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How Jiu-Jitsu Can Help You When You're Assaulted

The attacker's not playing by the rules, so why should you?
PHOTO: Tamara Schlesinger

Gab Pangalangan, a certified martial arts instructor under Deftac Pilipinas and the founder of the women's empowerment campaign, Fight Like a Girl, shares his insights on the value of self-defense training as well as easy Jiu-jitsu moves we can use when cornered or attacked. 

What can women get out of self-defense training?

Self-defense training is invaluable. It’s not a guarantee that you can disarm a mugger or fight 3 attackers at a time, but knowledge is power, and knowing how to defend yourself in a dire situation could save your life. Proper self-defense training doesn’t just teach you techniques on how to defend yourself but also trains you to look out for red flags, to be aware of your surroundings, and to help you avoid potentially dangerous situations.

Self-defense training also offers physical benefits as it improves your reflexes, strength, and cardio. It won’t make you an Olympic-level athlete, but you don’t have to be one to defend yourself.


Additionally, self-defense training simulates attacks—someone bear hugs you from behind or wraps his hands around your neck, pressing you against the wall—and you’re taught to deal with these attacks. It also improves muscle memory for such situations. Drilling self-defense techniques over and over makes them almost second nature. And in a life-or-death situation, any reluctance or second-guessing could cost you dearly.  If you have to think to yourself, “what do I do?” when you’re being attacked, then you might not live long enough to know the answer.

Talk about Jiu-jitsu and Judo. Why are they the best ways to learn self-defense? 

Japanese Jiu-jitsu (aka Jujutsu) was the martial art that Samurai used on the battlefield if they lost their sword. He could throw his opponent and strike him, choke him, or break his limb.

Jigoro Kano took Jujutsu techniques and developed Judo, the sport form of Jujutsu. This made it accessible to common folk, not just to Samurai. Judo, which has pins and submissions but focuses heavily on throws, eventually spread around the world. It reached Brazil where it was developed into Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ), which focuses more on ground techniques and submissions.

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The techniques of Jujutsu are very practical and are designed for real life altercations, not for sport. For example, in sport Jiu-jitsu (BJJ), when you choke your opponent from behind, you wrap your legs around his hips to control him while you choke him out. It’s very effective, but it’s designed for one-on-one combat, for sport. It doesn’t account for the fact that the attacker may have an accomplice nearby that could strike you from behind. With your legs wrapped around your first attacker, you lose the ability to fight an on-coming second attacker.

By contrast, in Jujitsu, when you choke an opponent from behind, you have one knee on the ground and the other lunged into his spine. That way, you can easily stand up to run away or defend against a second attacker.

Judo and BJJ training (the techniques you’ll learn, the physical and mental benefits you’ll gain) can help you in defending yourself. But remember: these martial arts are designed for sport, for one-on-one matches with time limits and rules. In a street attack, in a hold-up: there are no rules. So while I do believe that Judo and BJJ (and other martial arts like Muay Thai or MMA) can help equip you to defend yourself, I’d also recommend looking into fighting styles or programs designed specifically for self-defense; not for sport. Generally speaking, Kali, Krav Maga, and Jujitsu would help prepare you (as much as possible) for real-life attacks (jeepney hold-ups, fighting three eople at once) and even teach you to disarm attackers who have weapons.


Can you provide examples of moves that women can learn during training?

If an attacker is trying to pin you down to the floor and get between your legs, you could hoist your legs towards his head to choke him out, break his arm, or sweep him over (put him on his back). You could set up a triangle choke with your legs or an armbar or go for a sweep.

That’s the beauty of Judo and especially BJJ: They provide you with offensive options even if your back is on the ground, which could be seen by many as an offense-less position.

When it comes to body parts you could use for self-defense, anything goes. Many women have long fingernails: scratch your attacker in the eyes with them. Grab at his throat and rip out his Adam’s apple. He’s not playing by the rules so why should you? Your elbows, knees, palms, fists, feet, even the hard dome on your head can be used to fight back when attacked. You could also attack vital points on your attacker’s body: toes, kneecaps, balls, throat, eyes, bridge of the nose. A hard smack to the ear also corrupts his equilibrium and balance. The back of the head, where the skull meets the spine, is also vulnerable (that’s why you can’t hit the back of the head in boxing or MMA); strike for that if the opportunity presents itself. Bite his hand if he’s covering your mouth. All this may sound brutal, but when you’re fighting for your life, it’s necessary.


What are some safety measures women can take when entering a vehicle or any confined space?

All I can say is be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye out for the nearest exits in buildings or vehicles, for potential items you could use as weapons. Avoid dark, isolated places. Carry pepper spray for self-defense or even a whistle so you can easily signal for help. Be mindful of people around you. Be mindful if they’re holding weapons in their hands or are concealing a weapon in their pockets. Be mindful if someone is following you or if two people are trying to communicate things about you without you knowing. It may seem a bit paranoid, but all I’m saying is to be mindful of your surroundings, and if something seems amiss, then act on it and don’t merely dismiss it in fear of being paranoid.

What can women use in their surroundings to help them when they’re being attacked?


Anything. See a rock? Grab it and hit him in the head with it. Don’t throw it at him from a far; you’re more than likely to miss (a lesson taught to me by Krav Maga Philippines). Hold it in your hand and use it to strike your opponent. If there’s a bottle nearby that you could use as a weapon, use it. Don’t do what tough guys do in movies where they break the bottle in half before attacking with it; you might just end up with broken glass in your hand. Break the bottle off of your attacker’s head instead.

Are there any myths about self-defense or self-defense techniques that you want to debunk?

 Don't believe everything you see in movies. When you’re attacked by more than one person, they won’t square off with you first and then attack one at a time. They’ll come at you all at once or have another accomplice waiting where you can’t see him. Also, a knife-wielding attacker won’t toss a knife from one hand to the next before stabbing you. He’ll do it quickly and blatantly, so best to be prepared. There’s little room for flashy techniques in a real fight. The simpler the better.


Another bit of advice is that studying self-defense via YouTube is not enough. You can learn a lot from video tutorials, but nothing beats drilling these techniques repeatedly with others and having others drill the technique on you. It also benefits to have a coach or teacher correcting small details as you go.

Finally, I want people to know not to be complacent. Being a big and athletic person doesn’t mean you won’t be susceptible to an attack or that you’ll be capable of handling an attack. Being in a well-lit, populated area doesn’t mean you’re completely safe. Also, being well trained in martial arts doesn’t guarantee safety either. You may have a black belt in taekwondo and a wide variety of kicks in your arsenal, but when you’re in a crowded jeep with a knife pointed at your ribs, what do you do then?

Martial arts like Judo, BJJ, Muay Thai, MMA, taekwondo, and others are all helpful, but admittedly, there are some scenarios that these arts can’t prepare you for. Always remember to train for potential real-life scenarios. 


For jiu-jitsu class inquiries and general info, visit Fight Like A Girl's official Facebook page.

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