Self-defense begins with the belief that we are worth defending. Every woman should be able to live freely, dress as she pleases and drink whatever she wants. It’s important to know that, as women, we shouldn’t think it is our responsibility to prevent an assault or to place the blame for an attack on us. Men need to acknowledge boundaries, understand consent and respect women. But we can still invest time and energy into personal safety to reduce the risk of experiencing violence.
Based on current law enforcement reports and feedback from assault survivors, one in four women is going to be attacked in her lifetime. Even more shocking is that 78 percent of attacks against women are committed by people they know, also known as “non-strangers.”
This second statistic is so relevant. If a self-defense system is mainly based on aggressive tactics such as strikes, eye gouges or groin shots, and an attacker is familiar, we may be hesitant to defend ourselves or we may do nothing at all.
A self-defense system must have a violence scalability factor, which means scaling the response from verbal assertiveness and nonviolent de-escalation tactics to deadly force techniques for worst-case scenarios. No matter who the attacker is—stranger or not—there must be a plan.
Leverage and Timing versus Strength and Speed
Another important thing to keep in mind is that a chosen self-defense system must work regardless of whether it is taught to men or women. We should always assume that the attacker will be bigger, heavier and stronger than we are. For this reason, rely on techniques that are based on leverage, timing and energy efficiency rather than strength, speed and athleticism.
Beyond the physical techniques, the right self-defense system must reinforce awareness principles, risk assessment, and verbal and psychological strategies a woman can use to set safe boundaries with others—even if the perpetrator is someone she knows.
When it comes to self-defense, there is no right or wrong in any situation. We need to do what we can with the tools we have to survive; in the end, that is all that matters.
Five Self-defense Strategies Every Woman Should Know
- Trust instincts or the “gut”– If a situation doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t safe. If there is someone making us feel uneasy standing there when the elevator open, wait for the next elevator.
- Present confidence– Predators look for weak appearing targets, such as a women staring at her phone or distracted by her kids. Even if distracted, try to appear “together” with shoulders back and the head up.
- Strong verbal responses – If a predator starts a conversation with a potential victim, he may be “interviewing” her to see if she’s easily intimidated. While frightening, this is a perfect opportunity to speak with confidence and let the attacker know he’s chosen the wrong victim.
- Assume a non-confrontational stance– A relaxed but ready stance will allow the attacker to let his guard down a bit because he assumes compliance. The key is to be “fight-ready” with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands up, palms open and chin slightly down. This position allows for de-escalation or defense depending how the situation plays out.
- Don’t panic if knocked down– Ninety-five percent of all street fights end up on the ground. Eighty percent of rapes occur with the victim either prone or supine. If the attack actually happens, we should assume we will end up on the ground. The positive side of this situation is that most attackers are not skilled in ground fighting; they are just bullies trying to knock a smaller person down. A few ground-specific techniques can give a massive advantage.
The “violence scalability factor”and the fact that all attacks lead to defense from the ground is the cornerstone of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, a Brazilian martial art invented in 1925 during a time of horrendous street violence to empower smaller people not to walk in fear of larger attackers.
Law enforcement agencies and military professionals all over the world have now adopted Gracie Jiu-Jitsu as their training style. This partnership with law enforcement around the country revealed the shocking statistics surrounding sexual assault mentioned above.
It is important to note that for those who are survivors of assault, understand that some of the techniques and discussions in a self-defense program may trigger strong emotions of past incidents. They are to be commended for their strength and willingness to take an important step on the path towards personal empowerment.
Work through a program at an individual pace. And even though it may feel challenging at times, the right self-defense system will provide strength and confidence when we need it most. Find a good partner to practice with.
What Makes a Good Training Partner?
Someone who is helpful, patient, detailed, oriented, gives good positive feedback to their partner and wants to work together to get through this program is a good training partner. Someone who is competitive, too aggressive or wants to defeat the techniques may not be the best partner. It’s important to remember that the road to self-defense mastery is one that takes time and patience with a trusted partner.
How is a Self-Defense Mission Accomplished?
Ultimately, the effectiveness of a self-defense system is not measured by the number of fights that are won, but rather the number of fights that are avoided through heightened awareness, elevated confidence and boundary setting.
And, in the end, the most important thing to remember is that we are worth defending.