Sensei Dave Boesel

There are no hard and fast rules about self-defense. Your (re)action will depend on the situation, the people, and the degree of risk or danger. But here are some general guidelines to keep in mind and be ready to apply, as appropriate:


  • If you go out, tell a friend or family member where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
  • Carry a cell phone with you, know how to dial 911 quickly, and know your location so you can report it to the operator (“near the corner of Elm and Spring”).
  • Situational awareness: Pay attention to the situation you’re in and the risks it may hold. Look around.
  • Heed your instincts if they perceive a threat.
  • Tactical risk avoidance: Within reason, stay away from, or leave, situations in which you are uneasy about your safety.
    •  For example, when walking on a deserted street, stay away from buildings  alleys where someone might be hiding. Walk along    the curb.
  • Move briskly, with purpose. Look alert, ready, in control. Don’t look like an easy mark, a potential victim.
  • If you think a situation is potentially dangerous and can’t leave, try to stay in public, around other people.
  • Avoid moving, or being moved, from a situation in which you have more control to one in which you have less.
    • For example, from the street to a potential aggressor’s car or  from the car to his apartment.
    •  Often it’s best to make your move early, rather than allow an         aggressor to make you more vulnerable.

If confronted with a direct physical threat,

  • If other people are around, make sure they know about the threat you’re facing — e.g., shout, argue, call for help. Don’t be afraid to make a scene.
  • Don’t hesitate to run if it will get you to a safe place.
  • According to Maryland Law, to use force,
    •     You must have a reasonable belief of immediate danger
    •   You have a duty to retreat, if you can.  Avoidance is the best           policy.
    •     Force must be reasonable and proportionate to the threat.  Once you have done the minimum to keep your opponent from harming you, you cannot, in turn, become the attacker.
  • Ma-Ai — Combative distance. If you are forced to stand your ground, keep about two arm-lengths distance from your opponent. Don’t get sucker punched. Imagine a defensive circle around you.
  • Assume a non-confrontational defensive stance. Hands and arms must protect head and upper body. You may try to defuse the situation by talking, arguing, using humor, etc. See if you can get (him) to calm down or laugh.
  • If the potential aggressor tries to come closer, into your defensive circle, step to the side or move in a circle at ma-ai distance.
  • Assume command presence; give loud voice command — “Stop! Don’t come any closer!”
  • Now, if you have to fight, go in determined to defeat your attacker and leave him in no condition to follow you. Attitude and determination are critical here – I may get hurt, but I’m going to stop him!
  • A weapon is better than bare-handed defense, but you must know how to handle whatever weapon you use. Practice using it (or them), and know the law regarding weapons.

In physically dangerous situations, your lizard brain kicks in. Your heartbeat and adrenaline levels rise, your field of vision and other senses narrow, and you tend to lose small-motor coordination.  So,

  • Practice a half-dozen big moves that you’re comfortable with and can execute easily, without thinking about it. Practice and repetition build muscle memory. Visioning (imagining how you’ll act in different situations) can help.
  • Protect your head and neck especially (shoulders high, chin down, hands up, elbows in).
  • Use distraction to set your opponent up for a counter strike or technique.

There are many strategies you can use to counter and defeat a violent aggressor.

  • Any kind of attack you use is fair — striking, kicking, scratching, biting, ear slapping, eye poking, groin kicking – as long as it’s clearly for self-defense.
  • Many things can serve as weapons — pens, key rings, baseball bats, rocks, bricks, sticks, garden implements, etc. Try to disable your attacker with the first strike of your weapon, and follow up quickly if you need to. You don’t want to struggle with him for control of the weapon, so you’ll have to judge its first-strike capability.
  • Attack the aggressor’s weak points: eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, collarbone, lower ribs, groin, knees.
  • Shout loudly and aggressively while you’re doing it (could be a kiai).

You can block and counter a punch on the outside or the inside.


Pivot, block from outside. Then take him down:

  • Elbow takedown
  • O soto gari  (big outside reap)
  • Palm strike to chin
  • Irimi nage (advancing front attack)
  • Standing arm triangle


Swim in, control his biceps, clinch. Then:

  • Ko soto gake (little outside reap)
  • Hip throw
  • Ear cupping
  • Eye scratching or raking
  • Palm strike to the nose
  • Hammer fist to collarbone
  • Knee to groin, stomach

Once your attacker is down or stopped, make sure he can’t follow you. A swift kick to the ribs should do it. Then run away!

On the ground:

It’s best to stay on your feet, but if the struggle goes to the ground:

  • Top mount to back mount and rear naked choke
  • Counter to a top mount
  • Armbar (juji-gatame) from guard