Self Defense Moves Everybody Should Know

Gershon Ben-Keren, of Charlestown's Krav Maga Yashir, gives us a crash course.

Gershon Ben-Keren is not a fan of generalized safety tips. “Get away from, ‘Always do this, don’t do that,'” he says. “If you’re able to understand a developing situation, you have a chance to prepare, possibly a chance to avoid, and that can get your self defense to work.”

Ben-Keren, a Krav Maga expert and former security professional with a background in psychology, prefers to teach a scenario-focused program called Situation Effective Protection System (SEPS) at his Charlestown studio, Krav Maga Yashir. “What we normally do is give much more general pieces of advice, and we don’t really refer to techniques, we refer to solutions,” he says.

For example, Ben-Keren says a big part of his approach is learning to decide whether to use self defense at all, a conclusion he reaches with a simple “decision tree.” The first step is determining whether the attack is premeditated—a mugger, for example—or spontaneous, maybe someone who grows aggressive in a bar.

A spontaneous incident, Ben-Keren explains, can often be deescalated without any violence. “The easiest way to get someone back to their reasoning brain is to ask them open-ended questions,” he says. For example, if you spill someone’s drink in a bar, asking him, “What can I do to sort this out?” has a better chance of defusing the situation than telling him to calm down, or even offering to buy a new drink. Only if that doesn’t work and he becomes violent should you attempt self defense.

If the attack is premeditated and the assailant is after resources, such as money, Ben-Keren says it’s safest and wisest to acquiesce. If they’re after you, then you should jump to self defense.

Not sure how to do that? Ben-Keren’s studio offers free lessons for women every Saturday morning, a co-ed program, and private and corporate training sessions. For a quick crash course, he showed us a few key moves everyone should know.

If you’re grabbed by the wrist:
1. Circle the attacker’s arm around, so it’s out straight. This is a more vulnerable position, and recruits some strength away from the grip on your wrist.
2. Firmly strike—don’t push—the wrist with an open palm.
3. Move away quickly.

If you’re grabbed by the wrist from behind, repeat that process, pivoting first to get better leverage.

If you’re grabbed by the shirt:
1. First, regain your balance.
2. Grab your attacker’s arm and pull it toward you to steady yourself.
3. Put pressure on his or her thumb, and push it away.
4. Move away quickly.

If you’re grabbed with full body contact:

1. Look for soft, vulnerable points that you can reach easily. Keren suggests grabbing the throat, pushing on the eyes, or hitting—not kicking—the groin.
2. Strike or push the area with as much force as possible.
3. Move away quickly.

Here, he demonstrates how to attack the eyes…

…and I demonstrate (slowly) how to attack the groin.

If your attacker has a knife:

1. Shrug your shoulders.
2. Pivot, leading with your shoulder, and press the knife-wielding arm away from you.
3. Run away as quickly as you can.

Krav Maga Yashir, 200 Terminal St., Charlestown,

—Videos by Dana Guth