First Step To Defending Yourself: Your Voice As Weapon (Verbal Defenses)

Woman looks frightened in dark alley

What do you do if you're scared? Picture by David Sittig

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?

Women Raises Fist to Camera

Picture by Aleksandar Milanovic for KMG.

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 runbetter to run than de-escalatebetter 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.
Woman defends against male attacker by attacking his eyes

Just to be clear: this is NOT your first reaction, satisfying as it may be ;) Kind of hard to find verbal defense pictures... picture by Eran KMG for KMG.

 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.

Do you agree or disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts or doubts! Post your comments or contact me on Facebook or Twitter!

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!

Man threatens other man on bus

This is one step beyond threatening. The attacker goes for outright attack. Picture by Institute Krav Maga

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Alone in the crowd.

Lots of people, yet no help. :/

Bystander effect
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.

Someone touches a woman's face. She leans away from the touch.

Picture by Anthony Prévost

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.

Krav Maga: woman does a groin kick to male attacker.

And if all else fails.... ;) Picture by Marilyn Clevenger from KMG.

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.

8 Responses to “First Step To Defending Yourself: Your Voice As Weapon (Verbal Defenses)”
  1. nocer says:

    Good article! There are some elements I might respond at (want to let them proces first, before saying something ;)).

    But overall; the advices are well put. Especially the by-stander effect. Allthough it might not be as succesful as one might wish. (to derail my comment a bit:)

    I once read a news article where someone was allmost beaten to death when he wanted to intervene a fight in progress (threat escalated into assault as the person wanted to harm the other). In effect, most of the comments agreed on the fact that it was the guys own fault for wanting to meddle in such a thing. I was appalled at first, but understand the urge to secure your own safety (thats why we learn Krav Maga). But it shouldn’t be the right attitude when such things occure.

    At that point verbal communication is the key as well. Example:

    You and your (girl/boy) friend leave a party that ran a bit out of control. Too much drinking, the crowd was becoming a bit more hostile, etc… You and your partner decide to leave and bump into a few guys at the entrance. Very drunk, hostile and clearly looking for a fight. You decide to ignore them and walk away. Not satisfied with the outcome, they decide to follow you to the street. Without an apparent reason your partner is attacked by four of them. All the people on the street stop… and stare. You know Krav Maga, but is it wise to help your (girl/boy)friend with your, undoublty, awesome asskicking moves? Although you did dozen of zombie games and several vip protection courses, isnt it wiser to push and shout at people to keep them apart? Alone, people usually do not want to step in, affraid to become a victim as well. But when they see that they are not alone in their actions (and get a good push to the right direction ;)) they will step in (together) and might succesfully stop the assault.

    Why would I bring this up (as said, I derailed it a bit)? We often see that people are beaten to (near) death without an appearant reason. Most of these times ‘we’ could have prevented it by stopping it together. Verbal would win it over physical in this case. For your own safety, even if the harm might come to someone else…

    • kravlady says:

      It’s always iffy to recommend people to do something or intervene when they see something happening. You hear so many stories in which assailants turned on the bystanders or people intervening. Super nasty. I’m not entirely sure what I would do when I witnessed a fight.

      Well, actually, that’s not true. I’m stupidly heroic sometimes, so if I’d see a woman or child get attacked I would go and help immediately (while dragging a few male bystanders with me). If a guy got into a fight with another guy? Depends on how severe the damage is. If a guy is attacked by multiple guys? Ugh. I don’t even know. Engaging multiple attackers is really stupid. But if they’d be doing so much damage that their victim is dying? I don’t think I could live with myself if I just ignored that.

      But, you know, Krav Maga instincts are about avoiding confrontations – specifically ones in which you’re at a super clear disadvantage and have the ability to choose whether you engage or not. D:< MORAL DILEMMA!!! I don't know. :(

      The thing is, I don't know enough about violent situations to make an accurate risk assessment. While I think that dragging other people into such confrontation is smart, the chance that someone is willing to… how high/low is that? I don't know.

      In your example, if someone were to beat up on my friend, I would push and pull them away first, because such actions might not escalate the situation immediately. If they'd attack me in return, I would counter back HARD. I'm probably able to take him down if I got in the first groin kick. But again, multiple attackers. If there's anything you have to avoid it's multiple attackers. We've learned tricks to dealing with them, but unsure how clear you can think in such a situation. It would also have to involve leaving your friend for a moment in order to not be enclosed by all attackers. What if they turned on them?

      What would you do?

      • nocer says:

        I totally agree with you! Though, if the amount of bystanders is large enough the assailants will choose to run away (at least, lets hope).
        Its hard to tell what one would do when he/she witnessed such a thing. We all have feelings and thoughts about it. My feeling is that I would not let someone to be beaten to death.

        But Im also very sure that other people think the same way… and yet… we stand, we watch and do.. nothing. I have the same thoughts about it, I could not live with the thought of letting someone die without even moving a finger. But it would just be plain stupid to involve yourself in a fight where you could become the victim (2 attackers, 1 victim and no one around but you). In that case it would just be better to call for the emergency services and hope for the best.

        So yes. There is some moderation to my story. You should never intervene in something if you know you end up being the victim. And no, im not experienced in violent situations at all. Yes I have been in some, but it never escalated because I allways walked away or choose not to participate in one. Having said that, I know that im quite lucky to at least have had the choice to walk away or not to participate. People might not be willing at first, but with the right motivation and the ‘if one sheep goes over the dam’-principle, Im convinced they will give in. Remember, you are just rallying the crowd, not participating in the fight at that moment. If no one helps, you should not go in by yourself.

        It’s hard to imagine how it would resolve, but I would not push and pull. They seem to be very hostile and are punching your friend. I think you are past the point of being affraid of escalation. It seems that it has already been escalated. With pushing and pulling you might draw the attention (and their aggresion) on yourself. You have a good chance that the pain of a kick to the groin will convince them to think of something else then attacking you or your friend. On the other hand, it’s hard to predict what goes on in the mind of such an attacker. Maybe your approach would have indeed been better. I have no clue what I would do, but Im pretty much sure that I would not abandon my friend and let him be beaten to death. But maybe im just being ‘stupidly heroic’…..

        I hope we will never be in a situation where we need to make such a choice….

        • kravlady says:

          Hah, yeah… ‘stupidly heroic….’


          I know that there are no easy ways to predict how you're going to act in this situation. The most important thing is that you listen to your instincts and intuition and go with what you think is best. Whether that's engaging the fight or talking your way out of it. There's so many factors that might play a role.


          Also, a movie on the bystander effect:

      • nocer says:

        Ugh… sorry for the bad grammar. Am a bit tired.
        Going to my Krav class now, wish me luck.

  2. Very good article from a woman’s perspective! Keep up the good work!

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