I watched someone get kneed really hard in the crotch last night. (Look, everyone needs hobbies; one of mine is watching Mixed Martial Arts fights…) He yelled in pain and immediately fell to his knees. It looked awful. Until just a few minutes later, when he was back up, fighting again. It made me think about one of the oldest pieces of advice I’d ever gotten about dealing with a male attacker: kick or hit him on the groin. The claim was that it would instantly disable him, stopping the attack and allowing me to turn the tables or run away. That knee I saw seemed pretty convincing since it certainly made for a brief stop in the action, but I was reminded of a series of other fights I’d watched last month where an entire series of fighters were kicked, punched, and kneed with little to no effect. So which is it?
As in my day job, the answer is…it depends. There are a lot of variables. The only sure answer is that it’s not reliable. Let’s talk about why. Details will be a little graphic, but this is a topic that’s important to discuss to protect you against graphic violence, so let’s go…
Biology argues for the nut shot. The scrotum and testes are a giant bundle of nerve endings that are themselves sensitive and that refer the sensations they receive to much of the lower torso. They’re also unprotected by much of anything at all, just a thin layer of skin with no muscle or fat, and definitely no bone (of the calcified type). That’s great for consensual sex. That’s not so great when violence occurs. Not only does a hard, direct hit cause a lot of pain that spreads beyond the point that receives impact, it can also cause permanent damage that can affect the person’s ability to father children. Sounds awful, right? I’m cringing and I don’t even have that particular equipment.
Biology also argues against the nut shot. While the dangling bits, well, dangle relatively free from the body, they are still near the easily-protected core. The pelvis can be moved in all directions, with the legs and arms able to provide shielding from an attempting hit or kick. No training is required – every man and boy in the world instinctively protects the family jewels, especially if they’ve ever experienced even a glancing blow. And just about all of them have. While it may not be effective every time, it does make it a difficult target to hit head on in the heat of a struggle.
A glancing blow, which is more likely to happen if you get one in, won’t necessarily be debilitating either. As the men I know say, it sucks, but it’s very often not a fight stopper. Might make them vomit on you. But probably won’t stop or even pause what they’re doing. In some cases, it will make them angrier – which isn’t a reason to not use a self-defense strategy, but is something to be aware of as a potential consequence if applying that strategy doesn’t go perfectly. I was even told that some MMA fighters voluntarily choose to respond to a fist or foot to the groin because the rule set may allow them to reset position or rest and not because of any actual pain or distraction. Granted, they’re wearing protective gear and they’re trained to ignore an awful lot of discomfort in search of a championship belt, but that doesn’t necessarily decrease the pain and shock experienced from a strong and direct hit.
Am I saying don’t go for the balls in a fight against a man? Absolutely not. I recommend knees or elbows if you can get in there. But, and this is an important but (not butt), don’t get focused on that target and go after it exclusively or at the expense of other strategies. It might work, but it’s a lot more likely to not work, and that’s not a good thing to rely on when you’re trying to defend yourself.