The thing about self defense is that it's really not complicated — it's more about timing and attitude than knowing special techniques (though we've got some of those for you too). Knowing how to prevent and mitigate a physical attack in its early stages is your best defense. Your last resort is the hand-to-hand combat detailed in the videos below.
Are any of these methods foolproof? Not really; if you watch enough self-defense videos online, you will see plenty of conflicting information (mostly to do with how to hit and injure an assailant). But there are a few agreed-upon rules outlined below.
Be aware: Focus on where you are and who is around you, especially in public places. Dale Fricke, founder of Alpha and Omega Tactical Training Concepts in Bozeman, Montana, gave this simple but excellent advice to SheKnows: "Being aware of your surroundings will help you see or feel if someone is preying on you."
Predators look for victims, so don't act like one: If you have a gut feeling that someone is following too close to you as you walk down a street, or is approaching you in a dark parking lot, raise your voice and face them, don't just wish they'll go away. Be loud, and put your hands out into their space. Don't act meek, and don't whisper or keep your voice low (if your normal tendency is towards being on the quiet side, practice yelling, as shown in the video below). Phrases like, "Are you following me?" or "What do you want?" bellowed out will surprise a would-be attacker, oftentimes enough so that they won't want to bother with someone that confrontational. When traveling, practice smart personal safety.
Keep space at a maximum: If someone has already approached you, move away from them quickly. Your danger increases as body distance decreases. Don't second-guess yourself or assume you are just being paranoid; if you feel uncomfortable, increase distance or before they get too close, as indicated above, face the person at several arm's lengths. Try to keep further than arm's distance away so they can't grab you. The most common place to be grabbed is on the wrist, see the video below for a quick, simple reaction technique to this situation.
Give up your stuff: It might seem obvious, but if someone is threatening you for your bag, wallet or your jewelry — give it up! None of your stuff is worth your life, or even getting injured for.
Get sway: Never, ever let someone take you to another room/space, or into a car — fight (see below) and run away if at all possible. You have a much greater chance of scaring your assailant away or just getting robbed if you don't go to a second location.
Don't hesitate to hit: Vigorously attack quickly and frequently. The element of surprise is on your side — most assailants won't expect a vigorous defense. Use your hardest body parts — your knees, elbows and head — to hit your attacker in his or her most vulnerable areas — the groin, the knees and the face (eyes, nose, ears). See the video below for more precise instruction, including the location of the carotid artery, which when hit, can stun, hurt and surprise.
Use everyday objects as weapons: Says Fricke, "Ink pens can be used like a dagger, flashlights can be used as a blinding device and an impact weapon, and any spray-type items can be used to blind attackers. Your goal is to impair an attacker’s seeing, breathing and thinking so you can escape." Sprays of any kind can temporarily hurt or blind and keys can be another sharp weapon.
Aim to really hurt: You may have only one or two shots at really hurting your assailant enough to get away from them, so make them count. Aim from your core, and hit or punch in vulnerable areas (not stomach or chest, as Debi Stevens indicates below) in the face, neck and knees. Using your heel palms to hit with a forceful thrust from your shoulder out will utilize your full body leverage against the person who is attacking you. And the old advice holds true — if it is a man who is hurting you, go for their groin.
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