Basic Self-Defense Moves

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 10, 2021
4 min read

You may not want to think about being the victim of an attack. Knowing basic self-defense moves may be the difference in escaping an assault if someone comes after you. Learn self-defense techniques that can help you fight off an attacker and run away.

The best thing you can do in a dangerous situation is avoid a potential attack. Always be aware of your surroundings and who is nearby. Stay off your phone so you can pay attention to what other people around you are doing. Walk with confidence and make eye contact with people you see.‌

Attackers often seek out people they perceive as weak or timid. By making eye contact, you show a would-be attacker that you’ve seen their face and could identify them in the future. Other tips for maintaining your safety in everyday situations include: 

  • Not walking alone at night
  • Avoiding dark parking lots and isolated places
  • Having your keys and phone in your hand, ready for when you need them
  • Locking your car immediately after getting in‌
  • Staying away from people that make you uncomfortable‌

Self-defense class. The best way to protect yourself in the case of an attack is to know basic self-defense moves. Search for a self-defense course in your area so you can practice self-defense techniques in person. If you can’t access a class, practice these self-defense moves so you know them in case of an emergency.

Heel-palm strike. When you hit an attacker with the heel of your palm, you reduce the risk of damaging your wrist or arm. Using an open hand is also an easier transition if you’re not expecting an attack.‌

If you do anticipate an attack, keeping your hands open gives you the element of surprise. Open hands are not a defensive position. An attacker may perceive you as being unprepared for an attack and be caught off guard by your self-defense strategy.

Eye strike. This move is important because it doesn’t require a lot of force. You can use this self-defense move no matter what position you’re in. Use your fingers to drive pressure into an attacker's eyes. This often forces them to back up and loosen their grip on you, giving you the chance to use a more forceful move or escape.‌

Knee strike. You can use this move from a standing position. A knee strike is often more powerful than a kick because your power is more centralized. Kneeing an attacker in the groin can render them unable to move so you can get away. They will not be able to pursue you if you use enough force.‌

Elbow straight punch. With this self-defense technique, you use your elbow to deliver a blow similar to a punch. You use your elbow to drive a forward force in the same motion as your fist would. A regular punch is a great move if you have room to build momentum, but your elbow offers more force when you are in close proximity to an attacker.‌

Side elbow. If an attacker comes at you from the side, use your elbow to hit them sideways. You drive your elbow horizontally, similar to a straight punch. This move gives you the chance to protect your face by keeping your hands close to your body.‌

Low elbow. When someone attacks you from behind, you don’t have much room to fight back. Keep your elbow low and deliver a blow straight back into their abdomen, ribs, or groin. The idea is to get your attacker to loosen their grip so you can continue to fight back with a better advantage or get away.

Bear hug escape. If your attacker grabs you from behind and you can’t use an elbow to deliver a blow, you need to find another solution. When you shift your weight toward the front, you make it harder for the attacker to lift or move you. It may also cause the attacker to loosen their grip.

This can give you room to use a low elbow strike or pull away. If you can turn around and face your attacker, use a heel-pal strike or knee strike to gain an additional advantage. Once you have the chance, get away as quickly as you can.‌

Hammer strike. This move is why you should carry your keys in your hands when walking alone. Place keys in between each of your fingers with your hand folded into a fist. If someone attacks you, use a hammer motion to strike them with your keys. This protects your hand and arm from damage and makes your blow more impactful.