Best single self-defense move?
March 17, 2010 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Someone is in your face and out of control, obviously about to attack you. You have a few seconds left to take the initiative - one surprise move to neutralize the threat. What is it?

Hypothetically, of course. Fast, easy, effective, non-lethal. Hands empty. Assume your opponent is at least the same size and weight, if not larger.
posted by El Curioso to Grab Bag (84 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Knee to the groin.
posted by dfriedman at 10:35 AM on March 17, 2010

Or, kick the side of one of the knees. As hard as you can.
posted by dfriedman at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2010

Punch to the throat, solar plexus, or groin. I've used throat in the past against a knife wielding mugger, which injured him in a way that required an EMT, so that might not pass your 'non-lethal' requirement.
posted by SpecialK at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2010

Throw up on them?
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Run away. No joke.
posted by Think_Long at 10:37 AM on March 17, 2010 [25 favorites]

BTW, that's a serious suggestion. I've seen it suggested for women who are dealing with a rapist.
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:37 AM on March 17, 2010

Smart answer: Take those few seconds and run away. Next best thing: take those few seconds and find a weapon.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Neutralize: Punch to the windpipe. Because I don't like you: Kick to the groin.
posted by _cave at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Step to the side.

"Best defense, you no be there." -- Mr. Miyagi
posted by Wild_Eep at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

The heel of your palm to the nose? Looks terrifically painful.
posted by alynnk at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2010

Left jab or right cross to the nose. The eyes will tear; the nose will water; the opponent will loose balance and become disoriented. You can flee or continue with further attacks or a takedown based on skill level.
posted by Gordion Knott at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2010

You mean besides just running?

Kick the knee, preferably at a somewhat oblique angle. People with ripped ligaments or a broken joint don't fight any more.

Then run.
posted by elendil71 at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2010

Also if someone suggests punching a knife-wielding attacker, they are trying to get you killed.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

On preview, d'oh. What everyone else said.
posted by elendil71 at 10:40 AM on March 17, 2010

Usually a major change of perspective is enough for someone out of their head. If you can get them on their back, on the ground, with or without pain, that's usually enough to neutralize the situation. With pain, shot to the groin (fist/knee if they're close; kick if they're standing apart); without as much pain, hand to the chest and sweep the leg (Johnny!).
posted by carsonb at 10:40 AM on March 17, 2010

How to Win a Fist Fight, previously posted to the blue.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:41 AM on March 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Headbutt. Always Headbutt.
posted by Oktober at 10:42 AM on March 17, 2010

Yell "hey look" or something similar. Knowing / thnking people are watching can stop or slow some people. A jab to the eyes or throat can also serve as a behavior modifier.
posted by eccnineten at 10:42 AM on March 17, 2010

Knee to the groin puts you in way too close distance and may not always register due to natural epinephrine and/or drugs present in your attacker. If you're insisting on not running away, you'll need to concentrate on something that will let you run away. And no punching unless you know how to throw a fast punch, for chrissakes. It may look simple but unless you know how to put your weight behind it, punch the right spot and get your fist out of there, your attacker is getting out with a bruise and you're getting a broken arm.
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Depends on the range and positioning, and where their hands are. We do these drills all the time. (I am assuming that you're in a position where a) you can't just flee, b) you're not actually restrained, and c) they're not armed.)

Some of my favorites:

- Palm heel to the nose
- Fingertip strike to the throat ("spear hand" - basically put your palm flat on the desk, fingers together, and hold that rigid, then stab with your fingertips.)
- Roundhouse elbow to the short ribs or kidneys
- Poke to the eyes. This is probably #1 if you can get it, actually, but it'd be hard if their hands were already up by their face.
- Stomp the top of their foot with your heel. I didn't take this one seriously until someone did it to me by accident. Ye gods, that smarts.
- Kick to the knee.
- For dudes: Grab their nuts, squeeze, twist, and yank. Screw the "knee to the groin" shit - that's easy to block and won't always have the effect you want. If you can get a handful, though, you're set.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Run away. If thats not an option than a heabutt or uppercut are generally difficult to avoid and easy to land, unlike a groin hit. Then run away.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:48 AM on March 17, 2010

Knees to the groin are easy to block only if the person you're attacking is trained..."out of control" doesn't sound like a trained attacker. It sounds like a belligerent drunk or an opportunistic mugger.
posted by dfriedman at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2010

Geoff Thompson's 'Fence' is worth looking into.

tl;dr - de-escalate, distract, then hit hard and relentlessly.
posted by the cuban at 10:51 AM on March 17, 2010

Make him flinch first. Spit in his face. Drinks, mugs, ashtrays (increasingly rare), coins, food all might work.

Then throat, then groin...
posted by codswallop at 10:52 AM on March 17, 2010

I'd also recommend kick to the knee for those without much upper chest strength or if you're much shorter than your opponent.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:52 AM on March 17, 2010

This could either be the best idea or the worst, but my initial thought was to break out in song and dance.
posted by kitty teeth at 11:00 AM on March 17, 2010 [5 favorites]

There is some good and bad advice here. Punching someone with a weapon, either in the face or groin, is a good way to get stabbed/shot/bludgeoned. The majority of people haven't properly learned how to use their first and their first attempt it usually useless. This isn't the movies where the good guy "accidentally" knocks the bad guy out.

Attacking the face is the first thing an attacker would expect and, given the likelihood it's not their first fight, will result in injury to you.

Running away is always your best bet. Creating noise so that someone can hear you is a part of that. Basically, get into a situation the attacker can't control and they'll generally bail.

If you cannot do that, learn how to kick quick and hard. The people suggesting the knees are in the right place, as are the shins/ankles, but you've got to move quickly and powerfully to neutralize an attacker. If it's your first attempt at kicking for self-defense, you'll be slow enough that they'll either see it coming and retaliate or they won't be hurt enough to stop them.

Do not kick more than once; hope that your first kick has worked and get the hell away, as fast as you can. You'll get a couple of seconds of stunned pain from your attacker to get a head start (assuming they're not completely debilitated.) That's enough time to sprint yards ahead and get closer to safety.

Seriously though, learn how to kick hard and fast. No karate kid; your knee shouldn't go higher than your mid-thigh and you shouldn't take more than 1-2 seconds to strike. Learn this skill, either on your own or in a class.
posted by Hiker at 11:02 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

This thread is just an open door for terrible advice other than "run for your life," unless you're trained in defense fighting.

I used to train a rape defense seminar in college, and when we had that inevitable "Attacker in a Dark Alley" mini-session, our main advice was basically 1) Run like Fuck and 2) Scream like Hell. If you're cornered, can't escape, and are absolutely forced to fight it out, stab at his eyes with your nails and thumbs, smash his nose upwards with the heel of your hand or your elbow, or aim for the windpipe. griphus is right: people who don't know how to punch shouldn't start out with a violent attacker. Shit, even the moves I just mentioned aren't safe to try unless you know what you're doing.

I feel like you're looking for an answer like "sleeper hold" that will render you more or less invincible. When someone engages you in a physical fight, it's in your best interest to avoid it at all costs.

Run away. If thats not an option than a heabutt or uppercut are generally difficult to avoid and easy to land, unlike a groin hit. Then run away.

Yeah, no headbutting. Jesus.
posted by zoomorphic at 11:06 AM on March 17, 2010 [17 favorites]

One principle in hand-to-hand is "Where the head goes, the body will follow." There's a move I learned in a self-defense course which starts with you reaching out and grabbing the other guy's head. You yank it down to about where your waist is, then rotate it 180, then push it to the ground, and it ends with a choke hold.

What's amazing about it is that it doesn't take a lot of muscle. The other guy instinctively moves his body in order to protect his neck. So, for instance, when you turn his head he will flip his own body.

But you can use it a different way: you pull his head down and knee him in the face. It'll break his nose and disorient him long enough for you to run away.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:06 AM on March 17, 2010

If it were me, I would run away.

If, however, this is impossible for some reason, I'd try to remember to do what I learned in a self-defense class a long while back: Lunge forward abruptly (though not so close the attacker can grab you) and scream as loudly as you can right in their face. Even when you're expecting it - as I learned in this class - it's almost impossible not to flinch and take a step back when someone does this to you. Use their stepping-back motion against them and shove them, as hard and as fast as you can, in the direction they've stepped. Then run away.
posted by rtha at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2010

The Aikido solution would be to

a) step back.
b) step out of the way of the first charge.

After the first charge you can feel free to run away if you like, but people frequently expend their uncontrollable rage in the first attack. It depends on what kind of outcome you want from the situation.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2010

Anybody with self defense training will (or should) tell you your first instinct should be to run.

If that's not an option, do not assume you will have there where-with-all to target someone's solar plexus/side of knee/elbow/ribs/kidneys/etc. and hit your target precisely and with enough force to hurt the attacker, especially if you have no training in self-defense.

In that moment, you would need to focus on your attacker's softest targets. Depending on their distance, kicking them in the groin, punching/headbutting them in the throat, or poking their eyes out will be your best options.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 11:09 AM on March 17, 2010

I once read a guide to dealing with attacks and the advice was, before anything else, make a noise. The louder and more unusual the better. It draws help and also disorientates your attacker.
posted by fire&wings at 11:21 AM on March 17, 2010

Just yell "fire!"
posted by Carol Anne at 11:25 AM on March 17, 2010

You strike the throat or nose, then run. If the assailant gets close enough to prevent you from landing a hit, put a thumb through his or her eye. You don't mess around with concepts like non-lethality when you are under an attack. Like zoomorphic says, it's important to GTFO ASAP, and when physical contact is inevitable, that often means hitting first, hitting hard and then running even harder.

Screaming is important, too. You'd be surprised to know how many people are hesitant to scream even when their life is in danger. It's a form of weird cultural programming. Luckily screaming is something you can practice safely beforehand so you become aware of just what your voice is capable of. Just don't scare any neighbors.
posted by Orchestra at 11:26 AM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

It all depends on how much room you have to maneuver. I remember my old karate instructor taught us some self-defense; every single move ended with, "and then run away."

Obviously turning and running won't work if they can just grab you, but if they're looking like they're gonna punch you or lunge toward you, sidestep to the left (if they're right-handed) and then run past them. Possibly pushing off them to make some distance, and put them off-balance.

Also, yell "FIRE," not "HELP." The sound of the word resounds better, but also people are more likely to look your way. Getting attention is important. People are loathe to interfere with an altercation if they're not sure whether it's a mere argument or an actually dangerous situation. An older woman once got my attention and I scared off the guy bothering her, because she made it explicit by shouting, "He's bothering me!" Don't be embarrassed at all, make lots of noise and altercations will end.
posted by explosion at 11:26 AM on March 17, 2010

If you are Chuck Norris, you would do some of the suggestions in this thread. If you're not, then you take the sane route: run away.

Unless you have been in enough real fights to become acclimated to the situation, your adrenaline will make whatever you do pretty useless. People think that an adrenaline rush will make you into the ninja version of the Hulk, but in real life you basically are too excited to do anything effectively; your punches will become wild, inaccurate haymakers and your "kick to the side of the knee" will become a toe stomp if you're lucky. You will not be able to execute any throws or judo-chop-socky. Also, you will start crying. I'm not kidding, real fights between normal people are awkward, unimpressive, and vaguely repulsive affairs.

If running away wasn't in the spirit of the question, your best bet would probably be to scream as loudly and as wildly as you can to attract attention and knee them in the groin as hard as possible. The knee may not even land, so immediately follow by grabbing the guy's head and dig into his eyes with your thumbs. Keep your body as close to his as possible so he doesn't have enough leverage to land any hard punches.

Yeah, it would be ugly and brutal, but the moves are ones that anyone can do when they're scared and wildly hopped up on adrenaline.
posted by Willie0248 at 11:33 AM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Heel of the palm to the nose is what I've always been told. A combat instructor once told me it's effective because you first can put your palms up in defence in an effort to deescalate a situation (slightly rewinding your scenario). If that fails, the heel to the nose will definitely take him out of the action for at least a moment, hopefully ending the fight as others jump in to separate everyone.

A punch to the kidney works well as well, but you need to have more punching power for that to work. The throat idea sounds good to me as well. But have you ever been hit in the nose, on purpose or accidentally? It's like having a thousand sneezes well up in there at once.
posted by hiteleven at 11:35 AM on March 17, 2010

Man that post sounded really "internet tough guy." I'm no fighter, I would run away like a little kid too.
posted by Willie0248 at 11:35 AM on March 17, 2010

-The "Nike Defense" is always your best option. Mr. Miyagi got it absolutely right. But if your escape route has been cut off...

-"You don't win fights by being a strong man or a clever boxer. You win fights by being more willing to permanently f*ck up the other guy." [GRAPHIC COMIC BOOK IMAGE]
-Michael "Desolation" Jones

-The WWII generation was taught to use the palm-heel chin jab in close combat. Same motion as if you were crushing half a grapefruit into someone's chin, except with bone-smashing force. With a punch, you've got a wrist to bend, small hand bones to break, and lots of tendons to act as shock absorbers. This is why boxers tape up their hands so much.

With a chin jab you have an unbending battering ram applied to a much weaker bone, along it's weaker points. Also, the fingers are excellently placed to claw the eyes.

-I've read several accounts from people who have survived violent confrontations whose opinion is that a knee to the groin, while never pleasant, should not be relied upon alone to disable an enraged male attacker. Endorphins are designed to keep us fighting when we're injured, and if he's already hopped up on anger and about to attack, he may shrug it off enough to throw down.

-On a related note, one of the indicators of an impending attack is your adversary descending into monosyllables. If he's ramping up, blood is shifting away from the brain and towards the muscles, the higher functions are dropping out and the lizard-brain is taking over.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:36 AM on March 17, 2010

Run away. Because if you don't disable your attacker immediately you'll just make him mad. Not good.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:42 AM on March 17, 2010

The rule in my family is psychology before death. Try to establish a bond with something like "it's rude not to look at my eyes when we are talking." That reminds them of laws of civility and to do the right thing, in effect "grounding" them, which is good since ungrounded people is typically how this crap gets started. Sometimes it takes a bit or they just run off and crack jokes to friends while you leave *without* taking the bait, but if they look at your eyes then without the thousand mile stare, smile and ask if you two can sit to discuss things calmly as you understand their viewpoint and want to explore it further. If they do still have the stare try harder.

If all that fails channel a bull dog, pincer grip the throat, and rip it out. They drown in their own blood but will be unconscious by then due to blood loss to the brain. 11-15 seconds.

That's purposely disturbing. You will not use it as a result and focus on psychology and diplomacy skills. Yes, I was raised by military types, no, I've never been in a fight, and yes, this is exactly why.
posted by jwells at 11:53 AM on March 17, 2010

That milkshake you're holding? Just pour it on your head.
posted by sourwookie at 11:58 AM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Like everyone else, I'm nth-ing "run the fuck away" as the option of choice.

I have gotten into two physical fights in my life, both of which I won (i.e. temporarily incapacitated my opponent so that I could run the fuck away) despite being smaller and more female than my opponents. Things I have learned:

- Running away is better than anything else.

- Kneeing people in the groin just doesn't work as well as you would expect.

- If nobody has taught you how to effectively punch or kick another person, you probably will hurt yourself worse than your opponent.

- Don't be afraid to fight dirty -- biting, clawing, and eye-gouging are all acceptable when your opponent is twice your size.

- Everyone expects to be punched and/or kicked at. Most people probably don't expect you to grab one of their fingers and bend it the wrong way until it breaks, or for you to bite through their skin and tear flesh out of their body. (I don't recommend the latter -- you might get a disease and you'll get blood all over you. And it's just GROSS, so you will end up puking on yourself and your opponent. But it's better than just letting someone twice your size pummel you insensate.)

This is why I hope my kids can go to a decent high school.
posted by kataclysm at 12:02 PM on March 17, 2010


a) Get completely naked. Few people will attack a naked person.
b) Urinate on them or on yourself. Same reason.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:04 PM on March 17, 2010

Blue beetle: were you serious about the naked thing? Cause I really think that would just be helping out a potential rapist.
posted by 8dot3 at 12:11 PM on March 17, 2010

While I think the "run away" answers here are well-intended, they make the rest of us look like a bunch of goons.

I think the OP was imagining a situation in which running away was perhaps not possible. Perhaps being cornered in a room, or in a crowded bar. Or, at least, the situation was purely hypothetical.

Of course violence is not the answer. But maybe, just maybe, an attack is sometimes required. I think those are the answers the OP is searching for.
posted by hiteleven at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2010

I want to ad a couple of things:

- By all means run away if it's an option. I specified above that I was assuming it's not, but I want to emphasize that.

- When I said "We do these drills all the time," I meant it. I study karate and practical self-defense four days a week, and I've been doing it for almost two years. It took months before even the simplest drill really felt comfortable, and this is in a low-stress situation with people I trust.

This shit isn't easy, particularly for women. Most women have no experience being physically aggressive and it goes against all their cultural conditioning. It takes time and practice to break that down to the point where you could effectively attack someone, even if a life-or-death or life-or-violent-rape situation. Even then, we strongly encourage people to do what they need to in order to get out alive - WHATEVER they need to, including submitting to their attacker.

It's fun to spitball about this sort of thing and frankly I enjoy the hell out of the martial arts but it's absolutely critical to maintain a sense of perspective.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2010


Unless you're a woman suddenly faced with an attacker/rapist, in which case scream/run/scream and run.
posted by ErikaB at 12:19 PM on March 17, 2010

I'd say go for the eyes, or take cheap shots at other vulnerable areas. If you're in a crowded area, get lost in the crowd.
posted by biochemist at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2010

Running is your best option.

If you are unable to run, then close the gap. You want the eyes if you can get at them, the groin if you can get at it, and the throat if either of those is unavailable. The Ears, nose, mouth, and fingers are all viable targets, but as others have said, you will have very little control over your jittery limbs in this situation, unless you are a seasoned fighter. Grabbing, twisting, biting, spitting, yelling, poking and trying your damnedest to run away are all better than trying to line up a good punch to the nose. Think more Fight Like A Monkey than Fight Like A Gentleman in this situation.

Begin by shouting, "NO!"
posted by Pecinpah at 12:23 PM on March 17, 2010

In my training I learned that if someone is ramped up and approaching you running away is the thing to do. The goal is not to engage in a fight. It is not about being scared or acting like a child. It is about not getting hurt.

If you want to stop someone for the split second it will take you to bolt. The first thing to do is shout really loud right at them. Say "NO!" or "Go AWAY!" or "LEAVE ME ALONE!" or something. Or just scream at the top of your lungs, right in your attackers face. You will probably find yourself doing this anyway, so give it your all. It's a powerful and disorienting action. In fact if you want to see how powerful it is, get a friend to do this to you. You will almost certainly be surprised by how powerful a strong shout can be.

The added benefit of a shout is that it attracts attention, and if you have ever heard anyone scream with genuine fear, you will know that it is hard to ignore that call.

So in summary: shout and leave. Fast.

For the record this method has been street tested by me twice against unarmed attackers, one of whom was drunk. Narry a blow was exchanged and neither of us ended up hurt.
posted by salishsea at 12:25 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless you train regularly as a boxer or something and are a strong man (or freakishly strong woman) you're just fantasizing. Once it gets to that point, you've already lost.

(Sorry to be un-p.c., but a lot of women don't realize just how big the upper-body strength difference is between them and a man looking for a fight. Try going at half-speed with a male friend and tell him not to hold back other than going half-speed.)

Not to say you shouldn't try -- if you have the strength, height, and know-how, a hard straight punch to the nose could buy you enough time to get away and you actually have a chance of hitting it. If you get lucky, a blow to the groin with the knee, foot, or fist *could* work. Just realize that if he lands a blow on you, you're pretty much finished, so you really should try deescalating first.

Again, avoid the situation at all costs. Don't be places where the probability of this happening is anything other than minuscule. If you have to be, don't be alone, don't be unarmed, and don't be untrained.
posted by callmejay at 12:40 PM on March 17, 2010

sweep the leg - Cobra Kai
Seriously run! Or smash the outside of his knee with anything, preferably a stomp. simply step aside and stomp.
posted by Gungho at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2010

I've trained with the SPEAR System and it's very effective. It builds on our basic instincts to flinch and keeps the moves fairly simple. But like a lot of the things mentioned above, you have to train with it.
posted by tommasz at 12:54 PM on March 17, 2010

make them laugh.
posted by nomisxid at 12:56 PM on March 17, 2010

So much depends on circumstances: are there witnesses? is there room to run? is the attacker pissed off about something in particular or just some random psycho? Are the attacker/victim male or female?

In the specific circumstance where it's male-on-male and the attacker is (rightly or wrongly) pissed about something: apologize. This is the human equivalent of rolling over and exposing your throat.

Obviously not applicable if the intention is rape, mugging, etc.
posted by zanni at 12:57 PM on March 17, 2010

A bunch of bad advice in here.

Space. Space between you and the attacker prevents them from hurting you. Can't hurt what you can't hit no matter how hard you stare. Running away increases space. Talking to them keeps the same space. Attacking them reduces the space. Pretty obvious.

an attack is sometimes required. I think those are the answers the OP is searching for.

Then they're looking for something that isn't there. Hope is not a plan. Just like there isn't any advice for what to do when you're falling out of an airplane sans parachute beyond "flap your arms and hope you can fly", if you're trapped and attacked you do what you think will keep you alive and that includes flapping your arms and hoping you can fight.

pincer grip the throat, and rip it out. They drown in their own blood
Pure fantasy movie stuff. Might as well say throw a fireball.

Take a quick look at the replies - everyone who has actual martial arts training is saying run away. If you have space to launch an attack, you have space to try and escape.
posted by anti social order at 1:10 PM on March 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

Stomping down directly on the attacker's instep (top of the foot) with as much force as possible is painful and can also be hobbling. Gungho's sweep the leg suggestion is similar. Regardless of size or physique everybody's skin is thin on the shin and the top of the foot. I believe by sweep the leg the intention is to step down along the sensitive shin with your hard shoe. Even better if one could follow through the leg sweep AND stomp on the foot.
posted by Oireachtac at 1:28 PM on March 17, 2010

Offer them a cigarette. Seriously.
posted by HFSH at 1:40 PM on March 17, 2010

Not to interject again, but I think people are imposing their own ideas and concerns onto this question. Somehow it's become largely an issue of women's self-defence, while others are offering answers (i.e. tell a joke) that do not actually answer the OP's question as it is phrased and should be deleted.

an attack is sometimes required. I think those are the answers the OP is searching for.

Then they're looking for something that isn't there. Hope is not a plan. Just like there isn't any advice for what to do when you're falling out of an airplane sans parachute beyond "flap your arms and hope you can fly", if you're trapped and attacked you do what you think will keep you alive and that includes flapping your arms and hoping you can fight.

This reply to my earlier comment assumes that an attack will never work. Clearly, in some cases, depending on strength and weight differences, one will.

The question to me sounded purely hypothetical, sort of like a question of how to dispose of a body if you killed someone. The answers morphed into a series of lectures on self-defence, and I think they're off the mark.
posted by hiteleven at 2:17 PM on March 17, 2010

Offer them a cigarette. Seriously.

This works! So does offering to get your opponent a drink. It's a confusing thing to hear when one has their blood up and can short circuit the whole rage loop when they have to pause and make sense of your offer. The one caveat that I would ad is that this offer must not be made in any kind of pleading fashion, must not come across as Viking Tribute, you know? Calm assertiveness is the key.

To repeat the best advice in this thread - the smart play is to get the fuck out of there. Step like a boxer - that is, begin your backwards movement w/ your back leg and follow w/ your lead leg so that your ankles never cross. Once you're out of range, turn and run. Any one who will give you shit for doing the only sensible thing in such a situation is not actually your friend.

If combat is unavoidable, make sure and protect yourself - tuck your chin, keep your teeth closed and your tongue behind them, present a narrow profile to your assailant and keep your guard up. Make sure only your foreleg is within lunge range and keep the fight off the ground. Best single strike? Everyone's the same size when you hit them in the eyes or throat, I suppose. But seriously - don't be a dumb dunce. Get yourself some space, then turn and bolt. Glorious battle is a fantasy - in the scenario you describe, no one really wins, you dig?
posted by EatTheWeek at 2:18 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for crissakes, no headbutting. You might as well smash a bottle cross your own face.
posted by EatTheWeek at 2:20 PM on March 17, 2010

Fighting is hard, fighting hand to hand is really hard. I have had some training and many years of fighting in SCA (you are in armor and hit your friends with sticks called "swords"). You get exhuasted really fast. Getting hit, even with armor on, really hurts. Especially in the head, it is disorienting and confusing. This was getting hit by people not really trying to hurt me (mostly), playing by rules while I was ready, prepared and once again in armor. It is not like facing a determined opponent intent on harm. Run away, shoot them (surprised this hasn't come up yet-it wasn't called the equilizer for nothing), or be willing to take a lot of damage to do damage to them. Fights are often one by the one with the least regard/feeling for there well being. If you live in state that allows it get a gun, get a carry permit, and take lots of classes/training in learning to use it. It is the result of at least 2 million years of weapon design. Legally you must be in fear for you life or grevious bodily harm to justify defending yourself with deadly force. This is not a trivial thing and it is the difference between the good and bad guys.

All that being said if you are confronted with a truly me or them situation give it all you got, kill the bastard or die trying, your status in hell is determined by the size of your bodyguard.
posted by bartonlong at 2:32 PM on March 17, 2010

I suspect people have very different mental pictures of the situation the OP has described.

On the one hand, there's the drunk guy at the bar who might be able to be talked down, intimidated, or distracted, and is really unlikely to want or be able to chase you down if you bolt.

On the other, there's the dude who jumps out on a quiet street and backs you into a doorway, who may or may not be impaired at all but definitely intends you serious harm, and may be able to do the 100-yard dash faster than you.

These are really different situations with really different possible outcomes. I think everyone here is picturing one or the other and the two don't really meet in the middle much.

De-escalation is great. Yelling to distract or intimidate, or to get help, is awesome. Running is good. If a dude appears to be trying to rape or kill me, though, I'm not turning my back on him until I've made sure he's not going to be able to catch me. There are definitely situations where running isn't going to be a viable option, and it's not a bad idea to have some tools to handle that.

That being said, I strongly suggest people take at least one practical self-defense class.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:59 PM on March 17, 2010

The best way to avoid fights with strangers is to ignore anyone who insults you and remove yourself before they get the chance to turn a casual encounter into a standoff where you feel your honour is at stake.

My very limited experience in adult hand-to-hand combat has taught me that people who like to pick fights are often prepared with some kind of hidden weapon or a friend close at hand. Also, the same way you may be gifted at drawing, calculus or knitting, other people are that good at fighting. If you can get away, do it. If they're drunk, offer to buy them a beer.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:17 PM on March 17, 2010

Fake a heart attack or seizure, or boisterously start singing a totally incongruous song ("Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!") if you can't run away in time.
posted by goo at 3:38 PM on March 17, 2010

Slowly lean in and kiss them. It is unexpected, and for many male-male interactions it is surprising effective at getting the other person extremely not interested in further interaction.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2010

Slowly lean in and kiss them. It is unexpected, and for many male-male interactions it is surprising effective at getting the other person extremely not interested in further interaction.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 4:10 PM on March 17

posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:19 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Assuming your attacker is male (and it seems, sadly, that most people in that thread are making that assumption for some reason) the groin kick is definitely good and disabling - I've used it myself, while on the wrong end of an attempted mugging. On the other hand, the heel of your hand to the jaw is good, but if you've got the angle, the heel of your hand to the nose is better, as it tends to not only hurt like hell, but also blind your attacker temporarily.

Regardless of what you do to temporarily incapacitate your attacker, once you do, run like your life depended on it.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:26 PM on March 17, 2010

I you must fight, you must not hesitate. The palm strike to the nose is probably the best because it is easy to execute for a newbie and won't break your fingers like some of the other suggestions here. Keep in the center line, coming up from under neath his chin area. Do not attempt a right cross at it is much easier to telegraph and be blocked. By keeping in the low center line it is out of his main field of vision until it suddenly hits him in the nose. And don't hit him on the nose. Visualize your target as the back of his head and aim for that when you strike! "Punch through the target.
posted by chinabound at 4:28 PM on March 17, 2010

Before we get to the actual "self defense move" - some preliminaries:

1) First and foremost, run.

2) If you can't run, know this: you will be scared, you will be adrenalized, and you will not be thinking clearly.

3) This means that to have any chance of success, you must choose a technique involving only gross motor skills (such as a tackle or a general clawing of their face), as opposed to fine motor skills (such as a finger jab to the xyphoid process). Unless you are a zen master, or you have a lot of previous combat experience, you will be too disoriented, emotional, shaky, and nervous to apply a technique that requires fine motor skills.

4) This also means that, no matter which technique you choose, in order to have any chance of succeeding, you must practice it against a resisting opponent. You may think that just "knowing" what you will do in a self-defense situation is enough. It's not. You will forget. You will not rise to the level of your expectations - you will sink to the level of your training.

5) However, this does not mean that you have to practice obsessively. A few hours of practice should be enough for you to learn and internalize what you are doing.

OK. Now. About the move. (Apparently this post is too long, so it'll be a two-parter).
posted by halfguard at 4:41 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is a bodylock to throw-by. This sounds complicated, but in fact it is very simple. Essentially, you grab your opponent in a tight bearhug under their arms, not over, then step off to the side. They will attempt to headlock you, and when they do, you step behind them (maintaining the bodylock) and put your forehead into their lower back.

Now, they cannot hurt you, but you can hurt them. Real bad. You can stomp on the back of their knees. You can knee them in the coccyx (extremely painful). Best of all, you can shove them and run like hell.

Here is a video by John Will, one of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu's "Dirty Dozen" (first 12 non-Brazilian black belts). It's not exactly what I'm talking about, but it's damn close. (Skip the first 40 seconds of fancy demonstration to get to the instructional part).

Remember, the most important thing is to practice the technique with someone you trust - first, a few times without resistance, and then, when you are comfortable, tell your partner to resist a little - say with 10% of his or her strength. Don't tell them how to resist - just tell them not to let you do anything to them and let them figure it out (as a real opponent would). They should slowly scale up their resistance until they are trying as hard as they can not to let you do your technique.
posted by halfguard at 4:41 PM on March 17, 2010

Do I have a dog with me?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:43 PM on March 17, 2010

Once when some friends and I were leaving the bars at night, some other very drunk college kid with his friends were trying to drunkenly start a fight with my friend. I approached him and offered him some gum and instantly his mind was distracted along a different path.

While this may not work all of the time especially on crazed and sober individuals, a mental distraction can buy you some time. Maybe enough time to get them to change their mind. Most people looking to start a fight are programmed to expect a violent confrontation or "fight or flight". By giving them neither of those, it can be very disarming requiring the perp to start to think and be more easily manipulated. Too often people think that violence is the only solution to violence.
posted by JJ86 at 5:25 PM on March 17, 2010

I'd do what I did when very nearly this thing happened to me (in another country no less, where English wasn't the primary language). Yell at the top of my lungs. "Help, help, help!" And at the same time, I'd be trying to get away --- as much as possible to a lit place if this occurs at night where people would likely to be.

In my case, since what was happening was a common street scene for a "domestic dispute" the natives wouldn't normally bother with, I almost made it clear to yell, "Help, help, help! I'm an American!!! I'm an American!!" No, I'm not kidding. But whereas I was, saying, I was American got attention in addition to my cries for hel[, people knew this wasn't a domestic dispute, and the police response was, "Shit. We have to handle this one."
posted by zizzle at 5:46 PM on March 17, 2010

I've been in such a moment and there is no planning for (nor any reasoned thinking during) such a thing. It's a primitive part of your brain that clicks in. If you are in decent shape you will probably run in whatever direction is safest. If you are someone who's trained to or used to fighting - or someone larger than your attacker, you will fight. You will simply do whatever your brain in a distress situation dictates you to do.

Then, later, when you look back on what happened, it will be as though it happend to someone else.
posted by marimeko at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2010

If they are blocking your escape path, look over their right shoulder toward the [imaginary] person who is coming to your defense with a look of relief. Then run away on their left side. TOWARD other people, not movie style where you go into a building. Into the middle of the street if necessary.

EVERY situation like this is about de-escalation. The encounter will end at some point. The higher the stakes are raised, the uglier the end will be. The attacker's commitment to their act of violence is what determines how it will need to be de-escalated. Anything you do that increases the level of tension just means you've made it harder to "win" in the end. Now you are the person raising the stakes- if you are getting harassed by a drunk and you crush their windpipe, you've got a good chance of spending the night in jail, or worse. If a mugger just wants your money, and you start a chase and get caught, his adrenalin is now up and you might get killed/injured.

Throwing the first punch, or whatever the equivalent of that is, puts YOU at risk more than it does the other person. It puts you at the moral, legal and instinctive disadvantage. If they aren't touching you, go away. If they are touching you, *then* disengage/disable them with the various grabs and plucks.

In other words, behave exactly as you would if a large, angry dog were threatening you.

I always enjoyed the idea of acting crazy, however. I don't think I could do it, but it seems like it would make a good story.
posted by gjc at 7:42 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, lots of interesting answers here. I guess I should have been a little more clear: in this imaginary situation, de-escalating (i.e. offer a cigarette, surprise kiss) is not an option, nor is running away, for some reason (pick one).

You are going to have to something physical, possibly violent, definitely unexpected, either to preemptively subdue your soon-to-be-attacker, or else surprise him/her enough to create some time & space to take control of the situation. Then you can run, dance, put them in a headlock, whatever.
posted by El Curioso at 9:27 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: (btw I was expecting head-butt and palm-to-nose-strikes to be the most popular, but there are some other intriguing suggestions too.)
posted by El Curioso at 9:29 PM on March 17, 2010

5 foot tall pacifist here - if I've got physically attack somebody, I'm pretty much doomed. If I can't de-escalate or run first, I'd probably scream as loudly as possible* directly into their ear and THEN run like hell.

*Good thing I'm really loud.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:22 PM on March 17, 2010

Agree with them as sincerely as possible, while sitting down, with a submissive body posture.

Ah, I see you've just posted:
I guess I should have been a little more clear: in this imaginary situation, de-escalating (i.e. offer a cigarette, surprise kiss) is not an option, nor is running away, for some reason (pick one).

You didn't mention that this was a fantasy world you were asking about. Here on Earth, de-escalating is always an option, for those who know how to do it.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:41 AM on March 18, 2010

You're looking for something that doesn't exist. There just isn't one magic movement that an untrained person can perform that will stop a motivated attacker 100% of the time.

Most people don't want to believe that. A lot think they have something special that can protect them - fierceness, adrenaline surge, fatal attacks eye or groin strikes. Like the silly throat rip thing, it's little more than a mental talisman to ward off bad thoughts. There is even an entire industry devoted to tell you that this crap is possible - you can google for Phil Elmore or Count Dante. Frauds selling people bullshit 'secrets' that martial arts masters and special forces "don't want you to know".

here on Earth, de-escalating is always an option, for those who know how to do it.

Man, even riot squads can't talk some people down. The question is, what do those cops use when they can't de-escalate? Groin strikes or headbutts? Hell no, they pull out the tasers and guns and attack from a distance with lots of backup.
posted by anti social order at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Friend, I'm here to tell you, after thinking hard about this very question for twenty years, through myriad styles of martial arts -- including 2 years of aikido and 6 years of brazilian jiu jitsu: you gotta get behind 'em.

How can you doubt the strategy that allowed a 9-year-old boy to subdue a fully-grown, enraged pit bull?

The absolute best way to get behind a resisting, untrained opponent is to

(1) underhook one or both of their arms with yours,
(2) bait a headlock, and then
(3) slip out of the headlock before they secure it.

You are now behind them, and you can secure a strong hold such as a bodylock (arms tight around their waist, no space between your torso and theirs). From there, you knee them in the coccyx or RNC them.

This technique won't let you get behind trained wrestlers (or other grapplers) or other martial artists. But mostly, people that start fights with you aren't martial artists. They're stupid, ignorant thugs. And so while it is true that there's no "magic move" that'll work 100% of the time, that'll allow 100-lb weaklings to annihilate 300-lb hell's angels with the flick of a fingertip, this move is the closest to that ideal.
posted by halfguard at 6:43 PM on March 18, 2010

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