The number one question I get asked after my self-defense speaking events, classes, and workshops is about self-defense tools and weapons. The questions usually go like this:
“What do you think of self-defense weapons?”
“Should I carry pepper spray, taser, alarm, etc.”?
"What do you carry when you hike?"
"What do you recommend I/my daughter/my partner carry?"
I decided it was time to address this formally in blog and video form so that this resource is always available for anyone who needs it. My newest episode of Outdoor Defense (Season 3, Episode 4) that released today addresses these questions and I thought a blog would be the perfect way to compliment it. I want to empower you with the information you might not hear anywhere else, so you can make an informed decision about what is best for your life and your safety.
There are many perspectives on self-defense weapons/tools and what I’m sharing with you here comes from years of experience and training, peer reviewed research, evidence based studies, and conversations with experts in threat assessment and security fields. I understand that there are different opinions on this topic and my goal here is to respectfully share mine to help you decide what's best for your life.
Watch the full Outdoor Defense video here!
I Advocate for Education
I am an advocate for education. I am not an advocate for self-defense tools/weapons. I don't carry any tool or weapon with me when I solo hike, run, camp, etc. When my sister asks me if I'm carrying a weapon when I head out I tell her, "I AM A WEAPON." (She should know this by now!) That doesn't mean I'm against weapons/tools, but rather, that I do not provide recommendations or advocate for their use. Our bodies and minds are all the weapon we need and reconnecting with our power can build confidence.
There is a lot of messaging in our society that uses fear to make women feel that in order to be safe we have to carry “self-defense tool XYZ”. And that this "object" is what is going to save us anytime we need. But those messages don't offer the full picture on the use or effectiveness of such objects in high stress scenarios. The facts I’m going to share below are meant to give you insight into why tools/weapons aren’t the quick fix they are often believed to be so you have the information to make a decision that is best for your safety. I want to help women break free from fear; including the fear that the only way to be safe is to have “self-defense tool XYZ”.
Self-defense tools/weapons are not a replacement for safety education and preparation. Plus, they aren’t what we use daily to stay safe as we run our errands, interact with friends, encounter strangers, manage our intimate relationships, or explore the trails. They aren’t the one thing that is going to make you safe. And you are not “unsafe” without them. Your brain, voice and body are what is going to protect you and self-defense tools/weapons are secondary.
I teach empowerment self-defense because it offers ways to manage our safety in a variety of contexts and provides a range of options for safety planning; not just worst case scenarios. The techniques I teach, which include verbal, non-physical and physical skills, do not require you to restrict your life or add the burden of needing to remember to carry a certain object with you everywhere you go. The goal of empowerment self-defense is to help you open up your world!
The 3 facts about self-defense weapons/tools:
1. Whatever tool/weapon you plan to use for your personal protection, you HAVE to train with it.
It is unrealistic to think that you can purchase (or be gifted) a tool/weapon, put it in your bag, purse, pocket, or clip it to your bag or keychain, never think about it, never or rarely practice with it, and then believe you'll be able to use it effectively in a high stress situation. The stress of threat and danger affects your body in ways you may not anticipate, so making sure you are training with your preferred tool is essential if you hope to be effective.
When you are adrenalized or under stress, several things happen to your body. There’s an increase in gross motor skill (like running away), increase in lower cognitive processes (fight/flight), decrease in fine motor movement (ie: articulated movements with your hands/fingers) and a decrease in higher cognitive processes (reasoning/logic).
When your fine motor skills decrease that means articulated movements with your fingers or hands do not come as easy as when you are calm. Therefore, your body may not respond the way you're expecting it to respond, especially if you're trying to pull out or deploy a weapon. You may fumble it, drop it, or be so focused on trying to get the object out of its resting place that now you're not paying attention to the person who is a threat. Now you're splitting your awareness between trying to find your tool and the perpetrator. And if you're so reliant on this tool to save you, you may not be prepared to problem solve if it doesn't work in that moment. That is not an ideal scenario.
Training with your preferred tool/weapon is vital to being better prepared to actually use it in a high stress or dangerous situation. When the movement of getting it out from its storage location and getting it ready to use has become part of your procedural memory, you're more likely to be successful using it when adrenalized. However, there are still no guarantees that it will work perfectly. You might still have to do something else (ie: with your body or voice) to get to safety.
When it comes to pepper spray specifically, remember that it could incapacitate you when you use it. Depending on if you are in an open or closed space and which way the air is flowing, you may be subjected to its effects when you spray it. It's important to be aware of that possibility, so you are not surprised if it happens while in a dangerous encounter.
Another consideration with pepper spray is to know what kind you have and then properly train with it. There are sprays, gels, foam, and foggers. You'll need to be familiar with the type you have purchased, how it works, and its range in order to be most effective. Practice getting it out, into position and spraying it. Practice canisters filled with inert liquid are available so that you can train safely. And remember to check the expiration date because pepper spray does expire!
If you plan to use any object as a life saving device to protect you from harm, you need to know how it works, understand its limitations, train with it, and know how to use it while under stress. Otherwise, carrying it can be a false sense of security.
This is why I emphasize that our body is already full of all the tools and weapons we need to protect ourselves. The self-defense skills I teach with Girls Fight Back and IMPACT Personal Safety are simple and practical movements so you don't need years of training to be effective. This helps you access those tools on your body for life and you can use them anywhere and anytime!
2. Whatever tool/weapon you bring into a fight can be used against you.
This is not easy to hear but it is a fact we have to accept. Anything you bring into a fight can be used against you. And if the assailant doesn't have a weapon and you bring a weapon into the fight, now you are in a weapons fight. 89% of the assaults against women do NOT involve a weapon. If the assailant gets hold of your weapon, now you have to think about defending against that weapon now as well.
3. Rely on yourself first vs. putting all your security into an object.
Your brain, your voice and your body are the strongest tools and weapons you carry with you 24/7. There are some places in the world where external weapons aren't allowed. And even in the US, laws vary by state or city, and even National Parks have their own regulations. If you're not able to carry a tool or weapon, does that mean you are helpless? Not safe? Absolutely not!
Remember how powerful you are instead of thinking you must put all of your safety and security into external objects hoping they will save you. Instead of relying on something external, we can put that trust and security into ourselves. Empowerment self-defense training teaches you how to use the tools and weapons you were born with - your mind and body. And those you can carry with you everywhere!
I teach self-defense because the skills learned can be used for your entire life.
I want to help you open up your world and not have to rely on anyone or anything else to save you. I want to show you how to use your voice and body so you are equipped to protect yourself anytime and anywhere. I want to provide you with options for responding to uncomfortable situations and/or dangerous situations so you can walk through your life with less fear and more confidence. I want to give you choices so you can make the best safety decisions for your life.
I want to help you shift your mindset to understanding how powerful you are.
I encourage you to do your own research, so that you can make an informed decision.
You are fully capable of being able to protect yourself and
you are worth fighting for!
IMPACT Personal Safety SoCal
De Becker G. The Gift of Fear. Bloomsbury; 2000.
Michael Penafiel: Basics of Neurobiology, Aggression, Violence, Fighting, and Defending Oneself
Orchowski LM, Gidycz CA. Sexual Assault Risk Reduction and Resistance : Theory, Research, and Practice. Academic Press; 2018. (Chapter 10, Jocelyn Hollander)
Dr. Eric Cobb