To answer what the best self defense technique is first watch the video below. Please disregard the fact that this is a typical day on the streets of South Africa.
This incident could have taken place anywhere in the world. Our victim/survivor is walking down a busy road. She is on her cell phone; engrossed in the world of social media.
A suspicious car stops next to her and she has little time to react as the first hoodlum snatches her handbag. But that’s not enough! They want her cell phone as well.
Her fixation with her cell phone cost her valuable seconds in reaction time, but full credit to our survivor, she managed to recover and take the fight back to her attacker.
There are multiple lessons to be learned from this footage. For example, where to carry your valuables as a pedestrian and how to keep yourself in a state of functional situational awareness. But perhaps the most valuable lesson is how to survive a stand-up grappling battle. Woman against man; small against large; fueled by maximum determination.
My quest has always been to develop a well-rounded set of skills that prepare you for different types of combat. However, nowadays it feels as if the world is spinning faster on its axis. Not only has the cheese moved, but it is now served with a liberal dose of jalapeno.
Nowadays when women are mugged or forced to the ground; criminals often take much more than a handbag. Nowadays suspects resist police officers, who struggle to handcuff them and bullies who slam their victims into the walls of unmonitored school yards, are armed with more than just their fists.
Nowadays there are more martial arts schools available than ever before; but many people don’t have the time or inclination to get sweaty and dedicate themselves to a martial art discipline that takes ages to achieve that elusive black belt.
But even if you are a martial art expert, with many black belts; the truth we cannot forget is that humans are primates. During times of physical crisis, the human primate defaults to the adrenal macro-muscular system. Our apelike hands and arms forgo the sophisticated movements learned in martial arts. Well-timed jabs and sophisticated arm locks are replaced by an ugly melee of grabbing, pushing, swinging, pulling, holding and biting.
So, what is the one self-defense move that everyone should learn? It turns out that my quest to find that one perfect self-defense move, was answered in the most significant lesson of my martial arts career.
The Lesson That Changed It All
Approximately 20 years ago, I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar with SGB (Straight Blast Gym) founder, Matt Thornton. I arrived at the seminar not knowing anything about the intense and lanky American.
Matt pioneered his way out of the JKD (Jeet Kune Do) fraternity, and had been part of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Challenge) champion Randy Coutre’s coaching team. He introduced us to his concept of “aliveness” and soon after he had us working on the mat with a wrestling exercise, which I assumed had come from Randy Coutre.
We were on our feet, aggressively wrestling or “pummeling” each other, trying to gain the dominating position. Apart from various corrections and additional techniques, most of the session was built around this exercise.
Soon cardio vascular and muscular fatigue set in. If you were going to survive the exercise, you needed more than just strength. Correct posture, understanding center of gravity, learning to manipulate fulcrums, being sensitive to the energy of your opponent and adding a dash of guile were all part of the exercise’s ingredients.
I must make it clear that when I refer to energy, I am talking about the willful application of Newtonian force and not a mystical Chi power that allows you to crumble bricks with the touch of a finger. As Bolo Yeung said “brick not hit back” .
Years later, my career had transitioned away from the martial arts and into the security industry. My gloves and mats had been exchanged for a small grey second story office.
I was watching crime scene footage of one of our tactical officers being attacked and disarmed. Very similar to the above footage, the attacker had grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. Then he had beaten him and fled with his service pistol.
It was clear that the officer had been surprised and attacked by a younger and more athletic person, but I couldn’t help thinking he could have done more to defend himself. He didn’t seem to know what to do with his body. His posture was weak, and his poor footwork caused him to fall on the ground (in fact, our pedestrian had done a much better job of defending herself). Surprise and a little luck and swung the fight in the attacker’s favour.
We engaged with a local Krav Maga instructor who arrived with a compendium of mechanistic moves. While they were logical and seemed effective, the exercises lacked the motion and “aliveness” I had learned about. I resolved to spend time with our officers in their training sessions. My goal was to make sure that we never put another gun on the street.
Self Defense Techniques For Security Guards - The Basement Sessions
The training sessions took place in our gritty company basement. Using some rubber training guns, I started the first session by getting the officers to reenact the scenario I had watched in the footage.
Soon I saw the same issues that were apparent in the video. When the firearm was grabbed by an aggressive opponent, many of the officers froze on their feet and fixated on what was happening in their hands.
The slick moves they learned from the Krav Maga instructor were instantly forgotten. Soon balance and posture were compromised, and the victor of the scenario was determined by strength and determination alone.
Not good odds if the criminal is a brute of a man, who has decided to take a new Glock 19 home to Mama.
Realizing we needed some fundamental skills first, I removed the guns from the training. We started with a simple premise; how to control another man while we are both still on our feet. The lesson took on its own momentum, and soon I realized we were following the lesson I had participated with Matt all those years ago. The clinch had come to our basement.
Self Defense Tip - What is Clinch Fighting?
Simply put, if you are grappling or wrestling with your opponent whilst on your feet, you are clinch fighting.
In one of the oldest and most insightful internet articles on the subject; Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert John Danaher explains it as “any situation where both combatants are standing and have some kind of grip on one another”.
Danaher, an experienced bouncer, points out that the clinch features “heavily” in actual street combat, but is often neglected in martial arts training. Ironically Danaher’s article was written way back in 2003, but his observation still carries relevance.
Grappling arts aside, if you scroll through various YouTube and Instagram channels, you will notice loads of footage showing experts resolving various self-defense scenarios that start with a grabbing attack. Then usually what happens is that the demonstrator breaks the grip of his attacker and resolves the situation with a rapid succession of strikes. While this takes place the attacker generously stands immobile and accepts his beating.
Clearly, they haven’t met the criminals on the streets of South Africa. The scenario misses barging, pushing, pulling and holding all demanded by the primal clinch fight.
The importance of the clinch in combat is easy to understand. It’s one of the best ways to subdue a strong striking attack. Imagine being pummeled by an aggressive man flashing his teeth as he swings his hairy fists at you.
Before a set of tattooed knuckles that say “MOMMA”, hit your face, you have three choices. You can try to punch back. You can back off and try and run. Or, you can cover your head, move forward and subdue those swinging arms by grabbing them. This is a common tactic used by boxers when they are tired or need to buy some time.
Moving away from the world of fighting and back to our lady pedestrian, many street and home attacks result in a clinch fight. So, if you know the clinch, you know it will give you control.
Getting to Know the Clinch
Clinch exercises exist in various forms within the martial arts. This includes Greco-Roman wrestling, Judo, Jiu Jitsu, Thai Boxing, Russian Sambo and even Tai Chi.
Yes, that’s right, I did say Tai Chi! You can see this here. Modern clinch training also has its own language. As you get to know it, you will become familiar with clinch nomenclature that helps to untangle the mess of a clinch battle.
Terms like arm wrenches, under hooks, knee bumps, sprawls and snap downs will become familiar to you.
Ask anyone the day after their first clinch session and they will tell you that their muscles ache all over! This is because the clinch involves the use of the entire body.
At this point you do need to put in a little time and sweaty dedication; but you will gain the benefits of added macro and micro muscular strength, and develop your kinetic senses like proprioception.
You will also gain a lot of cardio fitness. There are also psychological benefits to this training. Because of your close proximity to your training partner, the training immunizes you from the discomfort and fear of close contact with other human beings.
The demanding nature of the clinch will also force you to dig deep inside and develop your inner grit. This is a quality that extends far into the struggle of life in a chaotic and stressful world, where the cheese has not only moved, but is laced with jalapeno!
Dominating Positions Open Up Options
It’s not possible to cover all the intricacies of the various techniques here. But I can give you a few principles to keep in mind.
Key principle 1: Your goal is to achieve a dominating position
A dominating position is a position in which you have some type of leverage over your opponent.
You are in a contest against gravity, and you must be in a position to control the center of balance. Without this position, it will not be possible to transition into an offensive maneuver.
An example of such a position would some form of a headlock, a bearhug, a throwing position, or even the Spear posture developed by Tony Blauer (for those of you familiar with the clinch, I’m trying to keep the terminology descriptive and easy to understand, so climb off that high horse and pass on the knowledge).
Key principle 2: Control your center of gravity
Power is achieved by being balanced and rooted to the ground.
If your balance is weak, or you lean too far forward or backward, it will be easy for your opponent to throw you to the ground or achieve a controlling position of his own.
If we go back to our fighting pedestrian, she does well to stay on her feet. She instinctively keeps her legs bent and shrugs off his bear hug, an attempt to attain a dominating position.
She turns her back on him, slips past him, but then exploits her attackers lack of balance to barge him into the road. He is able to get her phone, but you get the impression it would have been difficult to force this woman into the car.
Key principle 3: Keep your head up
Its natural for people to put their head down when they are tired. This compromises your balance and opens a world of moves like the good ol’ fashioned knee to the face.
What do you do When You Are Dominating?
So, for a split second you’ve achieved the dominating position. What now? It’s the same dilemma dogs have once they actually catch the milkman’s truck! At this stage of the battle, various martial arts invite answers.
The grappling arts like Jiu Jitsu and Judo have provided us with some very functional submission techniques.
Chokes such as the guillotine choke or chokes using the lapel or even the neckline of a t-shirt are easily possible.
This is because a head is a large object that is easy to hold. Also, it is supported on the neck, which is a weak fulcrum.
Arm locks can be possible, but are hard to achieve. Arms tend to be slippery and very active when attached to non-complying opponents.
Sambo, Judo and Greco-Roman wrestling also have a variety of throws and take-downs designed to get the opponent to the floor and even inflict a little damage once a flying body hits the ground. Spend an hour with a skilled Judo practitioner and you will experience this first hand!
Thai boxing is an art that has specialized in delivering a range of devastating elbow and knee attacks from the clinch position. It’s also possible to add some so-called dirty boxing techniques into the mix.
Your imagination is your limit here, but techniques would include headbutts, eye gouges and even strikes to the back of the neck.
You are not going to achieve the dominating position for long, so when you get it, you need to pick your attack and strike hard.
Getting back to our dusty basement sessions, we did a few fundamental clinch sessions and we were able to add some scenarios into the mix.
For first responders there are a number of scenarios in which criminals could attempt to take their weapons. Here I will focus on three scenarios, all of which I have seen in the real world:
Scenario 1: Frontal attack in which one suspect tries to take a holstered weapon
This scenario works well with some initial dialog between the two participants. Yes, I know. “This will never happen to me; I’ll get my six-shooter out and aerate the creep”.
But it does happen, and dialog is important as it often functions to distract the good guy. Then all of the sudden, the attacker strikes unexpectedly.
Under the shock and rush of the attack, fine motor skills like extracting your firearm from a holster are lost and the fight is on. Responders should focus on getting the firearm leg to the rear, then place your focus on getting dominating position or creating space to act.
Scenario 2: Rear attack in which one suspect tries to take a holstered weapon from behind
I have seen this take place at a fast food outlet when an officer was waiting in line for a well-earned chicken burger, extra hot.
Here a good security mechanism on the holster thwart the attempt; but should this fail, the first step is to get your hand on the weapon or on the hand grabbing the weapon. The ability to turn in and maintain balance becomes important in this situation.
Scenario 3: Frontal attack in which one suspect tries to take a weapon out of the officer’s hands
This scenario works well during house clearing exercises.
The officer turns a corner and is ambushed and the suspect tries to grab the pistol away. As with my officers; the initial reaction is going to be to pull the weapon back.
A tug of war begins that could have a lethal ending. Officers need to be trained to bring the weapon into their body, there is far more power close to the body than out on the end of the arms where the hands are.
These scenarios can be augmented by adding extra attackers, extra officers and modifications to the environment.
In an ideal world the bad guys would give up, lie down, put their hands behind their backs and behave.
But the world of the first responder is never ideal or fair. People often fight back. People with mental disorders or people who are high on drugs add to the complexity of these scenarios.
The scenario starts with a suspect pretending to be compliant. But once the handcuffs come out, the world turns to hell.
Clinch training is a powerful way of preparing officers for this explosion of violence. Again, the scenario can vary; an officer on his own; two officers together, or even a suspect with a hidden weapon.
Grit and Fighting Spirit
The fundamentals of the clinch, whether it is used in self-defense or to up-skill first responders, provide the answers for both attack and escape.
The training can and should be exhausting. The experience of the clinch is as much a teacher as the techniques of the clinch. Once the body is exhausted, it becomes time to recruit the spirit of our pedestrian: “Damn this, I’m going after them!” As has been said before, “neurons that fire together wire together”. Once the neurons are firing, the clinch is a powerful training ground for cultivating a fighting spirit.
Special thanks to amaFranx for lending us his musical neck for the pics.
References & Further Reading
Anselm, R. G. (2017, July 3). Why Dirty Boxing For Defending Yourself? Retrieved from The SOP: http://thesop.org/story/20170703/why-dirty-boxing-for-defending-yourself.html
Brodala, T. (2011, May 31). S.P.E.A.R. System: “Outside 90”. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-0iNT674Dc
Danaher, J. (2003, March). Fighting in the Clinch: A Key Skill in Real Fighting. Retrieved from Realfighting: https://web.archive.org/web/20061030125158fw_/http://www.realfighting.com/0503/jdanaherframe.html
FunctionalSelfDefense.org. (2019). Functional Clinch. Retrieved from Functionalselfdefense.org: http://www.functionalselfdefense.org/clinch/
Grant, T. P. (2011, December 24). New Fan’s Introduction to Mixed Martial Arts: The Clinch. Retrieved from Bloodyelbow.com: https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2011/12/24/2632138/mma-technique-clinch-new-fan-introduction
Lucanus, J. (2016, January 21). FINALS Josh Waitzkin vs. “The Buffalo” – 2004 Tai Chi World Cup – Moving Step Push Hands. Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leuf-5pZaaw
Thornton, M. (2005, July 30). Why Aliveness?. . . . Retrieved from mattthornton.org: http://mattthornton.org/why-aliveness/