The Mancunion

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Defending yourself from an attack

Chatri Boonchareon looks at the advice for students needing to defend themselves on the street


The self-defence industry is worth millions of pounds in this country alone. Apart from the books and DVDs, there’s a great deal of ‘non-lethal’ weapons available online. As someone who loves gadgets, the idea of some kind of self-defence gadget seems pretty nifty. But when I stumbled across what was unmistakably a spiked club with a light being sold as a ‘self defence torch’ on ebay, I decided it would be wise to check the legality of these items.

Guidelines offered by the police state that any item used in a way intended to cause injury is considered an offensive weapon. Personal alarms and whistles are fine. While sellers of non-toxic marker sprays claim they are legal, it’s more accurate to state that they have not been ruled to be illegal in a test case. If you had one you wouldn’t be allowed to spray it in an attackers eyes anyway – that would make it an offensive weapon.

Relying on a weapon to defend yourself is a flawed strategy. Many attacks are sudden and unexpected–leaving little time to deploy a weapon. You would also need to carry a weapon with you all the time, and risk being arrested. Being prepared then, means that you must be able to defend yourself with your bare hands.

I’m not a stranger to martial arts, but there are gaps in my knowledge. I have next to no experience in grappling, fighting on the ground, or fighting against weapons. Two weeks ago I decided to address the situation by taking up Krav Maga, a self-defence method taught to police and military forces around the world. British Krav Maga Organisation instructor Brinsley Merrell teaches at the Trinity Sports Centre. At my first lesson he explained the Krav Maga philosophy – do what you need to survive. If someone asks for your wallet and you aren’t in any immediate danger, just give it to them and let them leave.

I’ve never actually been mugged, but on two occasions when I was still a teenager, I stood there like an idiot whilst my friends were shaken down for pocket change. It’s something that bothered me for years, to be honest. The idea that I could, and therefore should, have done something, well anything in fact, is still stuck in my head.

But the truth is this – you should avoid fighting whenever possible, and if you aren’t in immediate danger, do not instigate what could end up being a very dangerous situation.

Assuming there is a distinct possibility you will be attacked sooner or later, you should prepare yourself for the most likely scenarios. Over the past two weeks, instructor Brinsley has taught me how to escape holds, defend against takedowns, fight on the ground, and disarm opponents holding knives or guns. During class we practice pad work in pairs, striking with punches, elbows, knees, and kicks. There is a heavy focus on switching quickly from defence to offence. Crucially, the person holding the pad gets used to being hit, and advancing on an opponent. Eventually, I came to realise that no matter how simple a technique is, it needs to be practiced. This is especially true for techniques used to disengage from your opponents holds – it’s not about finesse, per se, but you need to try it out and be told where you can improve if it isn’t working well. Trying to escape from a hold without any strategy is likely to be ineffective or actually cause you injury. If you have any doubts or concerns about defending yourself, you are best off attending a self-defence or martial arts class, rather than learn techniques from a book. For these reasons, I’m not going to describe any defensive techniques in this article.

The Crown Prosecution Service website actually has a whole section regarding the legality of self-defence. The essence of the guidelines is–the amount of force should be reasonable under the circumstances. If you had to defend yourself and ended up in court, they would primarily be concerned with whether or not you had to defend yourself, and if you used appropriate force to do so. Contrary to popular belief, there is no law stating you need to wait to be attacked before you defend yourself.

In other words, do what you find to be necessary, and nothing more. I’ve seen people chasing pickpockets on the street –  not only is this dangerous, but it puts you in a bad position from a legal perspective.

Taking all the legal and practical concerns into mind, these are my top self-defence tips:

Don’t panic, and don’t close your eyes. Shout as loudly as you can, and keep shouting, it will attract attention and deter your opponent. Don’t let yourself get surrounded, keep moving Cover up your head and torso with your hands and forearms, keeping your hands close to your head, and elbows close to your body. Without any training or practice, your attacks are going to lack stopping power, and can’t be relied upon for anything other than a distraction. Keep looking for a chance to escape. Creating an opportunity for escape by hitting your opponent first is counter-intuitive to most people, but should be considered an option. If you have a chance to run, try and get to a safe place where there are people, and call the police. If your attacker flees, don’t run after them. Likewise, if you escape, don’t go looking for your attacker. It’s time to calm down, and call the police.