Let's put the non-lethal fantasy to rest.
1. Never trust your assailant. No matter what they say, no matter how believable they may sound. If they need a ride some place or need you to go into a hallway or a room. No matter what- don't move. The real reason your assailant wants you to move is because he can't do what he needs to do in your present location. Since he can't do what he wants to you in your current location he needs to move you. A more recent example is the BTK killer Dennis Rader, the serial killer who terrorized Wichita for 31 years, naming himself BTK for "bind, torture, kill". Rader would convince his victims that he was only going to rob them and steal their car, but he needed to tie them up so they wouldn't call the police right away. Once the victim was tied up, he was able to do as he wished.
2. Your assailant will have a distinct advantage. You will most like be alone and out numbered. Your assailant already has a plan. So you better have one too. They pick the time and place. Whether it's a weapon, accomplices or sheer size; you're picked as a likely target because your attacker feels he has a great chance of imposing his will on you. You're not to blame: you're just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's it.
3. Simply running away solves a lot of problems. FBI studies show that would be victims who simply ran from a potentially violent encounter survived; even when the assailant used a fire arm. Rarely were the victims even fired upon. An in the small percentage of victims that were hit, all of the wounds were superficial. Have an evacuation plan.
4. Empty hand combat is the lowest rung of personal protection. The idea of dispatching all comers with a flick of a finger is a romantic fantasy. People that know better, prepare. Even if you look at how jujutsu practitioners of the 1800's armed themselves. In Serge Mol's book Classical Fighting Arts of Japan: A Complete Guide to Koryu Jujutsu you will see that these men carried a variety of knives, horse stirrups (used as brass knuckles) medal fans (see black jack), spiked rings and throwing shuriken or spikes. Even these men knew that hand to hand is and always will be a last resort or the situation was not life threatening. So you should take advantage of personal protection devices that will allow you to escape and survive a situation. It should be noted that the less lethal your intentions the greater the risk of your failure. Pepper foam, personal alarms, edged weapons are the next step up from empty hand methods. As Yonezuka sensei says "If you're really serious about self defense, buy a gun."
5. The myth that weapons can be taken away and used against you. A lot of so called "experts" subscribe to this myth. The idea of opting not to use a weapon and going to hand to hand technique is insane. People who promote this type of behavior should stick to movie choreography and romance novels. The use of a knife is the prime target of this comment. I suppose if you were to spar with the knife or even threaten with the knife (See West side Story, the Musical) maybe it could be "used against you". But if you are angry, and down right pissed off, you grip that thing like you were strangling it to death and proceed to plunge it into your target over and over again. I don't think there's a 'Grand Master' out there that will take it away from you. And in a grappling situation, as we say in jersey, Fageddaboudit, a knife is your best buddy. By the time the skel realizes he's being carved up like sushi, it's too late.
6. You will be in the fight of your life. It will not be clean, look pretty, poetic or feel good. You will have to scrape, bite, gouge, kick and claw your way to safety. You will be injured. And you will be exhausted. Keep in mind, an adrenalin burst lasts about 30 seconds and then you need about 3 minutes to recharge. So make that 30 seconds count. Check out Lt. Col. Dave Grossman's On Combat.
7. Specific Defenses don't work. The idea that you will be able to recall a specific response to each individual situation is not going to happen. The idea that if he does this, I do that or when he grabs my wrist I do one thing, when he grabs my arm, I do another is another fantasy propagated by my fellow martial artists. You will be lucky to recall only a handful of behaviors at best, so you better make them count. And when you're stressed you never really know what will come out so you better make sure it's the most effective ones. Any technique must be applicable to a wide variety of situations and positions and require a minimum amount of skill and effort. The best advice anyone can give you is to "fight like hell". And just try to destroy what's in front of you by any means necessary.
8. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Last night I was discussing the merits of pepper spray with one of the guys I train with who is a Port Authority police officer. He was recalling times were he sprayed targets and the pepper spray had little or no effect. The common misconception about pepper spray is that it will end the assault. As you may or may not know, a lot of emotionally disturbed persons (EDP) will just walk off the pepper spray. Most times, it only serves to enrage them further. Now what? Should you throw out your pepper spray? Of course not! Don't expect the pepper spray to end the fight. DO expect the pepper spray to afford you an opening to inflict greater damage or escape. Even if the spray simply causes your target to blink, it's done its job. All it has to do is create an opening, a little hesitation in your assailant's plan of attack; just enough to let you seize the opportunity, gain the advantage or escape.
When you train in close quarters combat/ self defense, always train with multiple, lethal strikes and have a variety of weapons in your arsenal. The same goes for empty hand technique. Don't depend on every technique you throw to hit its intended target or end the fight. You will miss a lot more than you hit. That's why you train with OVER KILL. You should go about two or three steps past what you would normally perceive as the "end" of the fight. Remember, it's better to be pleasantly surprised that gravely disappointed.
Realistically, hand to hand or empty hand techniques are best served when working in conjunction with weapons. The strike, kick or hold will allow you an opening to secure or use a weapon to end the fight as quickly as possible against any assailant.
PS. Check out these books as well:
Strong on Defense by Sanford Strong
The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker
Tough Target by J.J. Bittenbinder
On Combat by Lt.Col. David Grossman
Damian Ross is the owner of Zenshin and instructor of Tekkenryu jujutsu and Kodokan Judo. He started competing in the combative sport of wrestling in 1975 at the age of 7 and began his study of Asian martial arts with Moo Duk Kwan Tae Kwon Do at the age of 16 in 1984. In 1989, Shinan Cestari gave a seminar at Sensei Ross's dojo. Sensei Ross has trained under Shinan Cestari's direction ever since. In addition to Tekkenryu Jujutsu, Judo and Tae Kwon Do, Sensei Ross has also studied Bando. Sensei Ross continues his study of Judo under the direction of 8th degree black belt Yoshisada Yonezuka and Tekkenryu Jujutsu under it's founder, Carl Cestari. Below are is a list of some of his title ranks
Yodan (fourth degree black belt) Tekkenryu Jujutsu under Carl Cestari
Shodan (First degree black belt) Kodokan Judo under Yoshisada Yonezuka
Varsity Wrestling Lehigh University under Thad Turner
2nd Degree Black Belt Tae Kwon Do