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Self Defense and Principles of Power


Most self defense instructors and martial artists talk about maintaining a Reactionary Gap when confronted with a violent person. This gap is the space between you and the attacker that allows time — time to pull a gun, time to run, time to go from 0 to 60 mentally in preparation to fight.

Getting chest-to-chest or nose-to-nose with someone in a screaming match isn’t maintaining a good Reactionary Gap. Pointing a finger at someone and poking them in the chest with it isn’t maintaining a good Reactionary Gap. Shoving matches are the same.


But, sometimes the Reactionary Gap is gone before you know it. The attacker is suddenly in grabbing range. The time to think about a Reactionary Gap is gone for the moment until you can regain it by your actions.

Most people in smelling or grabbing range of an attacker will freeze or try to ball up into some protected position. If you know four Principles of Power (they come mainly from the grappling arts), this panic doesn’t have to own you.

Here they are*:


People with any common sense don’t lift a heavy object far away from their body at arm’s length. If you have to pick up a heavy box, you hold it close to your body. Why? You are stronger in close.

This doesn’t mean you can easily generate power if your arm is jammed into your own body, but you can execute a powerful elbow into an attacker’s rib inches away from your body. Foot stomps are in-close power moves. So are hammer fist strikes downward onto the nose, knees into the plexus point on the calf, and head butts.


When baseball players wind up to hit a baseball, they are “loading up the spring” so the body’s power can release suddenly. The powerful hits rise up from the feet, travel through the fast moving hips, and direct outward with the arms and hands to the bat. Compare this to a bunt — a slight hit on the ball with a quick tap of the bat as the ball comes in. The first hit uses the source of force from the whole body and sends the ball flying. The other uses a little arm power and the ball only travels a short distance.

The key to more powerful moves is putting the whole body into your counter-attacks. Don’t be like the old film stereotyped woman falling forward to beat her fists ineffectually on the chest of the big burly guy. Get your body into it!


Many traditional martial arts’ punches and kicks drive forward in a straight or linear move, but in close, the arc or circling moves hide more speed and power than you might image.

The previous discussion of the baseball players is a perfect example — the body moves in a circular unwinding motion as the bat follows along in an arc. It would be tough to move a bat in a linear fashion and get anywhere near the same power.

Many of the in-close release moves I teach involve turns, pivots, or other arcing or circling motions to negate the attackers hold or grab.


Have you ever been on a rope tug of war team when the other team decides to let go of the rope? The ones still pulling fall down in a pile. All that force has to go somewhere.

So what if someone grabs and pulls you? I’ve seen this on movies and in videos of actual kidnappings: A man grabs the wrist of a girl or woman and pulls her along with him. Few people realize the pulling motion is creating power. Power that can be turned against the kidnapper.

Imagine if the target resisted a bit. The bad guy would pull harder, possibly with a lean forward to better drag the person along. A quick move forward into the bad guy could make him lose his balance. Using his force with a side kick downward onto his exposed front knee would be nice, too. Just saying.

A similar borrowing of power can happen in a shoving match, but you have to pivot and sidestep fast without losing your balance. If you do fall, make sure they are on the bottom. As you might guess, I suggest you fall with a downward strike since gravity is helping, but that’s just me.


I know this is tough to read and understand without the visuals I can provide in a class setting, but I think you get the basics. Add these concept to your visualizing drills. You know, the ones where you play “What if…” in your mind in preparation for self defense situations.

Feel free to visualize while sitting in traffic, bored in a line, or waiting for someone. Think to yourself, “What if that guy pulled a gun?” or “What if someone tried to carjack me at this stop light?” or “What if that car jumped the median and came at me in my lane while I’m in this traffic jam?”

Now you’ll never be bored while waiting again.

Thank you for visiting and learning about self defense.
If you think others can benefit, please pass it on!

Lori Hoeck

Photo: Tambako the Jaguar

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Hilary November 25, 2010, 2:06 am

    Hi Lori .. that was a great read – I know & it’s Thanksgiving today! It is so well set out & we do forget that pulling force which can be turned to good effect, or the circular movement getting more oomph into our attack.

    What you say about .. what to think about while waiting around – does make sense, because if we have some visual mental idea – we can turn that to our advantage at what I sincerely hope will be a time that never comes.

    Really interesting .. & I’d be joining up – if you practising down the road!!

    Happy Thanks giving today .. Hilary

  • Eliza November 25, 2010, 2:34 pm

    Wow, this is excellent. I used to play the What If game while running in the early morning. I was always on the look out for a house with a light on, so that if I felt threatened I could head to that house and pretend it was mine.

    But what if I didn’t make it to the house? These are excellent strategies that I will add to my What If scenarios. By playing them over in my mind, in a panic situation —should one occur!–then memory should kick in.


  • Lori Hoeck November 25, 2010, 8:07 pm

    Hi Hilary,
    Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

    It’s amazing our bodies and minds can be powerful — as with the circular motions. And they are so easy to learn!

    Hi Eliza,
    Smart idea about keeping an eye out for lit up houses! During my green belt years, I spent hours and hours visualizing. I hate to admit it, but I wanted something to happen just because I thought I was ready. Now I understand the What Ifs are good to know, but better to never have realized.

  • Davina Haisell November 28, 2010, 1:53 pm

    I like the idea of “what-ifs” too, Lori.

    It can never hurt to be prepared, or to have a possible escape route.

  • Rishi January 5, 2011, 4:03 pm

    Understanding that circles are a very important source of effective energy use and a main element in a powerful combat system – “is a must know”. This allows for any person to apply force and the other principles of power without regard to the persons size or strength level. It steps up the game.
    The “what if’s” are a good way to “think and live in mind” and just plain – figure out the strong and weak situational circles before you are presented with the real combat situation. It saves lives…..
    Well done —- Good show
    Author, Maximum Combat- Finding the power in Ancient Martial Arts Principles