Seven Self-Defense Tips

Not everyone has time to practice martial arts, and that’s cool. It takes years and years—a lifetime in fact!—to master the nearly countless techniques that are taught and practiced. Here are just a few tips I’ve learned while practicing Hapkido and Kali that you might take into consideration when finding yourself in a self-defense situation. As well as how to avoid confrontation.

1. Be Alert, Wherever You Go

This can be kind of obvious, but the point is, if you’re not familiar (or even if you are familiar) with a particular place, don’t let your guard down. The key to being safe is to avoid situations that would make you unsafe, or at least prepare yourself for what could happen. 

This is NOT to say you should be fearful of your surroundings. There’s a big difference between being terrified out of your mind of the outside world, and “respecting its unpredictability by acknowledging the potential for danger” instead of pretending that it can’t happen to you. Because it can. 

So, if you can, AVOID dark alleyways, AVOID listening to music in a parking lot in the middle of the night, AVOID staring down at your phone, and AVOID walking towards that mysterious figure eyeing you from a distance. This isn’t a fantasy novel and that (most likely) is not a wizard. 

2. Use the Power of Your Voice

Your voice can be powerful. Use it. It’s the second best thing to being alert.

From the book Scaling Force (which I highly recommend reading for more in-depth discussion), Rory Miller and Lawrence A. Kane discuss the importance of using one’s voice to de-escalate a situation.

Pitch shows fear…people become high-pitched and squeaky under stress…This is why having a low-pitched voice is an asset in calming others. It projects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear is safety.”

Scaling Force (Miller, Kane, pg. 63)

Record your own voice while in casual conversation—Or at least talk to someone and have them rate your voice and tone. How do you regularly sound? Calm? Anxious? Hesitant? Strong? Quiet? Logical? etc, etc…

Then, role-play. If you can, practice with someone or a couple of people you know. Have them pretend to talk angerily or stressed or “threatening“ and practice responding in different ways. How do they respond back to you? Remember, it’s about how you adapt to changing circumstances.

Think about how you would naturally respond to a real situation and improve upon your understanding of yourself. In other words, think about how you talk to people when under stress and pressure.

Do you begin to stumble over your words? Do you sound tense? Does your pitch subconsciously go up? Does your body shake? What words do you say? Do you shift the blame to them? Do you apologize and leave it at that? Maybe you fight back? What happens as a result? All these factors can play a part in your reaction to stress and pressure.

Another tip to also keep in mind is “if you are going to talk, don’t be judgmental…Ask a relevant reasonable question. ‘Paul, you’re clearly pissed. What happened?’ Then shut up and listen” (Scaling Force, Miller, Kane, pg. 104).

3. What You Think in Your Head is Different Than How Your Body Reacts

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this image of myself in my head of how “kickass” I am during an imaginary sparring match or even an imaginary street scuffle, but reality is much messier than what your mind would have you believe. I learned quickly that sparring is much tougher than what all those cheesy martial arts films baked into us through the guise of choreography have taught us.

  • Firstly, you don’t know what your opponent is going to throw at you.
  • Secondly, it can be difficult to be “one step ahead of your opponent” because of how fast a punch generally is. Not to mention the next one.
  • Thirdly, you might (unknowingly) underestimate your opponent and/or overestimate your own skills.
  • Fourthly, your body has a way of acting on its own when pumped with adrenaline. What you’ve done in the past, if not your fight or flight instinct, is what will take over in a stressful situation.
  • And finally, pain is a great manipulator of the senses. It’s harder to defend yourself and keep your wits about you while intense pain is zapping up and down your leg like a fiery bolt of lightening.  

Train yourself to handle various tough mental situations, and to be calm and collected when anger arises in another person, or even yourself. Start by having a certain mindset. Don’t see yourself as a victim of circumstances, but rather as a strong-willed person with a sense of responsibility and humility. The way you see yourself is what you become.

4. Holding the “Car Key” Between Your Knuckles Probably Isn’t Going to Be Very Useful

Ever try to poke a tiny, tiny target with your finger while its moving? Chances are that trying to stab someone in the eye with the blunt end of a key isn’t going to do much good. Especially if you’re nervous and shaky from the adrenaline. 

I’d recommend instead to claw at their face with your nails. Slap your palms into their ears. Stomp their feet with your shoes. And if they grab you, you can jam your fingers beneath their jaw and hook in and up. Humans have some pretty sensitive nerves in all of these places. And slapping their ears can rupture an eardrum or two. 

This is, and I can’t stress this enough, if you’re in true danger of being taken somewhere. If they have any weapon pointed at you and they’re giving you an option to hand over your wallet or die, just throw them the dang wallet and get the hell out of there.

5. Look Dangerous. Behave Confidently. Appear Powerful. 

Criminals who are looking for their next target most likely aren’t going to pick someone who looks like they have their shit together. 

Keep in mind the “being alert” part, and you’ve go yourself a safety boost. If your paying attention, its harder for a criminal to take you by surprise. They would rather prey on the weak-looking and unaware than on the strong.

Strong—in this sense—can be achieved by having good posture, surveying the area with a keen eye, and walking with poise and purpose (don’t over do it though—obviously—or you’ll be mistaken for a comical cartoon mime). Being fit can be an additional factor.

6. Don’t Be Predictable 

Taking the same route every day, over and over again, and arriving/departing at the same places all the time can only help a stalker target you and find your location more easily. If you want to remain “unpredictable” and harder to target, pick different routes to drive home. Leave or arrive certain places at various different times, if possible. 

7. Don’t See Fear As a Test. See It As a Challenge.

Let’s be real. Fear is an innate response to stress. Denying it is only going to make it harder to deal with. Martial arts teaches how to deal with the fear of facing an opponent through sparring, but this idea can just apply to life in general. We often shy away from experiencing our fears, and we can have health fears, but that can also potentially prevent us from going out and experiencing the world around us. Sure, there can be many, many unknowns, but that shouldn’t stop us from living our lives to the fullest extent. 

That’s why I like to view fearful or nervous situations as a challenge of my strength, my knowledge, and my abilities, rather than a test. Let me explain.

A test suggests that whatever your facing is the final result of your efforts, leaving you with no room for improvement. 

But a challenge tells you that it’s just one stepping stone to reach a higher level. In this case, you are given the choice to either accept this challenge or deny it. This can give someone a sense of personal responsibility, as well as the acknowledgment that one can only improve after that. 

If you’ve let fear get the best of you in the past, don’t let it define the rest of your life. 

I hope these tips help you at least a little bit as you go about your journey.