What! Did you just say it’s NOT lawful to hit an attacker after you mace him? Yes, the police officer says patiently while he waits for the indignant chatter to die down. This was one of several self-defense classes I’ve taken over the years. Each class left at least one memorable remark that I’d mentally file under self-defense techniques. I’ll share a few more tips that have stuck with me.
“Every woman should practice screaming in her car while driving. If they are practiced screamers they’re more likely to scream instead of freezing up and losing their voice in times of danger.”
“Scream FIRE! People tend to shy away from violence but run to witness a fire.”
“If you don’t practice frequently it will be hard to recall self-defense techniques when we’re scared and facing an attacker. So every time you’re alone or in a dark parking lot recite in your mind eye jab, ear slap, throat strike, groin kick.”
The one lesson taught in every self-defense class was that martial arts can only help you if you master the techniques which take many years. I knew a girl in middle school that took karate and was shocked when she was handily beaten up by another girl. My young mind wondered how she could get beat up if she knew moves like the ones I saw in the movie Karate Kid. I learned that fighting skills take more than a few classes to master. They need to be practiced so often that they become second nature. This is known as muscle memory. The self-defense instructors wanted us to develop muscle memory in our thoughts and awareness. No matter our age, physical capability, or hectic schedule, our thoughts and awareness are things that we could work on every day.
I started reflecting on the things I had learned about self-defense techniques after a reader asked if I would write an article about ways to keep women safe in times of chaos. I’m NOT a self-defense expert but it is an important topic worthy of study and I’m happy when I can oblige a reader. I believe there is so much we can learn from history and other cultures. There are many ways to develop a self-defense mindset. It does not always imply acquiring an arsenal. Below are stories that illustrate mental toughness.
Situational awareness is being stressed more and more in self-defense. There are a couple reasons for this. First, it’s becoming common for businesses to ban self-defense weapons. I had my purse searched when I when to the movies recently. The movie theatre’s policy is that carrying or displaying weapons of any kind, real or toy is prohibited. Second, mass shootings are happening in public places such as schools, nightclubs, concerts, malls, airports, and movie theaters. All of which have bans on weapons and are places were you can easily find yourself trapped. This makes situational awareness your only avenue to protect yourself.
Situational awareness is being aware of your surroundings and utilizing them to protect yourself and others. Here are some stories to illustrate:
A friend of mine shared with me that it’s a habit of hers to locate the fire extinguisher in every building she entered. Working for an emergency call center she was exposed to all types of violent crimes so I was not surprised that she was observant of her surroundings. While doing research for this article I discovered several self-defense instructors teach weaponizing a fire extinguisher in life threating situations like a mass shooting in a public place.
I interviewed a woman that just got out of a relationship where the abuse was starting to escalate. I asked her what her, “What safety advice would give others?” She responded, “Back-up into an option”. This reminded me of a story in Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born A Crime, he talks about how his stepfather was a violent man. If his stepfather entered the room, Trevor would find a way to position himself closest to the door so that he could always escape from a bad situation. Another story found in the Born a Crime shared that it was not uncommon for an attacker, who got violent with a woman in the kitchen, to have boiling water or grease thrown on the attacker. The book was not about abuse or self-defense but throughout this hilarious recounting of his life, Trevor uses situational awareness time and time again. Being alert to your surroundings is the most consistently taught self-defense technique through the ages.
In the 80’s, a study was conducted on how predators pick their targets. The results indicated that it wasn’t the length of hair, age, revealing clothes, or good looks that made someone a more likely target. Body language is how predators pick their would-be victims. Inmates of violent crimes watched footage of pedestrians and were asked to identify who would have been a potential victim. The same women were chosen time after time. Instinctively the criminals picked up on signs of vulnerability, lack of self-confidence, or a weakness. These women are naturally more likely to be compliant. So you may want to practice hurrying your pace, walk with a purpose, square your shoulders, and improve your posture because signs of confidence have been determined to detour many predators.
Increasing one’s confidence can be achieved many different ways. I have personally witnessed how preparedness and empowerment can boost another’s confidence. Night had fallen as I walked out of the women’s conference with three of my girlfriends. We were in a big, unfamiliar city and one lady started to get really scared during the first of ten blocks we had to walk back to the parked car. She clutched tightly to our friends on each side of her and kept saying she had a feeling that someone was going to attack us. She was becoming hysterical and slowing our progress to the car. I had packed four canisters of mace in my purse prior to our trip, one for each of us. Pulling them out, I handed one to each of them. There was a noticeable change in her body language as she let go of our friends and gripped the mace. She felt empowered and more confident holding a method to defend herself, we all did. Confidence can help us work through our fears and empower us to stand up for ourselves in dangerous situations.
We all have a code that we live by. This code is our sense of right and wrong, how we treat others, and how we expect to be treated. This code is continually adapting to our ever-changing world. Our laws indicate that as a society, we believe that physical violence is wrong. This is reinforced at school, at work, in the community and hopefully at home. Unfortunately, violence still plagues our communities. One high-risk group is foster children. There are several actions states take to protect foster children and lessen the potential of violence. One method is educating foster parents and children about acceptable treatment in the form of a Foster Child Bill of Rights. Here are two lines from the California’s Rights of Foster Children:
“1. To live in a safe, healthy, and comfortable home where he or she is treated with respect.
2. To be free from physical, sexual, emotional, or other abuse, or corporal punishment…”
This constitution helps instill foster children with the confidence to speak out against any who would harm them. They are less likely to have the internal debate on whether they deserve abuse. Having a personal constitution can be a powerful tool for anyone. It can set a standard in our lives and help us decide how we should act in difficult situations. Maya Angelou, a famous writer and civil rights activist, experienced violent acts throughout her life. Because of her life experiences, she added this sentence to her personal constitution, “I am never proud to participate in violence, yet I know that each of us must care enough for ourselves that we can be ready and able to come to our own defense when and wherever needed”.
Personal constitutions are what make people fight back when their lives are threatened, help others out of dangerous situations, and stand up to tyrants. A self-defense program taught by Gracie Jiu-Jitsu begins their training empowering women with their basic fundamental rights “we have the right to control our bodies and our boundaries”. A personal constitution does not just happen. It takes forethought, reflection, and repetition.
Never be far from help! This is a safety technique taught to victims of spousal abuse but can apply to anyone. Get to know your neighbors and exchange phones numbers. Neighbors can generally arrive quicker than law enforcement and can act as a witness. For many years neighbors have actively protected each other. The Neighborhood Watch program “is one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the country, bringing citizens together with law enforcement to deter crime and make communities safer.”
Another method of utilizing your network is to program the speed dial on your phone with the numbers of friends and family members that would come to your rescue. Recently, I discovered an SOS feature on my smartwatch. I program in my emergency contacts and when I press my home button 3 times it will send an SOS text with a map of my location to the emergency contacts. There are also apps that can be downloaded on your phone that work in a similar manner.
When possible use the buddy system. As violence against police is on the rise, many police departments are considering or have already implemented a buddy system for law enforcement. It’s believed that at least one of them would be able to call for backup (help) if there is trouble. Think about it, the police are trained in self-defense techniques, carry a gun, mace, taser, and baton and they still need to implement the buddy system for safety. If a well armed and trained organization uses this simple system then women should definitely be using it.
The photo above is of two Ethiopian women from the Mursi tribe with lip plates. This disfigurement of their lips, I discovered in a documentary, was first implemented to ward off slave traders. Girls have their lip cut, usually around puberty but before the piercing, the bottom front teeth are removed. This act of protecting themselves became a tradition and is now seen as a sign of beauty. This is not an act forced upon them, it is a choice that each girl makes for herself. It is believed that there are three tribes that still wear lip plates but it’s becoming more common for girls to opt out of this tradition. This is an extreme example of changing your appearance and I do NOT recommend anyone try this. It’s just an illustration that appearance can change the dynamic of a situation.
Another method that women have used over the ages to detour unwanted attention from males is to dress like a male. Historically women would crossdress to join the military, get a job such as a reporter, and increase safety when traveling alone.
Traditional women’s clothing covered from neck to ankle and included several layers. This fashion could slow attackers down and possibly buy women several seconds to fight back or allow time for a good Samaritan to come to the aid of someone calling for help. Dressing modestly and wearing layers is a tradition still practiced today.
Violent acts are being witnessed and experienced at an increasing rate. Have you thought about how you would respond to someone harming you or a stranger? If you never put thought into it then chances are you will freeze giving all the control to the assailant. The first several seconds are the most vital during an attack. Make sure you are not wasting those precious seconds deciding how you feel about harming a bad guy. Mental toughness comes from first preparing your mind. Would you be willing to jab eyes, rupture an eardrum with an ear slap, punch a throat, or aim a kick to the groin? It’s not uncommon for some hesitation if you have never considered it before. Would you act the same for getting robbed versus being herded to a dark alley? Setting boundaries play an important role on whether a person feels comfortable fighting back. Then decide how you will enforce those boundaries (unarmed or armed).
This YouTube video was made by Gracie University.
The thought of violence causes many people to seize up with fear. Confidence is the second component to mental toughness. How would you like to have more confidence in the face of fear? Who wouldn’t?! Research shows that regularly exercising boosts your brainpower, strength, endurance, and confidence. It has also been proven to help moderate stress and tap into creativity (think situational awareness). Any of these items could improve your chances in a self-defense scenario but constant exercising can increase all of these attributes. There are lots of enjoyable methods of exercising so find something you enjoy and develop a sustainable routine. Practicing self-defense techniques can also help you face fear by learning tools that teach you to deal with an attacker. Search your area for self-defense classes and support them if you can by attending. YouTube has a variety of self-defense exercise routines and training videos. Below are links to some of them:
Wrist Release (Scroll to the bottom, Under Women Empowered Videos, Lesson 1)
Armed Self Defense
Safety defense weapons for women were not as commonplace as they are today. Throughout history, small knives were the weapon that women used to defend themselves. Knives are common in households and easy to hide. Shakespeare referred to them as bare bodkin. Hairpins (hair knives) were popular in ancient Japan and Mexico. In Argentina, when the economy collapsed, crime was so rampant that women would carry kitchen knives in their purses.
Nowadays, we have more self-defense weapons to choose from. There are tasers, mace, tactical pens, collapsible batons, Kubaton keychains, whistles, and handguns. Safely practice with several of these methods and see if there is an option that feels right to you. Before committing to conceal carry a weapon, check with your local laws to find out if its legal. Training with your weapon and learning how to correctly carry the weapon should be your top priority. It would also be smart to study up on The Five Principles of Self Defense Laws.
Armed Defense YouTube links:
Knowing self-defense techniques will not eliminate the threat of violence.
They can, however, strengthen mental toughness and empower women to fight for their rights.