Basic Self-Defense Moves

Along with techniques, this article covers the way you should approach your environment and an aggressor in a situation in which you are forced to defend yourself against a violent attack. The basic idea in self-defense tactics is to ensure your own safety with as little injury to yourself as possible. This means using quick effective techniques and making sure the fight  is over as soon as possible; the longer the struggle, the more of a chance you could be harmed. For this reason, it should be emphasized that escape is the ultimate goal and should be sought whenever possible. The idea here is to disable the attacker and his attack and get away from him to safety. Also, if the fight can be avoided at all, it should be. It is understood that circumstances might not allow for immediate escape, like you might have loved ones in harm’s way. Of course, the procedure then is to allow them an escape.

Situational Awareness

So, it is important to be aware of your environment. In this way, you might even be able to avoid the fight in the first place; because you are aware a situation is dangerous and avoid it altogether; or act so quickly that the attacker never gets the upper-hand. Along these lines, you should be aware of your surroundings (if it is dark, deserted and if there are means of escape), the people around you and their body language and other things they communicate verbally or non-verbally, whether the area is secluded or busy with a lot of people and whether there might be improvised weapons available.

If you are very broadly but keenly aware of your environment, you can assess dangers and act more reliably and quicker. However, if the situation is approaching dangerous or has already become a crisis, you should know how to respond to it.

Positions and Actions

When someone approaches you aggressively, intending to attack (but hasn’t yet attacked), it is important to get your hands in a position from which you can more quickly and easily defend yourself. This position is up, near your head, because it is now above any attack that may come in at you; you will be better able to manage an attack from this position. Of course, you don’t want to make it obvious that you are actually taking a stance, the attacker might take it as an invitation to fight; so you can raise your hands up as if to say, “Hey, I don’t want any trouble” and, at the same time, step back with one of your feet slightly, enough to give yourself a bit of a base and to obscure targets from the aggressor so he can’t easily attack them.

The man on the left approaches aggressively.

The man on the left approaches aggressively.

The man on the left gets his hands up in a position to better defend himself, above his attackers weapons.

The man on the left gets his hands up in a position to better defend himself, above his attackers weapons.

You also will want to consider your position and barriers that can protect you or others. This is especially true if the attacker has a weapon. A tree, a car, any object of significant size or positioned as a barrier can be used to hinder an attacker. Getting yourself positioned so that that barrier is between you and an attacker would be advantageous. If you are making sure loved ones are safe, you can get between the attacker and them, and get make sure they can escape to safety; for instance, into your car.

Also, you might want to seriously consider talking to the antagonist; using language that could either de-escalate the situation or distract him enough for you to attack him and put him down or run.

So, now, what if there has been no opportunity to avoid this fight or your efforts to avoid it hasn’t worked. Let’s find out what you can do to defend yourself physically once the confrontation has escalated to violence or the attacker hasn’t even given you time to de-escalate it or escape.


It is important to learn some blocks to stop attacks; keep in mind, though, that it is good to move the target too: In other words, if he punches for your head, move your head (or whole body), but keep your eyes on him. You are likely, and it is best, to use some foot maneuvering and shuffling to keep from getting hit. This could be as simple as stepping back or to the side.

A basic block that is good to use is the inward block which travels in front of the target (the head) toward the inside of your center-line. If you were using your left arm to block, the block would travel to the right; the ending position of the block is at a slight diagonal position but mostly vertical.


The outward block is the reverse of the motion of the inward block, covering the area of the target and going out, stopping in a position slightly diagonal (forward) but mostly vertical.



Now that you’ve learned a couple blocks that can stop the attack, it is important to learn strikes that will actually stop the attacker. Just blocking is not good enough; the attacker must be disabled in some way, through pain or injury, for him to stop his attack.

A very good strike is the heel palm strike. The heel of the palm, the hard part at the bottom, is a hard weapon that, when used, does not allow your hand to be injured. Punches have the potential for your knuckles, fingers and wrists to get injured, while the heel palm does not have this hazard.

After you've blocked an attack, you can add a heel palm strike to your moves to further deter the attacker.

After you’ve blocked an attack, you can add a heel palm strike to your moves to further deter the attacker.

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Fingers into the eyes are also effective, because the eyes are a soft target that are easily injured and it is excruciatingly painful to even have the eye-ball brushed lightly.

fingers strike


It should be stated that a very strong offense is a very good defense. To attack first, when you know you are in danger, does not give the aggressor a chance to attack you at all. Action beats reaction and to put him immediately on the defense forces him to catch up.

One of the best weapons is the elbow. Here are the various ways to strike with the elbow.

The inward elbow travels from outside to inside, horizontally.

The inward elbow travels from outside to inside, horizontally.

The outward elbow travels from inside (your center-line) to outside. If done with the right arm, it travels from your left to your right.

The outward elbow travels from inside (your center-line) to outside. If done with the right arm, it travels from your left to your right.

The back elbow travel from front of your body toward the back of you.

The back elbow travel from front of your body toward the back of you.

The upper elbow travel from low to high, upwards.

The upper elbow travel from low to high, upwards.

Knees are also a very hard weapon and knees to the groin, face or even into the thigh are brutal and devastating.


The front kick is a simple kick and very effective, especially when delivered to a soft and vulnerable target like the groin which cannot take too much impact at all; the effect of a kick to the groin is definitely devastating and can be debilitating.

front kick

To deliver the front kick, lift the knee and aim for the target.

front kick1

Shoot the kick into the groin. You can use the instep, shin or ball of the foot as the striking surface of this kick.

Of course, there is an infinite number of combinations you can use with these strikes and the blocks. You could start with a block, use a kick to the groin and land with a heel palm to the face. You could start with a heel palm before the aggressor even gets a chance to attack, put your fingers in his eyes and knee him in the groin.

Next we will examine what you can do if you are grabbed. It should be understood that these strikes that we reviewed can be used with the following techniques, if used logically. Strikes can be very good moves to distract and “soften” an attacker.


A few things to note about escapes: First, if you are being grabbed with the hand – for instance, if the attacker grabs your wrist – the basic idea is to go against his thumb to escape. Another principle often involved in escapes is to control the head to manipulate the rest of the attacker’s body; where his head goes, his body will follow. Finally, in many escaping techniques, you will want to create some kind of space so that you can work and because the attacker has more control and leverage the tighter in on you he is; this is mainly applicable to someone grabbing you tight around the body in which they leave you no space. For instance, if the guy grabs you in a bear hug from the front with your arms pinned, you can strike him in the bladder to create space and then knee him in the groin. If he puts you in a hammer lock from the rear you can step back and bump him and add an elbow to his jaw too.

You are also typically using various means to get more leverage to make your escape. This is done in terms of stepping with your feet and turning with your body and limbs.

Grabs are common because they offer the assailant control over you. It is better never to let them grab you in the first place. In other words, it is better for you to act before they grab. Your action might be running, hitting or just moving yourself so they never “get the grab”.

At any rate, if the grab does happen, you have some options, which we will explore here.

In this first escape the attacker has grabbed your wrist directly; in the scenario, he’s grabbed your right wrist with his left hand. You have to turn your wrist so that it is horizontal and the space where he is grabbing is thinner. You thrust your elbow (on the arm that has been grabbed) toward his arm and pull your hand toward your chest to pry yourself out of his grip as you step back away from him.






This next escape is done against someone reaching across and grabbing your right wrist with his right hand. You bend your knees so that you can drop your elbow below his grab so that you can consequently peel your wrist from his fingers by pulling your hand and arm back and out toward your right shoulder (the shoulder on the same side you were grabbed). This, like the previous technique, uses the principle of escaping by going against the attacker’s thumb.

cross grab

cross grab1

cross grab2

This next technique is short and sweet, and against the same attack. It simply involves striking the wrist or arm and pulling the trapped wrist out from the adversary’s grip. There is a nerve on the inside of the wrist and also just a few inches up from there on the forearm. Hitting these spots will cause a momentary nerve response and the push-pull effect of hitting the arm and pulling your wrist out of the grip allows the escape. It also helps to step back or in when performing this technique, this adds power to the technique. If you step in, step with the side with which you strike; if you step back, step with the side where you’ve been grabbed.




In this next scenario, the aggressor has grabbed your wrist with both hands. You simply reach in with your free hand, grab your fist and pull it out of the grip as you step back with the foot on the opposite side from which you’ve been grabbed.

both hands

both hands1

both hands2

both hands3

Another common attack is the two-handed choke from the front. Anytime someone attacks your windpipe you want to immediately take measures to prevent it. A broken windpipe means no oxygen which means no life. Typically, in self-defense, you prevent injury to your windpipe by tucking your chin and controlling the limb that is choking you. In this example, however, you are turning your body to relieve pressure off of your throat, raising your arm high to bring your elbow down on the attacking arms to further release the grip.

choke front

choke front1

Step back and turn.

choke front2

choke front3

Here we have the assailant choking you with both hands from behind. You step forward to the right to get leverage and a base and to position yourself to turn to escape and face the attacker, while you have raised your arms and drop them on the attacking limbs to escape.

choke behind

choke behind1

choke behind2

choke behind3

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Of course, you can also add a strike at the end to stun the attacker or even end the fight or otherwise give yourself time to escape.

choke behind5

Trap the arm.

Trap the arm.

Deliver an upward elbow strike hard into the chin.

Deliver an upward elbow strike hard into the chin.

A more deadly attack, often termed a “commando choke” because of its use by special forces, is an attack that offers the assailant both control over you and a means to kill you – to be blunt. They come up from behind and put their forearm against your windpipe and apply pressure. This is a choke often used to control someone, I’ve even seen bouncers use it at the bar. A less deadly version is performed by putting the windpipe in the crook of the elbow and applying pressure to the carotid arteries on the sides of the neck with your bicep muscle and your forearm, which cuts off blood to the brain and will cause someone to pass out but not necessarily die: This is often called a “rear naked choke”.

To escape this attack, you pull the arm off of your windpipe to release the pressure and tuck your chin so the aggressor cannot re-apply pressure. You step to the right to get a base, position yourself to get behind the attacker, and deliver a strike to the groin with the bottom of your fist to “loosen” him up. Then your left foot drags toward your right foot and then slides behind your attacker so that you are in a better position to gain leverage to peel him off of you; you reach with your left hand up his back and up to his face and grab his hair, nose, eyes or chin (I’ve found the chin offers the best leverage, but the philtrum nerve aint bad) and pull back and down on his head. Of course, you could add strikes and kicks once you’ve pull him back and you are in a position (facing him) to land some blows.






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Another common grabbing attack is the bear hug. When someone is trying to control you, they are liable to go for controlling your body to drag you somewhere, hold you while their friend pummels you, or try to body slam you to the ground. For this reason it is important to get a base as soon as you are grabbed (even better, as stated earlier, not to let him grab you at all). Also, you can use “loosening up” moves too, like a heel popped up into the groin, a head butt shot back into his nose or kicks to his knees and shins and stomps to the foot/feet.

Here we show a basic throw and escape from a bear hug from behind in which your arms are free. You first step to the right to get your base. You slide your left foot to your right foot and then slide your left foot behind your attacker to give yourself leverage and a position to apply the escape and to turn to face your attacker (always better to find a way to face the attacker if you are unfortunately in a position with your back to him). You hit him with an outward elbow and then drive you arm out and down across him and throw him over your left hip and thigh and onto the ground.

bear hug

bear hug1

bear hug2

bear hug3

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bear hug5

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It should be said that all of these techniques would have to be practiced with a partner to get them down pat and to burn them into the brain and muscle memory so that when the adrenaline is pumping and the gross motor skills are mostly what you have left, these moves will come out naturally and spontaneously when you are attacked.

But to reiterate, it is best to be aware and to avoid these dangerous situations if you can, though it is equally important to be prepared and equipped with knowledge should you unfortunately be faced with an attacker trying to do you harm.


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