13 Commonly Believed Myths About Self Defence BUSTED!

There are many Myths believed about self defence.

Some are absolutely WRONG. Others are not too bad but over simplify issues. These Myths try to get us to stop thinking for ourselves.

Some are more widespread than others. This largely comes down to people teaching who don’t know any better. It can come down to untrained people just spreading bad information.

There are simply too many Myths out there that need busting.

A key problem is the internet. Too often, poor ideas are taught to a large audience which gains traction and poor instruction spreads this way. McDojo’s are also a significant problem (see also herehere and here).

Who really knows how these 13 commonly believed Myths about self defence come from? The fact is, they are out there.

We are here to BUST them! Now let’s get busting!

1. Never walk around with your hands in your pockets

This idea comes from the opinion that you should always be ready to defend yourself, at all times. If your hands are in your pockets you cannot react quickly enough. Worse still, someone could come up behind you and get you in a bear hug with your hands trapped in your pockets. Now what?

But how likely is it really that you will be attacked suddenly when out shopping at the local mall in the middle of the day? When you are walking to the gym on a cold winters morning should you not put your hands in your pockets because you may be attacked at any moment?

The risk of attack is not enduring. It is not constant. It is not the same everywhere and at every place. There is a time and place for everything.

Saying that you should never have your hands in your pockets at any time is being extremely paranoid. That is being hyper alert. You simply cannot maintain such a level of alertness for too long without visiting the local psychologist.

There may be some times and some places where for a few moments or even an hour or just while you are moving through an area, that you should take your hands out of your pockets. That can be a smart thing to do.

But it does NOT mean we should always be on high alert for a violent attack. There are high risk times and places and low risk times and places. Simply act accordingly. So yes, feel free to slide your hands in your pockets when you feel the risk is low. When the risk of attack is higher, take them out. Simple.

Do not turn off your brain. Think for yourself. It is all a part of being aware of your surroundings.

Myth #1 BUSTED.

2. Never walk around with your earphones in

This is similar to the hands in pockets Myth. The theory goes that when you have ear phones in listening to music or a podcast, you are unaware of your surroundings. You could easily be marked and attacked.

But everywhere? What about on the bus in the morning and you know who everyone is? You see them every day. Same on the train. Ahh but what if someone from a rear carriage moves through? Possible. What if you sit at the back of the carriage so as anyone moves into the carriage you see them from the side? Could you just take them out then if necessary?

What about walking down the street? It would depend on the street and time of day. It all comes down to risk. If you spend time considering when and where is a higher risk for mugging type attacks, do not wear them then. Same thing for pickpocket type attacks. If you deem an area to be low risk, feel free to enjoy your music. It is just basic and rudimentary risk management. There is risk everywhere. But not high risk everywhere. Unless you live in a really bad area.

So maybe you choose to wear them on the bus, take them off as you go through the quiet area to the mall then put them back in as you walk through to work. There is no reason to never listen to music when out and about. Just be smart about it and at least consider the risk.

Again, just use your brain and consider these things. Do not let a stupid myth do your thinking for you.

Myth #2 BUSTED.

3. Don’t get eye contact with an attacker

The theory goes that you may antagonize a possible attacker. But what type of attacker? An Alpha Male or a Predator? For an Alpha Male you probably WOULD antagonize the situation. But for a Predator, you may just signal to him that he has lost the element of surprise and you are aware of his game.

Avoiding eye contact to a Predator will simply give off victim signals to him. It is not about staring the Predator down, it is just about noticing the Predator. This combined with looking around calmly and scanning your surroundings will likely result in the Predator seeing you as a difficult mark, so he will likely let you through his hunting ground.

So while staring at an Alpha Male can be a bad idea, avoiding eye contact with a Predator can also be a bad idea. So this rule is not a universal truth. Like most things, there is a time and place.

Another ill informed myth that tries to get people to stop thinking for themselves.

Myth #3 BUSTED.

4. Keys are an excellent improvised weapon

You’ve heard this one. On your way to your car in the car park, hold your keys a certain way so that if you are attacked, you can use them as a weapon. But just what do you think you are going to do with keys? You will probably cut an attacker open and cause a whole lot of their blood to cover you, that is for sure. Anyone think a mugger may have some blood borne diseases? Possible drug habit maybe?

But the aim of using physical force is to stop an attacker. Not cut them open with tiny flesh wounds. Fighting back at all may be enough to cause an attacker to cease his assault. In this case it doesn’t really matter too much what you use, as long as you fight back hard.

But for a more committed attacker, keys do not have much stopping or destructive power. They do not really offer a length advantage either. I’ve said it before that it would probably be a better option to go for an open palm strike to the chin. Such a strike to a high chance knock out point has a better chance of stopping an attacker than a fist full of keys.

Keys simply do not offer enough advantages over empty hand options to be considered a worthwhile weapon. And this was discussed recently when I spoke about the 5 Best Improvised Weapons in the World.

Myth #4 BUSTED.

5. Grappling with a knife attacker is suicide

This myth sees people stating that you should never grapple with a knife attacker. Such a thing is suicide. But let’s think this through. A knife attacker wants to strike you with it. It could be either a stab or slash, but most likely a stab of some kind. To do this they need to thrust it into you. This is a striking movement.

What is a good option in an unarmed context against a skilled striker? Get inside their striking techniques and grapple with them. This minimizes their ability to use their strikes effectively. Everyone knows going toe to toe with a skilled boxer is a bad idea. They will clean you up. You are playing their game. Closing and grappling is what they want to avoid.

So how is grappling a knife wielding attacker bad? Would such a myth believer feel it is better to go toe to toe with a knife attacker? Crazy. But many people believe this myth. The only way to stop a knife attacker from stabbing you (beside running away or being too far away), is to control the knife bearing limb. This involves elements of grappling. See hereherehere and here for evidence of this.

So it is not suicide, it is actually the best option.

Myth #5 BUSTED.

6. Always run away from a mugger

Seems fair enough. But it depends. Running away is good because it gives you distance from them and any edged or impact weapons they may have. Legally, it is smart as well. But there are times when it can be dangerous.

The main time this would not be the best option is when two things happen. One, you are in an area with a high rate of firearms use. Or you see one. The other factor is if you try running without giving them what they want such as your wallet or iPhone.

If you try to run without giving them what they are after, you risk being shot in the back. These two cases happened within a couple of days of each other and demonstrate this point.



Not surprisingly, both cases were in the US. One was hit with one well aimed shot and the other one was shot at four times but they all missed.

Yes running can be a very smart thing to do. But if firearms are likely or confirmed, throw down whatever it is they want prior to running off. They will likely be happy they have what they are after and will not try to shoot you as the risk will not be worth the gain to them. But if you hold onto that wallet or iPhone and flee, it may well be worth the risk as those two cases demonstrate.

There is also the ethical and morale aspects of what do you do if there are more than one of you being mugged?

Do you abandon them and save yourself?

It all depends doesn’t it. Who are those you are with (wife, children, friend, acquaintance, stranger), how many attackers, are they armed, are you totally out gunned and outnumbered, is it better to get away and call the police etc.

So running can be a smart thing to do, but consider the other aspects to it. It is not a blanket rule. Again, another simplistic myth that ignores many aspects of smart self defence.

Myth #6 BUSTED.

7. An attacker on the street will attack you like your co-operating training partner

This one is obviously a terrible myth. Most people know attackers do not attack like what happens during one and three step sparring. But they train that way. They may also do free sparring. So it is two parties who are already fighting (a mutually agreed fight on the street is illegal in most places by the way). There is nothing in between. An attacker will not step forward and punch and then stop. But thousands of people train that way and claim it as self defence.

A knife attacker will not step forward and thrust a knife straight at your abdomen and then stop there. But that is how thousands of people train knife defence. An attacker will NOT wait until you are ready and then do an attack of which you know what it will be. But that is how thousands of people train. Tens or hundreds of thousands probably.

There is nothing wrong with training that way initially. Skills need to be developed. That is one way skills can be developed. But for the vast majority of people, the training never progresses beyond that. And that is what the real problem is. At least some of the time, towards the end of a training progression, students need to be attacked in similar ways as what a real attacker will attack them like. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It should gradually progress up to a point.

This is so important. It is vital.

An obvious myth but thousands around the world continue to believe this. It is evident in their actions.

Myth #7 BUSTED.

8. Two against one sparring is the best multiple attacker training

Many people see two on one sparring as very difficult and very useful multiple attack training. And it is difficult. No argument there. But I have news for you.

Three or four or more attackers are FAR more likely than just two attackers (see also here). Two on one attacks happen only rarely so it is almost a waste of time to prepare for them. Multiple attack situations are far more dynamic in real life than just two on one.

Two on one sparring is not enough. It should only be used as a progression to three or four or more attacker scenarios. Maybe sparring is not the best idea. It is likely too difficult. But realistic scenarios involving many people would probably be a good idea.

Two on one sparring is not really of much use. That is the cold hard truth of multiple attacks in real life.

Myth #8 BUSTED.

9. The most dangerous knife attacker will hold the knife out in front and threaten you with it in a menacing manner

Systems that mostly teach knife defence with an attacking student displaying the knife out in front are mimicking what could be termed as the least lethal knife attacker. Generally when a person displays a knife to threaten, they only intend to threaten with it.

Just give them what they want and they will likely go on their way. It is unlikely they will attack you from there unless you say or do something very stupid. So practicing to defend against a knife attacker in this way is almost a complete waste of time.

The most lethal type of knife attack is one where the victim never sees the knife, at least until after they have already been stabbed. This usually occurs during an argument. The victim will usually think they have just peen punched. Often, the victim will be stabbed by a knife and not realize it because they do not feel any pain beyond feeling like they were punched.

So training to watch peoples hands during an escalating encounter is smart. Look for reaching under the shirt, behind the back etc. This is the most dangerous form of knife user. If they are being sneaky about pulling it out it is because they want to stab you with it without you realizing. They will not flash it around so you know they have it.

Myth #9 BUSTED.

10. You need to know two or three different counters to each type of attacking technique

This myth is usually born out of systems with a very large repertoire of techniques or a large syllabus. They need to justify all of their flashy moves with using different counters for each attacking technique. It looks good in a class but does nothing for developing a students ability to apply an effective technique against an attacker under stress and possibly being surprised and overwhelmed.

The best approach is to use one or two counter techniques for as many attacking techniques as possible. This is so that under pressure, there is less to think about. Not just logical conscious thinking but for the reflexes and muscle memory. Hicks Law states that the fewer actions to process the quicker and more appropriate the response is likely to be. A persons reaction to an attack takes longer when one possible counter belongs to a large set of possibilities rather than a smaller set.

Although some respected instructors debate the relevancy of Hicks Law, the fact is fewer options from a smaller bank is better. I think even Hock would agree with that. This also frees up our ‘bandwidth’ to deal with new unexpected information as this would leave us less likely to be overwhelmed than it would if we had a large selection of techniques that needed considering.

Although those hundreds of different scripted techniques may look good and impressive to new students, they are largely a waste; Especially when it comes to being able to apply techniques against a resisting attacker under stress.

Myth #10 BUSTED.

11. You will perform better under stress due to the increase in adrenaline and quicker responses etc.

This is largely the belief of younger students. They think that under the stress of the real thing, they will perform better and be stronger and quicker because of adrenaline. It makes sense in theory but does not work in the real world. We do not rise to the occasion, we sink below our abilities of even our training level.

There are no shortcuts or excuses for poor training or conditioning. In a real encounter, you will not think clearly, you will tire quicker, you will not move as well, you will not be as clean and smooth.

Ask any fighter about this. They will tell you the same. Fights are always harder than training, unless you have a great match against someone who you were simply an overmatch for. And a ring fight is organised and the fighters know it is coming. Add to that stress a surprise real life and death self defence situation and our abilities will further deteriorate.

You may initially have more strength than normal but this will quickly pump out and you will have hands and feet of concrete. I hope for believers of this myth that all of your encounters are very short and are broken up quickly.

About the only thing that will serve you well, is your resistance to pain. Most other effects will be more pronounced and will drop your ability to think and perform fine motor skills.

Luckily this myth is dying off but there are still many who believe this. It is simply wrong.

Myth # 11 BUSTED.

12. You should ‘finish’ an attacker after you have taken them down.

So you have taken your attacker down so you finish them off with an arm break or a few punches to the face and head. After all, that is what you do in training right?

Except someone walked around the corner mid encounter and began videoing it with their smart phone. They didn’t see how it all began. What will the video see? You beating someone down and assaulting them while they were held to the ground.

You can explain yourself. It won’t matter.

When that person was on the ground, they were no longer a threat to you. You continued to use force after the threat had stopped.

This is important. Do not use finishing moves in training. Especially after doing a knife disarm. Cutting a throat is murder. If you continue to use ‘finishing’ moves, please say hello to my cousin Bubba for me when you meet him. Sooner or later, you will.

Myth #12 BUSTED.

13. Your attacker on the street is going to be untrained and easy to beat

Here is our final myth. This was recently discussed by Iain Abernethy and Wim. Let us first look at the two components that make a threat. One is capability, the other is intent. And I will get back to this point soon enough. Now let’s look at the likely attacker. He may or may not have had some ‘fight’ training. Considering the circles an attacker would likely surround himself in, there would probably be some type of ‘corporate knowledge’ of what type of attacks work and what do not. They would also know some ‘tricks’ of the trade.

The other thing to consider is that your attacker is not going to walk up to you and ask you to fight and then wait for you to agree and you both take up fighting stances and crack on. His form of attack is not ring fighting. It is attacking. And there are two main types of attack as I am sure everyone who reads Low Tech Combat would know.

One is an Alpha Male who starts off very emotional and does not attempt to hide his intent to start a fight with you. Things will start verbal. Adrenalisation will occur. In this state, the attacker will probably have one or two key ‘street moves’ that only he and a few friends will know about.

I remember one tough street fighter acquaintance from my younger days who had a secret move he would always do. He was left handed. He would stand in a right handed stance with right arm back. Most people would assume he was right handed. As things evolved during the argument and posturing leading up to a fight, he would wind back his right arm slightly in an apparent wind up to punch with his right. He would make it slightly obvious so people would fixate on that right hand. As he seemed to be launching that right hand he was in fact winding up his left, strong side. Just prior to landing that right which people would fixate, flinch and react to, he would launch his heavy left hand and in most cases drop the person . Either way he would continue on with a massive flurry of punches. Very difficult to come back from for the other person.

The other is the Predator. He will hide his intent. He will not try to pick a fight with you. He may want to mug you of your wallet or phone. He will be in his area and he will be scanning for prey. When you go through his area, you will probably not be ready for it. He has set the scene. He will be judging and assessing you. You will be unaware of this. He may ask you a question. You may be surprised. He will see this and pull out his knife as you are looking at your watch to tell him the time.

So in both of these instances, who is REALLY the biggest threat for the most likely real violent encounter? I would say the other guy is. You may be better at ring fighting but this is not the ring. This is their arena.

The other guy has probably been in more of these situations. They know what happens. They initiate the scripts used. They have the initiative. They are controlling the situation. They may have armed themselves prior. This increases their capability. They may have friends with them. This increases their capability.

They have also been the ones who have decided to target you. They have made that decision to attack you. They have selected you for a reason. They believe they can beat you. They want to beat you down or they want what you have. It may seriously be a case of survival for them. They NEED your wallet or phone so they can sell it to buy drugs and maybe a bit of food as well. You will be under pressure. They will be less so.

The untrained attacker will likely have higher capability and intent for their game in their arena. This is why they do not walk into boxing gyms and challenge fighters there. They know they will be outclassed. Likewise, we shouldn’t claim we have more capability at their game. When we understand this, we can better prepare ourselves and increase our own capabilities and intent in their game.

Until then, it will be a tough ask. Hopefully you get some weak unarmed loner who made a poor decision.

A career criminal will not be easy. Just another reason to use awareness, avoidance and de-escalation yeah?

Myth #13 BUSTED.


So there we have it. 13 Myths about Self Defence BUSTED. The aim of this article was to highlight to you that there are few blanket rules that we should follow blindly. Any instructor who espouses such Myths has simply stopped thinking for themselves and wants their students to stop thinking as well.

There are few easy blanket rules. In this game of Low Tech Combat you will need to keep your mind open and keep thinking. Rules should not do your thinking for you.

If you come across others who are pushing these Myths you may want to let them know that things are not so easy.

Header Image by Dan Finnen

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