First things first: Don't get fooled by some gimmick!!
"Learn to defeat any attacker!"
"This one move will stop any anyone!"
"Secret technique used by Special Forces!"
"The move they don't want you to know!"
"What move every girl should know."
It's BS. They are selling you garbage. Don't buy it.
I'm not selling you anything here. Just advice freely given. Why? Because I am so fed up with seeing information put out there that will actually endanger people. Just running away is far better than these gimmicks.
Self defense is simple, however it is not easy. Being in a real situation with a real attacker, suddenly and violently coming at you is difficult. It's scary.
Personally, I don't teach "self defense". At least not in what has become mainstream self defense. When referring to attacks to your person in your daily life, I focus on AVOIDANCE and ESCAPE.
What is "self defense"? It's the defending of yourself from an unwanted attack. It isn't what you would find in a boxing ring or on a mat or even in a formal challenge like in a movie. This isn't two (or more) people agreeing to "fight". It is one (or more) people attacking a person without their consent. So for me, I'd rather avoid that situation or escape it as quickly as possible.
The goal is to get home safely.
I've seen far too many martial arts instructors demonstrate techniques on a person (usually a smaller woman) only to use their obvious size and strength advantage to "defeat" a person not giving any threat at all. There is no real physical or emotional obstacle to overcome, so of course it works!
Instructors from all martial arts are guilty of trying to sell you on their version of self defense that gets you into their classroom or buying their DVD/online training series. They're selling you something. Not trying to help you. There are some good programs out there, but the percentage is really small.
One of the worst martial arts groups out there currently selling garbage self defense is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ, as it's often referred to, is a really fun and amazing sport martial art. I've trained in it and think highly of it. I would absolutely agree that being comfortable on the ground and having a solid understanding of biomechanics in grappling will help you perform better should you be physically attacked. Unfortunately, a great many BJJ instructors often like to show what they call a self defense technique. It's just that it isn't a self defense technique. The techniques they show use strength and size to overcome the attacker. They also demonstrate two more elements that I completely disagree with: a "sport" mindset and that they seek to restrain their attacker. I just saw a BJJ video on social media doing both. It was horrible!!
A sport mindset is one that lives in the world of sporting rules and equality. The location, the size and sex of the opponent, what you might be wearing, etc. is pre-set in a sporting world. None of those are set in a "street" scenario. That's why it's called "street". You could be walking down the street at any time when attacked.
Restraining your attacker. What?!? Don't bother. If you are attacked, then get to safety. Don't bother trying to restrain someone. It's not easy. With a physical disadvantage, it's nearly impossible. I worked security in Hollywood for years. Restraining someone isn't easy. And I was almost always the guy with the advantages. Again, look at avoidance and escape.
It's not entirely their fault. When all of your experience is from tournaments, you don't have any real reference to draw upon. It works in your school, so it should work on the street too. Or they have been taught it but never had to apply themselves. The emergence of MMA hasn't helped either. Yes, the fighters have skill, etc, etc. But that's still sport. There is a ring or cage or whatever and a referee and rules and weight classes and protective gear. There's a time limit!! You can give up at any time and they'll stop it. You're hardwired into a set of given circumstances that simply do not apply to the average person being attacked on the street. There's no tapping out or throwing in the towel on the street. Secondly, restraining an attacker is not your job or your responsibility. It's not your goal.
Getting away from your attacker and getting home safely is your goal.
Can martial arts help with this? Yes. But.
But? Yes, BUT. But you have to get a good martial arts school with a good teacher, who has a realistic outlook.
Yes, I just bashed on BJJ, and I'll stand by my view point as it has been demonstrated over and over. I've just seen too many BJJ schools sell themselves as something they're not.
I've also seen BJJ instructors, black belts from Brazil, demonstrate a technique on a larger student. I recall one instructor looking at a larger student in his class and telling the class that if this was really on the street, he would run away. But since it was a BJJ class, they were going to look at some movements and explore. That's a good instructor! That's street sense. He was teaching the martial art that he loved to students who also loved learning it, but he wasn't selling it as something it wasn't. Was it something super cool that you'd likely see in a movie? Yes. Did the students love it? Yes! Did they learn something? Yes! Was it something he recommended you try on the street? NO!
The same happens with Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, and yes it happens all too often with (groan) JKD. And for the same reasons. The instructors are trying to sell you something that will work everywhere and on everyone. This happens, mostly because the instructors are under qualified. They either know it's garbage and are selling it anyway, or they don't know enough to know that it's garbage. Either way, you lose! Every instructor I've ever worked with who actually knew what they were talking about always shared that a technique could fail. You could lose. You could die.
Self defense. If you are looking to make yourself more able to defend yourself in an altercation, there are a few things that you should understand and that you should be looking to develop. Then it's just a matter of finding the right people to help you develop yourself.
Outlook. You are trying to avoid or escape from an attack. You are NOT trying to "win". It isn't a competition. You didn't agree to this conflict.
Development. You should be working on awareness. Spacial awareness. Think of it like driving. It's way better to avoid a crash than it is to test out your airbags. You should absolutely be training to increase your physical strength. You don't have to be a superhero, but strength and cardio will be useful in any conflict. I recall an instructor turning to a treadmill and saying that it was one of the best self defense tools you could ever use. If they can't catch you, then they can't hurt you. It also has the added benefit of you being healthier for all aspects of your daily life.
Firstly, you want to avoid any altercation, if at all possible. Secondly, your clear goal during any altercation should be to escape. If your self defense training isn't focused primarily on those two goals, then it isn't self defense. That's my opinion. Avoid it if at all possible. If not, then escape and get to safety.
Preparedness and application.
What are you actively doing to better prepare yourself to either avoid or escape from an assault? It could be as simple as an assessment of your daily habits. Are you aware of your surroundings during your daily life? Can you run a mile to escape an attacker? A block? 100 feet?
Applying this to real life won't be fair, because your attacker isn't going to attack when it's fair. That's why a "sport" mentality can be fatal. Sport seeks to equalize the contest. An assailant most likely won't be fair about anything. They want the advantage. The deck will be stacked against you. This brings us back to our goals: avoidance and escape. If it's an unfair conflict, why would you want to engage in that contest? Avoid it or get out!!
Even worse are the "feel good" seminars/workshops that often target women. These are great for self esteem, but they give a false sense of security. It's cardio kick boxing wrapped up as self defense training. To me, that's very dangerous! I've taught several groups of women self defense over the years. Well, I taught them about avoidance and escape. I teach avoidance first, then the escape portion. The escape stuff is designed to work against me, a skilled man with size, strength, and experience. Then I finish by telling them that they'd only have about a 20% chance of escaping from someone like me. At best. Always better to avoid. And if you can't avoid, then you might see it coming. Awareness is going to be a key element of your self defense training no matter what path you take. It increases your odds. That will increase your chances of escaping by a lot! It won't guarantee your escape, but it will give you a better chance. Home alive and broken isn't as good as "safe" but it's way better than dead.
Don't get hurt learning to not get hurt. So many martial arts schools have students injured all of the time. That's not good for your long term health, it's not good for your consistent training, and it's not going to help you if you're attacked! You're supposed to be increasing your overall capacity to defend. An injury decreases that ability. And it just isn't necessary. If there are injuries all the time in your class, then that reflects on the instructor. If they don't know how to teach students without avoiding injury, then they don't have the skills to be teaching at that level. You're in the wrong place. Bandaids and ice packs are one thing. Casts, stitches and surgeries are something else. You don't want that. And again, it isn't necessary if you have a qualified instructor.
You will be "hurt" during an assault. It will physical, emotional or both. Whatever the situation, you will not get out of it unscathed. Even if you are able to avoid an assault, it will still unsettle you. Seek help. After you have avoided or escaped, get help. You should also call your local law enforcement, when you are safe, to report it. There could be others you might be saving from an attack. You should also go to the doctor. Often we can overlook injuries in the moment that might need medical attention. Something as small as a scratch could fester and become a huge issue. You might need to see a therapist as well. That's OK. Whether it is medical or mental, get the help sooner so that you can begin to heal properly as soon as possible.
You are important. You didn't ask for an attack. You deserve to heal. If you were in a car wreck and badly injured, you would seek out the aide of others to help you recover. Guilt over being assaulted should never be carried by the victim.
There are so many things that I could share with you, but this is more to get you pointed in the right direction. If you want to defend yourself from assault, then start today. Prepare for the "if" now. It could be as easy as doing some push ups or jumping jacks. Whatever it is, start today. Hopefully, you can take an active role in your future safety. Being fit is a great start. Training in martial arts is also really great.
You just have to get the right people.
And if you're teaching self defense, I hope you take a good, hard look at your program and what you're teaching.