I'm looking to learn specific techniques that can be used in a variety of self-defense situations, but generally are "relatively safe" on your opponent.

Not sure if I have to justify myself on this website (first post), but I'll try to briefly explain my reasoning.

I'll preface with: First preference is to de-escalate / talk your way out of a situation. Second preference is to run. If both fail, or aren't ideal, then fighting becomes an option. This is just my opinion.

I want to avoid strikes because they can be very harmful. I want to avoid ground-grappling as a main focus (I'll probably have to learn it enough to stay off the ground), because in worst-case-scenarios I don't want to be sitting on top of someone while his friends stomp me.

I had a quick look at what Aikido had to offer, but as far as I can tell it was all reactionary, and required bizarre situations (such as your opponent grabbing your wrists and holding onto them).

I am a big fan of blood chokes. I have successfully performed some Judo throws. I've trained in some wrist locks. I can throw a variety of strikes.

I fully understand that each technique has a level of risk involved. What I mean by "relatively safe" is that certain techniques have a much higher risk to the opponent. Dropping someone on their head, especially on hard surfaces in a self-defense situation, is going to be much more harmful than a simple leg sweep.

I'll also note, that I'm more talking about general self-defense where you don't feel your life is in mortal danger. Maybe a friend or family member is out of control. Maybe it's a drunk guy wanting to fight. Maybe you need to restrain someone as a security guard / police officer. If I feel my life is in danger, I'm not going to care if I harm my attacker, because survival comes first.

I've generally got Judo, Sambo, Wrestling, Systema, BJJ in mind (but I've never physically studied any of them), and similar systems.

I fully acknowledge that I am not an expert, and I humbly request advice on which techniques fit my description. For reference, I like the look of "Tani Otoshi" and "Uki Goshi", because they're simple and not the harshest of throws (still dangerous though, definitely).

It's a big topic, and if anyone knows a database of techniques that I can watch examples of to pick my favorites, that would be awesome. I feel if I train Judo, for example, there's some awesome technique from another art I'll be missing out on. Right now Judo is my default.


4 Answers 4


Normally questions asking for lists of techniques should get closed as being too broad, but the answer for this question does not require a list; you have already identified huge sources of "relatively safe" techniques.

Judo is designed around the idea of practicing "relatively safe" techniques. Practice should mutually benefit both partners, and practice that causes frequent injury is obviously not mutually beneficial. In practice, you use mats for safety and you protect the head of the person being thrown by steering them to land on their back, and ideally only on one side of their back to protect the spine.

Each judo student is exposed to many throws over time, and selects a few throws for specialization according to their own affinities and strengths. Everyone finds some techniques come more naturally, while others are difficult to execute or even comprehend. These may also change over time for the same person. The founder of judo specialized in uki goshi, but you will find few practitioners who specialize in this today.

Judoinfo.com is great reference for judo descriptions, articles and video.

Brazilian jiu jitsu and judo disagree about what is "relatively safe", for example with leg locks, but the basic technique set and culture of safety are the same. If you prefer an emphasis on standing, judo is probably a better choice because BJJ tends to specialize in groundwork.

I would characterize wrestling as being focused on power first, and technical skill second. Leg shots are taught first because throws are considered advanced. But wrestling techniques are also "relatively safe"; people compete with them with force.

Chokes are not very effective when standing. The chance of success increases by at least an order of magnitude if you can immobilize the opponent first, which is most easily done by controlling on the ground.

  • I like that you addressed his stated goal of not harming the aggressor in the process of the technique. Although, given he's asking specifically about techniques, could you suggest some that are less likely to injure the other person? Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 16:12
  • I like the take on Judo. Gotta disagree with your take on wrestling though. Technical ability is extremely important, it's not just some brute force martial art. If anything, power is the least important of the "big 3" skills in wrestling: technique > speed > power. In my opinion it has the steepest learning curve of all grappling martial arts due to the technical knowledge needed.
    – coinbird
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 17:11
  • @SeanDuggan It's not worth enumerating techniques. The vast majority of judo throws and wrestling takedowns can be "relatively safe" if you understand how to control them. It's easier to enumerate those that you should avoid like suplex (ura nage) or yoko gake.
    – mattm
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 19:37

Provided you found a suitable dojo, Aikido might be a good choice. Most, if not all techniques, do rely on joint manipulations to either throw or control an attacker. Training against multiple attackers is part of the training. Some styles do train against resisting opponents, others consider it heresy.

However, it will take some years to use effectively and many dojos do teach a very soft style, or down right rubbish in some cases, which might not be for you.

That said, I trained and train with police officers, prison wardens, body guards, and members of the military which all have successfully used Aikido in the field as part of their job. The Yoshinkan senshusei course trains member of the Tokyo riot police. Nariyama (head of Shodokan hombu) teaches the Osaka police. Tsuchiya (head of Shodokan France) is a professional body guard.

Both other current answers (coinbird's and mattm's) do an excellent job of advocating Judo and BJJ. Thus, I will not repeat their arguments here.

You might be interested in reading On Modern Jujutsu by Kenji Tomiki which details how Judo and Aikido developed from traditional Jujutsu techniques. Those were passed down as unarmed fighting techniques from a time of civil war. How "pure" those are is a matter of debate. Nonetheless, it might help you.

Aikido, Judo, Sambo, Wrestling, Systema, MMA, and BJJ are all good styles, with their good and bad points. Whatever the style, you must find the right teacher for you. I would suggest looking at the places around where you live, try each one (if you can), and then pick the one that you liked the best.

Finally, reading the martial art section of no nonsense self defence is a good idea™.

In more humoristic way, check out what Master Ken has to say about Aikido and BJJ for example.

  • I personally feel that Aikido is a more subtle and advanced martial art, that would fill more of a "supporting" role in a person's self-defense arsenal. For entry-level self-defense that aims to teach solid technique as a base, I feel it's not suitable. Boxing is known to be a great striking art as a base, Judo is known to be a great throwing art as a base, but Aikido (from talking to people who practice it) is more about a mindset than physically teaching technique. For time efficiency, I am planning to avoid it. If I had unlimited free time, I'd learn every art, but I need to be realistic. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 11:08
  • I suppose everyone is free to hold whatever opinion they wish to have… Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 11:11
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    I will probably always remember my Aikido teacher for emphasizing that one of the main benefits of Aikido as an art is that it's good for dealing with drunk Uncle Bob without hurting your family reputation by injuring him. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 16:14

I'll sum up the advantages and disadvantages to a few styles with respect to your preferences.

Judo: This has a lot of techniques where people are prone to fall very heavily, but some of the techniques are safe to perform on hard surfaces. It is usually easier to use judo methods if the opponent is clothed as the gi is often used as a handhold. It is an Olympic sport so it's easy to find a teacher of this.

Jujitsu: (traditional japanese) there are many different styles of japanese jujitsu these tend to teach the Judo type throws in some form or another as well as wrist locks. Wrist locks are not used in competition but can be quite effective outside and are much safer for the person being thrown than a judo type throw or sweep. There are plenty of Jujitsu dojo's around but the styles are not all the same so assessing the teacher for yourself is important.

Aikido: Aikido is essentially a specialised jujitsu style but deserves it's own mention because of the focus on wrist and arm manipulation. Depending on the school this may teach you a method that is safer for the attacker. Don't be put off by the focus on wrist grabs at early levels. These are as much for teaching purposes as techniques to be used 'as is'. Aikido has several schools each headed by a different one or group of the founder's students.

Chi Na: This is a Chinese grappling system usually taught alongside other kung fu moves. Chi Na is very much based on applying wrist and fine joint manipulation hard and quickly. The damage this causes is likely to be permanent for the attacker but unlikely to be life threatening (broken fingers are a possibility for example). Chi Na teachers are fairly hard to find and as there is no governing organisation for the Chinese styles it's also hard to determine the pedigree or ability of a teacher.

Shorinji Kempo: This is a (japanese) style based on a mixture of japanese Jujitsu and Chi Na. It has a focus on combining light strikes (often referred to as distractions) with wrist, hand, and sometimes finger manipulation. Also worth mentioning is the principle of Kagite Shuho where your elbows are anchored to your hip for the duration of a technique to allow the power of the hip movements to be added to a wrist lock. I have yet to see this method used in any other style. This style teaches not to change your grip on the opponent at any point during a technique which is also unusual. Shorinji Kempo is largely governed by the World Shorinji Kempo Organisation (WSKO) however due to the questionable internal politics of this organisation splinter groups exist in many countries.

Wrestling: This is a western style with two types of competition in the Olympics (Greko Roman and Freestyle) so finding an instructor shouldn't be hard. The focus here is on largely strength based methods from what I have seen. Takedowns are often based on physically lifting the opponent's leg or even their whole body.

Brazilian Jujitsu: This is a largely groundwork based style with take-downs more akin to wrestling then judo. Often favoured entrants to UFC type competitions probably because they compete almost naked (so judo type throws are less useful) and wear gloves that extend to the wrist (so wrist and hand manipulations are harder).

Systema/Krav Maga: I put these together not because they share a lineage but because they have a lot in common in terms of outlook and methodology. These a military methods often focused on bringing a holstered firearm or bladed weapon to bear. They include strikes to make distance, escapes from grabs and disarming techniques for use in an emergency. As these were intended for battlefield use rather than use by civilians they have to be adapted for use in countries where firearms are not legal to carry. So far as I can tell they are not particularly coherent in that what you might learn from one teacher may be very different to what you might learn from another. Worth noting that as these are for military to use they take much less time to learn as their methods are specifically designed to be intuitive.

Kali/Escrima: These are weapon based styles, but some of the disarms they teach involve joint manipulation so it does contain grappling elements. They tend to focus on the fine joint manipulation from what I have seen.

Karate: Though many people consider Karate to be a purely striking style it DOES have grappling techniques hidden within many of the Kata. If the application of these techniques is taught in a dojo (they call this Bunkai) then it can be a very well rounded style. However as most of the grappling techniques are basically Jujitsu based this probably isn't the fastest way to learn these methods. Karate has many dojo's but again as it is only loosely governed by it Olympic organisation many of these will not teach Bunkai and some will focus entirely on strikes.

I havn't mentioned Sambo here. I don't know a huge amount about it, but I think it's another competition sport with rules similar to BJJ and Wrestling. Perhaps someone would like to inform me on this.

  • Your judo safety concerns on non-mat surfaces are misplaced. Slapping the ground will sting and scrape, but will not break your arm. Extending an arm to brace against a fall will break your arm/wrist, which many untrained people do. Not slapping will not give you concussions or spinal injuries. Hitting your head on the ground will. The significantly elevated risk in "street" situations is landing on hard, uneven ground, which drastically reduces margin for error. You can execute falls with normal slapping without major injury on flat concrete, but falling across a curb will not go well.
    – mattm
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 19:22
  • That's what my judo instructor taught. I've been shaken myself from falls even with slapping the mat. It depends on the throw though obviously.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 20:10
  • Though if you can show me a video of a judo throw on concrete that doesn't result in injury I will edit the above.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 20:12
  • Ukemi demonstration and noncompliant
    – mattm
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 3:48
  • OK yes, not a seo nage but the hip throw appears safe enough. Will edit.
    – Huw Evans
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 9:35

Stand up grappling is dominated by wrestling and judo. Both disciplines are tried and true in MMA, the closest simulation we have to a real fight. You can't really go wrong with either one! Now for the "bad" parts of both, and specific techniques to focus on:

The main issue with judo is the reliance on gi grips. The gi is supposed to simulate clothing, but having to rely on someone wearing something worth grabbing onto is poor practice, in my opinion. There are plenty of nogi judo techniques as well, but wrestling really shines through as all the techniques work in gi or nogi. The specific technique to focus on: A hip toss with an underhook (O Goshi) is the bread and butter of simple judo throws. Works from just about any tie up position, even if they have a headlock. It's also nogi! Just know that when you're full force throwing someone that doesn't know how to break fall, they're probably going to break their arm, or something else trying to catch themselves.

The main issue with wrestling is it's hard. Really hard. You're going to suck for a long time. Judo is difficult as well, but even a novice can grasp a hip toss in a short period of time. There are no wrestling techniques that come easily to an untrained person. Even the highest level fighters seek out wrestling coaches to constantly tweak their wrestling game. The specific technique to focus on: A double leg takedown is an extremely safe wrestling takedown. Similar to a football tackle, your opponent goes down hard, and you stay on top. Know that you can do some serious damage with a double leg alone. Fights have ended due to KO because of powerful double legs. Know your surroundings. Don't go to jail for murder because you got dumb and double legged a guy into a cement curb.

And one last technique suggestion that has a place in wrestling, judo, BJJ, and I'm sure many others: The arm drag! The arm drag allows you to quickly take your opponents back. From there you can work your throws, takedowns, and submissions. It's an extremely powerful technique, and can be executed from most standup positions (as well as guard positions on the ground).

Based on what you want out of training, and the time it takes to become proficient, I suggest focusing on Judo. You will get more out of the martial art in less time. If you really want to go all in, go to an MMA gym and learn wrestling and BJJ. That duo will allow any mid level practitioner to beat even a high level striker in a fight.

To briefly cover the others you listed, Sambo is excellent, but not as widespread. Good luck finding a place to train. Systema and Aikido have never proven to be effective in fighting, and the self defense techniques are painfully hypothetical. It might work on a random untrained drunk, but the goal is to be able to also hold your own against athletic or trained opponents.

And as with every self defense situation, the best technique is to avoid a fight all together!

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    Aikido has been proven in fights (both in law enforcement and the prison service) and on the battle field. The later has a nice example from an ex-student of mine who used what I thought them in Iraq. Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 11:28
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    @Sardathrion Not really looking to get into an argument in the comments, so I'll keep it short. There's a reason you don't see Aikido in old school no rules fights, or modern MMA. It's like saying Capoeira is as effective as Muay Thai kickboxing in a fight. It's just flat out false. Random anecdotal evidence is not enough to advise someone to try a martial art for use in self defense. That's irresponsible and someone could get hurt.
    – coinbird
    Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 15:18
  • We are arguing at cross purpose here. Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 8:51

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