Badass In Heels: Incapacitate Your Attacker

Badass In Heels: Incapacitate Your AttackerWhile I’m busy editing/rewriting two sequels and attending book readings/signings I asked Officer X to add to my Badass In Heels series. Officer X is an active federal agent, which is why I protect his identity. Regular followers of the blog might remember his series: Crime Writer Boot Camp where he discussed Jurisdiction or his Exceptions to Search Warrants which remains one of the most popular posts.

All his posts are fascinating and informative, and this one is no exception.

Over to you, Officer X!

“If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck.” ~ John Steinbeck

Sue asked me for a bad-ass technique I could recommend to authors that could be used to incapacitate an attacker. There is no sure fire method in hand-to-hand combat that will work every time. Anyone who tells you that has never been in many, if any, street fights. So I write this as something for authors to consider in their next novel, with the caveat that this technique can only legally be used in the event of preventing one’s self from being killed or receiving serious bodily injury.

As a certified defensive tactics instructor and trained undercover operator, I have twenty-five years experience in the military and law enforcement. I am lucky and grateful to never have taken a life and more than lucky that in all of my dangerous, violent encounters, I’ve walked away with only a few minor injuries. After reading several hundred thrillers and mystery books, I am well aware that most writers are more interested in life and death action-centric altercations rather than detailed police arrest procedures. Sue has already written about several strikes so I will add one I’ve taught to undercover operatives (as well as my wife).

The Thumb Gouge

Attacking your opponent’s eye. A simple method, quick to learn and easy to remember, is fairly devastating and efficient. A common sense type of action, it doesn’t need thousands of repetitions to learn. If you can find your opponent’s ear, you can find their eye. The Thumb Gouge is something I teach to people to use when they are pinned upright against a wall or against a car. It is also effective in a closed space like the interior of a car. The technique can also be utilized when the victim is on their back, with the attacker either straddling the victim or between the victim’s legs.

A typical scenario would go something like this…

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The petite heroine is walking to her car in an isolated parking garage. A large man rushes, her slamming her against a parked SUV. After processing the unsuspecting ambush, the heroine spins her back to the SUV to face the assailant who is trying to pin her. With her back against the SUV she forces her arms up to protect her face from any incoming punches.

With a free hand, she reaches for the man’s ear (right-hand grabs left ear or left-hand grabs right ear). Once she finds it, she palms the assailant’s ear and digs her nails in creating a firm hold. As soon as she’s secured a firm grip on the ear, she slides her thumb into the man’s eye socket using the tip of her thumb to penetrate the closed eye near the tear duct–the inside corner of his eye nearest the bridge of the nose.

The assailant’s instinctual reaction to an object near his eye is to shut the eye and turn his head away from attack, so it’s key the heroine keep a grip on the ear. She maintains her grip on his ear, staying with the assailant’s head movement while sinking her tip of her thumb into the guy’s eye up to about the first knuckle.

Her goal is to try and penetrate the eye socket by forcing her thumb in between the closed eyelid. Once she has sunk her thumb in knuckle deep, she rakes her thumb, utilizing her nail, across the bulb of the eye. The idea is to lacerate the cornea or eyelid and cause as much shock and pain as possible.

After the thumb rake, the heroine drops into a squat, jerking down on his ear with all her body weight to try to tear and/or lacerate his ear as well.

This move would take fractions of a second to a second to complete. The heroine does not need to see the assailant’s head to make or complete this move. All she needs to do is find the ear, and once she locates the ear she will easily find his eye with your thumb.

Badass In Heels (or not): Thumb GougeThe Thumb Gouge will almost always work, because the body’s sympathetic reaction will force the assailant to instinctively slam both of his eyes shut to protect them from harm. (If you’ve ever been around a baby who has scratched your eye, you know what I’m talking about. When one eye is injured the other eye closes as well, and you have to consciously force yourself to open the uninjured eye.)

Some martial arts types will warn that you’ll pop the guy’s eye out. However, in my career, I’ve only heard of one incident in dozens of fights where a person had their eye dislodged. It was a female wildlife biologist who was alone when she was attacked, and while she was pinned to the ground, she was able to get her thumb into the assailant’s eye and dislodge it, ending the attack.

Humans have sphincter muscles in their eye sockets. The muscles constrict to protect the eye when it’s poked or receives some other kind of perceived harm. The mostly likely result, is that the attacker will get a nasty laceration across the eyelid or cornea of the eye. Either outcome is acceptable. Your heroine’s goal is to cause immense pain and/or fear to get enough of a distraction to escape the attack or get to a personal weapon to end the attack.

Most people who receive an eye injury will instinctively stop what they’re doing and put their palms up to their eyes to instinctively protect them. Depending on the individual, the damage, the shock, and pain the affects may last for only a few seconds, or it could outright incapacitate the person.

For your heroine to completely free herself from the pin, she would next go on the offensive, attacking the guy’s knees, throat, or ears with strikes. Once completely freed, in real life, my suggestion would be to run and find help. In fiction, this is where your heroine would pull her concealed sub-compact semi-auto and give the villain a few rounds for his troubles.

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thrillers and mysteries. OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive magazine published her flash fiction and her short stories are published in numerous anthologies and collections. InSinC Quarterly featured her forensic articles about Radiocarbon Dating and Skeletal Differences. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue's also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. As a way to help fellow crime writers, Sue created a team of crime experts (detectives, coroners, police captains, etc.) and founded #ACrimeChat on Twitter. She's also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday.


  1. This is a great technique, though I’ve never heard it explained so well. I’ve heard a few law enforcement officers speak on self-defense and they often bring up this method. Not only is it a good technique to use in a book but also to remember in everyday life. Thanks Sue and Officer X for sharing!
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    • Totally agree, Mae. Officer X did an amazing job explaining the step-by-step. I’m thrilled to have him back on the blog. Love his posts.

      Now, if only we can remember this move when the adrenaline is coursing while we’re face-to-face with an attacker. Easier to include in our books than in real life, I’m guessing. Still, I pity the assailant who dares to mess with a crime writer. LOL

  2. This is really useful, not just for writers, but also for anyone who might be at risk. What I like about it is that these kinds of things can be done by average, ‘normal’ people; you don’t have to have special training. Thanks, both, for sharing.

    • I agree, Margot. Especially with the holiday shopping season upon us, we might find ourselves in a dark parking lot. This technique could save our lives. It’d also make a cool fight scene.

  3. Don’t ask me where that silly avatar came from. Maybe that’s what I really look like? It’s been showing up since I started my new website, even though I use my same avatar there and it’s a wordpress site.

  4. I bashed a would be attacker in the head with my metal personal vaporizer a few nights ago. He was drunk and approached me in the WaWa parking lot and grabbed my arm. I left him with a dent in his head. Vape on! Great info. I never fight fair.

  5. Just reading the description caused me to squint. Imagining the pain that could cause! Wow. My kids both are black belts in tae kwon do, and they’ve learned several grappling and defense moves in self-defense classes. I don’t remember them learning this particular move, but I can see how effective it would be.

    • Wow! Two black-belts at home, Staci. No one ought to mess with you. 🙂 I watched a Homicide Hunter episode once where the suspect literally gouged the victim’s eyes out, and she was not a large person by any means.

  6. I think I saw this in an old Kung Fu movie. No doubt it would stop someone, even briefly.

  7. Great self-defense advice, Sue & Officer X. Without a doubt, this is the most effective close-quarters move and it definitely works. I’ve never seen an eye pop out but who cares if it happens. After all, the bad guy started it and whatever he gets is his problem. Maybe losing one eye isn’t so bad because his vision will be blurred when he gets double tapped to the chest, then takes one to the head. 🙂

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