It’s a cold January morning at 8am and I have just arrived at gym to set up the equipment for my latest 6 week self defence course. The class starts at 10am, but I like to get in early to get the training area ready to go for the 10 o’clock start. It also gives me some time to have a cup of tea and a chat with some of the new students. This is a vital part of the day, as the majority of people who are booked in are complete beginners and it always a sure bet that their adrenaline will be pumping as they get closer to the gym entrance. It is, after all a Saturday (their day off) so a friendly face & a warm cup of tea are always welcome.

I have been teaching Martial Arts & Self Defence for over 15 years now and in that time, the percentage of females who attend my classes, seminars & workshops has increased dramatically. I remember back to the early 80’s when I walked into my first martial arts class- there was one female amongst a whole group of men! In total today, there are 25 booked into today’s course – of which 12 are women. Over the past 15 years I have continued to train in various martial art systems which ultimately lead me into opening my first reality based self defence school 5 years ago, and this is what is planned the next 6 weeks- reality based self defence. Many of you who read this article will be wondering what the difference is with reality based self defence & martial arts. Let me briefly explain and give you REAL situation that happened to me 10 years ago.

I had normally used my motorbike to travel to and from work, but the bike was in dire need of a mechanical service, so I gave in and booked an appointment with a garage. The following 2 days (while the mechanic waited for certain parts to arrive) I had to rely on the bus! I remember thinking (while I waited on the bus) how uncomfortable I felt not having the luxury of my bike. I remember feeling angry about having to wait for the parts to arrive - how easily we take things for granted. My brain was engaged looking at how comfortable people where sitting in their warm cars that I didn’t notice the 2 thugs who where approaching me with bad intention on their mind. It only became obvious when one moved into my flank and at that stage it was almost too late. I had fallen into their trap, the classic ‘pincer approach’ - a favoured manoeuvre of the career street mugger. I was asked a question about money, I didn’t exactly hear what he said (this is a side effect to adrenaline reaction, which we will discuss later) and just then I was attacked! It seemed like an eternity, but of course it only lasted about 5 seconds. I was lucky, I managed to run away.

Before I go any further, let me give me you a brief description of myself. I stand 5ft 11 inches tall, I weigh over 14 stone and with a lifetime of continuous hard training 5 days a week has resulted in a solid physique backed up with a strong heart & lungs. So why was I chosen? Could these thugs not see I was not to be picked on? Was it not completely obvious that I was bigger than them and out weighed their drugged ravaged bodies by at least 3 stone? No they couldn’t see this – no more than I could see them planning their attack and that is why I was chosen as their target In a word what I lacked was AWARENESS. What just happened? I ran as fast as I could, but where was I going. I didn’t care .I just needed to get as far away from the scene as quick as my legs could carry me. Why hadn’t all my years training in martial arts helped me in this situation? The simple answer was that on the street there are no rules. I just hit everything and anything that came close & ran, but this wasn’t like anything we had been doing in the gym. These guys didn’t give me a chance to block, or adapt a stance, did they not understand that it was not part of the plan to spit in my face just before they whacked me!

This was to be the start of my continuous search for a system that would work under such conditions. For anyone who has practiced martial arts (including myself) you will be aware that all traditional martial systems have rules. When you face your opponent, they have a series of blocks and strikes that they can use against each other. If they get cut, the fight is stopped, if you’re not defending yourself, the ref will stop it, or if you’re really finding it hard going, your buddy will throw the towel iin.

This is why I now train primarily in RBSD (reality based self defence). I am not by any means advising you not to train in a traditional system, quite the contrary. Any traditional system you train in will have great benefits. It will increase your confidence, your fitness, your reaction time, your flexibility, all good stuff, but what it won’t do is prepare you for that bowel loosening, leg shaking, and temporary deafness that kicks in when faced with raw uncontrolled aggression.

My aim is to give you some advice on how to make yourself a HARD TARGET.

The first thing I tell all my students is that real self defence is 90% mind set and 10% technique. We must first understand the attacker’s rituals, before we can prepare ourselves.

Ritual of Violence:

Most attacks like the one I described are preceded by stalking and brain engaging dialogue. Most attackers will use dialogue as their pre-cursor for an attack. This is why it is so important to include this scenario type training on a regular basis. Many self defence Instructors I have trained with over the years fail to explain and teach what really happens both psychologically & physiologically when attacked.

We must be always switched on to our environment. If we are switched on to the attacker’s rituals, then usually you won’t be selected as a victim. Some common rituals (body language & dialogue) that we should always be aware of are:

Dialogue: Excuse me mate have you got a light? This is a common question that most of us will have been asked at one time or another.

Excuse me; I think you may have dropped this € 2 coin! Immediately you think. Nice Guy. He is a Good Samaritan.

Excuse me mate, would you have the right time please? This engages the brain while giving the attacker the opportunity to draw a knife on you.

Body language: Hand gestures to the face and mouth area. Subconsciously the attacker knows he wants his hands above you, so he will often hold his hand higher than yours, ready for attack. He will often cover his mouth while speaking (as if scratching his top lip with his index and thumb fingers (This is a natural instinct that is in us all from childhood. Think of the child telling a white lie and or blurting out a profanity and immediately covering his or her mouth. This is because what they are saying is a lie) or he/she may move their hands forward gesturing for you to light their cigarette.

Erratic eye and or head movement: This is because their adrenaline is pumping and they are twitchy- constantly scanning for police or bystanders involvement. Just before he launches his attack he may look past, through or around you constantly checking his environment.

The attacker will (whether he knows it or not) work off an action trigger. This is when he/or she asks a question. Excuse me misses do you know where the nearest newsagents is around here, and as soon as you go to answer your brain is engaged for a split second and this is his/her trigger to attack. This is just a small sample of the attacker’s rituals. But the one that we should al be aware of and never fall into is the Distance Close Down. What I mean by this is never to allow anyone into your personal space. Fully extend your arm out in front of you, with fingers extended…..this is your space and never allow anyone step into it PERIOD.

This is called a FENCE and it is drilled in every class, seminar or workshop I teach. It was devised and adapted by Geoff Thompson of the British Combat Association. Geoff is regarded by me and many of my peers as the greatest self defence instructor in the world. I was privileged to be asked by Geoff to teach his system in Ireland.

Ok so let’s look at putting in place a Self Protection Game Plan and how to make ourselves a Hard Target. In order of importance -

Awareness (avoids& escapes)

Situational Control


Continuous Attack


Awareness/Target Hardening (stay switched on and maintain a confident posture)

Avoid & Escape where possible.

If approached, protect space with the fence & move into a line-up position.

Verbally de-escalate the situation if possible.

If this fails, engage attackers brain, employ action trigger- Strike first, fast and hard then escape.

If necessary keep striking until threat subsides then escape.

Having a prepared game plan based around situational awareness will increase your reaction time and provide you with a pro-active opportunity to deal with the situation.

Remember the game plan the number 1 Priority is Avoid & Escape - Ultimately whoever is pre-emptive in a potentially dangerous situation is usually the person who survives the attack. This is very easy to say, but not so easy to do. Think of the situation:

Your standing at a bus stop, your tired after a hard day’s work, just before you left the office you had a few cross words with the boss, your mind is wandering. You’re not happy, you’re trying to remember what is in the fridge for dinner. Its cold – your hood is up, the scarf around neck and gloves you are wearing are slightly restricting your movement. You look down at your shoes and wonder why you hadn’t bought them tuff waking boots you promised yourself. At least they would be warmer than these lose, worn and out of style high heels. You look up and are a bit startled, you didn’t notice the guy who now is standing uncomfortably close to you. Sorry misses I didn’t mean to frighten you, the buses on this route are a nightmare. In a split second you weigh him up. Well dressed, well spoken, no visible tattoos, or over loaded with sovereign rings. You feel a bit relaxed as he makes small talk. Then in a blink of an eye the dialogue turns aggressive. This is complete shock to you. You gut instinct tells you that at any second you are going to be attacked. The only chance you have of stopping his attack is a Pre- emptive strike.

My Top 10 Tips:

1. Awareness: As I said earlier, if you are situational aware you will avoid most conflict situations.

2. Always be pre-emptive. In the majority of situations, whoever is pre-emptive will survive.

3. Be very aggressive when you attack, if your pre-emptive strike is weak this will only trigger more aggression from the attacker. Learn to hit with your body weight.

4. You must continually attack until the treat subsides.

5. In general women are physically weaker than men, so women must always strike at the parts of the anatomy that cause most pain and disorientation to the attacker or attackers. Mainly the face (below the eye line) a full body weight slap to this area will cause a brain shake in the attacker, but not forgetting the eyes. Remember it doesn’t matter how big or strong the attacker is he can never build muscle on his eyes.

6. Make sure the clothes you wear are functional. Think about the girl at the bus stop in the restrictive shoes and clothes. You don’t wear a karate uniform in the street. Make sure your reality training provides classes that allow you wear clothes that you would normally wear from day to day.

7. If you’re approached for your bag, phone, or money etc my advice is to hand it over. My items of monetary value can be replaced or are insured .Is it really worth dying for your mobile phone. But always be prepared. The attacker may want more than just your bag or phone.

8. When in your car: Always have the doors locked
Never pick up hitch Hikers. Always make sure you have enough fuel to go from A to B and back again.
Know how to change your spare wheel. If you get a flat tyre in an isolated area, drive extremely slow, but never stop until you are in an area that is safe to do so. A car can drive on 4 flat tyres at a slow speed.

9. Try to break into your own home! I know this might sound ridiculous, but I bet all of us will have locked ourselves out at one time or another. The reality of it is that we can do it relatively easy. So how easy would it be for a career criminal to break in and lay in wait for you to return. Make your home a HARD TARGET.

10. Analyze your typical day: Look at the times and places that you feel most venerable. You can bet this is when and where a potential attacker would choose. Change your routine now, and keep changing it if you again begin to feel vulnerable.

Stay Safe!
Aidan Carroll

Author's Bio: 

Aidan Carroll from Hard Target Self Defence has been teaching martial arts and self defence since 1990.The Hard Target syllabus was devised by Aidan based on his continued cross training experiences in the arts as well as his experience in live situations