Yesterday, completely separate from each other, two women asked me to write a self-defense guide for ladies, with the same no-bullshit attitude and tactics I used in the fist fight guide. I took this as a sign, and have done exactly that. It is my sincere hope that no woman ever has to use any of the information in this guide, ever. But unfortunately in today's social climate, hoping isn't enough.
This guide will very lightly touch on things that you can learn in just about every self defense course, video and article I've ever seen -- namely, situational awareness, avoiding becoming a victim, and all of that. It will then dive very briefly into why you should carry a gun, and if not a gun, a can of pepper spray with military-grade tear gas -- and if not that, a knife.
And then, we get to the stuff I've never really seen anywhere: what to do if you need to defend yourself against a male attacker with only your hands.
So, if you already know all that situational awareness stuff and you find guns and knives and the like icky and gross, feel free to skip on down to the last section. But I'll go ahead and tell you the point of this entire guide, and hope you won't skip anything:
This is your life we're talking about here. Not just staying alive, but living it without having to face severe traumatic experience (read: getting raped). He is going to hurt you or kill you. You need to be prepared to hurt him first and escape.
So even if you know this stuff, it's not a bad idea to re-read it and refresh your memory.
This is the "common sense" portion of the guide. And that phrase is in quotes because, even though sitting here reading this thing, you're going to think "well, DUH, of course I shouldn't walk down dark alleyways at night by myself," I guarantee that the vast majority of you have done exactly that, thinking "well, I'm in a hurry" or "it looks safe enough."
Nothing is ever "safe enough." It's either safe or not safe. Period.
Now, there's no need to go out into the world thinking everyone's out to get you. You don't have to be in a constant paranoid panic every time you go to the mall. But you DO need to keep your head about you.
In the car:
If your car gets stranded on the highway, stay the hell in it. Don't go anywhere. Keep a disposable cellphone in your car and keep it charged up with minutes (and juice). Most states have a DOT program that can help you with roadsiassistancence. Even if a person is wearing a uniform (even a cop), STAY. IN. THE. CAR. No police officer is going to ask you to get out of your vehicle if you've done nothing wrong, and even if you have, you have the right to request they call another officer or their watch captain / sergeant to the scene before you exit the vehicle.
On that note: police cars have blue and/or red lights. There are no exceptions. No car without blue/red lights has the legal right to pull you over. DO NOT PULL OVER FOR ANY CAR WITHOUT BLUE AND/OR RED LIGHTS. For those that do, you can legally signal to an officer your intent to pull over by slowing down and turning on your hazards, which you should do until you get to a public, well-lit area.
Out and about / on foot:
First thing's first: in my experience (and the experience of just about every self-defense instructor I've ever met), womens' ideas of effective self defense measures are, in a word, not. Most women have a drastically inhibited concept of what effective self defense is. So, I'm going to give you the only answer, and there is no variation on this:
You must be prepared to disable or kill an attacker who is intent on hurting you. And by disable, I mean to the point of being unable to pursue you. Kicking the nuts and punching someone in the nose? Sounds great. It's taught by mothers and fathers to daughters the world over. And guess what -- it's pretty much the least effective advice you could ever give anyone.
When physically confronted, men instinctively protect their genitals and face. It's inborn. We just do it. Then, there's the fact that adrenaline and endorphins block out the pain caused by being kicked in the balls or punched in the face (long enough to do you grevious bodily harm, anyway).
These measures aren't ineffective, mind you. They're just the least effective of all the advice you could be given. There are physical moves you can do to defend yourself, and we will cover those in detail in a bit. But my focus here is effective self defense, and you have to understand that we are talking about keeping you from getting beat up, raped and/or killed. So, to that end:
The golden rules:
1) Keep your head. It's hard. You're scared. Try not to let fear turn into panic. Keep breathing. Keep your head up. Keep your eyes open. Don't fly into a blind rage. Don't lose sight of your escapes. Stay in control of yourself.
2) Make no mistake -- You're fighting for your life. Not just your ability to stay alive, but also your ability to live the rest of your days without the painful scars of a violent attack. This means you need to let go of any pacifist philosophy or maternal instinct you've got and get ready to get mean.
3) Distance is your friend. Bluntly, you cannot be raped if they can't get to you. You want as much distance as possible between you and your attacker. Escape is your absolute primary goal. Your best means of escaping an attacker is to have a great head start, and you want the guy to be completely incapable of pursuing you.
So my advice on weapons, in order of most effective to least:
Get a gun.
Now, I need to tell you that if you do opt for the gun -- and I sincerely hope you will -- there's a LOT to discuss. In fact, it's probably deserves its own guide. But the bottom line is that guns are not meant to intimidate or maim, they are meant to kill. Do not get a gun to scare off an attacker. Do not get a gun to shoot them in the leg. Get a gun to shoot them and kill them and save your own life. This will require, if not demand, that you go to a gun range at least once a month and hone your skills, as well as practicing your draw from wherever you decide to keep it (purse, night stand, waistband, whatever).
If you cannot face this, you probably shouldn't get a gun. But there's absolutely no getting around it: in the hands of a woman who has taken the time to learn how to draw, aim and shoot her gun, there's no better measure to defending yourself. Period, end of story.
If you don't want a gun, get pepper spray.
Let's assume you don't want a gun, legally can't get one, aren't prepared to be a responsible and effective gun owner (by going to the range and practicing), or you don't have the money. I highly recommend you get high velocity bear repellent for your home, and this SABRE spray for out and about. Don't bother with MACE -- some people aren't very susceptible to its effects, and even those that are are much more susceptible to pepper spray + tear gas. The portable sprayer is pink. And that's nice. But they sell it in black, too, if you're into the stealth thing (or pink is just too stereotypical).
As for the bear spray, it shoots up to 30 feet and will flat knock a man down. When in the confines of your home, escape routes are fewer. You want as much distance as possible, and you want the guy to be completely incapable of pursuing you.
Now, if you're going to use spray, you need to be aware of a few things:
1) It's most effective in the eyes, nose and mouth.
2) You need to practice with it just like you would a gun. To not practice with it is folly. You will either fumble with it when you need it, or end up hurting yourself.
3) don't spray it into the wind, or you'll blind yourself, too.
Tasers / stun guns:
1) They're easily defeated by thick jackets and clothing. Ask a cop if you don't believe me.
2) You get one shot. True, they sell multi-shot tazers, but if someone's wearing a thick jacket, the other two shots will just fail to penetrate as well, and then you're screwed.
Handheld stun guns have the same limitations, but with the added issue of proximity. Remember, distance is your friend. Stun guns require you be right next to the attacker.
Furthermore, while they do work, they don't subdue. They merely temporarily disable. The point of using any of these weapons is to render the attacker unable to attack -- and if you temporarily subdue them, then start running and they can get up and pursue, you've failed. And now, you're expending energy and oxygen and time while they pursue you, and if they get you again, you're in trouble.
I recommend every woman carry a knife as a backup to their gun / pepper spray. I carry a knife myself. I've never had to brandish it, much less use it (thank god). But I have it, just in case. I'm a HUGE fan of spring-assist knives by SOG (specifically, the FLASH II). I recommend a solid aluminum handle. If you can get your hands on one, get a fully-automatic knife like a switchblade. Yes, they're illegal in many states, but so is rape. Your attacker isn't letting a pesky thing like "laws" get in his way. Don't let them get in yours.
I'm not knife trained in any real manner outside of the very basics, which I'm going to share with you:
1) Hold it blade-down, in an "overhand" grip. This would be like making a fist for punching, only there's the blade of a knife sticking out of the bottom of your hand.
2) If you're facing your attacker... What the hell are you doing? Run.
3) If your attacker has you from behind, plunge the blade of the knife into their thigh. Twist it. Remove it. This will keep the wound from closing and do some serious damage to his ability to chase you. DO NOT LET GO OF YOUR KNIFE, EVER. If you do, even if you've stabbed your attacker, you've just given him a knife. Don't make his job of hurting you any easier.
Don't wave your knife around like you see in movies (this really applies to every weapon). Don't threaten. Don't telegraph you have it. Your job is not to intimidate, it's to escape. If you pull out your weapon, use it. Don't pull it out unless you are absolutely going to use it. You run the risk of being disarmed, or worse, escallating an encounter to something far more serious by producing a weapon that the attacker is now prepared for.
Blunt instruments (bats, flashlights, those stupid "key bats" they sell so you can swing a keyring at a guy intent on hurting you, etc):
Well, simply put, they require you be close to the attacker. That's what we don't want. But they're better than going bare-fisted. So if you have nothing else, or lack the good judgement to get a gun or buy pepper spray, get yourself an ASP (collapsable baton). Know that in most states, they require a law enforcement ID to buy, unless you go to a pawn shop or gun show. Also, they're considered a controlled weapon, like brass knuckles or a blackjack. But again, the law isn't really a concern when someone's trying to hurt you.
If it is a concern for you, then get a huge 4-battery Mag Lite and carry it everywhere. It doesn't rouse suspicion, it fits nicely under the seat of your car, and it is legal in all 50 states. It's also cumbersome. It probably won't fit in a purse. It's awkward to carry around stores.
But the truth is, short of a baseball bat, it's the most effective legal weapon you can possess... That isn't a gun or pepper spray, of course.
Your bare hands (AKA the last resort, AKA what to do if he gets you):
If you're facing your attacker, read up on my fist fight guide. It's long, and necessary if you're not going to heed my advice on weapons and running. Read it. The only difference is that it's possible a swift kick by you to the knees or genitals might help... But you need to keep in mind, kicking in tennis shoes or heels (or barefoot) can result in a broken foot, or miss and leave you off balance. You need your feet and your balance to escape.
If you are caught from behind and still standing:
a) Stomp instep. Over and over again, stomp right down on his foot, preferably on the instep. Break the foot if you can. It doesn't take much to do this, by the way. And don't be satisfied with one good stomp -- keep it up until he lets you go, or you break his foot.
b) Sling head backwards, over and over. Break his nose or dislocate his jaw. Either will cause his eyes to water.
c) Grab his fingers (not hands, get a single finger) and wring it like crazy. Break it if you can, especially a thumb. You'll know it's broken when you hear the "CRACK!" sound and his yelping.
If you're on the ground, the fingers thing is still important. Break his goddamn thumbs. If he's on top of you, get your hands to his face and gouge out his eyes. Did you know it only takes about 15 sq. lbs. of torque to dislodge the eye from its socket? If you clap your hands with any sort of velocity, that's roughly 60-80 sq. lbs. of torque. Trust me, getting your thumbs into his sockets and pressing VERY. HARD. will be effective.
If you can't quite get there, slap his ears. Cup your hand and rupture the eardrum.
If you can't get there, make your hand into a blade (fingers together) and chop / stab at his throat. Don't punch at it, your fist is too big to fit into the gap between the jaw and collar bone to be effective. You want to crush his windpipe.
If you can't do that, start raising your knees at high velocity and try to crush his genitals. This isn't the most effective of all the tactics, but it does work.
At any rate, the SECOND you can get away, do so. And whatever you do, don't drop your hands to your sides or let him stop them. Thrash. Go fucking crazy. Tear his face off. Never stop until you escape.
If none of that works, and if you can't get away, OR you're in a "date rape" type of situation (indoors and unable to just go nuts and run):
In a "calm" situation (indoors, date rape):
If saying "no" and then fighting him off hasn't worked, go with it.
I know. Gross. But trust me on this. Just relax. Get into it. Start running your hands up and down his shoulders. Work your way up to his face. Maybe even kiss him. Get your hands on both cheeks. Put your thumbs right into his eyes. Press like hell and dislodge the eyes from their sockets. If he's got glasses, just slowly try to remove them.
If you can't get to his face, try asking if you can help him with his pants, or even better, "Go down" on him. Get his pants to his ankles. Get his underwear to his knees. Place both hands around the testicles and yank as hard as you can -- try to pull the bastards off. A distended testicle will make him incapable of running, and is FAR more effective than trying to kick or punch the balls. It takes quite a lot of force to rupture one, but not much at all to yank it out of place.
With his pants around his ankles, he's not going to be able to chase.
If that's not possible, look for an alarm clock or the phone. Anything with bulk. Grab it and slam it against his head.
In any case, the second you can get out of the room, run. Get out of the house / building. Go to the nearest populated place (a neighbor's house, a store, a gas station). Shame has no place here -- swallow your pride and get running, even if you're disrobed and embarrassed.
(UPDATE, 7:30PM: I want to make it absolutely clear that the first priority before "Go With It" is definitely saying no, making it very clear that you are not comfortable, and then if possible fighting him off. It's only after these tactics have failed that I'm advocating turning the tables and trying another tack. You're in a situation where you're already trapped and something you don't want to happen is happening, and fighting has failed. Rather than just giving up, try another tactic that may open an opportunity for you to escape).
All of this said, it's far better to have a weapon and be safe and distant.
The major major MAJOR point here is to be aware of your surroundings and not get attacked in the first place. If you are attacked, you need distance between you and your attacker, as quickly as possible. To that end, a weapon which incorporates distance is primary. One that incapacitates and keeps them from pursuing you is preferred.
It's unpleasant to talk about, but the truth is, there's no martial art in the world that can teach you how to defend yourself while unconscious. If he can't get near you, he can't choke you or knock you out.
If you have no choice, or weapons simply aren't an option for you, you need to keep calm and use the situation to your advantage however possible. If fighting can't get you free, turn the tables. You're already trapped -- instead of just surrendering, try a fallback tactic of going with it and attempting to get your hands on the most vulnerable parts of his body, the eyes and the genitals.
Above all else... Be ready to hurt him for real. Because he's ready to hurt you, and that simply won't do.
**UPDATE 11:45AM 8.6.11 **
To all the men who have commented or emailed about how women shouldn't be paranoid all the time, or why nice guys get a bad rap when trying to talk to a girl, READ THIS. NOW.