Common self-defense myths and solutions

Aug 25, 2008 at 7:03 p.m. ET

Have you ever been in a situation and thought, -œWhat would I do if I needed to defend myself,- and didn't know the answer? That can be a scary situation, but - more likely than not - you've gone home, a bit shaken up, and still didn't do anything about it, thinking it won't happen again. Read on to know the proper way to -œengage- a potential attacker and how to get out of the situation safely.

Woman Being Stalked
Years of skill and training may not save you. Of course there are exceptions to this, as police officers, CIA operatives and FBI agents can attest to; however, that type of training is a bit different from what you might get from a basic self-defense class. Only if complex moves have been drilled into your head over and over, and only if they are second nature will they truly do you any good in the face of an attack. People that aren't trained to use these moves and techniques on a day-to-day basis usually, when confronted with an attacker, experience an "adrenaline dump." For a "normal" person in the face of a potential attack, this just can't be helped. Your system just overloads and all that training and all those "self-defense" moves fly out the window.

For this reason, you should look for a class or program that focuses on how to get out of an attack before it happens, and teaches you some simple, basic moves designed for women. (Many self-defense moves require more upper body strength than the average woman has, especially during a high-stress situation.) According to the FBI, as high as 90%  of attacks carried out on women are by people they know – acquaintances, neighbors, that friendly and trustworthy guy from the bar. Therefore many attacks are usually proceeded by a verbal exchange, which includes knowing what to say and how to handle yourself during this exchange. This can be crucial in preventing the situation from escalating.

Another way to avoid a potentially harmful situation is to assess the danger level from the on-set. According to one self-defense site, "Utilizing awareness, risk reduction and avoidance techniques, you can achieve a large degree of control over your fate through learning to observe your environment, continually evaluating it, and reacting appropriately to what you see or feel."

All this is not to say that you should forgo self-defense training, but when you do train, be sure you're on the same page as your instructor. Seek out forceful, easy-to-execute movements with detrimental results. Again, many self-defense moves were designed for men – who tend to be physically stronger. You need instructions designed for women with quick and relatively easy moves that will stick with you in the heat of the moment.

In one self-defense class I took, the instructor made sure each of us had an attack whistle on our key chain. It may seem small and basic, but she said that if you're in a compromising situation and all else fails, sometimes all you need to do is draw someone else's attention to the situation. This could possibly make the attacker back down.

In all cases, be aware of your surroundings and trust your intuition – don't do something or go somewhere that doesn't feel right.

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