Last modified on 1 April 2014, at 15:53

Fighting/Unarmed Combat


Fighting unarmed is often more a function of will, situation, physical fitness, and size than skill, though skill is still very important. You should remember that no matter how good you are, fighting unarmed against an armed opponent or against multiple opponents is a bad idea.

Always remember that it is better to deny a fight than to let it happen, fighting is a last resort and should never be inflicted to resolve a situation. In many situations if possible it is better to simply run away and avoid a fight unless their a possibility that your attacker can outrun you and the dangers of turning your back in certain situations.

The whole idea of training in traditional martial arts is that your acquired skill sets will enable you to defeat an opponent of superior size. The will to fight, while extremely important, should not enter this discussion simply because it is assumed, if you are indeed fighting in a self-defense scenario, that your will is sufficient to the task at hand.

In actuality, it is always better to fight than to run away. Unfortunately, fighting is not always feasible in every scenario.

I personally do not think that all the advice given here is impractical and cannot be used in the real world. I do think today's martial art schools should groom their students in such a manner that it would train the students very well for real world scenarios with special emphasis on breaking techniques and vital striking points of the body.They should also teach most practical effective techniques for defense against guns, knives, clubs etc. Instead of focusing so much upon Katas and stances schools should teach the students to fight in any situation in any stance utilizing natural weapons which are most effective. Even fraction of seconds will count in a life and death situation and the students must be mentally prepared for encounters and escapes. I wish to add that in a real street fight when up against a gang always try to run for safety. If that is not possible then try to muster all the courage and confidence you can and try to hit your opponents with multiple powerful strikes at one go. For e.g. kick in the front and slash at the back at the same time. Learn counters to all kinds of grabs and throws in your school and how to quickly overpower your opponents. Yelling loudly distracts your opponents and boosts your natural fighting abilities.Apply throws if necessary, and run away fast as soon as any opportunity comes your way. In case of gang attacks it is very important to move around in lightning speed circling around your opponents so that you are never surrounded. Also in such situations you may only have opportunity to strike only once or twice. So strike with maximum speed and power at vital points. A martial art student

-To the above poster: While I agree that learning disarming techniques against knives and clubs is useful, and breaking and vital point techniques are useful, it is apparent to me that you do not understand what the purpose of learning these katas and stances is. The reason for endless amounts of techniques and Katas is to drill into your mind, until it is reflex, the necessary motions of your body and to train for speed so that if you do get into a fight, there is minimal amount of thought needed when you defend yourself. The stances that you apparently disdain are used to strengthen muscles so that you can fight from any stance.

I should also note that the first thing to do if presented with the possibility of a fight is to walk away, towards well-lit and busy areas. If cops are nearby, all the better - you have much less a chance of being attacked if the attackers see you chatting up a police officer. Also, in addition to knowing vital points, it is good to strike at the vital individual in a gang situation - namely, their leader. Once the leader goes down, the fight goes out of the rest of them.

One final note - knives and clubs are one thing to disarm. Avoid to the extreme attempting to relieve an attacker of a gun, the only exception is if you are at a very close distance from the gun holding hand (half arm length), the way the gun is being held, the further away from the body of the attacker the better and that you ultimately have no other viable option. They can shoot much faster than you may think, and depending on where you get hit, you can die instantly, bleed out, or go into shock. Even a grazing wound from a gun can stun an individual. The best thing to do when someone has a gun on you is to go along with what they say, rather than chancing death. This was one of the first things my Sensei taught me when he first introduced us to weapon-disarming techniques: that clubs and knives are pretty much restricted to the reach of your opponent, but that guns can kill you from any distance and with minimal to no skill on the part of the attacker.

The key to unarmed fighting is knowing how to manipulate the body at will, yours, and your opponents. Joint locks, pressure point holds and arm bars all aid in this goal. Technique is always superior to strength. Knowing finger, wrist, elbow, and shoulder locks can quickly change the course of a fight. Additionally, the proper escape technique to counter such moves if used against you. If someone is choking you with both hands, an untrained individual being choked will have little clue of how to properly manipulate the attacker. A trained defender will be relatively happy because he has two free hands, while his attack has none. If the elbows are straight and not bent, a hard push from the outside will usually stop the attacker. If his arms are bent, then push from the inside of the elbow. There are countless solutions in different schools of martial arts but those two and the circle variant are the three main basic concepts. The circle variant you use your arms and make a circle going upwards and outwards from between the attackers arms and down and out. Resulting in a leverage advantage pulling the attackers hands from the defendants neck. Knowing how the shoulders and elbows work, allows the defendant to exploit them with technique.

In most advanced martial arts there are three main basic concepts. Circle, Water, and Spirit(chi/energy/mind)

Circle allows us to deflect, or move forces. Water reminds us to turn a force onto itself. While spirit keeps the mind and body focused.

If used properly a circular motion can accomplish many things. It can deflect a punch away from our body by a wave of our hand (popularized as Wax on, Wax off in the Karate Kid movie) However, in the movie he made a small circle, which only deflected the energy a short distance, a larger circle is more effective to deflect a punch because it changes the direction of the punch to a greater extent, thus causing the attacker to be more off balance providing the defendant an opportunity to counter attack. The same principal works with a round house kick. If an attacker executes a round house kick (raises the knee as pivoting with the hips and shoulders then extending the foot horizontally) the defendant, should take a small step back and push the kick through giving it extra force to throw the attacker off balance, and usually facing the wrong direction. Again, giving the defendant an opportunity to counter attack. In Kung Fu, there is a concept of a safety area. It is a dynamic area in which no attack can be successfully landed on the defendant. This area if unarmed is a little more than the length of a kick. If the attacker has a pipe or staff the area expands so he still cannot land a successful attack. If an attacker is within this area, you are engaged.

Water is used to remind us of how energy flows its course, but can be redirected with little effort. After a punch is deflected, a quick defender can turn that energy from the attacker into a force used against the attacker. With joint manipulation to the wrist or elbow while a missed punch is in effect, the energy can be redirected downward, and turned into a throw. This is how a master defeats a stronger untrained opponent.

Spirit keeps the mind focused on a task and helps us complete it. The whole "mind over matter" paradigm. While fighting at first glance may seem largely a physical test, it can also be a great mental test as well. How well could you complete a math test while you were running laps? How well can you lift weights while someone is talking to you or making you laugh? However, over thinking in a fight can cause grave circumstances. Hesitation being the main one.


Some tips that you should knowEdit

  • No matter how cool a move looks from outside a fight, if it is too complicated or consume too much time you are losing vital seconds that could decide who will walk out to tell the tale.
  • If the fight is inevitable don't extend it too much to show off your "cool moves", it is a waste of energy and time and chance for your opponent to call some "friends".
  • Never give your back to the enemy, even if he is laying on the floor.
  • Don't underestimate your enemy even if he looks weaker than you.
  • Don't be overconfident on your technique or the amount of moves or katas that you know, 3 simple hits

on the right spot and the lights are out.

  • Always remember to breathe.

-Gendai Bushi

Knowing your environmentEdit

Knowing what's going on around you, getting help, and getting out of danger is the most important thing you can do to avoid a physical confrontation.

The basicsEdit

When fighting unarmed, there are several things to remember. First, your stance and balance. You should stand in a slight crouch, your dominant leg behind the other with your elbows at a slightly less than 90 degree angle; and always keep your hands in front of your face, allowing you to better guard your face. Keep your stomach tense, since you do not know when you'd be hit. You can attempt to predict strikes by looking at your opponent's chest. Have his shoulders and his hips in peripherals. Your hands should not be curled into tight fists. If you keep your fists tense, the whole arm is tense and you will be slower to react. The fist should be clenched right before the point of contact. Make sure your jaw is clenched and your chin tucked down. This makes it more difficult to cause severe damage to your jaw, mouth or teeth.

Second, let's discuss movement. When fighting, you should always maintain balance in motion. This means taking short steps, not crossing your feet, and maintaining a low center of balance.

Third, striking. The fastest way to end an unarmed fight is to knock an opponent out with one punch. However, this is more difficult to accomplish than to write. It takes a large amount of practice to be able to throw a fast and accurate strike. However, it is still an important part of any fight. When striking, hit at your opponents face. This serves several purposes. First, a good shot to the head will stun pretty much anyone, if only for a moment. Second, it forces your opponent to be defensive (as no one will just let you hit their face), allowing you to control the fight. Third, it can force your opponent off balance. Since the bones of the head are significantly more durable than the bones of the fingers, you may end up hurting yourself more than your opponent if you are not careful. A good way to avoid hurting the bones of the hand is to hit the nose. It is much softer than the cheekbone or jawbone and makes the enemy tear (obstructing his vision), as well as making him lose his balance (or even fall down). As a bonus, the natural reaction to a nose blow is to bring the hands to the nose (to stop the bleeding) and bend over, giving you the perfect time to finish the fight or to escape.

Fourth, defense. The best defense is a good offense. The best way to stop your opponent from hitting you is to hit them. Failing that, the best way to avoid being hit is to simply not be where the blow lands. Moving sideways tends to work best; moving backwards is more of a temporary solution. Retreat gives a false sense of security and can create more problems than it solves.

Finally, there are no rules in a self-defense situation. If you can gouge your opponents eyes, hit them with a brick, bite it. Always seek to arm yourself in a fight, even if by grabbing a stick, chair, or rock to hit your opponent. You (generally) gain nothing by fighting fair. However, it is advisable to spare a thought to the potential implications of your actions; for example, harming another person, even in self-defense. In the event that the relevant authorities become involved, you will undoubtedly need to justify your actions before a court of law. The phrase "It is better to be tried by twelve than carried by six" could be seen as blatant machismo, but it rings true up to a certain point. As long as you do not overstep the boundaries of self-defense (and you can justify yourself), then by all means use anything at your disposal to ensure your survival. Keep in mind, however, that in certain situations (for example, being attacked by a much stronger person), attempting to wield a weapon you are not practiced in can dig your own grave.


There are a variety of strikes that can be effectively used. Among the most common are these: the punch, the elbow, the knee, the backfist, and the kick (using the foot or the shin as a striking surface). These are your most natural weapons. Headbutts can be useful, but should only be used as a last resort, as they are potentially harmful to the user as well as the receiver. Remember, it can be a bad idea to try and fight with strikes alone, especially if you are untrained. If possible, incapacitate your opponent using a push or throw, and then run away.

Although the one-punch knockout is the fastest way to win a fight, there are several important considerations. First, to knock an opponent out requires a fast, powerful punch to the jaw. This is difficult even for a trained fighter. Untrained fighters will find themselves swinging wildly and missing the target. This is due to not having the appropriate skills, but also due to the presence of adrenaline in a real fight. In a real fight, the release of adrenaline increases strength but causes decreased fine motor skills. Professional fighters are used to this, but the typical person is not, and the adrenaline rush makes it more difficult for people to throw an accurate strike. A yell in the form of a short burst can increase your power, temporarily tensing all of the muscles in your body, if only a bit. Always punch with the same foot as the striking hand in the foreground. For example, if you punch with your left hand, your left foot should be slightly forward. You should never fight completely facing your opponent. The correct stance has already been mentioned; a boxing stance presents a larger target.

In addition, be aware that the human skull is extremely hard, especially from the eyebrows up. A hard punch with closed fist, if landed above the opponent's eyes, will usually break your hand. Boxers in a ring can throw wild punches only because their hands are protected by thick padding. In a real fight, throwing a powerful roundhouse punch may break your hand, hurting you more than the opponent. Such haymaking punches, although they may feel powerful, have very little true power. If you can manage it, always punch straight-on.

You should also keep in mind that, the more experienced your opponent is, the harder it will be to throw a knockout punch. They are not going to simply let themselves be hit.

When striking an opponent, you may want to try to set them up to knock them down, grab them, or throw them. Hit the face and sensitive regions of the body such as the eyes, throat, knees, solar plexus, groin and kidneys. The throat is only to be used in life-or-death situations as a strike to the throat has the potential to be a killing blow. Avoid flailing your fists around, but rather jab. One principle is to protect your center line and attack around the center line of the opponent.

Many schools of fighting teach you to fight with your weaker arm forward. This allows you to lean and rotate further into strikes with your stronger arm, resulting in more powerful blows. Most military schools of instruction further instruct you to hit primarily with your arms, keeping both feet on the ground. This is more stable, and generally safer. Similarly, you should only hit with your elbows and knees when you are extremely close to your opponent, in situations such as grappling.

Kicks can be used to deliver very powerful blows, but they should be used only if you are skilled, and even then with caution. A kick forces you to balance on a single foot, a very precarious position in a fight. To minimize risk, deliver fast, powerful kicks at low heights. This allows you to quickly retract your leg and return to a balanced position.

Kicks generally strike with the shin, the ball of the foot, the heel, or the top of the foot. Kicking your opponent's knees and groin is a particularly effective approach. Be aware that kicking barefoot using the ball of the foot or top of the foot can break your toes. High kicks especially should be delivered quickly, permitting you to return to a balanced stance as rapidly as possible.

When used properly, a kick can keep your opponent at bay, which is vitally important if they are armed. Learn to kick with good balance and technique, and in all directions. Gradually increase your speed and height and try hitting on punching bags with full power and accuracy. Kicking drills, although they take a lot of time, also burn more fat, making your more physically fit. Practice knee attacks and counters for very close range fighting. Kicks utilize the largest and most powerful muscles of our body; therefore, if delivered with proper speed and timing, they give good results. Many street thugs only use their hands, not utilizing kicks at all. This usually results in a complete lack of knowledge as to how to block kicks. We reiterate, practice this skill. It will doubtless become invaluable in middle-to-long range fighting.

In martial arts, it is foolish to argue as to whether kicks are better than hand techniques. You should learn to use all parts of your body to their fullest effect.

You should also remember that it is always better to run than fight. If you are not the aggressor, then your opponent will be more prepared than you are. When fleeing, always try to get to an area with many people, such as a square or park. You should never look back, as this will slow your speed.


Grappling is an underrated and generally not well understood facet of fighting. Grappling choke holds, and joint locks can be extremely dangerous when done by an expert. In a fight, grappling is often combined with punching. Many fights turn into grappling contests, even if both combatants intend to only punch. An expert grappler will often use strikes to loosen up an opponent or set him up for a finishing hold.

Be aware that if you are not a trained grappler, it can be unwise to attempt to grapple with someone considerably larger or stronger than you. The stronger, heavier person will tend to dominate in a grappling contest.

A fast and effective way to end a fight is with a choke hold. The simplest way to do this when standing is to throw punches to the face, and then tackle the opponent. The take down is usually performed by shooting low on the opponent, wrapping your arms around the opponent's legs around the knee area, and pushing forward with your shoulder while pulling the knees forward.

As the opponent hits the ground, you must immediately attempt to mount the opponent, either by straddling his waist, or by laying over the opponent from the side.

From there, if he is face down, slide an arm around his neck. The strongest choke hold from this position consists of your arm wrapped around your opponent's throat with the opponent's Adam's apple in the inside of your elbow, with the hand of the strangling arm clutching the inside of the elbow of your other arm. Keep your other hand an the back of your opponent's head, and use the strength from the extension of the arm in this position to apply pressure. The choke hold is most effective if you wrap your legs around the opponent's waist for added leverage, and to prevent the opponent from dislodging you from this position. Unconsciousness occurs because your bicep and forearm are squeezing the arteries in the sides of the opponent's neck, cutting off adequate blood flow to the brain.

Alternatively, if the opponent is face up on the ground, straddle the waist or upper chest and start hitting his face. Open palm strikes can be used to better slam an opponents head into the ground without risking damage to your hand, as you do with a closed fist (accidentally striking concrete with a punch can break your hand). If you keep your weight concentrated on the upper chest it is much more difficult for your opponent to get up.(If your opponent goes to ground, this would be your chance to run away.)

The opponent may try to punch back, but if you are punching down, your punches will land much harder than his. A man on his back cannot generate much power when punching.

As you rain punches down, the opponent will commonly turn over to get his face out of the way. This is the time to apply the choke from behind.

For more advanced grappling it is best to learn Shuai Chiao, Chin Na, judo, jujitsu (e.g.Brazilian) or wrestling, preferably American wrestling.

Another important point to remember is never to wrestle when you are facing multiple opponents. While you are on the ground with one, the rest will do their best to kick the crap out of you. However, the truth is that even in a striking contest, if you attempt to fight multiple opponents, the odds are grossly against you. This is true even if you've had some karate or martial arts training. Today's martial art training focuses much upon the sport aspect and therefore fighters tend to lose edge when faced with multiple opponents. Remember that most fights start at the range of only 18 inches from your body. So learn to use knee and elbow strikes very quickly and effectively. Once you gain a little distance then finish your opponent with powerful kicks. In a fight against multiple opponents always try to strike down an opponent who blocks your escape but do not place yourself in a vulnerable position to get him. You may get hit many times but try to keep on moving and striking until you can finally run away. This approach was once used by a renowned master of Southern Shaolin temple, named Lam Sai Wing. He was once surrounded by armed bandits in a courtyard from all sides and he was unarmed. He snatched weapons from the enemy and started moving around and striking with his weapon at a super fast pace. He eventually beat down many of his attackers and managed to escape without any serious injuries. Granted, this man had 50 years of training under his belt but his approach was very sound for self defense. This serves as exemplary feat and must be taught to all students with practical drills and demonstrations. If you want to learn how to strike down your opponents with only one or two hits to effectively immobilize them then I suggest that you should learn Russian Systema. This combat form teaches you most effective strikes, breathing techniques, defense in confined spaces, fighting against multiple opponents and most effective techniques for defense against guns and all kinds of blunt and sharp edged weapons. This combat form was developed for Russian Special forces and so it only teaches principles and techniques that are most effective in practical situations. Proficiency in this art form is the only criterion and no ranks or belts are awarded. You will most probably enjoy the training and gain considerable proficiency in self defense in a few months.


If your opponent manages to take you down, the best thing to do is to roll them over so that you are on top. If you are face up, grab the back of your opponents neck and pull it down to the side you intend to roll to, arch your back as much as possible, and roll. If you are face down, get your elbows on the ground and lift your upper body off of the ground. From there, shift back to your knees, rotate your body, and push into your opponent. If you are down and being kicked, roll away and get up. If you are in a choke hold, try to reach your opponents eyes and gouge them out with your thumb. Remember to keep calm in a choke hold. With healthy lungs and decent cardiovascular fitness, you should have around a minute of relatively unimpaired activity.

As soon as you are thrown down, always try to fall with knees bent and with both feet facing towards your opponent, thereby allowing you ability to kick him in a thrusting motion with both feet, if he jumps upon you. This also allows you to roll over and get up quickly. Refer to sites on Jujitsu or Judo to learn how to escape from a variety of catches and holds.