Whenever we see an action film, we often see the central star take on a gang of machete-wielding thugs with nothing but his bare hands.

And yes while in our dinner times we would like to imagine ourselves as Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt, sadly we aren’t.

For me, this is one of the major roadblocks to self-defence skill, a lack of awareness.

If you were to ask self-defence instructors about awareness most would talk about being aware of their surroundings and people following them etc.

While that is one way of looking at this, awareness actually starts with the self-defence student being self-aware of their capabilities compared with the ability of the attackers and guess what.

Your abilities change!


Would You Challenge A Guy With A Knife?

This is a question I do like to offer up to students from time to time. It starts like this:


  1. Would you challenge a man with a knife?

The answers I get can be “no” to, “it depends on XYZ”.

So I ask a variation.


  1. Would You Challenge A Man With A Knife Who Had It Out And Was Threatening Another Man?

This scenario changes things because a lot of people now start to think about the battle for their safety and the moral decision to get involved.


  1. Would You Challenge A Man With A Knife Who Was Threatening Another Man (Who Had His Kids With Him?)

Again this gets people thinking; most say yes at this point because they feel a need to help the man and also protect his children.


  1. Would You Challenge A Man With A Knife In Any Of Those Situations If You Were Drunk?

The final part of this series of questions encourages them to think of how they might react if heavily intoxicated.

I always start off with alcohol, but I also go on to use injury, illness and also the presence of a wife, partner, children, etc.

This exercise I have found strips away the bravado because it forces people to think about their safety and also the safety/consequences of their actions to others when their ability is compromised.

In the end, I often get asked what I would do. To which I always have one reply.

I never engage in a situation willingly unless I am 100% confident that I have the physical capability to deal with that situation, or that by doing nothing, serious harm could come to a vulnerable person that I could have prevented.

Ok, so what does this mean?

In a nutshell, If I do not get involved in anything unless there is a vulnerable person on the receiving end, and by a vulnerable person I do mean someone significantly weaker than myself, be it male or female, adult or child.

I do not possess magic powers that make my skin able to stop a blade penetrating it. I have a wife and kids who depend on me.

Now 99% of martial artists might read this and hit ‘ego overload.’ and talk about how they would jump in and help anyone, so let me tell this true story:

Some years ago I was made aware of a man who was stabbed. The story goes like this:

The man was an ex-soldier and was great at boxing and martial arts. He was out one night with friends and on his way back home (he was walking alone) he came across a man hitting a woman.

The ex-soldier was very drunk but saw the female as being vulnerable so he went across and told the male to stop. This man then pulled out a knife and stabbed the ex-soldier.

A witness then saw the female kick the ex-soldier repeatedly in the head while he was on the ground before they both fled in a taxi.

The ex-soldier survived, and the couple were never found. This is a real story of why you shouldn’t always leap into every situation.

You need to assess what is happening, albeit do it quickly.

But what can you do if you cannot fight/ get involved?

Simple, be an excellent witness.


How To Be A Great Witness

Self-defence is much like being a lifeguard. You can’t save anyone if you drown!

In self-defence, the term drowning can be changed to ‘are killed or hurt’.

So you need to be clear, if you intervene you must ensure that you have shouted up for backup before you jump in or even if you don’t.

By backup, I do mean ‘call the police’.

In almost every western country in the world, the police record phone calls to themselves and have an emergency response time of around 5 to 10 minutes but often a lot sooner.

So your phone call both acts as a call for support and also as a reference to say what was going on and that your intentions were positive no matter what happens.

This is a must do, no matter what is happening! Always put your safety first so make sure you have help on its way. Help for you and everyone that is.

After this comes the key decision time, do you get involved or not and remember what I said earlier:

Never engage in a situation willingly unless you are 100% confident that you have the physical capability to deal with that situation, or that by doing nothing harm could come to a vulnerable person. (instructors need to be wary about creating false confidence too)

So the scenario is simple. You are walking down the road (drunk), and you see a gang of 5 men attacking another man.

Let’s break this down.

You are drunk

You are outnumbered

You have no idea if they have weapons

At this point, you must be a good witness and not get involved so call the police.

However, this might change after you have called the police and you see that the man is unconscious, and you are now watching the men stamp on his head. As you know this is how people get killed so (having called the police) you decide to shout at the attackers and tell them to stop.

At this time one of three things will happen.

  1. They stop and run
  2. They turn on you
  3. They carry on anyway.

In each of these situations, you need to have done one thing, have a mental description of the attackers before the next stage (the police might ask you on the phone for these details, so being fast at getting them down is a good plan)


Building A Description

In any situation, you need to have the skill to quickly gain a good description and be able to recall that.

Fortunately, this is a skill you can work on time and time again and have fun with it.

So here goes:

Simply start at the top and work your way down.

Hair: Colour, style, length

Forehead: Was it big, wrinkled, had lines, etc

Eyebrows: Thick

Eyes: Colour, did they have glasses, etc

Nose: A thick nose, broken, flat

Cheekbones: High, chubby etc

Mouth:What were the lips like, anything distinctive

Teeth: Goofy, dirty, missing etc

Chin: short, large, double

Facial hair: Beard, moustache,trimmed or not


Face shape




Body type: Stocky, athletic, etc





Voice: Accent etc


Anything distinctive that would stand out

Make of clothing

Distance from you

Amount of time you saw them for

Do you wear glasses

Was there an obstruction to your vision


What lighting was it: Day or night, street lighting, etc.

There is a huge range of possible factors, and I am certain to have missed some, but you get the point.

You do not always nor can always get involved in a physical situation, but you can to the best of your ability be a good witness.

I cannot tell you how many times I took statements from people (when I was a police officer) and asked them what the attacker looked like. The reply often was “Err I don’t know.”

Anyone that is teaching self-defence needs also to educate people on how to become a great witness. Because this can be  just as important as learning how to fight!

Practise with a friend when you are out to see if you can describe a person in as much detail as possible with a few seconds of looking.

Have fun with it, but remember this is an essential skill!

Thanks for reading