Self-Defense 101: Avoid Looking Like a Victim!

How do attackers choose their victims? James Field, a seventh-degree black belt in shotokan karate, has taught self-defense for four decades. During that time, he’s carefully studied how predators pick their prey.

“While in college, I worked in recreation centers and talked to young thugs,” Field recalls. “They told me they could simply look at certain people and see they were easy targets.

“There was something about these potential victims: their posture, demeanor, the way they walked. Many avoided [making] eye contact.”

One way to prevent an attack, then, is to avoid looking like an easy victim. “Walk with energy and self-confidence,” James Field says. “Make brief eye contact with people you encounter, but don’t act aggressively and don’t try to stare them down.”

Watch free videos about shotokan and other styles of karate shot in the Black Belt studio!

Your body language often reveals whether you’re a potential victim. Rest assured that the bad guys are watching you — always.

If your efforts to avoid conflict fail and you must take physical action against someone, hit and run. “If you do strike an attacker, don’t prolong the situation and exchange punches,” Field says. “End the fight quickly and leave.”

“Ideally, when you’re attacked, you’ll react automatically. The further you go in your shotokan training, the more your techniques will become reactions. They’ll become second nature to you. At the junior level of training, you learn basics. But when you graduate to the upper level, you learn the reaction of application.

“We don’t teach you how to fight per se. Rather, we teach you how to defend yourself.”

BONUS TIP NO 1: Present Yourself with Confidence

“Be aware of the message your body sends to those around you. Like animals, human predators target those they consider to be the weakest or most vulnerable. Attackers search for women who appear frightened, confused or distracted. They look for women who walk with their head down and their hands stuffed in their pockets, or perhaps one who is overburdened with packages or distracted by children.

“Remember that attackers do not want to bait a fight; they want an easy mark. By walking with confidence and awareness — looking around and keeping your head up and your shoulders back — you will dramatically reduce the likelihood of becoming a target in the first place.”

— Meredith Gold, Black Belt Hall of Fame member

BONUS TIP NO. 2: Beware the Surprise Attack

“While it is impossible to prevent a true surprise attack, a street thug is rarely able to fulfill his plan clandestinely because of the requisite levels of patience, skill, timing and luck. However, many so-called surprise attacks work because of the inattentive nature of most people.

“Although true surprise attacks are relatively rare, the potential for them can be greatly reduced simply by remaining alert and aware. Pay attention to your surroundings. Career criminals are experts at picking good victims. By displaying a level of consciousness not usually found among the general public, you send a message that you are a hard target. Most would-be attackers will chose someone else. Remember that if you want to stay alive, you must first stay awake.”

— James E. Briggs, American combato

(Photos by Sara Fogan)

For Street Self-Defense, There Is No Better Martial Art Than Shotokan Karate

You’re alone on a city street at night, the prey of an attacker determined to do you in. Without a hint of fear, he approaches you, demanding your money and threatening your life. Will you surrender and add your name to his list of victims? Or will you maintain control, fight back and turn the situation to your advantage?

Grapplers, Thai boxers and mixed-martial arts enthusiasts claim their techniques can help you escape such deadly confrontations — and they’re right. But they’re not your only options. Traditional arts such as shotokan karate can help you repel an attacker just as effectively.

shotokan karate instructor James Field

James Field, shotokan karate, seventh-degree black belt

Firm Foundation

One of karate’s most esteemed and disciplined styles, shotokan was founded a century ago by Gichin Funakoshi, an unassuming man who possessed a passion for not only the martial arts but for calligraphy, as well. Shoto was the pen name he used for calligraphy, and as he gained experience as a karate instructor, his fighting system became known as shotokan.

Already a revered instructor when he moved to Japan from Okinawa in 1922, Funakoshi established himself as a worldwide authority on karate. While in his early 70s, he won an uphill battle to help karate become an officially recognized martial art in Japan. At the time of his death in 1957, shotokan was one of the most highly regarded martial arts in the world. It remains so today.

A System of Principles

Just as Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” have influenced religion, Funakoshi’s “20 Principles of Karate” have guided the martial arts. Few documents, in fact, have had such a profound impact on modern karate. And although most of Funakoshi’s principles have spiritual applications, they also relate to hands-on self-defense.

For instance, Principle 12 reads: “Do not think you have to win. Think, rather, that you do not have to lose.” Principle 16 recommends constant readiness: “As soon as you leave home for work, think that millions of opponents are waiting for you.”

Funakoshi suggests why shotokan is ideal for self-defense: The art offers total self-mastery, not just a mechanical system of blocks, hand strikes and kicks.

“True karate-do places weight upon spiritual rather than physical matters,” he wrote in Karate-do Kyohan. “True karate-do is this: That in daily life, one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.”

Enter the 21st Century

However, the cause of justice often gets physical, and if you plan to survive a street attack, you need a martial art that can do the job. James Field, a seventh-degree shotokan black belt and one of the art’s most respected American practitioners, insists it’s up to the task. “Shotokan karate is self-defense,” he says.

shotokan karate instructor James Field

A longtime affiliate of the Japan Karate Association, Field (above) has trained for 40 years and runs a popular shotokan school in Santa Monica, California. “We don’t recommend exchanging blows with attackers,” he says. “We don’t teach you how to fight per se. Rather, we teach you how to defend yourself.”

Given their traditional training, shotokan practitioners try to avoid coming to blows with an attacker. And if they must hit an assailant, they do it and escape. “If you do strike an attacker, don’t prolong the situation and exchange punches,” Field says. “End the fight quickly and leave.”

Idealistic? Perhaps. But it’s essential to shotokan self-defense, which is grounded in fundamentals and not in cutting-edge sparring combinations. “Traditional schools of karate spend a great deal of time practicing basic techniques, basic sparring drills and forms,” explains Robin Rielly, a sixth-degree black belt in the art. “The result is the production of students who have superb technique and a thorough understanding of karate and how it works.”


Unfortunately, Rielly sees too many instructors teach self-defense but neglect the basics in favor of free sparring. “This is a mistake,” he warns. “The ability to free-spar or fight well is the result of training and should not be the primary means of training.”

Accordingly, shotokan students learn most of their self-defense moves through forms training. This approach doesn’t make sense to some people — especially beginners — but all shotokan forms are chock-full of self-defense applications.

A Practical Approach

Remain aware. Most experts teach that awareness is the first step in self-defense. By knowing your environment, you can frequently prevent trouble. And if you’re forced to fight, you will usually be able to escape quickly afterward.

“When you walk into parking structures and other potentially dangerous places, you …

Gichin Funakoshi: Creator of Shotokan Karate

If there’s one man who can be credited with popularizing karate, it’s Gichin Funakoshi. Gichin Funakoshi was born in 1868 in Shuri, then the capital city of the island of Okinawa. He started practicing karate while in primary school but didn’t begin his mission of spreading it to the outside world until he was 53.

The story of Gichin Funakoshi’s early years is similar to that of many greats in karate. He began as a sickly, weak boy whose parents took him to a karate master named Yasutsune Itosu for training. Because of a doctor’s herbal remedies and Yasutsune Itosu’s instruction, Gichin Funakoshi soon blossomed. He became a good karate student and developed physical expertise and a disciplined mind.

Standout Student

Funakoshi gave the first public demonstration of karate in 1917 in Kyoto, Japan. When he moved to Japan five years later, he stayed with other Okinawans at a students’ dormitory in Tokyo. He lived in a small room alongside the entrance and would clean the dormitory during the day when the students were in class. At night, he would teach them karate. After a short time, he’d earned sufficient money to open a dojo.

Funakoshi started visiting the Shichi Tokudo, a barracks located on palace grounds, every other day to teach and was always accompanied by Hidenori Otsuka, one of his most brilliant students. In 1927 three senior students decided that the kata practice they had been focusing on was not enough. They introduced jiyu kumite (free fighting) in their training, so they created protective clothing and wore kendo masks to shield their faces against hard strikes. Funakoshi heard about these bouts and, when he could not discourage them — he considered them belittling to the art of karate — he stopped coming to the Shichi Tokudo.

Focus on Kata

Funakoshi always believed kata was the secret to becoming skilled in karate. When he moved to Japan, he brought 16 kata with him: five pinan and three naihanchi, along with kushanku dai, kushanku sho, seisan, patsai, wanshu, chinto, jutte and jion. He made students practice the pinan and naihanchi forms for at least three years before he allowed them to progress to the more advanced kata. The repetitious training paid off, though, because his students developed the most precise, exact karate taught anywhere.

Explore shotokan kata in this FREE download!
Crack the Heian Shodan: The Heian Kata Foundation of Shotokan Kata

Although he was sincere about teaching the art, Funakoshi had his share of critics who scorned his emphasis on kata and decried what they believed was “soft” karate that wasted too much time. Funakoshi just kept making his students concentrate on their kata.

Higher Goals

Funakoshi was always a humble man. He didn’t preach the humility of virtue but a basic humility of a man who is rooted in the true perspective of things, full of life and awareness. He lived at peace with himself and with his fellow man.

Whenever Gichin Funakoshi’s name is mentioned, it brings to mind the parable of “A Man of Tao and a Little Man.” As it’s told, a student once asked, “What is the difference between a man of Tao and a little man?”

The master replies: “It is simple. When the little man receives his first dan, he can hardly wait to run home and tell everyone he made his first dan. Upon receiving his second dan, he will climb to the roof and shout to the people. Upon receiving his third dan, he will jump in his automobile and parade through town with its horn blowing, telling everyone about it.”

The sensei continues: “When the man of Tao receives his first dan, he will bow his head in gratitude. Upon receiving his second dan, he will bow his head and his shoulders. Upon receiving his third dan, he will bow at the waist and quietly walk alongside the wall so people will not see him or notice him.”

Funakoshi was a man of Tao. He placed no emphasis on competitions, record breaking or championships. Instead, he emphasized self-perfection. He believed in the common decency and respect that one human being owes another. He was a master of masters.

Funakoshi died in 1957 at age 88, after humbly making a tremendous contribution to the art of karate.

For More Information:
This essay was excerpted from The Weaponless Warriors.

To learn about the history of shotokan from the perspective of Gichin Funakoshi student Osamu Ozawa, read this article.

To learn a shotokan karate fighting technique from Kyle Funakoshi, a relative of founder Gichin Funakoshi, watch this free video.…

Kyle Funakoshi: Advanced Strategies to Improve Your Shotokan Techniques (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article, martial arts instructor Kyle Funakoshi — son and student of Kenneth Funakoshi (who appeared on the June 1992 cover of Black Belt), as well as fifth cousin of the legendary Gichin Funakoshi — began breaking down advanced strategies for better shotokan techniques. Part 1 covered rhythm and timing. In Part 2, Kyle Funakoshi explores how your shotokan techniques can benefit from the understanding and practice of feinting and baiting.

How Feinting Can Improve Your Shotokan Techniques

Feinting is defined as a strategy for taking your shotokan techniques to the next level that entails the use of a deceptive movement to distract your opponent from your true intent. It’s often a matter of partially executing a technique to elicit a reaction from him.

“If a beginner tries to throw a feint, he’ll face several problems,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “Because he doesn’t know how to control his body yet, it won’t be believable. It’s important to do it only after you’ve reached a level where you can relax your body enough. You want your opponent to believe you’re attacking him and react to it. Then you can control the situation.”

Karate was invented by the world’s only unarmed bodyguards to protect the world’s only unarmed king — from Americans. Explore the secret history of this martial art and crack open the kata with new insight into their meaning and purpose in Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins — Expanded Edition.

The key to executing a convincing feint, Kyle Funakoshi said, is movement: body movement, head movement, hand movement and hip movement. “It’s not just about moving your hands. You have to make it believable in every way.”

Challenge No. 2: Even though you’re using essentially your whole body to sell the feint, you must avoid committing to the point that you can’t follow up with one of the real shotokan techniques from your arsenal. “You have to make it short and quick,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “If it’s too long or there’s too much of a lag time, you might get caught or your opponent might not react because he knows nothing is coming in.”

Kyle Funakoshi’s reference to the thought processes of the opponent begged a follow-up question: Are there some people who simply will not react to a feint and some who will react to anything? “Yes,” he confirmed. “If they don’t react, it’s because the feint was too fast or you’re not at the level yet to throw it effectively — in other words, your opponent is faster than you and can see that you’re not going to commit.”

Knowing that feinting may fail if you’re facing a faster foe, should you try it once and immediately move on to other shotokan techniques? Not necessarily, Kyle Funakoshi said. “I would give it a couple more tries because sometimes the person is slow. Maybe he doesn’t have the reaction time to respond to your feint. Maybe you have to change the rhythm or timing of it. Instead of 100 percent, you might have to slow it down in the beginning to create an opening.

“Also, if he’s tired, he might be too exhausted to react to anything. Then you can kick or punch him at will. If he’s fresh, he’ll be more on the ball and likely to react to your feints.”

[ti_billboard name=”Feint to Roundhouse Kick”]

How Baiting Can Add Even More Surprise to Your Shotokan Techniques

In a way, baiting is the opposite of feinting. In feinting, you do something to create an opening. In baiting, you do nothing to create an opening. That “doing nothing” might entail keeping your hands high to give the impression that your body is exposed or keeping them down so he thinks your face is exposed. Either way, Kyle Funakoshi said, you counter when he comes in for the kill.

The strategy would seem to be risky against an unfamiliar opponent because he might be faster than you. “That’s why you should do it only when you feel comfortable and you’re fast enough,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “If you’re at a tournament, it’s a good idea to observe the competitors, to study how fast they are and what techniques they like to use.”

We’ve got high-impact self-defense moves straight from a former U.S. Marine special-missions officer and training expert for law-enforcement and government agencies across the United States. Download our new Free Guide — How to Win a Street Fight: Four Self-Defense Moves From Combatives Expert Kelly McCann.

Another key to success is following up with right counter for an opponent’s shotokan techniques. Should your response be preplanned, or does it depend on how he takes the bait?…

Kyle Funakoshi: Advanced Strategies to Improve Your Shotokan Techniques (Part 1)

When you want to get good at anything, it’s always best to go to the source. When that anything is shotokan karate, the first source that comes to mind is anyone with the surname Funakoshi.

Enter Kyle Funakoshi, a martial arts instructor based in Milpitas, California. He grew up in Hawaii, where he started training in shotokan techniques when he was 5. His sensei was his father, Kenneth Funakoshi, a man who’s no stranger to the pages of Black Belt — he appeared on the cover of the June 1992 issue.

Kyle Funakoshi and his family moved to San Jose, California, 24 years ago so they could administer their association’s many dojo from a more centralized location. Since then, they’ve built a reputation for offering the highest-quality instruction in the Japanese art.

More than 31 years of practicing shotokan techniques and participating in national and international competition have brought Kyle Funakoshi to where he is today — seventh-degree black belt. Ask him why he’s dedicated his life to the understanding and practice of shotokan techniques, and he’ll humbly hint that he wants to carry on the tradition of the art’s founder, Gichin Funakoshi — his fifth cousin.

We’ve got high-impact self-defense moves straight from a former U.S. Marine special-missions officer and training expert for law-enforcement and government agencies across the United States. Download our new Free Guide — How to Win a Street Fight: Four Self-Defense Moves From Combatives Expert Kelly McCann.

Black Belt arranged for Kyle Funakoshi to drop by for an interview and photo shoot to help readers better understand advanced strategies for better shotokan techniques. He immediately started explaining what could have been a complicated subject, breaking it down into terms and concepts anybody can comprehend.

“Some of the factors involved are rhythm and timing, not only of your techniques but also your opponent’s so he doesn’t know when you’ll attack,” he said. “When he’s unsure of when you’ll strike, that opens up his body to you.”

Those two sentences marked the beginning of what amounted to a private lesson on enhancements for shotokan techniques with Kyle Funakoshi.

[ti_billboard name=”Feint to Reverse Punch”]

Instantly Improve Your Shotokan Techniques Through Rhythm and Timing

“There are all sorts of rhythm,” Kyle Funakoshi explained. “There’s natural rhythm, in which you’re not moving. There’s a rhythm in which you’re pressing your opponent. There’s a rhythm in which you’re doing a yori ashi, or sliding back and forth.

“Whenever you have an opponent in front of you, that changes rhythm again because both of you are moving — especially when he throws a fake, or when you do and he reacts to it.”

One of the most common manifestations of rhythm can be seen when two taekwondo stylists face each other and begin to bounce. Kyle Funakoshi said such a tactic is valid but using it requires caution.

“There are many ways to use rhythm in your kamae, or fighting stance,” Kyle explained in his breakdown of training for improved shotokan techniques. “One could be you’re stationary and pressing your opponent. Another is you’re bouncing to get your own rhythm. You might be bouncing up and down or forward and back. If you bounce too high, you can be timed and hit with a reverse punch, front kick or side thrust. If you move forward and back, you have to be careful of the distance. If you bounce too far, it can leave you open to attack or telegraph your intentions. You have to find the distance that’s just right for your body.”

Karate was invented by the world’s only unarmed bodyguards to protect the world’s only unarmed king — from Americans. Explore the secret history of this martial art and cracks open the kata with new insight into their meaning and purpose in Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins — Expanded Edition.

Just Starting to Seek Improvement in Your Shotokan Techniques?

If you are a beginner with this method of enhancing your shotokan techniques, be extra careful or you risk exhausting yourself before you even engage your opponent. “If you bounce too much or move inefficiently, you will tire yourself out and be ineffective, and it will be harder to throw the technique,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “Everybody’s bounce is different; it has to be adjusted to your body.”

Blast from the past: “Back in the old days, they didn’t bounce around at all,” Kyle Funakoshi said. “They had a more macho way of fighting. They would take their kamae stance and just press each other. There were no feints. Whoever was the strongest would win. A lot of it was intimidation. You didn’t show any emotion; you just came straight in and …