Personal Safety for Women

By Diana Rathborne
Living with the fear of personal physical violence is unproductive and time consuming.

We all take measures to assure our personal safety on a daily basis. Most of us have fire extinguishers in our homes, we lock our house and our car doors, wear our seat belts, and dress for inclement weather. We all know the difference between uncomfortable and unsafe when it comes to our footwear and don’t wear spike heels on ice, sandals in the snow , snow boots on the beach or go barefoot in a parking lot. We’ve seen numerous news programs on missing children, battered wives, date rape, date rape drugs, pedophiles, serial rapists/murderers and we’ve watched many dramas about the same. As a result, we’re often afraid of myriad threats to our person. Some are realistic and some are not. The good news is: we can change our lifestyle to make ourselves safer and less likely to be the victim of personal violence.  We can become a ‘hardtarget’-first by eliminating risky behaviors and unsafe areas in our lives, and then by getting self defense training.

The first thing to do is take a good honest look at your lifestyle. The big areas to assess are your home and work environments, how you get between them, and your personal socializing habits with both strangers and people you are familiar with. Some brief questions to ask yourself:

1. Is there anyone in your life who is a threat to you? (If yes, go to the authorities and a women’s crisis organization and get help– TODAY)

2. Do you look like a ‘profitable’ target? (Easily removable belongings or obvious wealth)

3. Could you quickly get out of your home and your workplace in an emergency?

4. Do you keep a full, or mostly full, tank of gas? (Y ou never know where you’ll run out of gas.)

5. Do you drink too much or use drugs? (If yes, do you have friends who will look out for you and help you stay safe?)

6. Do you park your car in a ‘safe’ place? (A well lit spot near an exit is the best)

7. If someone makes you uncomfortable, do you stay away from them?

8. Do you have the ability to physically defend yourself if necessary?

There are a number of books and videos on the market that can help you assess your lifestyle and any inherent risks in it. I list a few of my favorites at the end of Part 2.
W e all know that we ‘should’ go to a class to get self defense training, but many of us only do it after something happens to us, a friend, a family member or someone in the local news. We want to believe that a martial arts aerobics class will give us self defense skills and that one strike will do the trick. The facts are, unless you’re lucky, one shot probably won’t do the trick and an aerobics class will not give you self defense skills. (An aerobics class will help get you in shape to run away, which is essential.) While the topic of self defense training is uncomfortable and many of us have chosen to do anything else instead, it is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health.

If taking a self defense class is too intimidating for you, try taking a martial arts class first. If even that is too much, take a class on assertiveness. Learn to say ‘no.’ Even something as simple as firmly saying ‘No, thank you’ to an unwanted drink or ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you. I will call 911.’ to a stranger asking for help, are huge steps towards your personal safety.

Learning self defense will free your mind and your life from the fear of physical attack by preparing you to deal with it. It will not make you more masculine, it won’t make you paranoid and it definitely won’t discourage you from doing what you like to do (unless drinking until you’re unconscious in an unfamiliar, all-male environment is on your list).

It will not create a situation where you need to defend your life. Living with the fear of personal physical violence is unproductive and time consuming. Learn to defend yourself and you may make new friends, boost your confidence and find a new freedom in your life.

What to look for in a self defense class:
If you want to take a self defense class, look for a course that emphasizes the following:
1. Awareness and avoidance:  The emphasis should be on behaviors and skills which enable you to avoid any situation that calls for you to defend yourself. It cannot be overstated how important it is to increase your awareness of what goes on around you. Once you know what’s going on, can you identify ‘danger signs’?

Danger signs fall into two broad categories: environmental and human. Environmental danger signs are, for example, any dark, isolated place that you’re unfamiliar with. The human danger signs are mainly behavioral: a targeting glance, a stare, gestures, body language, verbal harassment, or people in a group. Remember, the goal of any self defense course is to help you avoid risky situations. It is not to put you into situations so that you can fight your way out of them.

2. Simple skill set:
The class should teach skills that anyone can do. The curriculum should be simple and effective. A spinning heel hook kick to the head takes too much repetition, timing and leaves you with only one leg on the ground for a long time. An eye jab is quick, direct, towards a vulnerable target and enables either follow up or escape. A reverse punch to the solar plexus is hard to land and may not cause enough damage to allow you to either leave or follow up. A solid slap to the ear or groin may open up other target areas for follow up and/or escape. Your follow up strikes should be able to take someone unconscious in a short time. Evaluate the mechanics and the target area of the skills taught to see if they meet this criteria.

3. Body, mind and mindset:     The class should teach you to use your voice, your mind and your body. Your body is your most effective weapon and it should be able to deliver a forceful offense. Your mind should be able to command your body to keep going while constantly looking for an avenue of escape. The focus of you going home, no matter what you have to do, is essential. The class should help you create and install the mindset that you are going to go berserk on an attacker in a focused, forceful way and continue until you can go home.

4. Pressure testing the skills:     The class should provide you with an opportunity to try the skills safely ‘under pressure’. The pressure can be created in a number of ways: a verbal barrage (envision military basic training), a physical assault (being pushed, slapped, attacked by someone padded), peer pressure (the entire class watches while you attempt the techniques) or exhaustion (sprint, kick, push ups, etc. before having to do the skills required). Obviously, look for a class that will be in your comfort zone. If you know that you’re afraid to leave your house, don’t like strangers and don’t do much physical exercise, the physical assault or verbal barrage may not be the ‘pressure testing’ method for you.

5. No weapons or ‘one shot’ solutions:
Be wary of any class that gives you a one strike answer or advocates carrying a weapon. If you are going to carry a weapon for self defense, you need to do A LOT of training. Everyday. Everywhere. In every manner you can conceive of. (Getting in your car, from your bed, in the middle of the night, in the grocery store, at the mall, in the bathroom, at the bar and everywhere else you go). If it takes you more than 3 seconds to get it out and useable, it will be useless to you. Research the legal ramifications of using your weapon in self defense. Find a certified trainer and go through their beginners course. Practice what you learn and go through their intermediate course. Practice what you learn and go to another course. (There are instructors for every weapon category: flashlight, mace, firearms, expandable baton, edged weapons, taser – you name it, there are instructors for it.)

If you don’t think you will do the necessary training, DO NOT carry a weapon for self defense. Carrying a weapon gives your attacker the possibility of taking your weapon and using it against you. Remember, if you can’t defend yourself without a weapon, you may not be able to defend yourself with a weapon and you will really really need to defend your weapon. Do some soul searching on the immediate and final nature of using a weapon. If you think that you won’t use it, DO NOT carry it.

6. Your instructor should have credentials in self defense training:
Not just aerobics, personal training, or martial arts. All of those areas are a part of self defense training and skills, but the nature of self defense is that a smaller, weaker person can use the skills quickly and effectively in a short period of time. Your instructor should be able to work with women, children and the elderly as well as the very fit professional athlete or soldier.

Self defense is an enormous concern for everyone. For women, self defense is especially worrisome. If you haven’t taken a class, go. If you have taken a self defense course, encourage your friends who haven’t. For the men reading this article, I hope it motivates you to get your female friends and family to go to a class. If you’re teaching women’s self defense, I hope this article helps you to evaluate your curriculum and your approach to ensure it is everything you would like it to be. Remember, that the best self defense training should enable you to AVOID ever needing to use your physical skills.
Here is a short list of some of the books and videos I’ve found helpful & fun to read


Defensive Living: Attitudes, Tactics and Proper Handgun Use to Secure your Personal well-being by Ed Lovette and Dave Spaulding (Great awareness and avoidance section and an easy read)

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence by Gavin De Becker (Why you should always trust your instinct. A really interesting read and full of great information)

Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker (Every parent should read this one)

The Collins Gem SAS guide to Self Defense (Small book and has great pictures of simple effective skills.)

What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro (pictures and descriptions of postures and positions and what they mean.  Really fun read not only for self defense but social and business settings too!)

On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (If you’ve gone through this list and want more… this is a great book – especially for martial artists, self defense instructors, soldiers and law enforcement).

How to Be your Own Bodyguard by Nick Hughes. Forward by Marcus Wynne

Ladies Self Defense by Phil Norman (An oldie and hard to find.  You can find his new material on Facebook. Look up Survive video clips from the Gladiator Academy (it’s in the UK))

Resources for Training:

The Minnesota Kali Group – Rick Faye and the Minnesota Kali Group in Minneapolis, MN have created a self defense curriculum for women and men that is time tested and can be done by almost anyone.  Women’s classes are held on a regular basis. Check the Self Defense section of this website.

The Sealed Mindset –  provides personal safety awareness and defense training events in New Hope, MN. If you are interested in self defense with or without a tool, this is a great place – flashlight, firearm, empty hands in a state of the art facility.