Basic Self-Defense Tips Every Woman Should Know

Self-defense isn't about knocking the daylights out of someone who annoys you on your way to work or about living in fear or anticipation of an attack. It's about taking control of your own safety since, unfortunately, we don't live in utopia just yet.

Brazilian Brooklyn Jiu Jitsu instructor Nova Parrish explained to me, "There's a type of confidence that comes from knowing we can protect ourselves that's unshakeable. It doesn't come from the way we look or how many likes we get on social media. We look at ourselves differently when we know we can take care of ourselves and no one can take that away. It's based on something internal, not external."

Parrish takes women's self-defense both seriously and personally, offering expert tips and demonstrations on how to keep yourself safe and escape from a dangerous situation. Listen up!

Listen to your gut and use common sense

One of the most important aspects of self-defense that can deter an attack, Parrish told me, is simply being aware of your surroundings. Make eye contact with others. Pay attention to what's going on around you. And if you have a weird feeling in your gut or if the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Then really pay attention to your intuition.

"That feeling you get when someone is watching you, following you, or you generally feel unsafe — listen to it! It's there for a reason," Parrish said. "Be aware of what's around you at all times. A woman is most vulnerable when she is alone, not paying attention, with her headphones in and looking at a phone." She added, "Being intoxicated never helps."

Do cardio regularly

The reason for this is simple: the more in shape you are, the more likely you are to escape a bad situation if you have to flee.

Parrish pointed out, "If you want to be able to run away in the event of an attack, you need to be able to actually run away. If you get winded too soon, an attacker may be able to catch up with you. You don't want that!"

Don't be a materialist in an emergency

If someone tries to rob you, chances are they want your purse, wallet, and cash. Your best bet to get out of the situation safely? Police officers recommend that you should hurl whatever they're asking for — whether it be your bag, your wallet, your money, your watch, your phone, anything — away from you as hard as you can, then run in the other direction.

Another tip? Carry your cash, credit cards, and valuables close to your person, and carry a decoy wallet in your bag. You can throw the cash, then make a safe, swift exit without someone stealing your identity — but if the perp shows aggression and keeps going after your bag, just throw the whole thing. Your life is a lot more valuable than even a Birkin bag.

What to do if an attacker pushes you while standing

If a creep tries to push you into a car, a dark alley, or against a wall — you can protect yourself. Drive your weight forward on your front leg, using your back leg as a "doorstopper," Parrish told me and demonstrates in the above video. Lean into whoever's pushing you: it'll give you a smidgen more time to yell for help, and you're more likely to stay upright even if you have to shuffle back a bit.

Keep your eyes on his thumbs

Parrish advised me that if someone grabs you by the wrist and tries to pull or drag you somewhere you don't want to be, take a good look at his hands.

She explained that the fist and grip is weakest where the thumb meets the fingers. If the assailant's thumb is pointing upward, yank upward. If it's facing right, yank right. If it's downward, yank down. You're most likely to make a quick, clean break if you follow the thumbs.

A good mantra? Parrish says, "The thumb points to the exit."

What to do if an attacker pushes you down

If you're pushed and fall down from someone in front of you, you'll likely land in a sitting position. Parrish said we should resist the urge to get up immediately, because chances are you'll get up and direct yourself forward, which decreases the space between you and your attacker.

Instead, as Parrish demonstrates in the above video, stay seated and keep one knee up and one arm behind you. Your opposite arm is free to protect your head if your attacker approaches, and you'll still be mobile enough to spin around and keep your assailant in sight if he or she tries to move behind you or to the side. From there, lift with and rotate your hips and move backward to create distance and get away from whatever jerk is too close to you.

What to do if your attacker is holding you down

This is a really bad situation, but it's not an inescapable one. If an attacker is on top of you and trying to choke you, you can get out, but Parrish pointed out to me that you only have seconds to do it before you start losing consciousness — so if you remember nothing else from this story, pay attention to this!

If a creep is trying to choke you, take your arm, slide it under his and control his opposite side wrist. With your other arm, grab his same-side elbow and pull him towards you. This seems like it'd be counterintuitive, but it will actually alleviate the pressure he's placing on your neck, as well as trap him in place.

Try to also control his foot with yours by locking your legs around it, which will prevent him from getting away. Finally, lift your body up and over by your hips with as much strength as you can muster, aiming as high as you can towards 11:00 or 1:00. You'll flip him over and end up on top. Then immediately back away and get outta there! You can get a closer look at this isolated part of the movement here.

Hightail it out of there

Sure, you may want to show off your self-defense skills, but trust: it's always better to not have to do that.

"If running is an option always take that first," Parrish warned. "Remember: Self-defense isn't about hurting anyone else, it's about keeping ourselves safe. Defend yourself as a last resort and run as soon as you can."

Seek help — and scream for it

After any sort of incident listed above, you need to get help — if not for yourself, for the women after you who may risk coming into contact with a monster like this on the street. If you don't have time or ability to call 911 yourself, you need to get attention from someone who can. Pro tip: If you want "help," never actually yell the word "help." Instead, yell "fire."

"When you yell 'help,' people aren't sure if it's a domestic altercation or not and often don't want to get involved," Parrish explained. "'Fire,' on the other hand, will get people running to you and that can often scare an attacker away. Remember, [attackers] are looking for a easy target, not a fight or attention."

There is even research on why this works. Melissa Burkely, Ph.D., wrote for Psychology Today, "This is because the word 'help' is used in many situations that are non-life-threatening so when we hear it, it does not automatically indicate that there is an emergency. On the other hand, we only scream the word 'fire' when there is an actual fire, and in some cases it is illegal to yell this word when there is not an actual fire (e.g., in a crowded theater). So by yelling 'fire,' you immediately make everyone around you aware that they are in an emergency situation."

Stay alert and be prepared

Hopefully you never have to employ any of these self-defense movements, but to be safe you should always stay alert and be prepared. As Parrish noted, you're most vulnerable when you aren't aware of your surroundings, so take out your headphones, look up from your phone, and know where you are. By demonstrating you're alert, aware, and ready for anything, you're less of an "easy target" for would-be attackers in the first place.