Practical Self Defense


This activity is a fun way to start off a session. Have all but one person close their eyes, and then and answer the following questions (make sure everyone is far enough apart so they won’t bump each other when pointing):

  • How many people here are wearing something blue (or red, or eyeglasses, or boots, etc.)?
  • Who remembers who came into the room last?
  • Who can tell me what items are on the table?
  • Who knows how many exits there are from this room?
  • Who can point to the nearest exit to the outside of the building?
  • Who can point to the mirror (window, kitchen door, piano, etc.)?

The person asking questions can add in anything else in the room that people might have noticed.

For discussion:

  • What did you find easy/hard to remember?
  • What kinds of things do you usually notice about a new space? What do you remember about it after you leave?
  • What kinds of observations about our space can make us safer?
  • Where can we practice our awareness of details like these? (some suggestions: While waiting in line at the bank, visiting someone in a new apartment building, airports, subway stations, etc.)

This is a great activity to share with kids as well!

“Just say no”

In Smile at Strangers, I recount how this activity completely changed the way I think about self defense. Author Rhoda Janzen has written about how she tried this activity after reading my account of it, on the Her.meneutics blog at Christianity Today.

You’ll need a timekeeper. Everyone else should find a partner.

  • One person will ask questions. These don’t have to make a coherent argument, but they should be realistic: “Can you give me a ride to Alice’s party? Why not? Aren’t we friends?” or “Can you take my Friday night shift for me? How come you won’t help me out? Don’t I always help you when you ask?” Or questioners can ask for bus fare, a spare cigarette, the use of a phone, etc. They should not threaten or yell. Just be persistent.
  • On person will answer “No” to all the questions. DON’T smile! DON’T laugh! And DO look your questioner in the eye at all times!
  • Try this for sixty seconds, and then switch roles.

For discussion:

  • Which was harder, asking questions, or saying “No”? What was hard about it?
  • What were you thinking as you played each role? How did you feel afterward?
  • Share a situation you have been in before where you wanted to say “No,” but didn’t. Why didn’t you?
  • In what situations have you said “No”?

Step In, Step Out

This is a way to explore our personal boundaries, and remind ourselves to listen to our instinctive responses.

First, practice the “Invisible Wall” with a partner:

1. Stand across the room from your partner, and have him or her walk towards you. Maintain eye contact with him or her.

2. When your partner gets close enough that you would them to stop, raise your hands at about chest level or lower, fingers up, palms out, in a “Stop” gesture.

3. As you do this, move one foot back slightly, so you have a more solid stance.

4. Say, firmly, “Stop.”

5. Stop when your partner tells you to!

Repeat this a few times so both partners can try out each role. Then, add this variation:

6. When your partner says stop, stop for a moment. Then, take one more step closer. Maintain eye contact, but otherwise don’t change anything. Just stay in your partner’s space for about five seconds.

For discussion:

  • Talk (or write) for a few minutes about the sensation of having someone intrude inside your personal boundary. How does it feel? What does your body tell you to do in that situation? What are you anticipating?
  • What could you do to increase your comfort level or safety in a situation where someone is too close?

You can also practice ways to re-establish your boundaries—for example, saying “I need you to give me more space,” or “Please move back.” It’s a good idea to accompany these statements with movement of your own, to set a more comfortable distance between you and your partner. But move purposefully, and maintain eye contact as you speak and move.



One thought on “Practical Self Defense

  1. Greetings, Sensei Schorn,
    I have read and admired your book and have recommended it for reading in my dojo. My question is, do you recommend any particular book for self-defense for women? I am delighted with the exercised you have on this webpage, but wondered if you had any book you recommend for teaching self-defense . Thank you for your time and for your wonderful work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>