When saying goodnight to a group of friends after dinner, you have to walk alone across the dark street to where your car is parked. You get off work very late on a Saturday night, and have to wait quite awhile before the bus shows up. You decide to take the scenic route to meet a friend at the park, and you walk on a path that weaves through an isolated forested area. Deciding to meet someone for a blind date, you wait on a park bench. An unfamiliar cab driver takes you home. A stranger stops you on the street, and asks for directions. You are alone in an elevator with someone you don't know.
These are just a few of the scenarios we put ourselves in every day. Some of these situations seem innocuous, and we will barely give a second thought to them. The more regularly we find ourselves in these places, the more run of the mill they will become.
Eventually we might not notice how sketchy some of these situations can be. And of course, some might seem more obviously risky than others, but perhaps we can't avoid them due to a work schedule or the area in which we live.
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There is no way to ensure your safety in any situation. This is just one of the facts of life. Although we can't control what goes on around us, there are many decisions we can make in an effort to secure our own personal safety. The problem is, you can be in what seems like the safest environment in the world, and still come into danger. Being near home, in broad daylight, in a public place or with a group of friends seem like situations in which you might feel safer, but the truth is that you never can control what a dangerous person might have in mind, what he or she would do to get what they want.
There are a number of different practices of self defense that anyone can learn to use. Physical self defense is commonly associated with various martial arts, in unarmed situations, and there are many martial arts weapons available that are small enough to carry on your daily tasks, should you want the feeling of safety and security that comes with being able to physically defend yourself. Defending yourself while under attack requires a quickness and preparedness of mind. It is common for people to freeze when under stress, therefore being unable to defend themselves properly.
Having the knowledge and ability to defend yourself physically against an attacker is imperative, though it is the most dangerous solution, and the last situation we want to find ourselves in. It is important to take whatever steps we can to avoid finding ourselves having to make the difficult choice of fighting back. A lot of this is knowing how to pay attention, and how to look like someone who shouldn't be messed with or like a person who is simply not an easy target. It is important to be ready to react to a possible attacker who is approaching you, as the right words or body language can work in your favor to scare someone off. This is the goal, when someone is coming at you, for the risk that you will get hurt increases greatly when physical contact is made.
Having a weapon for self defense on your person is just like having insurance. It's an incredibly important back-up that you hope to never have to use. Many people are turned off by the idea of carrying a weapon. And while violence should regularly be avoided, it is important to remember that it can sometimes save your life. It's important to remember that just because you have a weapon, it doesn't mean you will ever necessarily have to use it. And if you do have to, it is important to have the mental clarity and the knowledge of how to use your weapon correctly at a moment's notice.
Before we get into the different options for self defense weapons, let's talk about the steps we can take to avoid having to use them. First, as simple as it sounds, you must be aware of your surroundings. Sure, you walk the same few blocks every day from your home to get to the subway or bus, and vise versa. In the morning, the streets are crowded, well-lit, and everyone moves at an even pace, focused on their individual tasks. But in the evening, the crowds have dispersed, and you find yourself alone for a few blocks.
Clearly, avoiding being isolated on a dark street is best, but you can't always do that. There are circumstances that are out of your control such as the unavailability or irregularity of transportation, and at what inconvenient hour you might have to leave work or school. These things that are out of your control might mean you will find yourself in this situation often.
So what to do? Look around you. Keep your eyes open. If you travel the same route every day, pay attention to the people you see. You will likely notice others on their routines. The man working at the corner store who you see bringing the trash out every evening, the woman who buys coffee every morning. Becoming familiar with how others move can come in handy, if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation. These strangers could end up being your allies, and you might be able to help them, should they need it.
Maybe someone takes the same bus as you, and this person also lives in your building. You can make eye contact, smile, and introduce yourself. Simple introductions to people who you see daily on your routine will make you more familiar to them, more of a person. Putting a name with your face might mean they will begin to look out for you each day.
If you live in the same building with someone and take the same transportation home, suggest that you walk home together. Another set of eyes can never hurt, and it works both ways. If you don't have anyone on your route to befriend, having friends meet you at the subway station or bus stop is a great idea.
Of course this isn't always possible, but it is worth looking into. Your chances of being attacked go down significantly when you travel in groups. And no matter what your situation is, it might be wise to arm yourself with a weapon for self defense, just in case the unthinkable happens.
Aside from keeping your eyes open and noticing everything around you, it is important that you walk at an even, confident pace. People who look like they know where they are going, or who look physically strong and quick (even if you don't believe you are, having confidence makes you look street-smart to other people) are less likely to be victimized. Distracted, intoxicated, or confused people can seem to be easy targets.
I think about a roommate of mine who was mugged just outside the door to our apartment. We lived on a busy street corner, and the time was about 10 pm. She was getting off her bicycle, was wearing headphones, and had been out drinking with friends. I'm guessing she looked more distracted than some others on the street, and she must have stood out to her attacker. Or, she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The assailant stood in front of her and demanded her purse. She said No, thinking that would scare him off. It didn't. He punched her, grabbed her purse, and ran. We are all very thankful that nothing worse happened to her.
It's difficult to say what you'd do if you found yourself in the same situation. Popular opinion says to play it safe; if someone demands something that is yours, especially if that person has a gun or another weapon pointed at you, you give them what they are demanding of you. It's generally thought that it isn't worth finding out what this person is willing to do to get when they want. If my roommate had just handed the purse over, for example, the man probably would have just taken it and run away, without becoming violent with her. And if she hadn't had those drinks, hadn't just gotten off her bicycle with the rush of endorphins from the exercise, would she have said No so defiantly? Your mood, state of mind, and level of intoxication can greatly affect how you will react to a stressful situation.
Another friend of mine got held up by a person with a knife. She had just gotten off her job and was feeling annoyed and slightly aggressive about her lousy day at work. She laughed in the guy's face, saying No, I'm not giving you anything. This, she admitted later, was not a smart choice, but she was feeling pretty sure of herself, and very tough. She said she wouldn't have made that same decision if put in the situation again. Luckily for her, the attacker (a teenager, probably not much of a trained criminal) turned around and ran away.
When someone has a weapon pointed at you, it's impossible to know if it's for looks or if it's something they're willing to use. Although it is impossible to know, having a plan for how to act in a dangerous situation is a major part of having good situational awareness. And trying to get into the head of an attacker before something happens can be a very useful tool.
It is important to remember that you have no idea what is going on in the assailant's mind, or what they may be capable of. Who knows if the man who stole my roommate's purse was desperate for drugs? Maybe he was so desperate because he had to feed his family? There is no justifying threatening someone, stealing their property, or harming them. But it is important to remember that people don't usually attack strangers unless they are truly desperate. In the case of the attacker having a mental illness, there is just no way to say how he or she will react to you.
Having situational awareness is paying attention to what's going on around you. Seeing what could happen to you at a given time, in a given place, and figuring out how to deal with it before something bad happens, is a must. Looking around you is the first step in being situationally aware. When you get off your bus and head home, what do you see in front of you? To your left? Right? And, very importantly, behind you?
If the streets are empty except for you and another person, what are they doing? Are they staring at you, are they cutting across the street to walk where you are walking? Sometimes, your instincts can save you from having to deal with an aggressor. Making eye contact with someone can let them know that you are aware of them. Crossing the street can let them know you would prefer to not pass them. Sometimes these things can be seen as aggressive behaviors, and this can work in your favor.
Avoiding distractions while you are walking alone, at night, or through sketchy areas is imperative to having good situational awareness. This means avoiding texting while you walk. A recent study had volunteers text while walking on a treadmill, and the results were a 50% decrease in the ability to walk at an even gait, or to walk straight. Anything can happen if you have your face down, and your mind somewhere else.
Talking on the phone, too, can prove dangerous, though it is not a bad idea to have your phone in your pocket, with a text or call ready to send to someone nearby if you should get into trouble. Listening to music in headphones can signal to an attacker that you are not paying attention, and this should also be avoided. It is good to be able to hear what's going on around you, too. Listening to footsteps or a bicycle speeding up behind you can often give you just enough time to be prepared.
When driving to the store, avoid parking in lots where people could be sleeping. Park as close to the well-lit fronts of stores as possible. Many big-box stores have huge lots, but some have security guards standing by, or are watched by closed circuit televisions. Even so, you are still on your own and need to be aware of everything. Where you parked, the route you'll take to get to the front of the store, and if you see others in their cars, just sitting there. Hold your weapon in the palm of your hand on the walk there, and always make sure you know what's going on around you, 360 degrees.
Self defense weapons should only be used on another individual in the event that you find your life is threatened. Many people are turning to self defense batons, knives, brass knuckles, and various weapons for martial arts. When used as they are intended to, these weapons can be great protection. You should practice with these tools and become good at finding them easily, and using them efficiently before you ever have to. Before it comes to fighting back physically, it is useful to know how to diffuse a dangerous situation, whenever possible.
If you see someone coming toward you as you're loading groceries into your car, that is a red flag. Anytime a stranger makes a beeline for you, it should be a red flag. Now, of course not everyone is out to get you. But having good situational awareness also means asking why is this stranger approaching? It is useful to be aware, and slightly suspicious of, the "good samaritan." It's just a man who wants to help you load groceries into your car. Do you really need the help? Why would a stranger be coming up to you at all? You have to remember, that although you are in public and anything can happen, you do have the right to let someone know that you don't want to talk or to be interacted with.
The best thing to do with your body should a stranger be approaching is to hold your hands up in front of you. This is the universal sign for STOP. Any person who doesn't have it in mind to attack you should back off when seeing that. If they keep coming, there is likely danger here. Saying "I'm sorry, I can't help you!" even if they are still talking is a firm and polite way to put your foot down. Time and distance are your friends in an attack situation, so when possible create space between you and your would-be assailant while using this command response.
If they keep coming, or keep talking, it will be wise to have your weapon available should they make a move. Being vocally loud and clear here can help, especially if you are in a parking lot or a place where others, who might not notice what's going on, are moving from pl ce to place. Causing a scene will usually draw attention to you and often, if a commotion is made, the attacker will get scared and move on. Sometimes it is possible to diffuse a situation before it goes horribly wrong, and keeping your cool and trying to stop a situation from going from bad to worse is one of the most important actions you can take for good situational awareness.
There are a lot of weapons for self defense out there, and there will be at least one that fits well with your lifestyle or situation. There are many small, but powerful, weapons available that you can have on your day-to-day keychain. Small, seemingly innocuous, and easy to get to, these weapons are increasingly popular. Self defense batons, or kubatons, can be readily available in your bag or on a keychain. Cat keychains and brass knuckles are also very popular, and effective. These can be worn unnoticed in defense while you make your walk the few blocks to your house. A small bottle of pepper spray can disarm an attacker, long enough for you to make your escape or draw attention to your situation.
Using self defense knives and other more specific weapons can take a lot of practice. When it comes to knives, especially, it can be unrealistic to think that it will be useful in a defense situation. Attacking or threatening someone with a knife is certainly more common than being able to defend yourself with one. For one thing, unless you have a knife in your hand when you find yourself under attack, it is unlikely that you will be able to pull it out in time to use it.
It might be useful to show a knife to your attacker if they are unarmed, and to announce that you have a weapon. In certain cases, the threat coming from you, the victim, might be enough to scare away your attacker. It might be enough to scare them, but it also might just make them more angry. This is why brass knuckles, pepper spray, self defense batons and other keychains are good to have. Carrying one of these items, or having it in your pocket or purse is more realistic than carrying a knife in your hand. These weapons are easier to get to, and require only force, which your body can produce in a highly stressful situation, while the sharpness or bluntness of the weapon does the rest.
The best preparation for an attack is having complete awareness of where you are, and what is around you. Street smarts are important, and having the skills to get yourself out of a bad situation can be constantly learned and reevaluated. It is necessary to remember that your safety begins with your ability to be prepared for anything that might come your way. Having self defense weapons to give you backup is great insurance. With this combination of situational awareness and a small weapon you are comfortable with, you will gain the confidence that anyone can pick up on, that you are not to be messed with.