The nature of self defence – introduction to the four “A”s

The reality of protecting yourself is it is just as much about psychology as it is about what you do physically.

Two keys to consider

1. Not everyone is playing by the same rules as you or I, it is easy to forget this as the people we deal with day to day all seem relatively normal and nice. But every now and then we come across people who are completely different: in their values about hurting others, levels of emotional control, mental health or they may be drunk or on drugs. Hopefully we avoid them but what if you can’t?

If something suspicious is happening or if you are in some form of confrontation or argument, don’t assume anyone is playing by the rules, even if you think you know them. Never expect the assailant to act rationally, don’t expect them to be reasonable or show mercy. Remember for some people violence is their idea of fun.

Immediately start preparing yourself mentally for this escalating into a physical self-defence situation. Usually being prepared mentally will help you appear to be a hard target and aid in diffusing the situation but more about that later.

2. You don’t know what will be handed to you. There are lots of different kinds of self-defence situations – It may be a confrontation and things will escalate, or it may be a surprise attack. It might be a minor scuffle or it might be life threatening or potentially completely life altering. It may be someone trying to strike you, or it may be they grab and grapple you, or it might go to the ground. It may involve multiple attackers; it may involve knives or other weapons. The point is you do not get to choose.

There are two things to learn from this: First learn a broad set of skills to help you handle a wide range of situations – which is what we do in Shinkyu.

Secondly understand that one of the first stages of mentally preparing yourself is consider that any of the above situations can happen to you. Most people in a self-defence situation have a moment where they think to themselves “I can’t believe this is happening” this is not a productive thought. Right now consider that anything could happen to you. Think to yourself now; it will not be a surprise when it happens, it is important the you adopt a mind-set NOW, that no matter what happens to you, you will say to yourself “I was expecting this”. This will immediately put you into a much more resourceful state.

Four “A”s of self defence


The best self-defence is simply not to be there in the first place. Let me share an example with you; a self-defence instructor called one of his students to get feedback from the course he had run. The girl said, “Yes the course was great! Now I feel a lot more confident when I take a shortcut through the dark park late at night after I finish babysitting.” The instructor immediately realised the self-defence she should have learnt is don’t take the shortcut through the dark park. Avoid the danger in the first place, organise a lift, book a taxi or at least walk home through the well-lit streets.

With that in mind here are some key tips


  • Teach your kids 112 rather than 999. 112 is the international emergency services number that is in use in most countries include here in the UK, all throughout Europe and the USA.
  • Never let the car get down to less than a quarter of a tank.
  • Let loved ones know where you are going.
  • Let your loved ones track your phone (this may be a small invasion of your privacy but it may be a life saver). This can be done with smartphone apps.
  • Check your phone has a charge before going out, and carry an emergency charger in your bag or at least in your car.
  • Carry a powerful torch. Your phone torch will not do. These days you can buy extremely powerful and small “Cree” torches (much better than LED torches). Cheap Chinese made ones are available on eBay for under £5, they are cheap so be warned they can sometimes be unreliable. A good brand name torch is much better but will be much more expensive. A torch is useful in a million situations but walking at night shining a torch even in a well-lit area makes you an unappealing target.
  • Consider, carrying some money on your person, not just in your wallet/purse.  A great thing to do is putting a £10 not in the sole of your favourite shoe. Also keep with it a list of emergency contact phone numbers

Avoid trouble

  • Stick to well-lit streets at night.
  • Take routes with the most people on them.
  • Don’t use cash points in dangerous areas or if there are suspicious people about.
  • Don’t meet with people you met on the internet, if you must meet them, meet in a busy public place and bring at least 2 friends or if you are a teen bring a parent (preferably dad) with you. Keep them with you and stay in the public place. Bringing friends or your Dad may be very uncool but anyone who has decent values will understand.
  • When going out, stay with your friends, don’t allow yourself to be separated especially if any of you are drinking. The best thing to do is have a buddy with whom you have agreed to stick with each other all night ensuring you get home safe.
  • Lock your car at services.
  • Sit at the front of the bus.
  • Don’t sit in an empty train carriage. Avoid carriages with gangs or drunken people. Sit close to the door, preferably in inward facing seats with the back to the window.
  • Avoid places where there is trouble or likely to be trouble, we appreciate that you can’t always avoid bad elements, but don’t hang around places where bad people frequent when there are perfectly safe alternatives.
  • If you see potential trouble like a gang or people arguing on the street etc, simply cross the street or turn around to avoid them.
  • If you are involved in a confrontation and it diffuses do not think it is over, often the first confrontation is a test and they will attack you later when your guard is down. Position yourself near security with your back to the wall, and then plan a safe exit. Do not go to the toilet and do not leave immediately as you may be followed where you are not as safe! Having a safe exit means you can immediately move to a safe place as soon as you leave, like a waiting car or alternative secure venue. Plan your exit – definitely consider talking to security about escorting you to safety, but be discreet! Don’t look like you are trying to get them in trouble, as this will create trouble.
  • Don’t get into other people’s cars even if you know them. It is most likely that people are just being nice to you and offering you some help or a lift. And some people may be offended that you turn down their offer of a lift but be thick skinned. Always call someone immediately after you turn down a lift to let them know what happened.
  • Even if you are an adult, and you know the person well so you feel it is safe to accept their lift, always call up someone to let people know who you are with before you get in the car, make sure the driver sees you do this.
  • Don’t go to secondary locations where you will be alone. This could be by getting in a car but even going back to someone’s place, or going to a bedroom during a party, or going for a walk. Do not let people persuade you to go to places on your own.

While avoidance is the best self-defence, avoiding potential danger cannot govern your life, all things in balance. It is important to have a social life, go out see the world and meet different people. Avoidance is just about not taking unnecessary risks or simply minimising risk as you live your life the way you want to live it.


Be Alert

Of course, it is very hard to protect yourself against everything, people are everywhere. We don’t want to live our lives paranoid that everyone is a potential threat. But don’t ignore the suspicious or out of the ordinary behaviour because you don’t want to be rude or appear to be cautious.

The simplest thing to do is always be alert. Look around when anything out of the ordinary happens or even if people speak to you. You can still be friendly but just be alert. This may appear overly cautious to some people but the simple act of you looking alert means you are probably not an easy target and a lot of attackers will simply wait for an easier victim.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Be wary at cash points – look around before you get in the queue or use the machine – make note of who is around. If people stand too close to you in the queue or appear to be checking you out, leave and find another cash point or go back later.
  • Walk wide around blind corners, to avoid surprises.
  • Never wear your hood up on your hoodie or jacket.
  • Never walk around wearing headphones. If you are exercising – only put one earphone in and keep the volume down – this enables you to still be aware of your surroundings while still enjoying motivating music.
  • If you are going to talk or text on your phone in public places, keep your head up, look around. If you see anyone or anything concerning or suspicious put your phone away.
  • If drinking, always keep your drink in your hand. Never leave it unattended.

Deception – do not expect assailants to stand out from the crowd: we expect assailants to be young adults and that they will be wearing a black hoodie, but often they will not be.

A lot of assailants will use some form of deception whether that is pretending to need your help, talking with you and appearing to be harmless or distracting you.

The most common distraction is talk, the assailant will talk to you often in an unthreatening way to disarm you and or distract you. When people ask you for the time or directions or for some help oblige them (as the vast majority of these instances are genuine) but always take a moment to think about potential threats, stop and look around, try to keep people at least an arm’s length from you in these situations. In many cases, one assailant will engage and distract you while another will approach from behind.

Signs confrontations are escalating into physical violence

Anytime you are in any form of confrontation you should be on a high alert that this may escalate into physical violence, even if you know the person or if you think it doesn’t look like people are going to be violent. We cover how to diffuse these kinds of situations so they don’t escalate in the next chapter but here are some indicators to look for that a verbal confrontation is about to become physical:

  • Threats and clenched fists. This is an obvious sign of escalation, although sometimes it can just be anger and may not escalate but never the less it is a sign to be ready for violence.
  • Holding one hand behind their back. Often assailants stand on an angle while being expressive and animated with their front hand while holding the other behind their back. This ploy is used to draw your attention to the expressive hand, but of course, it is the hidden or motionless hand they intend to use to strike. A hidden hand is also likely to be holding a knife, bottle or other weapon.
  • Surrounding you. If the assailant’s friends begin to surround you, this is a sure-fire sign that they are setting you up for an ambush and is a clear indicator of their intent to attack you. To avoid this run, if you feel you can’t out run them call out the people surrounding you by simply asking them “Hey, are you trying to get around behind me?” this is quite confrontational but it lets them know the game is up, hopefully saving you from a sucker punch from behind.
  • Fake leaving. Sometimes they will fake leaving saying something like “I’ll let you off this time” as they turn away, but will then attack. This is done to relax you and bring your guard down.
  • I don’t want any trouble, I don’t want to fight. A similar ploy to faking leaving is them saying they don’t want any trouble, or they don’t want to fight just before they attack. Again this ploy is done to bring your guard down.

These next three are indicators that they are about to strike imminently.

  • Testing – pushing, shoving, and faking. Assailants testing you with pushes or fakes are the most common prelude to the situation escalating into serious strikes.
  • Looking around. This is a definite indicator you are about to be attacked. If an assailant looks around they are checking to see if you have allies or if there are authorities about or if there are witnesses, before they attack you.
  • Shorter words. When an assailant is preparing to strike they will often struggle with putting together long sentences or even using long words. If an assailant’s sentences are getting shorter or worse they are just shouting one word, they are imminently going to attack.

As mentioned above, any time you are in a confrontation you should already be ready for physical violence, if you observe any of these warning signs you should put your “fence” up if you haven’t already. In the cases of testing – pushing, shoving, and faking, looking around and using shorter words it is probably best to launch a pre-emptive strike. This is something you will need to train for both physically and observationally.

Assertiveness and target hardening

Target hardening

If you look confident, happy, alert and observant you are much less likely to be attacked. If your head is down, you look unobservant or distracted, or worse if you look weak or fearful this will more likely attract potential attackers.

Bullies don’t pick on people they think will stand up to them.

Serial fighters don’t pick fights they think they are going to lose.

Muggers don’t mug people who they don’t think they can scare into handing over their valuables.

Sexual criminals want to be certain they can subdue their victim.

You don’t necessarily need to be able to beat a would-be assailant, in a lot of cases you just need to look like someone they would have difficulty with. This concept is called target hardening.

While it would be wise to make sure you look confident and observant any time you see potential danger it is, of course, better to be this way all the time.

The challenge with looking confident is your body language is primarily a manifestation of your subconscious. If you are not a naturally confident person the trick to beating your subconscious is simply acting or pretending.

Choose a person or role model who emulates the confidence you want to have, they can be a real person or a fictional character, then act like them. We are not suggesting you take on all their idiosyncrasies or make decisions like they would. We are saying hold yourself a little like they would, walk, move and stand a little like they would. After a little, while acting more confidently it will feel more natural, and you will feel more confident.

One last small tip to boosting confidence is to lift your chest up an inch, this one small bit of body language will boost your confidence, you will notice it and so will others.


Seesaw of power

In every confrontation, there is a seesaw of power, where one party is always feeling more confident than the other. When an assailant feels powerful they are more likely to attack. If you show you are not intimidated they don’t feel as powerful and are much more likely to back down.

The critical factor in a confrontation is not to show fear. How do you do that? Flick a switch by saying, “How about you be my victim” in your head. This statement switches you from being the victim to them being the victim. We teach a similar statement in women’s self-defence classes: “Touch me and it will cost you an eye!” In either case, by saying these statements you have stopped being the victim and started being someone they should be afraid of. You stop being concerned about how they can hurt you and you start planning how you are going to hurt them.

Even though you may not have said these statements out loud, the difference in your demeanor and body language in this empowered state should go a long way in dissuading the assailant.

One of the most important rules in confrontations is never taking more than one step back in the initial negotiation. As they are trying to intimidate you, if you keep on walking back as they come closer they gain confidence with every step and every step back you loose confidence. Obviously forming a good fence stance is essential to keep a “would be” attacker at a distance.

Aggressive energy

A key distinction to make is that this does not mean you need to be aggressive, just assertive. In fact, it is important that you do not be aggressive. In a confrontation there is typically a lot of aggressive energy from your assailant, our goal is to look assertive but to bring the level of aggressive energy down. Meeting their aggression with your own aggression will only escalate the situation.

Instead bring the aggressive energy down with calm statements like “I don’t want any trouble”. Speak as calmly as possible, if you don’t know the person introduce yourself.

While it may seem submissive to say you don’t want any trouble, it gives a would-be attacker a way to leave without losing face, as he has proven his superiority because you don’t want to fight him, even though in other ways you showed you were not intimidated.



Through training in Shinkyu, you will learn highly effective physical defences for all the most statistically probable situations, this is not what this chapter is about. Often in self-defence situations, people fail to act. This happens for many reasons:

  • Frozen by fear and adrenaline.
  • They simply don’t expect violence or don’t think the situation will it will go that far until it is too late.
  • They don’t want to hurt the assailant or fear that attacking them back will escalate the situation.
  • They are unsure of what to do and resultantly do nothing.

These reasons are understandable but they should be overcome.

Resolve to act

Studies of women who have been sexually assaulted show that the women who fought back during their attack recovered mentally far better and quicker than the women who didn’t defend themselves. The worst feeling a self-defense situation can leave you with is a feeling of powerlessness; that you couldn’t or didn’t do anything. It is the feeling of being a victim. Recovering from this is far more detrimental than the bruises you may have received.

Right now build your resolve to not be a victim. For a moment think about the worse case scenario. Indulge this exercise and mentally take yourself to a dark place just for a little bit. Think about what being powerless would do to you emotionally. How would it feel knowing that someone can hurt you and you can’t do anything about it? How it would affect your self-esteem and your confidence, how that would affect your relationships? How would feeling like a victim and feeling powerless affect you socially? How would it affect your happiness with that cloud of feeling powerless hanging over you?

BUT THAT IS NOT YOU! You would never let that happen. You will always act! You fight back! You have the strength to walk away when you can but the courage to act when you need to. No one touches you without your permission. No one hurts you without consequences. You are strong! You will not tolerate people trying hurt you or your loved ones. You will always act! You fight back!

Train hard, so you can build your confidence and back up this sentiment with solid skills.

Note that if you can walk away or diffuse the situation you should. Only if violence is inevitable should you act or pre-emptively attack. You should protect yourself and your loved ones; you should even consider protecting acquaintances or strangers, however, don’t put yourself at risk over property.

Handling fear and adrenaline

Real self defence is not like training in the dojo – it is extremely scary your heart will beat through your chest and adrenaline will stream through your veins. This is all readying youself for action. The problem is when you don’t have a course of action sometimes we panic and freeze.

One of the big solutions to this is plan ahead. As soon as there is any hint of danger or a threat start planning ahead. Having a plan will not only keep you calm it will give you confidence, and of course, in the event of an actual attack, you will be far more ready to act. Some of you at this point are thinking but I am a beginner at this, what if I can’t come up with a plan?

Don’t worry here is a simple universal plan: Eyes – throat – groin – eyes – throat – groin

That is: think to yourself you are going poke or scratch them in the eyes, punch them as hard as you can in the throat and then kick or knee them in the groin then back to attacking their eyes. This plan is very simple but will serve you well in the majority of situations.

Keep thinking to yourself I am going to scratch their eyes, punch their throat and knee their groin. In a confrontation repeat this affirmation in you head “Eyes – throat – groin – eyes – throat – groin” By thinking this in a confrontation it will change your body language and confidence.

But most importantly you have a simple easy to remember and highly effective course of action to take. You have a plan to channel your adrenaline into.