Protecting Yourself with the Tools Closest to Hand
The most successful fight is the one you didn’t have. You’re safest if you can think, yell or run your way from danger. But if physical fight-back is required for survival, put your hardest and pointiest bits up against your attacker’s soft, vulnerable parts.
When I showed up to my first self-defense class in 1988, I had never fought before. I was always chosen last in gym.
In one of my very first classes I experienced an epiphany that still sings 25 years later.
We were talking about differences between armed and unarmed attacks when I understood with a start, “If I have a body and he has a body, we are even.”
I could fight back. My body could be a weapon. Yours, too.
It is my sincere wish that you never have to fight for your life or welfare. But if you must fight —if there are no other choices available—I want you to do a bang-up job. I want you to know how to hurt the person intent on hurting you, so that you can survive safe and whole.
Unfortunately, most women are in the dark about the strengths and weaknesses of the human machine vis-à-vis physical fighting. Our culture still equates fighting with masculinity; witness the intense debate about introducing military women to combat roles. This may explain why sports like boxing, wrestling, and martial arts remain male bastions. Women’s boxing became an Olympic sport only in 2012. In the same year, an NCAA survey of college wrestling (all divisions) reported 243 female wrestlers to 8,969 male.
This gender gap leaves us at a disadvantage with regard to practical self-defense. Here are some of the basics you might have missed:
Choose your weapons wisely. A guiding principle of self-defense is to minimize the damage to your own body while maximizing the impact on the other guy. A good rule? Anything you’d be willing to bang on a table—the side of your fist or heel of your palm—is a powerful striking surface. Unless you’ve received hands-on instruction in forming fists and throwing punches, don’t.
Danger = damage. In a fight for your life, the goal is not to hit your attacker where it hurts. Instead, hit where they’ll break. Eyes, nose, throat, and knees are easily damaged, hard-to-defend body parts. Use the heel of your hand—the part you use to knead bread dough—to bloody a nose. A thumb pushed into an eye socket or the hollow at the base of the throat can send even a big assailant back. A well-delivered kick to the knee leaves an attacker limping, giving you the opportunity to flee.
Stomp, don’t showboat. We’ve all watched action heroes deliver gorgeous, spinning kicks to the heads of evildoers. Leave those fancy moves at the movies. Turn your toes towards the outside of your body (in anatomical terms, externally rotate your leg at the hip.) Employ the sole of your foot as a striking surface to drive the knee back. And aim low: knees are closer to the ground than you think. If you miss, a slam to the shin smarts more than a kick to the quads.
Batter with bones. In a close-in situation—a confined space, or if you’re grabbed—access your short weapons. Smash nose, lips or teeth with your skull in the classic headbutt. Drive your pointy elbows into the ribs or solar plexus. Thrust a knee up between the attacker’s legs to drive his junk into distress.
An unpublished 2005 report of the Department of Justice concluded that “self-protective actions” reduce the risk of rape completion in incidents of sexual assault without increasing the risk of other injuries. In other words: fighting back works. Here’s hoping you never have to prove it.