I would also like it not take a lot of work to pick up, I mean, it shouldnt take long before I am able to defend against the average person. I am willing to work at it to improve from there.

Also my physical fitness is not optimum, I would like to rely more on techniques

By without causing pain I mean ether minimise or eliminate pain to me and opponents.

  • 6
    Fundamentally you defend yourself by applying pain and/or disablement to your opponent. The more practiced you are the more exactly you can apply just the right amount of pain or disablement. "Self defense" incorporates this along with other philosophies, like how to keep safe, how to spot hazards, etc.
    – slugster
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 12:13
  • @slugster: The threat of pain can be much more efficient than the ability to inflict pain... Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 12:44
  • 1
    @Sardathrion yes, "walk softly and carry a big stick", but the OP mentions sub-optimal physical fitness, which (if it means a less imposing physical presentation) typically makes any unarmed threat less potent.
    – tniles
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 17:10
  • @tniles09: You do not need to be physically fit to carry a concealed firearm or to have freinds that do or to have freinds that would make any attackers' live a living hell for the few hours they have left of life. Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 18:30

8 Answers 8


You have two requests here.

First, you can learn to defend yourself against an average person relatively quickly - just as much as you can learn basic first aid, relatively quickly. Whether it will be enough or not really depends on the luck of the draw of the situation you face. Going to train once or twice a week, for a few months, in a school aimed at actual self defense, will get you there pretty easy. However, a) you'll take some bruises and have to push yourself, and b) you'll learn stuff that probably involves hitting and hurting the opponent.

A lot of modern combative arts, Krav Maga, Systema, and such cover this. A decent number of traditional weapon arts like Kali or Escrima would work too.

Your second request, to minimize pain, is pretty much mastery. That is something you're not going to learn quick, and it may not be possible in some situations. in which case, running and escape is about it.

  • 1
    I can relate a lot to your dilemma. I'm still recovering from the effects of having been bedridden with cancer and chemotherapy over a year, so my fitness is shot to hell. However, I understand for self defense, the option to do pain/harm is a significant tool in protecting yourself.
    – Bankuei
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 19:45

Running seems like it is the thing for you: You can start now and improve your techniques by going to the gym to find a trainer, going to a run club, and reading books and magazines on running. You can also get a whistle and blow it (while running to a safe place) to attract attention to your predicament.

Martial arts take long time to learn. Self defence takes long time to learn. Anyone telling you otherwise is selling something (read: conning you) that will get you killed, maimed, or jailed -- possible all three in any order.


A fundamental truth about self-defense is that the more relevant skill, strength, and experience you possess, the less damage (and pain) you need to inflict to accomplish your goal.

Other than running away, there aren't many real options which offer substantive protection without a commitment to training while minimizing pain dealt to any aggressor one is defending against. I think you need to consider that your stated goals aren't compatible with each other.


Quite a challenging set of criteria. To minimise pain to your opponent, you basically need to apply some hold or joint-lock until the opponent submits. The arts that try to apply joint locks while standing - in my opinion and after spending several years studying hapkido and aikido after a solid base of striking arts - require a massive gap between your skill level and your opponent's to apply reliably, so aren't a practical short term self-defense option. Some kind of wrestling where you can hope to pin or choke an opponent is perhaps more practical, but if you learn only that without any awareness of striking you're move likely to walk into a punch. So, I'd suggest looking for a relatively laid-back Mixed Martial Arts gym where it's not so intense that you're getting significantly "hurt" at training, but also not so feeble that you're not genuinely trying hard to prove the techniques work during training.

That said, the aversion to pain should be questioned? There's a difference between causing injury that's of lasting consequence, and causing short-term pain. Pain's not so bad, but a lot of us live such sheltered lives we're unaccustomed to it and disproportionately averse. If you learnt kick boxing (or similar arts like muay thai or kyokushin karate), you could quickly learn to deliver a solid kick or two to the leg, while keeping your guard up to protect your head and torso, and that'd likely dissuade most aggressors - more through pain than injury. Similarly, a liver punch is momentarily debilitating, but recovery is very fast.

Whatever you choose to do, there's normally some leeway to try to rely more on technique (and strategy, footwork, timing etc.) than fitness during the class, but there will likely be sporadic moments when the less you put in, the more punishment you take (again, it's often the shock of being on the receiving end that you need to overcome, more than pain or injury).


What is an "average"person? I know quite a few people that can take a lot of pain/punishment that have never trained. There are also a lot of average people that are simply just much bigger than I am.

You want a 3 month, Bruce Lee in a,box course that turns you into a mystical wuxi finger hold master, and there ain't no such creature.

And from a personal standpoint (28 years in MA), if someone comes at me and I have no other option but fighting (which in itself a last resort), I will inflict whatever pain is necessary to protect me and those around me.


I am sorry to disappoint you. There is no such thing.

Learning a self defence that minimizes the pain to yourself and others is one of those things that people seem to asking for a lot but that can never exist. It is like the proverbial wish of eating your cake and having it too...

By definition, martial arts are all about effective application of pain and discomfort.

It is also implied in the practice and practical application of martial arts that you only really use it when facing an immediate and unavoidable threat to your life and/or that of your close ones.

If you should ever find yourself in such a situation, you need to be aware that the attacker has already crossed the unspoken threshold of the social norm and does not give a flying s**t about your feelings or health or well being. He (or she) is out to hurt you. He is ready for this and he will not stop even if you ask nicely not to. This is the territory that is completely out of usual comfort zone of an ordinary person...

The only option in this case is quick and efficient (well, as quick and efficient as you can manage) application of pain and/or discomfort that will disable the attacker (or attackers) for enough time to get out of this situation without further damage.

If you have learned (and mastered) some form of martial art, you have a chance of more control over the amount and the manner of hurt you can inflict, but there is always some pain involved (with implied threat of more pain and discomfort)...

Another concern that I read in your question is that you want to learn martial art without getting hurt in the process. This is impossible.

The process of learning to function efficiently in the situation of conflict involves putting yourself in a similar situation. A lot!

If you want to learn to fight, you have to fight to learn.

As part of the learning process, you will make mistakes that will result in hurting yourself or your training partner. Maybe even seriously. That is the nature of the martial arts practice. You can not completely avoid this — only keep your eyes open to avoid the most serious of injuries. Without this crucial component you might just be better off learning yoga or gymnastics instead. Be prepared to eat bitter, as chinese say it...

Or learn to run. Longer and faster than anyone else.


Aikido is exactly what you are looking for.

Aikido is often translated as "the way of unifying (with) life energy" or as "the way of harmonious spirit." Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Note that :

The most common criticism of aikido is that it suffers from a lack of realism in training.

I can agree with this, but know that; after you begin to master the techniques and gain control over your body, Aikido is effective in handling the average person (also including bigger, stronger and faster than you), without any pain to both parties (you and the attackers). None the less, an Aikido technique can also be use to inflict great pain, aiming to control and reduce the will to fight, in the opponent's mind.

You should look it up.

From personnal experience and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aikido

  • All Aikido techniques involving locks and pin inflicting pain (nice pain, but still pain) as a side or primary effect. For example. kote gaeshi, a supinating wrist twist was meant to shatter the wrist. Even in a safe training environment, pain is an unavoidable side effect even for someone familiar with an escape. For someone untrained, a broken wrist is likely. Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 6:54

Based on your expressed desire not to cause pain, I would recommend a martial art that focuses on health and enlightenment. The martial arts which claim such a focus will likely direct you towards solutions that don't cause pain to yourself or others.

As warned by others, the art of stopping an assailant without any pain is a topic for mastery. Pain is the quick way to stop a conflict (whether it is your opponent getting hurt, or yourself). To stop a conflict without pain is a very valuable skill, but it will take time no matter what martial art you choose. In fact, if anyone suggests you can attain it in anything less than a lifetime of study and self improvement, I'd be wary of their claims.

Aikido and Tai Chi come to mind as excellent disciplines for this sort of goal. Those arts naturally lend themselves to such painless victories. However, it is oft said that the best way to strive for such enlightened goals is not to find the teacher of the correct art, but rather to find the right teacher and learn whatever he or she happens to be teaching. It is absolutely possible for a teacher to teach these things with a more external art, like Tae Kwon Do or Boxing. If you find a teacher worth following and they happen to teach Muay Thai boxing, then by Jove follow them and learn some Muay Thai!

  • All Aikido techniques involving locks and pin inflicting pain (nice pain, but still pain) as a side or primary effect. For example. kote gaeshi, a supinating wrist twist was meant to shatter the wrist. Even in a safe training environment, pain is an unavoidable side effect even for someone familiar with an escape. For someone untrained, a broken wrist is likely. Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 10:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.