Writing a post that covers self-defense is difficult, because the concept varies greatly depending on who it is intended for. People who train martial arts are able to delve more deeply into the subject, and their focus is usually centered around the particular art they train (Judoka throw their attackers, Jiu-Jitsuka fight from the ground, Karateka strike and gouge out eyeballs…I’m generalizing, please bear with me). Self-defense training for them focuses on the strengths of their system, and it allows them to utilize more advanced techniques by building the necessary muscle memory.
People who do not train martial arts cannot learn this type of self-defense. It would take an entire training session to teach them just one technique, and it’s doubtful that they would even remember it, let alone be able to effectively use it against an attacker. Even after I “learned” how to, it still took me months and months (and months) of practice before I was able to actually escape being mounted by a big dude during open mat.
Therefore, self-defense for non-martial artists has to be as simple and intuitive as possible. When Joe, Skyler, and I taught our self-defense class to untrained women, we did not really teach them any Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, or Judo techniques. We just taught them effective ways to disengage from the situation at the earliest possible time.
If you are attacked, it is highly unlikely that someone is just going to run up and tackle you. If you are a man, it’s more likely that they will throw a punch at you, a woman will probably be grabbed. In a rape situation, he will have to somehow get a hold of you first (it’s also important to note that not all rapes occur on the ground, you could also be pinned against a wall, etc). Therefore, the smart thing for women to do is to learn how to escape from grabs. The sooner you can free yourself and get away, the better chance you will have (this goes for both trained and untrained people).
I’m not going to go into all the different ways to escape from grabs (partly because I can’t completely figure out how to explain on paper…or whatever it is the internet is made of ;) but I will discuss one of the easiest ways. No matter how they are grabbing you, if you can get a hold of the two middle fingers on their hand and pry them back, they will usually let go. Any combination of fingers could possibly work, but the middle two are ideal. It’s also recommended that before trying to escape from the grab, you first distract them with some sort of percussive technique. An excellent choice is a good old-fashioned foot stomp. It’s easy to remember and execute, and it’s very effective.
The goal of this type of basic self-defense is to be able to get away from the situation as soon as you possibly can. The moment that you are no longer being held is the time to make your escape. Once you break their grip, you need to run like the wind, and yell as loud as you can “Call 911!” Most people have phones these days, and while they might not be willing to risk themselves to help you, studies show that they will call the police.
Everything we practiced in our basic self-defense class ended with the women running away. So I guess I would say that the number one rule of self-defense would be to try to stay in good enough physical shape that you could run away if you ever had to.