Self-Defense Combat Inside a Car, Bus, Train or Airplane

For self-defense, awareness, escape and de-escalation strategies take precedent over fighting. When we are aware, we can identify problems before they turn into a situation requiring employment of physical skills.

Still, as we train our practical karate, it is useful and fun to practice physical self-defense skills in different environments. We present some fun exercises and ideas for developing combat skills inside a car. Similar concepts apply in physical self-defense in other vehicles such as trains, buses, and aircraft. We routines use those in our San Diego practical karate dojo.


The automobile and other vehicles present a constraint environment. Unlike stand-up fighting where we can move freely, when we fight while seated in a car, train, bus or airplane our movement is limited and sometimes severely constraint.

Training to fight in a car of another vehicle consist of three elements:

  1. Developing the ability to hit hard while seated in a car, bus, train or airplane. Unlike stand-up fighting, when we are seated in a car or other vehicle, our movement is constraint. Still, to the greatest extent possible, we strive to use whole body dynamics to generate power. Using focus mitts or Thai Pads can help us test our skills. (To increase your striking power, see this “How to Hit Hard in Karate” training program.)
  2. Practicing limb clearings and trappings. Close quarter combat in the car has to deal with the enemy attempting to block. We should therefore learn how to clear limbs out of the way, how to trap the opponent’s limbs and body, and how to deal if the enemy traps our limbs. Many karate katas teach these concept, including Naihanchi and the Pinan series.
  3. Live drills. As with other skills, only live practice can ensure that you have sufficiently internalized the training for it to become useful in a real self-defense situation. Two comments here: A) Start with slow sparring. When you practice slow sparring you have more time to see, react and apply new skills; and B) Invest in loss. Rather than being hyper-competitive right from the start, give yourself freedom to try different things. Don’t be concerned if your karate sparring partner “gets you.” Often we learn more when we make a mistake than when everything goes right.

Once you have gained a general level of competence, have fun with it:

  • Try different seats and angles.
  • A challenging combination is being attacked from the back while seated in the front seat.
  • Try an attack from outside the car, while you are inside the car. (Remember to practice escape from this position. If you have practiced your defensive driving skills, you should be able to drive away!)

Here is a practical karate short video, demonstrating the practical karate concepts of self-defense combat inside a car.

Questions??? Post below.

Brian is a life-long martial artist, athlete, and serial entrepreneur. He teaches martial arts and self defense to adult and teen students in San Diego, at the Full Potential Martial Arts dojo in Carmel Valley.

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