The evolving context of Women’s self defence – #shoutingback

Having recently discussed Women’s Self Defence, with 2 x Olympian and European Judo Medallist Sophie Cox, I was encouraged to revisit and re-evaluate my approach to the subject.

A simple accessible approach to self-defence is always best; a successful strategy is one that people are never aware they put into practice. The main message I impart is to avoid dangerous situations but if that stratagem fails ensure you have the tools to unequivocally address the problems you encounter.

The fundamentals of self-defence remain the same but our social context is evolving. Street Harassment is a growing problem. Too often overlooked or passed off as an acceptable norm it is a serious issue faced by women around the world on a daily basis.

There are elements within the media that portray women as sexually available, vulnerable and even deserving of sexual objectification and assessment. Numerous powerful and influential publications use words and images to undermine and sexually objectify women. Sending out conscious and subconscious messages to men that women are not equal and that they should be subject to their whims, verbal and physical. The proliferation of such a message within society negatively affects perceptions and is both damaging to society and individuals.

Groups like The Everyday Sexism Project, No More Page 3, and Hollaback, highlight sexism on a national scale. The issues highlighted by these projects and campaigns demonstrate real threats faced by women on a daily basis. The nature and escalation in Street Harassment requires a fresh approach to self-defence.

We are responsible for the context in which we live and as such we should empower ourselves to make a difference to other people and society; speak out. People should be proud and empowered not embarrassed and disempowered. It’s our life, our community and our choice. The discussions surrounding blame culture are relevant and highlight a need to change perceptions around the world. The fault in all attacks lies with the attacker and with a society that allows such attacks to continue with seemingly little or no accountability.

That is not to say the principles laid down with regard physical, emotional, geographic and energetic awareness are no longer relevant to self-defence but that for us to progress towards a safer society we need to face, intercept, divert and subdue the attack from a wider perspective. Common sense, trusting of self and general awareness will help ensure we make informed and effective decisions but we need to start opting ‘in’ where previously we may have opted ‘out’.

HOW – Dealing with an aggressor, facing your fears and empowering yourself.

For You – Take control For Others – Show support For Society – Act today.

People who attack are predators. We all have a predatory element within us and this can be used to our advantage in detecting, avoiding and if necessary neutralising a threat. Predators should not be given any leeway. They are unbalanced and feed off power, attacking because they think they will be successful, feeding on vulnerability and fear. A predator behaves in a way that will achieve their goal, attacking or avoiding capture, they remain predators and should never be underestimated. When you act it must be unyielding and unequivocal.

Some people do not realise the implications of their behaviour, however others need telling or showing in no uncertain terms.


How you stand, move and look affects everything. Facing and looking at an attacker has a clear physical and energetic implication. Support is shown through proximity, body positioning and posture.


Using words that resonate and come naturally to you. More often than not strength lies in simplicity. Simple is best in all pressure situations. Conscious interaction involves engaging with others, making an attacker and those around aware of their behaviour, that it is inappropriate, unwelcome, unacceptable and that it should stop, now.

Clear, strong and simple language.

Knowing the right way to act in any given situation is a personal judgement call. There is always a feeling that proceeds a verbal or physical altercation, you know instinctively what is right or wrong in a given situation, trust this feeling.

Through training and exposure to pressure situations I learned to understand feelings that cascaded through my body at times of high pressure. A key part of training for self-defence is the downscaling of emotional attachment to the physical and mental aspects of an attack. This helps address some of the challenges faced by people before during and after an attack. We are not detaching or desensitising our emotions but putting a physical or verbal altercation into context. 

Locard’s Exchange Principle outlines ‘every contact leaves a trace’, with verbal or physical interaction there is an unavoidable affect. An expert in weapons self defence once told me 

“if you’re in a knife fight the chances are your going to get cut so there is no point being scared of it.”

Fighting is not the only means to self defend but once a line has been crossed it can be the only way to ensure survival. This is just as relevant in a non-physical sense, standing up for what you believe in is fundamental to ensuring your freedom and that of future generations. The more you start to think about engaging with people to change social norms the more you will find your interactions are with friends, colleagues and family members. Disagreeing with those you love can be more emotionally challenging than with a stranger.

Awareness, strength and integrity are at the heart of assessing any situation. Lead by example though your actions and outlook. If it is happening to your neighbour it is happening to you. Be proactive and break the mould, don’t be afraid to discuss and interact with people on subjects that are important to you and that they may not agree with or understand. Passive aggression seldom resolves anything, open, honest interaction is a much more positive approach.

The issues and effects relating to Street Harassment and other forms of attack need to be brought to the public’s attention and to the attention of authorities. One Billion Rising does an amazing job of uniting women around the world raising awareness of violence against women. The statistic 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime is something that should convince everyone there is a need for action. The UK press is full of examples, stories of young women being groomed for sex by groups of older men, whole communities are aware of the problem but nobody in power is prepared to act or speak out. If we don’t speak out we should not be surprised at the results. It is societies problem not the problem of a specific group of people or certain area.   

Such problems highlight the importance of actively encouraging local, regional and national authorities to take note of the issues affecting you, your community and country. Encourage discussion, set up groups where people can share experiences, discuss how they feel and to better address the problems they have and continue to face. Help give others the confidence and support to stand up to and to report problems, attacks and abuse.

The key to empowering yourself and others through self-defence is YOU. Your strength, outlook, drive and determination. If you have been attacked, know someone who has or want to help ensure your family members and friends are safer then you can act. This is a choice, knowing you have a choice, voice and opportunity to act is empowering.

Society needs to be made aware of the inherent social problems faced by women on a daily basis, to understand the attacker is at fault, and should be held to accountable for their actions. Knowledge helps inform us all. People need educating, courage, guidance and support. All conscious interaction requires strength of character, all strong characters require support. If you are acting from a place of honesty, integrity and dignity people will ultimately take note, these are the pillars of a good people and good society.


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