self defense

Essential Self-Defense Techniques and Tips

You get health checkups and dental cleanings, wear a helmet when biking or skiing, regularly change the batteries in your smoke detector, and take daily vitamin supplements. These actions help protect your overall well-being; but do you also have a grasp of important self-defense techniques to protect yourself if you are physically attacked?

Most people don’t have a realistic plan for protecting themselves in a physical crime situation and may chose not to ponder this. But although many American cities are experiencing dips in crime, you should still be ready to protect yourself and family members or friends who are with you in case you or they are attacked. Don’t assume this won’t ever happen, nor assume you are powerless in the event of such a crisis.

Here are practical techniques to practice on your own or with a partner, based on lessons I’ve taught as a Karate and self-defense teacher.

  1. Cultivate your defense mindset.

Even (or especially) if you are a meek person, you should practice a tough demeanor for times of crisis. Think about how you would protect yourself if someone put a knife to your back, waved a box-cutter at your face, screamed curses and punched your chin, verbally threatened you with sexual abuse, smacked you with a baseball bat or umbrella. Role-play these situations in your mind, out loud, and by writing them down. If you read a crime story in the news, ponder how you would react. These mental exercises are important “test prep”.

  1. Be aware.

When I walk, bike or drive, I see people who seem oblivious to their surroundings. They are distracted by using cell phones or wearing ear buds, and appear unaware of hazards. Engaging in these activities makes you more vulnerable. In addition, as you walk you should take note of your environment, not just for potential violence but also for reckless, distracted vehicle drivers. Know where you go; keep your eyes and ears open; walk confidently.

  1. You have weapons right at hand.

Become aware of how to defend yourself with your own body parts. Scream when threatened; practice a shrill, annoying tone. Bite someone who attacks you on their nose, hand, arm, lip, ear and so on; don’t fret about how “disgusting” this is, because it is a very effective action. Spit at an attacker, and if chewing a piece of gum or food, spit that at them as well. Aim for their eyes or mouth; they are likely to recoil. Jab the attacker in the eye, with one or two fingers; they will likely rear back. (I did this once while on vacation, to a tall man who attempted to grab and kiss me. He howled in pain and stumbled backward.)

Scratch hard at someone’s eyes or another part of their face. Yank hard on their hair or ears, jewelry or eyeglasses. Punch an attacker in his eyes or nose, or use a palm heel strike by arching back the fingers of your hand and striking with the hard, flat section of your palm. Stomp on someone’s feet and distract her. Head-butt someone directly in front or in back of you, and frustrate your attacker. Another more subtle technique is to buckle your knees or slump leadenly if someone grabs you; it can throw off their balance.

  1. You can turn many everyday items into effective weapons.

Use keys, a pen or pencil, comb, toothbrush, or any stick-like item, to jab the eyes of an attacker. Take a hardcover book, bottle or small package and shove it hard into an attacker’s gut. Use an umbrella, broom or walking cane as a defensive item to block blows or whack someone. Take your bottle of water or other drink, and lob the liquid at an attacker. (I did this to break up fights on at least two occasions). If holding a glass bottle, smash it against a wall or hard floor, and wave the broken bottle at a potential attacker. (I did this once when I suspected some men were trailing me; they ran away). Many items, from hot food or drinks, a household spray, and others can be turned into instant weapons. Once a man walked past me at a train station and squeezed my breast; immediately I chased him and swung at him with a large camera tripod that I held. He ran, tripped and fell. I had the last laugh.

  1. Don’t worry about your attacker.

Afraid you “might hurt” someone when you poke him in the eye, after he menaces you? It seems “creepy”? Get over that feeling. Afraid your efforts won’t matter? The majority of attackers will be put off by your efforts because you are no longer an easy mark.

There is no complete guarantee that these techniques will work, but I have seen how they can work very often, and the effort is empowering. This is just a brief look at how to protect and defend. Now practice and think about how to do so. It is certainly worth it.

Ellen Levitt is a veteran New York City public school teacher, as well as a freelance writer. Among her books are Walking Manhattan from . She holds a first-degree black belt in the Tora Dojo Association style of karate, and has taught children’s and women’s classes. She is a lifelong resident of Brooklyn.

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