Why This Buzzfeed Self-Defense Video Doesn’t Suck

There’s an old joke in the martial arts world: How many martial artists does it take to change a light bulb? 100. One to change it and 99 to tell you how your way of changing bulbs won’t work.

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around martial artists, you’ll know we’re fantastically egotistical, very dogmatic, and prone to pointing out all the flaws in every system but our own. Frankly, this is antithetical to the idea of martial arts. We’re supposed to be able to look past all the nonsense and collect anything that we can use, put a little thought into it, and say “Okay, this has some promise.” And then use it.

There was a video from Buzzfeed floating around Facebook last week that I stumbled across in one of the many martial arts groups. Predictably, the comments were full of “there’s no way this would work” and “you’ll get yourself killed if you try this” with a handful of positive comments. In my opinion, there were some decent tips in it, with a few caveats.

The video, in case you’re interested is here:

It’s only a couple of minutes long and worth a watch. Just as a side note, this is Buzzfeed’s property and if they ask, I’ll happily take it down.

Now, granted, there are some shady videos out there. Marie Claire had a pretty bad one that focused on fancy techniques to escape things like wrist grabs and chokes and relied a lot on fancy movements and specious theories with a few bits of good advice at the end. A pair of MMA fighters took that one apart and showed why it wouldn’t work. Here’s a hint: it wouldn’t work because it relied too much on being fancy and having a cooperative opponent. In a stress situation, fancy is the last thing you want and you can safely assume someone trying to rough you up isn’t going to cooperate. Rather than try an obscure Chin Na technique against someone grabbing your wrist, how about just kicking him hard in the balls and boogying the heck out of there?

As a martial artist myself (nearly 20 years of Kenpo), that’s what I found interesting about Buzzfeed’s video: There was nothing fancy about it. It’s just simple, relatively easy to pull off things. Someone grabs your wrists from behind? Look at who’s grabbing you, kick backwards as hard as you can then turn around (something you’d want to do anyway) and hit them. Easy peasy. Someone’s too close, maybe a bear hug or just getting a little too aggressive? Thumbs in the eyes work wonders for getting people to back off.

The only thing I didn’t think was a good idea was punching someone straight in the jaw. Someone else might be able to shed more light on this, but it seems like a hook to the side of the jaw or a straight shot to the nose would work better. Jaws can be pretty pointy and tough and the last thing you want to do in a fight is hurt your hand trying to hurt someone else.

Sure, the video might not be the way your system teaches Purple Dragon Spreads Its Wings or Monkey Steals the Peach, but that doesn’t mean it’s not functional. And functional is all we need to care about in a simple self-defense video. The question shouldn’t be “Why didn’t they go for a wrist grab to ground and pound?”, but rather “Will a rear kick to the midsection followed by forearm to the side of the neck be enough to create enough space to get the fuck out of the situation?”

That’s it. This is about survival and creating the means to escape, not auditioning for the next Kung Fu biopic. Truthfully, all self defense situations should be seen through the lens of keep it simple and keep yourself safe.

Again, there’s a lot more that could be covered. For instance, once you’ve got your thumbs in someone’s eyes and their head is tilted back at a huge angle, keep pushing. At the very least, they’re gonna stumble if not flat-out fall, but that’s something that’s beyond the scope of a video designed to give you a few pointers to keep your ass out of too much trouble.

Toward the beginning of this point, I noted one thing that I’d like to reiterate. Even though all this stuff is pretty straight forward, watching a video and doing stuff in the air is one thing. Doing it against a person is something else entirely. The air, and even a heavy bag, will just hang out and let you pummel it. People have arms and legs and they go in all kinds of weird directions and we even have pointy parts (like chins) that hurt to hit. Even some heavy bags hurt to hit – my instructor has a bag that feels like punching rocks – and a broken hand is not a surprise you want in a fight. Find a friend and very carefully work through things. Do that a lot. Do it until it you’re sick of it and then do it some more. That tactile awareness is very important. Then find a heavy bag and pound the snot out of it. Don’t just rely on two minutes of video-based self-defense techniques to make you feel safe.

Besides, fighting is great exercise and beating holy hell out of a heavy bag feels pretty damned good.

As always, I’m interested in your comments. Tell me what you think, share an anecdote, or tell a quick joke.

Advertisements

Start Early

We’ve been doing an exercise in Kenpo lately that nicely illustrates something that most people don’t quite understand. Your hands and feet have a fixed range and, unless you’re Plastic Man or Dhalsim, you’re not going to be punch someone if they’re further away than you can extend your arm.

The exercise works like this: find a partner who doesn’t mind getting tapped every now and then. Have him or her take a fighting stance and extend an arm, fingertips out. You do the same thing, but don’t worry about taking a stance. Stand naturally, like you would if you were hanging out at the grocery store or picking up people at the bar. Or disco. You know, whatever floats your goat.

The distance between you two is your kill zone. Even though you’re both out of range of each other, this is the distance that a normal person can cover with a single step. That’s right. At fingertip distance from someone, all it takes is single step and they’re on you like flies on a Taco Bell dumpster. If someone steps into that zone, you’re in danger. But, the really cool thing about it is you’ve got all the time in the world to get out of the way.

Unless you’re a lumbering monster.

Start with something simple. Have your partner step in and try to punch you in the head. All you have to do is step to the side and they’ll go right past you. As your reaction time gets better, start mixing things up. Instead of a punch to the head, try a nice, big roundhouse kick. Instead of just stepping to the side, step out of the way and punch ’em in the noggin. Go back and forth and appreciate the give and take. It seems simple, but it illustrates an important point. What you’re training here is awareness. If you’re looking off the to side or checking your phone, you’re going to get clobbered. If you’re focused and aware, you’re a much harder target.

There are a couple of important takeaways from this exercise. The obvious is paying attention to distance is extremely important. The less obvious one is the question at least one person reading this is thinking right now. That’s not how fights start, right? You’ve got to be closer.

Wrong.

Give this guy a very large kill zone.

All fights start at a longer range that you’d expect. Unless you’re standing right next to someone when they decide you need a beat down, that attacker is going to have to cover some distance to hit you. As soon as someone you don’t know gets within your kill zone, be ready to act. You don’t necessarily have to attack everyone that gets close, but you should be aware of their position and what you can do if they decide to attack. If someone gets too close and you don’t know their motives, move to a better position. That’s what I mean by start early. Before the first punch is thrown, be aware. Watch your surroundings, watch the people around you, and watch anyone who gets into your kill zone.

If we define winning the fight as “getting to go home that night and hug your loved ones instead of spending the night in the E.R.”, then you’ve got a much chance of winning if you’re aware of the world around you. Awareness gives you more time to think, more time to prepare, and – most importantly – more time to avoid the fight altogether. Start early, and you can win the fight before it even begins.

Got any self defense tips? Drop ’em in the comments! I love comments.

A Self-Defense Tip For You

It seems there’s still a large contingent of people out there who will believe you can use car keys to turn yourself into Wolverine.

The set-up is simple and there’s a certain elegance to it. The theory is this: you usually have car keys handy, so why not turn them into a weapon? While I applaud the idea of using common items as improvised weapons, putting your keys between your fingers and punching someone with them is going to have less than stellar results.

tumblr_onekwtVciA1vluy0ho1_540

Both of these are extremely bad ideas. Unless you want to hurt yourself, in which case, go for it.

(Actually, when you get right down to it, both of these examples are bad ideas for self-defense, but for different reasons.)

When I was a kid and reading “authentic” “ninja” training manuals, these things would have looked great. In fact, the first time I heard about putting keys between my fingers and slashing at an opponent, it seemed like a great idea. I mean, why not? Keys are quite pointy in parts and slashing at an opponent seemed guaranteed to shred their face, at which point I could take their wallet.

The problem is it only looks good on paper. There are a couple problems with holding your keys this way and assuming you’ve reached the pinnacle of self-defense. First: your attacker is likely to be covered up and keys aren’t terribly effective against clothes. Truthfully, they’re not great against skin, either. Your dreams of going full Weapon X on a guy in a parking lot with nothing more than the keys in your hand are going to come crashing down quickly when you slash at him and wind up doing almost as much damage to your own hand as you do to his face.

If you do any damange to him at all.

The problem is, none of the keys are stable. Try it. Put your keys in your hands like in the above picture and wiggle them. Not too secure, are they? As soon as you make contact with something, those keys are going to press into the webbing between your fingers with an enormous amount of force. Possibly even enough to make you drop them.

Next thing you know, you’ve got a pissed off attacker, a damaged hand, and you’ve lost your keys.

Which leads to the next problem. In any self-defense situation your primary goal should be survival. The best way to make that happen is to get away and the best way to get away is to get in your car and make tracks. If your car is locked and your keys are tangled up in your hands, it’s going to take extra time to find the right key to unlock your car and skedaddle. It may seem easy when you’re in your living room, but remember when you’re attacked it’s a high-stress situation. In any high-stress situation, adrenaline is going to be pumping into your body to stimulate the fight or flight response. Adrenaline’s good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but fine motor skills disappear when it’s pumping. In other words, your brain turns to mush.

So, how about a better solution? Hold one key – the one to your car or your door – securely between your thumb and forefinger. Make sure you’ve got a tight grip and the tip isn’t sticking out too far – that cuts down on the force that’s coming back into your hand and gives you a better chance of holding onto your keys. Now, you’ve got a secure weapon to slash with and you’ve got your key ready to go, so when adrenaline hits you, you don’t have to think about which key is which.

3d935e593b7789b4e844b9bd85de177e

Think tactically and strategically. The strategy should be escaping in one piece, tactics need to support that strategy, not hamstring it. Although, I would argue the “right” key is still held too far out to be stable.

Of course, you still have to deal with the pesky “getting a key past your attacker’s defenses” part, but if you do it right, you’ll have surprise on your side. Slash at the eyes or throat and get the heck out of there.

Just a quick note on the ring up there, too. Most people don’t know how to punch. It actually takes some time and a lot of practice to get good at punching something. If you slash at someone with that ring, it’s just going to turn on your finger and not do much to your attacker. If you punch someone with that ring on, you’re really going to be in trouble.

The thing about punching is the hand is very good for punching if you punch correctly, namely striking with the big two knuckles on your fist. That ring will put an enormous amount of pressure on the long bone of your middle finger. If you hit a hard enough target – anything on the head, for instance – you’ll break your own finger.

If you want some things to carry for self-defense that aren’t obtrusive, look for a kubotan or something similar. Heck, even a monkey’s fist made from paracord and a big ball bearing would work better.

Don’t believe me? Check these sites for more info:

Martial Arts on Stack Exchange

ACWA Combatives

Think Like A Black Belt