If you are realistic about survival then you know that one of the greatest threats you face are other people. While the elements can be devastating, nothing is as unpredictable as a person. Even those you know and love can turn on you when survival is at stake.
When you consider that you’ll have far more cause to fight empty handed than you will with a weapon, you might be putting the wagon ahead of the horse if you neglect to learn how to handle things in a hand-to-hand fight.
Nobody is expecting you to become a black belt, but with a little practice and knowledge you can be more prepared.
Fighting on the street almost never looks like it does in the gym or dojo, with two participants squaring-off using the exact same style and same “rules”. It will instead look like what it actually is; a wild melee with each fighter viciously trying to pile on as much damage as they can to their opponent while avoiding the same.
Most street fights go bad quickly, and that is because one fighter or the other usually gains advantage quickly and persecutes their opponent mercilessly until they decide the loser has had enough.
You definitely want to avoid this unhappy fate, and so we’ll share with you today several self-defense moves that anyone can whip out after a little practice when the opportunity presents itself.
Table of Contents
But First Always Remember This Essential Procedure…
It rarely fails that in pretty much every fight you’ll see, real or fictional, on TV or in real life, people get punched in the head and face an awful lot. It’s understandable, as punching someone in the head can inflict an awful lot of pain and definitely result in a knockout.
But for the average person who has gotten themselves sucked into a real life street fight, whaling on someone’s head and face with your balled fists is rarely a good idea.
The reason why is simple physics: You’ll be striking one of the hardest and most durable structures on the human body with one of the most complex and most delicate, its bones held in a tenuously acceptable configuration for striking.
I can already hear people firing up their keyboards down in the comments section, but before you attempt to denounce what I am saying hear me out.
Yes, it is possible for a combination of training, practice and long, painful conditioning to strengthen the tiny bones in the hands and wrists to harden them somewhat for the car crash-serious collision with a human skull that you will put them through, and also give yourself the best chance for walking away with an unbroken hand by striking with precision using a correct point of impact on the knuckles, and maintaining proper wrist alignment.
Unfortunately, this starts to fall apart when you consider that the average person will be participating in a fight has neither the training, the practice or the conditioning to do this without badly hurting or breaking their hand or wrist, at least for more than a few punches worth.
Does that not sound like a big deal to you? Consider the fight that you are facing in anything but a vacuum.
Hit Something Hard With Something Soft, and Vice Versa
What if in the immediate aftermath of your fight you have to deal with additional attackers? What if you have to switch gears and draw a weapon that relies on dexterous handling to be effective, like a pistol?
What if you have to render life-saving first aid to someone else or even yourself to deal with a wound sustained in the prior fight?
What if you’re just going back to the business of trying to survive in a post-SHTF situation and will be relying on your hands to get work done? It is going to be geometrically harder to do all of that with a broken hand or wrist.
The solution to this problem of preventing damage to your hands which you will definitely need after the fight is over, is to not strike something that is so daggone hard with it!
The general rule for conducting yourself in a street fight if you don’t want to inflict injury on yourself (and assuming you don’t already have hard and heavy hands) is to “strike something hard with something soft, and strike something soft with something hard.”
The soft and hard in this reminder refer to anatomical targets on the attacker’s body and also the ones on your own. The skull and face perched upon it are considered very hard targets. The solar plexus and the abdomen are much softer targets.
It is better to strike the face with your open hand using the base or heel of the palm, which is both far more sturdy structurally compared to the fingers and also benefits from a little bit more padding while still delivering tremendous force.
Conversely, a balled fist can be safely and effectively (devastatingly so) driven into the abdomen with enough power to bruise or rupture organs inside.
If you don’t have a choice in the matter or need to take a slightly different tack, at least try to strike a hard target with something even harder than it is; instead of using a closed fist perhaps use the point of the elbow in a brutal strike that is far less likely to injure or incapacitate you compared to a punch, or even an open, cupped hand thrown like a hook, commonly called a “bear slap.”
Knowing Where to Strike Counts for a Lot
One of the first lessons you can learn is to strike some key areas on the human body. Attacking these areas can disable an attacker with minimal force. Among these points of focus are the feet, knees, groin, neck, nose, jaw, and eyes.
How and when you target these areas is dependent on how the fight is proceeding. You might have a great opportunity to go for an eye gouge, only to see it slip away before you can execute. It is not a tidy business; you’ll have to take what you can get when you can get it in a fight.
If you strike any of these points it can be agonizing, debilitating or even lethal. That being said, only go for life-threatening targets like the throat, neck and eyes if you truly feel that your life is in danger.
If you strike somebody in the throat with enough force they may never get back up again. With that being said, let’s get on to the techniques.
Knee and Elbow Strikes
Elbow strikes are a fixture in several martial arts systems, most notably MMA and Muay Thai. While they are initially awkward to throw for those who are unpracticed, most techniques offer the advantage excellent striking power in close quarters while also protecting the hands and feet from harm. They’re also easier to deliver when very close to an assailant or already grappling with them.
Elbow strikes come in several varieties, but are typically directed at the head and face. Knees are nominally directed toward the hips and torso, but can be delivered to any point on the body it depending on how you wind up in relation to your opponent during the fight. It does not take much practice to get the motion down pat and they can be delivered with surprising swiftness, surprising an unwary attacker you might think you’re out of options once they are in bad breath distance.
Employ Improvised Weapon or Weapon of Opportunity
You can also make your strikes more effective by grasping household items. Anything heavy or having a sharp point or corner will increase the damage you inflict. A lamp, kitchen knife, or chair can all put you at a strategic advantage.
If you are in a legitimate fight for your life, anything goes, and no matter where you are there is probably something nearby and close at hand that you can employ as a weapon.
Depending on the object you can come up with, it might serve as a good weapon in its own right or simply make your own strikes more effective.
Anything from objects like a simple rock or heavy branch to real weapons of opportunity like kitchen and table cutlery; all have their pros and cons.
Something as simple as a short section of metal or wooden rod can be used in a hammering motion to greatly increase the force of your strikes. Even your car and house keys can be used to impressive effect!
Let the points of the keys stick out between your fingers and then punch as normal. You can also grasp it like a stabbing blade and go for the target areas of the body. The impact from your keys can easily cut through the skin and puncture some vital organs or arteries.
It is obviously painful, and a slash to the face can inflict significant psychological distress in addition to blinding or impairing the attacker’s vision through tearing or bloodletting. In some cases shards of bone can even make it to the brain and cause death.
Remember, don’t be afraid to make use of the objects around you to improve your odds in a street fight so long as the level of force being used against you warrants it!
Eye Rake/Eye Gouge
Your goal is to blind your opponent in order to escape. You can accomplish this in several ways. You can try a raking or poking motion using the splayed fingers in the same method you would throw a punch at the face with the objective being simply to scratch or impact the eyes of the attacker.
This is, as you might imagine, extremely painful and will also cause inadvertent closure of the eye so affected along with copious tear production. Someone who cannot see or has their vision impaired is going to have a difficult time continuing their attack against you.
One particularly vicious and debilitating maneuver is a deliberate eye gouge, executed when the opportunity presents itself typically when entangled with the attacker.
Using the stiffened fingers or the thumb on either or both hands, the eye socket is directly attacked with gruesome efficiency using a motion that is similar to trying to scoop a grape out of a pipe.
It does not take much force to completely destroy or remove the eyeball from someone’s head, and is in most cases a fight stopper.
Aside from using your hands, you might make use of improvised or purpose-made weapons ideal for attacking the sight of an assailant. Any aerosol can could be sprayed in the attacker’s eyes with varying levels of efficacy, resulting in a pain or just a distraction.
Fire extinguishers are good for this, as they dense, choking cloud of chemical they spew is going to seriously mess with someone’s vision.
You can also go old-school and grab a handful of sand, dirt, salt, pepper or any powder into the eyes. Even a hot drink to the face can buy you the opportunity to run.
Lastly, carrying pepper spray is a great idea. Pepper spray is effective out of all proportion with its size, causing intense pain and it avert enclosure of the eyes along with copious tear production, coughing and inflammation.
Most folks to get hit with a good dose of pepper spray right to the eyes and mouth will start to give up the urge to fight in pretty short order, and those who do not typically see their fighting ability seriously degraded.
Pepper spray is not without its drawbacks, namely that it is less effective on those with an extremely high pain tolerance or those who are affected by mind altering drugs.
There is also the possibility that you will be contaminated with your own sauce due to wind or contact cross-contamination. You must be prepared for these eventualities, but pepper spray is an excellent tool that is easy to use.
The head is one of the most important structures on the human body because it contains the brain.
But the neck, the structure that supports the head, is actually one of the most vulnerable, containing as it does a disproportionately high number of major blood vessels and nerves, the windpipe and the always vulnerable spine.
A direct attack on the neck is often as effective as attacking the brain itself, as the neck is also devoid of the heavy duty armoring provided by the human skull.
There are multiple ways to attack the neck. The easiest is a straight punch to the Adam’s apple. This will definitely make you opponent gasp for air and may collapse the windpipe, suffocating the assailant.
A strong chop with the blade of your hand or wrist just above the collar bone can be quite just as effective in a different way. If done right this can disrupt blood flow to the brain and cause the attacker to collapse on impact.
It can take some practice so please view the technique here:
It must be repeated that specially directed blows to the neck can easily fall into the category of lethal force and result in any number of crippling injuries, either through disruption of blood to the brain, closure of the airway or damage to the spinal cord. Do not strike someone here without good reason!
Chokeholds are comparatively simple techniques where my pressure and constriction are applied to the neck, cutting off blood flow to the brain and inducing unconsciousness.
The power of the chokehold is that the opponent does not get a vote in what happens to them so long as the chokehold is applied correctly. Once the brain is starved of oxygen long enough by restricted blood flow, it is lights out, effectively ending the fight.
There are various ways to apply an effective chokehold and most of these are dictated by your position in relation to your opponent.
Chokeholds can be applied from the front or the rear, and your opportunity to apply one will be largely dictated by a significant opening in the fight, since you usually have to commit with both arms to apply and to maintain the hold.
You can also apply a chokehold using any thin, flexible material like rope, webbing or even a belt. Choking with cordage or a ligature will also get the job done, but it is often associated with lethal force and even murderous intent. Check out the application of a chokehold below:
The choke-hold is a way control the head, which generally controls the whole body. If you do it right, it can also cause unconsciousness or death. If you are facing your attacker, this is called a guillotine and you can see it here:
Place your left hand on his right shoulder and move his head down and under your right armpit. Wrap your right forearm under the neck and grab your right wrist with your left hand.
Pull up and squeeze, roll to your back, and hold it until they goes limp. If you find yourself behind your attacker, it is called a rear naked choke and you can see the difference here: Wrap your right arm around the neck and put your left elbow on his left shoulder.
Grab your left bicep with your right hand and move your left hand to the back of his head. Again, pull up and back. If you are not being effective, roll back onto your back while controlling the head.
Then wrap your legs around his legs and arch your back. Your right forearm and bicep should be pressing against the sides of the neck cutting off the blood to the brain.
The jaw is also a vulnerable area to attack if you know how. One close-quarters technique that works well is a mandible hook. You can do this with one hand or two.
You actually shove your thumb inside the mouth but outside the molars to avoid being bitten. Then you grip the back of the jaw where it meets the neck under the ear. As you squeeze the attacker will experience extreme pain.
They will also be quite surprised that your thumbs are in their mouth. In addition, you can target to break or dislocate the jaw. Please view it here:
An alternate way to attack the delicate mechanism of the jaw is by striking there. You can strike that same spot at the base of the jaw, or if you are above your attacker you can strike the chin with a downward motion. This action tends to require more force and is not as effective as the fish hook.
Low Line Kicks and Stomps
The feet, knees, and groin are all easy targets and generally vulnerable to attack since the defender’s arms are not easily able to ward off blows directed to them and most are disproportionately likely to focus on defense of the torso and head.
A swift kick or stomp to any of these areas can work very well. If an attacker has you in a bear hug, a foot stomp will likely get you free.
If an attacker is downed but not out, stomps can easily damage or destroy delicate joints like the ankle, knees or hands to further impair them and prevent pursuit. It goes without saying that stomps to the head and neck are always considered lethal force.
Kicking the knees is an excellent way to disable a standing opponent. With an wrecked knee, it is unlikely that they would be able to continue the fight. The knee is a weak joint and can be attacked from the front, side, or back.
Snapping out a sharp kick to the knee is far less risky than attempting some high-flying and acrobatic kick to the head, and also far easier to connect with for normal earth people.
Don’t try to connect with the top of your foot, instead opting for a thrusting motion that connects with the heel or instep or ultimately a frontal attack that connects with the bottom part of the shin.
Once again, this will help save your own foot from being mangled in the process and deliver the most power.
You cannot count on someone to buckle or fall down after striking here, but if you notice they start to sag after you land a kick to the knee, you need to make the choice quickly to follow up and finish them or try to break and run.
Speaking of knee attacks, if you have a bat or stick of some kind, hitting the side or back of the knee can end things quickly. If you are in front, a straight-ahead strike to the knee or the shin can hyperextend the leg. Talk about grisly!
A good, old-fashioned kick to the shin is also very painful even if it is not immediately disabling. View examples of all of these attacks here:
Using the momentum of your attacker is a technique used in several martial arts. One situation for this would be if they are running towards you.
If you can square your feet and prepare for the blow, a solid thrust from the heel of your hand to the solar plexus will knock the wind out of your opponent to let you run or strike again.
See this strike here:
However, my favorite example is a simple leg trip. See it in action here:
If you are involved close combat, grab the right arm of your attacker with your left hand. Grab his left shoulder with your right hand and swing your right leg around behind both of his feet.
Then in one motion push back with your right arm, hold your left arm in place, and bend your knees lowering the elevation of your hips.
You will see a very surprised look on their face as they fall back and slam to the ground. They will try to grab your clothing to help break their fall, so be prepared to break their grip as they are falling.
If an attacker has a gun one might think that the situation is hopeless. However, with a few basic steps you can disarm the assailant. See the process here:
Keep in mind that fighting back when your attacker has a gun is one of the easiest ways to get shot. Only take action if you feel like you have no other choice.
Your first move needs to be redirecting your body away from the angle of the gun. In one motion knock the gun to one side while moving to the opposite side. This will break the hold of your attacker and also redirect his aim away from you if they fire.
Next, you need to control the gun. Get a firm grip and force the barrel of the gun back towards the attacker.
You can move it laterally away from your body, or you can twist the barrel vertically. In many cases this will break their grip and allow you to take the gun.
If your attacker has a knife, the process is a bit different. See the difference here:
In this case, controlling the weapon is more important than moving out of the way. Your best bet is to secure the knife hand, bend the arm behind their back, and then remove the knife from their hand.
Be careful that the attacker does not move the knife to his other hand. Also, be selective as to when you make your move. Stay out of arm’s reach until you are prepared to secure the knife hand.
Your best option is to wait for them to stab or swipe, jump out of the way, and secure the blade. If you can, turn your body in towards theirs and hold the knife hand out away from your bodies.
People with knifes are typically going to shift their body weight to the point that they cannot quickly recover. Remember that, in many cases, your attacker was not planning to actually use his weapon.
In this case you have a tool that extends your reach. Therefore, you can safely disarm the knife hand from a greater distance.
Any cuts or strikes to that wrist will loosen the grip of your assailant. Just like the previous example, wait for them to lunge and then attack while jumping back.
Do not stab with your knife, but slide the blade across the skin. If you are using a blunt object, strike the wrist or elbow. Once you have done this, secure the knife hand, strike a pressure point, and disarm your attacker.
Turning the Tables
If you are in a hostage situation and there are a group of captives, there is a way to disarm your captor. Even if they have an automatic weapon, you can take them down. It does require some planning and you have to rely on the other captives, so pick your partners carefully.
As a general rule, three unarmed adults can disarm one armed adult. It sounds pessimistic, but you have to plan on one of your partners freezing up.
With three people you have one to control the weapon, one to control the head, and one to stand there and do nothing. In many cases, this is a better option than running for the door and drawing fire towards yourself.
One of the most important rules of self-defense is to never underestimate your opponent. You must always assume that they know how to fight, and you must always assume that they have a weapon.
Staying calm and being observant is vitally important. You may go into the confrontation with a plan in mind, but then notice the attacker pull a knife and be forced to change your tactics.
Good self-defense is all about observing and reacting. Let the attacker make the mistakes. Never make the first move. Watch them come at you, analyze their movements, and pick your moment to strike.
Remember that your goal is to get away safely. If you continue the fight longer than needed, you are giving your opponent a chance to regain control. This is about survival, so do what is needed to survive and nothing more.
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.