Tang Soo Do…Tang Soo Don’t: A black belt’s guide to personal safety

While cleaning up my room, I came across an old issue of my high school newspaper, The Royal, dated March 14, 2008. The issue featured a couple articles on self-defense. Although it’s been four years since its date of publication, the information is still relevant. Since this is my honors capstone project, I thought it would be useful to include these articles simply because they represent the social relevance and overall longevity of the project. Although the self-defense classes have come and passed, these blog entries, this documentation of what went on and general information on self-awareness will remain a permanent fixture online. So, I hope you enjoy these articles. Please note that I have updated these articles to make them timely. Continue reading

Advertisements

Self-Defense classes | The Role of the Teacher

As a self-defense instructor, your responsibilites stem much further than simply explaining the techniques required for increased safety and awareness. Each student is at a different level of skill when they enter the training area.

For example, when I first taught the classes in November of 2011, my primary student was coordinated enough to follow along but struggled when combining blocking with moving foward. She had plenty of aggression, which is a must, but lacked the coordination to do it all smoothly. Eventually, she tackled this burdon, but in order to do so, we spent the better part of two lessons going over the basics, and she spent a lot of time outside of our sessions practicing.

However, then there are students like Giannina Gonzalez, a sophomore athlete who took a few martial arts lessons when she was a child. Although Gonzalez had only been five years old when she attended martial arts classes, and yet, she had the remarkable ability to recall what she’d learned 15 years ago.

Gonzalez picked up on the basics at an alarmingly fast rate, and by the close of our two and a half hour session, she was comfortable with not only the basic strikes and defensive moves I instructed but also showed adequate skill for escaping wrist grabs and choke holds. However, as always, I explained that it would be her responsibility to continue practicing these moves to keep her awareness and technique sharp in the event of an emergency.

When all else fails…just remember to S.I.N.G.

 

Sandra Bullock’s character, Gracie Hart, has the right idea in this clip from the 2000 Blockbuster hit, Miss Congeniality. Although she makes parts look much easier than they are, the S.I.N.G. acronym is an excellent defense strategy, as is the palm strike to the nose.

When teaching self-defense, my karate school typically instructs young women—and men too—to strike with an open hand. This is more to protect themselves than the assailants. There are simply too many ways to create a fist incorrectly, such as wrapping your fingers over your thumb rather than placing it across the curve of your forefinger and middle finger.

Anyway, when in doubt, you should definitely S.I.N.G. when being attacked. Here’s a few reasons why…

First, let’s review what the targets are in S.I.N.G.: Solar plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin.

Solar plexus. In martial arts, we learn quickly that it’s essential to release all of your air from your lungs when you strike, not because it adds power, but rather, it prepares you for a counter attack. Getting hit unexpectedly in the solar plexus only results in one thing: the wind gets knocked out of you, which in turn, leaves you vulnerable for additional attacks. Unless you’re assailant is a trained fighter or body builder, the little area just below the ribs and above the abdomen will be soft and easy to strike. And, it’s an easy target.

In the demonstration provided by Bullock, she elbowed Benjamin Bratt in the solar plexus when he attacked her from behind. Do not be afraid to also punch there. It can inflict a similar amount of damage, although the elbow can inflict more pain because it’s so pointy.

Instep. Once you’ve struck him in the solar plexus, he’ll already be weaked. Jamming your heel onto the top of their foot can do some major damage. Ladies, if you’re wearing stilletto heels, this is a great opportunity to not only inflict pain in the foot, but also in the shins. Simply scrape your heel down the length of their shin. Instant pain.

In some cases, you might find that your assailant has attacked you from behind and placed you into a bearhug, rendering your arms useless. In this case, you should stomp on his feet before moving on to elbowing the solar plexus. The instep should provide the necessary distraction to leave him unprepared for the next few strikes.

Note: If your assailant is wearing steel-toed boots, the instep method may prove useless. Plan accordingly.

Nose: Have you ever been hit in the nose? It hurts. And it jars your senses, makes your eyes involuntarily water and burn. Since it’s made of soft cartilage, it’s a lot easier to break than a bone, and it’s a pretty easy target when someone’s coming right at you. Two great techniques for striking the nose are the palm strike, as Bullock showed at the start of the clip, and the back fist to the nose. Either technique has the potential to do some serious damage. In fact, if you strike someone with enough force using a palm strike, you could force the nose into the brain, causing irreversible brain damage (in theory).

Groin. Ahh, the sweet spot. Little boys learn early in life to protect that region after they accidentally run into a few end tables or kitchen cabinets. This can immobilize your opponent. Combine it with the other three steps from S.I.N.G., and you should now be running far away from your opponent as he writhes in pain on the concrete.

I bet you never thought a Hollywood movie could be so educational and accurate when it came to self-defense, huh?

Awareness: The best defense

Until you acknowledge, “it could happen to you,” pre-incident cues may not register as important or relevant enough to notice. –The nuts and bolts of awareness

Although it is essential to know fundamental skills for defending yourself against unknown assailants, there is one rule far more important than knowing how to beat someone up.
Be aware of your surroundings. Realize that you could be a victim of violence. Don’t wait until you’re alone in a seemingly deserted parking garage to put your defenses up. By rights, you have already put yourself into a dangerous position.

During my first semester on college, I remember feeling like I was being followed one afternoon when I left the library. I’d noticed someone staring at me in the library and watched him slip out of the library when I began to gather my things. By the time I was halfway down A-lot’s sidewalk, I knew it was no illusion. Lucky for him, he was smart enough to call out to me before catching up. At that point, I was already planning my counter-attack. If he had reached me before saying “excuse me,” he probably would’ve walked away with a bloody nose or at least with the wind knocked out of him. It later turned out that he just wanted to introduce himself, but the whole think creeped me out enough to keep my guard up for several months later.

The point I’m trying to make with this anecdote is that you can never be too trusting of your surroundings.

Women’s Self-Defense Awareness has a great list of self-defense awareness tips. A few I think are more important than others include:
Always park in well lit areas.

Always lock your car even if you’ll be gone for a short time.

Have your keys ready before you leave a secure building. Fumbling in your purse only makes you look more vulnerable.

The most important thing to remember is to be smart. You can avoid dangerous situations as long as you use common sense.

Warning: Self-Defense can lead to a false sense of security

Although every young woman and even young men should understand some fundamental self-defense strategies, it’s important to acknowledge the truth of the matter. Self-defense can lead to a false sense of security. This is especially true when a student attends one or two lessons and think they’re prepared for an attack. Just because you know how to block a punch doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able or prepared to do so in a real fight. In self-defense classes, we often spend all of our time teaching students how to defend against straightforward punches—punches that have proper technique and are easy to spot.

Unfortunately, when you’re on the street, your assailant might have missed the memo that he’s supposed to let his intentions be made. More over, he’s more likely to come at you swinging, and basic self-defense doesn’t always cover that.

Truth be told, when I was younger, I was a victim of this false sense of security. I was probably 8 or 9 , a green or red belt at the time, and I was playing with some neighborhood boys at my grandma’s house. When one of them decided to choke me, I forgot all of my martial arts training. My friend had to pull him off of me. Although it’s a little embarrassing to share this story, it’s important because it proves that you don’t know how you’ll react until you actually enter a situation. That’s why it’s so important that you avoid dangerous situations at all costs. Don’t go anywhere by yourself at night if you can help it and always plan an escape route. If you’re at a party, how would you get out if things went sour?

Don’t make self-defense over compliated!

Take a look at this video for an explanation of how to defend against someone who grabs your shirt (lapels).

The key here is to aknowledge that he’s tying up both of his hands in an effort to intimidate you. This leaves you with free reign to pummle him with knee kicks, punches, palm strikes and, my personal favorite, the “bop” on the ears.

Remember, once you get him to let go, don’t continue to fight…the main purpose for self-defense is to escape from high risk situations as quickly as possible.

Challenges of getting started: Teaching Self-Defense

Black Belt Promotion

Each time we are promoted to a new Dan rank, we take a solemn oath to respect the art, to not wield it in a negative fashion and to educate others of its importance.

Teaching self-defense is hard. And I don’t just mean the actual teaching of the seminars. My challenges stem further back, beginning with applying for the event at Seton Hill. It wasn’t like I was jumping through hoops or anything, but I did have to deal with some “cultural” issues.

Before I applied to teach the seminars, I approached those in charge to discuss what I would need going in to make sure the events would be approved in a timely fashion. My biggest fear would be that the event would get approved and then I’d have to produce more documentation ahead of time. Unfortunately for me, I was shot down almost immediately. When asked if I was a certified instructor, I made the mistake of answering: “I am a second degree black belt in the Korean art of Tang Soo Do. While in high school I served as a student instructor.”

My  mistake was that I did not clarify that in the culture of martial arts,  being a black belt is equivalent to being a certified instructor. Although you are only considered a “dedicated beginner” when you receive your first degree, you understand enough about the art to train others. In fact, you are encouraged to share and educate others.

To solve this conundrum, my head instructor, at Harshall Karate Academy, had to sign a certificate listing that I was certified to teach Tang Soo Do and martial arts. He remarked that this was actually beneficial, because in the past, we’d never had a need for such a certificate. Now, we can use the certificate for all of our black belts, which, in turn, adds value to the degree.

As it turned out, the certificate was enough and I was able to register my events for the self-defense seminars. The first one, conducted yesterday, was successful but only reached a small amount of students. Read about it in my next blog 🙂