First Step To Defending Yourself: Your Voice As Weapon (Verbal Defenses)
You’re on the subway and a man stands uncomfortably close to you. You edge away, yet he moves right along with you and keeps the distance close. It’s not as if there’s no room anywhere else, so you know he does it on purpose. There are a lot of people, but you feel very alone. Nobody seems to notice or care. You can’t run away or get out as the next stop is ages away. You feel uncomfortable, intimidated and maybe even scared. But you also know Krav Maga.
What do you do?
How about this: you’re walking home on a nearly deserted street. Behind you, you hear someone approach at a faster pace than you. You walk slower and move a bit to the side so he can pass, but he doesn’t. His steps linger a few paces behind you. You stop, and so does he. You’re wearing heels tonight, so you know that running away isn’t an option. However, you do know Krav Maga.
How do you handle this situation?
The last one: you’re with some friends at a big party. Lots of music, lots of drinks, lots of fun! One of the guys you flirted with earlier came over to talk to you, but when talking he appeared only interested in getting you into his bed as fast as possible. You let him know you’re not interested, but he doesn’t quite get the hint. He keeps on giving you drinks and finally slings his arm around your shoulder. His grip is just a bit too tight to shake off and it’s getting quite intimidating. Fortunately you know Krav Maga and you know exactly how to hurt him in the most effective and efficient way. As a matter of fact, you learned a technique for this type of situation just the other day!
What are you going to do now?
I’ll give you a few seconds to think of an answer.
Did you think of something?
If any of your answers were something like “I’m going to kick/attack/hurt him before he hurts me!” you’ve just failed the pop quiz. Bzzzt. Sorry! Although I do congratulate you for thinking aggressively. It’s a good step in cultivating the proper battle attitude and fighting mentality! However, these situations haven’t quite escalated into battle situations just yet!
In Krav Maga we have a useful saying:
“It is better to avoid than run; better to run than de-escalate; better to de-escalate than fight; better to fight than die.”
What does this mean?
It means that you never want to get in to a fight if you don’t have to. If there is any chance to avoid getting into a physical confrontation, take it! You might know Krav Maga but fights are very unpredictable and dangerous. You only fight if you are threatened or if you have no other options. If you can avoid it: don’t get into a physical confrontation.
Not getting into the physical fight is more important than your ‘pride’ or your ‘dignity’ or ‘justice’. Your life is more important than those three things.
- Purse snatcher grabs your purse and runs off? Don’t pursue him, it’s not worth it. You won’t get justice, but you avoid the fight and won’t endanger your life.
- Some crazy/drunk/stoned/homeless/random guy aggressively calls you a rude word when you pass by him on the street? Don’t reply, don’t defend. Just walk on and ignore him. Not good for your dignity, but you avoid the fight and won’t endanger your life.
- You’re annoyed with someone and tell them to cut out their rude behavior and they suddenly approach you threateningly. Swallow your pride, apologise and walk away. Not good for your pride, but you avoid the fight and won’t endanger your life.
With that said, I now present you the correct answer to all of the situations I presented in the beginning of this post: you speak up. Loudly and clearly. You make eye contact and tell the other person exactly that you want him to step away from you and leave you alone. You do not shout, you do not swear, you are not aggressive. You are assertive and firmly tell him that you are uncomfortable.
But what if talking to him pushes him over the edge?
When my instructor told me this, I was sceptical. Why the hell would I want to escalate a situation like that? I’d much rather suffer some uncomfortableness in silence than risk pissing the guy off and risk getting hurt. What if my words push him over the edge? What if he’s going to attack me because I’m stupid enough to speak up?
Well… I asked my instructor this exact question. He told me something that chilled me to the bone yet comforted me at the same time.
This is important. You need to hear this and commit this to memory. Remember this when you get into a situation in which a stranger (man or woman) makes you uncomfortable and you’re hesitant to speak up.
My instructor: “The only way your words will escalate the situation, is when someone meant to harm you anyway. A normal guy will walk away. Some pervert who just meant to cop a feel with a shy girl will be so spooked by your attitude, he will walk away.”
“The only man who will not walk away, is the man who means to harm you anyway. If your words escalate the situation it would have happened anyway. Only now it will be on your terms and not his. And at least you have some certainty.”
Hearing this was scary. Understanding it gave me peace. It provides me with a real sense of comfort knowing that, if you are really targeted by one of the crazies out there, you won’t be at fault for saying you’re uncomfortable or for clearly stating your boundaries. Knowing that I can speak up and in 95% of the times get my personal space back and lose that awful sense of being helpless and uncomfortable… to me it’s just one more thing that makes me love Krav Maga. It provides you with some of the realities of life and it helps me overcome my fears.
In the next part I’ll shortly discuss some possible resolutions to the situations I described at the top of the post. Every situation is subjective. You should always trust your instincts. If your instincts tell you something else than what I’ve written here, then go with your instincts!
The person that stands too close to you in the subway.
Speak up! Look him the eyes and say loudly: “(SIR), WHY DO YOU STAND SO CLOSE TO ME?” or “(SIR), YOU MAKE ME FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.” or “(SIR), (PLEASE) MOVE AWAY FROM ME.” Say it loud enough so that everyone within 10 yards hears you.
- Don’t scream hysterically
- Use a very loud and firm voice
- Stay calm
- Stand up straight
- Pretend to be confident even when you’re not.
You have every right to express that you are uncomfortable.
There are a few ways he can respond:
- he moves away from you. Whether he didn’t mean to upset you or whether he’s a creepy perv that’s scared off by your assertive attitude doesn’t matter. This is the result you want. You want to avoid a physical confrontation.
- he responds aggressively in return. This can be either by feigning insult: “What the hell are you talking about, you bitch?” or by an aggressive action.
The moment he attacks you or gets physical with you: counter hard and kick his ass. You have every right to defend yourself!
When he gets “mad” at you: do not be intimidated. HE is one in the wrong. HE stands too close to you. And HE makes you feel uncomfortable. You have EVERY right to say this and request him to move away from you. Don’t shout back, just speak up loudly. “I DON’T KNOW YOU.” “YOU MAKE ME FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.” “GET AWAY FROM ME”.
If this causes him to move away: good for you! You’ve avoided the confrontation and saved your life! If that still does not have any effect there’s a variety of options that will depend on the situation: you can say something again, ask a bystander for help, call the police or you can do a pre-emptive strike. (I don’t recommend this. Not when there are a lot of bystanders that are able to help you) Remember: you do not want to get into a physical confrontation if you can avoid it.
You might have heard of something called the “bystander effect“. The bystander effect refers to a situation in which there might be a lot of people around you when you’re in trouble, yet nobody will help you. This is because of what happens when lots of people gather in a crowd. Diffusion of responsibility. Every person expects another to step up and take responsibility or show the initiative. Because of this, nobody ends up taking initiative and nobody ends up helping. The more people there are, the less likely the chance that someone will help you.
How do I avoid the bystander effect? Easy: address someone directly: “You, lady in the blue coat. Help me.” “You, mister with the black hat. Help me.” Make eye contact and speak up (again). Notice my message? ;) Your voice is your first and maybe even best weapon.
The guy on the street approaching you from behind
I’m hesitant to generalise, but it’s very likely he’s up to no good. :( I’ve held a VERY stimulating discussion on this topic with Mark from the United States Krav Maga Association (USKMA). He told me that decent men don’t come up and approach a woman from behind. Why not?
Mark wrote: “Guys know that they make women feel uncomfortable. A decent guy will back off if they see a female is nervous about him. When we get on an elevator and there is a female already on we will go as far to the opposite side of the elevator as possible. When we approach a lady from behind on a sidewalk because we are walking faster we go as far to the opposite side of the sidewalk as we can. When a guy isn’t doing these things your brain tells you something isn’t right. Don’t think that you are being paranoid.”
I recommend you read the rest of his post as I found it extremely useful.
So what course of action should you take? If you’re all alone on a deserted street and a guy acts in such a threatening manner? Speak up first: “LEAVE ME ALONE”. “GO AWAY”. If he doesn’t listen, evaluate the situation. What do your instincts tell you? If you go for that groin kick and he goes down, kick off your shoes (if you’re wearing heels, like in the scenario) and run like hell.
“If you tell a guy or woman to leave you alone and they don’t, that is a threat. It’s a silent, even covert one but a threat non the less. As Mark said, don’t worry about rudeness. You can politely ask them to leave but if they don’t then politeness goes out the window and you have to be firm.” – as commented by police officer Ed Peck in the comments at the USKMA blog.
While this is the scariest situation with a potential for a lot of violence, it is also the one least likely to happen. Still, it does happen to some people. So always keep an eye on your surroundings and avoid situations in which you have to deal with crazies like this. Don’t go out in bad neighbourhoods alone, try to keep company when going home alone at night, keep moving, etc. All those sensible self-defense tips…? They’re sensible for a reason. ;)
Remember: you want to avoid putting yourself in situation in which you have to use violence.
The guy at the party
Again, speak up firmly while looking him in the eye. “IM NOT INTERESTED IN YOU.” “REMOVE YOUR ARM.” “DON’T TOUCH ME.” There’s a very good chance he just didn’t get your subtle hints. Sometimes you just have to be really blunt when speaking to men. Some guys don’t always get the subtleties we use when we don’t want to be rude. Especially when they drank a bunch of alcohol. ;)
If they don’t listen and they try to pin you or kiss you without permission or grope you or whatever, then by all means: Krav Maga them to hell! And then don’t forget to run. Preferably to security, but a group of friends is a good choice as well.
Danger indicators: eye contact
If a stranger makes eye contact with you while he touches you against your will – either by touching your arm or by slinging an arm around your shoulder, he is more dangerous than the pervert who’s avoiding his eyes. The creepy pervert who wants to cop a feel won’t meet your eyes. Speak up and he’ll scatter away like a shy (but disgusting) animal. No problems there, as long as you use your voice.
However, the guy who’s making eye contact while he reaches out to touch you? He knows he does something wrong and he gets a thrill from it. Be very careful and expect the worst. Again, raise your voice, tell him to BACK OFF RIGHT NOW, DON’T TOUCH ME, I DON’T KNOW YOU or to LEAVE ME ALONE. Don’t attack unprovoked. Always give a loud verbal warning first.
Eye contact in battle: should be avoided. Why? Have you ever looked into another person’s eyes when they were really upset, angry or mad? How long can you keep that up? How about looking in the eyes of someone who’s crazy or aggressive? Those eyes will creep you out and might intimidate you so much you’re too scared to defend yourself. Don’t make eye contact when you enter a physical confrontation. Instead, look at your attacker’s collar bone and use your peripheral vision to counter his attacks.
There is no such thing as being rude. Speak up! If someone makes you uncomfortable because they stand too close to you, you have every right to say this. Say it polite, in a firm voice. Don’t shout or swear. If you do so, you are not at fault when THEY respond with crazy.
So, remember… a verbal defense is the first thing you ought to try if the situation permits it and you aren’t in immediate life-threatening danger. Your voice is your first and most powerful weapon. Not only might a verbal defense get you out of the situation safely and avoid a physical confrontation, it also serves to lessen your accountability if you do end up brutally damaging him because you know Krav Maga. ;)
And, even better: everyone is able to do a verbal defense. You don’t need Krav Maga to use this self-defense move. You just need to know what to do. Hopefully you know now! As always, if you have questions, comments, criticism or extra information, post it in the comments or let me know on Facebook or Twitter!
Why do we learn Krav Maga?
“So that one may walk in peace”
– Imi Sde-Or Lichtenfeld, founder of Krav Maga.