective.
Here are the basic self-defense strikes that I teach to students. Sure there are variations on these strikes, but exploration and practice will allow individual students to discover them on their own when they are ready. Personally, I just want to give them what they can use in and effective and practical manner within moments of learning them.
Teaching students to punch is tricky at best. The biggest concern with teaching a traditional punch is assuring that students are striking with the appropriate part of the fist (the knuckles of the index and middle fingers) to protect themselves from breaking their hands. Further, since most people have a tendency to focus on the head at the sole target for striking, using a traditional knuckle punch is practically a guaranteed trip to the hospital to put the bones of the hand back together.
Instead, I teach my students to make a traditional fist and, rather than striking with the knuckles, hit with the meaty surface opposite the thumb. Using that surface protects the hand from damage and metes out a pretty healthy dose of pain in the process. It is an effective weapon to use on the jaw, the neck, the rib cage, and a number of other viable targets.
When I don a body suit and have students use the hammer fist on various targets, they find it to be a fairly pain-free way of striking. They can really put themselves into a strike and walk away realizing that hitting something isn’t necessarily dangerous or painful to themselves. The only real caveat that must be expressed is that they have to hit with the meat of the hand, not the pinkie finger. Hitting with the tiniest digit on the hand will be both painful and ineffective.
I teach this particular strike as a better alternative to the knuckle punch. Simply put, if someone can land a punch on the jaw, (s)he can land a palm strike on the jaw and probably do more damage in the process. As a small aside, the worst bleeding I’ve ever done in the dojo came from being palmed in the face with a pulled shot. The person throwing the strike tried to bail on the technique, so it landed with only partial power. My nose still went *crunch* and the blood flowed.
The palm heel can be delivered with power or it can be used to push an attacker’s chin to break balance. It is also a useful weapon for solar plexus, abdomen, and rib strikes.
Elbows are a terrific close-range weapon that can easily follow larger movements. Elbows are less of an initial attack and more of a follow-up strike. For example, a well-placed knee to the groin can be followed with an elbow strike to the head, neck, or back as the attacker doubles over in pain. Elbow strikes also natural follow-ups to wrist-releases.
There are two weapons on the elbow – the two-inch area above the point, and the same space below the point. When I teach the elbow strike to my students, we use both surfaces to strike pads before actually employing the strike against a simulated attack. Using the elbow takes a little more instruction than the palm heel or hammer fist, but once a student has a feel for properly applying the technique, they like its effectiveness.
Knees are so easy it’s almost cheating to tell students to use them defensively. From the time many of us were small children breaking sticks over our knees, we’ve known that the flat surfaces around that joint are a weapon sufficient to do damage.
The key to knees is remembering that they can be used to strike more than just the groin, which inevitably seems to be the target of choice. Knees are nasty when attacking the inner and outer thigh area, the rib cage (when an attacker is on the ground), the head (also when the attacker is down), and the shoulder/armpit.
That’s it. Those are my go-to weapons in self-defense instruction. Adding any more natural weapons to that list just muddies the waters further and only serves to slow the defender’s response time.
Keep it simple.