The Knee to the Nuts Paradox, and other tips when you fight like a girl.

A while ago I wrote a post commenting on an article on the reasons why women smile at men who harass them. I explained how, from a martial arts point of view, that’s a winning strategy. To de-escalate a situation and leave without a fight. But that’s not always possible, so I think a follow-up post may be useful, in particular for those without any martial arts or self defence training.

(And if you’re free this coming Saturday, 2nd April 2016 and within striking range of Bristol, do come along the Fight Like a Girl anthology launch, where I’ll be demonstrating some of the self-defence principles I discuss in this article. As well as what to do if you’ve brought bare hands to a knife fight.)

If unwanted attention turns into being grabbed, that’s very definitely the time to fight like a girl. Which is to say, not by meeting force with force but by identifying and exploiting the ways in which your attacker cannot use superior strength or in ways that make such strength irrelevant. Because the aim of the game is not to stand crowing over your defeated, bloodied enemy like some cut-price Conan, but to get free of a hold and to get clean away as quickly and effectively as possible.

This post is also prompted by recent thoughts and discussions I’ve been having with fellow aikido practitioners about gendered responses to attacks. Though these observations aren’t exclusively for women’s benefit. My thoughts apply equally well to men who find themselves shorter and less physically imposing than an attacker. As well as to men who are tall, well-muscled, physically fit and more than able to leave an aggressor bleeding on the floor – but who know full well that will see them charged with assault. So, this should make useful reading for everyone.

However, this post runs long. I’m also aware that there will be those with no interest, for whatever reason, in reading even a theoretical discussion of the practical application of violence. So I’ll put the rest of this behind a cut.

So what can you do, if a situation escalates to physical confrontation and you don’t have any martial arts training? Well, if you’re grabbed, whether that’s by the hand, the arm, the shoulder, the coat, or whatever, the most important thing to remember is that’s all the attacker has got hold of. You’re still free to do what you want with the whole of the rest of your body.

What should you do first? Try not to pull away, because that will only prompt that grip to tighten. And as that grip tightens, so do the arm and shoulder muscles behind it, so that attacker will be pulling you closer towards him. At the same time as you are not actually pulling away but pulling this assailant towards yourself. All in all, doing half an attacker’s work for him is a really bad idea.

Change your perspective and you can change the whole dynamic of this encounter. Push your hand, or arm, or shoulder hard towards the attacker. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but think about it. Now you’re taking the initiative. There’s a fair chance that this response will be so unexpected, the attacker’s grip will loosen. If that happens, even fractionally, even momentarily, that can be enough to get yourself free. You can improve on this by twisting that attacker’s hand, ideally to rotate their palm in relation to their forearm by applying force to the side of their hand, either little finger or thumb. If their grip is on your shoulder or clothing, use your own hand to clamp that gripping hand down hard as you move. Then put your entire body weight behind twisting that grip sideways.

If you’re being held by the forearm or wrist you can significantly improve your chances of breaking free by twisting your own hand or arm so that it’s sideways on, and thus narrower, in relation to the gap between your attacker’s smallest finger and their thumb. Even if their hand is big enough to overlap around your wrist, this is still the weakest point of their grip. Drop your elbow and use your whole arm as a lever against their thumb or smallest finger, once again pushing away from yourself, not pulling. As previously mentioned, you can improve still further on this by rotating their hand in relation to their forearm. All of these moves exploit inherent weak points in even the most muscular anatomy.

Though the biggest problem here is that such moves are vastly easier for me to demonstrate in person than they are to describe in any usefully meaningful way. Feel free to ask me for a few minutes’ show-and-tell as and when our paths cross somewhere.

Getting free is the first step. How do you stop an attacker pursuing you once you’ve broken that hold? ‘Oh, just knee him in the nuts,’ is perhaps the most common advice and that’s a problem because I firmly believe it’s the single most useless piece of self-defence lore out there. Actually, it’s worse than useless. I think it’s actively dangerous – and that’s before we get on to its all-too-frequent victim-blaming subtext. Any sentence that starts ‘Oh, just…’ implies that doing something is easy. Which leads on to implying that if downing a man with a pod-shot is so easy, and some girl is just too squeamish to do it, well, more fool her…?

The reality is that an effective strike to the groin is not nearly as easy as it seems. Ever since early hominids started walking upright, evolution has been hardwiring instincts into the male brain to protect those dangling baubles. Forget YouTube compilations of MMA/cage-fighters being downed by an accidental thump to the family jewels. These only serve to illustrate the Knee to the Nuts Paradox, as far as martial arts are concerned. The more experienced a practitioner is, the slower he can react to the possibility of a nut-crunch. For values of slower that can be measured in fractions of a second, but against someone of equal speed and power, that’s still slow enough for the worst to happen. This happens because those men are in an environment where their meat and two veg are off limits, whatever else ‘no holds barred’ may permit. They’re sub-consciously alert for a whole array of other attacks before that one.

Off the mat and in the street, men react very differently. A man with no martial arts experience will still move or turn as quickly as possible to protect his groin. I’ve seen this for myself, time and again. Practising traditional aikido, we don’t apply techniques at full speed, or with full power, because that would make for very short practises and everyone ending up in Accident & Emergency. We do still emphasise the need for defensive blocks and the use of counter strikes to make our techniques more effective. When training with a beginner, this means I will gesture towards their groin. You should see those chaps move… Instinct sends them leaping backwards even though I haven’t come within touching distance. Even though we’ve already established they can trust me not to smack them in the face if they’re slow with a high block. Even the possibility of squashed plums sees their body react before their brain catches up.

On the other hand, when I was preparing for my third dan aikido grading last year, I was asked to show my breadth of understanding and variations on technique. One element I specifically included was groin strikes to demonstrate some different ways into technique from responses we don’t usually prompt. After a few very-near-misses I had to warn my experienced practise partners to be ready with an effective low block. Unprompted, they were slower to react than a complete beginner – precisely because so many years of training subconsciously told them their knackers were safe on the mat.

There are other reasons why trying for a knee – or a punch – to the nuts is a bad idea. Physically, it’s risky for anyone without advanced, relevant training as well as the space to use those skills effectively. Raise a knee groin high against a taller attacker and you will compromise your own balance badly. It really is a stupid idea to be wobbling on one foot while an attacker has both boots planted firmly on the ground. At close quarters, you’re also unlikely to get enough momentum into your knee to get maximum impact with what is a blunt and broad weapon compared to a comparatively small target. A punch could deliver more force but the act of punching downwards will bring your torso and head forward and thus closer to your attacker’s hands/fists. Remember, you want to be getting away, not increasing your risk of being grappled to the ground.

Then there are the psychological aspects. Try for a groin strike and miss, and a man’s sense of vulnerability will almost always provoke a disproportionately violent response. That really won’t help a situation that’s already turned aggressive. Even if you succeed, there’s the aftermath to consider – and the reactions of whoever will be dealing with you, most particularly the men. They will feel an instinctive instant of sympathy for any man in that situation, however fleeting and unconscious that response might be. Think about audience reactions in the cinema, even in a comedy when some bloke getting his maracas rattled is being played for laughs. Women find it funny. Men wince first and foremost and many won’t laugh at all. Attacking the groin is also an act of sexual aggression. In any situation that may end up in ‘he said, she said’, putting yourself on any kind of equal footing, however subliminal, with someone who’s attempted a sexual assault is best avoided.

Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t take the opportunity of a groin strike if it’s readily apparent. Use a closed-fingers, open-handed thrust – it’ll hurt more and won’t signal your intent like a fist – and go straight for middle wicket. But you won’t have time to waste on focusing your efforts on that particular attack. Unless that opportunity is really too obvious to miss, you’ll have safer options and better targets.

Such as knees. Read the sports pages or watch the news and you’ll soon see how vulnerable those can be. Training or match accidents regularly wreck promising football careers. Look how much strapping tennis players end up wearing. The list goes on.

Which is why I would go for an attacker’s knees. Your intention will be much less immediately obvious. Doing so only means lifting your own foot a short distance from the ground. However firmly your hands/shoulders might be held, you can get some useful momentum into a foot by raising it behind your own leg and then swinging it up and forward. A kick from the front which strikes anywhere under the attacker’s knee cap will be excruciating. Miss and you’ll still get some benefit from hacking at their shin – soccer players wear shin guards for good reason. Get a solid kick into the side of the knee joint and you could not only make that attacker stumble or fall, but there’s a good chance of doing enough damage that he won’t be physically able to run after you, however malevolent his intent.

I could go on, but I know full well that the more I write, the less clear this piece will become, and of more limited use. If the worst happens, no one’s going to have time to get out their phone, find an Internet connection and refer back here.

In summary then, to improve your chances of escaping an aggressive confrontation that’s been forced upon you –

Don’t pull against a grip; push back and twist to break it.

Kick for the knees not the nuts.

And one last aside. If anyone ever tells you that women can’t fight effectively in long skirts, I’ll happily introduce them to any number of aikido blackbelts who say different.

Martial Arts & Marital Harmony
Martial Arts & Marital Harmony

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

118 thoughts on “The Knee to the Nuts Paradox, and other tips when you fight like a girl.

  1. My karate sensei used to advise jabbing at the eyes or boxing ears – they’re easy to reach with one hand, cause a fair bit of pain, and generally cause an attacker to flinch/move/let go.

    (this is an excellent article. “Though the biggest problem here is that such moves are vastly easier for me to demonstrate in person than they are to describe in any usefully meaningful way” <- would it be possible for you to film yourself/other akikdo-ka demonstrating this, and link back to this article?)

    1. This is entirely true, and we teach strikes to the face in aikido for exactly these reasons.

      However, people without any training frequently prove extremely reluctant to attack the eyes in particular. Plus if someone is being held by a stronger assailant, they may well not be able to raise a hand to try. And similarly to a groin strike, a missed attempt to attack the eyes can provoke a disproportionately violent reaction.

      As far as attacking the face is concerned, I’d advocate an open-handed, upwards strike to the underside of the nose with the heel of the hand.

    2. I have been taking a kickboxing class for six months. So far none of the girls I’ve sparred are bothered by kicking me in the balls at all. It bothers ME though. Lol.

  2. Valuable advice, and worth the price of admission for the marvelously developed vocabulary of testicular mayhem alone.

    1. I have many more… it’s so very interesting to note just how many and varied acceptably polite euphemisms exist for a chap’s tallywhacker – while there are almost none for the female pudenda. Latin for ‘shameful thing’ – which tells its own tale of historical gender bias!

  3. Myself I was an extremely fit figure-skating Karate-ka and always felt extremely confident in edgy encounters. I had the muscle power and bitch attitude to back it up.
    I have travelled solo in very dangerous places, and have usually practised efficient avoidance. When avoidance was impossible, I have practised “tough girl” a jarring handshake and an evil stare down growl with no smile. I have been robbed more often in Canada than abroad, even though I’ve spent a quarter of my life abroad (not in rich countries).
    Now that I’m older, and my musculature is not what it used to be, I am definitely more interested in the art of Aikido.

    I have not read the rest of your blog, so I do not know if this is addressed elsewhere…
    But the fault with self-defence teachings (I have never taken self defence classes, only straight up various martial arts classes) is that most danger to women is from the concept of monogamy, the concept that every woman belongs to a man, that “with a man” is our place in life… even when that man (be it lover, boyfriend, husband, “partner”, coach) is assaulting us.
    The most dangerous thing a woman can do is belong to a man. And it is the fight against this endless domestic violence that poses the biggest challenge to women.
    I am pretty convinced that the most important decision in my life, regarding my safety, has been to almost never cater for the male gaze or male purpose, unless in very limited circumstances.
    Women need to not only to learn to fight back physically, but to mentally fight against the system which imposes these circumstances in the first place.
    For as effective as all these fighting strategies are with “strangers on the street” women simply can not apply this with friends and loved-ones. This is where the real challenge resides.

    1. There is a long tradition of those expert in other martial arts coming over to aikido as the years accumulate, so I’m sure you would find it very interesting. The head of our organisation has just celebrated his 80th birthday and still trains and teaches weekly. Any mugger thinking that little bald old man is an easy target would be in for a very hard and sharp mental adjustment.

      I absolutely agree that the domestic sphere poses far more danger to women than random stranger attacks. Though it’s not something I’ve blogged about as such. My martial arts life and my writing life have only overlapped in recent years, ever since a convention asked me and my fellow writer, friend and Shotokan Karate blackbelt John Meaney, to do a panel on the difference between real fighting and what we find on the page and the screen. Well, you know how writers are always told ‘Show, don’t tell’… We’ve done several demonstrations since which have been well received.

      The corrosive effects of gender and other inequalities, however benign such paternalism may seem, is certainly something I explore in my fiction. It’s pretty much always there as a thread or a theme, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the precise story I’m telling at the time. Readers’ reactions are always illuminating. And issues around the depiction and representation of women in epic fantasy is certainly something I write about – you can find assorted articles here Equality in SF&F – Collected Writing

  4. Thank you Juliet, what an awesome blog post! I look forward to seeing your techniques on Saturday first hand at the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ launch. Personally, I am pretty unfit and rather overweight, but the one advantage I have in a situation like you describe is that I’m weirdly flexible and can high kick above my head with some force, so a forceful kick to the knees sounds like an awesome defence strategy! Cheers.

    1. Let’s sincerely hope you’re never in a position to need to, while being very glad that you’ll have that advantage if necessary 🙂

      1. Wasn’t the Fight Like A Girl launch fantastic? Such a fun day!It was SO lovely to finally meet you sweetie especially after having seen you but missed your awesome displays at BristolCon and FantasyCon, which we all had such a good time at! Anyway, thank you for all your wise words and handy tips, very much appreciated. 😀 xx

  5. I’m way to old. fat and arthritic to do most of what you advise, Juliet, although I thoroughly endorse kicking knees or shins, or stamping on feet, come to that if footwear is suitable. However, when I started doing some volunteering at the local mental health hospital I was given some training in what they call ‘break out’ – how to get away should someone grab you (and let me stress this is NOT because people with mental health problems are dangerous. This was put on mainly for the nurses working with the tiny number of patients on the forensic wards, as well as being the usual health and safety overkill.) Much of the training has evanesced, but two bits of advice useful to the non-martially skilled remain. One, if someone grabs you by the hair, clamp both your hands hard over the grabbing hand. This not only stops your hair being pulled out, but the downward pressure can force their grip open or loosentheir hold allowing you to twist down and away as you advise. The second bit of advise, which even I can expect to remember when all your expertise is driven from my mind by panic, is to take note of the direction of the hand grabbing you. It’s obvious once its pointed out, but for the grabber to let go their fingers have got to open, and that is also the weakest point of the grip, so if you are going to pull (ideally with a twist as you say) put the force against the fingers, which is frequently in a downwards direction. This is particularly useful if you are grabbed by the writs – I find I can break the grip of large, strong men simply by using this method. But yes,yes,yes, use words wherever possible and any other method you can not to get in the position of needing to fight

    1. All good advice – unlike so much that I see on the Internet which does seem to assume an impressive level of youth and athleticism 🙂

      It’s been very interesting, over the years, to compare notes with the various police officers, paramedics, fire-fighters and nurses who’ve passed through our club. A great deal of this sort of break-out training is based on aikido principles; we know several high grade blackbelts who’ve acted as consultants for their local emergency services’ training schemes. Alas, cuts over the past decade have seen pretty much all such training binned, in favour of ‘here’s a can of pepper spray’. Which is all very well, until you come up against some enormous bloke who’s immune to capsaicin, as happened to a DI in the local drug squad – a former student who comes along to our classes every so often for a refresher, since in that particular instance, his aikido skills saved his neck!

  6. Fabulous article, Juliet! Many thanks for the very useful advice, as a Granny no longer in the prime of my youth, I found it very helpful. Needless to say, I’ve also been taking copious notes with my writing head on…

    1. Let’s hope none of us ever have to use this outside of creative writing 🙂

      But we can look on the knowledge as preventative magic, in the same way that taking an umbrella with you guarantees it won’t rain.

  7. I’m thankful that I’ve never had to use any of this – my accent and a glare are usually enough to deter people, but I’ll definitely bear all of this in mind if ever I’m unlucky enough to find myself in a situation where I need it! A friend of mine does about eight different forms of martial arts and he always taught me to use my elbows rather than my fists.

  8. Nice – think I better save this for a re-read when I come to edit the new book, as there’s a scene I need to check against it!

  9. Good strategic advice, and good tactics – knees are vulnerable – but you missed an obvious followup: a stamping downward kick down either side of the shin will skitter down the bone and intersect the protruding eminences of the ankle.

    If you’re wearing shoes with a hard sole, the edge of your sole or heel will probably cause a fracture, and will definitely inflict enough pain to put them off-balance; if you’re wearing soft and grippy running soles, only good denim jeans will protect the attacker’s skin against an extremely painful abrasion; again, painful enough to force a reflexive change of footing that can be exploited; painful enough to open their grip and give you space.

    This does not work against an attacker wearing good boots.

    It doesn’t work if you’re barefoot, or wearing flimsy sandals.

    This is probably why it isn’t widely known: almost everyone practices barefoot, and this defensive strike needs shoes with a sole. It’s difficult to practice safely – quite apart from the difficulty of protecting the ‘attack’ partner, you do actually risk minor injuries to your own knees and ankles and it’s not a strike you can practice repeatedly – and, last but not least, stamping hard in shoes will do horrible things to a practice mat.

    Not that it needs much practice. This is a reliable defensive effect from an imprecise strike: intersect way too high, it’s a sideways dislocating impact on the knee; lower, and you’ll bruise them severely and maybe ‘green stick’ their shinbone; lower still, and well above where it should be, the target has a hard ‘guide rail’ of bone to skitter down to the ankle.

    The perfect strike is the lightest of glancing blows to the protruding sides – either side – of the ankle.

    Also: it works against a grab from behind, as well as when defending to the front.

    Would I teach it? Probably not: it’s effective defence, but the principle of it – immediate escalation into injurious violence – is incompatible with Aikido. A womens’ self-defence instructor probably would, if safe practice exercises to entrain it are available.

    1. It’s more the case that this sort of follow-up comes under the heading of ‘Stuff I could go on to discuss’ – one has to draw the line somewhere ☺

  10. Good article Juliet. Men instinctively protect their testicles very well, and many know that that’s one of the first places a female will go for if she is attacked.

    However, testicles are too good a target to ignore, so I’d like to give some advice of my own on ways to attack them effectively in a self defense situation.

    As a female solo traveler of many years, and a womens self defense instructor I’d like to share a safety tip of my own which I hope you and your female readers will read, remember, and share with many other women and girls far and wide.

    I have been teaching Krav Maga to women and girls for over five years and we teach a very effective technique which I feel should should be in every woman and girls arsenal. We are a women only event, run by women, for women, and there is an extremely effective technique what we teach to women of all ages, which I feel we should all share as far and wide with as many others as possible.

    The technique is the “groin grab” self defense technique which is to be used against a male attacker, which is now taught in many womens self defense classes, and there is actually a little trick to it…

    To execute this technique, you’re going to take your hand and quickly grasp between the attackers thighs underhand. Its going to feel like you’re “cradling” the testicles. Quickly grab hold of, or snatch the testicles and dig your fingertips into the fragile skin BEHIND the scrotum. Then, once you have a good grip, you turn your hand into a vice, with your fingers digging inwards, around the back and over the top of the testicles. If you do it right, you should feel the testes INSIDE your hand which is holding the scrotum. You want, whenever possible, to hook your fingers over and around at least one testicle. One of them is enough.

    Then, with your hands in a claw and your fingertips latched around the testes, you turn your hand sharply, as though you were turning a doorknob. Simultaneously, squeeze hard and pull the testicles away from his body as fast and as hard as you can. DO NOT LET GO OF THEM. This is very important. What happens then, is that your assailant usually screams out in pain and then tries to grab the wrist of your hand holding him in a futile attempt to try to get you to release him. DON’T. He then quickly loses one of the natural advantages he usually has over us (his strength) within a matter of seconds. Vomiting, curling over, collapsing and convulsing is common. Shock and unconsciousness can set in within 8 seconds. If he initially starts to fight back then you tuck your head in and keep squeezing his testicles until he faints. This only takes a matter of seconds. When he collapses, which he will, you get away to safety as quickly as possible and call for help. I’ve heard of two older women who dragged their attackers to a place of safety while holding them by the testicles. It may sound odd but testicles are so vulnerable and sensitive that this technique also works very well for women. I also like to share the story of the woman who was threatened with the words “do as I say or else…” by the younger man who attacked her, but she turned the situation around and he eventually ended up collapsing and begging her to phone the police while she maintained a tight grip on his testicles.

    It’s never too late to perform this technique at any stage of an attack, and that even includes the option of reaching down if he’s on top of you, but it is easiest to do when the testicles are exposed and closest to you where you can grab hold of them. I’ve actually met several women in my life who have fought off their attackers in this way and one did it when her attacker was on top of her and raping her at the point he lost control. Don’t ever hold back. Some women scream while they are doing this, and some women think of a loved one being harmed to help overcome any bad feelings of hurting someone else even if they are being hurt themselves. Do whatever you have to do if you feel it helps.

    If done properly, and done with enough force, this technique can even lead to the testicles rupturing. It’s actually easier to do than most women believe, and just about all of us have the capability to injure an attackers testicles in this way – whether we are young girls still of school age, or whether we are great grandmothers. We, as women have no part of our bodies as vulnerable as a mans testicles. After all, if you think about it testicles are just small objects of extreme vulnerability to pain squishiness wrapped in a delicate layer of skin which offers them no protection at all from this kind of counterattack by a woman. Most importantly, this fact holds true no matter what size your attacker is, nor how strong he is. And no matter how angry he is, and how much he’s threatened what he’s going to do to you, he’s going to drop. Don’t let anyone (usually men who are very uncomfortable with thoughts of women beating them in combat) try to convince you otherwise.

    I once worked with a group of Somali women who informed me that grandmothers, mothers, and daughters between generations shared this powerful method of fighting off men. They even have a name for it in Somalia and they call the move “Qworegoys”. They were surprised that women in the West didn’t seem to share this information as much as they expected them to, and even more surprised that most women didn’t even seem aware of this technique.

    I know that this advice would have been a difficult read for many women, but our lives are worth far more than a rapists testicles and we should be prepared to do whatever it takes to get away to safety. Please help to share this advice with as many other women and girls as far and wide as possible in any way you can help. It could one day be a life saver.

    1. I’ve been giving this comment/advice consideration overnight before approving it. It’s not directly relevant to the situations I’m discussing, because it presupposes extremely loose clothing on a man – or no clothing at all. You couldn’t do this to a man wearing jeans, for example.

      On the other hand, it’s sound advice if things have gone way, way past breaking free and escaping, to the imminent or actual commission of a rape. So it does make that contribution to this conversation.

      Let’s sincerely hope all of us reading this never find ourselves in such a desperate situation.

      1. This would not really work in a cool climate because the testes get held close to the body by the shriveled baggy, plus the dude would be wearing jeans/trousers making it hard to even get hold of them. It would only work if it was warm weather were his balls are hanging more freely and he’s thus wearing looser clothes. Speedos would be the ideal clothing to execute this technique, lol. The only other situation this would work would be as you said, if he’s naked and in reach of you.
        (p.s. you know this person has copy’n pasted this comment like twenty times over the net. Sounds fishy to me.)

        1. All good points and I entirely agree.

          No, I wasn’t aware this crops up in multiple places. Presumably because the poster has a particular bee in the bonnet on this particular subject. That’s useful to know, and something we can all take into account, when considering this particular advice.

          1. Its more likely because its a man posing a woman…I think I located their blog and its a bit disturbing. The other issue is that some of the advice they advocate can result in death and that in some places attacks to the groin on males or females can be classed as a sexual assault. Things to consider….

  11. I just want to say that squeezing a guy’s testicle worked well for me when I was attacked at university. He was still doubled up in pain when the police arrived nearly 15mins later. I don’t understand why we’re not taught this at school?

    1. Good to know you were able to defend yourself, and that your attacker ended up explaining himself to the police.

      And yes, if the opportunity is there, the genitals are assuredly a valid and effective target.

      As to self-defence, it just doesn’t seem to be taught any more. It’s one of those things where we seem to have gone backwards in the last thirty years. We got practical advice at school – an all girls’ school – and when I was a student in the 1980s, women’s self defence classes could readily be found. But I was talking to a police acquaintance recently and she was saying there’s nothing like that around.

  12. I had a bit of a crazy incident a few years back (I’m male) with a girl who seemed like she’d maybe read your blog, or something similar. Sounds like you’d be impressed with her at any rate.
    I’d just moved down to London from the countryside and I was out one night traveling across London to the nearest big train station. I was looking at my watch, thinking I had plenty of time to get there but then noticed my watch had stopped at some point in the previous half hour and I was at risk of being late.
    I panicked and decided to ask the next person I saw what the time was. The next person happened to be a fairly wealthy looking woman in a jacket and high heels. Because I grew up in the countryside where everyone in the same village knows each others, I’d genuinely never considered the fact that a man approaching a woman in a dark street could be intepreted in certain ways (I was only about 19 at the time, so pretty naive). So I stopped this woman to ask her what the time was. She stopped, reached into her bag, then quickly pepper sprayed me in the face. I didn’t hear anything as I was too busy groaning but then about 5 seconds later she just kicked me incredibly hard in the balls and I collapsed on the side of the road. After a while of moaning, I finally got back up but couldn’t see properly again for at least 20 minutes (she’d obviously ran off)
    I think it’s safe to say that was a pretty successful strategy. So I’d recommend pepper spray definitely. People don’t think to shield their eyes really, at least I certainly don’t.
    Anyway, I certainly learned my lesson about stopping women in the street when it’s dark. She was obviously very sensitive to such situations and had just prepared for them very distinctly.
    I don’t know if she over-reacted or not though? I mean, the pepper spray did the job. She didn’t need to kick me in the balls as well. Or would you have agreed with ‘best to be safe’ approach?
    My testicles did end up aching for a fair bit longer than my eyes. Lol

    1. No, I wouldn’t be in the least impressed by this woman’s actions; from an aikido point of view, we actively avoid responding to aggression with more aggression. Here, that response is escalating a situation with immediate violence in response to a perceived rather than actual threat.

      Also, while she got the better of a 19 year old who had no reason to expect such a violent response, things could have gone very differently if she’d been facing someone with genuinely malevolent intent. That sort of attacker would have been ready to respond to any hint of resistance. There’s every chance she wouldn’t have got that spray out of her bag – and if she had, had used it, and missed, that could very well provoke a greater level of violence from an attacker, up to and including using the spray on her. There are instances of that happening on record in the US.

      If something like this went to court in the UK, it’s hard to see how that behaviour could be considered reasonable and proportionate response. Of course, this woman may very well have had some prior experience, perhaps she’d been the target of a vicious/sexual attack, to make her determined to get her retaliation in first, whatever the circumstances. That might explain her actions, but I still don’t believe that would be considered an excuse, legally. At best, mitigation.

      As for pepper spray, no, I don’t advocate that either. Firstly, because it’s illegal in the UK, and while yes, online retailers offer what they claim are legal alternatives, there are still plenty of laws about administering noxious substances that the authorities can and will use to prosecute anyone using such a thing – especially given the recent spate of acid and bleach attacks as reported in the press.

      Secondly, and to my mind, more importantly, a surprisingly high percentage of the population – up to 10% in some cases – can be immune to these things. I learned this from a copper who’d come to our aikido class for a refresher on unarmed combat and restraint techniques. He’d had an encounter with a violent, drugged-up offender who’d just blinked and sworn at a face full of official CS gas and kept on coming, putting one of this officer’s colleagues in hospital …

      So, overall, I don’t think this woman’s strategy stands up to scrutiny – it may have worked from her point of view in this instance but longer term/wider context, it doesn’t qualify as ‘better safe than sorry’ on too many levels for me.

      I certainly wouldn’t give any self-defence advice along these lines.

      1. Thanks for the response Juliet.
        That’s interesting. I’d only told a few people this happened so I wasn’t sure what the general response from self-defense type people would be. It makes me wonder whether she’d just self-trained or something?
        I honestly hadn’t even considered the legality of any of it as well.
        But how did this not count as a good example of solving the paradox you’d posed above? Wasn’t your point that a kick in the testicles is too risky because it might not work and men will tend to protect that area. Wheras she did a pretty good job of making sure I wasn’t. And if you’re reasonably sure you can get a good shot, it does tend to incapacitate men more than most other approaches. Well it certainly does on me anyway.
        What would have been the preferable response, in your opinion, in that situation, if she’d decided the man was about to attack her?
        I’m considering trying to convince my girlfriend to start learning some of this stuff. I think she got a bit of a girl power buzz from learning that her boyfriend had once been floored by a random woman in the street.

        1. Well, for a start, I’m talking about trying to kick some chap in the nuts without incapacitating them first with a spray in the eyes. Adding that changes the whole equation.

          Still not changing it in a good way from my point of view, because getting close enough to an attacker to use a spray effectively means getting close enough to be grabbed, with the possibility of getting it taken off her and used against her. Her best option would have been staying at least ten feet away from you until she’d established whether or not you were a threat. If she decided you were, that distance would give her a whole lot more options. Running away, screaming for help, making an emergency call on her phone, before having to defend herself physically – at which point, I’d still advocate going for the knees. However determined an attacker might be, there’s only sp fast a man on one leg can hop…

          1. Can I ask how much this particular idea is the official stance (if there is one?) of Aikido and how much is it just your personal preference or belief? At some point I’m definitely gonna get into a martial art myself and wonder how they compare and contrast.

            If you were to stipulate, in that previous example, that the aggressor is essentially standing still, and you have complete freedom to immobilize them in any way possible with guaranteed success, as this girl did in my situation, would you still recommend going for the knees? Or do you think the kick in the balls becomes the better option in that situation?
            Cos whilst I’ve never really being attacked in the knees, I can’t imagine the pain is comparable.

            Apologies for so many questions. I enjoy hearing about martial arts but just haven’t found the time so far to get into one.

          2. The principle of not meeting aggression with aggression is fundamental to aikido. The founder, Morihei Ueshiba said that the aikidoka should break the attacker’s will to attack, not the attacker’s body. We explain how this works to beginners by way of A, B, C,

            A is for Avoid. Getting out of the way of a blow or a grab is the first thing we teach. As long as you can do that, you have options to defend yourself, up to and including running away 🙂

            B is for Balance. Keep yours, take theirs, using movement and leverage. Once you have destroyed an attacker’s balance, gravity is your friend. It doesn’t matter if they’re bigger and stronger – the planet still wins. The bigger they are, the harder they really do fall.

            C is for Control. Once you’re out of harm’s way and you’ve got an attacker unbalanced, you can control the situation by means of the wide variety of pins, throws and other techniques taught in traditional aikido.

            The idea of going for the knees rather than the nuts is my personal opinion, based on 33 years of studying aikido, as well as conversations with other senior practitioners of aikido and other martial arts, plus my interest in the self-defence advice and training specifically given to women.

            If someone was standing still, not grabbing hold of me, I wouldn’t be kicking him in the nuts or the knees, because at that point, he’s still a potential threat, not an actual attacker. Once he made his move, I would then decide what was the best response, depending on what he did. As a 3rd dan blackbelt, I have a lot of options… 🙂

            The advice in this piece is for those without much/any martial arts training when they find themselves grabbed or threatened, and then as explained above, I advocate going for the knees not the nuts for a whole lot of reasons that make it more likely to be a winning strategy. The outcome you want here is getting away safely, not inflicting maximum damage on someone.

            As to the relative pain, I have seen someone taking an accidental injury to the knee throw up from the agony of it, so I’m guessing it can be comparable. I’ve also seen men take a blow to the balls, grimace and keep on going.

            If you’re interested in taking up a martial art, do take a look at aikido 🙂

            And while I may not always have time to answer questions promptly, feel free to ask stuff. I should get back to you within a few days or so.

  13. Oh I see. So your disapproval of this girl’s approach is because it conflicts with the general principles in Aikido.
    How does that deal with the fact that a man is likely going to be faster than a woman though? If the first approach is to just run, won’t he likely catch up with you in most situations?
    Would you also make distinctions based on what the attacker is attempting to do? So would a mugger and a sexual assaulter be treated as equal actors in terms of how you’d defend? Or is it worth trying to make distinctions there. Like the fact that a sexual assaulter is going to try and get closer to your body. Whereas a mugger is going to keep their distance as much as possible. Once they’re within a certain distance, I guess it restricts your ability to kick in general.

    My girlfriend’s take on it was that in the case of sexual assault type situations, she really thinks it’s good if the woman disables the man by damaging his balls because it’s an important psychological rebuttal to the mindset of the attacker, who’s thinking they can take what they want because men are stronger than women. Given that that’s an area where men are weaker than women, and can be used to immobilize you, it’s important to remind those men of their vulnerability. Whereas everyone has knees, shins and eyes so that same message can’t be communicated by women to men in that gendered sense.

    It sounds like that more psychological way of viewing things is a bit different than the more pragmatic way you advocate. The other thing I was wondering though is how much of this do you take liberties with when you write fiction? Do you stick with the same pragmatic approach to the violence or do you play things up for the sake of entertainment.

    1. Oh, we can play the ‘what if?’ game for hours, when we’re talking martial arts 🙂

      What if the woman in this instance is one of at least three I know personally, expert in judo, karate and tae kwan do respectively, facing a man standing and verbally threatening violent intent. Any of them could drop him with a kick to the balls before he knew what was happening. So in that situation, for those women, that would be a good option.

      Every combat is different, depending on who is involved, when and where. Again, I can think of women I’d back in a race from a standing start against pretty much any man. Others wouldn’t have a chance. It all depends. Sometimes running is an option, some times it isn’t. If it is, and yes, given the odds are most men could outrun most women, then I’d say impairing an attacker’s ability to give chase is a good option – and that’s more likely to be achieved by the non-expert by attacking a knee than attempting a kick in the balls. As explained above.

      Because every combat is different, a key element of aikido is keeping your options open for as long as possible. That’s why we wait for an attacker to make the first move – in addition to the philosophical belief in not answering aggression with aggression. Once someone is committed, mentally and physically, to a grab, a punch, a kick, whatever, it’s very hard, practically and psychologically, for them to change that into some different attack. Meantime, the aikidoka still have all options open – move to the right, or to the left, take a step back, close the distance, pick the specific application of the pin, throw, whatever technique is best suited to this particular situation. That’s a major aspect of the Control I was talking about.

      Which is a major reason why, as far as I am concerned, a non-expert woman is very, very ill-advised to attempt to make the first move with the aforementioned kick in the balls. She is now committed to specific course of action, shutting off all her options of doing anything different. Worse than that, she’s picked a course of action that puts her face to face with her attacker, and within grabbing range. Meantime he has both hands free and any number of options remain open to him. What’s she going to do if a very small turn of his hips means she kicks his leg instead, meantime he grabs her by both shoulders and nuts her in the face? Or grabs her throat for a strangle? Or punches her in the face, breaking her nose? Or grabs her hair? Or grabs her foot?… like I say, we can play ‘what if?’ all day.

      (My personal preference against a kicking attack is to close the distance, trap the kicking foot/leg between my arm and my body, so the attacker is now stuck on one leg, off balance mentally and physically, and punch for the now completely exposed groin with my free hand. Game over – if it’s a man. If it’s a woman, I’d break her nose. Hey, the attacker started this…)

      What if a man is thrown off balance, psychologically, by the realisation he got kicked in the nuts? All well and good. What if he isn’t? Again, I’ve discussed this earlier, along with a whole lot of other psychological factors because those are certainly important. There is solid evidence that there’s an equal chance this will provoke an attacker to even more violence. There’s no way to know. Personally, I would advise women not to run that risk. Wreck his knee so he can’t chase you has a much greater chance of the best outcome.

      From conversations with the coppers, paramedics, nurses, fire-fighers, door staff who we’ve trained over the years, if someone’s on enough drink and drugs, they may not even register a kick in the balls. Seriously. Yes, I was astonished to learn this. But no amount of booze or whatever can make up for a leg that physically doesn’t work any more.

      How does my aikido and combat knowledge get worked into my writing? That’s a complex one 🙂 I write epic fantasy books for entertainment and within that, there are fights of all sorts, from personal combat to mass battles, involving all sorts of different people. All of which will be there for plot and character reasons, and yes, that combat will involve tension, thrills and drama. That said, I don’t ever want to write violence for entertainment as such. I’m always aiming for exploration, not exploitation, when someone is getting hurt. I don’t sugar-coat the consequences, physically or psychologically, for the characters involved. And if a character can shrug off inflicting pain or misery, well, that will be there because the reader needs to know that aspect of his of her personality. Does that make sense?

  14. Lol, you’ve not drank excessive amounts of alcohol then? That’s absolutely true. I guess maybe it’s more of a male thing to know that (we do more stupid stuff when drunk) Yeah, you get to a certain point and then pain becomes very blurry, and it stops having that lingering effect.
    Although the flipside of that is that you’re unlikely to be a threat to anyone at that point. Unless you’re in a confined space and can pin someone down, they’d easily escape or just push you away at that level of intoxication.

    Not entirely sure what you mean by “exploitation” in the context of fiction btw. But yeah the rest sounds good. Have you written any fight scenes that are so implausible and theatrical that you included them purely for entertainment? Obviously some fantasy (e.g game of thrones), does that cool balancing act between realism and absurdity to great effect.

    As for your what-if at the beginning, is it not therefore plausible that this girl who dropped me had some kind of training? Maybe not on par with your 3 women friends or with yourself. But that is generally what I’d assumed, given how systematic and effective she was. I certainly don’t think the average civilian would react so ruthlessly. Surely most would’ve just ran after using the spray.
    And out of interest, given that you’re a black belt, why do you not include yourself on that list (people who could reliably incapacitate a man via the nuts).

    The one other thing I was curious about (I know, I’m terrible with the questioning), was have you ever been in any real-life situations where you needed to use any of your training?


    1. I’m in my 50s and have a wealth of life experience, so please don’t make assumptions about what I may or may not know 🙂

      More immediately relevant to this conversation, I’ve spoken to enough coppers, nurses, paramedics, fire fighters and door staff to believe them when they relate experiences with incredibly drunk/drugged people who are nevertheless still incredibly aggressive and dangerous, well capable of injuring others as well as themselves.

      Which is merely one reason why, if you read something in my fiction that seems too bizarre to be true, you can safely assume I am basing it on something that really did happen, sometime, to someone. I don’t write invented, implausible combats for entertainment. I don’t have to!

      As to why I don’t include myself on that list of three women I’m thinking of? Because I know they are all experts in kicking martial arts and I am not. Landing a successful kick – to whatever target – takes training and practise, to enable the kicker to keep their balance and also to avoid whatever retaliation may be coming their way. I have chosen a different path, and aikido gives me plenty of other options.

      I have no idea if the woman who attacked you had any training. I would be inclined to think she didn’t, because if she did, in whatever discipline, she would most likely have waited to see how the situation developed, as that’s what most responsible martial arts instructors teach, whatever their particular martial art might be. But I can only speculate. What she did have was pepper spray which, as previously discussed, changes the entire equation. I would suspect she had some prior, unpleasant experience that convinced her to carry that spray, use it, and follow up, but once again, that can only be speculation.

      No, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to use my aikido. I have been in a couple of unpleasant and potentially dangerous situations which have resolved themselves without that, quite possibly because my training gives me the confidence to convey an effective ‘don’t fuck with me’ vibe without that being a challenge in itself. That’s a combination of body language, facial expression, alertness and awareness which indicates on a subliminal level to a predator that I am not a vulnerable target.

  15. My sense is that the people who are dangerous are maybe 1 level of drunkness below the people who can’t feel pain. Just going from my own experience. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve drank silly amounts like that.

    Right, so I realise most martial arts emphasize defense. But some are more inclined for attack aren’t they? I’m told Tae Kwon Do for example is more like that. And weren’t you suggesting that these 3 other women might have used such a technique?
    Lol, I think I’m just trying to make myself feel less embarassed at getting my ass kicked by a girl. If she had proper training, it’d at least be a vaguely good excuse.

    The one other thing I wanted to ask was what are the better martial arts to look into for men/women? If I persuade my girlfriend to learn one, should we both do the same? Or are different ones suited to the differences between men and women (e.g men have more upper body strength).
    Lol, is one of them more likely to teach me how to avoid getting kicked in the nuts like that again? You said those 3 women you know could just easily do that to incapacitate a man. Could they do that to men who are equally trained in those same martial arts?

    1. I find in conversations that serious students of all martial arts prioritise defence – what’s different is whether or not the martial artist initiates the combat as the best way to counter a threat and how they might choose to do that. As in, for instance, tae kwan do or karate.

      As to the woman who attacked you, don’t discount the fact that she may have just got lucky. She hit you in the eyes with pepper spray at the outset. That may have been expertise. It may equally have well been luck. When we’re teaching joint locks we always warn new students to go slowly and carefully. Just because they’ve never done this before doesn’t mean they can’t get it excruciatingly right first time by pure chance!

      The best martial art, depending on gender or physique? Well, I can think of experts in pretty much any art you care to name who are tall strong men, small slender women, small slender men, tall strong women… What seems to make more difference, certainly in keeping someone training and learning for years, is finding a martial art whose underlying approach, its philosophy, fits with your own personal inclinations and temperament. For instance, I have a violently bad temper, so aikido’s emphasis on control and not meeting aggression with aggression appealed to me far more than something like karate where I would have concerns about losing control.

      That said, since aikido doesn’t require physical strength or the ability to absorb physical punishment, many men and women who aren’t tall and strong find very appealing. We also have a good number of older students coming to aikido after achieving a high standard in some other martial art that demands a level of physical endurance they’re no longer prepared for.

      If you want to avoid getting kicked in the nuts, I would certainly recommend aikido. One of the first things you will learn is how to get off the line of attack. A simple sidestep and you’re safe 🙂

      Who will win out of a man and a woman equally skilled in any given martial art? It’s more that the first one to make a tiny mistake, to move a fraction of a second too slowly will be the one who loses.

      Could the three women I’m thinking of drop an equally trained man with a nut crunch? Not in competition because that would be a foul. On the street? Perhaps, if the attacker left his groin vulnerable, but the chances are he’d be prepared for that attack. Given all the variables, those women would use the most appropriate technique for the situation. That’s why we train, week in, week out, to be prepared for anything.

      1. The idea of being a bit more aggressive rather than defensive appeals to me personally. It’d be the opposite with my gf though.

        And I’d certainly think that the pepper spray could be explained by getting lucky. The kick seemed different though. I’d think most people would run at that point. Sticking around and managing to deliver a very accurate and very hard kick between someone’s legs seems different. I’ve seen the average woman try and kick someone before. It’s very rarely on par with this.

        Also, that counts as a foul in a competition? Huh? How does that make sense? If you’re removing certain attacks then surely it’s not a genuine fight? I’d have thought the point should be to reflect real life.
        I assume if below the belt is off-limits then the men would beat the women most of the time then?

        1. With regards to your experience, we’re circling back to the fact that you were there and I wasn’t, so I can only speculate – and your experience underscores the point I make in my original post – landing an effective kick is not as easy as some advice might make you think.

          Of course competition bouts are different to real fights, with things like a kick in the nuts outlawed. The aim of a competition bout is to demonstrate superior skill in order to win, not to injure an opponent. This is also why martial arts competitions separate men and women and divide them further by weight categories. This is martial arts as sport. For some people, that’s all they want. Others want sport combined with additional teaching for the different/additional elements they would need in a real combat situation. Others train for combat exclusively – which can and must be done in a way that avoids inflicting injury.

          Traditional aikido isn’t a sport and training people safely on the mat while also preparing them to use the additional strikes and hard pins/joint locks they would need in a real fight is a significant element of my role as an instructor.

  16. This was a super interesting read, thanks Juliet. I can definitely see why you’d say going for the face or knees/shins is the smarter choice in terms of likelihood of succeeding in a self-defense situation. Although I have to say that the idea that nut shots aren’t that effective goes entirely against my own experience.

    So I had a really nasty incident happen to me about 5 years back.
    I was walking home from the town center one night by myself (which I almost never do if it’s dark, but I lost my friends in town and just figured it was fairly unlikely anything bad would happen).
    I was close to home when this weird guy approached me on an empty street. He was wearing a big trenchcoat and was kinda stumbling as he walked, obviously quite drunk. As he got near to me, he opened his trenchcoat to reveal that he was completely naked underneath (I’ve since learned that this is apparently a common method of certain kinds of pervert, something I was quite happy being ignorant about).
    I tried to just push past him and keep walking but he grabbed me by the hair and pushed me into a wall and then told me to touch his body. When I refused and kept trying to escape, he grabbed my top and pulled it down to expose my breasts. That made my adrenaline kick in and I started getting incredibly angry and trying to hit him in the face and eyes so I could escape. I got incredibly lucky, probably because of how drunk he was, and managed to gouge one of his eyes (or near enough) which made him scream and pull back.
    I had a bit of space, but wasn’t sure I could escape given that I was in high heels, so I took the opportunity and while he was a couple of feet away from me, I kicked him as hard as I could in the balls. His legs were wide open, and obviously his genitals were exposed so I really managed to connect well and he immediately collapsed on the floor and started making a kind of crying sound, allowing me to escape (after taking my heels off). He thankfully didn’t manage to get up to come after me. We did go and talk to the police about it the next day but I had so little information about him given how dark it was, that there was really nothing they could do.

    I think what gave me the confidence to go for the kick like that was entirely down to just having grown up with 4 older brothers, who treated me like a 5th brother for most of our teenage years (a lot of play-fighting and aggression). So whilst it was the first time I’d been in any serious danger like that, it definitely wasn’t the first time I’d put a guy on the floor by smashing his jewels.

    1. What a horrendous experience! Thank goodness you had the presence of mind, and quick reactions, to get yourself out of it so effectively.

      There’s no question that a thump/kick in the balls is effective. As I say, if the opportunity is there, someone under attack should definitely take it. It’s the self-defence advice that begins and ends with ‘go for the groin’ that I take issue with, as explained here.

      1. Thanks Juliet,

        It was easily my worst experience with anything vaguely like this. I really do hope I did him some permanent damage.

        I’m super curious though: what would you have done in the same situation? I’ll assume you’ve never experienced anything quite like that, but have you ever had to navigate situations similar to that?

        1. I certainly hope you made a lasting impression. I’m thankful I’ve never had any similar experience that’s gone beyond being followed and whistled at/propositioned to as far as an actual attack.
          If someone did get close enough to try to, or to grab me? I’d focus on that grabbing hand, and apply the most suitable of several aikido techniques that twist and bend the wrist, incidentally compressing nerve points to cause a lot of pain. They’re called nikkyo, sankyo and kote gaeshi, and the choice would depend on how and where the grab was coming in.

          Once that gives me control, I can put an attacker face down on the ground, whatever his/her size. Then? If there was some way to call for help, I’d use a restraint hold until the police arrived. If not, bluntly, I’d render the assailant incapable of continuing any attack, and if that required inflicting a dislocated joint or a broken bone, I’d be ready to argue my case in court.

          1. I’m glad you’ve not experienced the same. Though it sounds like you’d be able to handle yourself quite well!

            Wow you really do avoid going for the nuts! I will definitely remain skeptical of your preference not to use it. It’s been so effective whenever I’ve used it and I feel like I should always trust my experience. Am I making a mistake?
            Is your experience different than that? Maybe I just happen to have dealt with men with low pain tolerances or something?
            I think I’ve used it on 3 out of my 4 brothers. All react pretty similarly and it generally leads to be winning whatever fight we’re having.

          2. It’s less a case of me preferring not to use a groin strike as me seeing its limitations as an all-or-nothing strategy, and preferring to recommend self-defence options that are more likely to be available and which have fewer downsides.

            The thing is, as an aikido 3rd dan black belt with over 30 years experience, I know I have far more and better options available to me, whatever an attack may be. Someone who’s only thinking about one option is going to be in a world of trouble, if the knee to the nuts option simply isn’t available.

            For instance, what if someone is grabbed from behind, by the collar, the hair, or seized in a bear hug? If they’re thinking, ‘okay, I’ve got to go for the balls, but how do I do that when he’s standing behind me…?’ They won’t get to the end of that thought before their attacker is doing whatever the hell he wants.

            Come to that, what if the attacker is a woman? A kick to the groin is painful but it’s in no sense disabling. Not all attackers are intent on sexual assault.

  17. I can definitely accept that it shouldn’t be your one go-to attack for all situations. That obviously won’t work, for the reasons you point out.
    My argument would rather be that it’s the best way to actually end the confrontation with a man, when the attack is suitable. So preferably after distracting him in some other way.
    I assume if you’re a black belt and you’re confronted with a man who has no actual martial art experience at all, it’d be quite easy for you to get him into that position where you could finish him with a brutal nutshot.
    Is that seen as acceptable in a martial arts environment though?

    1. thanks for your patience – it’s been a hectic week or so, hence the tardy reply.

      A kick in the balls *may very well* be the best way in a particular fight, to end it. If so, I would say go for it, and if I was in a given situation where that was the obvious move, I would go for it.

      The thing is though, 30 years of martial arts experience has taught me that no, it’s not necessarily always easy to get into position for an effective podshot. It really isn’t. That’s the whole point of this article.

      Is a nut crunch acceptable in a martial arts environment? Not on the mat, in practise. In the street, if attacked? Absolutely.

      1. No problem Juliet, thanks for the reply.

        How do you know that your preference for other approaches isn’t just a product of the fact that you can’t really use this one in training though?

        And why is that actually disallowed in training? Is it different in serious competitions then? (do they even have mixed-sex competitions?) That really sounds like the blokes who invented the sport just didn’t want to be humiliated by a woman getting lucky with a shot in the balls.

        1. My conclusions about this particular issue stem from over 30 years experience as student and instructor in traditional aikido, including training with strikes towards the groin even if I make sure those don’t connect, as explained in detail above. I have seen, time and again, that landing a groin strike is nowhere near as easy as it might seem. I have talked to many police officers and other emergency service personnel whose real life experience confirms this.

          Traditional aikido is not a sport, so that issue doesn’t arise. We don’t have competitive bouts which is why men and women of all sizes and heights can and do train together. That has further shown me the practical difficulties of for instance a five foot woman attempting to knee or punch a six foot four man in the balls.

          In martial arts that do include competition bouts, men and women are separated and further separated by weight categories because such competition is to measure skills, not to see who can win by brute force or who can get a lucky nut-shot first. The more closely matched competitors can be by height and heft, the more accurate that test of skills will be.

          Why are groin strikes that actually connect disallowed in training or in sports/martial arts that do feature competitive bouts? Because they’re not merely painful, they’re dangerous. A ruptiured or twisted testicle will require surgical removal and that will have lifelong consequences for a man’s long term reproductive and hormonal health, especially if both testicles are injured. This is why sports/competitive martial arts with a significant risk of accidental genital injury make male competitors wear protection.

          1. Apologies for the delayed response, I’ve been on holiday for a few weeks.
            I’m surprised to hear you don’t have competitive bouts. How else can you truly test your skills?
            On your last point about it can do damage: that’s my point! If it’s a real situation, like the one I was in, you’re not gonna worry about doing permanent damage to a guy’s danglers. When it’s a really bad situation, they kinda deserve it, so most people wouldn’t hold it against a woman for trying to neuter him. So how could that situation possibly be represented in training for a martial art?

          2. Testing skills happens all the time in aikido practise, in all sorts of ways, by throwing, pinning and otherwise getting the better of all manner of opponents, of different heights, weights, genders, skill levels to your own. You don’t have to ‘beat’ someone to prove that you could if you wanted to 🙂

            Fortunately, very few of the aikidoka I know have ever had to use their skills for real. Those that have done, have found that this style of training equips them perfectly well for actual combat, thankfully.

            In a real combat, as opposed to practise, I absolutely agree that someone shouldn’t be held back by fear of injuring an attacker – in whatever area. However there is plenty of well-documented proof that people *are* instinctively sqeaumish about injuring eyes, groin etc – especially when they don’t have martial arts or other combat experience to draw on. Equally, alas, there is good evidence of courts taking a negative view of what they consider, rightly or wrongly, to be the use of ‘unnecessary’ force. This is why I factor such things into my recommendation for going for the knees.

  18. A comment on comments. I’m happy to answer questions, in general and about the specifics of aikido, and to discuss my reasoning on this topic- though that is pretty thoroughly set out in the article itself.

    I’m not going to give my time or comment space here to being told I’m flat out wrong.

    If you have a different opinion on this, that’s your right, and you are very welcome to set out your reasons on your own webspace. I won’t agree with you, as is my right.

  19. I guess it depends a bit on where you live but it really bugs me when the laws are so tough on such issues. They should make special exemptions for women defending against men in my opinion. Especially when it’s a guy who’s a lot bigger than you, it’s really hard to know what “appropriate force” is exactly. Would you have a sense of an appropriate force with which to kick his knees? Surely that will depend on the man. Same with the balls. Some men will be stunned by a fairly light kick. Others need a fairly hefty smack in their bits to put them out of business. How can the law decide such a thing? That should be entirely up to the woman’s judgement in my opinion.

    1. Short answer – I don’t agree with that article. Somewhat longer answer – that writer has 15 years karate experience, so there’s every reason to expect she could land an effective kick on target, so good for her. She teaches self-defence classes, so let’s hope that increases her students’ chances of successfully landing a groin kick. However, I’m primarily writing for people with no martial arts training or experience of fighting. They are in a very different situation.

      Also, that article demonstrates kicks and their effects using clips of MMA bouts. In all those cases, the fighters are experienced, and are pretty equally matched in terms of height, weight, strength, and are in a well-lit environment with plenty of space to manoevre. Someone without any training, who’s been grabbed or cornered by someone signficantly taller and stronger, somewhere cramped, dimly-lit or both, is facing a very different situation and practical challenges, as I discuss above. None of which is addressed in that article.

      As I say, if a groin strike is obviously available, it’s an effective and valid tactic. But it is by no means the be-all and end-all of self-defence advice, and people need to know about alternatives.

      1. Oh ok, I see the distinction.

        I assume it probably matters a lot whether the guy is actually moving as well?

        The only time I’ve ever done anything like this was actually in a non-self defense situation, so I don’t know if you’d approve or not.
        A random guy I know decided to pull off my bikini top while we were at the local swimming pool one time. I responded by kicking him as hard
        as I could in the balls. All I can say is it worked pretty well on him.

        1. Yes, a moving target adds another complication – as with so much in life, context is everything, which is why I dislike one-size-fits-all, this-is-the-only-thing-you-need-to-know, advice.

          Personally, I would consider your swimming pool encounter a self-defence situation. That sort of behaviour can be a predator’s first step, to see what a woman’s reaction will be to something that can be ‘laughed off as a joke’. If a woman’s response suggests vulnerability, worse can follow. Maybe that was the case, maybe not, there’s no way to tell in the moment. Either way, good for you, and let’s hope that man benefited from a life-long learning experience.

          1. Well I’d hoped that if necessary I could explain it as self-defense.
            In truth I just reacted without thinking, whether I was really in danger or not.
            If a man’s going to reveal by breasts in public, I’m gonna try very hard to damage his nuts. I think once he’s decided to touch me, he loses the opportunity to complain.

  20. This definitely fits with a lot of my experience on the matter Juliet. I wish more women were aware of some of these arguments (I’ll sent this to a few friends if that’s alright?)
    The thing that’s definitely true in my experience, and almost never gets mentioned, is that some men can definitely handle being kicked where it hurts and it won’t do much to stop them.

    I’ve had 4 different occasions in my life where I’ve felt it necessary to kick a man in his weak spot (I can give more detail if you like, but suffice to say that all 4 thoroughly deserved it). On all 4 occasions, I had a clear and open shot and kicked pretty much as hard as I could, intent on completely disabling him. The results were that 2 of the men instantly collapsed and couldn’t get up, as I’d hoped. 1 man was in a lot of pain and hunched over cupping himself but managed to shake it off after half a minute. The last man expressed some pain on his face but just completely shook it off immediately and punched me in the stomach and then the breasts to “teach me a lesson” for daring to go for his nuts.

    I’d love to know if these numbers match those in the general population (i.e about 1/4 of men can easily handle it), but I don’t know.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Stephanie, that’s really helpful – bearing in mind how much better it would be if you *hadn’t* had such experiences. And I’ll take your word for it that you were doing what those situations demanded. By all means share this with your friends 🙂

      I don’t know what the percentage of men who can shake off a nut shot might be, but I’m guessing it’s high enough to explain why the police, firefighters etc who’ve been through our class tell us their professional self-defence training pretty much always says you can’t rely on pain to disable an attacker.

  21. Thanks Juliet,

    Yes in general I’d prefer such incidents had never happened. Although I have to admit I got an incredible sense of satisfaction and empowerment in those 2 cases where the men were just instantly disabled by my kick. Is that common or am I just weird? I did see it as a feminist statement of sorts.
    Can I ask though how you think these different responses by men should be factored into how women and girls learn self-defense? In the next few years I’ll be trying to get my daughter to learn some self-defense, so it seems an important question to answer.
    Because while you’re right that it definitely doesn’t work on all men, at the same time 2 of the 4 guys were instantly immobilized, so I wouldn’t want to tell girls to just avoid going for the balls entirely. There are obviously a large number of men who can easily be dealt with by this move.

    1. As I say in the article, if the opportunity is there, the groin strike is absolutely a valid option. And satisfaction in that feminist assertion of your autonomy seems an entirely reasonable response 🙂

      Where people find themselves in trouble is when that opportunity simply isn’t there, or is a risky option that just makes their situation worse, and they have no other ideas to fall back on.

      Self defense for women is a tricky one, and something that simply isn’t taught in the way it was twenty or so years ago. I’ve had this conversation with police officers who deal with domestic violence and related crimes where they see the consequences of this lack. Obviously, I’d recommend traditional aikido if you can find a local class as it is a very good and effective martial art for women, not relying on physical strength or meeting force witih force.

      1. Yes that sense of control over the situation gives you a good feeling and makes you more confident for future potentialities.
        I assume with learning self-defense, there’s also a chance that maybe as you get more experienced over time, certain methods are more likely to work for you? I don’t know if this is true or not but I would kind of assume that a woman who’s a black belt in karate or kickboxing would probably have successfully disabled all 4 of those men if it had been her kicking him in the bollocks rather than me.

        1. Hi Stephanie,
          I do not think it is true that “about 1/4 of men can easily handle it”. From my experience as a self-defense trainer and, in earlier years, as a bouncer, it is rather the question of connecting with the testicles properly. As Juliet has written, groin is not always an easy target to hit and should not be the first choice, since the attacker usually expects it, especially from a woman. However, if you do manage to connect precisely from below and with a good force, you will disable any man, there is no doubt about that. It is a bit like a switch-off button, which incapacitates any male instantly and reliably, but you need to really make sure you have got a good aim and angle for the strike and your opponent does not react by blocking or catching your arm or leg.

  22. Dear Juliet,

    I also teach martial arts for some years and strongly agree with you that the beginners have a stronger reflex of protecting their groin from an attack. I assume, training with the cup on for years and knowing that the strikes below the belt are illegal, and so cannot be the intention of the opponent, trains you to ignore the protection of that area.

    When teaching self-defense for women and girls, I do not ignore this area though. It is too valuable target to give up. In fact, around 70% of our techniques target this spot, because indeed it’s very effective and we want the girls who completed the class being able to defend themselves against any serious attackers. As a female, you cannot imagine how immediately paralyzing and crippling the pain of a successful groin attack can be. The way we approach it is that one must use a distraction technique first, such as poking the eyes, face palm to the nose, hitting the throat etc. This way one can make the groin an effective and accessible target.

    But I definitely agree with the main point of your article that it is unwise to use groin as a first target to strike and have the hope that one will have immediately a good possibility of it in a real self defense situation.

  23. I have just rejected a very long and aggressive comment advocating a groin attack to the exclusion of all else, and recommending a level of violence that I consider as impractical as it is ill-advised, for the many reasons I have already outlined – more than once – in the original article and in comments above.

    If this is your opinion, you are entitled to it. I am under no obligation to give it space here.

  24. Hello great article
    I do a bit of boxing and all the males always wear big cups to protect ourselves. I have taught my sister and daughters to go for the balls because I know how much it hurts.However all boys and men will instinctively protect their nuts.
    So I very much like your idea about striking the knee it sounds fairly effective.Perhaps I will rethink some of the ways that I use to think.

  25. This is interesting (and entertaining) reading. The only time I’ve seen women ever using self-defense in real life actually happened a few weeks ago.
    It was 2 slightly drunk teenage boys (around age 17 I’d guess) who’d tried to sexually assault a group of middle aged women in the middle of the street late at night, the boys had approached them and then tried to pull several women’s shirts off to expose their breasts. They quickly started fighting back and it degenerated into a kind of street fight, but the women easily won due to outnumbering them (and neither boy was particularly big).
    This pertains to your article because the women actually used both approaches. While they were fighting them off, they used several of the moves you listed, like kicking at the knees in order to hobble them, and also hitting them in the face and throat. One woman more or less disabled a boy when she kicked straight into his knee and it buckled his leg inward. But then once the women had clearly won the fight, and both boys were on the ground, the women finished them off by giving each boy a hard kick in the testicles.
    It was super interesting to watch. I’d never seen women actually beating men in a fight before. I wonder how much the dynamics changed due to the actual numbers of people though.
    The fact that the women outnumbered them seemed to make it very different from the scenarios you were considering. Especially at the end. The women obviously didn’t feel in any real danger after they’d clearly overpowered the boys, so the fact that they so confidently stuck around to crush the boys’ bollocks seemed like it was more of a kind of feminist punishment for the boys than it was a practical self-defense move.

    1. Very interesting, thanks for this. As to the coup de grace when the lads were on the ground, as well as potentially being a final punishment, and assuredly a learning experience, it’s also an effective way of ensuring you won’t be followed by assailants intending revenge with possibly newly enlisted allies, which would be at least as much of a consideration as far as I am concerned.

      1. Yes, I quite agree. I think the fact that they attacked a group of women who massively outnumbered them in the first place suggested they
        had heavily lowered inhibitions, which means getting simply overpowered may not have dissuaded them.

        I wonder if the fact they outnumbered them should change women’s approaches to self-defense though? I think that’s the main difference from the advice you give here.
        If you’re a single woman by herself, it makes sense to have a purely pragmatic safety focus to such a situation.
        In this case, part of what I enjoyed was that the women knew they were dominant quite quickly so they didn’t seem very afraid at all and adjusted their approach because of that.

      2. One of the issues with these types of discussions is that it inevitably attracts the attention of guys who bascially get off on this kind of thing. They pretend to be female and tell made up stories about incidents to spark off further discussions. While I cant say for definite all these stories are I am sure some of them are.
        Taking this story at face value however it raises a few issues. Firstly if you attack anyone while they are on the ground then its you that will be charged as they are no longer a threat. It doesnt matter the gender or who started it. These women would have been charged as the aggessors.
        The other issue is intent. Some people like being beaten up, whether thats by the same or opposite gender based on their sexual preference. So they may actually be goading you into something, simply because paying for that kind of service is rather expensive. And you are simply giving them what they want. There is a man who lives near me is known for this.
        The last point is that violence rarely ends with a one off incident. If these boys know these women and they are local then thats an ongoing risk they will have to deal with.
        I have actually seen two middle aged women kick a boy around 12 in the groin after they had him backed up against a fence. They were family members and had chased the boy outside after he had done something bad in their house (I heard one of them saying he wasnt allowed to do whatever it was he did), the police arrived and took him into custody. FYI he was still standing but bent over slightly.
        As far as women escalting things physically, it can work if they are bigger than the men and have experience fighting with male siblings as they grew up. There is a reason why the highest risk of this happening to a guy is around the time puberty kicks in, its because girls are taller than boys around this age. Not just a coincedence and it traumatises alot of boys to the extent they get PTSD from it.
        Whether training for women works was previously researched in the 70s when women self defence was at its peak in popularity, the things that made a difference were things that couldnt be changed, like the factors I just listed. But in the main, it doesnt really work.

    2. Wow, if she could kick hard enough to buckle his knee inward, I shudder to think what her kick did to his delicate testicles. He might not even be a man anymore

  26. I’d like to preface my comments by saying that men do indeed need to keep their hands (and their other parts) to themselves, unless given consent to do otherwise. I’ve managed to do that my entire life without difficulty. Regarding the story above (Helen’s) where two 17 year old boys assaulted a group of women and were fought off fairly easily, the so called “feminist punishment” to both, one of which apparently disabled from a kick to the knee seems particularly vicious to me. If the threat was relatively easily managed by middle-aged women, it would seem something of a stretch to think that either 17 year old boy (and they are boys) is going to have much of an appetite for round two – let alone the one with an apparent disabled leg. Kicking two boys in the testicles in this circumstance would seem to have been done with the express intent to maximize pain and possible injury/permanent injury. Fifteen minutes spent on the web suggests that there’s an almost enthusiastic vigor for finding the techniques that has the best chance of permanently injuring a man from a kick/grab/strike/what have you to the groin. Should those two boys have done what they did? Obviously not, and I’m not defending their behaviour in any way.

    1. I’ve been taking my time considering my reply to this, and have decided to let this comment stand as an example of the instinctive sympathy that one man can so often feel for another in these circumstances, as I mention in my original post.
      While the poster makes his disapproval of such behaviour clear, and that is very welcome, this comment still makes a series of assumptions minimising an attempted sexual assault, and putting a range of responsibilities on the victims.
      The assailants are ‘just boys’. No, they are not. They are young men with an unknown level of strength and fitness whatever their physique. They are responsible in law for their actions. They started this, so they don’t get to complain about the outcomes.
      With the benefit of hindsight, it seems these women were able to fight them off relatively easily. True, but these women had no way of knowing that would be the case at the start of this unprovoked and unexpected assault. They had no way of knowing if this attack was going to be limited to these two aggressors, or what force might be needed to escape them.
      However, according to this comment, in the midst of a frightening and violent situation, feeling all the effects of shock and adrenaline, these women are supposed to calmly assess all these factors and correctly decide when enough is enough, without adding that final kick to the balls. I consider that holds the victims to an unrealistic standard.
      We have no way to know what these women were thinking, when they opted for that final kick. This comment is assuming deliberate viciousness. Perhaps. I can still think of a range of other possibilities.
      And so what if this was deliberate payback? Are women who’ve just been attacked not allowed to retaliate, especially in the heat of the moment?
      None of us were directly involved, so we can only speculate. We can however examine the assumptions that underpin our speculations.

      1. Many years ago as a university student I was walking down the hall behind a group of people, on my way to another class, reading a calculus book as I recall. The next moment I was on the ground, in a world of hurt as they say. A woman ahead of me had turned and kicked me hard – and I mean hard, in the groin. I found out some time later that another man ahead of me had groped her. I was a mature student then, going to school and working full-time, and kept to myself. I did not know anyone in the group ahead of me, the woman, and was not the person that assaulted her. I suffered bleeding in the brain from striking my head on the concrete floor when I fell. After surgery, a long recovery period, losing the school term and my job, I returned to the school to make inquiries about the incident. Nobody had reported anything, and there was clearly little interest in looking into the matter either. I could not identify her anyway. This woman was also ‘responsible in law’ for her actions, yet suffered no consequences for it. Had I been able (and I most certainly wasn’t), I should perhaps have visited upon this women the full wrath that this assault warranted. I continue to suffer the effects of that incident, decades later.

        1. That’s an appalling thing to happen, and I am very sorry indeed for your troubles. It’s also a salutary reminder how easily innocent bystanders can be injured when violence begets violence.

  27. I’d like to reassert my statement in my initial post that I expressively DO NOT accept any man assaulting a woman and appreciate as far as is possible for a man to do so, the impact of the prevalence of this type of behaviour around the globe. In that regard, I do not in any way criticize women for learning to defend themselves. What I was trying to convey is that adopting the principle that says the primary objective is to do what is necessary (e.g. self-defense) to get free of the situation, I do not believe that anything beyond that is supportable or reasonable in the circumstances.
    Using my own experience, what (hypothetically) would have been an appropriate response from me, had I not been lying on the ground, vomiting, and on a pathway to death (so the neurosurgeon told me in the hospital) ?
    Granted, the woman was assaulted, and she had the right to respond in some way, but how does mistaken identity fit into the equation here? Should I (if I was able) accepted a hear felt “I’m so sorry” apology? I cannot adequately articulate the impact this event had on my life. Too bad for me I suppose; wrong place; wrong time. Imagine it would have been me that assaulted this woman in very similar circumstances; I’m confident that the outcome for me would have been markedly different that it was for her.

    1. We are agreed that self-defence is valid, and ideally, only proportionate force should be used. A key skill that martial arts practise teaches is control over the ‘fight or flight’ response, to enable a student to assess a situation and judge a reasonable response, without panicking.

      Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and people panicking in response to a perceived threat can and do lash out with what proves to be excessive force – in this case with severe consequences and directed at the wrong target. I’m simply being realistic.

      Accepting that such things are going to happen is not the same as endorsing them. None of that in any way dismisses or minimises the appalling impact on you, or lessens my sincere sympathies for your situation.

      As with earlier discussions here, I see limited value in discussing hypotheticals. I have no way to judge what you should or could have done. I wasn’t there.

      We can have no idea why that woman reacted as she did. She might have been the survivor of a previous, far more serious assault. She might have been someone with a hair-trigger temper that she never bothered to control and a history of unwarranted violence. Had this incident come to court, one would hope that such factors would have influenced any outcome – once again, in an ideal world.

      in the real world, there are as many examples of women demonstrably defending themselves who have nevertheless been harshly punished by the courts, just as there are of men whose sexual assaults have been excused and waved away with plea deals and suspended sentences. There are many cases of young men and women lashing out in a fight or in panic, who end up killing someone by accident, and are nevertheless treated as intentional murderers. Equally there are as many examples of all these sorts of cases where fair and equitable justice is seen to be done. Once again, I see no point in speculating about hypotheticals.

  28. I won’t take up any more space on your website with further or future comments. It’s not an ideal world; I’ve experienced that up close. No justice for me. I doubt the woman gave what she did to me a second thought- it’s just kicking some guy in the balls, after all…

    Good luck with your writing.

  29. Great article! Reading the comments is super interesting too, it’s great how many women have successfully defended themselves against sexist douchebags.
    The one thing I’ve always struggled with is very similar to the issue you mentioned in response to Helen’s comment above. How do you decide when you should run, and when you should try and “finish off” the man attacking you. In the self-defense classes I had at college, we were told that any opportunity you have to run away should be taken.
    But the only time I’ve ever been bothered by a creepy guy in the street, I managed to stamp my heel on his toe, and then trip him over backwards. I took that opportunity to run away, but unfortunately he got back up and managed to catch up with me before I could get to safety (luckily someone else can to help me in the end). How are you supposed to handle that situation? Given that the man was on the floor with his legs facing me, I probably could’ve done the same thing as those other women and finished him off by kicking him in the plums.

    1. It’s a very tricky question and anyone can only go with their best guess/instincts at the time. Kicking a man on the ground might be the best option – or that might enable him to grab the kicking foot/leg, which makes the whole situation a lot worse. On balance, the most common advice is to get away as fast as possible and I think that’s sound. For one thing that hopefully means getting closer to potential help if an attacker does catch up. So glad you did find an ally.

      1. Hi Jenny, I thought I’d just respond to this as I saw my comment mentioned (I think I ticked the box to get all notifications for this page, because I keep
        getting them via email). First of all, I’m glad you managed to escape the guy who attacked you!
        I actually spoke to two of the women who were involved in the incident in my original comment the other day, which was quite weird and unexpected. I hadn’t known any of them personally until now, but they recognised me from that night as I’d spoke to them at the time to see if they were OK.
        I bring it up because it seems quite relevant to the question of what’s the best defense approach. They were completely blunt and honest about the fact that they acted differently because they had strength in numbers, whereas if it had been one of them alone they would have just run for safety when possible. So that very much fits with Juliet’s advice!
        As an aside, I was also quite interested to hear what happened at the end was the boys didn’t seem to accept they’d had their asses kicked and so were still making a bunch of sexist threats against these women.
        They apparently threatened they were going to come back and rape them later in the week. It was that threat that made the women decide these lads really did need their bollocks crushed. I think I have to agree with them, after hearing that’s what was said.

          1. Thanks for the replies Juliet, and Helen.
            That’s quite the experience, Helen.
            I can’t believe they threatened these women with rape in a situation like that. These guys were clearly quite nasty pieces of work.
            In both of our situations the men seemed quite good at persevering despite their setbacks. I wonder if it’s perhaps the alcohol consumption that stopped them being
            dissuaded by losing the fight?
            I hope they handed these guys over to the police to be properly charged!


          2. Unfortunately not! They said they did report it to the police the next day but nothing really came of it. I guess the vague descriptions they gave
            of these 2 guys wasn’t enough for the police to track them down.
            Tbh I think that kinda sucks. I don’t want these kinds of assholes to be allowed to get away with this stuff. It especially sucks given that these
            women had completely dominated the situation. I think they regretted not seizing the opportunity to just forcibly take these guys to the police station
            on the night of the attack. They probably could have physically forced them, but I just don’t think it crossed their minds at the time.
            Do any martial arts practices have a solution to an issue like that Juliet? I assume some women who have a lot of training would deal with that and get the guys to the police somehow?
            Especially when the women had so completely kicked their asses!

          3. This is where these situations get even more difficult. There certainly are effective control and restraint techniques that can be used in such circumstances – we teach such things to door staff and paramedics, nurses, social workers, but they are quite specialised and require a fair amount of skill – as well as enough experience of being in a combative situation that enables you to think clearly in the midst of an adrenaline fuelled fight or flight response. These techniques are also not without risk – someone sufficiently drunk or stupid could eg dislocate or break their own arm trying to get loose.

            Without that sort of training, I’m not surprised these women just wanted to get away – and that may very well have been their best option regardless. There’s no saying what would have happened if they had tried a citizen’s arrest sort of thing. Anecdotally, I am aware of situations where the person restraining an attacker has been attacked themselves by someone else assuming they were the aggressor…

            As for the police response, that’s disappointing but not surprising unfortunately. Without eg crystal clear CCTV footage these cases are very hard to pursue, especially now when police and court resources are being cut to the bone. Or DNA evidence, assuming the offenders are on record for previous offences – when one of my sons was attacked the fact that the would-be mugger bit his gloved hand was what got the bastard tracked down and prosecuted.

            With the benefit of hindsight, a good thing to do would be to use a mobile phone to get the attackers’ pictures and ideally record their threats. But again, that requires clear thinking in the midst of a violent situation and getting a phone out might not be possible. Also the video would need to be decent quality. When my son was attacked, several passers by stopped to film the fight – not to help him or ring the police (?!) – but none of that video turned out to be any use at all.

            The priority has to be staying safe and these women did that, even if that meant letting the bastards go. As my son did – he realised he couldn’t restrain his attacker without seriously escalating the level of violence once the mugger realised he’d made a mistake and started fighting to get away, including biting my son. We told him he did the right thing – and as it turned out, the DNA evidence was there in the spit on my son’s glove to identify the thug. That’s what made all the difference for the police.

          4. Those are really good points! I hadn’t even considered some of those issues.
            Given that these women heavily outnumbered the boys, it does seem incredibly possible that
            they would themselves get blamed for assault if they’d forcibly moved the guys across town.
            It would look really dodgy to anyone who saw that. I think if a group of blokes especially saw some women
            forcing 2 teenagers like that, they might have an issue and they might try and get involved.

            Taking a photo of them is definitely the best idea in my opinion! They absolutely could’ve done that quite easily once they’d won the fight and the guys were totally wiped out.
            I assume they just didn’t think of that at the time (I sure didn’t). I think the issue is that when you’re reacting to assault in the split-second like that, you’re not really in the mindset to think tactically about the best long-term move. It’s more the fight-or-flight thing going on. If they had responded in a more thoughtful tactical way, would they not risk losing the fight in the first place? In the case of these women, it was the 2 or 3 women who were most angry that clearly made the difference, and it was quite telling that it was actually the 2 women who’d been groped (and 1 of them had her boobs exposed) who were adamant about making sure the lads got that boot in the bollocks that well and truly finished them off.

  30. Hello fine article I totally agree as a man I am very overprotective of my balls all boys learn that very early me having two sisters learned very you are correct we will guard them at all cost

    They are so vulnerable just hanging there and like you said no man wants smashed plums So if you want ty knee a guy in the nuts you have to set it up it’s not that easy.However if you do get a solid hit to his balls game over. I have learned from experience.

    I like your attitude and your teachings I do believe all females should be taught at an early age as my wife and I have taught our daughters and taught our son to respect females

  31. Thanks for taking the time to write this article, Juliet!

    I couldn’t agree more with your anger at people (usually men, let’s be honest) who dismiss women who are attacked with the classic “well…why didn`t you just kicked his balls?”

    But on the other hand, as a man I do feel very skeptical about the whole “men would defend their balls, so this is not effective” scenario, because in every situation I could imagine, I don’t see much of available ways a guy would even be able to protect his balls.

    In every stance a men would use to grab or attack, this would require him to have his legs open. They are too low for his hands to go down and if they do, then that means he is not attacking you with his hands, so you are free. It is hard to close your legs, because if that happens, it would be easy to throw him out of balance with his legs closed. So maybe it’s just me, but I can’t really imagine how in an assault situation a man would be able to protect himself there.

    I think it is safe to say, after all the research published and the statistics that were made available about both resisting assault and how attackers chose preys, that, contrary to what was said in the article, man are not “expecting to be kicked” because most attackers would go for women they are not expecting any resistance from. In a way, the male arrogance of his strength over women ends up helping woman to fight back a surprised and unready attacker, whose balls would more likely be available to the hit.

    Finally, while I do agree with your comment that you wanna give other alternative to women defending themselves that is not “just kick balls, it’s easy!”, I do feel it is important that, upon executing alternative methods like hitting the eyes to blind the attacker, for instance, such an opening is followed up by a hit to the balls in order to incapacitate the attacker for longer, allowing for a safer escape. I think we can agree that you don’t want to race your attacker, especially in cases, like some women commented, they are wearing high heels, or any other type of clothing that would hamper running faster (or simpler yet, if they are not used to running, or if the attacker is faster, or if the place includes a hard to open door in panic, an elevator door to open, etc…)

    Seems to me there is a difference between “here is a wide array of alternatives you can use to hit your attacker and escape, and by the way, if you can create an opening to hit his balls, go for it because it will buy you a lot of time to escape”, and just saying groin hits are a bad idea.

    In any case, congratulations for eliciting so many comments and responses to your article! It seems you really hit a nerve there 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

    1. I’m basing my opinion on what I have observed in over 35 years dojo experience. The speed with which a chap can react and shift his stance even ever so slightly so that a blow hits his hip or thigh instead of his groin can be startling!

      I would agree that a certain percentage of arrogant attackers wouldn’t expect a woman to fight back – and in such a situation, as I say in my article, if a groin strike is possible, she should take the opportunity.

    1. If you can make effective contact, a pointy shoe will presumably concentrate the force of the impact in the same way that a stiletto heel does more damage to a floor than a flat shoe. The problem of making effective contact remains.

    1. that’s not an area where I have any particular expert knowledge, and in any case, that isn’t the point of this article. The focus here is knees not nuts.

  32. I did a self-defense class a few years ago where the instructor told us the exact same thing! I was a bit shocked to hear that to be honest.

    My only question though is surely it makes sense to tailor your approach to different situations and people. In the case of my boyfriend for example, I’ve played Squash with him enough times to know that a shot in the nuts is guaranteed to have him collapsing on the floor and being down for at least 5 minutes. That’s happened about 10 times when we’ve been playing Squash.

    I would hope I’d never have to defend myself against him for any reason but in the unlikely scenario where I did, surely it would make sense to put this information to use. I’m quite confident that in an emergency situation I could give him a pretty swift boot in the balls that he would have a hard time dealing with. I feel bad even saying that as a hypothetical because I doubt he’d ever put me in that situation, but I think its worth considering as a mere hypothetical.

    1. As I say in the article, if the nut shot is available, by all means go for it. My point is, that’s not as easy as a lot of advice makes out, and there are other targets with their own advantages that people need to be aware of.

  33. Great article i totally agree. On the the other hand, it think that as woman, is more satisfying to hit the testicles when you have to defend against a man.

    I had to defend myself a few years ago and after kicking him in the knees, i smashed his nuts with my knee directly up into the pelvis bone,and while he was bending over i managed to hit him once more with a kick to the jewels. Thankfully it worked and i managed to escape.

    1. It’s a personal choice, and one that must be made in the moment, so I’m not going to second guess anyone. That said, I was recently reading about a court case where the person who was attacked successfully defended themselves – and then went on to do further damage when the attacker was unable to react. The attacker was prosecuted but received a reduced sentence because that additional action by the person attacked was deemed to have contributed to the fight. Something to bear in mind.

  34. This sounds like very good advice, thanks Juliet! We did hear similar advice to this when we did a self-defense class in college. Perhaps what used to be the “conventional wisdom” is shifting?

    I wonder if I could ask how these sorts of practical real world self-defense considerations intersect with fiction? I know you’ve written quite a few fantasy novels. I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read one of your books (The Thief’s Gamble) but I don’t remember how you worked your real-world self-defense knowledge into it, so I’m wondering what’s the best approach? I’m hoping to write my first
    novel over the next few years, and the whole action/combat side of things is one major part where I’m quite clueless how to go about it. Do you try and make it as realistic as possible so it feels very believable and immersive? Or do you throw caution to the wind and just write entirely for the entertainment value?

    I can think of examples that use both quite effectively. I quite enjoy Martina Cole’s Kate Burrows detective series. She would tend to go for the more realistic approach like the kind of advice you give about off-balancing your attacker and damage his knees so he struggles to stand, with the priority being the practical safety of the woman in question.
    Another series I love is Keira Montclair’s Clan Grant series. She has a recurring character called Gwyneth, who is something of a feminist power fantasy character, so she takes the exact opposite approach from your self-defense advice. She’s all about defeating sexist men in grand confrontations as a way of making overt feminist statements about women’s empowerment that other women will cheer (and men will fear). So in her case, she’s far more likely to try and best her male opponents with a good old fashioned wallop in the goolies, because it better sends that message.
    I wonder what your take on these approaches is?

    1. As a writer, I naturally draw on my own martial arts experience, but that’s not all there is to it by any means. I wrote more fully about this in my crime writing persona and you can find that blog post here

      There are a lot of other useful resources – I’ve always found non-fiction books and memoirs by soldiers and sports people give me insights into experiences I’ll never share, as well as the ways of coping with extreme physical demands where mental resilience becomes just as important. Then there are the fiction writers whose action scenes ‘feel right’ (like Martina Cole). Readers with no fighting experience of their own are remarkably good at sensing what’s implausible, so let your own instincts guide you there, when you’re looking for examples.

      One thing that just about every writer I’ve discussed writing fight scenes with agrees on is ‘less is more’. Adding more and more specific detail to try to make a fight scene immersive invariably adds confusion, not clarity. Writers like me with hands-on experience always end up editing these scenes down so that they’re comprehensible to the non-expert as well as accurate for those who know. That’s one thing that a very good writer I know relies on for her action scenes, since she has no direct fighting experience. So she gives the bare bones when describing a fight – slash, thrust, parry sort of thing, and focuses on the emotional side for dramatic impact – the characters’ anger/fear/hatred/pain etc.

      I think the best thing you can do is write these scenes as well as you can in draft and then get feedback from a range of readers to learn what is working well for them, and what doesn’t.

      1. I appreciate the comprehensive response Juliet. That’s all very interesting. I didn’t realise you had a pseudonym. I’ll be sure to try one of your crime novels at some point!
        I actually have already tried writing some scenes like this and got feedback from a few people, that’s how I knew I was going to struggle with the fight scenes. I had written a sword fight scene between my heroine (currenly named Beatrix) and one of her male rivals, but the main response I’d got was that it felt a bit too tame and overly formal. The reason I was interested in your article was because my friend Natalie, who was the first to read my draft, had suggested it would be more entertaining if Beatrix kicked the man in the balls in order to best him.
        That just made me realise I had no clue what kinds of fighting moves and styles are best suited for a medieval fantasy romance of this type. How do I determine that? Should I just write some variations and see which gets the best response with a range of readers?

  35. Hi Juliet, thanks for writing this article. It’s difficult to find reasonable discussions about this topic. Most people seem to either claim that groin strikes are like magic and cannot fail, or otherwise insist that they are almost completely ineffective. I think the former group is probably mostly people who are poorly informed or women on some sort of power trip. And the second group is mostly men who are uncomfortable with the thought, or who have never actually trained or experienced situations where they had to defend that area together with the rest of their body.

    If someone is trying to fight off a significantly larger opponent, unless she or he has a lot more training than the aggressor, they are honestly in a pretty bad spot. That’s why it’s important that if they can’t run away immediately, to catch the aggressor off guard, and to not assume that targeting one area is always going to work. Hit multiple areas in rapid succession if possible before escaping. Eyes, throat, and genitals can be damaged by even moderate contact, and knees, abdomen, face, etc. are also valuable targets. If a man is attempting to unclothe a woman, for instance, he may not be fully conscious of keeping her thumbs away from his eyes. And if he has exposed himself, a successful testicle grab of one or both organs would be almost certain to end the confrontation so long as she is able to protect her head for a few seconds with her other arm. Knee strikes are also valuable because they are likely unexpected as you said, although I believe it takes a pretty skilled kick to do enough damage to actually hobble a man. Good advice about escaping grips, although like you said a bit awkward to describe in text 🙂

    Finally, thank you for ackowledging that a groin strike can be an act of sexual aggression. Of course there are situations where that and other violent techniques are warratned in self-defense. But I have seen some women claim they don’t even consider it to be an escalation over hitting other areas, which seems ridiculous to me. It should be obvious why intentionally targeting someone’s private parts is psyhchologically distinct. Women should be respectful of men’s bodies, just like men should not feel embarrassed about themselves and should support women who learn self-defense.

  36. Juliet, can you tell what happens when the attacker wears a testicle cup? Does it protests his testicles fully or they are still vulnerable?
    What about the kick to the lady parts? Have you been kicked to your vulva? Is it painful enough to incapacitate the woman?

  37. How do you perform the testicle kick? Straight forward or from underneath?
    -I heard one female martial instructor said that its more devastating if you kick the testicles from underneath to squash them to the pubic bone when they hang low.

    In fact, I must say the testicle kick is extremely dangerous for men. My friend god kicked in the testicles by woman and one of his testicles was damaged – ruptured and they had to remove his left testicle. Thats very humiliating for man especially because women who doesnt own a pair of testicles damaged his manhood.

  38. Very good article, i likes how you explain to focus on other body parts such as knees and not on the balls likes many people say. Sure, as a woman i believe that a kick to the balls Is the best punishment for a man, It affects them mentally and gives them a sort of castration feeling, but It doesn’ t work every time and every situation Is different. Thanks for your tips, they helped a lot.

  39. Great article Juliet! I had to defend myself in different situations and i can confirm that going for the knees works. Most of the times i kicked their knees followed by a knee in the balls. Also, not many people know that a well placed knee in the balls can easily castrate the guy. I think male castration is very underrated but i’m sure Juliet agrees that is an amazing punishment. I also found very useful to hit the eyes,knees and balls in quick succession.Thanks for the good article

    1. What might be appropriate punishment for assault is a different conversation and not something I’m going to discuss here. Inflicting severe and lasting damage such as castration on an attacker is highly problematic and very likely to cause the target considerable legal trouble, even more so if there is any indication that doing this was intentional. So, no, I don’t agree with that point. My priority is how the person targeted can get away quickly and safely.

  40. Good article Juliet. I appreciate the self defense tips. I think many women are too obsessed with groin attacks because they think It deals more damage. I don’t like It when groin strikes are used for no reason. I was at the beach and there was a guy staring at some women wearing thong bikini, his girlfriend didn’t like that and punched his balls. Anyways, thanks for the article.

  41. One of the great ironies in nature is that the very orbs that dangle outside a guy’s body and secrete the hormones making him big, strong, and aggressive should also be his weakest spot! That the “weaker” sex can drive her knee up hard between a man’s legs smashing against his balls – and cause him to double over, fall to the ground clutching his wounded bits, curl up in a fetal position, possibly vomit, and all the while moaning and groaning in excruciating, incapacitating pain – is sweet poetic justice for all women !!! My boyfriend told me that it would make a potential rapist lose all interest in sex. He’d either be on the ground, or limping away, having to now cope with his incredibly agonizing ball pain. It would give the woman an excellent chance to escape!

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