Shoulder Stop, Self-Defense Tactics, fight

The best self-defense skills are simple, direct and effective. They also take our natural survival instincts into consideration and, whenever possible, allow those instincts to work as a foundation for good technique. That way, when Darwin looms large and you react the way evolution has hardwired you to, your chances of survival are high.

Based on these criteria, one of the most powerful and versatile self-defense skills you can learn is the “shoulder stop.”

The shoulder stop capitalizes on the natural human instinct to extend your arms when someone attacks you to push him away. Unfortunately, pushing him straight back practically guarantees you’ll get hit. If instead you educate that instinct and turn slightly into the hit, you can stop the rotation of the attacker’s torso at his shoulder. This “two-against-one” tactic short-circuits the power of his strike at the root of its motion.

The Shoulder Stop Against a Punch

For example, against a right roundhouse punch, turn your body to the left—toward the punch. Then, drive both of your arms straight out simultaneously. Your right palm should target the attacker’s right shoulder while your left hand aims for the inside of his forearm or wrist.

Don’t try to catch the incoming arm, but instead drive your arms out to achieve full extension while his punch is still early in its arc of travel. This gives you better accuracy, creates a solid skeletal structure that is much better than muscular strength alone, and stops the punch before it gains maximum power. Once you’ve stopped the punch, immediately counter with hits that will allow you to escape and make it harder for your attacker to follow, like low-line kicks to the legs and knees to the groin.

The Shoulder Stop Against a Weapon

Because it is so powerful and instinctive, the shoulder stop is also a go-to choice for initial unarmed defenses against weapons. It is particularly effective against long weapons like sticks, clubs, tire irons and even baseball bats.

Ideally, the goal is to survive the initial attack long enough to “earn your draw” and bring your own weapon into play. This sequencing of instinctive, gross-motor-skill-based unarmed tactics immediately followed by solid weapon-deployment skills is much more practical than trying to fend off an attack with one hand while drawing with the other—a common approach taught in many shooting-focused training programs today.

The shoulder stop is a reliable, extremely versatile defensive tactic that has literally saved lives. Rooted in our deepest survival instincts, it’s a skill that belongs in everyone’s defensive toolbox. Stay safe out there.

This article is from the winter 2018 issue of Ballistic Magazine. For subscriptions or individual copies, please visit

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