Size and Strength in Self-Defense

Updated: Jun 21

Being smaller isn’t a reason to fear fighting back. The one-two punch for

defending against a bigger, stronger attacker has nothing to do with size or

strength. Wing Chun, a centuries-old martial art, is the only mainstream

fighting style created by a woman. Ng Moi, a small, frail Buddhist nun

specifically designed Wing Chun to counter her lack of size and strength. If

you’re a smaller person, or lack strength or athleticism, you may be

surprised to learn how much pain you can inflict on an attacker, even a

much bigger and stronger one, using Wing Chun techniques, and others.


“The one-two punch for defending against a

bigger, stronger attacker has nothing to do with

size or strength.”


As a self-defense instructor I warn my students regularly to watch out for

the smaller person you may engage—it’s an advantage for the opponent

some people don’t think about. Shorter men and women are lower to the

ground, giving them excellent balance. Growing up smaller in stature they

often take up wrestling or Jiu-Jitsu in high school or later. If trained, they’ll

shoot for your legs, wrap you up, and have you flat on your back before you

ever knew what hit you. The next thing you know, they’re sitting on your

chest backwards, immobilizing you with their ankles wrapped around your

leg and neck, and torquing your knee in the wrong direction, causing

immense pain and serious injury if you don’t submit. You can defend

against ground fighters with anti-grappling techniques, but it takes practice.


Additionally, shorter persons can make themselves even smaller by

lowering their weight, tucking their head and chin, and covering their head

or body with their arms, offering very few targets to strike cleanly. Being

smaller than average has its advantages in a violent encounter and it

should not be a reason to fear confrontation.

A lighter weight person can fight effectively if they know where and how to

strike to maximize pain, avoid being taken to the ground, and utilize their

speed to escape after initially stunning an attacker. One of the best

weapons a slight person holds is that bad guys never expect them to fight

back.


“One of the best weapons a slight person holds

is that bad guys never expect them to fight

back.”


When they do, with a fury of speedy eye jabs, throat punches, nose

crushers, and knees and kicks to the body, the assailant is caught

completely by surprise and is disoriented enough to allow for the target’s

escape. That is, if the assailant doesn’t run away himself first!

A non-athletic person may be intimidated by the idea of self-protection

training. They may have it in their mind that inflicting physical pain on

someone, or anyone, is a fantasy, but that’s not usually the case. While

some non-athletic people find the very idea of fighting itself terrifying, I have

had non-athletic students of various sizes, ages, and weights who have

come alive and thrived when they discovered, say, how effective they are

at stopping or slowing a taller, stronger opponent. (And they love releasing


their pent-up stress on the heavy bags and practice dummies, many

throwing a real punch for the first time in their lives.)

The more fighting skills you learn and the more repetitions you complete,

the more natural your instincts will develop. Actions and reactions start to

happen swiftly and powerfully without you even thinking about them. This,

in turn, leads to quiet confidence, and confidence builds self-esteem. You’ll

look like a more formidable opponent to those unaware of your skills

without ever throwing a punch in their presence. Predators and bullies will

wait for less confident prey just by sizing up the lack of fear and intimidation

in your demeanor. Start slow and gradually work your skill level up to meet

your goals—but start! You wouldn’t drive a car without some practice, and

you don’t want a violent encounter to be the first time you’ve ever thrown a

serious punch.


“You don’t want a violent encounter to be

the first time you’ve ever thrown a serious

punch.”


It takes more than skills however to prevail in a violent encounter. All the

boxing or martial arts training in the world won’t help you in a fight if you

lack the conviction to fight back. I’d place much better odds on the survival

of the untrained person who didn’t hesitate to unleash everything they had,

as fast as they could attack, against a criminal predator than someone with

self-defense training who lacked confidence in their fighting abilities. If you

don’t believe you can defeat your enemy, you probably won’t. The one-two

punch for defeating a bigger opponent is simply conviction and confidence.


Conviction comes from a properly developed self-defense mindset and the

foundation of that mindset is confidence, which comes from training and

practice.


David Kerr is a martial arts expert and self-defense instructor for FitSport Kinetics,

Pasadena, California. He is also the co-author of the book “Idiots to Monsters: The

Essential Guide to Surviving Common Threats & Violent Encounters.”


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