Please note that this article is intended to be informational only, it is not meant to be instructive. There is a huge difference between the dissemination of information in a general forum and providing professional, personalized instruction. The author of this article, Jeremy Barger, owner of, and River City Kenpo, LLC, are not liable for any misuse of the techniques, training, or information provided here and cannot be held liable for injury caused by any third party’s misuse of the techniques and training provided here.


What is the purpose of self defense?

When asked this question, the majority of people will smile awkwardly, hesitate for a brief moment, and then respond with something similar to the following:

“The purpose of self defense is to allow you to defend yourself during an attack.”

Their awkward smile is because the question seems to answer itself. After all, the term self defense seems to contain an inherent purpose within it; the term is a noun that appears to also be a verb. The purpose of self defense-the noun-is self defense-the verb. The end is also the means. In reality, all that they have done is provide a definition for what self defense is without providing its purpose. Most people fail to realize that the definition of a thing and its purpose are not always the same. The definition of self defense is summarized as the act of defending oneself, but the purpose of self defense is much more specific and, consequently, much more complicated.

The purpose of any viable self defense is threefold: 1) recognize the true attack, 2) eliminate the threat, and 3) neutralize the opponent(s). In this post we are going to examine the first step, recognizing the attack, and why it is the foundation upon which all self defense is built.

Any discussion about self defense begins with four presumptions: 1) you are being attacked, which means that 2) you are beginning from a defensive position, which means that 3) you are being reactive, which means that 4) the attacker has already exerted force against you. In the majority of cases, the true attack is obvious so it is easy to recognize: a right punch, a left punch, a left kick, a right kick, etc. In a few cases, however, the true attack can be much harder to discern. Take the example of a two-hand grab to the lapel (chest) area of your shirt. What is the true attack in this scenario? When I have posed this question to my students over the years, they have all responded-without fail-that the attack is the two-handed grab. This answer, while based off of instinct, is wrong. The students are responding to the act of aggression, but just because an act is aggressive does not mean that it is the true threat.

Besides wrinkling your shirt, a two-hand lapel grab–by itself–can do absolutely no harm, so it is not the true threat.(1) Both arms of the attacker are committed to the grab, so this allows you to eliminate the arms, and therefore all hand strikes, as the true threat. Since this is not the presentation of a self defense technique, nor the dissection of an attack on the street, I will not belabor this point too much, but hopefully you now realize that recognizing the true threat is not as simple as identifying the act of aggression. It should also go without saying, but I will say it anyway: without being able to recognize the true attack, there is no self defense. You cannot defend against that which you do not see, but once you are able to recognize the true attack, you can transition from a defensive position to an offensive position, which allows you to then eliminate the threat.


The first step is the foundation upon which all self defense is built. While the ability to see the true attack is the single, most critical element of any self defense system, it is not the only one. You gain no advantage by recognizing the true threat if you do not know how to eliminate it. Learning how to eliminate the threat is the second step, and it here that the inherent contradiction of self defense comes into play, because to eliminate the threat, the defender must become the attacker.


This is the first of a three part series entitled, “Practicability and Purpose: The True Nature of Self Defense.” In the next post we will take a detailed look at what exactly it means to “become the attacker” and examine why it is necessary for self defense to be truly applied.


(1) Please note that this example of a two-hand lapel grab was given only to illustrate the concept a true threat. In this scenario, it was noted that, “a two-hand grab-by itself-can do absolutely no harm” and, while this statement is certainly true, it needs to be said that any grab, whether applied with one hand or two, should be treated as an immediate and critical threat. This topic will be covered in a later post, but it is a grave mistake to quantify acts of aggression differently. A grab should be treated with the same severity as that of a push, which should be treated with the same severity as that of a punch. This does not mean that your response should be equally severe regardless of circumstance-a subject that will be covered in the next post-but it does mean that you should be just as vigilant, alert, and aware when responding to any act of aggression. Treat all attacks as the same because they are the same; each attack is an attack against you with the intention of harm.