I’m being only slightly sarcastic with this Top 10 list. I’m going to assume that one trained in the martial arts – whatever discipline – will know pretty well what to do in a combat situation, so my list is more for the untrained:
1) Run away. If all you are defending is yourself, why fight IF you can avoid it? Your money or your life? Please! Give up the cash.
2) If you can’t run, scream. Most thugs – although not all – don’t want an audience. If you’re in a place where no one can hear you, why? Avoid isolation, especially at night and in unfamiliar urban settings. If you do go to these places, carry Mace or some other brand of pepper spray.
3) If neither escape nor help are forthcoming, face your attacker, especially if you are knocked to the ground. The worst possible mistake (and it's one the untrained often make) is to roll onto your stomach – a totally defenseless position. Face the attacker. Your head must be square to his, but turn your body to one side, which cuts down his target area. (In this I disagree slightly with Sifu Böztepe’s point #8.) Your body will square around, of course, if and when he comes at you and you respond.
3) Breathe deeply and as calmly as possible through the nose. (Not to the point of hyperventilating, of course.) For one not trained – and even for many who are – this is tough, but proper breathing is essential. Nothing exhausts a fighter as quickly as the tension that arises from poor breathing (especially from holding your breath), just as nothing makes a fighter more effective that keeping cool. Anger and rage are blinding your attacker; don’t let them (or fear) blind you.
4) Scan the attacker’s body, seeking targets, but be especially aware of his eyes, since they’ll signal his intentions. Key targets are obvious: testicles, diaphragm, and – my personal favorite – the orbital bone. A well-placed reverse punch to this last area (the top of the eye socket) will cause the attacker’s eye to swell shut in a matter of seconds. But for most people, a swift kick to the nuts will be the most effective technique. Above all, know what you’ll do. As we say: Plan your work and work your plan. We also say: Block soft, hit hard. Use your opponent’s momentum to move his body away from yours; shift the angle of your body relative to his and make your blocking movements fluid, “soft.” (Goju-ryu is Japanese for "hard-soft style.")
5) In other words: Counter his attack. Unless you are confident in your skills, I believe it’s best to use the attacker’s movements against him. Pre-emption is for black-belts. If the two of you end up in a stand-off, so what? But if he attacks, a classic counter would be: if he dives in at your waist, smash a knee into his nose. Nothing turns a blowhard into a coward faster than his own blood. But when and wherever you strike, hit hard, and use combinations: kick-punch-kick. And sight in each technique. Never take your eyes off the target.
6) Be committed. Above all, BE COMMITTED. An attacker will only be inflamed by a half-hearted kick or punch. If you are about to be raped, beaten, or murdered, fight for your life. It will not go worse for you if you fight like hell. It will almost certainly go better. Most of us have astonishing inner reserves of power, and most attackers want no part of a vigorous resitance.
7) Be quick. Speed equals power. I was sitting in zazen one day in the dojo where I trained – the oldest person in the class (by several decades) – and our teacher asked what was on my mind. I said: “Proper breathing equals relaxation; relaxation equals speed; speed equals power.” Any kick or punch delivered to whatever body target will be most effective if it’s like a cobra strike. As we say: In fast, out faster. (This is the “secret” of the classic reverse punch: “aimed” several inches into the target, delivered, brought back like a whip, little of its force flows back along your arm and into your own body – most of its shock radiates into the target.)
8) There’s an old adage: “An attacker must vanquish; a defender need only survive.” If you succeeded in your first defense, look again to make your retreat. If you cannot retreat and the attacker persists, reset. Plan your work and work your plan. Look for the targets he presents.
9) If you must continue to defend yourself, remember points 6 & 7: strike or kick with determination and quickness.
10) Hope that the balance will change – that you will be able to go on offense rather than continue on defense. It happens in violent confrontations: the aggressor may suddenly become the defender. If you go on offense, show no mercy until you are confident you are safe. But always seek an opportunity for retreat. In any fight, injury and even death are possible. You’d rather have a story to tell than a death to contend with.
And, notwithstanding what I wrote at the start, I’d add one other thing to Sifu Böztepe’s point #1 on his superb list: Train, yes, but be sure that much of that training is full-tilt sparring. If you’ve never been hit hard – in the gut and in the face – you may not be ready for real combat. Such training is painful and even dangerous, but the dojo needs to simulate the street. A fist in the face is not just a physical event; it may also be a stinging psychic shock.
By the way, if I were starting over, I’d study Krav Maga. Too many martial-arts programs cleave (and properly so) to the traditional belt-system balance of kata/kihon/kumite: ritualized Tai Chi-like movements intended to teach proper technique/training in strikes, kicks, and blocks/sparring. If practical, real-world self-defense is the goal, I’m afraid katas are a crushing waste of time. Being a traditionalist, I love watching well-executed kata, but the time consumed learning them – required for advancement through the alluring white-to-yellow-to-green-to-purple-to-brown-to-black belt system – have a way of spinning students right off the merry-go-round. As I understand it, at every stage of training Krav Maga is all about effective combat fighting.
PS from Claire: Welcome, Krav Maga denouncers! May I take your coats? Help yourself to tea and some nice buttery digestive biscuits; they're on the coffee table. The Gracie Feud obsessifs have gone sightseeing, alas. They were hoping to see the Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. But I'm sure they'll be back before tea. We can have another round of ritual denunciations then. I'm sure you'll all enjoy meeting one another.