Side Stepping as a Means to Self Defense

I have the advantage of having gone through many martial systems besides my primary art of Krav Maga. Some styles I spent years with, others, a few months or vacation periods or just a few seminars. I have seen a great deal and I have had the privilege of training with some martial arts leaders.

One of techniques or strategies I have encountered and trained in with many styles, is what I would call "Side stepping", it is also known in Japanese as Tai Sabaki. The idea, with various variations, is that as the blow is coming towards you, either a kick or punch, you step to the side, moving your body out of danger, and counter with a blow of you own.

I learned this technique years ago by a 10th in Tel Aviv, still have my notes. He was a 10th dan, so I never questioned it. It is taught so often and by so many 'experts', that most of us dare not utter a word against it. It is hallowed by tradition.

But you know what? It does not work. Yup, sorry to burst the bubble but it only works in training against willing opponents, but not in real life.

Let me be honest, I myself have taught this for years. I would tell a student attack me! And based on by body position he should have attacked from a certain side, but sometimes the foolish student attacked 'wrong', and I looked bad.

Let me tell you something, there is no such thing as a wrong attack; we can never blame the attacker. There is only a bad defense.

My friend and teacher Mark Hatmaker wrote an article for Black Belt magazine whereby he described the difficulty we humans have in seeing a straight on attack. Like a deer caught in the headlights we have trouble seeing it coming. So it is not only me! I am not the only slow human!

Recently I watched a video by a leading expert in the 'reality field'. Again I saw this ill fated technique. I wrote down my thoughts on the topic

" ..his approach to punching defense and kicks and so forth all involve his side stepping moves. If you watch carefully you can see he actually starts moving BEFORE the kick or punch is started. Why? Because we are not naturally fast enough to side step. We are caught off guard, by surprise, and I have found, doing these very same techniques for years, that the only way I can do these successfully is when my student or partner lets me know ahead of time what technique he is doing and what side he is doing it from. Otherwise I am simply not fast enough. I just don't see it coming.

I have found even when I am in a fight situation and I know what to expect, more or less, (unlike a street situation where I don't really know what to expect), I still am not fast enough to side step, better said - I am not psychic enough to see it coming. Bruce Lee said "Attack his attack" i.e. attack while he is setting up, but that can only work when you see it coming.

So, that is why, after years of learning these kinds of side stepping techniques, and believing in them, I have stopped using them and now Itay and I have a different approach which gives us LESS credit, i.e. we have more modest expectations of our ability. We use an instinctive move to block what ever we can, and we work from there"

Calvin Longton, our IKI Krav Maga instructor in Navarre, Florida, added his thoughts.

Hi Moshe,

Your right. I've abandoned a few Hapkido techniques as well for the same reason. It's crazy to think that you can move your entire body out of the line of attack after you see the strike coming. Even a slip of just the upper body is very difficult to develop the skill to pull off in real time. I can fully appreciate the concept of a body defense but only in addition to and to augment a hand defense. The hand moves faster than the body ever will.


I sent the following query to my esteemed friend Mark Hatmaker,

"I would appreciate your thoughts on the idea of side stepping as a defensive move against a sucker punch or kick to the groin, as I just saw this technique being taught by a top 'expert.' Having read your article on the difficulty we have on seeing the sucker punch coming, I was wondering if you would comment on what I wrote about that."

His expert opinion confirmed my own thoughts.

Hey Moshe, I'm with you unequivocally 100%. I've yet to see some one pull off a side-step in our little lab of pain. Well-stated, well-argued and honest. Kudos! Have a good one,


Amy Jo Giles , our IKI instructor in Springfield, Illinois, contributed these thoughts..

"I completely agree with the kick is human instinct to back away or hollow out as a kick is heading your direction. We have practiced moving off-line for years (as well as hollowing out) but once you add the element of surprise the technique of moving off line rarely works the way you would hope. In L.A. I was taught three or four different defenses to a front kick depending on whether the kick was low, mid-range or high. The defenses work in theory but once I would have my students mix the three up it became so difficult to determine which defense to use (for myself included!). I finally stopped teaching them and instead went with hallowing out and then side stepping the kick...very similar to your clip but the way you break down the leg is a bit different it will be a nice variation to add."

In conclusion, our approach in IKI Krav Maga is very different. Itay Gil uses an instinctive block, combined with a bursting approach, tucking in the chin and protecting the head; difficult to put into words but very effective.

Our man in the Ukraine, Anton Farb, adds the following comment:

Great article! I couldn't agree more. In my opinion, side stepping is an excellent ATTACKING technique. If you decided to go pre-emptive and hit him first, side step will put you in preferable position. But if you are waiting for him to attack... but then again - why? :)