4 Self-Defense Moves Everyone Should Know, According to Philly Pros

Photo courtesy Brian Rago

Defending against the choke hold from behind | Photo courtesy Brian Rago

Self-defense: it’s one of those topics everyone files in the “I really should get around to learning that” compartment of their brain. I know I did. But when I realized the only thing I knew about self-defense was what Sandra Bullock taught me in Miss Congeniality, it was time to make a change.

I went to Queen Village’s Gracie Academy at 325 Bainbridge Street, where Jiu-Jitsu instructors Brian Rago and Samantha Faulhaber showed me some basic self-defense moves that everyone should know. They teach under the assumption that your attacker is bigger, faster and all-around better at fighting than you, so you won’t learn any fancy eye gouges or sneak attacks that require brute strength. “The stuff we teach grandma, we teach you,” joked Faulhaber.

Honestly, the whole process was pretty damn empowering. The more I practiced, the less freaked out I was. Faulhaber and Rago both said that’s the point. Repetition plus awareness are key. Below are four simple self-defense moves you, too, can practice at home. All you need is some floor space, some spare time and a willing roommate. And note: If you want to learn more, Gracie Academy offers free self-defense classes for women. They’re the first Saturday of every month at 10 a.m.

Defending against the wrist grab

The scenario: This defense comes in handy (get it?) when an attacker is moving toward you and tries to grab your arm or wrist.
The defense: First, put your hands up in front of your face, elbows in and palms facing away from your face. This protects your face while also indicating that you don’t want trouble. Then, when they grab your wrist, kick your elbow out like you’re making a chicken wing. Force your forearm down and simultaneously press it down on your attacker’s forearm. Make sure to use your hips to turn away in one quick motion; otherwise you’ll put too much strain on your arm and shoulder. The goal is to break the attacker’s grab by forcing apart their weakest hold on you, which is the connection between their pointer finger and thumb.

Defending against the body grab

The scenario: Your assailant is coming toward you, arms outstretched, and attempts to wrap their arms around you.
The defense: Grab your left wrist with your right hand. Lock out your left arm and make a fist. Keep a bend in your right arm, but make sure it’s tense and flexed. This is called creating a “frame.” When you make the frame, simultaneously shoot your hips and legs backward, and press that frame hard into the attackers neck. Both the frame and shooting the hips back elongate your body. The longer you are, the harder it is for someone to wrap their arms around you and get control.

Defending against the choke from behind

The scenario: Someone comes up from behind and wraps their arms around your neck, attempting to choke you.
The defense: This one requires you to train your reaction, because your instinct might tell you to panic and stand up straight. Instead, immediately drop your base and widen your stance while tucking in your chin, shrugging your shoulders, and hooking onto their arms. Basically, it should look like you’re dropping into a sumo squat. Then start walking backwards and back your hips under them. Make sure to still hold on tight to their arms to take the strain off your neck. Back your hips up under them enough to lift them up off the ground (Rago ensures that even the smallest woman can support a large amount of weight in this position). Once the attacker is on your back, roll them off and drop them. Finish by putting a knee in their side.

Defending against the ground attack

The scenario: You’re lying on your back and the attacker is lying on top of you, in between your legs. (This defense is specifically designed for a woman who is being attacked.)
The defense: Put your hands under their jaw and press up. At the same time, bridge your hips up (like doing a bridge in yoga) so you can get your left knee on one of their hips and your right foot on the other. Slide your hands down to his wrists and then take that right foot and start stomping on their chest and face.

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly — here’s how: