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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Posted on: September 7, 2007.

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41 comments on “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. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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!)


  6. *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.


  7. 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!


  8. 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.


  9. 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!



  10. Wow. Thanks for answering!


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

    All the best,



  11. 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!