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Self-defense and self-assertion in a wheelchair

Deflecting attacks with self-confidence and the right techniques. We show how it works

An attack, an assault, a robbery: These unexpected attacks are horror scenarios for all of us. Often the victims are not able to defend themselves effectively during the moment of surprise. This doesn’t have to be the case! If you play through these exceptional situations in specific scenarios using the respective techniques, ideally you might be able to avoid or deescalate attacks or rout the (surprised) attacker – even as alleged “easy victim”.

Away from being the victim!

Did you know? Perpetrators mostly choose their victims based on body language. Hence, we start with a few basic rules:

  • Self-confident appearance: self-confident body posture, gestures, and facial expressions
  • Keeping eye contact
  • Loud and clear statements or shouting
  • Speaking to passers-by
  • Readiness for self-defense
  • A good “gut-feeling” to get the right sense of the situation
  • Worst-case scenario: applying the learned self-defense techniques

“The smartest warrior is the one who never has to fight.”

Sun Tzu, 544 B.C.

From theory ...

Persons with impairments can learn effective self-defense techniques if necessary – also against physically stronger opponents. What are the differences between the various disciplines?

While combat sports (e.g. wheelchair boxing) are a competitive fight with other athletes, in martial arts (e.g. Tai Chi) the focus lies on the perfection of movement. It strengthens personality, self-control and concentration.

The techniques from combat sports and martial arts serve as a basis for self-defense: Here the focus is on learning practical methods to defend body and life, which at the same time bring more safety and therefore more quality of life.

... into practice

At night on her way home, a man tried to sexually harass Ronja – she was able to defend herself successfully. In the video, the German skating wheelchair champion shows defense techniques for wheelchair users. She has been attending an inclusive self-defense course for a longer time (video in German).

During a self-defense course, various areas are being strengthened:

  • Prevention: presence, protection from unsolicited looks, overcoming the freeze-mode
  • De-escalation: verbal behavior
  • Physical defense: simple and effective self-defense
  • Fitness, physical shape and flexibility

Physical defense is the last step of effective self-defense. To avoid the “freeze-mode”, attention, readiness and a constructive handling of fear are required. Aside from vocal defense, also the right self-defense techniques that are retrievable even when under stress, can help in case of an emergency.

Experienced and specialized trainers adjust these techniques individually to the abilities of the participants. Because other than assumed, wheelchair users do often have excellent and very efficient options to defend themselves.

Wheelchair user John Marrable from New Zealand shows his self-defense techniques against various attacks by able-bodied persons.

Depending on the type of disability, there are different possibilities to defend oneself. In case of an attack, the wheelchair can also bring advantages if used as a “weapon”: Quickly turning, swiftly backing up or moving forward can potentially break the shin bones of attackers. Though things don’t have to go that far...

Martial artists Peer Klausing and Thorsten Paul show wheelchair users how they can deescalate situations and defend themselves if necessary. The self-defense techniques are taught in a self-defense course specifically adapted for wheelchair users (video in German).


The largest sports organization worldwide in the field of inclusion in the forms of exercises and martial arts is active on all continents. IKKAIDO Schweiz is a merger of martial arts schools, associations and unions which organize martial arts training (Budō) for persons with and without disabilities. Budo is the collective term for Japanese martial arts such as for example Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Karate and Aikidō which, aside from the aspect of the fight, also convey inner teachings.

Below are some contacts that offer self-defense courses or trainings:

PluSport: Karate for everyone

Alessandro Aquino runs the Rorschach Wadokai Karate School where he as Sensei (master) teaches traditional Japanese karate. After he had organized his first karate training for an Insieme group (people with mental disabilities) in 2011, the topic became an affair of the heart for the project leader and founder of the association Karate für alle.

Since 2021 he supports existing karate schools in creating new courses for persons with impairments on behalf of PluSport, the Swiss organization for disabled sports. Furthermore, there are annual PluSport karate camps. Btw: Customized courses can be offered on request.

The courses focus on a “symbiosis of combat sports, martial arts and self-defense”. Because the karate techniques strengthen self-confidence and positive energy, which also helps processing assaults that may have occurred in the past.

In the center of the photo are two wheelchair users, dressed in white karate suits: on the left karate coach Alessandro Aquino, on the right student Tina Fritschi. In the background other participants on a bench on the side of the gym.

Done! Tina Fritschi (right) beams after her training at PluSport karate camp. Alessandro Aquino (left) is the technical manager of the annual karate camp for persons with impairments.

“Wheelchair users are surrounded by a lot of metal – perfect for self-defense.”

Alessandro Aquino, PluSport Karate Project Manager

Karate Taisho

Since 2016 the karate school Taisho offers an adaptive sports course in collaboration with PluSport and the BSC Luzern (sports club for disabled people Lucerne). The only precondition for persons with physical, mental or psychological impairments is a certain level of independence in daily life.

Before starting the karate training in the group, the starting position is determined, and basic positions are practiced in one-to-one lessons. Up to eleven persons with various impairments between 12- and 52-years old practice every Monday from 7 – 8 pm (except for school breaks) at the Dula gym in Lucerne.

Kyusho for wheelchair users

Kyusho is perfect for persons with impairments as its technique requires less strength, swiftness and skill. The impact on the attacker is tremendous as anatomically weaker structures are attacked.

Technical Director and President of Kyusho Chaise Roulante (KCR) Richard Emry was a passionate martial artist and teacher for Aikido and Shiatsu. Together with Kilian Forclaz, Kyusho teacher and President of Kyusho-VS, Emery developed a new type of combat sports: Kyusho for wheelchair users. Together the two enthusiasts adapted, developed and created an effective method of self-defense and integrated energetic and therapeutic approaches.

Instructed by Master Evan Pantazi, a wheelchair user demonstrates Kyusho techniques to fight attackers.

In collaboration with the Wheelchair Club Valais Romand, the first course took place in 2010. Now Kyusho courses for wheelchair users are offered regularly in the gym of the SUVA rehabilitation clinic in Sion. Upcoming dates and further information can be accessed on the website Kyusho KCR.

Self-defense with WingTsun

The goal of WingTsun is to recognize dangerous situations before they escalate. Participants assess the body language of the opponent and practice effective de-escalation techniques with little energy input. The EWTO-Schulen Schweiz GmbH have offered self-defense courses at approximately 30 locations in Switzerland for over 40 years. Those who are interested can contact a school in their area and participate in a tryout lesson.

“We don’t offer separate courses for wheelchair users but integrate them in the regular group lessons. After all, this represents the situation they encounter in daily life.”

Managing Director Regula Schembri, EWTO-Schulen Schweiz GmbH

That WingTsun is suitable for wheelchair users is confirmed by Fernando Buoncore. Due to myelomeningocele, the most severe and common form of spina bifida, he has used a wheelchair his whole life. As person with disability, he often felt disadvantaged and has experienced some dustups on the street. “I am an outspoken person and don’t accept everything. That’s why I didn’t want to be perceived as an easy victim any longer.”

When he attended the leisure program offered by the social service “self-defense for persons with disabilities” his passion for martial arts was born. This one-week intensive course made such an impression on him that he has been training regularly at the WingTsun School Oberbuchsiten since 1997 and he is already working on the 5th higher degree. The 53-year-old is aware: Those who study martial arts need a competitive spirit, stamina and courage, to also fight against their own weaknesses and shortcomings.

“Many have told me that self-defense is impossible for a wheelchair user. I say: There’s no guarantee or standard rule but find out for yourself during a tryout lesson. Adapting martial arts techniques to individual abilities is and remains highly experimental – but it’s worth it!”

Fernando Buonocore, wheelchair user and WingTsun practitioner

The No Names: Self-defense with handicap

The club The No Names (est. 2016) is based on President Marcel Wäfler’s own experiences. He is physically impaired himself, works as multisport director at Procap and has the 1st Dan in Nippon jiu-jitsu.

It is impressive how individual needs are considered in the courses: They take place in Belp or another requested location, either as individual or group lesson, in several parts or as half-day or full-day workshops.

A course participant gives insights (in German) into her impressions of the workshops “self-defense in daily life for persons with disabilities”, organized by Procap Central Switzerland. Those who are interested can register for the multi-part self-defense course in the Thun region. The course is offered in collaboration with Procap Canton Berne.

“The psychological aspect also plays a big role: You have to have confidence in yourself that you can put up resistance.”

President Marcel Wäfler, The No Names

On a parking lot, a wheelchair user defends himself against an attacker on the left side of the picture. The attacker beats the victim with an umbrella and the victim successfully defends himself using an umbrella.

Together with his training buddy Roland Burgener (left), Marcel Wäfler of The No Names has put together various course blocks and exercises. They include practicing how to manage dangerous situations – also using daily objects such as an umbrella, pen, or purse.

Kung Fu in wheelchair: Wing Chun

Wing Chun is suitable for everyone who would like to learn more about the art of fighting and self-defense without taking any health risks and without fear. This form of fight is not based on the principle of “strength against strength” but on using the opponent’s strength; using smartly chosen techniques and positions in the room for a simultaneously executed counterstrike.

JustKnow Schweiz offers individual lessons or group lessons in Lucerne, Baar and Zurich, specifically adapted to the individual abilities of persons with physical impairments. Furthermore, also self-defense courses using the Israeli technique Krav Maga are offered on request.

“Striking” arguments

Those who learn a type of combat sports, martial arts or self-defense not only strengthen their muscles:

  • Training of physical and mental flexibility
  • Improving one’s own body sensation
  • Optimizing of coordination, endurance and flexibility
  • Strengthening of balance and body functions
  • Improving self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Promoting social competence, e.g. fairness, empathy, team spirit, leadership
  • In mixed training groups: better communication between persons with and without impairments as well as targeted support and integration of socially discriminated groups
  • Last but not least: play and fun

During an optimal lesson about self-defense the following topics are taught:

  • How can attacks be avoided?
  • Which signs hint to potentially dangerous situations or persons?
  • Which verbal strategies promote de-escalation?
  • If an attack cannot be avoided: Which physical defense techniques can I use – individually adapted to my abilities?

The Police Crime Statistics 2022 shows that violent crimes mostly take place in public places: 25,590 times. 19,806 cases of violent crime were reported that took place in private places.

The annual report 2022 of the Police Crime Statistics shows an increase in reported crime: In 2022 46,687 cases of violent crime were reported of which 1,942 were rated serious. This corresponds to an increase of 277 cases of serious crime (+16,6 %). In particular, there was an increase of serious injury (+112, +17,2 %), rape (+110, +14.5%) and aggravated robbery (+38, +126,7 %). The majority of the violent crime cases took place in public places (56,4 %). The accused persons were mainly men (22,723 as opposed to 5,523 women), of the harmed persons 20,850 were men and 15,722 were women.

Go in and win!

During a tryout training or test lesson you can find out if the coach and technique matches your own abilities and aspirations. And, of course, training regularly is crucial to be successful. We hope you enjoy discovering your “strong side”.

Have you ever been in a hairy situation and you had to defend yourself? Have you visited a self-defense course, or do you practice combat sports or marital arts regularly? Please tell us more...

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