In 2018, 29-year-old Brazilian BJJ black belt, Guma Epfane Vasconcelos, was tragically killed in a road rage incident in São Domingos do Maranhão while trying to subdue a man with a gun.

We don’t know what happened in the lead up to the encounter but video footage shows Vasconcelos parking his car and approaching a man on a bike. Both appeared to be aggressive towards each other and then the man on the bike pulled out a gun. He attempted to push Vasconcelos away and was actually retreating but Vasconcelos continued to advance. The two wrestled and Vasconcelos tragically lost his life after being shot point-blank in the head. Had Vasconcelos simply walked away, he’d be still alive today.

This incident highlights the importance of handling street confrontations wisely. You may be a very experienced martial artist or even a fighting champion but not knowing how to manage those street encounters wisely can lead to serious and potentially fatal consequences.

In this post, we will cover 15 simple yet effective self-defense tips that can be applied in real-life situations. By following the principles and strategies outlined below, you can significantly improve your chances of escaping unscathed from unwanted street confrontations.

1. Assess the situations beforehand

Assessing the situations beforehand allows you to take the least risky options or plan risk management and self-protection ahead of time. In most cases, nothing bad will happen but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • You need to go out to get some medicines for your kids late at night from a nearby chemist. You would usually walk past a couple of blocks, through a park and then one more block to get there. But given the time of the day, ask yourself: Is it a safe option considering the neighborhood you live in and should you drive the short distance instead?
  • You are heading home from a night out with friends, you’ve been drinking and can’t drive. Should you choose a short-cut through dark alleyways or should you take a longer but well-lit and populated route, or should you call a taxi?
  • You will go to a football match on the weekend where fans of the opposite team are known to be a little rough and plenty of brawls have happened in the past. Find out about the history of fan violence and the specific areas or sections of the stadium where confrontations are more likely to occur. You may also need to arrive early, choose your seating wisely, familiarize yourself with emergency exits and stay with your group
  • You are going on a camping trip or hiking trip on your own, find out as much as possible about the route, local wildlife, weather conditions, the water sources, picnic spots, camping areas, phone reception, and the availability of emergency services. This knowledge will help you assess the risk and prepare adequately
  • You walk into a bar or a night club, take a few seconds to scan around and see the kind of people are there, whether they are already intoxicated, where the emergency exits are, and whether you can trust your buddy to keep an eye on you and your drink while you are there.

By assessing these situations in advance and taking appropriate measures, you can improve your personal safety and reduce potential risks.

2. Remove yourself from dangerous situations

Even if you have assessed an environment as safe beforehand, unforeseen circumstances can arise, and your initial assessment may prove to be incorrect. It’s crucial to remain vigilant and take immediate action to remove yourself from potential threats or dangers. This is the best way to protect yourself. For example:

  • If you find yourself in the midst of a mob attack, focus on finding ways to escape the situation. Look for openings in the crowd, move towards well-lit and populated areas, and seek help from nearby authorities or bystanders
  • In the event of a riot or civil unrest, it’s crucial to distance yourself from the affected area. Stay aware of your surroundings, identify potential escape routes, and move quickly and calmly to a safe location
  • If you’re at home during the night and someone is attempting to break into your house, prioritize your safety over defending your property. If possible, escape through a safe exit, such as a back door or window, and seek help from a neighbor or contact the police
  • If you’re walking alone on a dimly lit street at night and someone approaching gives you an uneasy feeling, trust your instincts and cross the street to avoid crossing paths with that person
  • In an elevator, if someone standing inside gives you a bad feeling and there are no other occupants, it’s wise to wait for the next elevator instead of putting yourself in a potentially uncomfortable or unsafe situation
  • In the event of a fight breaking out in a nightclub, your immediate response should be to remove yourself from the scene. Do not hesitate to make your way towards the nearest exit, leave the premises immediately and notify security about the situation if possible.

In all of these scenarios, the key is to trust your instincts and respond swiftly to remove yourself from potentially dangerous situations. Your personal well-being should always take precedence over other concerns.

3. Always practice zanshin

Practicing zanshin, a state of being fully present and aware, while staying attuned to your surroundings at all times, is essential for maintaining personal safety. By being present, alert, and responsive, you can recognize potential threats and dangers at their earliest signs.

While walking on the streets, minimize distractions like excessive phone use or wearing headphones. These distractions will make you oblivious of what’s happening around you and impair your ability to detect potential threats.

Stay vigilant by keeping your focus on your surroundings. Observe the condition of the buildings in the area. Be aware of people loitering on the street, vehicles and potential exit routes. Note the time of day and the day of the week and ensure good visibility. Being alert to these details can help you identify any potential risks and take necessary precautions.

When approaching your car in a parking lot at night, maintain a safe distance and observe from afar. Scan the area to check for anyone loitering near your vehicle or any suspicious activities. If something seems out of the ordinary, trust your instincts and proceed with caution. It may be best to report any concerning observations to the police rather than proceeding on your own. Only unlock the car when you get there. Once you are inside, immediately lock the doors and leave the car park straight away.

While driving on a quiet country road, maintain vigilance and remain attentive to your surroundings. Look for anything that appears suspicious or out of place. If you encounter a broken-down vehicle or someone in distress, it’s safer to refrain from stopping to assist personally. Instead, consider notifying the relevant authorities or roadside assistance to provide aid.

In crowded environments, such as events or gatherings, practice active observation and attentive listening. Pay attention to your surroundings, including the behavior of those around you. Trust your instincts if something feels unusual or raises concerns. If necessary, take immediate action to remove yourself from the situation or seek assistance from security guards or law enforcement.

You often hear crime victims telling the police that their attackers appeared out of nowhere. In most cases, they were wrong. Their attackers didn’t suddenly materialize, it was the victims who failed to pay attention and were completely unaware of the developments leading up to the attacks.

Therefore, it is important to incorporate these practices into your daily routines to enhance your ability to detect and respond to potential dangers promptly, especially if you live in a rough neighborhood or traveling through risky areas.

4. Project confidence

One of the most effective ways to discourage potential attackers from targeting you is by projecting confidence through your body language. The way you carry yourself sends a powerful message about your self-assurance and ability to defend yourself. Below are some tips to show confidence and reduce the chance of becoming an easy target:

  • Stand tall with your shoulders back and your head held high, slouching or hunching over conveys vulnerability or passivity
  • Maintain eye contact with those around you. This demonstrates assertiveness and self-assurance and shows that you are aware of your surroundings and prepared to respond to any potential threats
  • Walk with purpose, maintain a steady pace and avoid meandering or appearing lost, as it can attract unwanted attention
  • Dress in a manner that makes you feel comfortable and self-assured. Wearing clothes that fit well, match the occasion, and align with your personal style can boost your confidence levels. Also, consider your choice of accessories or belongings that may make you a target for theft, such as flashy jewelry, luxury branded clothes or expensive electronic devices.

Projecting confidence through your body language can make potential attackers think twice before targeting you and significantly contribute to your personal safety.

5. Keep calm

In the unfortunate event that you find yourself targeted despite taking all necessary precautions, maintaining a calm and composed demeanor is crucial. It is natural to feel a surge of fear or adrenaline in such situations, but allowing panic to take over can impede your ability to react effectively and make sound decisions.

If you are confronted with a life-or-death situation, telling yourself to calm down can only do so much. But what can help tremendously is forging a calm and ready mindset through your previous training.

If you treat every kata you perform, every kumite drill you undertake or every competition match you engage in as if you are facing a real opponent in a life-or-death situation, you will cultivate the mindset of readiness and calmness.

You will be always ready and able to keep calm when you happen to face an attacker on the street because this will be just another day at the office for you. Keeping calm will become your second nature. You will be able to stay in the present moment, read the attacker, assess the environment, and make rational decisions based on the situation.

6. Hide, walk or run away from danger is the best self defense

Even if you are an experienced martial artist, you should always prioritize avoidance over physical confrontation. Every fight avoided is a fight won.

If you can, hide, walk or run away from danger is always better than a physical fight. There is no shame in picking the easiest way to ensure your safety. You should only take up a fight when there are no other options available. You really don’t need a street encounter to test out fighting strategies or techniques. Street encounters are often unpredictable and the attacker may possess various advantages, such as being under the influence of drugs, having accomplices, or being armed with dangerous weapons like knives or guns.

Even George St Pierre, a three-time former UFC Welterweight Champion and widely regarded as the greatest fighter in MMA history, acknowledges the importance of prioritizing personal safety over material possessions. He says that he’d give the attacker his phone and wallet if that’s what they want.

Regardless of your fighting skills and experience, unforeseen circumstances can quickly turn the tables against you. A surprise attack from an unseen accomplice, while you are preoccupied or lying on the ground, can put you at the mercy of a group of hostile individuals.

In summary, if you have the opportunity, simply walk away from potential confrontations. Verbal abuse, spitting, or dirty looks may be unpleasant, but they don’t harm you. Engaging in a fight, on the other hand, carries significant risks and should be avoided whenever possible.

7. De-escalate the situation

If you can’t avoid a confrontation on the street, try to de-escalate the situation through verbal assertiveness. Here are some strategies to employ:

  • Project confidence but maintain a non-threatening appearance, for example, keep a neutral facial expression, maintain an open posture, keep your body relaxed and your palms open, and avoid aggressive gestures. This non-threatening body language can help defuse tension and promote a more peaceful exchange
  • Avoid actions that may provoke or escalate the situation, for example, refraining from shrugging your shoulders, pointing fingers, excessive gesturing, pacing, fidgeting, or weight shifting. This can help create a calmer atmosphere
  • Don’t raise your voice and use a calm, low, and soothing tone instead
  • Listen actively to what the attacker has to say, let them talk, hear them out, show genuine interest in their perspective and don’t be triggered even if they are taunting you or being aggressive towards you
  • Show empathy by acknowledge the attacker’s emotions or concerns and make them feel heard and understood, potentially diffusing their anger or frustration
  • Seek common ground if possible and shift the focus from conflict to finding a resolution.

However, de-escalation may not be an option and may not work in every situation. If you feel that your safety is at risk or the encounter becomes increasingly hostile, you may need to shift your focus to how to end it as quickly as possible while protecting yourself.

8. Maintain a safe distance

If you find yourself confronted by a potential attacker, it is important is to ensure a safe distance between yourself and the attacker when possible. One to one-and-a-half arm lengths is considered a good distance.

By maintaining a safe distance, you create a buffer zone that allows for better reaction time and reduces the chances of getting hit.

If the attacker advances towards you, back away slowly while maintaining eye contact and be ready to react if necessary. At the same time, assess your surroundings for potential escape routes, well-lit areas, or individuals nearby who may be able to offer assistance.

While maintaining a safe distance, you can use assertive verbal commands to state clearly that you have no intention of fighting, for example, “I don’t want to fight”, “Leave me alone”, “I don’t want any trouble” “Back off”. Also, keep your focus on their actions, as they may provide cues about their next move or any potential threats.

If you have been backing away and have stated clearly that you don’t want to fight but the attacker keeps advancing, as soon as he or she invades your personal space, it’s time to act decisively and effectively to defend yourself.

9. Carry a personal safety devise

Carrying a personal safety device, such as a whistle, pepper spray, a personal alarm, a tactical flashlight, a taser, nun-chucks, or even a firearm, can serve as a deterrent and provide an added layer of protection.

It is important to note that local regulations regarding the legality of these devices can vary greatly depending on where you live. Before obtaining and carrying any personal safety device, familiarize yourself with the specific laws and regulations in your area to ensure you are in compliance.

When selecting a personal safety device, choose one that you feel comfortable and confident using. Also, it’s critical to take the time to learn how to operate it effectively and practice using it in a controlled environment. This familiarity will allow you to use the device quickly and efficiently when faced with a potential threat.

However, carrying these safety devices around can give you a false sense of security. It is important to see them as a tool to aid in self-defense rather than a guarantee of safety. You still need to practice other self-defense strategies such as situational awareness, avoidance and de-escalation techniques which we believe to be far more important than possessing safety devices.

10. Call for help and make noise

If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, don’t hesitate to contact the authorities immediately if that is a practical option. Keep calm and provide them with accurate and detailed information so that they can reach you faster. Also, informing the attacker that the police are on their way can potentially deter them from further aggression and encourage them to retreat.

In addition, scream or shout for help when in immediate danger or use personal alarms to attract attention if you think there may be people in the vicinity. This can startle the attacker and alert others nearby to come to your aid.

11. Prioritize your safety and cooperate with the attacker

Co-operate with the attacker to the extent that is reasonable. If the attacker demand money and other possessions, give it to them, nothing could be more valuable than your safety and your life.

If they want your phone, money, credit card, watch, or jewelry, throw them in the opposite direction and run.

But if they ask you to put your hands behind your back or step into a car or the back of a truck, you may need to think twice before complying with their demands.

These kinds of request indicate an intention to further harm or abduct you. In such situations, it may be necessary to weigh the potential risks and consider alternative courses of action to protect yourself.

12. Keep the element of surprise

Even if you know martial arts, don’t show it and instead keep it as an element of surprise which can be extremely valuable in a street fight.

Don’t assume a karate, Muay Thai or boxing stance which is a big give away. Those who go around looking for a fight on the street are likely to immediately recognize that you have martial art experience. The less they know about you, the better it is for you.

Instead, assume a natural stance or have your arms up and your hands open in front of you which will allow you to react faster and protect vital areas. Tell them repeatedly “I don’t want to fight”. Let the attacker think you are an easy target and make them lower their guard.

13. Be decisive and effective

When you realize that a physical confrontation is unavoidable, you need to act immediately and decisively. In all unprovoked attacks, it is advisable to follow Cobra Kai’s code of “Strike first! Strike hard! Strike fast! No mercy!”

Hits first. If you can’t get away, make sure you are the one who get the first punch in and utilize your surprise advantage. Striking first can disorient the attacker and potentially give you enough time to run to safety.

Be nasty. Target the attacker’s vulnerable areas such as the eyes, nose, throat, groin or knees. Techniques like eye gouges, knee strikes, or palm strikes to the chin can temporarily disable the attacker and create an opportunity to escape.

Hit hard. The goal is finishing the fight with just one technique (ikken hissatsu). In order to achieve this, you will need a lot of training before the encounter. This means, in your daily training, train this technique a lot, be it a jab aiming at the nose or the throat or a round-house punch aiming at the ear or the temple. Visualize during your training that you are knocking out an attacker with this single technique.

Be resourceful. Utilize everyday objects as improvised weapons, if necessary. Items such as keys, pens, umbrellas, bags, or deodorant spray can all be used as effective tools to defend yourself.

14. Never let your guard down

A fight isn’t over until all threats are gone and you have secured your complete safety.

If you knock the attacker down to the ground, make sure you’ve done enough that he or she is not able to recover quickly and give chase when you are making your escape.

Stay vigilant even if your attacker is subdued. Remain alert to the possibility of accomplices or additional threats. Maintain your guard until you have thoroughly assessed the situation and are absolutely sure that there are no further threats.

15. Practice common street fight scenarios

Practicing common street fight scenarios beforehand can help you better defend yourself on the streets. For example, imagine the following scenarios, plan how you are going to handle them and practice techniques you think would help:

  • Facing a bigger attacker
  • Facing a taller attacker
  • Facing a smaller attacker
  • Facing an attacker armed with a knife
  • Facing an attacker armed with a gun
  • Becoming a target of hate crime
  • Facing an intoxicated attacker
  • Facing an attacker under influence of drugs
  • Dealing with a road rage driver
  • Being grabbed from behind
  • Facing multiple attackers
  • Being ambushed in an isolated area.

Forget all the fancy moves and complex combos. Stick with simple and effective techniques and practice them over and over again.


The overarching principle of street self-defense is situational awareness, danger avoidance, de-escalation with effective communication and, when a physical fight is unavoidable, take the initiative, attack first, attack decisively and get away quickly.

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