Hip Maximization in Unarmed Self Defense

knee strike

Knees alone can be painful. But adding the hips as you follow through the move will increase the pain, allowing for less frequent and more powerful blows. Photo: courtesy author

You’ve heard it a thousand times. “The power of the [insert unarmed defensive move here] comes from your hips.” And it’s true. But has anyone ever explained why? If a person understood the science and reasoning behind that statement, I believe more people would execute their unarmed self defense with not only better precision, but more power.

Why is it important to spend time talking about the hips? First of all, it’s the second largest weight-bearing joint in the body (second only to the knee). When you think of how much stress and pressure your body gives your hips simply by walking, let alone any type of load-bearing training, you might have a better appreciation for understanding how to take care of them and also use them properly. Your hips provide stability and mobility throughout your day, mostly without your even thinking about them. But when something doesn’t “feel right,” you notice. Pain and dysfunction can occur in joints both above and below the hips, pain that could require medical attention.

Biomechanics of the Hips

The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint. Movement, hip and leg flexion, extension, adduction, abduction, and internal and external rotation are essential parts of its function. The hips also affect the connecting areas such as the lumbar spine and knee as well as the more distant opposite shoulder or elbow. I’m sure at some point you’ve had mystery pain in your shoulder or down the back of your leg. It may have been from your hips!

self defense kick

The kick is a good example of the quick burst of hip movement that provides maximum effectiveness. Photo: courtesy author

So what makes up the hips? Bones, ligaments and muscles (providing stability), blood vessels, nerves, arteries and cartilage are all essential parts. Without getting too technical, two pretty big bones fit together with cartilage in between, providing lubricant for fluid movement. Ligaments and muscles work to hold everything together and provide movement and stability in the joint. Blood vessels keep the blood flowing throughout and the nerves round out the package. All spelled out, there’s quite a bit of room for error. If one part doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, you could be in for some major pain!

Training and Practice

This is important because it validates the need for proper training in using your hips as a power source in unarmed defense. Improper training could lead to either small or large injuries, which could put your training on hold. In another article, I will outline a few drills that will help strengthen your hips and surrounding muscles. I’ll also go into a few training techniques using the hips as a power source. But for now, I’ll outline the safest order in which to practice any technique using hip strength.

Let’s back up for just a minute. As much as I believe that the hips are the best power source for unarmed defense, I also believe a person should never sacrifice precision or speed for power. The sloppy “smash ‘em” mentality of some is hardly a method that deserves mention. Dirty fighting – yes, there is a place for that in personal defense. But if you’re going to train, start with precision, add speed, and finish with power.

self defense elbow throw

Hips are extremely important when throwing elbows to generate additional power when in close proximity to your target. Photo: courtesy author

Precision

As with anything, the more precise or accurate your physical movements are, the better the results. Depending on the move you are performing, your hips will turn in a certain direction when you do it correctly. If your hips don’t move optimally, your execution will not be as effective as it could be, and that could be the difference between getting out of a bad situation and having it escalate. In order to eliminate the variables that would prevent you from having a positive outcome, you need to practice precision drills (over and over and over. . .). Precision practice is also the surest way to guard against unnecessary injuries. Of course, any time you are working with body mechanics, you run the risk of injury, but precision drills will assist you in proper body movement so you don’t torque, twist, or pop your way into couch-potato mode for a few weeks.

Speed

Once you have the correct body movement with your hips, the next element to work is speed. The speed at which your hips rotate, move forward, etc will enable you to generate the power needed to deliver a debilitating blow to your attacker. It also enables you to beat your attacker to the punch in the attack (no pun intended). Speed drills are necessary but might be tricky at first. Start at a moderate pace and work your way up to a faster pace. In doing so, you ensure that you are working the drill correctly, in turn creating the proper body movement for instilling “muscle memory.” Once you are able to increase the speed of the drill, you will see how it not only positively affects the defensive move, but you should also recognize the increase in reaction time as well as the flow into the next move and the next one. And remember, finishing the move (bringing the arm, leg, knee, or elbow back to the original position or setting up for the next one) should be just as fast if not faster than the delivery.

self defense punch

Hips allow for added power at the end of the punch, regardless of type (jab, cross, hook). Photo: courtesy author

Power

Now that you have taken the time to practice your precision and speed, the power should almost naturally follow. Repetition using the proper form while adding speed will assist and should provide results that show increased power. But there are also additional movements with the hip that can make your strike even more powerful. I suggest ending your strike with a sudden and deliberate burst of energy in your movement. For example, we’ve all hit the baseball a time or two, right? You’re at bat. Feet positioned, knees bent, arms up, and hands gripping the bat. As you swing and the bat connects with the ball, your hips have that sudden burst of movement as you follow through with your swing. That’s what I’m talking about. That sudden burst of movement in the follow-through motion from the hip should be at the end of every unarmed defensive move to create maximum effectiveness.

Conclusions

The pictures included in this article show four very specific unarmed defensive moves that if done correctly require hip strength and power to deliver an effective strike. Can they be done without proper hip movement and power? Sure. But the difference would be like comparing someone speaking in a normal voice to someone shouting at the top of their lungs with the extra force coming from their diaphragm. You hear the words in both scenarios, but one most certainly has a more lasting effect on the recipient.

It’s important never to take our bodies for granted. If you think of your body as the weapon that carries the debilitating force with which to defeat your attacker, then you by all rights treat it like you would any other defensive weapon. The arms, elbows, knees and legs are merely a delivery system for the power created by the rest of your body, mainly the hips. Take time to take care of the power behind the delivery. Your opponents will hate you for it!

Discussion
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7 Responses to “Hip Maximization in Unarmed Self Defense”
  1. Chris Garner

    I am a black belt self-defense instructor in Kajukembo, America’s first mixed martial art, as well as a Certified Personal Trainer and I could not be more pleased with this article. This is exactly what I teach every single day… It’s all in the hips baby…

    Chris Garner
    Abilene, Texas

    Reply
    • Julie Loeffler

      Hi Chris. I apologize for the late reply. I didn’t see your response until now. Thank you for the kind words.
      Kajukembo is a pretty amazing art. I’ve had the chance to train with a few instructors over the past couple of years, esp. when I spent a week in Hawaii last year. Sigung Bustillo also trained in Kajukembo when he was a child while living in Hawaii. I’ll know not to mess with you if we ever meet! (smile)

      Reply
      • Feryat

        I have the same problem and have been told that its nramol because your hips are loosening up I know is insanely painful get a body pillow and take tylenol, take naps roll over you can sleep on either side and if you prop yourself up you can sleep on your back for awhile which relieves the pressure on your hips

        Reply
    • Julie Loeffler

      Hi Mark,
      I train in a system that practices defense in Long, mid, and ground ranges along with weapons defense. A well-rounded approach is what I would recommend. Even the more traditional schools are recognizing a need for a more balanced approach, and are adopting additional programs for their schools.
      Everyone has their own specific strengths when it comes to personal defense. I would caution you to only train in your strengths. Make sure to work on your weak areas also. Every attack is unique, and you must be as prepared as possible. So to answer your question in great detail, I would need a little more information. What amount of time do you want to devote? What’s available in your area? Do you have physical restrictions? If you want to respond, I’m happy to give you some suggestions. Thank you for your question.

      Reply
  2. Gary Poindexter

    Even though this article is old it is still excellent and worth studying. Lots of detail that can easily be missed. Julie’s point of pulling the striking body part (hand, knee, elbow) back is critical and very often forgotten in a piece like this – kudos Julie. Strike, reset, strike, reset… until the assailant stops. Which of these moves do you use? The assailant will decide by their actions.

    Reply