If you are a woman and you have never taken a self defense class, I would strongly recommend that you do so. If you are a woman and you have taken a self defense class, but it’s been a while, I would strongly recommend that you take another one. This is something I’ve wanted to do for the past 20+ years, but I never got around to it. Not until last night. And the only reason I got around to it last night was because a friend said to me, “hey, the police department is offering a self defense class for women…I’m going to sign up…why don’t you sign up, too?” I had nothing on my calendar for last night, so I signed up. It was a very last minute kind of thing.
There were ten of us — two 12-year-olds, a 60-something-year-old, and seven of us who were somewhere in between. Two had had tae kwon do (and boy, I wouldn’t want to run into either of them in a dark alley!), but most of us were regular, please-don’t-hurt-me types of girls/women.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was just a one night, three-hour class, so I figured we’d all stand in a line and they’d show us various tae kwon do-like moves that we’d all practice right there in our nice, straight line…you know, like an exercise class. Or maybe we’d practice with a punching bag or a dummy of some kind. But no…that’s not quite the way it went.
The first hour was a lecture/discussion kind of thing. The class was taught by two police officers — a huge guy who was built like a linebacker and a little 120-pound woman who was all skin and bones. They demonstrated that self defense is not about strength; it’s about balance. (Self defense is also not about taking the dirtbag down…it’s about getting away.)
Then they got us up and showed us how to make a fist for punching (who knew there was a right way and wrong way to make a fist?), and we all took turns punching this big rectangular thing that the linebacker held against his chest. The average person punches all WRONG. What you want to do is bring your fingers and knuckles together as tight and as even with each other as you possibly can. Start by bringing the first joints of your fingers down against the top of your hand, then curl the rest of your fingers down and around (pretend your hand is a tube of toothpaste that you’re rolling up from the end). Bring your thumb in and hold it tightly against your fingers between the first and second joints. You DON’T want to punch with your knuckles…you want to punch with the part of your fist between the second joints of your fingers and your knuckles…the part where you wear your rings. And you want your fingers to be tight and even (no fingers sticking up).
After that, we talked about various strategies for dealing with different situations. For instance:
If someone grabs your wrist or arm, the instinct is to pull away from your attacker. You can try pulling your arm up and away, but for the most part, that isn’t likely to work. What you want to do instead is move in TOWARD the attacker and punch him in the face. Don’t just punch once…keep punching! Or “be a cat” and scratch and claw at him. Whatever it takes to get away.
If someone grabs your shirt or coat, you can try “windmilling” your arm up and over to get out of it. Keep your arm long and stiff and spin fast. Or…remember the thumb is the weakest part of the hand…if you can reach, use the hand on the same side that they’ve got hold of you to pry their thumb off, and at the same time use your other hand to punch or scratch them in the face.
I’m not sounding like such a non-violent person anymore, am I? Well, if you’re a woman and someone is grabbing you, there’s no room for non-violent philosophies. YOU NEED TO GET AWAY! Not doing anything is definitely a choice…but is it a good one? Only you can decide that, given the situation you’re in. But remember, if they’re trying to get you into a car…if they’re telling you they’re going to kill you if you don’t go with them, they’re GOING TO KILL YOU ANYWAY if they take you away from where they find you…so it’s better to fight, if you can! Think about the risk of action vs. non-action…risk vs. injury…injury vs. survivability…
Moving on…if someone grabs you by the throat from behind, your first goal is survival. You need to be able to breathe. So, if you can, turn so your throat is in the inside of the guy’s elbow. You’re more likely to get air in that position. The way to get out of this is to grab the guy’s pinkies (a combination of pinkies and ring fingers is okay, too, if that’s what you end up grabbing — the instinct is to pull on ALL his fingers, from the top, which isn’t likely to be effective…you need to separate those fingers if they’re around your neck) and pull his pinkies out and down! You can actually break a guy’s fingers doing this. You should also lift up your legs so you’re a dead weight. We won’t talk about how much weight that is in my case, but let the attacker carry all that weight. Chances are he’ll let go of your neck and you’ll end up on the ground and then you can roll and kick and punch to get out of it.
Do the same thing if you’re simply grabbed around the waist or the chest from behind. Pick up your legs so the guy has to carry your weight. Use your elbows and feet to fight. You’ll probably end up on the ground together and then you can roll and kick and punch…whatever it takes to get out of it and get away.
If someone grabs you by the hair from behind, reach up with both hands and grab onto the guy’s wrist and HOLD ON. Hold his wrist as close to your head as you possibly can and be a dead weight. Let him drag you around. We saw the linebacker guy drag the poor 120-pound-stick-figure-woman all around the mat by her hair and it didn’t hurt her. In the end, the guy gets tired eventually and has to let go.
Remember, there’s not one movement that will get you out of any situation. Often the first thing you try won’t work…that’s why you have to have several strategies.
Be a cat! (We heard that several times.) Claw and scratch!
Go for the attacker’s face!
Use your fist, palm, elbows, knees and feet for striking.
If you get away, don’t run in a straight line!
I watched, I listened, I wrote all this stuff down…but no amount of watching, listening, reading, writing can really prepare you for a situation like this. You have to actually practice it…and that was the third component to this class.
The linebacker guy put on this huge, padded spacesuit kind of thing and well…invited each of us up to “be attacked” in several different ways. This is a really uncomfortable thing…it’s hard to get up in front of a group and be vulnerable and let some guy attack you while you try and get out of it all by yourself while other people are watching. But do you know what? Being attacked is “uncomfortable,” too. So if you’re offered this opportunity (and if it’s a good self defense class, you probably will be!), GET UP THERE AND DO IT! That’s why you’re taking the class!
We were told that biting is absolutely an acceptable strategy when you’re being attacked, but in this situation, that was the one thing we weren’t allowed to do. We could do anything else to get out of it. The whole point was to show us we CAN get out of it
When it was my turn, the first thing the guy did was grab my wrist. My RIGHT wrist. And the first thought that went through my head was, “wait a minute! I’m right-handed! You taught me how to punch right-handed. It’s not fair for you to grab my right hand so I can’t punch with it!” But then I realized that when you’re being attacked, you don’t get to choose which wrist the guy’s going to grab. So when pulling didn’t work, I moved in and punched him in the face with my left hand. (I have never punched another human being before.)
We went through all the scenarios and I punched and kicked and screamed and yelled (that’s part of it, too! We’re taught as young girls to be quiet…don’t make a lot of noise…don’t cause a scene. But if you’re being attacked, you NEED to cause a scene, so you want to scream and yell!) and rolled around on the floor with the line backer. Eventually, you DO forget that other people are watching. Even in a classroom situation like this, there’s STRESS involved when this huge guy grabs you…there’s an adrenaline rush…and you just do what you have to do. I admit some not-so-nice words (words that would really shock my kids if they heard me say them…words that would probably turn my PG-rated blog into an R or NC-17 rated blog really fast!) flew out of my mouth in the heat of the moment. But I did it! I got away from the linebacker!
I wish the class met again at least one more time. I think the first time you get up there and practice this stuff, so much of your energy is spent just getting over your inhibitions. Now that I’ve done that, I’d like to go through the whole thing again (and make sure I remember what I learned). Maybe I’ll have to sign up for an advanced class? I sure hope I NEVER have to try any of this in the real world.