What is Self Defense?
Part One: Defining Self Defense
By Jessica Stone, CPT
Self defense is the ability to defend yourself and get to safety in the event that you are being attacked. Self defense is not beating your attacker into submission; that’s MMA and you’re not Rhonda Rousey. As a martial artist, if I were to ever find myself in a self defense situation in the outside world, my main objective would be: get to safety. Staying around to try and submit my attacker or ‘teach them a lesson’ only serves to keep me in a dangerous situation. Get away, get out, get to safety.
Is self defense just physical movement?
No, self defense starts with your behavioral cues that you’re presenting to the world and your cognitive awareness of the world around you. Self defense doesn’t start once a would-be attacker already has their hands on you. Self defense starts with how you interact with the world around you.
Behavioral self defense starts with your ability to say “NO.” Let’s be honest with ourselves, how many of us have been raised with the belief that saying ‘no’ can be seen as impolite? How many of us have a hard time saying ‘no’ to friends, family, and our partners?
I want to empower you all with the knowledge that you have the right to say “no” to anyone. Saying “no” does not make you rude, a bitch, or bossy. Practicing your ability to say no supports your ability to be honest to yourself, and the world around you, in order to cultivate your integrity and power as an individual.
How does saying “no” relate to self defense?
Some attackers identify and pick their victims based off of perceived weakness.
Let’s examine a hypothetical scenario. I’m walking home from the laundry mat with a huge bag of heavy laundry. I’m trying to walk the laundry up and into my apartment, having a difficult time. A man that I don’t know, walks up, and offers to help me with my laundry, walking to my apartment. I politely tell him that I’ve got it under control, but thank you for asking. The man asks me again to help, because he “...doesn’t like to see a lady under stress.” I again tell him, “I’m ok. I do not need your help.”
Now, I have already told this man “no” twice. If he keeps asking, he is not respecting my “no.” A stranger that doesn’t respect your “no,” does not respect you. Is this to say that every person that offers help is an attacker in disguise? Absolutely not. It’s also important to remember that most instances of attacks, come from people whom the victim is familiar with. Which brings us back to the importance of being able to say “no” to strangers, as well as friends and family.
Cognitive self defense is your awareness of the world around you.
Always remember that some attackers choose victims based off of their perceived vulnerability. If you’re walking down the street with headphones on and your face is buried in your cell phone, how are you going to know that someone has been following you for 3 blocks?
Put your smartphone down.
This also includes happy side effects, such as: not walking into oncoming traffic; being able to hold doors open for other people; and smoother foot-traffic flow, down the busy sidewalks. Observe the world around you and be present. Have confidence in your step! Even if you don’t necessarily believe in this confidence, people will read you as more capable: and capable does not equal vulnerable.
Don’t be afraid to look people in the eyes from time to time. Attackers do not want to be seen. Being aware and looking at people, you’re inherently telling them, “I see you.” This also ties into saying “no.” If you’re walking down the street, and you glance over your shoulder now and then, you’re telling anyone who may be following you that you see them. And if you see them, you’re telling them, “No, I am not available for you to take advantage of.”
Physical self defense comes in various forms. I’m going to draw a line in the sand and tell you what's going to be effective and what's not going to be effective. Any movement that is predicated on very specific circumstances in order to perform it, is not going to help you in a self defense scenario; i.e. Aikido. Techniques that require years of practice to perfect, and are specific to a sport, are not applicable for self defense scenarios; i.e. Taekwondo, capoeira, and karate. Does that mean that any of those martial art modalities are made up? No, it means that trying to throw a question-mark kick at someone who’s pulling you down the sidewalk, is not going to be effective. This blog is about defense, not offense. Remember: get out, get away, get to safety.
What are some self defense moves that do work?
Learning how to hold your base (so you're not pulled out of control), break grips, and stave off a choke hold, are going to be the most effective techniques in defending yourself.
Where can you learn techniques like this? Krav Maga and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are two martial arts that spend time teaching you those basic moves. Please remember, that just as with anything else, take time to vet out a Brazilian jiu-jitsu or Krav Maga school. All are not created equal, and some will try to sell you on flashy moves that are not applicable to self defense.
Here are two basic questions to ask, that will help you assess whether or not a move is good self defense:
- How many movements are needed to complete the task? If it’s more than 2 or 3, that’s too flashy and unlikely to be effective. Less is more sometimes.
- Are there any tools required to complete the task? This is where some Krav Maga schools overextend what they teach, as effective self defense techniques. Unless you’ve been practicing for many years consistently, the idea of taking away an attacker’s gun effectively, is unlikely. You are not Proud Mary. Unless your towel or shirt has magical qualities, you will not be able to use either of those, to disarm an attacker. You are not Jason Bourne.
It is absolutely pivotal to remember that practice makes perfect. No one attends one self defense seminar and comes away a master. You need to practice consistently. In the event that you need to utilize the grip breaks or choke defense that you’ve learned, you now have to contend with your body’s fight or flight response.
Arguably your biggest tool in your self defense tool box is your ability to stay as clear-headed as possible under stress.
You’ve practiced that proposal that you’re nervous about presenting to your boss so that you don’t make a mistake, right? Well being in a self defense scenario has way more at stake (for instance, your life) and in order to be effective, demands the appropriate attention. Most of us don’t know how our minds will react under heavy stress.
Here are some ways to help you practice being as cool as a cucumber when your body and mind are stressed: high intensity exercise; deep breathing in the sauna; deep breathing in an ice bath; sitting in the sauna then hopping into the cold pool; taking up a martial art. If you can keep your head calm in any of these scenarios, you are on your way!