AsiaLIFE investigates the importance of being able to defend yourself in Saigon. Photos by Chu Chi Thanh.

Most of us feel comparatively safe in Ho Chi Minh City, unthreatened by violent crime that is prevalent in other large cities around the world (especially my hometown of London where it now seems to have reached epidemic proportions).

But while there may be less violent crime in categories such as muggings, armed robberies or assaults, there is certainly more opportunistic crime here and the instances of physical confrontations on the street is growing.

Flashing your new phone around is unwise, and if you do attract the wrong sort of attention it’s as important to be able to defend yourself here as it is in many other urbanised parts of the world.

AsiaLIFE met up with Tuan Huynh, a self-defence expert who also grew up on the mean streets of London, to find out what we can do if we find ourselves in a position where we feel threatened. “Always run away unless your life depends on it, but if you take a proactive approach to your personal safety and find yourself in a physical altercation then the odds will favour you,” Tuan advises.

Differt Types of Self-Defence

It turns out there are two primary types of self-defence, proactive and reactive, and a combination of the two is the best way for dealing with potential violence and attackers. As the name implies, proactive self defence are techniques that you use before someone attacks you, preventing a dangerous or violent situation from happening and giving you time to put space between you and a potential attacker.

Much of this could be called common sense Tuan explains. If you’re walking down the street and see someone who looks suspicious or otherwise makes you feel uncomfortable, proactive self defence is crossing the road to walk on the other side, removing yourself from a potential threat. Alternatively you could walk into a shop or other public place if you’re in a location where it’s possible.


Proactive self-defence helps you avoid potential threats by being aware of what’s going on around you, giving you time to think about your actions if a threat occurs. If an attack looks imminent, having seen the threat gives you time to prepare your response, be it running away, or reaching for your pepper spray or other self-defence device. But most importantly, it can help you anticipate and avoid potential threats in the first place.

Imagine you’ve just been jumped from behind, your attacker has the element of surprise and caught you off guard. Reactive self defence is what happens when the opportunity to be proactive has gone and you find yourself in a position where you must now employ reactive techniques to remove yourself from the threat and get away.


You’re under attack, things just got real, it’s too late to prevent or prepare and the best you can do is react to the situation you find yourself in. This is not the time to be rummaging through your bag for your rape alarm or pepper spray.

Reactives self-defence is the physical fighting techniques that you apply to remove yourself from danger or to make sure the danger is no longer a threat to you. These are the skills that will keep you and your family alive if you find yourself in a position where physical defence is your only option.

Tuan holds regular eskrima (A Filipino martial art) workshops at Saigon Sports Club in District 7, combining basic open-hand self-defence techniques with simple weapons-based fighting methods, such as sticks or other items you are likely to find easily if you need to defend yourself. All proceeds raised through the classes go to charity.