Self-Defense Moves That Every Woman Should Learn

We hope you never have to use these self-defense techniques. But if you do, you'll be glad you took the time to learn them.

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The numbers are all the proof you need that every woman should learn a few trusty self-defense moves. In 2015, 12 out of every 1,000 people in the U.S. became victims of a simple assault, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Three out of 1,000 suffered an aggravated assault, usually defined as an attack with a weapon or intent to accomplish something worse than minor injury.   

Before you stop leaving the house entirely, just remember that violence in the U.S. has plummeted over the last 25 years or so. But assault still happens, and it’s worth taking some time to learn self-defense techniques that are proven to get you out of a scary situation.

Too often women become targets of violence carried out not only by strangers, but also people they know and trust. The ideal situation would be to end all violence outright, but until we realize the utopian dream, our task is clear: We should all learn to identify risky situations and know how to defend ourselves. Learning a few self-defense moves provides benefits even if you never have to use them. Self-defense practice can provide courage and peace of mind, no matter where your life takes you.  

“Threats should be taken seriously,” D. Corbett Everidge, a martial arts instructor and co-founder of the Ministry of Defense self-protection school, says. “There is no such thing as an idle threat.”

Everidge shared with HealthyWay how to recognize dangerous situations and what to do in a worst-case scenario.

1. Self-defense begins with awareness.

First things first: Pay attention to your surroundings. This may sound simple, but in this age of distraction, how often are you really looking at where you’re going? We are so often “plugged in,” we forget that we can actually walk to our car or run an errand without our headphones in.

“Being aware of where you are is the most important aspect of safety, followed by recognizing the development of bad situations—environment, then situation,” says Everidge. “If you find yourself in an environment that you perceive to be bad, don’t wait for the situation to occur.”

Bad things often happen in bad places. So if you know you have to walk through an unfamiliar or dark parking lot alone, don’t cloud your senses by scrolling through social media.

“By looking at a text message, Facebook, or anything on your phone, you are distracted and oblivious to your surroundings,” says Everidge. “Predators pay attention to this.”

Also, walking with purpose and confidence sends a message to potential threats. Your posture, stride, and walking speed can all work in your favor. Criminals aren’t out there randomly picking people to assault—there is a method to this madness. Of course, even the most confident, attentive people can still become victims; it’s no one’s fault but the perpetrator. But it does help to implement all prevention tactics. Know the space you’re in, and pay attention to who’s around you.

2. A Simple Self-Defense Technique: Listen to your gut.

“If something is telling you that a place or situation is not safe, leave immediately,” says Everidge. “I have had countless women in courses that I have taught tell me that in dangerous situations they had a premonition something was about to happen.”

Your gut knows when something is up, so don’t tune it out. Science suggests that intuition is more than just a feeling. There’s evidence intuition is actually a trustworthy reaction to your surroundings.

Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School studies intuition and how it is executed in real-life situations. Hodgkinson argues that intuition is basically our brains using visual cues along with past experiences to make a split-second decision. These impressions may not make sense at the time, at least on a conscious level, but they result in the eerie feeling that something’s a little bit off.

That voice is real, and it can help keep you out of dangerous situations. However, remember that you’re never to blame for someone else’s negative actions.

“You did not wake up today choosing to be harmed. You did not choose to cross the path of someone seeking to harm you,” Everidge tells HealthyWay. “That is irrelevant, because today he chose you. By being confident and alert, your paths may not cross.”

3. Prevent confrontation whenever possible.

If you find yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, get out of that space ASAP if you can. Part of being aware of your surroundings is knowing any and all escape routes. Try to avoid closed off or restricted spaces because these have fewer options for quickly fleeing.

“If your instinct tells you that a situation is escalating, do not stand still—KEEP MOVING,” says Everidge. “This makes you unpredictable, harder to capture or strike, and it continually opens up tactical options. “

If you’re stuck in a dangerous situation with no way out, make some noise! You want to draw as much attention to yourself and what’s happening as possible. Scream, yell, do anything you can to be loud.

However, if you can remember, yell “Fire!” instead of “Help!” Situations have shown that people are more likely to respond and help someone yelling “fire” versus “help” because of the bystander effect.   

4. Self-Defense Moves to Keep You Safe

If drawing attention to yourself doesn’t cause an attacker to back off, you might need to use force as a last resort. It is possible to stun an attacker enough to escape using just your fingernails or car keys.

You want to be sure you minimize any injuries to yourself in these situations. Open-palm slaps, scratching, and jabbing someone with your fingers are much safer methods than attempting to punch someone, unless you’re well trained.

Self-Defense Target Focus: the Eyes

When in doubt, go for the eyes. You’ve already got everything you need to deliver a debilitating attack to your opponent.

“Fingernails are formidable weapons against the eyes. Also, everyday items such as car keys are valuable,” says Everidge. “I also teach my students to use items such as lemon juice and hairspray if they do not have access to pepper spray.”

Poking, scratching, or spraying someone in the eyes can give them temporary blindness and cause some serious pain, giving you time to run to safety.

If you have to use your keys for a defense, Everidge says not to hold them between your fingers. You can seriously tear your hand up holding your keys this way—try swinging and slapping the person with the keys instead.

“Fingernails and keys being raked across the face can cause pain and bleeding,” says Everidge. “By using the fingernails, you also allow for the collection of skin under the nail to be used as evidence in court.”

When you’re attacking someone’s face, keep your arms loose, not rigid. When you’re ready for the attack, follow Everidge’s lead:

“In a fast slapping motion, slightly curl the fingers at the moment of impact with the face and allow them to drag across the face or eyes,” he recommends.

Self-Defense Target Focus: the Throat

The second best target on the body of an attacker is their throat. Not only is a throat hit incredibly painful, but it can cause the attacker to have difficulty breathing.

“Use the ends of the fingertips as a spear, or the fore knuckles can be used,” Everidge tells HealthyWay. “The use of the thumb beside the throat pushing inward is extremely effective.”

Everidge explains the proper way to attack someone’s throat: “Lay your hand flat and tense it. Utilize the tips of the fingers to drive into the side of the throat or the Adam’s apple. Also, separate the thumb from the fingers into an ‘L’ shape, and use the webbing of the hand or the bone on the side of your index finger to strike the throat. If possible, twist the throat in a motion similar to turning on a faucet or turning a doorknob.”

Self-Defense Target Focus: the Ears

Ears are a surprisingly effective target when you want to drive off an attacker. You can grab and pull on ears. Alternately, try a good old-fashioned ear-boxing.

“Cup your hands and hit both ears simultaneously,” says Everidge. “This can cause a ringing in the ears and great discomfort, and in extreme cases, the eardrum can rupture.”

Self-Defense Target Focus: the Feet and Shins

If your attacker has you in a bear hug and you can’t get free, it’s time to go after their feet and shins.

“When the shins are scraped with shoes such as high heels or cowboy boots, [that] can cause extreme discomfort and bleeding,” says Everidge. “Also, the top of the foot when stomped with the heel can result in a bone fracture.”

To make your shin or foot attack most effective, start by twisting your body sideways.

“Attempt to maneuver your body perpendicular to your attacker, in a position where your hip meets the belt buckle,” says Everidge. “With the leg nearest his belt buckle, kick in a downward motion along the shin and finish with a hard stomp with the heel on top of the foot. “

The Holy Grail of Self-Defense

If the attacker is a man, do not hesitate to hit him aggressively where it counts.

“The testicles are the holy grail of women’s self-defense, but this is not foolproof,” says Everidge. “If the attacker is … intoxicated or is so enraged, he may be oblivious to the pain.”

A crotch strike may not be 100 percent effective, but more often than not, it will buy you time to escape. Everidge explains the technique behind this self-defense attack: “When attacking the groin, either use the top of the foot in a kicking motion similar to a cheerleader kick [or use the knee]. If using the knee, strike upward at a 45 degree angle. Upon the point of impact, arch the lower back and push the hips forward to gain momentum and power.”

Also, don’t be afraid to spit on someone. Spitting is an easy way to stun someone and “while this is distasteful, it produces instant results and can allow you a split second to escape,” says Everidge.

5. Other Self-Defense Options

Anything you have on you—purses, backpacks, shopping bags—can be used to hit someone or block someone from striking you. If you have a drink in your hand, throw it at your attacker! Hot coffee is especially effective.

If you can, always park in well-lit, populated areas, and use the buddy system when walking to your car whenever possible.

“Approach your car from the rear so you can inspect the vehicle to make sure there is no one in it,” says Everidge. “Do not leave items such as mail on your seat in the car, because this can give a criminal your address.”

Most importantly, remember that avoiding someone or walking away from a stranger who initiates contact is not always rude; if you feel uncomfortable, it is likely a very safe decision. Ignoring your fear of being impolite could keep a strange situation from escalating into a dangerous one.

Like we mentioned earlier, listen to your gut! If a stranger in public makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to act. Your safety is way more important than some stranger’s hurt feelings.

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