How to Survive a Physical Attack: Punches and Chokes

I consider physical training a crucial part of lifestyle design and optimization. This is the first of two posts that will focus on practical strategies for surviving a full-force physical attack.

Parts I and II focus on stand-up defense against punches and chokes, and parts III and IV — taught with UFC grappling coach, David Camarillo — will focus on ground escapes and finishes.

Trained competitive fighters have a wide range of techniques, but I will limit the video tutorials below to simple-to-remember defenses against the most common attacks for men and women in the standing and ground positions. First we’ll look at punch defenses for men (especially against the overhand right) and choke defenses for women… A few notes:

1. Women effectively prepare to overcome real-life confrontations in one way: training in a supportive environment with stronger men who use force. Most women have never dealt with male strength and will freeze if they are unaccustomed to actually being pinned down, choked, etc. Learning techniques with no resistance with other women is comfortable but does nothing.

2. Do not strike with your knuckles, unless you want to break your hands.

3. Chokes are better than large-joint manipulation (elbow lock, kimura, etc.). I’ve seen Brazilian fighters on Nubain have arms and ankles snapped, only to continue fighting and win. Don’t underestimate the power drugs and adrenalin can give your opponent. Pain can be overcome, unconsciousness cannot.

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41 Replies to “How to Survive a Physical Attack: Punches and Chokes”

  1. Very nice work Tim, very well explained in the simplest fashion. It would be great to show more of this. Good you point out the knuckle trap. You should see the hands on some of the bare knuckle fighters in Galway! Pulp.

  2. Nice couple of vids there Tim, I’m a big fan of the knees and elbows – although I’d like to see more eye-gouging 😉 Looking forward to the next couple, as my groundwork is pretty bad…

  3. Tim, what about small joint manipulation? While technically illegal by traditional wrestling terms, I’d read of martial arts where by controlling the fingers or thumbs or your opponent you can control their arm movement to help defend an attack.

  4. You bring out some very good points in this post, especially concerning the effects of Nubian as well as females training with no resistance. As for not using knuckle-contact punches, I am guessing you would suggest open palm strikes. Please correct me if im wrong on this. Bas Rutten’s technique on his videos has always been a prime example of proper ways of striking(just in my opinion). Thanks for the great information.

  5. From another person who has studied several martial arts extensively, you did a great job explaining and even covered some of the pitfalls of common self-defense education (such as not keeping your elbows close during a clinch).

    Also big kudos on using the elbows as opposed to fists. Elbows are sturdier and do much, much greater damage.

    You’re an excellent teacher, Tim.

  6. Best office meeting ever Tim! Thanks.

    In all seriousness, this brings up a good point. Someone really did break into my apartment in SF a few weeks ago, while I was sleeping, and I’m very happy they only took the macbookpro. I can’t believe how many people have told me about similar experiences. Everyone should be able to know how to get out of a bad situation.

    So, practice your moves! (me too!)

  7. *THIS* is “experiments in lifestyle design”, in the vein of the 4HWW? I think Tim’s just run outta ideas. Next thing you know he’ll be teaching judo to Napoleon Dynamite.

  8. The first video looks like the block from Muay Thai.

    I personally prefer the triangular blocking of Wing Chun, but then it takes some practise.

    I wouldn’t go for the knees either, prefer a sharp kick to the knee-cap or ankle joint.

    I’d like to see a female do the second move under real pressure though, like you mentioned in your post.

    Good stuff Tim, keep up the original content!

  9. I just earned my first Boxer’s Fracture this week! Cool badge, but a broken fifth metacarpal is no fun to deal with. Definitely a good recommendation to stay away from knuckle punches.

  10. Not bad tim, but I would have demonstrated the chokehold counter with a real choke hold. While I realise a compleatly untrained coomatant may use a lock like that, it is by far the easiest to get out of for several reasons which im sure your aware off. This crowd seems kowledgeable in fighting to at least some degree, but for those that arnt… For starters the way the girl is holding her hands is one of the weakest ways to lock hands. Secoundly, a much better lock is what I’ve always heard refered to as the figure 4 lock. This would be locking the choking arm with your elbo and placeing your hand behind thier head. While there are still escape methods, its a much harder hold to get out of, and I’ve seen untrained fighters use it all the same.

  11. Hi Tim!

    My previous question was never posted – I hope it’s not a deliberate attempt at censorship…

    In your book, you state that you are a cage fighter who vanquished several world champions in MMA (mixed martial arts). I searched all available MMA databases, and could not find you in any of them. Do you mind telling us who those champions were, and where you guys fought?

    Thank you so much!


    Hi O!

    Thanks for the question! No censorship, just the normal delay in moderation. I struggled with a good term to use for “submit,” as most people don’t know what submissions are. I chose “vanquish,” which sounds a bit Jean-Claude action movie, but it was the best word I could find 😉 Similar use of “cage fight” to explain MMA for those unfamiliar.

    The submissions were from two separate visits to Japan — first from 1992-93, then around 2001/02 — in dojo matches, not professional MMA fights. I have never claimed to be a world champion in MMA, but I do train with excellent fighters and have submitted some top competitors. Here are a few:

    Rumina Sato (Shooto):

    He was a legend and was for years the most feared lightweight Japanese MMA fighter on the circuit. He choked out Yves Edwards in 13 seconds. In a dojo match, he snapped my ankle in a heel hook (this technique can be seen clearly in the following clip) and I returned the favor by tapping him out with a rear-naked choke. The guy was a nightmare, and I ended up worse for wear with a permanent injury:

    Manabu Yamada (Shooto):

    Shooto superstar at the time. I caught him in a kneebar, his own specialty technique. Heavy hands, too.

    Yuki Nakai (Shooto, Japan Vale Tudo, BJJ Mundials):

    Most well-known for fighting Rickson Gracie and being an incredible tactician (also mostly blind after being illegally eye-gouged). I caught him in an Achilles hold. For his size, the guy is a phenom against larger opponents.

    Ishii (Shooto):

    I fought this lightweight at the Purebred gym (Enson Inoue’s school) in Omiya, Tokyo. I don’t remember his first name, but I caught him twice with Achilles holds.

    Off the top of my head, those four come to mind. Note that I’m not saying — and never have — that I can beat these guys in 5-round UFC fights. It comes down to specific training sessions using MMA rules. Could — and did — some of them submit me as well? Hell, yes. It makes perfect sense that I’m not in the professional fight records, as these weren’t professional fights.

    I’m now rehabbing torn Achilles and medial ligaments, but I usually train at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA –, where fighters like Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Josh Thomson, and John Fitch train with Javier Mendez. I’ve backed off of most striking since having total reconstructive surgery on my left shoulder, but my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) teacher is Dave Camarillo. He was a black belt instructor under Ralph Gracie. I have also trained at the following camps with pro fighters:

    Scandinavian Top Team (Oslo, with “Hellboy” Joachim Hansen)

    Brazilian Top Team (Rio) (photos of this on Flickr)

    Fairtex Muay Thai (Bangkok)

    Kiguchi Dojo (Tokyo — This is where several great fighters, including Takanori Gomi, train)

    Note that the fights with the world champs were gym fights (called “dojo yaburi”) and not at big venues. This is perfectly in line with the wording in the book, but if I were phrasing it for people in the game who know the lingo, I would probably use fight-specific synonyms to say something like: I’ve submitted several world champions and world-caliber fighters in MMA (Shooto and some Pride) and train with professional MMA fighters.

    Am I the best in the world? Far from it. Am I a world champion in MMA? Negative on that as well. But world champions get tapped all the time in training. On a few occasions, have I been the one to get the taps? Yes.

    Hope that helps, and thanks for contributing to the discussion!


  12. Wow. Thanks for answering!


    My pleasure. Sorry I wasn’t able to get to it sooner!

    All the best,


  13. Hi Tim – nice post, I totally agree that self-defense is a core ‘life-style skill’. Hard to have a 4-hour work week if you’re spending 168 hours a week dead.

    One mild technical critique: the defense you show against strikes is excellent if you are SURE the attacker doesn’t have a weapon (knife, bottle, etc). In a retrospective study the US Krav Maga folks did about attacks on police officers, a high percentage of the police who were stabbed in street encounters didn’t even know the attacker HAD a knife until much later when they were bleeding out. The stab-ees thought they had just been punched – only to see the puncture wound later.

    So a lot of the Krav punch defenses are away from the body, so that IF the punch is actually a knife attack you didn’t see, your defense is still effective. See

    (I have no affiliation with that site, just found it w/ google).

    I think the two topics that differentiate self-defense from ring sports are situational awareness and multiple attackers. Situational awareness becomes super-important with SD because unlike a defined ring you’re dealing with random surfaces, unclear exits, crowds, etc. Multiple attackers are always a potential problem too – you can’t know if the person you’re defending yourself against has 3 friends waiting to bash you with a rock. (That’s my only complaint about the Jiu Jitsu I’m studying now – if you’re rolling around trying to choke a guy out, how can you keep from getting brained by his pal with a bat?)

    I’d be interested to hear your take on situational awareness issues in SD – I can imagine when bouncing you had to do some quick threat assessments and deal with multiple opponents? Have you had a chance to train in any ‘non-ring’ systems like CDT, Krav etc?

    I enjoyed the post, many thanks!

  14. Tim – your teachings with respect to punch and choke defenses are nice. They have some similarities to what we teach.

    Our system was invented by Bill Underwood, a brit who emigrated to Canada a long time ago. He has passed away, but his system lives on through the only living person who was an instructor for him back in the 80s (our system head).

    If you are ever in Toronto you would be warmly welcomed to come train with us for an evening. We could show you things that are extremely complementary to Brazilian JJ, and outstanding / simple tools to add to your own skill set.

    Contact us anytime.

  15. These are really good techniques. It’s important to remember though, that it would be virtually impossible to execute in a real life situation unless it was practiced extensively beforehand. In a stressful situation, it’s only muscle memory and experience that would allow you to execute any type of defense like these. The best advice for women with no training is to stay out of potentially dangerous situations (parking lots at night, etc.) and to not be afraid to yell – very, very loudly. I recommend for every woman to take at least some basic self defense from a good school.

    That said – great videos. You’re an excellent teacher.

  16. Hi All!

    Let me try and answer a few of the questions and comments:

    1. Small joint manipulation is valid, just don’t forget that someone can knock you out while you’re going for the hold. Next time you drill, but a 16-ounce glove on your partner’s free hand and let them hit you at 50% power. It’s a different world.

    2. I am a fan of some of the Krav Maga weapon defenses (some, but not all), but I’ve never seen a Krav Maga person beat a good MMA or BJJ fighter, even when illegal moves are permitted.

    3. Situational awareness is very important. I tend to avoid most bars altogether, and I always assume that a potential aggressor has a weapon. I encourages you to use your mouth for diplomacy or negotiation vs. getting into a brawl. I’ve never seen anyone but good boxers and good muay thai fighters take out multiple opponents, and that’s assuming you have them all in front of you. Three big football players could still kill Lennox Lewis if they surrounded and attacked at once. Bruce Lee taking our a building of people is for the movies. If you don’t believe me, let an athletic friend get a choke on you from behind at the same time that you let another friend hit you with 16-ounce gloves from the front. No fun.

    4. I’m not out of ideas for the blog! Please note that this is NOT a strict 4HWW blog. It is about lifestyle design and otherwise a place for me to explore different concepts. I already wrote the 4HWW and have no desire to rewrite it on this blog. I’ll cover tons of related topics, new techniques, etc., but this blog is broader.

    5. Dave Camarillo will talk more in the next videos 😉

    Have a great weekend, everyone!


  17. I agree with you Tim that krav manga wouldnt be the best choice for a MMA fight, even with illegal moves, simply becuase thats not what krav manga is designed for. It’s main focus is the weapon defense, useing particular types of weapons, such as the isrealies implimentation of useing an ak47 for hand to hand, and the type of fighting you would run into such as bar fights, or millitary combat (hence why the isreali millitary uses it), not so much a competition fighting style. Yes, thats more or less where all other forms of martial arts roots are as well, but most are tought more as sport then they are as military offense/defense where they spawned from. Theres also something to be said when you have a chance to phych your self up for a fight, compared to a spontainious one. As a former bouncer(spontanious) and professional fighter (planned) im sure you realise this well though.

  18. oh and i’d like to add, that judo is on my list of things i would like to learn in the next year : ) though im no Napoleon Dynamite

  19. Mike, if you like judo, you HAVE to see the throws at the end of the next installment. Dave is Olympic-caliber and BJ Penn calls him the best in the world at combining jiu-jitsu and judo.

  20. I’ve seen Brazilian fighters on Nubain have arms and ankles snapped, only to continue fighting and win. Don’t underestimate the power drugs and adrenalin can give your opponent. Pain can be overcome, unconsciousness cannot.

    Powerful thinking – and relationally, another lesson in life.

    That last sentence’s a WOW (and so’s Karl’s point about it being hard to have a life – much less a 4HWW lifestyle – if you’re 168 hours/week dead!)

    Metaphorically speaking, isn’t all this just as true when your opponent is the story in your mind that tells you what’s real, fixed and absolutely true – like you have to trade your time for money, work till you retire ‘someday’, and only a select few have both time and money…

    Self-defence for the mind means you keep on taking the red pill…

    Thanks Tim

  21. Hi Tim / Et Al –

    Re “2. I am a fan of some of the Krav Maga weapon defenses (some, but not all), but I’ve never seen a Krav Maga person beat a good MMA or BJJ fighter, even when illegal moves are permitted.”

    … I totally agree that 1-on-1 a good MMA/BJJ fighter would usually win vs most Krav practitioners. Krav suffers from being over-hyped and perhaps over-marketed as well, resulting in a lot of semi-trained / out of shape folks with an exagerated sense of their capabilities. Plus, it’s really not designed for one-on-one submission fighting. That said, I think there’s a lot of value to the Krav mindset and toolbox. You might not know who /how many opponents you are facing, you might or might not be dealing with weapons, the attacker might or might not be rational, etc. I think it teaches valuable lessons about adaptability, and uses easily trainable gross muscle movements to deal effectively with a lot of situations – some of which straight BJJ isn’t a good fit for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m spending 6 hours a week on BJJ now, and love it!

    On another topic, an instructor of mine when I lived back East recommended the following book, which I’m re-suggesting to anyone interested in situational awareness: “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker.


    Great stuff re assessing the typical escalation ladder of violent encounter, reading conversational subtexts, etc. Check it out…



  22. Worth reading: Gavin De Becker’s “Gift of Fear”, an interesting study of typical patterns of violence, recognizing the ‘ladder’ of pre-violent actions, reading conversational subtexts that suggest sketchy behavior, etc. Deals nicely with the ‘myth of the rational attacker’. Great stuff re situational awareness.

    You can get it on Amazon here:



  23. First off, protecting yourself from an overhand right or a hook would work well with your technique. However, if you have any striking training, you realize the closest distance between two points is a straight line, and if someone throws a straight right or left jab, you’re gonna get caught. Second, holding someones head and giving them a knee invites them to catch the knee and body slam you on a very likely, hard surface. Grapplers don’t seem to care about this, because “ground and pound” is their game, but speaking from experience it makes a difference. Low knees to the groin would be better than going for the head, the exception would be that nice combo where you move the arm and pull the head down for low knee strike the head. The elbow advice is good, breaking your hand on someones skull, is no fun, whereas again speaking from experience, an elbow will absolutely obliterate a persons face with minimal incurred damage.

  24. I don’t really think your videos are valid from a self defense perspective. As you said in the video, in a self defense situation you don’t need to win, you “only” need to survive. Always run when possible/practical. To even be able to clinch someone as a novice, while he/she is punching you and have control over the clinch is a challenge in itself. I think that the choke defense is more accurate, but very basic. To be able to break(?) someones grip is hard.

    If you want to learn self defense I personally think Krav Maga or Defendo is the way to go, but I don’t know about the quality of the training in the US. I’ve heard it’s very fitness oriented. Any system/studio/whatever who trains under “realistic” conditions should be fine. Self defense and fighting is really two different things.

    My 2 cents.. wait euro cents.. no, öre! 🙂

  25. Hey

    I noticed that no one responded to Mad’s comment, and I know that its a little late, but I think that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu would be a great choice for any “shorties.”

    I’m a 16 year old girl who weighs 106 lbs, and Im in the Martial Arts club in my school with 30 guys who weigh 200-300 lbs each and I can still put up a fight. Within a few weeks, I was named President of the club due to my enthusiastic spirit and the fact that I never back down even though I’m less than half their size.

    Just recently I fought the teacher and won, so if you want to learn a martial art that will give you an equal advantage, Jiu Jitsu is it.

  26. You talk about not hitting with your knuckles. I wish you would get into greater detail about that subject in a You Tube movie for us to view. I assume you are refering to either the side of your hand & or the finger bones under the knuckle? Got any advise or feedback please lt me know.

    Thank you,

    Kevin Rix.

  27. In the battle for Freedom we might find this useful.. how about a way to prevent a Taser shock when it is used on you for no reason.. many times repeatedly over and over again.. like what happened at UCLA last year and what is occurring all across the nation at this time..

    Brutal abuse of power by bad police.. The good ones need to stand up to their evil brethren..

  28. I think the best advice that my trainer gave me, who also happens to be an MMA fighter, was that the majority of women that survive an attack do so because they are mentally prepared for it.