The Ultimate Self-Defense Guide: How to Keep Yourself Safe on the Streets
By Jeremy Pollack
There are literally thousands of books written on the subject of self-defense, all claiming to have the secret sauce for protecting oneself and surviving an attack. Indeed, there is an endless amount of information that can be useful for self-defense purposes, so it’s important for every individual to gather as much information as he or she can to determine what works for her particular lifestyle with her individual abilities.
Now, most self-defense instructors would agree that no amount of information can replace live training such as regular self-defense, martial arts, or combative classes. However, there are some fundamental aspects of self-defense that all practitioners should know and, unfortunately, not all self-defense schools teach. So, in as concise a manner as possible, the following information is designed to be a practical self-defense guide that virtually anyone can employ to stay safe on the streets.
1) Maintain Awareness
Any good self-defense instructor will tell you that the first and best self-protection tool you can employ is general situational awareness. That being said, gauging the level of awareness required in any particular situation is up to you. In other words, some situations call for a heightened sense of alertness while others simply call for a subtle awareness of your environment. For instance, if you are in a familiar place with familiar people, and in a lighted area with plenty of exits, it’s reasonable for you to stay just generally aware of what is happening around you. At the other end of the awareness spectrum, if you are in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people or no people, it is dark, and/or you are confined in some way, it’s probably a smart idea to increase your level of awareness to a state of being hypervigilant. This does not necessarily mean paranoid, but definitely very cognizant of your surroundings so that if anything should occur, you can react in a moment’s notice with a clear plan of action in mind.
I would venture to say that 90% of attacks on the street occur because of a lack of general situational awareness. Start becoming more aware of your surroundings, and you will most likely avoid any situation that requires physical self-defense.
2) Look for B.O.W.E.S.
As your awareness level increases due to a change in your environment that requires a heightened state of alert, begin to look for your BOWES. I use this acronym to indicate self-protection tools that can be found in any environment: Blinders, Obstacles, Weapons, Exits, and Shields.
Blinders include any objects or substances that can be used to create a temporary state of blindness in an attacker. This can be dirt, sand, liquid, trash, or even spit. Gathering a blinder in your hand (or your mouth) during a heightened sense of alertness and deploying it into the attacker’s face/eyes if necessary can help you gain that momentary advantage to escape.
Obstacles are any large objects that you can put between you and assailant to impede an attack. A car, a large trash dumpster, or a gate are some examples of obstacles. Attackers typically go after easy targets. Running around and around a car, for instance, is no fun for an assailant, who is likely to stop the chase after realizing the obstacle makes it impossible.
Weapons, of course, are any items in your environment that can be used to defend yourself. This is especially important for women against attacking men. Sticks, pipes, wooden planks, rocks, silverware, or anything that you can grab to augment your natural power is a potentially useful weapon. There is no such thing as a fair fight on the street. If you feel your survival is at stake, and you can warrant using a weapon against an attacker, then using anything in your environment to defend yourself is reasonable.
Exits and escape routes are incredibly important, especially the moment you realize you need to increase your level of alertness. Know how to escape from any environment, especially those that are unfamiliar. If you realize that you are fairly confined, do your best as quickly as possible to change your environment so that you can escape quickly if necessary.
Shields are objects in your environment that can be used to block an attacker’s strikes or grabs, or to create distance between yourself and an attacker. These are similar to obstacles, but are much smaller and can be actually held and wielded by you. Examples would be a trash can lid, a chair, a couch cushion, or a small piece of furniture. Because shields are usually a little bit clunkier than weapons, they can sometimes be more easily grabbed and taken away from you, so just be cautious of this.
3) Have a Plan
You know yourself, and you generally know the environments that you frequent. I would highly recommend that you have a foundational plan for what you will do in a self-defense situation. In other words, will you look to escape or strike first? I always recommend escape as the ultimate goal. If that sounds right to you, then just mentally plan that if a situation arises in which you have to defend yourself, your primary goal will be to escape. That type of plan will naturally lead you to look for exits and escape routes. And if you can’t escape, have a plan for defense. Where will you strike? What will you do? How will you protect yourself and project your energy?
You might spend some time once in a while visualizing your plan. You might even write down your exact plan so it becomes super clear. Preparation is especially key in dynamic situations in which emotions and physiological changes are bound to take place. And because any self-defense situation is extremely dynamic and hard to plan for, your plan should include flexible options depending on what happens.
No plan can be steadfast or absolute in unpredictable scenarios. But having a general plan as a basis for action is always smarter than not having one. My suggestion would be to sit down with a piece of paper and pen, and write out exactly what you think you will do and how you will do it. Make it simple and concise so you can remember it, and review it once a month to really solidify the plan in your head. Hopefully, you will never have to use this plan, but it will be there in working memory in case you need it.
4) Know Your Target areas
In the rare and unfortunate circumstance in which you do need to physically defend yourself, it is important that you focus on particular target areas to ward off and stop the attack as quickly as possible. Target areas are soft or vulnerable spots on the body that can be injured by virtually any adult regardless of size or strength. To make it simple, I use the acronym G.E.T. to remember three target areas: Groin, Eyes, and Throat. Typically, if you focus on striking these three areas, you will create enough pain to gain a momentary advantage for escape. Remember “GET” as in get away, get out, get going, get to safety. Just focus on striking these three areas until you feel it is safe to run.
5) Carry Weapons
Remember, there is no such thing as a fair fight on the street. The objective is to survive. That’s why part of my personal plan for self-defense is carrying legal, easy-to-deploy weapons that I am well trained in. Some weapons require more training than others, especially lethal weapons such as firearms and knives. For individuals who have no training, I would highly recommend carrying non-lethal, quick-to-deploy, easy-to-use weapons that can be applied at a distance to preferably incapacitate or at least cause immense momentary pain to an attacker. My first recommendation for self-defense is always a Taser, as this weapon has all the elements listed above and can be used without almost any training at all. Find a Taser for sale here. You’ll just have to make sure that tasers are legal in your city and state to carry. Otherwise, the next best protective weapon, in my opinion, is pepper spray, as it also has much of the above-listed elements and can be carried virtually anywhere legally. I also often recommend keychain weapons, as these are legal and easy-to-use quickly and effectively to gain a physical advantage. You can even learn how to hold your keys for self-defense in a way that is effective for protective purposes.
Regardless of what weapon you choose to carry, I always think it is a good idea to have at least something that can enhance your ability to protect yourself. This applies even to individuals who are well trained in martial arts. Why not have an advantage?
Remember, not all techniques or information is relevant for all individuals. Do your best to gather as much information as possible, to train in whatever ways you can, and to prepare for defensive action however you feel is applicable and reasonable for you. Although the 5 points listed above are, in my estimation, central to a comprehensive self-protection plan, there is no one-stop ultimate self-defense manual. So, do your research, keep learning, and stay safe out there!
Jeremy Pollack has been teaching martial arts and self-defense for more than 20 years. He holds a Black Belt in Hapkido, Instructor rankings in Muay Thai and Krav Maga, and belts in several other martial systems. He is also a former member of the California State Military Reserve, Military Police Unit. You can read more about him at CoachJeremyPollack.com and PollackPeacebuilding.com.