No matter how many Jason Statham movies you’ve seen or Tapout shirts you own, you never quite know how you’re going to react in a fight until the situation arises. Martial arts expert and self-defense instructor Alan Condon of Empire Martial Arts has spent more than 30 years preparing for just about any such situation. He teaches SWAT teams and New York State troopers how to handle gnarly altercations, so we presented him with six common scenarios and he gave us some info about how to get out of them with your pride and, more importantly, yourself intact.

Editor’s note: This article is meant to be informative. It is not a replacement for real self-defense instruction. The best defense is to avoid a conflict altogether.

Scenario 1: A good ol’-fashioned fistfight

WHAT NOT TO DO
You never know what strike is going to knock someone out, so if it’s clear that you’re in danger, don’t wait for them to hit you. If they do strike first, it’s OK to flinch, but don’t turn away from the action. Also, don’t pull anything fancy. It’s a major fallacy that there are points where you can hit a guy that will automatically knock him out. Some people might have severe pain tolerances. Some people might just be whacked out.

WHAT TO DO
Once the flinch reflex has passed, go forward and start hitting, immediately. Overwhelming force is normally going to win the day. You want to land as many strikes as possible, whether they're headbutts, punches, elbows, knees, or whatever your instincts tell you to do. You can think about knocking on a door, only in an aggressive way. Don’t stop hitting until you’re sure the threat is neutralized and you feel that you can get away safely. The last thing you want to do is stop striking and go back to square one.

 

Scenario 2: A rear chokehold

WHAT NOT TO DO
Movies and martial arts magazines always show people bending at the hip and throwing the person over. A lot of the time, what that will do is either make the choke tighter or just drag the person right down on top of you. If you’re in an environment where you don’t have much room to move, your surroundings could also restrict you. Trying to lean away from them is just going to tighten the choke like a zip tie or a noose.

WHAT TO DO
Turn with the choke. If they’re grabbing your head and twisting, you want to go with it and try to address the immediate threat, which is the fact that your blood flow and oxygen are being restricted. Grab the arm that’s around your neck and start to try and create a little bit of space between you and your attacker. You want just enough that you can start using your body offensively—we call this using combatives. Headbutts are good in this situation. Kicks to the groin will also work.

Your ultimate goal is to escape the situation, but you don’t want to leave the attacker standing. If this person grabs you once, they’re going to feel confident grabbing you again and if you step back from them and give them time, they may use it to pull a weapon.

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Scenario 3: Charge and tackle

WHAT NOT TO DO
You never want to get pinned against an object or a wall because it makes it more difficult to assume a strong, stable position. Despite what you may have learned about wrestling in gym class, don’t try to grab their head. If they have control of your hips, they’re going to be able to throw you on the ground. You don’t want to lose your balance because if you go to the ground, it’s a different fight.

!-- If you have never been down while someone is trying to hurt you, you might freak out. --

WHAT TO DO
Your hands are going to naturally go forward, and you want to employ what we call “space and base.” Try to get your hands on their hips or upper body—depending on whether your hands happen to be high or low when they hit you—and try to push them away. At the same time, you want to keep your feet a little wider and slightly drop your center of gravity. From there, you can go to combatives like knees to the groin and stomping on their feet. Keep forward pressure on them to stay in control of the situation.

 

Scenario 4: Someone tries to stab you

WHAT NOT TO DO
You don’t want to try to Karate the knife away from them. The double chop has been around for decades in the martial arts world and in the movies, and it’s completely unrealistic. If you do manage to avoid the stab, don’t turn and run away. If they can catch up to you, now you’re getting stabbed in the back and you have no chance to defend yourself.

WHAT TO DO
Your body is going to flinch naturally and you can build off that. You want to turn your body sideways to minimize the target, but stay close. You want to push the knife off of its path and away from your body, then lean into the attacker to control the stabbing arm and start striking. Hopefully, the first strike will scramble their brain a little and give you more time to act. Concentrate on the eyes, the groin and the head. There are certain things that will protect the bad guy from your attacks. Maybe he’s wearing a thick jacket or he’s just obese and it’s hard to do damage. But everyone’s eyes, groin and head will be vulnerable.

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Scenario 5: You’re confronted by a group of attackers

WHAT NOT TO DO
What you don’t want to do against a group of guys is drop back into a fighting stance like they do in the movies—they’re not going to attack you one at a time. You don’t want to get in a shouting match with these guys either because it’s distracting. You also don’t want to let them circle you.

WHAT TO DO
It might make sense in your head to take out the biggest guy or the leader first, but the rest of the group isn’t just going to stand around and let that happen, so hit the guy closest to you and move away as you strike. If you keep moving as you fight, it’ll increase your ability to find an escape. Even if you can’t get away, you might be able to find something like a chair to gain an advantage.

 

Scenario 6: Your attacker knocks you to the ground

WHAT NOT TO DO
Don’t turn away from your attacker and try to stand up. Looking in the opposite direction, you have no idea if they're trying to punch, kick or even stab you, so don’t lose the visual on them. It’s natural to curl up into a sort of fetal position in order to block any strikes and that’s not a bad start, but you don’t want to just lay there and let them play soccer on your body. Also, don’t try to pull them to the ground with you. Even if you think you can pull off a submission hold, you never know if they're going to start hitting you.

WHAT TO DO
Keep protecting yourself when you’re down, but maintain a visual on your environment and your attacker. Even though you’re on the ground, you still want to hit the person as hard as you can. Kick to the shin, knee or groin, if possible, and if they’re leaning over, kick them in the face. Once you have enough space or the attacker is reeling in pain, get up as soon as you can safely do so. If you have time, take a deep breath and get up on one knee before standing all the way up so you don’t get dizzy.