It’s 10:30pm. Your logs – and your brain – are saying that you that you need a break, so you pull into the XYZ Truckstop. Of course, there’s no good spot to park, so you end up a long walk from the building in a poorly-lit part of the lot.
With a million things on your mind, you climb out of the rig and head towards the truckstop. That’s when you see a dark shape moving between two trucks and heading to cut you off. A man in dark clothing steps out between you and the truckstop and moves towards you, clearly with hostile intentions.
Your first-best option is ALWAYS to avoid violence, but there’s nowhere to run. And when you yell for help, it’s drowned out by the adjacent highway. The bad guy laughs and moves in …
Let’s hope this remains the opening to a bad thriller and never happens to you. But if you are faced with a situation where you have no choice but to defend yourself, here are some basic tips that can help.
The most important part of self-defense – or fighting of any kind – is your stance, which simply means how you stand. Since 90% of you are right-handed, we’ll approach the subject from that perspective. If you’re left-handed, just flip everything to the other side.
There are reasons you might alter your stance or change stances mid-fight, and we will go into that in a later article. For now, let’s stick with the basics.
The first thing to address is the location of your feet. Imagine a square, where the length of the sides of the square are shoulder-width apart. Place your left foot on the front left corner of the square, with your toes facing your attacker. Your right foot will be on back right corner, with the toes facing slightly to the right of your attacker.
I like to think of my stance as a pyramid. My feet are the base and my head is the tip. I always keep my head and hips between my feet so that my weight is centered. This keeps me on-balance to move, defend, and strike as needed. Place slightly more weight – about 60% to 70% – on your rear foot (the right one for you righties). We’ll get into why a bit later.
Both hands should be up protecting your jawline while your arms and elbows are tucked in tight to your ribcage and body, protecting them as well. Protecting your jawline does leave your forehead exposed, but this is a thick strong bone that is likely to break a hand that strikes it. Keep this in mind when you punch as well.
You’re now in proper position to defend yourself and to strike if necessary. You want to end this unavoidable altercation, and this means either quickly disabling your attacker while calling for help, or stunning him and escaping to safety.
Which strikes can help you achieve one of these?
You need to hit an attacker where his body will shut down and not allow him to continue. This likely means a good punch to the head that rattles his brain, a solid punch or kick to the liver, or a swift kick just above the knee to his IT Band (the lateral portion of the thigh). If you’ve never been kicked in the leg there, this probably sounds silly. Once you’ve had it done to you, you’ll realize that an unconditioned leg will simply not be able to stand after such a blow.
For this article, we will focus on the first option above – a good punch to the head. The two most basic punches are typically referred to as the “jab” and the “cross”. The cross is technically an inaccurate term as it refers to a specific counter strike, so I will refer to it as the “rear straight” punch. The jab is a straight punch from your forward hand (left hand for you righties) and the rear straight is a straight punch from your rear hand (the right).
The jab is more of a measuring stick or a probe to set up a more damaging punch. It is an “arm” punch, which means you’re just using your arm muscles to power the punch. In contrast, you will get your body weight behind the rear straight, and this creates knockout power.
The jab can also hurt an opponent if you time it when your attacker is rushing at you because he is creating a much greater collision force by moving towards you – there’s just more energy involved. This is how you use the jab – your opponent has to respect it and can’t just rush at you. But the rear straight is a knockout weapon on your terms, meaning your chance to rattle your attacker and escape. You will be putting your body weight into the punch. You do this by pivoting on the ball of your rear foot as you punch. As you pivot on your rear foot, your foot/ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder will align and move your bodyweight into the strike by transferring the weight from your rear foot to your front foot while keeping your balance (head between the feet as we mentioned earlier).
A common mistake is throwing your weight too far forward so that your rear foot comes off the ground. This moves you out of your “pyramid” and will unbalance you, leaving you vulnerable.
If you put these few basics together, you’re already way ahead of an attacker who has never trained martial arts before. It’s a good idea to practice so that these basics are in your muscle memory and you understand all the points. You can practice in front of a mirror at home. Focus on staying in stance, keeping your hands and elbows tucked in, and staying balanced as your throw different combinations of jabs and rear straights. In the next few articles we will get into more footwork, some basic kicks, and some basic takedowns, and chokes.
All these techniques can be a fun way to stay fit, but please remember the number one point that we always stress – outside a practice scenario, these tactics are a last resort only. Avoid confrontation and danger. Be smart. It’s the best way to stay safe.
Matt Carter has over 10 years of experience developing and implementing fitness, nutrition, and martial arts training programs. He is a USAW-certified weightlifting coach and a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Peter and Keith Jeffrey/Carlos Machado (RCJ Machado Jiu-Jitsu). Matt has a B.S. in neuroscience from The University of Vermont.
PLEASE REMEMBER: No amount of online content or virtual instruction can substitute for professional hands-on instruction. And if you reach the level of professional, one of the things you will learn is Rule Number One: Avoid conflict. Your best weapon isn’t your hands or feet or even a firearm. It’s your brain. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid situations that could become dangerous and leave you vulnerable. The tips you’ll receive here are designed to help you as a last resort, only when physical confrontation is forced upon you.
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You can download a pdf of this article here: CDL Self Defense The Basics Feb 2019.
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