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Self Defense, No Matter What

By:  Andrea F. Harkins


Self Defense.  What exactly is it?  Is it learning how to defend against a violent attack?  Is it becoming more accustomed to your environment?  Can you avoid it?  Can you control the situation?  Can you escape?  Are you capable of defending yourself? Should you learn it?

The answer to all of these questions is “yes.”

On social media, there is constantly a barrage of articles and posts about what self-defense is.  For each martial artist or self-defense practitioner, it is different.  There are many styles to learn and implement. Find what works for you and gives you a sense of confidence and protection.  If, one day, you feel fear tingle down the back of your neck, or know that an attack is imminent, there will not be any instructor by your side to guide you.  Your only valid defense will be what you have learned through practice.

The first step is finding what style or system is good for you.  This is why I promote all types of martial arts and self-defense programs and not just what I practice, Korean Tang Soo Do. Think of it like buying a pair of shoes.  There are many shoes available in the size you wear, but only some feel comfortable.  There are many martial arts, but only some that may be right for you. You may need to try a couple of different styles until you find exactly what fits.

Once you are ready to learn, you will notice that self-defense in our modern world brings forth old and new traditions, an intermingling of concepts generations old with current, real-world trends.  Traditional styles have different meaning in the world today and many blended styles have developed because of the world around you.  Whether your favorite is Krav Maga, grappling, MMA, Karate, Taekwondo, Tai Chi, Kung Fu, or any other, you are setting a solid foundation for your own personal self-defense.  Don’t be swayed by social media about the best or worst styles.  That is subjective.  There is no one martial art that will teach you any guaranteed self-defense.  There are so many variables in any attack that preparing a suitable defense for each situation is not possible.  What you can gain are layers of knowledge that put defense in your favor.

andrea-harkins-martial-arts-girlThe first key to any self-defense is awareness and avoidance.  This is where it all begins.  The modern world is full of distractions.  From beeping notifications on phones to music in our ears, you don’t want to miss a beat. Before you ever have to delve into any martial art or physical defense, work first to be aware of your surroundings and who and what is around you.

Parking every day in a parking garage, I’m always glancing around to see who is there.  A year or so ago, someone was robbed at gunpoint while sitting in his car in the early hours of the morning watching a video on his phone.  Clearly, his awareness level was null.  Even karate could not have de-escalated his situation, but awareness may have.  Because it was in the very early morning hours, his awareness should have told him to go inside the hotel.  Instead he sat in a dark, isolated area.

There is no martial arts training for common sense, but martial arts do teach awareness in a subtle way:

  • Listening to your sparring partner’s breath or seeing him wince when you score a point
  • Noticing how another avoids a particular type of contact and using that to your advantage
  • Feeling the fierce stare-down of a competitor
  • Looking for an opening to score a point
  • Hitting the target in just the right place
  • Listening to instructions
  • Not being distracted

All of these insights are preparing an awareness mindset.  The instructor never comes out and says, “Today, we are learning about awareness.” It is an integral part of the interpretation and subtleties of your training.  Awareness, on many levels, needs to be taught.


Your modern world requires not just that you be aware, but also that you be prepared.  Not that evil lurks around every corner.  I’ve never been attacked or close to being attacked.  I know one thing.  I want to know what to do if I am.  Only good training from a martial art or defense system can provide the hands-on application of a defense that makes sense.  If you can learn a few key concepts, you may have enough arsenal to avoid a situation, break free, fight back, or control it.  As you delve deeper in your mission, you will learn to practice and implement awareness along with physical defenses.

The implementation and practice of self-defense is the step that will bring you in in control.  The whole crux of self-defense is not necessarily to fight back; more, it is to escape, get away, or run to safety.  There will be instances, though, when that is not enough.  You can use a distraction, turn to run, kick and punch, but still find yourself in a situation where there is no escape.  Fighting back becomes inevitable.

Ask yourself this.  If you had to fight back, do you feel confident that you have what it takes?

The only way to gain confidence and knowledge is to apply the physical implementation of self-defense concepts.  You must experience some of it first hand in your training to know how a tight grip feels, or how a punch to a certain area of your body affects you.  Learning to break holds or throw the opponent might work.  Kicking, punching and distractions could deter.  If someone is on top of you, holding you down, punching and hitting, you may not be able to get away if never taught what to do.

Like anything, learning self-defense takes time and you must start at the beginning.  The basics will create a lasting foundation.  That is why training and practice is necessary.  It could take several to a hundred times or more to become comfortable with a defense.  It is the repetition and instruction that will provide you with effective techniques, no matter what style you learn, no matter what instructor you have, no matter who you are.

Being prepare to defend yourself means that you’ve learned some key concepts about self-defense.  Just moving your body one way or another, or pulling your assailant in instead of trying to push him away in some instances, are self-defense concepts that work.  They are not “magic tricks” although they are tricks that, if unknown to your assailant, can save your life.

You are a busy person. Life is swirling around you.  All that said, I have one very important piece of advice for you.

No matter what, learn self-defense.

  • Joelle White

    Ossu! [bow]
    Good to “see” you here – it’s great to see you reaching out to other martial arts bloggers :-) Yeah, I’ve seen a lot about self defense and can’t help but wonder how much does any given person who reads an article, watches a video or goes to a seminar retain a week, a month, a year later? Yet awareness and common sense is something that has kept me safe the vast majority of my life. Anyhow, I do have a few techniques that have been drilled into me so much they’re instinctive – but that’s the thing – is anyone going to be able to actually call up and use any given technique they’ve only read about, seen in a YouTube video, or even done a few times in a seminar?