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When All Else Fails

By Christoper Caile

Editor’s Note: Some of the techniques described below are brutal and life threatening and should not be used, ever, unless your life is in imminent danger. I do not recommend the use of these techniques, but catalogue them here for educational purposes. Do not practice them unless under the supervision of a qualified senior instructor and after consultation with your medical doctor or health provider.

Are there any karate techniques that you can absolutely depend upon if all else fails – techniques that can work against bigger, stronger attackers or against those seemingly impervious to pain or who exhibit almost superhuman strength as a result of being high on drugs?

The answer is no. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that there are a couple of techniques and strategies that come close, that are effective virtually against anyone at any time – if you can execute them, and that’s the big “if.” That’s the qualifier.

Of course, my best advice is to avoid the conflict and not get yourself in this type of situation in the first place – easy to say, but as is often the case, people just don’t keep their mental guard up. The result is they can find themselves in compromising situations, and here I am not talking about pleasant interludes with the opposite sex.

If you should find yourself face to face with a drug induced opponent who wouldn’t think twice of becoming your human compactor, my best advice is to say “adios” and get out of there – fast, very fast. Even a trained law enforcement officer, or sometimes a group of them, has trouble controlling these guys.

I am sometimes amused at what is taught as “self-defense.” People teach unsuspecting students that if attacked this way, if they just move like this or hit here they will be in control and defeat the attacker. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Attackers, even those not on drugs, are determined. Often your defenses will work, but not always. Some will just won’t “buckle” if hit in a certain spot. Either they have a high pain tolerance or they have learned to shrug off strikes (they have been there before, been in fights and aren’t surprised by a counter attack). Others can be mentally deranged, are drunk or worse – high on meth amphetamines or crystal meth (much worse). The latter exhibit an unhappy combination – illogical thought processes, almost super-human strength and no feeling of pain.

In short, any attacker can be big trouble. Opponents are at best uncooperative, and at worst not responding to your self-defense techniques. After an initial attack (if survived) things can degenerate into an unpredictable physical confrontation.

What would I use? Several things. Interestingly, these are the same things I see again and again within the techniques and tactics of karate kata (but this is a whole other subject).

First, no matter how strong or deranged a person is, he still depends upon his balance to move. If a person is off-balance he has no strength. I remember reading an article on the Guardian Angels many years ago. The crux of the article was that training had at one time focused on teaching pressure point techniques, but was later modified. It was found much more effective to spin problem makers or attackers – since once off balance, any attacker must first regain balance in order to attempt to fight or resist.

A couple of years ago a former police officer submitted an article to me at about his confrontation with a much bigger, stronger and determined patron of a bar who he had been called in to control. Having tried to control this person with his night stick and then a low kick to the knee to no avail, he was able to subdue the opponent with combination technique. First he intercepted a hook punch (blocked) which was then pushed past him, spinning the opponent (his left forearm catching a right haymaker but then moving above the arm to pull it past him), and then from the side he initiated a vascular choke (pressure on the sides of the neck to cut off the blood supply to the brain) which brought the goliath to the floor in about 7-10 seconds.

Thus two techniques which are almost always workable (which I think are the most dependable) are off-balancing (or spinning) and the vascular choke. Both require, however, skill of execution. Off balancing can be leading or a head manipulation (the old saying, “where the head goes, the body follows”) as in aikido, a throw or sweep as in judo, or even throwing and rolling the body across the feet of a charging attacker (a former semi-pro football player in my karate class in Peoria, Illinois used to use this with great effectiveness, but we had to discourage this tactic since this move if executed with speed and full body weight can easily injure either the knees or ankles of surprised victims). This type of takedown is also temporary, however. If not injured the attacker can get up and continue his attack.

The vascular choke too has limitations. It takes knowledge to apply it adequately and it also takes strength to execute it well. Another type of choke, one across the windpipe will also work, but it is dangerous (it can crush the windpipe and cause internal swelling. This can kill someone, and this is one reason most police departments have banned chokes all together) and takes up to a minute to be effective –awfully long if someone is struggling against you.

If you are fighting for your life the wind pipe can still be a target, however. A hard blow with a forearm or elbow with your whole weight behind it can cause severe damage, but this still takes a little while to take effect. It will work on anyone since the wind pipe has no protection. It will stop virtually anyone, although sometimes not immediately) and you might have to justify your actions to the local district attorney.

Another effective technique is eye attack, but personally I try to avoid attacks that can cause permanent injury. If ever used, I would probably limit any attack to what the Chinese often refer to as “Splashing Hands,” an open back of the hand whip of the finger tips into the face (this is not to be practiced since it is very dangerous).

Most people will respond to a hit in the eye. A few years ago in a martial arts camp I witnessed a few students during a break playing with soft round flexible foam sticks about three foot long and four inches thick. They were using them to practice against club and sword attacks, or two man duels. Quickly, however, practice degenerated into wild swings. Suddenly one participant yelled, brought both hands to his eyes, fell to the ground, balled into a fetal position and rolled around in obvious pain. He had been struck in the eye by a corner of the foam practice weapon. Very luckily there was no pertinent damage, but the next day his eye was almost swollen shut and he was out of practice.

Eye technique, however, have limitations too. If the attacker is on drugs and doesn’t feel pain, there will be an automatic blink reflex, but the pain response will be missing or greatly decreased.. The attack might be momentarily interrupted, but possibly not stopped. To stop the drug induced attacker with an eye technique, the fingers have to be driven into the eyes hard enough to cause damage – not for the feint of heart, but effective on a battlefield. This is one technique I would myself try to avoid.

Another strategy is the good old concussion. A good strike to the chin, for example, can shock and spin the head with sufficient velocity to send the brain crashing into the hard surface of the far side of the inner skull. Even if pain in not felt, the effect can still create a knockout.

Another tactic is break the structural integrity or support system of the body, such as to tear the knee or elbow joint to make it unworkable – but this is often difficult at best (although the elbow is easier if first set up with a concussion).

I would instead go after another bone that can render an arm non-workable – an elbow technique driven into or down onto the middle of the collar bone (clavicle) can often cause a break, the break limiting movement of the arm. But this takes quite a lot of power, and if you are moving and grappling, it is hard to do.

Other structurally weak points include the long bones across the top of the wrist (connecting to and supporting the knuckles) and their equivalent along the top of the foot (metacarpal bones). Since hands move quickly, here my choice falls to the feet – a good stamp to the top of the foot with my heel with full body weight combined with a turning motion to separate these long bones. Nasty, but also sometimes difficult depending on what your opponent is wearing on his feet. If the person feels pain, the confrontation might just end there. If not, you just might have made the attacker really, really mad.

The last techniques are what Bruce Miller (whose pressure points are sold on calls “Launch Points” – points that are effective even when an attacker is drugged up or has little response to what most people would find to be painful. A finger driven directly up into the nostril will cause anyone to jump back. Likewise a finger driven in and down into the “V” at the bottom of the neck (in the notch in middle of the front just above where the two clavicle bones meet) the will cause an automatic gag reflex and the opponent will likewise jump back.. These techniques, however, require knowledge (where and how to apply) plus adequate speed and power to execute. They work best if someone grabbed you and is stable to your front. If you are moving around, trading techniques or grappling these techniques are probably not for you.

In short, there are no magic techniques – all have limitations. But you aren’t without alternatives. Some of these techniques might just provide momentary advantage, and might allow you to survive. Hopefully you will never have to test them.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes aikido, diato-ryu aikijujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

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self defense, hand to hand combat, street fighting

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