Self-Defense The Hapkido Way
The Dynamics of Distance, Control, and Deflection

By Scott Shaw

This article originally appeared in the April 2001 issue of Martial Arts Combat Sports.

Your ability to successfully and expediently defend yourself against the onslaught of an attacker is at the heart of the martial arts. Throughout the centuries, an untold number of self-defense systems have been developed by virtually every culture on earth for this very reason. For some, these methods of self-defense involve elaborate techniques that require numerous exaggerated movements. The proponents of these styles believe that this will enable them to defeat an attacker. Anyone who has ever been involved in a street fight or watched a no-holds-barred competition on television, however, can attest to the fact that elaborate techniques do not work. And that is why they must be discarded and replaced with those that are fast and effective.

Rule No. 1: MOVE
Typically, physical confrontations begin with you and your opponent very close to one another or, more commonly, with some distance between the two of you. The first rule is to keep your distance. As long as your assailant is not close enough to hit or grab you, you won't get hurt or have to forcefully defend yourself by punching, kicking or throwing your attacker.

An obvious question is, "How do I keep my opponent at bay?" Simple. Keep moving. This is one of the most readily achievable forms of self-defense. As long as you keep moving, your opponent will have difficulty closing the distance. He may never be able to make offensive contact with you at all. How you move is also important. First, you have to define your environment.

Ideally, you will have several feet of space or more around you. In these cases, pivot in a circular fashion around your opponent. Use him as your central axis and continually alter your location. As he is central to your circumference, he will be forced to pivot around in a very small pattern. Not only will this prevent him from establishing a direct path of attack, this should keep him off balance and may cause him to trip over his own feet. Additionally, by moving in a circular pattern, you can slowly and consciously continue to move back and away from him. This enables you to increase your distance form him. As you do this, he will have to travel farther to actually attack you. Thus, you will have additional time to prepare your counter defense.

It is essential that you do not turn and take your eyes off of your opponent at any time. If you do, this will provide him with an opportunity to charge you. And, the results could be devastating. Therefore, keep your eyes on your attacker at all times.

Rule No. 2: MOVE and DEFLECT
Though circular movement is a viable first line of defense, many times an enraged attacker will become agitated at his inability to simply come up and punch you. This is when he may simply run at you to make contact. If this happens, you must rapidly step back or to the side. If you are quick, you can foil his attack. Of course, this style of defense will not necessarily enable you to emerge victorious from all confrontations. If your opponent persists, your next line of self-defense is to deflect your opponent's attack.

If you're a sports fan, you're probably seen this type of strategy on the gridiron. A defensive player charges the quarterback who waits until the last second to sidestep the onslaught. As the opponent goes by, the QB applies a little deflective The QB hangs onto the ball, and the pass rusher is sent to the ground. If you employ this deflective self-defense, the key is to not move until the last possible moment. If you move too soon, your opponent will be able to adjust and possibly make contact with you. Keep in mind, that your attacker is highly adrenalized. Thus, his energy is quickly expended. As long as you can keep him away from you, he will be burning excessive amounts of energy and you, remaining relatively calm, will maintain your energy surplus. Thus, like the competent boxer who allows his opponent to chase him around the ring, you too can conserve your energy and counterattack only when your opponent is worn out.

Winning in Confined Spaces
You will not always be in a wide open space when an assailant accosts you. When you are in a confined area, such as a room, many self-defense instructors will advise that you should back up against a wall. This prevents your attacker from getting behind you. Though there is a logic to this form of self-defense, there are disadvantages, too. For example, your movement is highly limited and your attacker can close in on you and strike with multiple attacks. Furthermore, your defense blocking techniques are highly restricted because you can only move effectively from side to side. If you attempt to push out from the wall, you must then meet the punches of your attacker head on. For these reasons, moving against a wall should only be employed when it is absolutely to your advantage. For example, let's say that your opponent is charging you. You're against the wall, you sidestep the attack, redirect his aggressive energy and guide his face or body into the wall. You have saved yourself the necessity of striking him and powerfully incapacitated him. In virtually all other cases, it is to your advantage to keep moving if you find yourself accosted in a walled outdoor or indoor location . Even if your movements must be linear, due to the confined configuration of the space, your attackers will still need to chase after you to grab or strike you.

Rule No. 3: COUNTERATTACK
Movement should always be your first line of defense. Deflection should be your second, but, movement and deflection cannot always be your last line of defense. For this reason, you must be prepared to effectively defend yourself when you come face to face with an attacker.

There are a few basic yet very effective preliminary techniques you can employ when an opponent has closed the distance on you. The first, and perhaps most effective, is to deliver a powerful front kick to his groin, mid-section or jaw area, just before he is close enough to punch or grab you. By kicking him in the rapid and penetrating fashion, not only will you have gained first strike advantage, but your surprise attack may debilitate him so he doesn't have the ability or desire to throw a secondary attack. In some cases, this front kick self-defense cannot be used. Your next line of defense is to deflect the onslaught. To do this, you must first employ the basic rule of deflection "Get out of the way!"

The most effective way to do this is simply sidestep the assault. Then, once his initial attack has missed, you can take control over the altercation by delivering a powerful counter strike, such as a low side kick to his knee. In other cases, you will want to dominate his movements and send him to the ground where he cannot effectively launch another attack.

The Key to Victory
Self-defense does not have to be two individuals going at it blow-by-blow, leaving only the one who delivers the most powerful punch standing. In fact, this style of self-defense is your least advantageous alternative. Therefore, whenever you are forced into a physical confrontation, use movement as your first line of self-defense, deflection as your second and a well delivered counterattack as your third . This should enable you to successfully and expediently defend yourself against the onslaught of any attacker.

Copyright © 2001 — All Rights Reserved.
No part of this article may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.