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You’re walking home late at night and notice a guy about 10 paces behind you. You keep walking, quickening your pace. The last thing you want is a confrontation, but in a worst-case scenario, could you defend yourself? It’s a question worth asking.
“The smartest response [to a threat] is to avoid violence at any cost,” says Matan Gavish, founder of the Krav Maga Academy in New York. There’s no shame in running, especially when it means you can get away. But when push comes to shove (literally), there are some simple self-defense moves you can master on your own.
Krav maga is a hand-to-hand combat system developed by the Israeli Defense Forces that relies on a no-nonsense approach and practical techniques. Because the moves don’t require equipment or weapons, they could be helpful in a variety of scenarios.
Plus you can do them in normal street attire (as we prove below)—which is helpful, since you likely won’t be wearing sneakers and boxing gloves when you encounter a real threat.
One important note to keep in mind: “Striking the soft spots of the body are at the base of any effective reaction,” Gavish says. This means the eyes, nose, ears, jaw, throat, groin, knees, and Achilles tendons—all are parts of the body you can’t strengthen, no matter how much you work out.
Ready to brush up on your self-defense skills? It’s best to practice with a partner in an open space. Start slow, Gavish says, as beginners are most likely to get excited and actually injure a friend with an over-zealous practice punch. As you become more comfortable and precise with each movement, start adding speed.
No partner? Most of these moves can be practiced solo against a heavy punching bag at the gym. And if you’re truly interested in sparring to work up a sweat, contact a pro at a nearby gym or krav maga academy.
Of course, we sincerely hope you’ll never have any reason to use these techniques. Just consider them a basic introduction to a new style of movement.
Editor’s note: No editors were harmed in making this article.
1. Make the perfect fist.
The #1 secret to a good defense is knowing how to make a fist. That means no wagging thumbs or crossed fingers.How to do it: Start by bending the middle set of knuckles in. Then bend the second set of knuckles (the base of your fingers). Place your thumb over the pointer and middle finger. Keep your wrists completely straight.Tip: When striking with closed fists, you should aim to hit with the two biggest knuckles—the ones on your pointer and middle fingers, Gavish says. “They are bigger, stronger, and will cause more damage on impact.” Gavish also says you should use your entire body when striking, rotating from the hip to maximize your power.
2. Kick the groin.
“When in doubt: Kick the groin with as much speed and power as your body can master,” Gavish says. How to do it: Start in a staggered stance, facing your attacker, with your dominant leg (the one you’ll use to kick) behind you. Engaging your hip flexors and quads, kick your leg straight out and upward, leaning back slightly from the waist to help balance. Kick directly between your attacker’s legs and connect your shin to the groin. Tip: Unlike what you see in the movies, do not aim with your foot or knee, Gavish says. Your shin will deliver the maximum impact (Bonus: It’s a larger surface area, so harder to miss). Another tip: “In your mind, don’t stop at the groin,” Gavish says. Think of kicking your leg as high as possible, following through the movement for maximum impact. (Ouch.)
3. Stop an outside strike.
This basic defense move protects you from strikes—or slaps, or punches, or waving batons—as an attacker approaches you from the front. “Practicing your defenses can make a huge difference in how your body reacts to violence,” Gavish says. “Getting hit in the arm is not as bad as getting hit in the face.”How to do it: As the attacker approaches, bring your arms out, fingers extended, elbows slightly bent. Stop your attacker by raising your forearm inside your attacker’s oncoming arm—so he can’t hit your face. At the same time, use your other hand to make a perfect fist and punch your attacker in one of the soft spots in the face: the nose, the jaw, or the throat—whatever is available.
4. Escape a bear hug.
This isn’t the good kind of bear hug. It’s when someone approaches from behind and grabs you, pressing your arms against the sides of your body. How to do it: Drop your weight down swiftly by mimicking a fast squat. “This immediately lowers your center of gravity, making it much harder for you to be picked up or moved,” Gavish says.With your feet wider than hip-width, shift your hips to the side, so you have a direct path to your attacker’s groin with your hand. Using an open palm, strike hard and fast until his grip releases. Lunge forward slightly, and throw your elbow back to your attacker’s belly, turning to face him as you do. Run if you can, or continue the assault with punches to soft spots.
5. Escape a two-handed choke from behind.
If you feel hands wrap around your neck from behind, you need to act fast. Not to freak you out, but the risks—namely, cutting off your air supply—can be severe. Luckily there’s a way to escape.How to do it: Raise the arm on the same side as the leg staggered behind you. (If your left leg is slightly staggered behind you, raise your left arm.) Bring that arm (we’ll use left) straight up—bicep to ear. Step your corresponding leg behind the other (cross left leg behind right). Turn back, rotating in the direction of your raised arm (turning over your left shoulder) quickly and aggressively, putting your bodyweight and as much pressure as possible against your attacker’s wrists. At this point, you should be out of the choke. Strike at the attacker’s soft spots, or run away.