The best self-defence option is to learn a martial art, or other fighting technique which can teach you how to block a blow or kick, how to take a blow if an attacker gets through your guard, and how to fall properly, to avoid breakages and so that you can get up again quickly. It will also improve your general fitness, co-ordination and reaction speed. Martial arts courses are widely available in most countries, and there are plenty of nodes on e2 about individual styles and schools.

Specialised women's self-defence courses are another option. They often cater for the less fit or physically able, and deal with specific attack scenarios and how to deal with them. They're also a good experience even if you think you will never have to defend yourself - they teach a lot about self-confidence and assertion. Most universities run women's self-defence courses, and most local women's centres will have information on where to find them. In the UK, local community centres, the WEA and adult education centres often have them: in Australia, try your local TAFE or check out free local papers.

If you can't get to a course or don't have the time (or are far too lazy) self-defence videos and books are another option. has a fair selection. Always try to practice the techniques with others: the knowledge is not much good in your head, you have to be able to use it. Male friends are best to practice on - if you can persuade them (be sensible here - obviously don't practice poking their eyes out!) Get them to come at you in a variety of ways and holds, and practice getting out of them..

In the meantime, here's a few tips I've picked up which you don't have to be tough or fit to use:

  • If an attacker comes at you from the front, kick his knees or shins, hard.
  • If he grabs you before you can kick, ram your knee up into his groin.
  • If your arms are free, use 'em to punch his head - temple, eyes, under the ears, mouth, nose.
  • If you don't have enough leverage to punch - jab your fingers into his eyes; grab his lip and pull sharply down; get hold of a finger and bend it back; grab his Adam's apple by digging your fingers hard into his throat and pulling at his windpipe.
  • If you can't move your arms or hands, you can spit or bite.
  • If he grabs you from behind, move your hips so you can drive your elbow back into his solar plexus (under the breastbone and between the first few ribs) and follow it up with a blow, using the back or side of your fist, to the groin. Or grab his balls and squeeze hard, or yank sharply downwards if you can. Or kick back hard into his knee with your heel, slide down the shin and stamp on the instep of his foot.
  • Joints bent in the wrong direction can be very painful. If someone grabs you by the wrist, flip their wrist backwards, or, if you can, slip your body under their arm (as in ballroom dancing!) while keeping a grip on their wrist, and bend their arm the wrong way up their back.
  • If someone comes at you with a broken bottle, or other weapon: duck your head and throw your full body weight, led by your head, at their solar plexus to knock them off balance. And then run.

None of the above are foolproof. Be prepared with more than just one technique, put your whole body into the blows, keep your balance, use adrenaline and anger. Shouting "NO!" while you do any of the above as loud as you can reinforces your intention of fighting back, and shows the attacker that you're not an easy target. Remember, the object is to GET AWAY AND RUN LIKE FUCK. Don't hang around to see if you hurt him - get out of there fast.

NB: It's always better to be taught by a recognised professional.

Go back to: women's self-defence

I am entering this under the self-defense node because at the moment that it even worked is what is most interesting to me.

Last night I was the victim/survivor of attempted rape.

20 years ago my Mom made my sister and I take a basic women's self-defense course. I have never had cause to use any of it and truly thought I never would. It all seemed kind of ridiculous to me....Then:

Last night. I agree to go back to an acquaintance's house to look at an antique chess set he had for sale. How this was taken as an invitation for sex I have no idea, but this 6 foot 4, 220lb man took it as just that.

I told him, "No." I told him I REALLY meant it: NO.NO.NO! The bastard wouldn't stop. I was struggling and he was hurting me and from far away I could hear that kind of ridiculous self-defense class lady in my head:

"He is bigger. He is stronger. He has his hands on you. STOP FIGHTING. Breathe. Get control of yourself."

So I did. I relaxed. I went limp. "Thats it...Good girl" he grunted and pushed my skirt up as he climbed up my body, his jeans already unbuttoned. I tried to remember to breathe. I listened in my head to the self-defense lady. I tried to be patient with my fury.

When I ceased to struggle with him he let go of me. His mistake. When I reached down between us, between his legs, he actually groaned in pleasure. Then I wrapped my hand around his scrotum and, just like the lady said, pictured ripping it off his body and PULLED. And TWISTED. HARD.

He screeched, "You F*)&king bitch!" and went into reverse so quickly I lost my grip. I tried to scoot up and away. He grabbed me by the thigh. I have big finger shaped bruises there. They don't hurt yet. I don't really feel anything yet, really, physically or otherwise.

My self-defense lady was still with me. She was intense and calm and brave, giving me instructions. She MEANT it. He was now furious and looked like he would kill me if he could. He was pulling himself back up my body, his fingers dug into my thigh. I cocked my left leg. I pictured it: Drive the foot THROUGH his face...Slam his nose out the back of his HEAD...."

I did. There was a surprisingly soft crunchy noise but I just thought of putting the edge of my foot through the back of his head and followed through with my kick. And suddenly he was howling and then gone.

And I got the hell out of there.

I called the police when I got home. They went to see him. Arrested him. A lady detective made a point of letting me know I broke his nose. "Good job" she said.

Thank you self-defense class lady. Thank you.

I’m glad that the person in the above account had received some good advice and so was able teach that bastard a lesson. Sadly not all people are that lucky.

The above writer highlights a very important point. When you try to fight back your assailant will try to make you comply by hurting you! This is a fact!

First the attacker will try bargaining with you. The "do this and you will not get hurt" line is a bit of a favourite with this scum. Psychologically it disarms the victim allowing them to get their sick little jollies. However studies have shown (fact again) that the attacker has usually predetermined if they are going to hurt their victim or not. So complying does not guarantee that they'll be nice.

In Addition studies have also found that those that fight back but still suffer the terrible ordeal of rape often find it easier to come to terms with the aftermath/trauma than those that complied.

So, Where am I going with this? As a martial arts instructor, I give my students and non-martial artists the same advice. "The best way to give yourself a fighting chance is to REGULARLY train in some art that promotes close quarter self-defence application." Going on a 6 session course to be shown a few techniques and expecting to be able to recall these techniques under pressure when you are attacked 5 years later is a long shot. These techniques need to be second nature!

As I said earlier if you start to fight back the attacker is highly likely to try to hurt you. (Usually a punch in the face) This creates an adrenaline dump. The adrenaline dump is often mistaken for fear and so the victim usually complies at this point. At this point however the victim should do the exact opposite. They should fight back with every thing they have in them. Scratch, bite, spit, swear, kick, punch, whatever!

This does not guarantee that you will get away and not get hurt but neither does complying. So the decision has to be made by the victim. Will you comply? this option means you MIGHT not get hit so many times but what sort of guilt will you feel afterwards? It's hard to say. You have to decide which is the right way for you.

I hope that none who read this will ever need this information.

My tae kwon do instructor made a point once which I think is relevant here:

"If I'm fighting a guy who weighs seventeen stone, I see a seventeen stone eyeball."

Jamming a finger or thumb into an attacker's eye, no matter how big or strong he may be, will make him think again. Shoving a key (a car key or yale key is best) into his eyeball will be even more effective.

In addition to this, I would like to stress that while learning to hit an attacker where the most pain and injury can be caused is a great idea, it is also neccessary to learn the most appropriate attacks to use against these areas. It may seem like a minor detail, but it could save your life. For example, did you know that a quick kick to a single testicle will cause much more pain than a full force shot right between the legs?

Another useful piece of knowledge is how to bite effectively. Simply sinking one's teeth into an attacker's flesh will be painful, but it's more effective to be able to rip off chunks of flesh with your teeth. This can be achieved by biting a fleshy area (a place where there is something between skin and bone), clenching your teeth tightly and shaking your head left and right while pushing the attacker away with your hands and pulling your head backwards.

Gib makes an excellent point. With practice, self defence techniques will become second nature. The best sort of training to accomplish this, in my opinion, is one step sparring, where your partner repeatedly launches the same attack (right punch, side thrust kick, etc.) and you continually defend and counter-attack until the response is committed to "muscle memory" and can be instantly recalled without thinking about it. So by all means, study a martial art.

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