Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | June 9, 2009

Self Defense Techniques for Women and Guys Like Me

There are hundreds of self-defense videos and books available, some more useful than others, so I would like to weigh in on the subject. The most important self defense technique is avoiding the physical confrontation altogether. Read that sentence again, because we all have a tendancy to blow it off and say, yeah yeah yeah, now teach me how to defend myself.  But this is the best defense. In taoist terms, if the attacker has nothing to attack, than he’s just blowing at the wind. This holds true in advanced terms during the confrontation as well.

So, awareness is key. You must be aware of your surroundings. What and who is around you. OPen your eyes and your mind. Be focused. Don’t be distracted, by your cell phone, by your conversation, by anything. If you are walking down the street, be aware and alert and on guard. This doesn’t mean not being able to enjoy yourself, it just means not being oblivious. It also means not being shy, ashamed to make a scene, or embarrassed. Shouting for help, commanding a person loudly to STOP, BACK OFF, GO AWAY, are important weapons. Deciding when to be invisible and highly visible are important. We want to be invisible to our attacker, that is, not attract attention, not stick out, not be an obvious target, not appear vulnerable, not look like we don’t know where we are, what we’re doing. One of the reasons zebras have stripes is so that they all blend in together and a lion has a hard time differentiating a single one. Learning how to blend in is important. I’ve seen a lot of wackos come into public places like a coffee shop, and avoiding eye contact, acting as if you aren’t even there, seems to work.

If a confrontation is about to happen, if you’ve been picked out of the crowd, then it’s time to become highly visible, to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. If you’ve just stepped out of a place and are uncomfortable, get back inside. If you are in an isolated place, get to where there is light and people.

The confrontation is happening–step to a 45 degree angle, a common defense stance in martial arts, boxing, what have you. Create distance, a raised hand, two fingers pointed at a chest and a “BACK OFF” command work wonders.  But don’t extend your hand so far out that it can be grabbed.  Try to keep the person in front of you.

If it goes further, you should have a go to technique or two that you have practiced for a long time so that it will come to you without having to think about it.  You should also have a command word for yourself, when you know you need to act, for example, say to yourself, “GO” which will cue you to do your technique.

The sun visor in my car is one of my training partners. I put it in the down position, but not all the way. I tell my self “GO” and give it a quick jab with my two fingers and it smacks against the windshield. Elbows down. Strike to the eyes, punch , vertical punch to the nose, jab fingers to the trachea.  The sun visor helps you train. You can use pieces of paper hanging in a doorway. Practice striking. Use a pen or a key. Hold the key as if you were putting it in the lock of your door. Strike, strike, strike. If you don’t know how to make a fist and throw a proper punch, don’t. It will either be weak or you’ll break your hand. (On my youtube channel, one of my videos deals with proper hand techniques).  Kicks are useful too. Practice just one or two techniques. Stomp on the other person’s foot. If you have hard shoes on, toe kick to the shin. Learn a bicycle kick, circle the leg like riding a bike and let go on the down “pedal” stomping on the knee or thigh with the sole of your foot. Practice on a cardboard box. I used to practice on a half size stainless steel refrigerator door at work.

There’s more, many techniques. The one attack I’ve struggled with is the behind the back choke when you are caught off guard. It seems that every technique taught in the gym, the dojo, wherever, becomes totally ineffective in real life. So, try to know some of the best techniques, but best to not be caught off guard in the first place.

Be aware that techniques described here can cause serious damage, injury, and death, so don’t take them lightly and don’t practice without proper supervision. I don’t want to lose any of my readers.



  1. Never enough said about avoiding a confrontation in the first place. Excellent advice!

    • Hey John, thanks. enjoyed the story about the marching band girl. Will check out the rest of your site. Looks like there’s a lot of good info there.

  2. I’m looking forward to your srticle on strategy. I hope you break through soon. Non-martial conflicts are a pain in the neck when you’re going through them, but a great learning tool on dealing with people who are agressive and confrontational and, I’ll use the term, an imminent danger to you, albeit not physically. I suffered for a year under a manager who was a complete and total jerk off, and it seemed he held all the cards. I went to work everyday filled with anxiety, and, searching my tai chi canon for an answer. How could I deal with this guy. I knew my work was exemplary, how to get him to see it, to recognize my worth. Well, that was impossible. I had to accept he never would. I did have to insulate myself from his barrage. It was very difficult to differentiate between “yielding” and being a whipping boy. Things cganged when I felt he really crossed the line, and I let him have it, professionally, but forcefully. He gained some respect. I used other tactics, including some mystical stuff, like sending out positive vibes, thinking good things for him, and covering myself every day with a coat of protective chi, a force field as it were. While things like this are more psychological, they seem to work. In the end, I outlasted him and got a manager that was great.

    Another story on strategy– I lived for a long time in Newark, and had to work at not being a victim. Fighting was a no win thing because even if you won, you could be hurt permanently in a confrontation, and there was always someone bigger and badder who would come back when you least expected it and burn your house down. So, one thing I would do, if leaving the house alone for a long time, was create some camoflouge, turn a stairwell into a storage area temporarily so no one would go up to my apartment.

    Anyway, as you know, a book can be written about these things. The harder person to deal with is the lunatic or the person like an ahmadenejad. Althought I am very liberal in a lot of my views, I did always believe in Ronald Reagan’s peace through strength ideology.

  3. Those are worthwhile tactics, but we shouldn’t overlook the importance of studying strategy. I’ve been trying to write a bolg post about the underlying common nature of all forms of conflict. (I know what I want to say in that post, I’m just having a little touble finding the perfect example.) Strategy guides our tactics and is what allows us– at every echelon of the conflict– to avoid the confrontation. What “avoid” means changes with the circumstances; it can be anything from staying outside of a certain geographical region to sidestepping a punch. It can apply to an individual fighter, to a large military unit, or to a person in a debate.

    For this reason, I hold that studying martial arts is worthwhile to the military strategist, and that military strategy is useful to the martial artist. Both are engaged in different forms of the same phenomenon, the phenomenon of conflict.

    I remember one time I worked as a fueler at the aiport. Aside from fueling aircraft, I also had to go around and fuel the service vehicles for our company and some other airport companes. I was maybe two weeks on the job when the night supervisor– who’d been around for decades– sent word that he wanted me to gas up his car. I knew this was wrong and I knew if I tried to make any kind of an issue of it, this old vet could have me fired in no time.

    After giving it some thought, I cheerfully fueled up his car and then dutifully wrote up a fuel receipt for him, just as we would for any other client. This went in with all the other receipts for the night, which were processed by him after I left. He got to pay $4 a gallon, which back then was way beyond the standard rate. He never bothered me again.

    This is not an example of avoidance, but it is an example of not letting your thoughts be clouded by fear. By not fearfully giving in, I found a way to brush back a much more powerful adversary in a way that he couldn’t counter. I did this without a lot of excess energy, and so there was no lasting animosity between us.

    It parallels a physical conflict I was once in. I was riding my bike on the sidewalk near a hardware store. A man came running out of the store, jumped on his bike, and began coming towards me. Two men followed on foot, but they weren’t going to catch him. I could see that this was a robbery hapening before me. His bike approached mine, him passing on the inside. I was riding at a leisurely pace.

    I calmly steered into him, pinning his front wheel against a wall, and stopping both our bikes. He shouted an obscenity, leapt off, and tried to run. But the other two guys caught up, and tackled him halfway across the street. The police came and took the man away. If you ever wanted an example of a few ounces of force countering a couple hundred pounds, there you go; a few ounces was all I applied to my handlebars.

    Had I been a little more excited, I wouldn’t have recognized what I was witnessing until after the moment had passed. Staying calm and unperturbed, I was able to quickly decode the situation and apply the appropriate response. This principle is true for any conflict whatsoever.

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