I get asked all the time how I would define effective self defense. The short answer is “hurting people,” much in the same way that using a firearm for effective self-defense is really about shooting to kill. Trick shooting, such as shooting to wound or trying to shoot the gun out of an attacker’s hand, is not seriously considered when training to use a firearm for self-defense.
So it must be when we have nothing but our fists and boots. We need to have a direct one-for-one correlation between action and results.
The easy way to judge the effectiveness of any approach to hand-to-hand self-defense is to look for that one-to-one correlation. The more steps there are between the action and the result, the worse it is. You need to inflict serious injury as fast as possible and there are many actions that produce that desired result. Any other technique is inefficient, dangerous, and a waste of time–it’s more like trick shooting than self-defense.
Strike an attacker through the side of the neck to knock him unconscious. Gouge his eye to blind him. Crush his throat to make him asphyxiate. These actions sounds gruesome, but remember: when you’re facing an attacker in a life-or-death situation, debilitating injury is your desired result. It’s the hand-to-hand version of shooting at the center of mass — that is, shooting the area that houses your heart, lungs, and plenty of nerves. The area that makes your attacker stop in his tracks.
Very often the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think about self-defense is some version of a gun disarming maneuver or a submission hold. Both are perfect examples of inefficient and problematic self-defense techniques that will get you killed. Neither one results directly in a debilitating injury and both take several steps to set up and execute. While they may be appropriate in certain situations, life-or-death self-defense is not one of them.
Additionally, joint breaks and throws — excellent ways to cause serious injury — suffer from the same problem. Both take one or more extra steps to set up and execute. Done in isolation, that is, outside of that one-for-one correlation between action and injury, it’s just wrestling.
In order to pull off joint breaks and throws you often times need to be bigger, faster, stronger and more skilled than your opponent. That is, unless your first action leads to injury, which makes executing more complicated techniques much easier. An injury — like the gouged eye, say — gives you the time and space to do those extra set-up moves to tear out that shoulder or throw him and bounce his head off the sidewalk. Just as shooting center of mass gives you the opportunity to close distance and put one through an attacker’s brain.
If you look at what shooting center of mass does — opening up the circulatory system and/or severing the spine — both results are aimed at either shutting off the brain (depriving it of oxygen) or disrupting the brain’s ability to operate the body. There’s your one-for-one correlation between action and results. In terms of gun disarms or submission, it’s much easier to take a gun away from or restrain a man suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Again, injury making easy work.
Effective self-defense — with any tool — must adhere to this base principle. The further the distance, whether in space or time, between what you’re doing and crippling injury, the less likely you are to be successful. The closer you hew to action-injury, the more your action is like pulling the trigger on center of mass.