"Sightless Self-Defense" Can Help You Stay Safe

by Audrey Demmitt, RN, VisionAware peer advisor

Last summer I took an introductory workshop on self-defense at Hull Park and Retreat Center, located east of Portland, Oregon. It was my first exposure to anything related to martial arts and the idea that I can protect myself by using learned techniques. While I have never been attacked, I would like to learn how to prevent and handle any such event. As a woman who is visually impaired and travels alone, it seems prudent to educate myself on personal safety and self-defense practices.

Meet Sensei Stan Miller

Sensei Stan Miller was the instructor that day. He is the founder of Portland Small Circle™ Jujitsu and has been teaching martial arts since 1983. He holds Black Belt rank with Sosuishitsu-ryu Jujitsu, Jujitsu of America, and Professor Wally Jay’s Small Circle™ Jujitsu and has trained in many other disciplines as well. Sensei Miller currently holds a level of Fifth Degree Black Belt Master Instructor and has also instructed police and military personnel.

What Is Jujitsu?

Jujitsu is a martial art that was practiced by the Japanese samurai warrior. It is an ancient method of hand-to-hand combat, combining a variety of techniques such as joint locking, judo throws, strike combinations, and pressure points to defend oneself when weapons are not available. Jujitsu techniques are often taught in self-defense classes for women because it is possible to neutralize an attacker quickly and escape. Small Circle™ Jujitsu is a refined system of efficient and effective self-defense used in close quarters. It focuses on joint manipulation to control an opponent with maximum results through minimum effort. Jujitsu is the mother of many martial arts taught today.

The Creation of "Sightless Self-Defense"

In 1996, Sensei Miller developed a program called "Sightless Self-Defense" specifically designed for people who are blind and visually impaired. This system is a unique blend of his martial arts training and adapted techniques. He has taught "Sightless Self-Defense" classes through the Oregon Commission for the Blind for over 25 years. Michael Yamada, a certified orientation and mobility instructor with a background in Judo, teaches the classes with Sensei Miller incorporating mobility instruction and travel safety into the training. “His expertise in safe mobility has enhanced the classes,” remarks Sensei Miller. This adapted system can be learned by students of all ages and abilities.

Some Basic Principles of "Sightless Self-Defense"

This training begins with lessons in a few basic principles rooted in jujitsu. Balance and stability are fundamental principles taught in class. "We start with an open, relaxed posture and then teach a closed, strong stance with short, controlled steps to maintain balance and improve stability and mobility," explains Sensei Miller. Breathing techniques are taught to enable the student to stay calm and focused. Decision making is also an important principle. Sensei Miller says "staying calm with proper breathing will improve decision-making skills."

Stan showing student self defense move

Students learn how to respond if someone makes physical contact with them. This concept is called "contact response" and was developed by Sensei Miller. The contact may be a bump, a hard grab, or a hand on the shoulder. A quick and loud verbal response is the first step in self-protection. We learned to say “Back off!” and practiced this verbal response in the workshop I attended. Students learn to turn toward the person and establish a strong posture and stance. They use proper breathing to stay calm and determine the level of the threat. As Sensei Miller points out, “It could be a friend or foe; you don’t want to palm strike Aunt Suzi in the face.”

Another adaptive concept developed by Sensei Miller is called touch sight. Touch sight refers to the mental image you create of your opponent’s physical attributes, location, and intentions. The information exists as long as contact is maintained. The student uses this information to position themselves to improve balance, maintain contact, and locate the vital points on the opponent’s body. Without contact, the lack of information places a person who is blind in chaos. With no information about the attacker—where he is, what he has, what he is doing, from where he is coming—the person who is blind is extremely vulnerable. All these things are known by locking on to the attacker and using touch sight.

The Safe for Life Program

The classes are not just about fighting skills. Sensei Miller takes a broader whole-life approach to "Sightless Self-Defense" and personal safety. He reports the class has evolved into the Safe for Life program, teaching students to be aware of all kinds of threats and intrusions into their lives including Cyberspace and other scams. “Our philosophy for this program is to give the individual basic knowledge of what is possible for them in a crisis situation. I want them to feel empowered by what they can do mentally, verbally, and physically. We want to give them some tools and the confidence to live a safe and secure life,” explains Sensei Miller. He believes people need to be in control of their personal safety and self-defense training enables them to do just that.

Helpful Tips on Personal Safety from Sensei Miller

  1. Take the time to secure your home. Leave lights on and lock all doors and windows. Make sure smoke detectors are working. Identify who is at your door before opening it.

  2. Take time to secure yourself on the street. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Walk with your head up and with purpose. Secure your wallet, backpack, or purse. Organize your money and cards so you can access and put them away quickly.

  3. Let someone know your travel plans. Give family or friends details about where you are going, the route you are taking, and when you plan to return.

  4. Be careful about the personal information you share on social media.

Sensei Miller is available to teach classes and workshops in the Portland area and events such as conferences around the U.S. For more information, check out his Facebook page Sightless Self-Defense. Visit www.portlandjujitsu.com and contact Stan Miller at samuraimiller@hotmail.com.


Talk to your medical doctor and eye doctor before participating in any self-defense program. Some eye and medical conditions can be affected by athletic activity that includes bending, lifting, straining, or pulling.


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