The groin shot: an attack so devastating that men have banned it from virtually every contact sport they engage in. Let's learn how to do it.
These days, only Muay Thai fighters strike to the groin—and they only do it in Thailand, where they wear groin protection made from fucking steel. But even armor plating isn't enough for western sportsmen; in addition to groin protection devices, they shield their balls with every rule, regulation, law, and covenant they can think of. The Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, for example, list 31 official fouls, with myriad subtle variations on things like kidney strikes (only a foul if you kick with your heel) and elbows (disallowed if striking downward; OK in other directions). And then there's Item vii: "Groin attacks of any kind."
It's as if the mere idea of groin attacks disturbs the rule-makers so much they're incapable of describing them in any detail. "It's just too awful!" I imagine them wailing, fanning themselves with their copies of Chael Sonnen's autobiography. "Just make it all go away!"
And if the unthinkable does happen? According to MMA rules, "a fighter who has been struck with a low blow is allowed up to five minutes to recover from the foul as long as in the ringside doctor's opinion the fighter may possibly continue on in the contest." In case you didn't know, rounds in a UFC fight last for five minutes. So fighters who take a shot to the groin have as much as an entire round to recover from it. This strikes me as oddly dainty for a sport that allows you to legally knee your opponent in the face.
Even outside the rules of sport, in the world of parking lot brawls and bar fights, groin shots are taboo. They're considered "low," and "cheap," and "unsportsmanlike." To attack a man's testicles is to attack his identity, his virility. It also, so the rumor goes, hurts like holy hell.
All of this—the element of surprise, the psychological impact, the pain—make the groin a truly magnificent target in self defense situations. And yet we're all, men and women alike, conditioned by society to bypass the groin as a target, to pretend it isn't there, just as we're taught to pretend that rude bodily noises are never audible at important social functions. This makes me sad. Kicking a guy in the balls, while not guaranteed to incapacitate him (nothing's guaranteed in life), is definitely one of your better options in a serious physical assault—and I say that not only as a self defense instructor, but also as a certified Emergency Medical Technician. In terms of trauma, you get a lot of bang for your buck when you attack the groin.
So let's demystify this forbidden technique. Here's how (and why) you should kick a guy in the balls.
The self defense model I teach from frames physical response to violence within the Ethic of Least Harm. Kicking a guy in the balls, as we're about to see, can cause a lot of damage. So you should probably reserve this technique for situations where your life or bodily autonomy are in immediate danger.
An interesting wrinkle for women is that such circumstances are statistically much more likely to involve someone we know, rather than a stranger. If you happen to know any MMA fighters, your risk may be even higher, because the sport, notwithstanding its queasiness about groin shots, has seen some horrific cases of domestic abuse. Take the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator fighter known as War Machine (née Jon Koppenhaver), who is currently facing 32 felony charges including sexual assault, strangulation, kidnapping, and attempted murder (two counts), for beating his ex-girlfriend Christy Mack until she required surgery. I think most reasonable people would agree that Koppenhaver, who has a history of attacking his girlfriends, is a guy who deserves to be kicked in the balls. (Though it's probably unnecessary at the moment, since he's in jail in Nevada.)
There's also Thiago Silva, who was cut, then reinstated, then cut again by the UFC after allegedly sticking a gun in his wife's mouth. UFC President Dana White initially took Silva back into the fold because "he was acquitted of all charges," which turned out not to be true; the charges against Silva were dropped when his wife, in quite understandable fear for her life, fled the country.
Personally, I feel that anyone who would stick a gun in a woman's mouth deserves to have his balls kicked, viciously and repeatedly. If you disagree, you probably deserve the same treatment.
By this simple litmus test of "Does he try to kill women?" lots of MMA fighters deserve to be kicked in the balls. Josh Grispi gave his wife a broken wrist and a concussion, and had his pit bull attack her. Will Chope slammed his ex-wide's head against the ground and attacked her with a knife. Other professional sports have their domestic violence issues, of course. MMA is hardly unique among pro sports for tolerating domestic violence while having the collective vapors over the very thought of groin shots. But the double standard is a bit more glaring with mixed martial arts because the sport, facing a shrinking viewership, is actively seeking to build its female fan base.
Well, as a fan of combat sports, I'm here to help them. I've illustrated this guide to kicking a guy in the balls with instructive video clips compiled from MMA fights. Many of them feature slow-motion replays of the ball-kicking. Ladies, sit back and enjoy yourselves.
There are worse things that can happen to a man than getting kicked in the balls. From a medical standpoint, being kicked in the balls certainly beats a gunshot wound to the chest. It's less dangerous than a spinal fracture. Definitely preferable to a depressed skull fracture. A blow to the balls can cause a lot of problems, but it's eminently survivable, especially if it's inflicted by another human. The really bad genital injuries—avulsions and amputations and de-gloving (don't Google that unless you have a strong stomach) are usually caused by machinery, not by people defending themselves.
So, in a way, attacking the groin is a compassionate response to a guy who's trying to kill you. Still, my EMT textbook notes that while injuries to the genitalia are "rarely life threatening," they are "typically extremely painful and could be quite embarrassing for the patient."
That's true for men and women; women have a lot of nerve endings in the groin, too. However, "injuries to the male genitalia," the EMT text goes on, choosing its words carefully, "usually produce excruciating pain and cause great concern to the patient."
That's probably an understatement. A good kick to the balls doesn't just hurt the balls. Upon impact, the spermatic plexus, a major nerve running through the testicles, carries the pain upward to the abdominal cavity, which is why victims of groin kicks often double over and assume a fetal position. They may also throw up or pass out. Crying is not unheard of.
Here, for instance, is a six-minute, 15-second video of a guy getting kicked in the balls. The kick comes at :03. The next 6:12 is the recovery. He doesn't even stand up until well past the four-minute mark.
Now, this is a terrible thing to happen in a sporting event. But it would be a great thing to happen in countering an assault. Think how far away you could be by the time your attacker was back on his feet. You'd have time to hail a cab, probably.
Here's a clip where the kick (from Adam Glenn) comes about 10 seconds in. Seventy seconds later, the victim, Tyler Baltz, still looks like he needs oxygen. Or smelling salts.
It's a bad day, all around, for a guy who gets kicked in the balls.
The particulars of the damage are even less appealing. Blunt trauma can cause testicular torsion, where the spermatic cord becomes twisted and blood supply to the testicle is cut off. This quickly results in ischemia or testicular infarction and tissue death—an extremely dangerous condition if left untreated. Testicular rupture is also a possibility, accompanied by hemorrhage or scrotal hematoma. (Fun fact: the Wikipedia page for Testicular Rupture is currently a "stub." No one wants to write about the topic, I guess.)
Less common, but more impressive, is testicular dislocation. It turns out those little buggers can be popped right up into the abdominal cavity if you hit them hard enough (though this particular outcome is more common from motorcycle crashes than one-on-one combat). And then there's a grab bag of other possibilities, like a lacerated urethra, or a penile fracture, when the tunica albuginea tears or ruptures, resulting in severe pain hematoma, and edema.
Here's another interesting outcome: Watch heavyweight Bellator fighter Eric Prindle axe-kick Thiago Santos in the groin. The kick comes at 0:18 seconds. The rest of the video is Santos writhing on the mat. Turns out Prindle's kick broke his pubic bone.
Pretty ugly, isn't it? It makes me glad I'm a girl, frankly. I've spent 15 years training in karate, an art developed primarily by men and therefore obsessively concerned with protecting the testicles, so in some ways I feel like I have an honorary groin; I'm so accustomed to covering it every time I begin or end a drill. It's a huge responsibility, and I'm thankful I don't carry that burden in real life. I don't think I'd cope well with the stress.
Not that I feel sorry for men. It's more than a fair trade, running the world, even if you have to keep one hand over your crotch at all times. But I do feel a weird sort of sympathy for the be-testicled. Such important parts of your anatomy, and you have to tie them up in a little purse before you can even pretend to fight. What a drag.
Except there's this: some 20 to 50 percent of female sexual assault victims suffer genital injuries. Often they have internal trauma, bleeding, pelvic fractures and urethral damage—injuries that can be deadly if not recognized and treated.
I believe that everyone's body deserves respect. And I also believe in consequences. Imagine if 20 to 50 percent of male sexual assailants suffered genital injury. Isn't it possible that fewer men would be willing to commit assault?
I wonder how we could find out?
Simply put, we're talking about penis versus testicles. In a self defense situation, you should feel free to attack any target that's available, but keep in mind that some targets yield better results than others. If you have a choice, you want to go for the testicles. Kicking the penis isn't bad, necessarily; you can still do damage and it'll usually shake a guy up. It might even drop him, as Georges St-Pierre's kick does to Matt Hughes here.
But the balls? Cha-ching. A direct hit there is every bit as devastating as the MMA rules would lead you to believe. Take a look at this fight, where Alessio Sakar takes an instep kick to the groin from Ron Faircloth, and manages to land one more punch before going down like a tree. We then witness about 40 seconds of him rolling around on the mat, gasping in convulsive agony.
You can also strike the groin with your knee. The optimal angle is upward, rather than straight in, striking the balls from below and driving them up. As you can see from this brief clip of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović receiving the knee, the strike works best when the target already has one leg up, exposing the testicles.
Whether you kick with your knee or your foot, you want to follow through. Don't just tap. This isn't a warning signal; it's the full freight train. In most cases, the guy whose balls have been kicked reacts pretty much the same: A look of disbelief (sometimes there is a poignant moment of eye contact with their opponent, as if they are saying, "Dude, how could you?"), doubling over, hitting the mat, and then a prolonged period of existential crisis and convulsion. Vomiting is optional. Here's Wanderlei Silva nailing Rich Franklin.
Here, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, after catching one from Dan Hardy, is quickly carted off on a stretcher.
And you're not limited to just the knee or the top of the foot—there are plenty of other ways to kick a guy in the balls. If he's standing and you're lying down, you can drive your heel upward. His legs form a convenient runway that will guide your foot right to the target. In closer quarters, hand attacks work very well against the groin. Again, you want to strike upward if possible, and target the testicles, not the penis: Skip the grip; attack the sack.
As you can see here, punching straight, as Keith Hackney is doing to Joe Son, in may not be as effective.
Luckily, it's quite rare to be assaulted by someone wearing a cup.
Honestly, there's almost no bad way to kick an attacker in the balls. Foot, knee, hand; front, bottom, or in the library with a candlestick—the balls are vulnerable to just about anything you throw at them. (Oh, right: you can also throw things at them). And if by chance your first strike doesn't put your attacker on the ground, you're free to kick him again. Why not? If he's still there, his balls aren't going anywhere. Or you can diversify by striking other soft body parts like the eye or the throat, if you prefer.
Anything you like, until you've done enough damage to escape to safety.
I spend a fair amount of time teaching women to kick men in the balls, and I've learned that this activity tends to generate controversy. Here, according to actual adults who have actually said these things to me, are some reasons you should not kick a guy in the balls:
1. It will make him angry.
I should hope so. I'm not sending him a friend request. If I kick him hard enough, there's a good chance I'll render him unable to act upon his anger. That's my goal. His feelings are his problem.
2. It will make him hurt you worse.
Statistics say otherwise. And anyway, he's already demonstrated his desire to hurt me. Why should I give him carte blanche to decide how much he's going to hurt me? I'd rather be an active participant in that decision-making process.
3. Groin kicks aren't really that devastating; I've seen lots of guys get hit in the balls and it hardly fazed them.
This response (almost universally from men) is so common I've come to think of it as "groinsplaining"—you can see it many of the YouTube comments in the videos linked above. These people rarely volunteer to demonstrate their own iron balls in a real kicking situation, but they confidently assert that men in general can shrug off all kinds of damage to the groin. All I can say is, I've seen two-year-olds take down grown men via the groin, and toddlers don't even have any training. I do. I like my odds.
4. We shouldn't be teaching people how to kick men in the balls; we should be teaching men not to do anything that would make us have to kick them in the balls.
Hey, that's a great idea! Do you have a detailed, research-based plan for teaching all men everywhere to behave themselves all the time? And do you have funding for your efforts, and buy-in from politicians and community leaders, and a network of trained, experienced instructors who can effect this change? If not, better get started on your grant proposal. In the meantime, I'll just be over here teaching people how to kick guys in the balls. That's what I do.
5. Telling people they should kick an assailant in the balls is the same as telling victims who didn't kick their assailant in the balls that they did something wrong.
No, it isn't. It's a practical way to reduce the number of future victims by giving them more viable options to disrupt and survive an assault.
Fact: We have the power to damage the bodies of men who try to hurt us. You're saying we shouldn't let people use that power. I'm offering people more choices; you're trying to take them away.
6. Kicking a guy in the balls just makes the world a more violent place.
Maybe, in the short term. But if it stops him from killing someone, or putting them in the hospital, isn't that a net win for non-violence? The Dalai Lama thinks so.
One in four women will have good reason to kick a guy in the balls at some point in her life. Luckily, it's not rocket science. Anyone can do it! And ball-kicking's efficacy is beyond dispute, as the men of MMA so nobly helped us illustrate here. Gentlemen, if any of you are reading this, and conscious: Cheers, and get well soon (the non-wife-beaters among you, anyway).
Susan Schorn is the author of Smile at Strangers, and Other Lessons in the Art of Living Fearlessly; she also writes the column Bitchslap for McSweeney's Internet Tendency.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.