To be effective in self-defense, you cannot just defend-you must attack back. For a female, this is the ultimate reversal: You become the huntress, not the hunted; the predator not prey.
You summon and unleash all your life forces-courage, will, wrath, cunning, physical powers-and use them like secret weapons. Nothing is out of bounds; nothing is unthinkable. There's little
to compare this to: you dial up the creature within; you trade in your polite self for your animal-self; you issue the "sic" command and give that beautiful junkyard bitch within carte blanche
permission to go for the throat. -Melissa Soalt, from "Fierce Love: The Heart of the Female Warrior"
(From the book: Warriors: On Living with Courage, Discipline and Honor. Paladin Press, 2004)
Women and the Killer Instinct Learn the single most important strategy that could save your life!
When it comes to women defending themselves, we have s a saying: It's Not The Size of the Woman in the Fight, It's the Size of the Fight in the Woman! At 5 feet 3 inches and 115 pounds, Kathleen can attest to this. It wasn't martial magic that saved her when fighting for her life against a knife-wielding rapist. It was pure killer instinct - her animal-like determination not to be raped or killed coupled with a no-holds-barred willingness to do the unthinkable. While fighting to take control of his knife (her story is cited in Sanford Strong's book, Strong On Defense) one of her assailant's fingers slipped into her mouth. Terrified and "mad as hell" Kathleen's jaw clamped down: "I felt my teeth go through his bone. I was so enraged that I went primal," she recounted. "Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I can't fight like an animal."
The Reality of Violence
Contrary to the notion that women will only get hurt worse if they fight back (as though being raped, beaten or worse doesn't constitute injury?) research consistently shows that forceful and aggressive resistance strategies are effective, particularly in thwarting sexual assaults. Case in point: The only woman to escape serial rapist Ted Bundy was the one who fought back. Conversely pleading, reasoning or appealing to a rapist's humanity is not - the latter being "almost universally futile," notes Dr. Judith Herman, foremost authority on trauma and author of the best selling book Trauma and Recovery.
But unlike most dojo training, real attacks can be swift and vicious. Even a seemingly low level assault - a grab, uninvited sexual advance or angry shove from a Jeckyll and Hyde character - can quickly escalate into a violent encounter. Assailants typically use their greater size and strength to close the distance, overpower and subdue their prey: pins, chokes, slapping and "stunning blows" are common tactics. In sexual attacks, women are often slammed or forced to the ground, barraged by vile language - another weapon in the predator's arsenal intended to break a woman "on the inside."
Because hesitation can mean the difference between life and death, being raped and not raped, the first few seconds of an attack are critical, calling for immediate and explosive measures - the longer an assailant has control over you the more difficult it becomes to facilitate escape. Because women are typically smaller, to be effective - by that I mean escape and survive - she must be far more vicious and determined than her aggressor. To escape a predator's clutches, she must unzip from her civilized skin and summon her primal instincts, bypassing potentially mind numbing what if's imposed by fear.
Bashing back no-holds-barred raises salient do I have it in me? questions. But survival is hard wired; if you think the capacity for violence is a Guy thing, guess again: "When women disengage completely from their traditional role, they become more ruthless and savage than men," observed anthropologist Margaret Mead. "Men and male animals will fight to show off their prowess and to impress females, but when women fight, it is fierce and to the death." When pressed to fight, Mead observed, women display "no built-in chivalry."
Dim Mak practitioner and author, Erle Montague, shares Mead's view, noting that women are "bloody deadly" when they unleash their yang potential. An ability he attributes to the interactive powers of our "paleomammalian brain" - which bequeaths women the mothering instinct - and the more primitive reptilian brain housing our innate fighting instincts. When threatened, he observed, women can display "a killer instinct far greater than any male."
Biology aside, every woman knows her Medusan other self is just a hairdo away. The need to call up the beast and go primal seems obvious enough. Yet in many self defense classes this reality is overshadowed by a glut of easy-to-learn techniques, often taught by instructors with little "real world" experience. Underestimating the brutality of attacks, the degree of aggression necessary for women to prevail against a larger creature who has likely "done this" before breeds overconfidence.
Making Each Move Count
There's more to being effective than hosing down a rapist with unbridled fury. Practical and powerfully executed techniques are important and can help determine the outcome. Key fighting principles include: remaining focused, not struggling against an assailant's strengths, and attacking vulnerable targets - such as the face, eyes, throat and neck, groin, knees and ribs or easily breakable bones such as the clavicle. Likewise, busting the hands or feet can disable or slow down an assailant, and bashing the ears can stun or wobble a would-be attacker, thus allowing you to unleash your Savage Beauty.
When fighting back, go maximum yang: Don't poke, gouge. Instead of striking the face slam and drive through your target with your whole body. Don't just kick, stomp that knee like a mule. Wield your body's natural weapons like power tools, striking hard, fast and repeatedly. Use weapons of opportunity: a stick, piping hot coffee, your heavy cast-iron pot cover, a pen or book thrust into the throat, even junk on the street and - voila! - instant weapons.
If lying down and pinned, you can use your hips to dislodge or heave a predator off your frame. (While this usually requires training, I know of women who employed such moves instinctively, or with very little training.) To avoid being choked, cut or boxed about the face, position your legs in-between your body and your assailant's and use them like battering rams to vital regions. Women can also employ potentially devastating axe kicks, which can splinter bones or rupture organs. It's not a pretty picture but let's get real: that's the occupational hazard of being a rapist. Yell! The voice is a powerful yet often overlooked weapon. Besides drawing attention to your plight, it fuels the body, prevents "freezing" and summons the fighting spirit.
To deliver maximum and explosive whipping power, get your hips into your moves - lower your center of gravity and fight from your body, not just your body part. I liken the hips to a Cuisine Art motor that drives the slice-n-dice attachments. Unless it's turned on, there's no whip, chop or frappe! When powered by the hips, even satin smooth arms can morph into clubs, elbows into spears. When delivering knee strikes, instead of contracting your stomach muscles, practice slinging your hips into your strikes, following through like a wrecking ball.
The Spirit of Entering
One of women's biggest challenges is learning to antidote the tendency to shrink or backpedal when confronted with danger. If an attack is imminent or already in progress, and the only way out is through, moving back can have dire consequences - it triggers predator / prey dynamics that will likely draw an assailant in, giving him a tremendous tactical advantage. Instead, women must summon their will and move in, enlisting the "spirit of entering." Think of your body like an idling car: the instant you perceive his intent - preemptive is always best - hit the gas pedal and floor it. Your goal is to get inside his strike zone and attack like a junkyard bitch.
Once you commit to violent counter strikes there's no turning back. While stun-n-runs are sometimes effective, be prepared to apply a continuous counterattack until it is safe (or safer) to open distance and flee. (Is your car nearby or do you have miles to run?) Use the environment whenever possible. If you're close in and latched on to your attacker, take control: you may be able to spin him around or drive him back into a wall, car or other hard object while unloading rapid fire knee or elbow strikes. If your body is unified, you can also slam him to the ground or as I prefer to say, hit him with the planet.
Proper Timing and Explosiveness Counts!
The element of surprise - going from 0 to 100 percent, rag doll to ballistic - is one of the crown jewels of techniques. Few criminals expect a woman to launch a ferocious counterattack. This isn't always possible in an ambush, but many assaults against women involve phases and windows of opportunity that can be exploited.
Many women have also used bait-n-switch strategies to convince their attackers to put down a weapon or to change positions to better launch their attack. A colleague's student asked her would-be rapist to allow her to get on "all fours." The moment the attacker got behind her, eager to commit his dirty deed, she dropped onto her side and "kicked him into tomorrow." Another savvy woman, home-alone with her baby when an armed attacker broke into her house initially showed no resistance; she purposefully agreed to his revolting demands, giving him a false measure of control, then convinced him to step outside with her "just for a moment" so that she might first calm her screaming child. He obliged! Once outside, babe in arms, she successfully made a beeline for her back door.
Women must not only hunt for, but also learn to create openings: at the first sight of a rope, duct tape or the intent to tie you up, or if you're being forced into a vehicle or a second location, it's time to "go off."
Getting mad is what saved me. Something inside exploded. My fear turned to rage. These commonly expressed sentiments from female assault survivors fly in the face of traditional warrior training which touts the need to control one's mind, one's fear and seeks to cultivate a dispassionate mindset - free from the sway of emotion. But there is nothing dispassionate about these fighting women's words or the heated experiences they reflect. When a situation calls for fighting back, you need to turn up the heat, and become - how shall I put this? - the flambé not the cool whip!
It is absolutely true that one's cognitive, rational mind must be present to assess and strategize and that intense emotion, like the rush of adrenaline, can hijack body and mind or create knee-jerk reactivity. But women, by and large, are less prone to (or conditioned by) a "make-em-pay" attitude or accompanying fear of losing face that can cloud a man's judgment or prolong a "contest." Fighting back is rarely a contest for a woman, but a matter of survival. Training to stay calm and not lose control gets tricky for a female who is likely more vulnerable to intimidation and the paralyzing effects of control and fear. Her survival may depend on being plugged into her emotional body - a hothouse of energies that fuel and fund her counterattack.
Terror is an equally compelling emotion. When it comes to rape, there's no mincing the truth: being slammed down and pinned by a larger, pumped up creature intent on raping or ravaging you will, at least initially, evoke animal-like terror and can quickly can suck the life force right out of one's body. No amount of warrior-within affirmations is going to change that or banish fear. Fear does not respond to, nor is it abated by, trickery - it is a deeper more purposeful emotion, ordained by Mother Nature.
To effectively fend off a rapist you must prioritize. The decision to not be raped, to escape and survive, must supersede all other concerns including the fear of injury - the biggest obstacle to fighting back. "If what you fear more than anything else is injury," says survival expert Sanford Strong, "you will not have the determination to escape an attack. You will believe all the criminal's promises and never notice fleeting opportunities."
Rape is essentially an act of terrorism. A rapist can hold a woman hostage with her very own fears, and will effectively use a woman's terror to gain compliance and render her powerless - "bought and paid for," attests Strong. Therefore, being effective in self defense means renegotiating with fear. Instead of succumbing to fear we need to use it as a weapon and harness its powers. Instead of being fearless (which is impossible and dangerous), learn to become fearsome.
I have witnessed this countless times in scenario-based teaching, and experienced it myself when I was assaulted and struck back: The moment fear combusts into rage is precisely when many claim and unleash their greatest strength; it summons life forces, breaking through layers of shock or psychic numbing that might otherwise petrify or tamp down the fighting spirit. There is utility in its ire, without which a woman may be rendered powerless.
All the more reason why effective self defense must plumb the inner life. Why? Because the prime directive to fight back doesn't just take place in the body or brain, but on a deeper more spiritual level, set into motion when a woman arrives at this bottom-line decision: What is non-negotiable. What is worth fighting for? It can happen in a heartbeat but this innermost decision, a mere flicker of reckoning can issue a woman's resolve, liberating her from fear while evoking the requisite will and wrath that leads her into battle, her spirit leading her body. This ancient capacity to protect and defend life slumbers in us all - courtesy of Mother Nature.
Homage to the Beast
In a culture where women have "learned helplessness" and have been conditioned as prey, knowing that you too can be a dangerous creature not only makes women safer - but more vibrant and whole. Unearth it. Respect it. Learn to bring it to bear. To unlock your survival potential, seek out role models who are not only proficient and offer practical techniques, but who embody a ferocity of spirit that will put you in touch with that creature within. The killer instinct is, after all, the Mother of technique.
Picture this: Betty Jo is home alone. Wearing her favorite flannel nightgown, she shuffles into her u-shaped kitchen and fixes herself a cup of "Sweet Dreams" tea. Suddenly, the kitchen door is kicked in, and the prospect of sweet dreams turns into her worst nightmare. "Shut up, shut the f... up!" the hulking man spews as he closes in. Fearing for her life, Betty Jo backpedals in horror, becoming trapped in a corner. The attacker punches and slaps her, knocking her to the floor. The rest of Betty Jo's nightmare appears in the morning papers.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Quick thinking, savage instincts and a surly survival mindset could turn her nightmare into his horror story. Let's replay this with a different ending, taking it from the moment the attacker enters: In spite of her terror, Betty Jo glances around hunting for and maneuvering closer to weapons of opportunity. She feigns weakness, pleading to buy time, but has already set her mind: The only way out is through. Taking matters into her own hands, Betty Jo erupts like a fireball.
She grabs a nearby metal colander and whips it at his eyes. He flinches, and by the time he recovers she has already snatched the boiling pot of water from the stove and thrown it in his face. Never wasting a moment, she slams her handy cast-iron pot cover into his mug, backed up by all her might and a bellicose war cry. As his hands reach for his pained face, she assails him with knee strikes. In spite of being struck - adrenaline really is a wonder drug - Betty Jo grabs her attacker by the hair, smashing him face first onto her granite countertop. She kicks his legs out from under him, grabs a knife from the counter and bolts out the door. The morning paper reads: Betty Jo Goes Ballistic - Serial Rapist in Prison Hospital!
My version is dramatic and idealized, albeit. I don't mean to suggest that striking back is always the best or safest option - but it illustrates a crucial lesson: Self defense means being adaptive. To be prepared you must own your world and learn to transform everyday objects into weapons of opportunity. Bad guys shouldn't be the only ones doing this.
Today's technology should work for us. Why "go physical" and ruin my makeup if I can zap a bad guy with my stun gun and make it to dinner on time? But overlying on your firearm, pepper spray or device-du-jour is dangerous. Violence often pops up when women least expect it. Your body and whatever is within arm's reach is all you can initially count on.
Once you know how to use your body to generate power and you possess resolve, the deep muscle that funds all acts of self-protection, a pen in hand, junk on the street, or a hallway fire extinguisher, when used against a vulnerable target, becomes a handy, dandy weapon. What follows are a few examples. But remember: Even with a "weapon" in hand, never expect one strike or surprise attack - e.g. hot liquid in the face - to enable escape. A pumped up aggressor can take a lot of punishment, so get your Mojo in gear and go maximum yang. Be prepared to follow up with a continuous counterattack until you can flee.
Ball Point Pen: This everyday writing tool can become a deadly weapon when thrust into the soft tissue of the throat, under the jaw line or-in a life-or-death encounter-the eyes. The point can also be driven into a groin or "punched" into the thin-skinned back of a hand.
Stick-like implements: Golf clubs, broomsticks, wine bottles, etc. can be thrust into vulnerable areas or used to strike (and bust) knees, hands, or the head. When held sideways, stick-like weapons, including umbrellas, can also be rammed into a neck or face.
In The Kitchen: Choose from cutlery, pots-n-pans (a pot cover worn on the hand will add zing to any palm strike!), cutting boards, or piping hot coffee. A metal soup can, jar or ceramic mug can be struck into the temples or face, swung back into a groin or used to bust a collarbone, disabling that arm. Hardcover books-such as cookbooks-can be thrust into a throat or smashed into a face.
Objects With Weight or Mass: A boom box, heavy vase or small table can be slammed into the face or torso. Don't merely toss the item; keep it close to your body then charge into and through your target. Get those hips behind it.
Makeshift Shields: One physician shielded himself from a patient's oncoming knife with his briefcase. Large thick books could also fit this bill.
Stuff It! A pillowcase containing a hard-hitting object - a brass candlestick, giant ashtray, your defunct toaster - could leave a lasting impression on Mr. Rapist's face. (And for you campers, a nice rock-in-a-sock makes a stunning weapon.)
Environmental Terrain: If immobilized from behind or lifted off the ground in a confined space (elevator, ladies room, kitchen) get one or two feet onto the edge of a countertop, or any flat surface, and shove off as hard as you can. You have padding behind you - him! He will "eat" the crash landing.
Reconciling Internal Conflict
In spite of my battle-girl persona, I too can think of few things more repugnant than smashing or cutting another human being. The use of aggressive force, and subject of weapons, grates against femininity and feminism's non-violent ideals. But talk and empathy are not always saving graces. And estrogen doesn't exactly make us sissies.
To effectively bring any weapon to bear you must vanquish the inner muggers - voices of doubt, can't, or shouldn't - and overcome moral or spiritual conflicts. (Example: I'm a worker for peace / I'm about to bust bones.) A divided heart or mind can jeopardize your ability to forcefully, unhesitatingly strike back when seconds count and your survival may be at stake.
Reconciling the forces of dark and light, the maternal and killer instincts, are deeply personal matters. But when women give themselves permission to do "what it takes," owning the fact that this violent capacity is part of our female inheritance, they often claim their greatest strengths, and can jump these hurdles like a tiger through hoops.
Feminist author Robin Morgan said it best in the 1970's when advocating that women acquire self-defense skills. "These skills are only tools; they have proven murderous or at least exclusive options in the hands of men; they could be liberating in the hands of women." Instead of shunning aggression, let us view it as a resource.
Keep The Force Alive
Here's your homework: Wherever you are, imagine you are suddenly ambushed. Give yourself three seconds to get a "weapon" in hand with the emotional and physical readiness to use it. Practice this often until it becomes second nature.
Visualizations are another powerful learning tool, so picture yourself in scenarios like "Betty Jo Goes Ballistic." See yourself fighting back, wielding the tools of your environment like a Warrior Goddess with Attitude. Your spanking new motto: Harmony. or Else!
Close Encounters of the Wrong Kind
"How did you get into this? Did something happen to you?" Given my animal lust, it's a reasonable question; I've been asked it untold times. I wasn't always in touch with my Beast Girl within. Growing up through the 60's - first June Cleaver then peaceniks and sit-ins - who knew from fighting back? Being prepared meant leaving home with clean underwear and enough change for a phone call. But that all changed on my maiden voyage into the world - a grungy mid-seventies sojourn that began in the mid-east and took me traipsing across central and south Asia where I birthed my fighting heart and undying reverence for female disobedience.
Like many on their maiden voyage, I too was assaulted. Beyond unwanted touching and some attempts at sexual assault, my travels boast colorful tales: There was the crazed Afghani who assailed my companion and me with a machete and horse-whipping stick when we politely refused his offer to trade me for his prized camel. Elsewhere, a government official attacked me from behind and a vicious fight ensued. (I had spun around and spit in his face; not a tactic I can heartily recommend.) But I claimed moments of righteous victory. One night when a pervert, disguised as a helpful Mr. Rogers, wouldn't take No for an answer, I went off: I struck him about the head and neck, then I busted his hand. Little bones crunched beneath the fury of my fist. As I watched him deflate, I had a dawning recognition: my body was a tool and instrument of power and with this tool I too could be dangerous. Power radiated from my body like jungle heat; a home run grin peered through my fury.
These violations, coupled with residual rage, propelled me to the martial arts. Ten years later in sunshiny Boulder, Colorado, a home-alone encounter with a knife-wielding would-be rapist led me to the down-n-dirty methods that now comprise the lion's share of what and how I teach.
Lessons Learned: Pin 101
Although I'd had no technique, my maiden voyage incidents taught me important lessons: that opening moves count; that intention fueled by fighting spirit is the mother of technique; that it's always best to nip a problem in the bud. I also learned that assaults against women happen in close quarters. Predators typically use engulfing, pinning, choking, slapping or immobilizing tactics to subdue their intended prey. Escaping these clutches calls for explosive in-fighting methods. Terrifying as it sounds, it's important to remember - If he can reach you, you can reach him.
To better understand your options, let's examine, and I will critique, my very first close encounter - an upright rape attempt perpetrated by my kibbutz "father." We'll bypass the tea, cookies and amiable chit-chat and cut right to the scene where, after pawing me, I promptly tried to leave.
Before I reached the door, he spun me around and slammed me against the wall, thumping my head. Pressing me into the wall, he throttled my throat and started swearing at me in French. (Tip: right then and there while he was running his he-man rap and establishing dominance, I could have counterattacked. A sneaky no-holds-barred ear clap might have done the trick.)
Physically, he was a thick burly guy. As I am a whopping five feet tall on a good hair day, he looked and felt like The Hulk. At first, I struggled and tried to push him away. (Tip: Pushing on he-man's chest is ineffectual and pummeling it doesn't hurt. Why do you think Tarzan pounds his chest and not his gonads or Adam's apple?) The more I pushed and pleaded, the more forceful and violent he became. When my screams grew louder, he slapped one hand over my mouth then started groping me, fumbling with my blouse. (Tip: Great news! Once his hands are occupied, it's an opportune time to counterattack; better yet, trap or hold his offending hands in place then counter with your free limbs.)
In that moment I was paralyzed. In my mind, being pinned by a larger pumped-up creature could only mean one thing: surrender. I stopped struggling. My body went limp - not because it was an effective strategy that might enable me to spring into action, but because I felt utterly helpless. (Tip: Going from "rag doll to ballistic," from zero to one hundred percent can aid you ] in taking an aggressor by surprise.)
Then something clicked. I felt a blaze of heat, as if a seed inside of me popped open releasing a powder keg of fury and I just went animal: I struck and clawed at his face; I kicked, punched, bit, hollered, twisted and torqued myself free. Then I flew out the door.
Make Opening Moves Count!
In self defense, there are no recipes or formulas. Any number of techniques could work - or not. You must remain adaptable, continually hunting for openings and targets. As my own stories illustrate, marshalling an aggressive mindset is crucial. Don't just defend - attack back wielding body parts like power tools! Unless you can immediately escape, opening moves must be followed by additional no-nonsense techniques. With that in mind, here are a couple of options for your "close quarters" tool box.
Option B: Attack center-line targets such as the eyes, throat or groin. Throat strikes can be accomplished with an open "Y hand," the folded down knuckles of your fingers, or with a fist. Be deceptive! A hand placed on an assailant's chest as if pleading with him to stop, can suddenly, explosively drive upward toward his Adam's apple. You can also drive two stiff fingers into the notch just below the throat. (Tip: Shift aside in case he gags, or worse.) Or, head south and snatch the family jewels. Depending on the level of violence and hence, urgency, you might momentarily stroke he-man's thigh as if assuaging the beast, then turn that hand into an evil paddle - Wham, Bamm, Whack. Or, "seize and squeeze" followed by a medley of rude blows. (Surely not the blows he had in mind.) Sorry fella, that's the occupational hazard of being a rapist. END.
Melissa Soalt AKA Dr. Ruthless is a Black Belt Hall of Fame recipient and Woman of the Year. A respected women's self defense expert and former psychotherapist with best-selling Fierce & Female videos, Melissa is also a former columnist for Self Defense for Women magazine and contributor to Black Belt Magazine. Since 1986 she has taught thousands of women how to fight back and effectively "go primal" when all else fails. She has been featured on national TV and radio, including "'The View," NBC Nightly News, TNN, and National Public Radio, and has shared her expertise in Self Magazine, The Wall St. Journal, Newsweek Japan and the Prague Post - to name a few.