The first version of this article was originally written on 8/4/2011. Given the current climate, both politically and socially, I felt it was super important to share it here on my new blog. In the time since I first wrote it, a lot has changed both with my attitude toward things and my writing style. To that end, I’ve updated this piece for tone and current social climate, and added a few new points. But the goal and the techniques remain unchanged.
Several women close to me have shared stories about men who, now that Donald “Grab them by the pussy” Trump has won the election, feel it’s okay to assault women. This makes me stabby. Short of going vigilante, I figured the very best thing I could do is share information with the people in my life and my social networks about how to take care of themselves. This is all information that is taught in most self-defense classes. I highly advocate you take one (or several). This is intended to give you a safe and private opportunity to look into what it takes to defend yourself, free from embarrassment or judgement or harassment.)
A few years ago, I wrote a guide on how to actually win a fist fight. It wasn’t intentional, but naturally being a man (and former boy who didn’t know how to fight), the guide appealed to men and boys who had no fight training, who may have found themselves in a situation where they have to defend themselves against a bully. It was a much bigger success than I ever anticipated, with over ten million reads and shares. To date, I’ve received hundreds of emails from fathers thanking me for writing the guide that finally taught their kid how to stand up for himself, and young men who have faced bullies and other less than savory characters using the tactics I taught them.
After the success of that article, several female readers asked if there was a guide geared more toward them. I did some research and didn’t find one I liked, so I wrote one. Today, I’m updating it for the current social climate.
This week, a disgusting orange man who has a history of sexual assault against women and who openly advocated groping them won the free and open elections for President of the United States. This has given the worst members of the male gender a signal that it’s now socially okay to assault women. In the past 24 hours (a full day since his victory), I’ve read and heard stories from female friends about their friends being assaulted, or being assaulted themselves. Of course, many of the men doing this gross shit say it’s jokes and funny and blah blah blah. Trump did it. It’s the will of the people or some shit.
Of course, that’s wrong on SO MANY LEVELS. So fuck that.
It is my sincere hope that no woman ever has to use any of the information in this guide, ever. But unfortunately in today’s social climate, hoping isn’t enough.
Don’t let this happen to you… PLEASE.
This guide will very lightly touch on things that you can learn in just about every self defense course, video and article I’ve ever seen — namely, situational awareness, avoiding becoming a victim, and all of that. It will then dive very briefly into why you should carry a gun, and if not a gun, a can of pepper spray with military-grade tear gas — and if not that, a knife. And then, we get to the stuff I’ve never really seen anywhere: what to do if you need to defend yourself against a male attacker with only your hands.
Before we begin: This is your life we’re talking about here. Not just staying alive, but living without having to face a severely traumatic experience (being assaulted, groped, or raped). Any man laying hands on you without your consent is assaulting you. Any man continuing to assault you after you’ve said ‘No’ does not care about your feelings, your safety or your welfare. He is going to hurt you or kill you. You need to be prepared to hurt him first and escape.
Even if you know this stuff or have read this guide (or others) in the past, it’s not a bad idea to re-read it and refresh your memory.
It’s tempting to write off all of the following with the term “common sense.”
When it comes to your safety in a stressful situation, there’s no such thing. “Common sense” is irrelevant in uncommon situations. Everyone, in their day to day lives, knows not to walk down dark alleyways at night by themselves. But I am willing to bet even odds that most of us, in a hurry or with no one around, has taken that shortcut down the dark alley or through the dark parking lot, because the situation wasn’t common. And if someone’s assaulting, you, that situation is certainly not common. So even if you feel this stuff is “common sense” read it with the intent of engraining it in your memory for future use in uncommon situations.
Of course, there’s no need to go out into the world thinking everyone’s out to get you. You don’t have to be in a constant paranoid panic every time you go out in public. But you DO need to keep your head about you.
In the car:
If your car gets stranded on the highway, stay the hell in it. Don’t go anywhere. Keep an external battery and spare charging cable in your car at all times. You can get both combined for under $30, and that tiny investment can save your life.
Most states have a DOT program that can help you with road-side assistance. This is awesome — but when they arrive, even if a person is wearing a uniform (even a cop), STAY. IN. THE. CAR. No police officer is going to ask you to get out of your vehicle if you’ve done nothing wrong, and even if you have, you have the right to request they call another officer or their watch captain / sergeant to the scene before you exit the vehicle.
On that note: police cars have blue and/or red lights. There are no exceptions. No car without blue/red lights has the legal right to pull you over. DO NOT PULL OVER FOR ANY CAR WITHOUT BLUE AND/OR RED LIGHTS. For those that do, you can legally signal to an officer your intent to pull over by slowing down and turning on your hazards, which you should do until you get to a public, well-lit area.
Police cars may have red lights, blue lights, or both. Typically, Sheriffs and state / federal vehicles (State Troopers, FBI) are blue-only (except in Michigan, thanks Erin).
Out and about / on foot:
Park your car under lights whenever possible, as near to any building as possible (that will be open when you plan to exit). Avoid recessed doorways and alleyways on city streets. Travel with people — if you’re alone, ask a security guard to escort you, or if you feel uncomfortable doing that, look around for a group of girls or guys and girls, and walk near them. Don’t talk to strangers in parking lots, especially men. Keep to yourself.
Fuck all that “what will society think?” crap. If a scary man (of any race) looks scary, stay the hell away. Who cares if you hurt his feelings? The worst that happens is a nice guy has a bad story to tell his friends about how much his ego was hurt, the best is you avoid being beaten and raped. Pick the best option.
Cash goes one way, you go the other:
A quick story: when I was active in Judo, I regularly assisted in teaching self-defense courses. One of the students in my dojo — a girl named Sandy — was a black belt in Judo and studied Akido. She was devastatingly fast and could handle just about every man in our dojo. In the self defense clases, she executed every maneuver perfectly.
One rainy night, she was out on the town with two of her girlfriends, and they were approached by an attacker in a parking lot of a bar. The guy was waving a knife at them and demanding they surrender their purses. Guess what Sandy did?
a) A flying armbar which resulted in a severe dislocation while her friends called the police,
b) A super fast saronagi (over-the-shoudler throw) which flung her attacker across the parking lot,
c) threw her purse at him and ran with her friends back to the bar?
Yeah, it was c. She was a highly trained martial artist. She was even armed with an umbrella. And she had the good sense to do the best thing she could have — give the guy the easily replaceable crap he wanted and run before anyone got hurt.
Regardless of how nice the bag is or what you have in it — it’s not worth it. Toss it one way, run the other.
If you are approached and mugged, throw your purse (or wallet, or cash clip) in one direction and run the other. Trust me, if you’re being robbed, they will choose the cash over you.
But if they’re not out to rob you — if they’re there to rape and hurt you — you need to know how to handle that. And that’s why I recommend highly that you arm yourself. In order of effectiveness (and preference): a gun, pepper spray, a knife, a tazer / stun gun, a blunt instrument (those stupid key-bats you see on sale around town), hand-to-hand. I won’t be covering ineffective measures, mostly because they’re ineffective.
Weapons, and why you should have them:
First thing’s first: You must be prepared to disable or kill an attacker who is intent on hurting you. And by disable, I mean to the point of being unable to pursue you. Kicking the nuts and punching someone in the nose? Sounds great. It’s taught by mothers and fathers to daughters the world over. And guess what — it’s pretty much the least effective advice you could ever give anyone.
When physically confronted, men instinctively protect their genitals and face. It’s inborn. We just do it. Then, there’s the fact that adrenaline and endorphins block out the pain caused by being kicked in the balls or punched in the face (long enough to do you grevious bodily harm, anyway). Of course, nut-punching and face-gouging aren’t wholly ineffective. But they’re not the most effective self defense measures.
See? Balls and face. Every man defends these things.
The golden rules:
1) Keep your head. It’s hard. You’re scared. Try not to let fear turn into panic. Keep breathing. Keep your head up. Keep your eyes open. Don’t fly into a blind rage. Don’t lose sight of your escapes. Stay in control of yourself.
2) Make no mistake — You’re fighting for your life. Not just your ability to stay alive, but also your ability to live the rest of your days without the painful scars of a violent attack. This means you need to let go of any pacifist philosophy or maternal instinct you’ve got and get ready to get mean.
3) Distance is your friend. Bluntly, you cannot be raped if they can’t get to you. You want as much distance as possible between you and your attacker. Escape is your absolute primary goal. Your best means of escaping an attacker is to have a great head start, and you want the guy to be completely incapable of pursuing you.
So my advice on weapons, in order of most effective to least:
Get a gun.
I need to tell you that if you do opt for the gun — and I sincerely hope you will — there’s a LOT to discuss. In fact, it deserves its own guide. But the bottom line is that guns are not meant to intimidate or maim, they are meant to kill. Do not get a gun to scare off an attacker. Do not get a gun to shoot them in the leg. Get a gun to shoot them and kill them and save your own life. If you cannot face this, you probably shouldn’t get a gun. But there’s absolutely no getting around it: in the hands of a woman who has taken the time to learn how to draw, aim and shoot her gun, there’s no better measure to defending yourself. Period, end of story.
The GLOCK 26 short-frame 9mm pistol. Concealable, powerful, reliable (but not as reliable as a revolver).
This will require, if not demand, that you go to a gun range at least once a month and hone your skills, as well as practicing your draw from wherever you decide to keep it (purse, night stand, waistband, whatever). And I highly highly highly advise you take a gun safety class course and a shooting course, at a minimum.
If you don’t want a gun, get pepper spray.
Let’s assume you don’t want a gun, legally can’t get one, aren’t prepared to be a responsible and effective gun owner (by going to the range and practicing, and taking safety courses), or you don’t have the money. I highly recommend you get high velocity bear repellent for your home, and this SABRE spray for personal carry and the car. Don’t bother with MACE — some people aren’t susceptible to its effects, and even those that are are much more susceptible to pepper spray + tear gas.
A keychain / concealable pepper spray canister. They’re 8 bucks a piece. Load up. (And I didn’t pick pink because you’re a lady, I picked it because I personally like and carry pink)
As for the bear spray, it shoots up to 30 feet and will flat knock a man down. When in the confines of your home, escape routes are fewer. You want as much distance as possible, and you want the guy to be completely incapable of pursuing you.
Keep a can of bear repellent near your bed, one near any door in your home, and one in the centermost hallway.
Now, if you’re going to use spray, you need to be aware of a few things:
1) It’s most effective in the eyes, nose and mouth.
2) You need to practice with it just like you would a gun. To not practice with it is folly. You will either fumble with it when you need it, or end up hurting yourself. You’re not “wasting” a can of $30 bear spray, any more than you waste a $30 box of bullets at the gun range. Get spares, and practice.
3) don’t spray it into the wind, or you’ll blind yourself, too.
Tasers / stun guns:
work… sometimes. But I don’t recommend them.
1) They’re easily defeated by thick jackets and clothing. Ask a cop if you don’t believe me.
2) You get one shot. True, they sell multi-shot tazers, but if someone’s wearing a thick jacket, the other two shots will just fail to penetrate as well, and then you’re screwed.
The taser. You’ve got one shot, make it count (and hope they’re not wearing a leather jacket).
Handheld stun guns have the same limitations, but with the added issue of proximity. Remember, distance is your friend. Stun guns require you be right next to the attacker.
Furthermore, while they do work, they don’t subdue. They merely temporarily disable. The point of using any of these weapons is to render the attacker unable to attack — and if you temporarily subdue them, then start running and they can get up and pursue, you’ve failed. And now, you’re expending energy and oxygen and time while they pursue you, and if they get you again, you’re in trouble.
I recommend every woman carry a knife as a backup to their gun / pepper spray. I carry a knife myself. I’ve never had to brandish it, much less use it (thank god). But I have it, just in case. I’m a HUGE fan of spring-assist knives by SOG (specifically, the FLASH II). I recommend a solid aluminum handle. If you can get your hands on one, get a fully-automatic knife like a switchblade. Yes, they’re illegal in many states, but so is rape. Your attacker isn’t letting a pesky thing like “laws” get in his way. Don’t let them get in yours.
The SOG Flash II with aluminum handle and serated blade. It’ll fuck shit up, and it’s legal in almost every state.
I’m not knife trained in any real manner outside of the very basics, which I’m going to share with you:
1) Hold it blade-down, in an “overhand” grip. This would be like making a fist for punching, only there’s the blade of a knife sticking out of the bottom of your hand.
2) If you’re facing your attacker… What the hell are you doing? Run.
3) If your attacker has you from behind, plunge the blade of the knife into their thigh. Twist it. Remove it. This will keep the wound from closing and do some serious damage to his ability to chase you. DO NOT LET GO OF YOUR KNIFE, EVER. If you do, even if you’ve stabbed your attacker, you’ve just given him a knife. Don’t make his job of hurting you any easier.
Don’t wave your knife around like you see in movies (this really applies to every weapon). Don’t threaten. Don’t telegraph you have it. Your job is not to intimidate, it’s to escape. If you pull out your weapon, use it. Don’t pull it out unless you are absolutely going to use it. You run the risk of being disarmed, or worse, escallating an encounter to something far more serious by producing a weapon that the attacker is now prepared for.
Blunt instruments (bats, flashlights, those stupid “key bats” they sell so you can swing a keyring at a guy intent on hurting you, etc):
Simply put, they require you be close to the attacker. That’s what we don’t want. But they’re better than going bare-fisted. So if you have nothing else, get yourself an ASP (collapsable baton). Know that in most states, an ASP requires a law enforcement ID to buy, unless you go to a pawn shop or gun show. Also, they’re considered a controlled weapon, like brass knuckles or a blackjack. But again, the law isn’t really a concern when someone’s trying to hurt you.
If it is a concern for you, then get a huge 4-battery Mag Lite and carry it everywhere. It doesn’t rouse suspicion, it fits nicely under the seat of your car, and it is legal in all 50 states. It’s also cumbersome. It probably won’t fit in a purse. It’s awkward to carry around stores.
But the truth is, short of a baseball bat, it’s the most effective legal weapon you can possess… That isn’t a gun or pepper spray, of course.
But probably don’t use boomerangs. (Also, this is the dumbest stock photo I’ve ever seen)
Your bare hands (AKA the last resort, AKA what to do if he gets you):
If you’re facing your attacker, read up on my fist fight guide. It’s long, and necessary if you’re not going to heed my advice on weapons and running. Read it. The only difference is that it’s possible a swift kick by you to the knees or genitals might help… But you need to keep in mind, kicking in tennis shoes or heels (or barefoot) can result in a broken foot, or miss and leave you off balance. You need your feet and your balance to escape.
If you are caught from behind and still standing:
a) Stomp instep. Over and over again, stomp right down on his foot, preferably on the instep. Break the foot if you can. It doesn’t take much to do this, by the way. And don’t be satisfied with one good stomp — keep it up until he lets you go, or you break his foot.
b) Sling head backwards, over and over. Break his nose or dislocate his jaw. Either will cause his eyes to water.
c) Grab his fingers (not hands, get a single finger) and wring it like crazy. Break it if you can, especially a thumb. You’ll know it’s broken when you hear the “CRACK!” sound and his yelping.
If you’re on the ground, the fingers thing is still important. Break his goddamn thumbs. If he’s on top of you, get your hands to his face and gouge out his eyes. Did you know it only takes about 15 sq. lbs. of torque to dislodge the eye from its socket? If you clap your hands with any sort of velocity, that’s roughly 60-80 sq. lbs. of torque. Trust me, getting your thumbs into his sockets and pressing VERY. HARD. will be effective.
If you can’t quite get there, slap his ears. Cup your hand and rupture the eardrum.
If you can’t get there, make your hand into a blade (fingers together) and chop / stab at his throat. Don’t punch at it, your fist is too big to fit into the gap between the jaw and collar bone to be effective. You want to crush his windpipe.
If you can’t do that, start raising your knees at high velocity and try to crush his genitals. This isn’t the most effective of all the tactics, but it does work.
At any rate, the SECOND you can get away, do so. And whatever you do, don’t drop your hands to your sides or let him stop them. Thrash. Go fucking crazy. Tear his face off. Never stop until you escape.
If he’s got you pinned down…
…and he’s wearing a jacket, sweater or shirt, he’s given you an incredible weapon against himself. Watch the one choke hold every woman needs to learn:
If none of that works, and if you can’t get away, OR you’re in a “date rape” type of situation (indoors and unable to just go nuts and run):
In a “calm” situation (indoors, date rape):
I want to make it absolutely clear that the first priority is definitely saying no, making it very clear that you are not comfortable, and then if possible fighting him off. It’s only after these tactics have failed that I’m advocating turning the tables and trying another tactic.
You’re in a situation where you’re already trapped and something you don’t want to happen is happening, and fighting has failed. Rather than just giving up, there is a last resort: Rope-a-Dope.
In situations where you are very clearly not giving consent and he won’t stop, and you feel that you are being assaulted, the line has already been crossed. So, If saying “no” and then fighting him off hasn’t worked, pretend to go with it.
Gross, yes. But we’re way past boundaries, and you’re being assaulted and we want this to end (and with as much pain to him as possible.) So the tactic is: Pretend to relax. Pretend to get into it. Start running your hands up and down his shoulders. Work your way up to his face. Maybe even kiss him. Get your hands on both cheeks. If he’s got glasses, just slowly try to remove them first. Put your thumbs right into his eyes. Press like hell and dislodge the eyes from their sockets.
Go for the eyes.
If you can’t get to his face, try asking if you can help him with his pants, or even better, “Go down” on him. Get his pants to his ankles. Get his underwear to his knees. Place both hands around the testicles and yank as hard as you can — try to pull the bastards off. A distended testicle will make him incapable of running, and is FAR more effective than trying to kick or punch the balls. It takes quite a lot of force to rupture one, but not much at all to yank it out of place.
With his pants around his ankles, he’s not going to be able to chase.
If that’s not possible, look for an alarm clock or the phone. Anything with bulk. Grab it and slam it against his head.
In any case, the second you can get out of the room, run. Get out of the house / building. Go to the nearest populated place (a neighbor’s house, a store, a gas station). Yell and scream the entire time. Do NOT remain calm once you’re out — get attention and get it fast. Shame has no place for you here. You’re not the one who should be ashamed — HE IS.
All of this said, it’s far better to have a weapon and be safe and distant. It’s hard to maintain an erection with a bullet in you.
The major major MAJOR point here is to be aware of your surroundings and not get attacked in the first place. But sometimes, dudes are fucking gross and decide they just want to do bad things, and when they do, I want you to be able to protect and defend yourself.
If you are attacked, you need distance between you and your attacker, as quickly as possible. To that end, a weapon which incorporates distance is primary. One that incapacitates and keeps them from pursuing you is preferred. Or, putting it simply, get a damn gun and learn to use it safely and responsibly.
It’s unpleasant to talk about, but the truth is, there’s no martial art in the world that can teach you how to defend yourself while unconscious. If he can’t get near you, he can’t choke you or knock you out.
If you have no choice, or weapons simply aren’t an option for you, you need to keep calm and use the situation to your advantage however possible. If fighting can’t get you free, turn the tables. You’re already trapped — instead of just surrendering, try a fallback tactic of going with it and attempting to get your hands on the most vulnerable parts of his body, the eyes and the genitals.
Above all else… Be ready to hurt him for real. Because he’s ready to hurt you, and that simply won’t do.