Self-defence without Karate: a guide for the common man

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

Self-defence is the ability of a person to protect oneself and one’s dependants from an attack. Even though we are living in relatively peaceful times in the history of mankind, there still are instances where we could face violence unexpectedly. Freezing—or being too shocked to respond—is a common reaction to violence, which results in tragic outcomes for the victim. Impulsive and inappropriate responses can be equally damaging. Prior knowledge of basic self-defence principles provides us a better chance of escaping unhurt.

Just as animals can defend themselves against attacks by predators, the human body has its own natural fighting instincts, which unfortunately have been suppressed due to several reasons. Cultural factors and social pressure to remain peaceful, passive and non-violent prevents us from fighting back when threatened. Besides, we do not have the regular exposure to predators like we once did thousands of years ago—to be able to learn from personal fighting experience.

Therefore, actively learning self-defence techniques becomes necessary. Such learning has to be customised to the potential threats we are likely to face in our own microenvironment. For instance, a young woman who lives alone in the city and travels by public transport will be facing a different set of problems compared to a nurse who attends patients in a psychiatry ward, or a shy teenager who is newly admitted to a school notorious for bullying.

Self-defence is a life skill that everyone should have in their personal collection. Examples of other life skills include safe road habits, fire safety, ability to correctly perform CPR (for sudden cardiac arrest) and Heimlich manoeuvre (for choking on food), each of which were addressed in my prior articles.

Read more: Everyday Health | Staying alive on our roads

Also read: Everyday health | Learn these 6 first-aid tips, be a lifesaver

Also check: Everyday Health | Fire safety: what to do, what not to do

This article contains ready-to-use practical advice for the layperson who is not trained in martial arts. The listed examples represent some of the common problems that we face in society, and their discussions illustrate the fundamental principles of self-defence. A description of basic fight techniques to defend against violence is also included. Those interested in learning more about the physical part of self-defence can seek the help of an instructor.

Isn’t it enough to learn Karate?

Unfortunately, the term self-defence training is superficially equated by many to martial arts like Karate, Kickboxing, and possession of deadly weapons. This is because people have the impression that if we can fight and overpower our attackers as we see in the movies, we would be safe and all would be well.

Learning a martial art such as Karate requires years of training. Martial arts help improve physical fitness, concentration and confidence. However, Karate or Judo skills alone do not ensure safety of an individual.

What about a weekend self defence course?

Many so-called self-defence courses give undue emphasis on fighting techniques, perhaps because of their dramatic marketing appeal. Although they help boost confidence levels and provide some basic knowledge, the complex manoeuvres taught during these seminars are not easy to recollect when abruptly faced with an attacker later in life.

This is due to the process of cortical shut down that occurs in our brain. Fine motor movements are controlled by the brain’s outer layer called cerebral cortex, which fails to work during times of acute stress.

The best self-defence is not to get into a fight

Real self-defence training goes far beyond learning punching, blocking and kicking. In fact, most accomplished self-defence teachers around the world agree on one thing: the best self-defence is not to get into a fight. It is said that the most powerful self-defence weapon we can hope to have in our arsenal is not muscle power or ability to deliver a flying kick, but a sharp mind.

What matters more is our ability to identify and eliminate any high-risk behaviours that we might have, recognize and avoid violence-prone situations around us; and in case we encounter a potential threat of violence, to be able to defuse the situation peacefully and get out of there at the earliest.

A sharp mind is our best self-defence tool.

Example 1.

You are a 35-year-old man employed at Info Park. Driving back from Calicut to Kochi on a Sunday evening, you and a male colleague decide to take a tea break at a small roadside hotel near Thrissur. There are six tables, only two of which are occupied. You sit down at the table by the window. As soon as you place your order for tea and dosa, two local men arrive by bike and enter the restaurant. They come up to your table and ask you to move to the next table, as it was apparently their table that you were sitting on.

You try to explain that the table was empty when you came in, and that there was no reservation tag on it. The men are not convinced, and insist that you move. Your friend holds a black belt in Karate, and the men are physically smaller than you. What is the best option?

A: Refuse to move as you believe you have the right to that table

B: Move to another table

C: Get up politely, settle any dues and leave the scene without fuss

Answer: C. This is the typical example of a potentially threatening situation that could get worse if we acted without cool-headed thinking. Although theoretically we have every right to remain in our seats and complete our meal, our common sense—our ability to think two steps ahead— is telling us to leave. We have been unexpectedly caught in an unfamiliar environment, having an unnecessary argument with unknown men.

We might think that the men are physically weaker than us, and that we could beat them if a fight broke out. However, we do not know how many accomplices they have, whether they are on drugs, what their criminal background is, and whether one of them is carrying a knife. Being physically smaller does not mean their fighting skills are inferior to ours. It is also possible that we were sitting on the table which these men had been sitting on regularly for years.

Besides, in this case, we are not fighting for anything worthwhile, apart from our ego. Our original objective was just to have a tea break; and not to get injured.

Although there is a chance that nothing would happen if we continued to sit there, the question is whether it was worth the risk. Most experts would agree that it would be foolish to stay there, as these antisocial elements have obviously picked on us, and will likely continue to taunt us even if we moved to another table.

The above example highlights two other principles of self-defence:

1. Do not hang around in the company of stupid people.

2. Do not argue with stupid people.

Self-defence is more than just fighting

Martial arts champions all around the world have said that if they were threatened with violence by a stranger, their preferred option would be to talk calmly, make peace, avoid fighting and remove themselves from the scene as quickly as possible. Violence, for them, is the last resort, when nothing else would work. Even though they possess the ability to subdue and even kill an opponent with their bare hands, they are aware that in real life, fights are dirty, and the consequences unpredictable.

Unlike a martial arts tournament that occurs between matched opponents in a controlled environment where fair fighting laws are enforced, street-fights have no rules. Real life fighting is fast, furious, extremely savage and can break out unexpectedly in unfamiliar zones, frequently against an unknown number of opponents, many of whom could be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. What we initially believe as a single and weak opponent might turn out to be a large gang when his friends join him, sometimes carrying weapons.

Even if we are able to subdue our opponent, unfortunately, it is not a case of walking away into the sunset as we see in the movies. Once the police are involved, a case gets registered and both the parties are questioned about the incident. Each person, naturally, would believe that they did the right thing. Even though we believe that we committed the act of violence in self-defence, the court will initially see the case only as an altercation between two citizens with equal rights. It is upon us to prove our case to be one of self-defence, and this is not always easy or successful. The trial can go on for several years, and the more the number of witnesses involved, the longer it takes. If the verdict goes against us, we could be sent to prison.

But isn’t self-defence legal?

The only certainty about court cases is that things need not go according to our plan. If we plead self-defence, the judge will examine the evidence presented and determine whether the force used was in proportion to the perceived threat. If excessive force was used in response to a seemingly trivial threat, it becomes harder to convince the court that it was a genuine case of self-defence.

The principles that the law follows in the context of self-defence are the following:

1. Every individual has the right to defend himself or his dependants.

2. The principle of self-defence is to use a shield, and not a sword.

3. It is impossible for the court to weigh the opposing forces using a golden balance.

In other words, even though the principle of using proportionate force is applied, the law allows sufficient space for a person to defend himself in a manner that is reasonable. It is not always practical to match the opponent’s assault force or weapon. The person will have to make do with whatever means of self-defence are immediately available at hand. If the self defence case can be proved with sufficient evidence, the person will be acquitted.

Tackling the sexual offender

Example 2.

You are a 28-year-old woman; you have just boarded a bus from Trissur to Kochi. It is moderately crowded; there is standing room only. You notice a man in his sixties positioning himself uncomfortably close behind you. He seems to be leaning on to you each time the bus braked. You had recently completed a self-defence course and know very well how to hit and injure a person who is harassing you. What is the best option?

A: Do nothing, ignore him

B. Turn around and glare at him, ask firmly to step back

C: Use your self-defence lesson and deliver a slap on to his face or neck

Answer: B. A firm and assertive response is warranted here. Doing nothing would encourage this man to continue with this behaviour or worse in the future.

As he has not physically laid hands on your body, a reasonable option is B, which will give him a clear signal that you are not a person to be messed around with, and that he could face consequences if he did not back off. It will also alert the other passengers to keep an eye out for this man.

Slapping him would be somewhat out of proportion to the perceived offence; and an important principle of self-defence is to balance our response according to the severity of the offence. In other words, if someone attacked you with a knife, and you hit his head with a cricket bat, it could be accepted in court as self-defence. But if someone was whistling at you at the bus stop and you stabbed him with a knife in retaliation, it would not fly as self-defence.

The habit of being assertive: a stitch in time saves nine

Speaking up for oneself, being assertive and saying a polite, but firm ‘no’ at the first sign of unwelcome sexual advance is an effective way to prevent complications including sexual assaults in the long run. Fortunately, in real life, not all such advances are made with an intent to molest or rape. Nevertheless, as a safeguard against future stalking, psychiatrists caution against insulting or humiliating such a person during the rejection process.

When faced with such an advance from a person of the opposite sex, silence or apparent lack of objection can get interpreted by a few as consent, sometimes leading on to an unexpected consensual relationship. Such outings can occasionally get complicated when one of the partners wants out, or decides to marry another person.

Although some movies seem to convey the impression that rapes are exclusively committed by gangsters and criminals, most real-life sexual assaults in fact occur from within the victim’s domestic, social or professional network. The offender frequently is someone who has respectable social standing, is known to the victim and decided to push his boundary a little too far.

Children need to be educated early about protecting themselves from abuse. Both girls as well as boys are vulnerable, and the offender commonly is someone who knows the child as well as the parents. The parents should believe the child when he or she reports such behaviour, and the child must be taught how to say no to bad touch. As children are physically weaker than adults, their main defence is to be able to scream loudly, bite, kick around and run if threatened.

The importance of self-control and the danger of being part of a mob

During medieval times, the ability to fight was considered one of man’s essential attributes in order to win a woman’s heart. In contemporary civilised society, such concepts are no longer valid. However, movies, TV serials and ads continue to feed on this theme, in the process misleading more than a few men to engage in unnecessary acts of violence.

It is no secret that the majority of people serving life sentences in prison for murder are ordinary people with no past criminal background. Unlike premeditated or planned murders, most of these people ended up murdering someone in a sudden rush of blood, only to regret later. Such incidents frequently occur under the influence of alcohol. The lesson from their life stories almost invariably is to have greater self-control and patience while dealing with situations where disagreements can potentially lead to violence.

The risk of violence is greater when man is part of a mob, where the individual’s conscience is no longer effective. This is because a mob has a collective mind. Any group greater than three in number is considered a mob, and is capable of committing worse crimes than its individual members. The recent murder of Madhu, a tribal in Wyanad was an example. Veteran criminal lawyers recount tragic stories of ordinary people unwittingly becoming involved in murder cases simply because they were with the wrong crowd in the wrong place at the wrong time.

De-escalation: a priceless skill

De-escalation is a skill where a person is able to remain calm, and also calm everyone else down in the middle of a heated argument, thus preventing violence from breaking out. An important and underestimated self-defence tool, de-escalation requires communication skills, self-control, good manners and foresight. It has been said that good manners are one of the best self-defence tools one can have.

Example 3.

Your friend is driving his car, and you are in the passenger seat. The car scratches the side of another car in busy city traffic. No one is injured. Both drivers get out of the cars and start arguing. Your friend feels it is the other person’s mistake, and the other driver says it is all your friend’s fault. The other driver refuses to go to the traffic police station, which is four miles away. A small crowd gathers to watch the action, and both men are really angry now. What is the best option?

A: Do nothing, let them continue arguing till one person wins or a fight breaks out

B: Talk with your friend, calm him down, offer to pay for the other person’s scratch repair

C: Call the police and wait for them to arrive

Answer: B: The right thing to do is to immediately deescalate.

Some men are overly sensitive about their car’s paint work. Even if a tiny scratch appears, they get upset and lose their temper. They seem to perceive a scratch on their car as the equivalent of a stab wound on their own body. Such irrational behaviour gets copied from other people.

In congested city traffic, vehicle body scratches are common, and can occur due to a variety of reasons, not all of which are within our control. Unfortunately, basic human nature is to blame the other person. No driver would bump into another’s vehicle on purpose. A yielding and forgiving mentality needs to be cultivated in road traffic.

If immediate de-escalation is not done in such situations, road rage and violence could break out abruptly. A street-fight will ensue with outcomes such as injury, hospitalization, police case and arbitration.

Even though the persons involved in the fight did not mean to kill each other, unintended death is known to occur in such situations. This could be, for instance, from a blow to the side of the head or due to a fall on to the hard pavement resulting in serious head injury. A high-profile case that caught public attention involves cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, where an argument over a parking space ended up in the death of a 65-year-old man. The trial is still going on after 30 years.

Waiting for traffic police to arrive on the scene is an option, but we do not know how long that would take. When the argument is about to fly out of control, it is safer to deescalate immediately and remove ourselves from the scene, even if it means that we have to bear the expense.

The immediate settlement offered is minuscule when compared to the alternative, which includes aggravation, time lost, protracted legal proceedings and fees, chance of injury or death, and potential for revenge or retribution.

Road rage: a dangerous habit

Road rage is a problem all around the world, when people make snap judgments about others based only on a few seconds of observation, and act impulsively. In fact, the average law-abiding citizen in India who leads an otherwise peaceful life is more likely to encounter violence from a stranger on the road than from other situations in his daily routine.

Being nice to the next person on the road, accepting that not everyone on the road has the same driving etiquette or expertise, avoiding verbal or gesture exchanges with other road users, readily yielding to aggressive drivers, avoiding needless honking, and not blocking traffic by careless driving are good preventive principles.

How do criminals identify whom to target?

Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

The most effective way to outwit a criminal is to try and think like one. What is it that prompts them to only pick on certain people?

This question has been scientifically studied by several researchers. Greyson and Stein conducted ground-breaking research on criminals who were individually shown videos of random people walking on the street and then asked to pick out whom they would target. The researchers found that all the criminals instinctively picked on the same people from the videos shown to them. Upon a detailed analysis, it was found that those who walked less confidently were perceived as easier targets. The manner of deciding was purely based on body language, specifically the way the person walked.

Those people who took short shuffling steps and looked down while walking were picked as targets. Also picked were those who walked with longer and higher strides than others, perhaps because these features indicated nervousness or sense of vulnerability to the watching predator. In contrast, those who walked confidently—that is with an erect posture, eyes looking ahead and with natural swinging of the limbs—were left alone.

The reason was simple: the criminals did not want to pick someone who would scream or put up a fight. They were after easy targets.

The manner in which human predators identified potential victims was quite similar to how the lion picks a single deer from a large flock of similar-looking deer grazing in the grasslands. The lion watches the flock carefully from a distance, and then spots the deer which is moving slightly slower than its peers, perhaps because of a subtle deformity of its hind limb. The lion does not want to waste his precious energy by chasing a healthy deer that could outrun him.

Domestic violence: what no one likes to talk about

Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

Although eve teasing, ATM attacks, chain snatching and high-profile rapes get a lot of public attention, domestic violence is the real elephant in the room. Domestic violence appears in various forms and flavours. It is common, and under-reported. Examples can range from an unemployed alcoholic husband beating his wife, to a suspicious wife terrorising her husband by constantly threatening to kill herself for imaginary reasons.

Defending oneself and the rest of the family from domestic violence can be a terrifying experience for the suffering spouse. Fearing escalation or revenge, the abused partner suffers silently like the ostrich that buries its head in sand, hoping in vain that the problem would go away.

Just as alcoholism is an addiction requiring treatment by experts, suicidal behaviour is a common manifestation of psychiatric illnesses such as borderline personality disorder and depression. Without treatment, many people who initially make empty threats go on to complete suicide. Unfortunately, society trivialises such psychiatric symptoms, delaying diagnosis and treatment in the process. The spectrum of psychiatric illness in society was outlined in my earlier article.

Also read: Everyday Health | Scary but true: Psychiatric illness is more common than we think

Regardless of the cited reasons, domestic violence and suicidal threats have no place in a marital relationship. Ignoring or tolerating such behaviour will only make the problem worse. Without correcting the underlying problem, simply learning a few self-defence moves at a weekend course is not the solution here. Informing the local authorities early is the right thing to do. This could involve obtaining the help of social services and law enforcement as the case might be.

How to protect oneself if a person is already attacking us?

It depends on the type of violence involved.

Violence is classified into two forms: spontaneous and premeditated. A road rage incident is a spontaneous incident, where two strangers who started their day as a regular day got into an unexpected argument and a fight broke out.

This is quite different from premeditated assault, which is illustrated in the example below.

Example 4.

You are a 58-year-old man. It is 10 pm and the road is deserted. You are alone and you need to withdraw money from an ATM. As you are coming out of the ATM, a hooded man steps out of the shadows with a knife and politely asks for your money, ATM card and PIN number. You had recently attended a self-defence course and are confident of delivering a good strike. What is the best thing to do?

A: Shout for help and start running to your bike parked nearby

B: Grab hold of his hand and try to snatch the knife from his hand

C: Give him the cash, card and tell him the pin, calmly go home, inform the 24-hour helpline of the bank.

D: Surprise him with a kick on his knee, so that he will fall down and you can run away

Answer: C. This is an example of premeditated assault. This man has watched you, ascertained that you are a reasonable target and is approaching you with a lethal weapon. You do not know his fighting capability or whether he is on drugs or has killed anyone in the past. From his perspective, he does not want any trouble from you. He is not interested in harming you, and all that he wants is your material possession. In such a situation, the correct thing to do is to do exactly what he says, as the priority is to get away from that situation with minimum damage to your body and life. The money lost can be made up for, but a life lost cannot be.

In contrast to premeditated violence in the example above, domestic assault, drunken bar-fights and road rage attacks are typical examples of spontaneous violence. Once preventive strategies and de-escalation techniques fail and violence erupts, we have no option but to physically defend ourselves.

Basic skills to protect ourselves from assault

Before discussing specific manoeuvres, it is important to know some universal fighting principles first. Enrolling for a self-defence course is a good way to learn these and get some practice.

a. The most vulnerable part on our body is our head. A blow to our head can knock us out, sometimes even kill us. The part of the face below our eyebrow, the chin, the cheek and the temple (the area between the eye and the ear) are most vulnerable. Hence, protecting the head is a matter of priority.

b. It is important to have a 360-degree awareness when we are threatened with violence, so that we know what our escape routes are, and whether the attacker has associates lurking around.

c. We must maintain our balance, and avoid falling down. Hence the need for practising foot placement and deftly moving around according to the attacker’s position. Standing like a statue with feet close together during a fight is a certain recipe for a fall.

d. Our opponent might try to take control of our body by grabbing our wrist, collar, neck or hair. Once he achieves that, he will be able to deliver his punches easily and subdue us. Knowing the specific countermoves ahead of time will help us escape these situations.

e. Awareness is helpful at all times; it will help us avoid places of potential trouble. If our intuition or gut feeling is that a particular location is unsafe, it is better to go with it.

f. Running away from the scene is still the best form of defence; this is endorsed by all self-defence trainers. It is often said that once a fight breaks out, the loser goes to hospital, and the winner goes to jail. The point here is that there are no real winners in a fight; we are simply setting ourselves up for a series of unpleasant events to follow. For those few who might superficially argue that running away is cowardice, it is worth remembering that we are actually running away from the big three: chance of injury, death and imprisonment.

g. The same punch can be delivered with significantly more power after training. Amateurs just use the power of their hands and deliver weak, slow and clumsy punches. In contrast, professionals are able to deliver power from their legs, thighs, body, shoulders as well as their arms and forearms into the fists, generating immense speed and energy as the punch lands on target. This is because they are able to move the whole body as a single unit to deliver the punch, instead of moving just the wrist and elbow. This takes sustained training.

Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

h. No matter how big or strong the attacker is, his body has the same weak points that every human being has. These include the eyes, throat, solar plexus (midpoint between the chest and abdomen) and groin. The knees and shin are also vulnerable areas. A strike to any of these areas can stun most assailants.

i. The palm-heel strike, the ear slap, the elbow strike, the knee-to-groin strike and the head-butt are easy and practical techniques to deliver an effective blow without undergoing much training. The more we practice these, the better we get at it.

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

j. Once we are able to stun or disarm the attacker, our aim must be to get away as quickly as possible. Kicking a fallen assailant or delivering ‘further physical punishment’ is dangerous, illegal and could land us in prison.

1. How to block a punch and protect our head from injury

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan
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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan
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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

In most spontaneous outbursts of violence initiated by untrained people, a wild swinging punch aimed at our head is the first move from the attacker. Also termed the haymaker punch, experienced fighters do not do this because it is a clumsy move that can easily be blocked and subdued.

There are many ways of countering this punch, but the easiest method is to move swiftly aside, while maintaining a defensive posture. This involves lowering our chin to protect our face, and raising our arms to eye level with elbows bent and pointing forward, with our palms covering the top of our head. This means that a punch cannot land on that side of our head.

Among all our body parts, the back side of our forearm (the hairy side) is the safest to use as a shield against punches or assault weapons. The anatomy of that area makes it less likely to suffer from significant injury, when compared to other parts of the upper limb.

2. How to escape if someone grabs our wrist

From among several, the two most effective methods are:

» Take a step towards the attacker and quickly bend your elbow, pointing the elbow at his armpit. This will release the hold no matter how strong he is. Do not to allow him to catch hold of you again.

» Rotate your forearm so that the big bone on the same side of our thumb (radius) is aligned with the gap between his thumb and fingers. An abrupt pull will jerk our hand free from his grip.

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

3. How to escape if someone grabs our hair

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

Among many methods, the easy one to remember is to grasp his grip very firmly (like we would hold a hamburger) with both our hands, and rapidly turn our body around by 180 degrees. This will release his hold and we can run away.

4. How to be safe from chain snatching

Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

Wearing a gold chain on the neck is an invitation for chain snatchers who typically travel on bikes in pairs. Wearing no jewellery while going outdoors is the best option. Alternatives are to cover the neck with a shawl, or to remove the chain and keep it in our bag while we are walking outdoors. The problem with chain snatching is not just the loss of property, but the risk of head injury or death from falling on the hard ground, or suffering deep wounds in the neck as the chain gets pulled.

5. How to tackle an ‘eve-teaser’

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

Eve teasers generally prey on the meek and vulnerable. Walking confidently with eyes facing forward, particularly in groups will prompt most eve teasers to look elsewhere.

Animals use camouflage to escape from predators. For example, the praying mantis, certain moths and the chameleon can look exactly like their surroundings. Predator birds therefore fail to notice them. We could use the same idea to escape detection by potential eve teasers.

Slipping under the eve teasers’ radar by blending with our surroundings is one way to avoid harassment. For instance, in a particular locality where eve teasing is commonplace, if our aim is to not be picked as a target, wearing dresses that are grossly different from those around us is perhaps not the cleverest thing to do.

Keeping the numbers of local law enforcement helplines on fast dial on our mobile phone and promptly reporting eve teasers to the local police is also effective.

6. How to tackle the bus groper

These people travel on crowded public buses or trains, and derive pleasure by touching women without consent. Basically, they are cowards looking for easy prey and will not target you if you appear confident and capable of delivering a strike on their cheek if so required. They study the body language of women and mostly target younger people who they think would freeze and will be afraid to speak up. If such a person troubles you, the right thing to do is to give him a firm glare, move away and shout loudly to back off and to not touch you again. This will attract attention from fellow passengers, and will be enough to scare him off.

For hands that come prying from far, for instance through gaps in between seats, an effective strategy is to get a firm grip on the offender’s finger and then deliver a sharp prick using a large safety pin.

For uninvited sudden hugs from someone sitting by your side on a bench seat, swiftly driving your elbow sideways into his ribs will deliver enough pain to stop him from ever attempting that again on someone else.

7. How to bluff our way to fool a potential attacker

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

In the animal kingdom, bluffing is a common method of escaping from predators. For instance, the milk snake is harmless but has almost the same red stripes as the poisonous coral snake. Potential predators who know about the coral snake will therefore leave the milk snake alone, thinking it is also poisonous. Likewise, we can use sharp thinking to outwit our stalkers.

While walking alone and there is a chance of eve teasers noticing you, talking on the mobile phone in a loud voice to an imaginary male friend who is about to arrive to pick you up is a clever way to deter any stalker. While boarding a cab or autorickshaw alone at night, it helps to note the number down, and loudly inform an imaginary (or real) friend on the phone about your whereabouts and the vehicle’s registration number. Once the driver hears this, he will know that you are a seasoned and bold traveller, and will leave you alone from any devious plans.

Bluffing can also be used to deter thieves from entering your home. Displaying signs such as ‘beware of dog’, ‘you are under CCTV surveillance’, placing dummy CCTV cameras and motion-activated floodlights are cheap but popular tricks. The idea is to encourage the thief to look elsewhere.

How to create weapons from the environment around us

Quick thinking during desperate situations can provide us with surprisingly effective weapons from everyday objects around us. These can used to temporarily stun our attacker so that we can escape.

1. A steel ball point pen, gripped tightly, can be used as a tool to stab an attacker.

2. Car keys and metal hairclips can be used similarly.

3. A whistle is an easy tool to scare off any offenders, considered more effective than screaming. Attackers are generally afraid of noise because it attracts attention.

4. The hard edge of our mobile phone can be used to deliver a painful strike on the neck, ribs, hand or face.

5. A tightly rolled up magazine, torch or umbrella can be used as a club.

6. If we remove our heavy steel watch and put it inside our socks, we can create a powerful weapon by swinging it around.

7. A belt with a heavy steel buckle can used similarly.

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Graphics sourced by Dr Rajeev Jayadevan

8. Using a pepper spray or throwing chilly powder can be helpful if we can do it early enough, but fumbling for it during the time of need makes it an ineffective option.

9. Deodorant spray, when pointed at an attacker’s face, can stun him and give us just enough time to run away.

10. A handful of dirt (sand) can be thrown at an attacker’s eyes to temporarily blind him.

In summary, self-defence is a vast subject that includes constant awareness of our own environment, assertiveness, confident body language, knowledge of psychology and law, communication skills, de-escalation ability, diplomacy, common sense, physical fitness, and training in basic blocking and striking techniques. Contrary to the public perception that self-defence is about knowing how to fight, over 90% of it is about being street-smart and having an alert, disciplined, informed and quick-thinking mind.

(The author is a senior consultant gastroenterologist and deputy medical director, Sunrise group of hospitals)