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Reality-Based Self-Defense Basics for the Street

Let’s set the stage. Every martial art has street-effective moves as well as that “fluffy-would-never-work-in-a-street fight” stuff made for film and demonstrations. Yes, every martial art has fluff. This includes your favorite martial arts style taught at your favorite gym. But when it comes to reality-based self-defense, a term you should become familiar with is combatives.

What Are Combatives?

Combatives is simply a made-up term for reality-based martial arts. It is basically fighting “systems” that have been plucked out of the fluffy stuff. Likewise, combatives tend to focus on fighting skills that work under stress in a real fight.

Basically, it is refined and reimagined martial arts basics—because basics work. Combatives can be empty-handed techniques as well as weapons like edged, improvised, impact, or even firearms. Many training groups blend it all together.

Typically, self-defense is taught slowly at a learning pace. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

Everyone’s day-to-day reality is different. If you’re in law enforcement, you have a greater chance of getting into a fight and drawing your weapon regularly. However, a soccer mom who works at a suburban nail salon won’t see that much action.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally have a firearm instructor friend who owns a barber shop where, unfortunately, a shooting happened when he wasn’t there, and people died. So, it can happen. But then again, he was in business for more than 20 years before it did.

I have been teaching one form of self-defense or another for the past 38 years. The one thing that has stayed consistent is that people should train for their own personal realities. The probable, not just the possible. This way, the person will get the most out of their training, which will likely be limited by their schedule.

Combatives students train against a mounted attacker with a knife.

Self-Defense Through De-Escalation

Self-defense does not mean beating a person up. You can effectively defend yourself without ever landing a punch or kick.

I had an older student named Robert who was attacked one night on his way home. He said his attacker was much younger. The young man attempted to close distance and strike Robert for a minute or two.

Robert successfully evaded, slipped, and blocked his attacker’s strikes, but he never threw a punch. After some verbal back-and-forth, his would-be assailant eventually just gave up, and Robert went home unhurt.

Now, Robert was very lucky that he had a lot of open space around him to maintain distance that night. However, it was more than just luck that kept him safe. It was also situational awareness and de-escalation skills.

The point is he effectively protected himself without locking horns and beating up his attacker.

Bonus Technique: Basic Side-Headlock Escape

As mentioned, not all situations require a physical confrontation. However, unfortunately, some do. So, we’ll take a look at a fairly common controlling attack—the headlock— and how to get out of it.

In this scenario, a man grabs a smaller young woman in a side headlock. She is too small to lift him up and dump him to the ground. Her only chance is to break his grip, escape the hold, and position herself to better defend herself. Even better, just get away and run to safety.

Combatives: a young girl prepares to defend against a headlock.

The first thing the young lady needs to do is secure her ability to breathe. She grabs the wrist of her attacker and drops her weight while turning her head towards his body. Now, she has a better visual to counter the attack. More importantly, she has bought herself a quick moment to avoid being choked out.

The girl turns her head and grabs the attacker’s hand.

The victim uses her free arm to reach around the attacker’s shoulder and places a stiff knife-edge hand underneath his nose.

The girl puts her knife-edge hand under the attacker’s nose.

With as much force as she can, she drives her knife-edge hand into the gap between his nose and lip, driving his head up, back, and away from her. Simultaneously, she pulls her attacker’s lower arm down, creating some space to escape.

Combatives: Applying pressure, the girl pushes the attacker’s head up and away.

The young lady continues to pull her attacker’s arm down while stepping back and out of the hold.

The girl pulls her head out while keeping control of the attacker’s arm.

The would-be victim steps back for distance and readies herself for a follow-up attack. Simultaneously, she yells a verbal command for the attacker to “back away from her” and “leave her alone.”

The girl then steps away and issues a verbal command while preparing for another attack.

In a perfect scenario, the would-be attacker realizes that she is not a “soft target” and walks away.

The goal is to ALWAYS make yourself a HARD TARGET. Bad guys do not like to pick targets that will actively fight back.

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