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The Salick Dragon

© Roger Salick All Rights Reserved

How do you defend yourself if your hands are full?

During a Women's Self-Defense Night Q&A, the point was made that a lot of women walk around loaded up with everything from purses and shopping bags to laptop computers. How would you fight off an attacker if you're juggling all that stuff?

Let's dig into it.


First problem: Be aware that anytime you have your hands completely full, you're broadcasting a signal that screams, 'ATTACK ME'.

Muggers, rapists and their dirtbag ilk are PREDATORS. They are the lions of our species, but without a whiff of the nobility frequently attached to the great cats. Mangy, lazy and merciless, they watch and study women constantly, scanning and evaluating the pool of potential victims. They sift through the stream of participants, weighing the qualities they see. And certain things excite them.

They're looking for:

 SLOW (hard to run with your hands full)

CAN'T FIGHT (full hands)

WEAK AND UNCONFIDENT DEMEANOR (eyes down, stooped posture, shambling gait, low athleticism)

PREOCCUPIED (think plugged into iPods).

GOOD STUFF TO STEAL (purses, wallets, smartphones, laptops)

Ladies, if your arms are wrapped around shopping bags, purses and valuable electronics, they look at you like a limping gazelle.

All they need is the right time, the right place, and for you to become separated from the herd.

Which leads us to the critical self-defense components of TIME and LOCATION. You can, of course, carry all the stuff you want in security-staffed places like the mall, or in low crime neighborhoods, and in many other areas during broad daylight.

But carry that same stuff on the wrong street at night, or through a deserted parking structure, and your odds could be as low as the puddles on the pavement.

Predators have a far keener sense of location than their victims. They've thought about this a lot. They talk about it with their buddies. They brag about theft and crime. When they find something that works, they repeat it, then refine it.

This is the equivalent of their job, if they ever had one. They're always looking to score. And to most regular, decent folks, it is almost inconceivable that predators DO THIS ALL THE TIME.

Well, a gazelle falls prey to a lion but once. But lions bring down gazelles for a living.


RECAP: We're looking at the problem of being assaulted while our hands are full.

We'll assume for the moment that the attacker(s) is UNARMED.

Why? Because a gun or a knife changes everything. They?re the nuclear weapons of close combat. Confronting them represents so much DANGER, and requires such effective self-defense skills, that we simply have to deal with them later as a separate issue.

On a purely physical level, what we have is a CHESS PROBLEM. Two of our chess pieces -- our hands -- are CHECKED. These powerful, primary tools are sidelined. But we still have OTHER PIECES on the board. 

We have our feet. The best kicks will be low, strong and simple, aimed at the groin and the knees.

What? No leaping kicks? No spinning kicks? No Scarlett Johansson/Avengers gymnastic stuff?


With apologies to Tae Kwon Do and other kicking arts that relish cinematic footwork, fancy kicks on the street are stupid.

All the variables that you control with some certainty in the warmth and safety of a martial arts school-- good footing, loose clothing, comfortable shoes, flexibility preparedness, a compliant workout partner, your body's stress/adrenal cascade--can, and probably will, disintegrate on the street.

The risk to reward ratio for the fancy stuff is terrible. If you get flashy out there -- unless you are astonishingly lucky or incredibly gifted -- you will pay with pain.

The groin kick is simple. There are lots of ways to do it.

The easiest way to fire off a groin kick is to just go with what you already know. If you've ever picked up an inflatable ball as a kid and booted it down the field with the top of your foot, you're pretty much good to go.

The trick, of course, is to be accurate and fast. It's got to land. If it does, a kick to this exquisitely sensitive region, especially if it's got the oomph behind it to spank the dust off a man's pants, is a miraculous thing indeed.


RECAP: We've been attacked while our hands are full. Previously, we discussed the liability of fancy kicks on the street. So we began defending ourselves with less risky low kicks?

Among low kicks, our most common weapon of choice is a basic frontkick to the groin. The advantages of this kick are obvious:

 The kick is simple to do.

 It can eviscerate our attacker's power.

 It completely bypasses our attacker's mass and strength advantages.

 The target is unprotected by bone or muscle.

 The effect lingers, giving us time to get away.

Suffice to say, a groin kick is a WICKEDLY effective technique. Hit by a good one, a man the size of a refrigerator might collapse into the fetal position and begin making strange mewling sounds.

IF the kick lands. If, if, if.

But let''s not fool ourselves. If our hands are occupied and can't be used, he'll probably be EXPECTING a groin kick. These guys are dumb, but they're not that dumb. He might block it, or worse yet, try to grab it. We CAN'T let this guy grab our foot. He'll dump us to the ground, and now it really gets ugly.

Low kicks to his KNEES might work better, at least as a first shot. He won't be expecting them. They're harder to block or grab than a groin kick.

The knee is a FASCINATING mechanism. Comprised of the largest sesamoid bone in the human body (the kneecap) and a series of supporting ligaments tying together the large bones of the leg, the knee moves only in one discreetly linear plane. And it locks out absolutely at full extension.

Any force that causes the knee to deviate beyond these limits can be DEVASTATING. Ask any football player. It is sometimes argued that because of these limitations, the knee is the most poorly designed joint in the human body.

Which is great for us.

A good sidekick to the lateral side of the knee can drop a man like a WRECKING BALL hitting a crutch.

And a well-timed stop kick that catches the front of the knee -- particularly just as an attacker LEVERS his weight onto it -- can hyper-extend the joint.

The DOWNSIDE to knee kicks? They take accuracy and timing. They're more complicated than the groin kick. The mechanics of foot positioning and hip rotation are less natural. They require more force.

So, they're not magic. But they're good.



In Part One, we talked about the twin concepts of TIMING and LOCATION, and the opportunistic nature of human predators.

In Parts Two and Three, we sketched out how the problem of having our hands full becomes almost chess-like, as we substitute LOW KICKS to the groin and knees.


Our bodies fairly bristle with natural weapons, if we know how to use them. Besides kicks, which we talked about, there are our KNEES. Knees are among the most potent tools in our arsenal.

Every woman knows how to knee a man in the groin, an awareness that appears to be branded into their chromosomes. But even the dumbest guy on earth KNOWS women know this, and so men respect and fear the knee. Whenever possible, men will instinctively guard against it.

So what do you do if you can't hit the groin? Go elsewhere. Another spectacular target for a knee strike is the outside of the thigh. You're shooting for the middle of a broad ligamental filament called the ILIOTIBIAL BAND that runs from hip to knee.

Kneeing the I.T. Band is a favorite technique of British bouncers. The Brits call it "SPIKING".

The Brits, ever clever, appear to have a school for this sort of thing. I saw a film clip of an instructor who sounded like a character in Masterpiece Theater, except he wore a white uniform complete with nautical-type hat and shoulder boards that made him look disturbingly like the activity director on the Love Boat. He talked about, "Spiking the chap smartly," or some such. It's enough to give you bad dreams.

But I digress.

Getting spiked a good one on the IT Band hurts more than you can imagine. It's a big Kahuna of a strike, like getting walloped on the thigh by the bumper of a passing truck. Catch a bad guy in the sweet spot with one of these and, if they can stand at all, they'll hobble around in pain-filled little circles as if they were auditioning for a zombie film.

Case in point: Heather, an instructor at our school whom many of you may know from previous Women's Night sessions, once caught me perfectly with a particularly nasty spike (a deliberately cruel act, which I've never forgiven?). I hit the floor as she'd flipped a switch and turned on the gravity of Jupiter.

Also in the odd weapons department, we have our head. The human SKULL is incredibly hard, a hemispherical bowl of obdurate bone. It's been said that it takes approximately a ton of force to deform an adult skull 1 centimeter (I may have tested this once, having been smacked by a horse's hoof squarely in the forehead. It could explain some things?).

The best striking surface for most headbutts is right in the front, at the hairline. Your target is his nose. It's soft, vascular and sensitive. A good whap there screws up his senses like a solid punch. Now, don't snap and woodpecker your head into his face like you see in the movies. If his head tilts down at the wrong moment, you'll reverse roles, breaking your own face and possibly knocking yourself out in the bargain.

Instead, tilt your head down so you're staring at his sternum (breastbone), hold your neck as stiff as if it were fixed in a leather collar, and with the force of your legs, RAM your whole body forward at his face.

There are other ways to use the head, too. If he grabs you from behind, the rounded occipital bone at the back of your skull can also be slammed into his nose. The side of the head, above the temple, can be used as well.

What else do we have? Well, even if our hands are full, we might still might be able to use our elbows.

And we can move, duck, twist, turn and run. We can bite, if we have to.

So, while the absence of our hands is bad news, we're not helpless.




RECAP: We're examining our options if attacked while our hands are full. In previous parts of this series, we discussed strategic concepts like timing and location, and techniques such as low kicks, knees and head butts.

Now, before we go any farther looking at this as a physical self-defense problem, let?s step back and think. There may be an easier way.

It has been said, "Fools ignore complexity. Geniuses remove it." I agree. This is one reason why it perplexes me that so many popular martial arts complicate things unnecessarily.

By contrast, Kinetekan™ the self-defense method we've been developing at Salick's since I left the traditional martial arts nearly twenty years ago, tries to look at the world differently.  A philosophy, really, Kinetekan places an overarching emphasis on efficiency. In both its physical responses and its thinking, Kinetekan strives for the elegance of simplicity. It seeks the greatest effect with the least effort in the shortest time.

So, does the Kinetekan philosophy offer a more economical solution to the "Hands Full" situation?

Several come to mind. 

The best, of course, is for all of us to be aware of time and place. This was addressed in Part One of this series. The finest self-defense advice in the world is, and will forever be, Don't be where self-defense is necessary.

But, if our precautions fail -- if, despite our best efforts, we're confronted with a self-defense situation -- our mindset should immediately shift to figuring out how to extract ourselves with the lowest possible risk and effort.

We will take our cue from SUN TZU. 2500 years ago, the great Chinese general and author of the classic " The Art of War", wrote, "All war is based on deception. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

How can we do that?

One way is with a tactic I dubbed "THE TROJAN HORSE". I learned it many years ago from the legendary firearms authority, Masaad Ayoob.

Ayoob, then Director of the Lethal Force Institute, was a fascinating man with terabytes of self-defense knowledge in his head. On the use, effect and legal ramifications of handguns in self-defense situations, for example, he had written volumes, quite possibly more than any person in the world.

But the Trojan Horse ploy, interestingly, doesn't have anything to do with guns. It's clever and simple, easy enough for any of us to use right out of the box.

And it fits perfectly with the Kinetekan mindset.



RECAP: We were discussing a piece of advice I'd gathered years ago from Masaad Ayoob, legendary handgun author and then Director of the Lethal Force Institute:

First, it's worth a brief defining word about Mr. Ayoob. He was a character. During lunch with me, he extolled the virtues of such social oddities as wearing a light bulletproof vest beneath one?s shirt. ("Uncomfortable? Not really... rather like wearing stiff thermal underwear") and ("No, it really doesn't hurt too much when a bullet hits it. Rather like taking a good punch. You've been punched before, eh? Well, there you go...")

Ayoob was evangelistic about the virtues of concealed carry. He regularly toted multiple weapons secreted on his person, which he was permitted for. It goes without saying that Masaad Ayoob was a dead shot with just about any firearm you can imagine.

This illuminates a fascinating dichotomy: despite his lethal capabilities, Masaad Ayoob's fervent advice was to AVOID TROUBLE whenever and however possible.

One way he did this was to carry a bill -- in those days it was a $5, but now it would probably be a $10 or $20 -- wrapped and rubber-banded around something of moderate heft and size, like a book of matches. The demarcation of the bill should be obvious and must completely hide the match book.

It looks like a tightly rolled wad of dough -- a lot of money. But it's really not. You keep this where it's VERY ACCESSIBLE, inside a convenient pocket for men, or clipped right inside a purse where you can get at it, for the ladies. You've got to be able to get it fast.

This is throw away money.

At the first sign of trouble on the street, you toss the money in one direction, say something along the lines of, "Here! Take my cash!" Then you run like crazy in the opposite direction, yelling, "FIRE!"

It's a Trojan Horse. You've built a FAKE THING to distract, and attract, your enemy.

Remember, if this is a mugging, your predator probably isn't that complicated. He won't be a chess champion. You won't find a MENSA CARD peeking out of his wallet. He wants something easy, and he wants it now.

Very few will chase someone yelling "Fire!", when they can bend down and scoop up a fat wad of CASH --  or so they think -- lying a few yards away.

Just be far enough away by the time they figure it out.



RECAP: In our previous sessions, we've looked at a broad range of problems and solutions encountered when defending ourselves if our hands are occupied and not readily available.

But wait. We have to be honest here. Carrying stuff -- purses, laptops, packages, whatever -- often doesn't mean that we can't use our hands. It means that we choose not to use them.

We don't want to drop or sacrifice our stuff.

Odds are very good that we can still use our hands --and what's in them-- anytime we want.

But'we have to be willing to sacrifice what we?re holding, to jettison the whole enchilada, to save our physical self.

Not everyone will do this.

Not every woman -- even if she's willing to fight, to physically defend herself -- is prepared to drop her purse with the wallet and credit cards and ID and the pictures of the kids, so she can free her hands to duke it out on the street with some bottom feeder.

And not every woman can make the leap to using those same valuable possessions as a weapon.

It takes a special mindset for a woman to take a laptop and shatter it like spun candy against the side of some bozo's skull.

Even if it means saving herself.

But consider the lesson of the baboon.

In Africa, baboons are trapped by humans who build a big pile of rocks hollowed at the center.  There is a hole in the side of the rock pile just large enough for the passage of a baboon's pliable,  open hand.  The trappers pack some food inside the pile and then go hide to watch the show -- and to catch a baboon.

Attracted by the smell of food, a baboon wanders in. It reaches in, feels around in the rock pile,  and sure enough, closes its fist around its prize. And tries to withdraw its hand.

But can't.

The clenched fist is too large and too rigid to pass through the hole in the rocks.

Of course, all the baboon has to do is release the food. Its hand will slip right out.  But it won't. Defying the only action that will allow it to escape, it hangs on. The stubborn primate sits there with its fist in a rock trap while its captors just walk up and grab it.

Baboons don't know better.

We do. We know that in an attack situation, nothing --nothing--is more important than going home safe and uninjured.


If you're carrying stuff, and are able to run away while hanging on to it, go for it.

If you chose to fight some mugger while clinging to your stuff, I salute your feisty courage.

Just don't trade safety for stuff. Let the stuff go. It can be replaced or re-created, its loss absorbed. Its worth will fade.

By contrast, you are incomprehensibly precious, especially to the people who care about you. Your laugh, your touch, everything about you, is unique and beyond price. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, in a universe of a hundred billion galaxies, there is not, and never will be, another like you.

One thing is for sure: If anything ever happens to you, no one who loves you will give a rip about what you were holding in your hands.


PS: I hope you've enjoyed this series on defending yourself when your hands are full. Thanks to those of you who offered kind words of feedback! 

Stay focused, stay safe,


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