How useful are the techniques you learn in a typical self-defence class?

I don’t really like to teach self-defence or even say that the techniques of Tai Chi can be used for self-defence. Its one thing to say that Tai Chi can be used for combat and another to say it can be used for self-defence.

That you can fight means you can defend yourself, right? I am not sure things are clearly black and white here. The difference is that in combat you have a chance to get ready but in self-defence you can be attacked when you are not looking to fight, not in a condition to fight (a drink too many?) or whacked from behind.

I sometimes see self-defence techniques against a choke such as the ones in the two videos below.

How workable are the techniques shown? I don’t use these techniques so I have no idea but last week I got a student to try them and ………… it does not always work.

OK, may be its because I know how to attack so I know how to prevent these techniques from working. But actually that’s not true. You have to bear in mind that these videos are simulations. So there certain factors that may come into play in an attack might not be evident here.

Take one example – someone tries to choke you, pushes you against a wall and you can use the wall to help you. What if there is no wall? Would the techniques still work? When I tried choking my student last week I didn’t try pushing him against a wall. Instead, I just grabbed his throat and go for it, and even then I didn’t do everything I would do if I were attacking for real.

Another problem I have with a simulation is you have an attacker push you nice and easy against a wall and you do your stuff, and it works and it seems like a good technique. But if I am attacking you for real I will push you hard and fast against the wall, such that as you fall back you lose your balance and your head may be slammed into the wall. Would you still be able to do the techniques?

I once watched a video where the demonstrator explained about how his teacher changed the way a throat grab was performed making the attacker so much more difficult to defend against. Now that was a good point so why not try it on my student.

I can only say “wow”……. the modification to the choke attack certainly screwed up my student’s reaction and ability to defend. So here’s what you can do to introduce this variation into a choke attack. Charge in, grab your victim’s throat strongly with both hands (you don’t have to squeeze the throat to avoid injury) and start shaking her head hard repeatedly. I am assuming that the person playing the victim here in a lady but it works just as well against a guy – just ask my student…..

I like what the trainer explained in this video about turning the body but again try it against someone who is really piling on the pressure, pushing you hard and squeezing your throat hard at the same time. See if it works – my student tried something similar – it doesn’t work if my arms are straightened and I am pushing forward strongly.

The recommended counter – hammer strike sounds logical and should work but if you are being pushed back while you are being choked you won’t be in a position to use it (remember you are losing your balance as you are being shoved; try adding in the shaking and see what happens) – try it and you will see the problems with such techniques.

After our impromptu attempt at trying self-defence techniques against a choke I basically confirmed what my student has suspected – that most self-defence techniques don’t work. Its not that the techniques are bad. They are not, at least, not when its used at the right time. But amidst the chaos of an attack like the choke you have a split second to deal with it. Too slow and you may end up against a wall, head slammed into it, your breath being squeezed. I have not even added in the fact that the attacker may punch or slap you if you resist.

I can’t say such techniques won’t work without explaining why or showing what could possibly work. I won’t say what techniques I used because the whole point of fighting or self-defence is not to educate your attacker in how you would respond so that they cannot learn how to counter it.

They are not secret techniques. In fact, the techniques are found in 99% of traditional martial arts. Its just that practitioners today for whatever reason don’t really train them. What I like about traditional techniques is that it does not matter if the attacker’s attack is pushing you off balance backwards or his arms / fingers are solidly strong or you might get slammed into the wall. Such factors can help make your technique work better.

So don’t dismiss what traditional martial arts like Tai Chi have to offer. They contain a lot of commonsense and good physics, but only if you learn them properly.



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