5 Things About Self-Defense Every Woman Should Know

Let me correct some bad information that could get you hurt.
5 Things About Self-Defense Every Woman Should Know

One of my hobbies is teaching women how to attack men, often in the groin area. Not random men, mind you, but specifically ones who are trying to assault them. I'm an assault survivor myself, and an instructor in women's Commando Krav Maga, in their Smart Safe program. Cue the arguments about how your martial art can defeat mine! (Note: None of them are magic, and basic self-defense principles are fairly universal.)

What I tend to get in my classes are beginners -- women who aren't athletes or trained badasses, but want to know enough to buy themselves a few minutes to get away from an attacker. This article is no substitute for a class. Neither is watching a bunch of YouTube videos. My goal is to get you thinking about it enough that you go take a class from a qualified instructor. For now, let me correct some bad information that could get you hurt.

Your Keys Aren't Really Much Of A Weapon

The one standard for women's self-defense advice that somehow everyone knows is the one about sticking your car keys between your fingers like Wolverine to stab the eyes out of a bad guy. I have no clue where I first heard this ancient piece of female wisdom. All I know is that I walked around with a keychain of dummy keys long before I could even drive.

Last week, a woman in my self-defense class said that she'd been walking around like Edward Scissorkeys every day for over 40 years. I asked her to demonstrate. She held up her mighty key-claws. I snuck up on her and shouted "Boo!" so loudly that she was startled and dropped them. Then I scooped them up, stole her car, drove to her house, and hid under her bed until I could jump out in the night and return them. Or, you know, I could have.

That's the most obvious problem: You risk losing the very things you need to escape safely. A lot of cars need keys to, well, be cars, and when you're using keys for melee tactics, there's a great chance you're going to drop them. If you're walking home and those are your house keys, well, now you've locked yourself out of your own house.

Keys are also just not great weapons. Keeping them between your fingers makes for a really weird angle from which to try to stab anyone, besides the fact that you could seriously injure your own fingers in the process. Go to the supermarket and try to stab some produce with your car keys. You'll see how much it hurts, and also get to meet the manager!

Now, there's one part of this that's correct, in my experience: The eyes are a great target. Just about any self-defense instructor will tell you to hit the eyes, jab the eyes, jam your fingers into the eyes, scratch the eyes, yell insults at the eyes, or if you want to do a lot of damage, dig your thumbs or fingers in there and gouge. (Fun gouging tip for the kids: Start in the center and push out.) Not only do ten fingers beat three keys, but they'll also help you collect some handy DNA under your nails to give to police.

Don't Count On The Almighty Groin Kick

If I ask a newcomer to my class what they should do in the event of an attempted assault, "Kick him in the balls!" is the first thing they'll shout, often with borderline-evangelical passion. And for good reason: The balls are super sensitive, so a hard impact can definitely stall an attacker for the several seconds you need to run like hell. That's why movies make it almost look like a magical incapacitation technique.

So you can imagine the students' disappointment when they realize that the second they lift their foot off the ground, their attacker will either shift his junk out of reach or, worse yet, take advantage of the fact that they're off balance to push them backward on their ass. To keep this entertaining, I'll illustrate it with this clip from Freddy vs. Jason, in which Freddy goes for a spooky dick kick and Jason grabs the leg and tosses Freddy's charred ass across a cabin. It won't look exactly like that, but you get the idea.

I've been training in Commando Krav Maga for four years, and in that time -- as well as in my experience of having actually been assaulted -- I have never once successfully kicked anyone in the balls. Sure, I've sacked plenty of people. I once made a 6'5 professional stunt double roll over like a dead bug with an accidental punch. But I've never managed to kick them, as that's actually super easy to defend against.

The things that guy is doing in the video aren't complicated, and are in fact instinct -- he's just turning his hips a little, or twisting a way, or stepping back. The human dick is very mobile. Notice how Jason Vorhees had to basically stand perfectly still and wait for the kick in the clip earlier? Your attacker is not going to do that.

Now, you can maybe knee someone in the groin -- in which case you're leaning forward and are hopefully still maintaining your balance -- if you have practice. If you insist on going after the groin by some means, you can punch, or grab and twist. If you just really want to kick, go for shins or knees. But anything you do here is going to require balance, and fully extending one leg while tilting backward on the other already has you about 90 percent on the way to falling down.

Your Self-Defense Plan Shouldn't Depend On An Attacker Getting Close

When people (usually dudes) talk about ways to avoid assault, they usually mention places that society has deemed to be magnets for rapists: parking garages, jogging paths, back alleys. But I've had friends who were assaulted or raped in their homes, at a friend's house, at an ATM, on train platforms, on an empty street at night, on a public beach, in a school locker room, and in a mall parking lot -- and one of those was me. And you can't really say, "The best way to prevent a rape is to not be anywhere ever."

What matters more than the setting is the fact that, one way or the other, a guy got close enough to lay his hands on them. Which is why it's irritating as hell to me that while self-defense experts agree that your first line of defense is making distance, so many women's self-defense plans depend on the guy being so close that he's breathing his creep germs all over their face.

I think there's a false sense of security that comes from carrying a fancy doodad like the Go Guarded Self Defense Ring, Cat Defense Keychain, or Smith & Wesson Tactical Pen, all of which only work if an attacker is a "crowded elevator" level of close to you. Waiting until your attacker has his hands on you before you start trying to defend yourself is far from ideal -- you're tangling with someone who is almost certainly stronger than you and, let's be honest, probably has more experience.

Likewise, a lot of women I know carry small knives for defense, and that's great, as they're shiny, look awesome, and can deter an attacker if he sees it and is sober enough to be deterred. But if your assailant doesn't know about / isn't threatened by your knife, then unless you've got a bayonet, it's not keeping him away. Again, I'm not against knives or up-close self-defense gadgets in general; I'm saying that it's far, far better to never let an attacker get that close in the first place.

I would go for weapons like mace, bear spray, a disorienting tactical flashlight, or the monkey fist paracord -- things that will work at a distance. There are also lots of improvised weapons that'll keep him away, like throwing change, whipping your backpack around, or thwacking him with your umbrella. Or if you're Canadian like me, just use that hockey stick you carry around in a case of a spontaneous game of ice shinny.

In Commando Krav Maga, one of our favorite weapons is a chair. Don't laugh! In last year's London terror attack, pubgoers kept one knife-wielding attacker at bay with pint glasses, beer bottles, and furniture. This probably won't kill or even incapacitate an attacker, but it might get him to back away far enough for you to run to safety or convince him to go find some other target who's not busy throwing the contents of their Costco bag overhand at his head.

Don't Avoid Eye Contact

Blaming the victim for being victimized is always total bullshit. Always. But women are trained to go through life with our heads down and our eyes on the sidewalk, trying to make ourselves look as small as possible to avoid getting hurt, and thus having barely any awareness of what's happening around us. If you grew up in the kind of family or school where drawing attention to yourself landed you on the wrong end of some asshole's fists, you learn to go through life not "asking for trouble."

For a lot of women who've been hit on or harassed by strangers, all too often, they're taught to blame themselves for "encouraging" things by making eye contact or even speaking. But when you shrink yourself and walk around with an invisible "Don't hurt me" sign on your forehead, you look like an easy target to exactly the kind of person looking to victimize someone.

More importantly, you're surrendering your ability to be aware of your own surroundings! Situational awareness is one of the biggest weapons you have against criminals. And we women are told to give it up in fear of making some dickhead think we're flirting. But a kidnapper is not playing by the same rules as some guy on the subway who wants your number. Self-defense experts from multiple disciplines agree that criminals are looking for easy targets, and the easiest targets of all are those who look timid and unaware aware of their surroundings.

Nobody's saying you should stare someone down and start quoting lines from Predator. But a quick look that goes "Hey, I see you there" could be the difference between him choosing you or moving on. Remember, attackers are usually relying on the element of surprise. Worst-case scenario, if he does come after you, at least you'll know he's coming and can be prepared.

A Gun In Your Purse Isn't The Ultimate In Self-Defense

The entire appeal of guns is that if you have one, you don't need to know how to fight. Isn't that why they were invented? And wouldn't that make them perfect for women? They're the great equalizer. Kaitlin Bennett, who was in the news recently for wearing an AR-10 rifle to her Kent State University graduation, stated, "I'm not nervous, because everyone knows that I'm armed ... I don't know why they would threaten an armed person." That's kind of easy to say when people can see your giant gun from space, Kaitlin.

But I know someone whose gun is buried underneath about three feet of junk in her purse. I'm guessing that's what it looks like for most gun-toting women. They're not carrying the thing in a shoulder holster. Again, your attacker is probably planning on surprising the hell out of you. Can you dig it out in time to use it?

That's the problem, the impression you get from pop culture that the gun does the work for you. Yet when ABC did a test to recreate a school shooting with the Bethlehem Police Department at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, not a single person was able to defend themselves against an attacker. Many weren't even able to get off a single shot. And they were expecting to get shot at.

Or if you don't trust Diane Sawyer, then check out what happened when MythBusters tried to replicate the Tueller Drill, which states that someone with a holstered gun can only hit a charging knife-wielding attacker at 21 feet. Any closer than that, and the gunslinger gets stabbed before they can get off a shot. And assholes are very rarely polite enough to let you know when they're 22 feet away.

People like the sense of security that comes with a gun, but a false sense of security is your enemy when we're talking about self-defense. Carrying a gun doesn't save you the trouble of learning this other stuff; it brings with it the responsibility to learn a whole other round of lessons, lest you wind up shooting yourself, a stranger, or just gifting a mugger a free gun. The more dangerous the weapon, the more responsibility you have to learn how to use it right.

One final note: If you're assaulted and you freeze, it's not your fault. If you fight back and fail, it's not your fault. No matter what you wear, where you go, what you drink, or who you mistakenly trust, it's never, ever your fault that someone else decided to hurt you. Do I recommend learning self-defense? Yeah, because maybe it helps your chances. But if you panic or get overpowered anyway, it's not your fault, and anyone who implies it is your fault is a goddamn idiot.

While I was writing this article, a friend's partner was sexually assaulted by a stranger at an amusement park while walking her two kids in a stroller. Thankfully, he was arrested. But that doesn't stop me from wanting to punch the guy's dick so hard that his dick meat somehow comes out of his dick hole. And the last time someone tried to cop a feel on me without permission was Monday. The world is kind of a shitty place sometimes; just try to be ready for it.

Mags Storey writes books with ghosts, murder, and kissing in them, and trains with far more talented and badass people in Commando Krav Maga. You can bother her on Twitter.

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For more, check out 6 Things You Need To Know About Self-Defense, From An Expert and 5 Self-Defense Books For Women (Who Want To Lose A Fight).

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