Society today looks down on any kind of physical force, even that of defending ourselves even though we have a right to! But do we need to hurt others to defend ourselves? We might. But not necessarily!
True self-defence is about 90% awareness, avoiding and evading physical confrontation, maintaining a safe distance and making good decisions. It also includes tactical positioning, and blocking strikes. All of these strategies do not involve harming someone else. Counter-attacks on the other hands, meaning, striking back at someone who is striking us, are only for situations where (1) we can't escape, (2) they are repeatedly striking us and (3) there is risk of seriously getting hurt or worse. Let's explore this further.
When someone is attacking a person, adrenaline is flowing through their body. They are typically emotional and have no sense of logic or reality in that moment. The logical part of the brain is hijacked by the emotional and primitive parts of the brain. It's like trying to reason with someone who is raging. All this person is focused on is being successful in harming someone else. When this happens, they almost always cannot be reasoned with using words and the only language they understand is that of physical language. If we cannot escape and they are repeatedly striking, striking back is typically the only way to get them to understand that they need to stop. This is for the (hopefully) rare situation, the 1% of chances or less. But in those 1% chances of this happening, there is an extremely likely high degree of personal risk and injury - this is why we train in Krav Maga how to counterattack. Counterattacking is not to purposefully cause injury; it's purpose is to use just enough force in a way that they understand to get them to stop their attack. The Canadian Criminal Code gives us rights and limitations to do so. It also doesn't typically leave permanent damage, depending on where and how you strike.
The other important aspect of this is shifting our mindset. Rather than thinking of it from a place of fear of hurting someone else, it's learning to think of it differently. If someone chooses to cross our personal boundary, we have a right to defend our personal boundaries. Read more about this in my article Mentally Struggling with Physically Defending Yourself?
Non-Physical Self-Defence Strategies
99% of the time, we should be able to use all of our other self-defence strategies to avoid even getting to the point where we need to counterattack. If we can avoid physical confrontation to begin with, that is a win! That is the goal as it leads to the safest possible outcome. So what are these strategies and how do we do this? There are several. Which one we use is dependent on how far away the attacker is on the "timeline". We try to notice dangerous behaviours as early on the timeline as possible (and therefore as far away as possible) to avoid the altercation. Our strategies change as the attacker gets closer and based on the environment. The environment we're in will typically dictate the options we have available for escape, for example waiting in an elevator versus walking down a street.
Situational Awareness is about being fully present and aware of details of our surroundings so we can notice pre-attack indicators. Before anyone attacks another person, there are always signs leading up to the attack that an attack is about to happen. These are usually unusual behaviours that the person is exhibiting, but could also include their emotional state, mental state or unusual clothing. Can you see their hands and what their hands are doing? Are they wrestling with a decision and it's manifesting by pacing back and forth? Are they wearing gang symbols or other visible indicators? Do they have associates with them? Are they overly avoiding eye contact or are they fixated on you? Is it hard to read their facial expressions? Keep your eyes out of your phone, mind off of the to-do list and on the people around you as soon as you leave your house every day. Be curious about them and wonder what they are doing. If you notice one or more people like this, maintain a safe (large) distance or leave the situation by walking away. Distance = safety. Locate several exits and options in case they get closer or the situation worsens.
Evading and tactical positioning are strategies if one or more individuals get close to us without us noticing. Increase the distance between you and them if you can, or position yourself so that you are at their side or back so they can do less to harm you (it will be harder but not impossible for them to strike from this position). If you still have time to leave the situation, avoid it by walking or running away if you are able. If there are large objects in the area, put them between you and the other person to slow them down from getting to you, such as a door or table. Again, this will be dependent on the environment.
Blocking is a strategy to deflect incoming strikes. You can use different type of empty-handed blocks, such as the ones we teach in Beginner Krav Maga, or objects like a backpack or purse. If you have a bag or other object with you, put it in front of you to get ready to use it as a blocking tool if you need to. You may be able to block the first strikes and then escape, again depending on the situation and environment.
If you are alert, the above strategies should keep us safe a large majority of the time. In rare case where you cannot escape and need to defend yourself against incoming attacks, counterattacking tells the attacker that we understand their language and that we are speaking back that we need them to stop. We have a right to use reasonable means to defend yourself when someone crosses a personal boundary. In our Krav Maga classes, we focus on all of the elements and strategies discussed in this article in a controlled environment with realistic elements such as added stress, to help you feel equipped to stay safe in the real world!