16 Principles of Self-Defense

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There are many types of martial arts and many self-defense techniques.

Used alone, the right martial arts techniques can be effective against many attacks. But learning the guiding principles of self-defense will take you much farther.

In this article, I cover 16 principles of martial arts used in SFP self-defense. They stem from a wide variety of traditional and modern martial arts.

All these principles of self-defense are as important as each other. I present them in alphabetical order.

Use these principles of personal defense to help you understand how techniques work. You can then make your own moves no matter what the situation.

Constant Barrage

There is a constant barrage of slapping, twisting, pulling, and pushing of your opponent.

This serves at least one (and usually several if not all) of the following purposes:

  • It confuses and disorientates your opponent.
  • ​Often you move your opponent one way while striking from the opposite direction. This increases the force in your strike.
  • ​The movements in themselves bring a certain degree of discomfort and pain.
  • ​You place your opponent in the ideal position for the next move.

This also makes use of Newton’s first law of motion which states that:

“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

In reference to your movement, it means that it is better for you to keep moving once you are in motion. This is because it takes more energy to stop and then restart that it does to continue an existing motion. Also, the continued motion will be faster and so more powerful than if you were to start from inertia.


In martial arts a counter is an attack made in response to your opponent’s attack. It is about being proactive.

There is always a counter to your opponent’s move, and there is a counter to your counter, and a counter to that counter. It can go on forever. The victor will be whoever has the most foresight and/or intuition to out-counter the other.

Close combat is a game of chess. Fast chess. Instinctive chess.

Note: The closer you get to your opponent the less opportunities there are for counters. You can use this to your advantage. First closing distance while gaining an advantageous position. Then you can finish the fight before the opponent recovers.


Grounding yourself means to be solid with the ground.

When you are grounded you have more stability. This allows you to generate more power into your attacks. Power in strikes comes up from the ground. This is a well-known concept in the world of martial arts.

Here is a simple exercise you can do to get the feeling of grounding. Pretend that you are drilling your body into the ground.

You can also use the act of grounding to increase damage, i.e., letting gravity do its work. This is well-demonstrated in angulated stepping and the bomb-kick.

To get the feeling of using grounding in this manner lift both your legs off the ground without jumping. Let gravity do its thing.


Body mechanics and physics play a big part in the efficiency of SFP Self-Defense.

By using parts of the body as fulcrums you can gain more leverage, apply locks, break limbs, etc.

One-Handed Fighting

The demonstrations on this website use both arms. But you can do most of the unarmed techniques one-handed. This is useful in real-life scenarios. Such as if you are holding something you cannot drop or if your arm gets injured.

Once you have a good grasp of the techniques you should train to do this. You only need to omit using your rear hand.

Power Angles

This is another principle based on physics and body mechanics.

There are certain angles that create the strongest frames. Your limbs should never be below 120° or above 160°.

120° is best for defense. Any smaller and your arm will collapse when pushed towards you.

160° is best for an attack. Any larger and your opponent can push your arm to the side. Being larger than 160° will also make it more susceptible to capture, e.g., placed in a lock.

As a general rule, keep your limb at 120°. When you strike, extend it to 160° and then let your body push through. This combines power angles with grounding. Add in spring-loading and aim for the spine. Now you have the ideal strike.

Spine Center

The Spine Center principle is almost the same as centerline theory. Centerline theory is common in many martial arts, including Wing Chun.

The following is an excerpt from the book Basic Wing Chun Training by Sam Fury.

Understanding the center-line will allow you to instinctively know where your opponent is. Control the position of your center-line in relation to your opponent’s with footwork.

Your centerline is an imaginary line drawn down the center of your body. All the vital organs are near the center of the body. Keep it away from your opponent by angling it away from him.

Vortex Control Spine Center Principle

Your central-line is different from your center-line. Your central-line is from your angled center to your opponent.

Your central-line is different from your center-line.

You generate the most power when punching out from your center. This is because you can incorporate your whole body and hips.

When attacking in a straight line your center-line is away from your opponent. Your central-line faces his center.

Your center-line is away from your opponent while your central-line faces his center.

With hook punches and other circular attacks, the center- and central-lines merge.

There are three main guidelines for the centerline.

  • ​The one who controls the centerline will control the fight.
  • ​Protect and maintain your own centerline while you control and exploit your opponent’s.
  • ​Control the centerline by occupying it.

SFP Self-Defense focuses on the spine center. Instead of putting your offensive focus on your opponent’s centerline, focus on his spine. Doing so makes the idea of striking through your target more intuitive. Also, the many jerks and twists in SFP Self-Defense affect the spine.


Another principle based on the combination of body mechanics and physics is spring-loading.

The basic premise is that you compress your muscles like a spring. These springs are then released in strikes which increases speed and power.

The speed of strikes is not only how fast you reach the target. You must also be fast to recover. Recovery is to reload the spring which you can then send out again. In your arm, your triceps are the spring forward and your biceps are the spring back. Do this in alternation with your two arms. This allows you to make many strikes in very quick succession.

Spring-loading is also used in your legs. The groin kick is a clear demonstration of this, but it is present in all movements.

It is important to remain relaxed. Load the spring and then release it, but never tense so much that it slows you down.

Taking Space

Always crowd your opponent. Get in his space and claim it. Keep pushing your opponent back and do not let up.

This will unbalance your opponent both mentally and physically.

Thank you

Take whatever your opponent gives you and use it to your advantage. Whichever way he applies pressure, flow with it. Redirect it if needed, but there is no need to oppose it head-on.

For those that want to become very good at this, practice Chi Sao.

Another use of the thankyou principle is to always take something back. For example, when retracting your limb from a strike grab your opponent’s arm or nose-ring.


The principle of vibrating enhances the effectiveness of a movement. You can apply it in many situations. Use it to increase the force in locks, as repetitive strikes, escaping holds, and more.

Demonstrating the effectiveness of vibrating is best done by the following examples.

Shirt Grab Escape

An attacker grabs you by the shirt front.

With your right hand reach over your opponent’s arms and grab his right wrist. At the same time, use your left hand to grab the same arm.

Reach over your opponent’s arms and grab his right wrist

To release your opponent’s grip twist your body to your right using a waterfall motion.

Twist your body to your right using a waterfall motion.

This move in itself is a common self-defense technique, but it may not work on a strong opponent. Increase its effectiveness by vibrating.

As you twist your body make small, fast, jerking movements. Concentrate these movements into your twisting motion. Do it more where your opponent is gripping you.

Rear Bear Hug Escape

An attacker puts you in a rear bear hug with your arms pinned.

A common way to get out of this is with rear elbows but if your opponent’s grip is too tight you will not have the room to do this. Vibrate your body to create space.

Vibrate your body to create space.

As soon as you have even a little room, rear elbow left and right.

Finally, drop your body weight and ground yourself to break your opponent’s grip.

Drop your body weight and ground yourself.


By using the motion of a vortex (like water going down a sinkhole) you can break through your opponent’s defense. For example, if your opponent is pushing your hand in a certain direction you can use a vortex to move around it.

Another way to use the vortex is if your opponent grabs your arm. A fast vortex motion will most likely free you from his grip while you counter-strike in the same motion.

In most cases, you will want to vortex towards your opponent’s spine.

Warfare Strategy

The strategy for attack in Vortex Control Self-Defense mimics that of warfare.

1. Intelligence

First you must gather intelligence so you can make the right decision about your enemy.

In warfare, this is through methods such as espionage. In self-defense, it is better understood as “sizing-up” your opponent.

Within a few seconds of studying your enemy, you can know any weaknesses, such as obvious injuries. Also, sense fear (or lack there-of), assess his ability (speed, strength, skill), etc.

You can also assess your surroundings. Look for possible escape routes, available weapons, etc.

2. Bombs

After your initial assessment, assuming you feel that fighting necessary, attack with bombs.

The military uses planes and mortars. In Vortex Control Self-Defense we use bomb-kicks.

3. Infantry

Finally, once the bombs have done their job, the infantry goes in. This translates to the use of entry techniques and the fighting formula.


The analogy of a waterfall explains how to perform certain movements. It refers to the water going up and over the edge.

The freefall of water is also akin to grounding.

Combing the three actions of waterfall, grounding, and the vortex is very powerful.


The principle of weaponizing means to make as many of your movements attacks as possible. This is the case even if they are defensive or neutral in nature. Here are some examples:

  • ​Instead of placing your foot down after a kick, use it to stomp your opponent’s knee or foot.
  • ​When defending against an incoming strike, block it in a way that hurts your opponent. For example, punch his arm (a stop-hit).
  • ​Your intention may be to apply a lock, on the way you can make various strikes.
  • ​After hitting your opponent, hit him again while retracting your limb.

Yin and Yang

Yin is “soft” and Yang is “hard”. Soft does not equal weak.

The combination of soft and hard, fast and slow, etc. will make your techniques work together.

Here are some examples to show the use of Yin and Yang. These are only a few examples of a concept that applies to everything in the universe.

  • Tai Chi is very Yin (slow and soft) in practice and to the layman, it may seem useless for combat. But if you speed the movements up to become Yang (hard and fast) they can be devastating.
  • ​In training it is useful to use more Yin and less Yang. Doing things slow (Yin) first allows your mind and body to “soak in” the lessons. If you go straight to Yang you instill poor technique. Also, chances of injury while training are much higher.
  • ​When an opponent strikes you can receive his attack using Yin, going with the flow of his motion. You may also defend against it using yang, attacking your opponent’s limb as he strikes. A third option is to use a combination of Yin and Yang. This is where you receive the attack by flowing with it. You then redirect the energy in a manner of Yang to counter-attack.
  • ​When using your hand to meet an attack, if your fingers face forwards it is Yin. If your fingers face up it will be Yang. When your fingers are up you expose the hard boney part of your hand, but when your fingers are forward it is not.

Self-Defense Principles Conclusion

The above 16 principles of self-defense come from a variety of martial arts. Understanding them will improve your skills no matter what discipline you study.

Techniques are useful for embedding instinctive reactions against common attacks. But there are so many variables that you will never be able to have a "default" move for every attack. Knowing the above principles means you don't need to. You will be able to adapt to any situation.

Did you find these 16 principles of self-defense useful? If so, please share them with your friends.

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