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Self-Defense for Women: The Basics

Self-Defense for Women: The Basics

For women, physical altercations and the risk of being battered or killed is thankfully rarer than it is for men in the U.S., according to national statistics. This is probably due to the fact that women are generally less aggressive and more thoughtful creatures than men. Presumably for that very reason, however, women are far more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men are. So, although on average females will confront fewer violent altercations, women should absolutely know how to defend themselves against an attack.

Women often ask me if there is a weekend workshop I recommend for women’s self-defense, and my answer is always the same: Either start training 1-2 times a week in an intense self-defense program, or get yourself a weapon, because a weekend workshop isn’t going to help much. That being said, there are 4 basic areas that I recommend practicing to all women pursuing the knowledge of self-defense. You can think of the acronym SWAG…but backwards in priority (GAWS). If you keep the GAWS in mind and practice, you ought to be more likely to escape and survive a violent attack.

General Awareness

First and foremost, stay aware of your surroundings! The majority of attacks could have been avoided had the victim been more alert and vigilant. Pay attention to whom is around (or not around) and what your environment is like. In unfamiliar locations or when you are alone, alertness levels should be heightened. In heightened alert situations, I always teach individuals to stay aware of 3 elements:

  1. Exits: where are your escape routes, and which areas might trap you in?
  2. Objects: what objects are around that could be used as weapons or shields?
  3. Obstacles: what large elements in your environment can be used for hiding or blocking, such as a car or fence?


For any individual practicing self-defense, and especially for women, attitude is of utmost importance. If you sense an assault is imminent, you must project absolute confidence and power, that you are not afraid and are absolutely willing to fight with everything you’ve got against an attack. This attitude actually takes practice for most people, which is why I highly recommend taking ongoing classes. A weekend workshop simply won’t get you there. 

Developing true confidence in your own power and ability, and expressing that confidence outwardly to would-be attackers, takes cultivation! This aspect is well worth the investment, though, as it is crucial and extremely effective in stopping attacks both before they begin and after they have started.


When it comes to self-defense, I recommend carrying legal weapons to anyone, especially women. The best weapons, in my opinion, are those that require very little training, can be used at a distance, and are non-lethal. In other words, they should be able to be used to simply escape, not necessarily to injure or kill, unless one is highly trained in using lethal weapons. You do not want the legal or psychological consequences of taking a life or seriously injuring another human, unless it is absolutely necessary. Also, in the unfortunate case a weapon is taken from you, it is much better for it to be a non-lethal weapon for obvious reasons.

The two weapons for women’s self-defense that I recommend first are Tasers and pepper spray, as both can be used to escape an attack, stop the attacker at a distance, and require little training to deploy. Stun guns are decent as well, but I recommend Tasers first for a number of reasons. You can read more about the difference between Tasers and stun guns here.

Soft Targets

If you are attacked and do not have a weapon on you, your mission then, especially as a female against a male, is to focus on striking soft targets with hard “weapons.” Your hardest weapons are your: elbows, knees, nails, and teeth. An attacker’s softest targets are his/her: groin, throat, eyes, and nose. No matter how big or strong an attacker is, there are never large muscles that protect these vulnerable areas. Remember, all you’re trying to do is create enough pain or shock to gain a momentary escape advantage. 

The goal of women’s self-defense is not to incapacitate or knock out. Just escape! Using your hardest weapons against the attacker’s softest or most vulnerable targets is the best way to create that advantage. Again, being able to effectively strike another human being with power and accuracy takes practice. Both physical practice (i.e. muscle memory and power) and mental practice (i.e. readiness and fierceness) are absolutely crucial if you are to defend yourself. 

I never advocate paranoia, and the stats do show that females are less likely to be attacked than men, at least in this country. However, to think it can’t happen to you is extremely naive. Just about every female victim of assault thought that very same thing at some point. That’s why self-defense for women is so important. So live your life well, without being paranoid, but still stay alert and keep your GAWS in mind. Start practicing and stay safe!

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