Defend Yourself!

Move Away from Danger


A key self-defense principle is to create distance between yourself and danger


Any honorable self-defense teacher will tell you that the best fight—the safest, the most decisively won—is the one that didn’t happen. No magic number of black belts or mastery of fighting techniques conveys the same security as creating distance between yourself and danger.

This puts the professional badass in the ironic position of recommending running like hell as a top self-defense strategy.

This is because self-defense is essentially a system of harm reduction, not ass-kicking. Harm that is avoided is no longer harmful. So we teach skills for identifying warning signs of interpersonal violence, setting and maintaining boundaries, and avoiding or exiting abusive relationships.

According to the CDC, over 90% of sexual assaults against women are perpetrated by men they know. In fact, the World Health Organization has concluded, “One of the most important risk factors for women—in terms of their vulnerability to sexual assault—is being married or cohabitating with a [male] partner.”

self defense noIt’s disquieting to know that we are at greater risk from people we know than from the mythic dangerous stranger. But the upside to this knowledge is this: we have an opportunity to observe the men (and women) in our lives and notice if they demonstrate red flag behavior. Most will not. Those who do, we can move away from physically or emotionally—the relational equivalent of running like hell. 

Here are some tips for when and how to move away:

Have a high standard for who gets close to you. When seeking new friends or lovers, hold out for the awesomeness you deserve. Given the stats, it’s especially important for girls on the make to be alert for behavior that reveals that someone is bad sweetheart material.  Such behavior includes:

·         Disrespecting boundaries

·         Intentionally belittling or humiliating

·         Isolating you from friends and family

·         Being controlling, manipulative or coercive

Establish an early impression that you won’t be pushed around.  The guy who stands uncomfortably close at a party may have a different sense of personal space than you do. Or he may be testing your tolerance of physical dominance. If his response to a clear, “you’re standing too close,” is anything other than, “my bad,” you’ve received valuable information. At the same time, your readiness to stand up for yourself alerts a potential evil-doer that you’re no easy mark. This exchange can be negotiated through any number of early relationship interactions—from the frequency of texts to sexual activity.

If it’s not OK with you it’s not OK. Who’s to say what’s “intentionally belittling,” “uncomfortably close” or too many texts? You are. Listen to what one of my students has termed your internal OK meter.  If it’s sounding an alarm—even if you can’t explain why—move away. Your intuition is critical to assessing who gets to be in your life and whether or not you are safe.

Speak up. My Respond! column provided tips for assertive speech applicable to incidents of hate-based microagressions—or escalations across the violence continuum. Use the same skills to tell a new acquaintance, “please don’t touch me without asking,” a bad sweetheart candidate, “don’t call me again,” or a would-be assailant, “back off.”

Use your feet. In an incident of imminent physical danger, run—but know where you’re going. Identify your exits and move towards more populated areas. If it’s possible to disable your attacker (a kick to the knee does the trick) he’ll be less able to give chase.   

Check out my blog mind body mama: Falling Practice for a first person account of using my voice and feet to move away from danger.

About the author

Lynne Marie Wanamaker

Lynne Marie Wanamaker

The last kid picked in gym class, anti-violence expert and certified personal trainer Lynne Marie Wanamaker claimed her athletic destiny when she fell in with a scrappy bunch of feminist karatekas in Brooklyn in 1988. Since then she’s amassed a collection of martial arts black-belts, sweaty tee-shirts and political rants. She is committed to making fitness and personal safety skills accessible to everyone.

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