This is the tale of a suburban mom’s journey to self-defense readiness.
In the photo above, I’m sparring with my instructor. (I’m the one on the left.) Don’t let my karate instructor’s size fool you. This petite blonde woman can kick my @$$.
My father was an abusive man, the kind who would hit you – again – when you came home crying after the neighborhood bully shoved your face into the dirt and stole your lunch money. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he had taught us how to defend ourselves, but his “lessons” on self-defense consisted entirely of berating us and beatings. Enter high school — the bullying continued. It was a way of life where I grew up. But a friend taught me a single self-defense move – to flip an assailant who grabbed you from behind. Several years later, that move saved my life when an abusive boyfriend tried to strangle me.
Many years later, as a suburban mother with three kids and a soft-spoken computer engineer for a husband, the issue of self-defense came up again when my middle daughter came home from the bus, in tears, because an older bully kept picking on her. Calls to the school, numerous meetings, and even the threat of legal action failed to protect my child. So, I signed my kids up for martial arts classes and, about three months later, when the bully hit her again, she laid him out on the floor.
Try messing with me now, you big bully!
Number 2 daughter, no longer afraid
It took several years, but the martial arts instructor finally convinced me to sign up for the adult class. By this point, I knew many of the katas (pre-rehearsed defense moves) because I’d helped my children practice them for rank advancement, but the thought of getting into the ring myself always frightened me. I’d like to say that I was an instant bad@$$; but at the time I was seriously overweight, with bad knees, and the only thing which kept me there was the fact the instructor was patient, my fellow students cracked jokes as we sparred, and unlike my father, I wanted to set a good example for my kids. Gradually the moves became second nature, the pounds came off, and it suddenly ‘clicked’ one weekend when some gangbangers approached my family and, rather than cower, something in our demeanor made them realize we wouldn’t make an easy target.
The family that fights together, stays right together…
Eldest daughter with my son
Ten years later, I received my first blackbelt, and two years after that, I achieved my second “dan” (degree). In addition to karate (USA Urban Goju), I’ve learned Philippine stick fighting, Aikido, and boxing; while my oldest daughter achieved blackbelt, my second daughter is currently a junior blackbelt, and my son has his purple belt and is moving up the ranks. Will I ever be Black Widow? No… I’m still a middle-age suburban mom who prefers to knit sweaters or can-up a batch of jelly rather than seek out trouble. But what martial arts has taught me, and my children, is that you don’t have to remain defenseless against the bullies and the baddies.
In these unsettled times, when even the hint of “microaggression” or support for the wrong political party can result in being dragged out of your car and brutally beaten, wouldn’t you feel more secure if you knew how to defend yourself? Here is some advice to get you started on your journey:
1. Find a Patient “Sensei” (Instructor) and Dojo
If you’ve watched any martial art movies or seen “The Karate Kid,” you know that some martial arts studios come with an overdose of attitude. If you’re a natural athlete (for example, you grew up playing team sports), you may thrive on this competition. But a too-aggressive dojo (karate school) will often discourage more moderate temperaments. Luckily, for every “Cobra Kai,” there’s a dozen Mister (or Miss) Miyagis, eager to teach you how to defend yourself.
Nor is there a single “best” method. Each discipline developed due to local threats (for example, Okinawan karate developed under Japanese rule which forbade the peasants to own weapons, so clever farmers learned to use farm implements; while Brazilian Capoeria was developed by African slaves who hid their self-defense practice within the guise of dance). Each method has strengths and weaknesses, just as each instructor or dojo might appeal to one person while turn off another. What’s important is that you attend at least once per week so you can develop the reflexes to shake yourself out of a state of paralysis if you ever get attacked.
What about online classes, cardio-boxing, or books? These are all great methods to learn basic moves, but you won’t develop the necessary reflexes until you actually block real-life punches or hits. If somebody ever tries to hurt you, your body needs to react while your mind is still in denial. There is also a camaraderie which will develop between you, your instructor, and your fellow classmates that will keep you moving forward long after that online video class has grown stale.
2. Give Yourself Permission to Suck
When I first started karate, I was 85 pounds overweight, with three children (one a newborn), bad knees, and a propensity to freeze when somebody got into my face. For two years I couldn’t kick any higher than my opponent’s shin, I was always out of breath, and to this day, rheumatoid arthritis prevents me from delivering a solid side-kick on my left side. But after a while, the scale began to nudge down, I grew more confident, and those hard-won reflexes finally began to kick in. They say it takes 888 times to practice a new skill, so I’d laughingly call out each time I failed miserably at a new maneuver and remind myself it’s just a numbers game. You may not be a natural athlete, but anybody, fat or fit, young or old, timid or brave, can learn to deliver an absolutely devastating tornado kick if you practice it “X-number” of times.
Giving Bob some kicks
Okay, so “Bob” is shorter than me and dressed like a 1970’s pimp. But at least I can finally kick higher than my opponent’s shin.
Remember, it’s not about winning competitions (though if that’s your thing, it feels great to win a trophy or medal). The true purpose of learning self-defense is so that, if you’re ever surprised by a bad guy on the street, rather than freeze, you’ll snap out of your paralysis quickly so you can hit back and get away.
3. Avoid Trouble – Situational Awareness is 9/10ths of Self-Defense
We’ve all heard advice to avoid “that part of town.” But in this era of District Attorneys refusing to prosecute violent leftists, politicians emptying their jails of violent criminals due to covid-19, roving gangs of illegal immigrants (such as MS-13), not to mention “fiery, but mostly peaceful protests”, avoiding trouble now extends to watching the news, being aware of protests in your area, reading survival blogs, and remaining vigilant in a way that has not been necessary since the founding of our nation.
Practice ‘Gray Man Principal.’ No matter how bad@$$ you are, the best fight is the one which you avoid. And read up on ways to secure your home or business. The best self-defense move is to reside in a home or business that bad guys can’t break into in the first place!
4. Learn Self-Defense Skills from Many Different Disciplines
While mastering a “method” is a laudable goal, it’s highly unlikely, if you need to defend yourself in real life, that your attacker will follow the same rules as a method purist. The more you know, the more you’ll be able to adapt.
Within the martial arts world, not only will you find karate, aikido, jujitsu, kung fu, taekwondo, and boxing, but hundreds of sub-arts, including hybrid schools of self-defense such as mixed martial arts and Krav Maga. And this doesn’t include the use of weapons, ranging from the Japanese katana, to the German longsword, to other “primitive” weapons such as knives, nunchaku, or a police baton.
What’s important is that you assess what tactics and weapons a potential attacker may use, and then learn how to avoid, thwart, block, or disarm them. While I pray that I’ll never get into a knife-fight, at least once a month, we practice disarming a knife-wielding assailant. It’s also useful to learn how to wield alternative weapons, such as pepper spray, tasers, and mace, along with “found” weapons such as your walking stick, a tactical key-fob, or the contents of your purse or briefcase.
5. Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight, but….
Learning martial arts is not a substitute for modern weaponry such as shotguns, rifles, and handguns, No matter how much I might wish that I could take out a dozen men like Black Widow, physics makes it difficult for a moderately-sized man or woman, no matter how well you train, to prevail in an extended fight against a larger, more aggressive opponent without using an “equalizer.”
Why bother learning martial arts at all if you already know how to use a gun? First of all, acquiring a gun is almost impossible in many states. Secondly, many private places where large numbers of people congregate—such as shopping malls, churches, and government buildings—prohibit guns. Third, in a prolonged SHTF situation or government gun-grab (I’m looking at you, Australia), you may not be able to purchase ammunition. Fourth, since most people don’t walk around brandishing their gun, a well-developed blocking reflex could mean the difference between being taken out immediately by a surprise attack, versus buying a few seconds to either reach for your gun or run for safety.
But perhaps the biggest reason to learn both (physical self-defense, as well as weapons) is that only carrying a firearm limits your response to only threats of death or great bodily harm or you face arrest (which the homeowners in St. Louis, Missouri, found out the hard way after “peaceful protesters” smashed down their gate and threatened their home). With the Second Amendment on life support in many parts of the country, soon we may find ourselves with no other option.
6. Teach Self-Defense to Your Spouse and Your Kids
The most important job you will do on God’s green earth is teach the next generation the skills they need to survive. Although my own father shamed us for not being “tough,” he failed to teach me how to deal with that problem, so when a bully targeted my kid, even though I lacked the skills myself, I went in search of a teacher and made sure, not only that they learned it, but that -I- learned it, as well..
It’s also important to discuss these difficult topics with your spouse. They may feel apprehensive or skeptical about learning self-defense, but even if they refuse to accompany you to classes, you can still raise awareness by talking about things such as “defensive circles” or how difficult it might be for you to respond against a variety of potential threats.
The anti-gun lobby and Hollywood have done a magnificent job of brainwashing people into thinking that an unarmed homebody can wield kung fu moves to dissuade a rapist or disarm a gang of home invaders. There’s nothing like having an opponent cross a room, in milliseconds, and remove your rubber knife to teach you the reality of a post-law world. It will give you “street cred” when you tell your spouse that you want to buy a bigger gun, try to convince your best friend to attend a home-invasion defense class, or argue with your neighbor that defunding the police is a bad idea.
7. Cultivate an Aura of Empowerment (but don’t advertise it)
Most criminals search for an easy target. Unless they bear you a personal vendetta, or you have something they really want, they’d usually rather knock you down, take what they want, and leave, all without the hassle of a prolonged fistfight, shots fired, or the police intervening. In 1981, sociologists Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein published a now-famous study where they outlined many of the inadvertent “clues” that victims gave of which attracted an assailant.
While learning martial arts won’t guarantee you’ll give off that magical “don’t f—k with me” vibe, it will train you to remain alert, walk with confidence, make eye contact, and to react immediately if somebody violates your defensive zone. Once you’ve studied self-defense, you’ll instinctively move into a “ready stance” whenever you’re approached (a “ready stance” is an erect stance which enables you to react quickly to another person’s movement) and remain vigilant against quick, aggressive action.
Conversely, while it’s good to give off signals that you are probably more trouble than you are worth, in today’s upside-down world, gangs of leftist thugs are roaming the streets in packs, searching for “right-wing bigots” to gang up on, harass, beat up or even murder. Operate on the “gray man principal”, try to blend in, and if you find yourself in a tight situation, first try to “disarm” your attackers by being agreeable, empathetic, or even humorous, depending on what the situation demands.
If you do ultimately have to kick an assailant’s @$$, in this era of smartphone-cameras, the fact that you appear to have not been looking for trouble and did behave in an agreeable, non-violent manner (right up until the point that they hit you first and you defended yourself) will go a long way towards thwarting the attempts of a left-wing prosecutor to put the blame on you instead of your assailant.
In this topsy-turvy age of “fiery, but mostly peaceful protests,” the refusal of police and politicians to clean up our streets, and empowered criminals, learning self-defense is an important part of your long-term SHTF plan. I hope to punch you, literally (but gently), in the very near future. Maybe you’ll kick me in the stomach? And then we’ll laugh, go out for a drink, and compare our long-term food stores.
I hope to see you at a nearby dojo!
About the Author: Anna Erishkigal is a second-degree blackbelt in USA Urban Goju karate, a suburban prepper, and the author of eleven books, including The Caliphate: A Post-Apocalyptic Suspense Novel and the award-winning epic fantasy series, Sword of the Gods. Many of her books have been translated into Spanish and Afrikaans.
 ‘Attracting Assault: Victims’ Nonverbal Cues‘, Betty Grayson, Morris I. Stein, Journal of Communication, Volume 31, Issue 1, March 1981, Pages 68–75.