With everything going on in the media recently, “women’s self defense” has taken on an expanded meaning.
When I started training in the martial arts twenty-six years ago, women’s self defense generally referred to a woman’s ability to physically protect herself in a self defense situation. Now – things have changed.
The principles of staying safe are timeless – they don’t change. You could go to “The Google” and search on self defense techniques for women and be flooded with moves you can try and learn to protect yourself.
What has changed is WHERE and WHEN you have to apply these principles of self defense – and it is not just about physical self defense anymore. More and more, “self defense” is about protecting yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
It used to be that once you were inside your home, you were generally safe from danger from strangers, save for the random home invasion or burglary. With the Internet, smartphones and computers, you now have to protect yourself online 24/7.
Combine that with situations that can come up with family members, friends, co-workers, bosses or someone you are in a relationship with you can see how important it is for women to have the right frame of mind when venturing out in the world.
Time and space constraints prevent me from going into as much detail as I would like to help prepare you. There is no way I can teach physical techniques in this piece, but here are some quick tips and principles that can help you right now become more mentally aware and prepared to defend yourself.
DISCLAIMER – there is NO substitute for consistent, quality instruction and practice in some form of personal protection and/or martial arts, plus functional fitness training to keep you strong and healthy. These tips are NOT meant to make feel as if you are perfectly capable of protecting yourself after you learn them; they are shared to open your eyes and help you to mentally stay aware, hopefully keeping you one step ahead of trouble.
Lastly, while this is a serious subject, it does NOT have to be scary and educating yourself on the topic does NOT mean you have be paranoid. On the contrary, learning how to protect yourself can be a blast and make you even more calm in your day-to-day activities – because you KNOW you can protect yourself.
Always Travel with Someone
You hear story after story of a woman who was last seen leaving a bar, party or social function alone, then turns up missing or gets assaulted. There is strength in numbers. A bad guy wants the easiest target and dealing with two or more potential victims at once is NOT easy.
No matter what, always have a friend to travel with, even if it is just across campus, across town or “a few doors down”. Arrange for one of you to crash at the other’s place after parties or nights out so that you stay together through morning if possible.
If it is Ladies Night after work and someone from your group meets someone and decides to leave with that person, plan to check in with each other at the end of the night. If you all leave at different times, check in on each other so you make sure everyone got home safely.
You’d be amazed at the stories that are out there regarding a co-worker who left early to go home and never made it. Sometimes it was a car accident, sometimes it was simple car trouble – sometimes it was something far worse. You don’t have to stress out about it – just be aware and look after each other.
Watch Your Body Language
The FBI did a study of criminals in prison for violent crimes and when they were asked how they selected certain people or businesses for the crime, they said that they picked whatever looked like the easiest target that would offer the least resistance.
A strong, confident powerful-looking woman does not scream “easy target”; a slouching, head-looking-down, quiet, timid, arms-crossed -while-you-walk posture DOES attract predators or people looking for an easy mark.
This means head up, eyes up, smile on the face, eye contact with people as you walk and talk, shoulders back, purpose in your stride and be healthy, strong and fit. Ten to fifteen minutes of stretching and body weight calisthenics a day, six days a week is all you need to get lean, fit and strong in a very short amount of time and it will reflect in your posture and body language.
Make sure you do posture exercises to combat all the sitting we do in life. Get outdoors. Move. Breathe. Get some sun. Lift weights. Take some martial arts classes. Make being healthy, strong and fit a daily habit and you WILL feel great and carry yourself accordingly.
Keep Your Head On a Swivel
In the Marines, you are taught to, “Keep your head on a swivel.” This means you are constantly scanning in front of you, to the sides and behind you while on a mission. You never put your focus on just one spot or area; you are constantly aware of your surroundings.
You do this not to look or act paranoid, but to be safe.
Is there a car, motorcycle or person consistently showing up in your rear-view mirror? If you are walking somewhere with friends, is there a lone person or group consistently following you? Have you noticed the same car parked around where you live that doesn’t belong?
If so, be aware, make note of what they look like and if it continues, report the situation.
Keep Your “Stuff” Together
This isn’t anyone judging; it does have to be stated. Don’t get so impaired that you can’t think or function. This could be an entire book on its own. It’s a free country so you can do and act however you wish. It is not my place to preach to you about what is best for you regarding drugs or alcohol and I am no saint in that department myself; it’s between you, your family and what you feel is right for you.
What I can say with 100% confidence is that if you get so impaired that you lose awareness and ability to think or protect yourself, all the self defense skills in the world won’t help you. The more impaired we get, the more we let down our guard and possibly do things we regret later. God forbid you get so smashed that you pass out or go into blackout and something awful happens.
When something like that happens, it can change you and your life forever. Just ask yourself, is that something you want to deal with? If not, act accordingly.
Trust Your Gut
Statistics from RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) show that 4 out of 5 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. 47% of rapists are reported to be friends or acquaintances.
Have you ever come across a situation where as soon as the experience started, you could just tell something wasn’t right? Maybe you couldn’t put your finger on exactly what was wrong, but something was making you uneasy?
That is your gut. That is the primordial part of your brain that innately senses danger. It’s a system that has genetically developed over millions of years, so it knows what it is doing. This means that in all situations, you MUST trust your gut. Your gut will tell you when something isn’t right.
If you start to feel uncomfortable or unsure about someone’s intentions, or if you started on a date that was going great, but now it feels like he is being aggressive, follow your instincts.
Maybe you have been out partying with your friends, they want to leave and the guy you just met is offering to stay and give you a ride, and you feel a little unsure. Whatever the situation is, if you feel something in your gut – LISTEN TO IT. Always better to offer apologies later than to deal with the alternative.
Tough on the Outside, Tender on the Inside
While somewhat controversial, this is another principle that is difficult for women. I know it is no fun trying to teach my 8 year-old daughter. Here it is: other people’s happiness and feelings are NOT your responsibility.
I am sure you have heard the phrase, “To get along, go along…” In society today, it can be downright painful to go against the grain, stand up for what you believe in or express your opinion. Many times, people will do things just to go along with the crowd or not make waves, so they aren’t viewed as being “mean”, “rude” or the big one for women, “bitchy”.
For the high school or college-aged women reading this – maybe there is a guy who wants to friend you on social media that you don’t know. Maybe it is a guy who told a friend he thought you were cute and wants to be friends on Facebook. If you have a funny feeling about this guy or don’t want to friend him – DON’T. You don’t have to.
Maybe a group of your girlfriends wants to go to a party where you know there may be alcohol, drugs or other behaviors that make you uncomfortable and you know if you say you don’t want to go, you might be ridiculed or left out of the group. If you aren’t comfortable, then trust yourself and your judgment. If your gut tells you something, listen.
Same thing goes for women in the workplace. Maybe there is a group of women at work that always want you to join them for happy hour. Maybe there is that boss that gives you the creeps but he is in charge of your promotions and wants to, “work more closely” with you…
You ARE the Boss of You
Whatever the situation – if you don’t want to do it or it doesn’t feel right – don’t.
If someone else has a problem with you choosing what is acceptable to you, who you will spend time with, share your personal details with or allow into your life, that is THEIR problem and NOT YOURS.
There is only ONE person’s opinion that matters in your life – YOURS. You are 100% responsible for you, your life and your happiness. This means YOU get to choose the who, what, where, when and how of your life, including anyone you allow in it.
You want to develop the strength of character to where even if people you called “friends” decided to turn on you or ostracize you, your self image and self esteem would be rock solid. Sure, you could and would feel sadness or betrayal, but you would know that your love for yourself and the love of your family is all you need – and you can always get new friends.
Besides, if “friends” turn on you, they weren’t really friends, were they? If anyone gets their feelings hurt by that – too bad. As long as you are happy and safe, that is what is most important.
Now of course, we aren’t talking about acting like a self-indulgent, petulant spoiled child, either. This is about having a healthy respect for yourself and honoring what you feel is right for you, regardless if the people you care about or call friends agree.
It is called emotional maturity and you MUST develop it to stay safe in today’s world.
Once It’s On, It’s On
This is the part where most people cringe and think I am crazy, but it is the MOST important principle of self defense.
My friend Tim Larkin, who created a self defense training system used by Navy SEALS, talks about the psychology of a self defense situation. The distinction – and this is CRITICAL to understand – is that once a situation becomes a physical confrontation – the normal social rules of society are out the window.
Once violence is involved, socially accepted rules of behavior are out because you are no longer in a “social” situation; you are in what is called an “asocial” situation. In an asocial situation, the only thing that matters is your survival and safety.
Any thoughts or feelings regarding the well-being of the other party or perception of what others may think – anything regarding normal, everyday human interactions – is OUT. If you think and act like that when in an asocial, violent, physical encounter, you WILL get hurt.
Once it is an asocial situation, it is about one thing and one thing only – getting out of there safely. Whatever you have to do – no matter how “mean”, “gross”, violent or physically damaging to the other party – you do it. No fear, hesitation or qualms about it. Why?
Because you HAVE TO.
The other party is ALREADY operating under those rules and you can’t change that fact. This means you better get with the program or you WILL get hurt – or worse.
Be First, Be Fast, Be Violent
In the Marines, they teach the two keys of success in close quarters combat – surprise and violence of action. Once you know you are in an asocial situation – or you FEEL like it is about to become one – if you can’t get out of there, strike first and strike hard.
Remember, you are in an asocial situation now; there are no rules for fighting “fair”. You want an overwhelming, one-sided advantage that favors you. This means if your attacker thinks he has you right where he wants you, surprise him by attacking first, as fast and as violently as possible so you can get out of there safely.
I know that is scary and uncomfortable to think about, but so is being assaulted and unable to fight back. Better to ask for forgiveness later than waiting and realizing it is too late.
Be Smart, Be Tough, Be Safe
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to principles for self defense, but it is a good start. Along with the principles of self defense, it would be smart to learn physical techniques you can use should the need arise. If there is a Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios location near you, contact them and ask if they will be hosting an Women’s Self Defense Seminars in your area.
While this is a serious subject. you WILL have fun learning how to protect yourself. The physical workout, learning the techniques and meeting new people are all a part of learning how to protect yourself. When done correctly, you won’t be bored and it will be taught in a safe, fun, friendly environment.
Whether you decide to get physical training or not, start with the basics outlined here, be smart, be tough and be safe.
About the Author
William Huff, Jr. – “Sensei Bill” – is a twenty-six year martial artist, 5th degree Black Belt and a former U.S. Marine that served in the First Gulf War. For almost two decades, he shared the power of martial arts training with thousands of families in South Orange County, CA. He continues to train and share his knowledge by helping other instructors reach more people in their communities.