Self-Defense “Moves”: The Good, Bad and the Ugly – Erik Kondo

Popular movies such as Miss Congeniality have given the idea of self-defense “Moves” popular appeal, particularly among women. In the case of the movie, the Hollywood “Moves” targeted S.I.N.G. (Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin). Generally speaking, men are more interesting in learning how to “fight”, while women are more interested in learning self-defense “Moves” to repel sexual assault.

I am going to focus on the Good, Bad, and Ugly of instructing self-defense “Moves” for women.

The BAD of Some Self-Defense Moves

  • If you are using a self-defense Move, then you are being attacked. Knowing Moves don’t help you prevent from being attacked in the first place.
  • Moves assume that the victim will actually “fight back” as opposed to being frozen in fear.
  • Learned Moves are subject to the Forgetting Curve meaning that most of what is “learned” will soon be forgotten anyway in an exponential manner.
    Knowing how to do a Move, doesn’t mean you know when to do the Move and when not to do it.
  • The implication of an instructed Move is that it is better than an instinctive response. Therefore, the Move is intended to replace instinctive actions. According to research, 80% of women who actively resist in some manner are successful in stopping the assault. For the instructed Move to be reliable and worthwhile, it needs to have an even higher success rate than instinctive actions.
    Learning a Move, doesn’t mean you know what to do if the Move fails to work as intended.
  • The instruction of Moves tends to lead students to believe that there is a single right way and many wrong ways to act as opposed to better and worse ways of responding.

The UGLY of Some Self-Defense Moves

  • Learning these Moves, gives you false confidence, and makes you think you can do things that you really can’t. This false confidence encourages a tendency for you to put yourself in risky situations that you might have otherwise avoided.
  • These Moves place you in more vulnerable position if the Move fails.
  • Instruction of these “killer” Moves promote the misleading impression that all assaults come from strangers and are life and death situations.
  • These Moves when used without judgement are likely to escalate situations as opposed to de-escalating or providing the opportunity to escape.

The GOOD of Some Self-Defense Moves

  • Good self-defense Moves are not really Moves at all. They are effective responses in certain situations.
  • Good Responses are modifications of instinctive actions that you are likely to do anyway.
  • Good Responses are taught to beginners through the use of conditioning as opposed to rote instruction.
  • Good Responses are taught to beginners in manner that is more about the experience of the instruction and less about what is actually learned. Experiences tend to be remembered while instruction is not.
  • Good Responses have a higher probability of making the situation better and a lower probability of making the situation worse.
  • Good Responses encourage “breaking the freeze”.
  • Instruction of Good Responses “gives permission” to act and break out of socially conditioned scripts and reactions.
  • Good Responses encourage critical and dynamic thinking.
  • Good Responses take into consideration a person’s potential emotional, psychological and physiological state.
  • Good Responses incorporate ethical and legal considerations.
  • Good Responses can deal with both of the scenarios described below:

In the following two scenarios, the factors are the exact opposite which is an illustration of how much variability is involved in assaults.


  1. The assailant is a stranger. (creepy guy, dangerous serial predator)
  2. He attacks from an ambush. (surprise attack)
  3. The attack occurs in a public place. (parking lot, public park, sidewalk, etc.)
  4. The attacker forces victim into secluded area. (dark alley, behind a bush)
  5. The attacker uses a weapon and/or high physical force. (knife, gun, hard strikes, strangles, etc.)
  6. The victim fights back unsuccessfully. (flails, kicks, screams, etc.)
  7. The victim reports the crime to the police. (right after the attack)


  1. The assailant is known to the victim. (friend, date, boyfriend, acquaintance, family member, co-worker, boss, etc.)
  2. There is a buildup to the assault. (interview, boundary testing, etc.)
  3. The assault happens in private area. (apartment, dorm room, private vehicle, etc.)
  4. The victim went voluntarily to the assault location. (wanted to go, was manipulated into going)
  5. The assailant doesn’t use a weapon, uses coercion or minimal force.
  6. The victim doesn’t fight back. (frozen in fear, incapacitated by drugs/alcohol, didn’t want to make the assailant angry, unwilling because of existing relationship)
  7. The victim doesn’t report the crime to the police. (doesn’t tell anybody, or only after a long period of time)

The notion of Self-defense “Moves” is ingrained in the public and in many self-defense instructors. Since it is unlikely that this thinking will disappear any time soon, effective “Moves” should focus on the GOOD and avoid the BAD and UGLY.

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