6 Things You Need To Know About Self-Defense, From An Expert
The world is full of bad guys who can only be stopped by good guys, presumably ones with guns or kickboxing training. So you figure the only responsible thing to do is strap a 9mm to your left foot and become a black belt in Gunshido, right? Specifically to prevent you from doing this, we sat down with Richard Dimitri. He's spent years training bodyguards and police officers in self-defense tactics, and has a lot to say about what to do (and more importantly, what not to do) when confronted with someone who's itching for a fight.
Your Ass-Kicking Fantasies Can Get You Killed
At some point, you've probably run into a viral story like this:
The internet loves a good tale of an asshole encountering a trained fighter and getting a well-deserved ass-beating. Richard Dimitri, on the other hand, prefers to share stories like that of Alex Gong, a world champion kickboxer who was working out one day when some random jerk hit his parked car. Alex ran out and caught up to him at a traffic light. "Alex punches through the window," says Richard, "the guy pulls out a gun and shoots him twice." Gong died at the scene. This is a man who could have beaten any of us into lumpy red pudding with his bare hands, and it didn't matter.
Richard doesn't advise taking "combatives" (martial arts like Krav Maga, etc) for any reason but exercise or general self-improvement, unless you're going into a job in which fights are routine. "[T]he average civilian out there who takes taekwondo three times per week, gets their black belt in some strip mall, and all of a sudden thinks they can defend themselves against a psycho is dreaming."
To illustrate, Richard advised us to watch a video of a stabbing that occurred during an ATM mugging in China (you can Google it, we're not linking it here for reasons you'll soon understand). It starts with two dudes standing next to each other ...
... then it turns out the guy on the right has a big-ass knife concealed in his magazine. A literal fraction of a second later, this happens ...
... and he keeps stabbing, repeatedly, relentlessly, over and over. Again: DO NOT GO WATCH THIS VIDEO. We cite it because Richard doesn't believe any amount of training, in any discipline, would have saved the victim's life. "Once the knife is out, at that range and that particular incident, there's nothing anyone can do. If you bring Bruce Lee back from the grave, he's getting stabbed, that's the stark reality."
You've all probably met at least one martial arts guy full tales of fights he's won and jerks he's beaten down. (And if you haven't met that guy in person, scroll down to the comments of this article. He'll be there.) Richard's stories, by contrast, seem to all be cautionary tales about jumping into confrontations and winding up in a body bag. He describes one encounter on the job that began as an argument over a spilled drink and continued on the street outside:
"One guy hauls off and punches the other kid in the ribs and walks away. The kid didn't feel it and he yells after the guy, 'Fuck you, pussy! Your punches are weak!' And he turns to cross the street, but now there's traffic so he's waiting, and about a minute into it, he starts to get dizzy and collapses, and my friend ran over and caught him, held him before he hit the ground. And I rushed over to see if the kid is OK, maybe an adrenaline dump, so he passed out ... it turned out he wasn't punched, he was stabbed, and he died in my friend's arms that night."
You Can Deter Some Attacks Simply By Appearing Alert
The guy in the ATM video didn't initiate that encounter, obviously. He was just minding his own damned business. So what the hell do you do in that situation if kung fu isn't the answer?
Well, that's where prevention comes in, and that starts with paying attention. Violent street criminals, like most of us, prefer doing things the lazy way. In their world, that means picking easy targets. They like sucker-punching (or stabbing) distracted people, using the element of surprise to end a confrontation before it begins. With practice, though, you can adopt the posture of someone who can't be surprised.
Richard calls it the "Give it a Name Game." It's a way to make yourself track any unusual things you're seeing or hearing. If it's a sound, it's as simple as looking toward the source, whether it's honking or footsteps or a dog barking. Then you give it a name, like "shitty cab driver" or "tiny yappy dog." Then you do the same with your peripheral vision. "At any given moment when you're outside, there's tons of shit happening ... anything coming toward you, just toward you, acknowledge it. Just turn around, look at it, and acknowledge what it is."
This of course lets you notice dangerous people coming your way, but just as importantly, it lets them know you spotted them. Now you're a threat to fight back, or run away, or scream for help, and so maybe aren't worth the trouble. "That body language, right there, that is massive prevention ... you're going to avoid situations just through that ..."
Let's be clear that nothing in this article should come off as victim-blaming. Survivors of attacks tend to feel a lot of shame or even guilt, but hardcore badasses die every day. Invincible action heroes don't exist in reality. No technique is going to work every time -- criminals might be stupid assholes, but they're still better at this than you are. If you've been the victim of a crime, it's not because you're weak or failed to learn the right neck-gouging technique. In fact ...
Martial Arts Probably Won't Help You
Don't get him wrong, Richard loves martial arts. He's been practicing his whole adult life. They'll help you get in shape, improve coordination, blow off some steam ... hell, showing off moves may even impress your friends and potential sex partners. But don't do it because you think it will help you take down a bad guy.
Richard points out that in most violent armed encounters, one of two things happens: Either the victim doesn't even have time to see the weapon before it's used (as in the "Don't go watch the video" example earlier), or the bad guy is using it to get something from you. "The weapon," says Richard, "is being used as a tool of intimidation, oppression, and control to get the individual's valuables or to move them from location A to location B."
So in the former case, you won't even have a chance to use your Iron Serpent Technique on your opponent's balls. In the latter, you're confronting somebody who's only using the knife to get your wallet -- in which case you give it to him and get away as fast as you can. Richard does this for a living, and in all of his years of bouncing and martial arts training, "I found myself not doing anything I learned in any of those disciplines when the shit actually hit the fan."
So while a lot of armchair badasses may think "I want to train to fight so I can pull the knife out of a mugger's hand and shove it aaaalllll the way up his ass," Richard does not consider that self-defense. Self-defense is saying, "Well shit, he can have my wallet. It's not worth a freaking blade in my lung." Or even better, saying, "That guy's acting weird, I'm getting out of here" five minutes earlier.
In any case, the goal isn't to win or to create an awesome fight story you can tell later; the goal is to not die.
De-Escalation Is Usually Possible
Richard draws a distinction between "social" and "anti-social" violence. In the former cases, a perpetrator is still somewhat rational, but in a temporary state of rage or mild impairment ("A good guy having a bad day," as he puts it.) In the latter, you have the predators who don't even understand why society has rules in the first place. The first scenario is much more common, and confrontations involving such people can often be defused.
"Two guys were playing pool," he says. "I was watching them play. I was having a shitty week, apparently they were having a shitty day. Our eyes crossed at one point. One guy gets in my face and he says to me, 'Do you have a fucking problem man?' And I with complete honesty and earnestness I say, 'Brother I got a lot of problems man, I don't know why you ask. Does it show on my face? That's why I'm here. I'm kinda drinking them away.'"
That confrontation, he says, ended with the men commiserating over Richard's recent failed relationship with his fiance. Yes, this even works if the aggressive party is drunk. Especially if they're drunk, in Richard's experience. "Because the second you show respect and kindness, they're going to become your best friend, for the most part ... when you approach the situation, be nice, be polite. You disarm the individual this way ... be nice, [but] be prepared."
OK, so what if that doesn't work and the confrontation keeps escalating? "He's going to shove you, insult you, provoke you ... and most men, when you push them [they push back]." Lots of fights begin with that, a literal push. Richard does not advise pushing back. Instead, he says, you should take the distance the shove grants you and keep backing away. "He has to keep walking toward you now ... so you're going to see him coming, you're going to see if he has a knife because you took the distance he gave you ... as opposed to shoving back ..."
He also notes that these people tend to want to at least look like the good guy. So by backing up, putting your hands in the air, and apologizing, "It becomes difficult for him to keep instigating."
Which brings up an important tip ...
Keep Your Hands Up
The other upside of the "Always de-escalate when possible" policy is that it creates the element of surprise if you reach the point where you do have to strike. Don't build toward it. "Don't challenge the aggressor, don't threaten them, don't insinuate they're wrong, don't tell them what to do. Don't say things like back off, leave me alone, don't touch me, calm down, relax -- all of that stuff is challenging. If the person deems themselves superior to you, you don't want to be telling them what to do."
We're not getting into the details of how to strike somebody here. That's something you need classes for, and practice (an untrained person is likely to break their hand). What we're talking about here is the mindset.
Richard tells the story of a woman who found herself with a male co-worker in her apartment who had suddenly switched to predator mode. He followed her into the bathroom and grabbed her by wrists, pinning her to a glass shower door. He then made it perfectly clear what he intended to do.
"... [S]o she looks at him and responds, 'Well yeah, stupid, but you want to do it here on the bathroom floor, or in the bedroom where it's more comfortable?' He leans back, not expecting this answer at all ... that's when her knee goes right into his balls. He never saw it coming, right under his field of vision, and when he doubled over, she palm-struck him right under his jaw so hard that she knocked him flat ..." At which point she got the hell out of there and got a neighbor to call the cops. Note that we're not talking about some elaborate ruse here -- the point is that if it's clear that force is necessary, don't telegraph it or warn them (if they initiated it, they already think they can win the fight). Let it come out of nowhere.
To facilitate this, always keep your hands up in front of you. Not in a badass fighting stance, but with your palms forward in the universal gesture of "Hey guy, let's talk this out." It's non-threatening, and also gets your hands in a position where you can strike without warning. "... [A]t that point, if I want to hit him, there's nothing he can do to stop me, because he's not expecting it."
Will this make you look cool? No it will not. And that's OK.
Don't Expect A Fight To Be Pretty
When pressed for a "Successfully used my skills to win a fight" story, Richard gave us this tale of a rowdy, already-drunk guy trying to force his way into a club:
"He won't take no for an answer. I'm insisting I can't let him in. He's giving me the whole spiel -- 'Do you know who I am?' And frankly, I don't know who he is. He got physical, he shoved me and then he tackled me ... I grabbed his ear, his left ear, and I grabbed his jaw and I started cranking his neck while I was grabbing his ear really, really hard. And he freaked out at that point, so he defensively disengaged and took three steps away from me, and his ear tore right off and stayed in my hand."
If that sounds kind of far-fetched, here's a video of an MMA fighter's ear almost getting punched off:
And here's another MMA fighter who had part of his ear pulled off. It turns out the human ear is only barely attached.
"He didn't feel it. He's ready to come at me again, and I go, 'Whoa, wait a second!' I give him a palm out and show him his ear and go, 'Look at that, man.' So he pauses, he's staring at the ear in my hand. And literally he looks at my face, he takes inventory. He counts both my ears ... and then he starts to freak out because now he realizes it's his ear that's in my hand. And then I tell him, 'Here, take this, put this in ice, man. Maybe they can sew it back on.' And he takes his ear and takes off into the night, just disappears, and I turned around and puked my fucking lungs out."
It's also not a bad idea to do what millions of women around the world have done, and get yourself a can of mace.
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