The self-defence moves to use in any situation (and yes, you can kick them where it hurts and run)

Jack Rear learns self-defence tips the painful way from  Peter Blewett, chairman of the Budokwai, Europe's oldest judo club
Jack Rear learns self-defence tips the painful way from Peter Blewett, chairman of the Budokwai, Europe's oldest judo club - John Nguyen

What would you do if a mugger attacked you and tried to grab your wallet? If you’re 94-year-old David Queensberry, the 12th Marquess of Queensberry, you’d grab at their left shoulder and right forearm to destabilise them, and sweep their leg. The quick thinking and fast reflexes from this 5ft 4inch retired ceramics professor, whose great-grandfather codified the rules of boxing, were the result of his training in judo, which, in Japanese, translates as “the gentle way”.

Though gentle-ness was far from my mind when I found myself being hurled around a dojo by Peter Blewett, chairman of the Budokwai, Europe’s oldest judo club, nestled inside a former school building in Chelsea, west London. It was founded in 1918 by Gunji Koizumi, “the father of British judo”, and was where Queensberry himself trained, as have many Olympians and celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham. Mick Jagger, Sebastian Coe, and William Hague have also crashed the mats.

The 94-year-old David Queensberry, the 12th Marquess of Queensberry, used his judo knowledge against a mugger
The 94-year-old David Queensberry, the 12th Marquess of Queensberry, used his judo knowledge against a mugger

As I lunge with a rubber knife, Blewett catches my wrist and twists, puts pressure on my outstretched elbow and suddenly I’m on my knees. “Put the knife down, young man,” the 64-year-old judo master says gently until I release my grip.

“Judo is fantastic for self-defence because it gives you an awareness of space,” explains John Goodbody, current vice-president of the Budokwai who remembers sparring with Queensberry in the 1960s. “If someone grabs you, judo gives you the skills to throw them quite easily. Grabbing is often the way people try to subdue you in the street, so judo can be particularly helpful here.”

Judokas (as those who practise Judo are called) become adept at throws and holds rather than punching, kicking or slapping. The martial art isn’t about displaying force of your own, but rather redirecting your opponent’s.

“You created movement, and you use your partner’s movement to your advantage. If you were to push me, instead of pushing back, I would turn away and bring you with me, using your own force to drag you off balance instead,” says Blewett, demonstrating by showing me osoto-gari, a move where he catches my arm as I throw a punch, pulls me off balance towards him, and then sweeps my feet out from under me. This resembles the move Queensberry performed.

A judo throw is very effective if you get attacked in the street, says Goodbody. “If you throw someone on concrete, it’s very difficult to recover from it,” he explains. “A practised judoka can throw someone twice their size and in any way they need – on their head, on their back, wherever.” This makes it ideal for women, those who are slightly smaller in stature and those more in advanced (like David Queensberry) to defend themselves.

“It’s difficult, you have to assess the level of threat and be proportionate, while dealing with the fact you’re scared, you’re in a public environment, and you have to make a hard judgment call,” says Blewett. “Training in martial arts helps give you an awareness of when to move and when not to, so it’s helpful if you can prepare for those scenarios.”

Before you try any of these though, there is the golden rule. “The most important thing in a fight, in any fight, but particularly in a street fight, is to get your blow in first: you’re doing whatever it takes to get away,” says Blewett. “If in doubt, kick him in the gonads and run.” It might not be honourable, but then again, neither is attacking someone in the streets.

Six more techniques to try

Part of good training in martial arts is knowing how to act against instinct. “If someone grabs your arm, for instance,” Blewett explains, “you’d likely lift up and flail, but to get out of that, just turn against their thumb and pull and you’ll easily get away. That doesn’t come naturally though which is why training is important.” Even so, here are a few simple techniques which anyone should be able to use to escape an attacker.

To defend a lunge

Osoto-gari Push them backwards, sweep their leg. If someone lunges towards you, pull the top half of their body forward to destabilise them. Push the top half of their body backwards as you sweep under their heel with your right leg and throw them to the ground.

To dodge a high punch to your head

Ippon-seoi nage The one-arm shoulder throw. If your opponent throws a high punch towards your head, catch their arm and bring it over your shoulder as you turn your hip into their stomach, pulling them forward to bring them on to their toes. Use your opponent’s momentum to throw them over your hip and onto their back.

If they’re armed

Waki-gatame Grab their wrist, pin their arm, pin their shoulder. Useful if dealing with an armed attacker. As your opponent lunges forward, use both hands to grip their wrist, pin their arm under your elbow, then apply pressure onto their elbow joint to force them to their knees.

If they throw an arm or fist

Tai-otoshi Pull them down, twist and trip. As your opponent throws their arm or fist, grab their arm and pull them forward, then step forward into them with knees bent, step to turn into them with your right shoulder under their right armpit (or left if they hit with their left), with your right leg over their right leg, pull them forward and over, tripping them onto the ground.

If they kick at you

Ōuchi-gari Block with your wrist, hook their leg. A technique for breaking a kick. When they kick, catch the foot with the inside of your wrist, then hook your foot around the ankle of the foot of theirs that is still on the ground before pushing them backwards with their balance broken.

If they grab you

Atemi-waza Twist the wrist. If someone puts their hand on you, grabbing a shirt around your neck for instance. Bend your legs, grab their hand, putting your thumb on the back of their wrist. Turn their wrist away from you and backwards which will force them to their knees.

The Budokwai runs beginner, general, and advanced judo classes daily from their dojo in London, as well as instruction in karate, jiu jitsu, aikido, and yoga. Adult classes cost £8.50 per person, with an annual membership costing £80 for adults