The Self-Defense Mindset

Have you ever noticed there are those people out there that you see walking around and say to yourself, “I wouldn’t mess with that guy!”  Sometimes it is their sheer size or the way they dress but often times it is their demeanor.  The first thing everyone needs to know in order to defend themselves is they must have the correct demeanor, also known as the self-defense mindset.

This may come as a shock coming from a karate instructor, but the physical techniques we teach only account for 10% of the overall ability for a person to defend themselves.  The other 90% comes from learning the self-defense mindset.  Almost every martial arts practitioner will never have to use their physical skills in order to defend themselves.  However, almost every martial arts practitioner will use the non-physical skills they’ve learned in order to defend themselves at one time or another, whether they realize it or not.

For this article I will be using the example of women’s self-defense.  The concepts I will be covering can easily be applied to any self-defense situation with a few differences.  In fact, I wrote a similar article using school age bullying as a context on my other blog, The Karate Dad.  If you have kids, I encourage you to check that one out too.

In order to understand what we need for the self-defense mindset we first need to get into the head of an attacker.  Attackers are predators and all predators seek prey.  Do predators seek prey that will be a challenge?  No.  They seek prey that are easy to catch.  The same is true for attackers.

In terms of women’s self-defense, attackers do not choose their victims based on who is more attractive, who is thinner, or who dresses the nicest.  They choose a victim that will struggle the least and not put up a big fight.

There are two basic principles you need to understand in order to minimize your chances of being a victim: awareness and confidence.

Awareness is required in order to not put yourself in a situation that an attacker would deem ideal.  What are some examples of these situations?

  • Running alone on a secluded trail
  • Leaving work late at night and going to your car in the parking garage alone
  • Walking home late at night after hanging out at a friend’s house

Get the idea?  Whenever possible, avoid these types of situations.  You’re probably saying, “It won’t happen to me” or “My neighborhood is safe”.  It only takes one time.  Why take the chance.  Get a running buddy.  Have a coworker walk with you to your car.  Take an Uber or cab home from your friend’s house.

Even with good intentions, or possibly just stubbornness, you will find yourself in a less than ideal situation.  When this happens, remember to focus your attention on one thing, remaining safe.  Don’t have earbuds or headphones on, listening to music.  Don’t check your email or text someone on your phone.  Keep your head up and use your eyes and ears to continually scan your surroundings.  If something looks or sounds suspicious, listen to your intuition and avoid it.  Take another route, go back the way you came, or find a well-lit public space.  If none of these are possible, get your cell phone out and call a friend or family member.  Tell them where you are and keep them on the phone until you get to your destination (don’t be in active conversation with them).

The second thing you need in order to minimize being a victim is confidence.  Awareness is much easier to implement than confidence.  Some people are just naturally confident, and others are shy and timid.  Building confidence takes time and work (more on that later).  Whether you have it or need to fake it, remember the following items to display confidence:

  • Walk with a purpose.  Don’t walk fast paced, run like you’re scared, or walk slowly constantly scanning everything.
  • Good posture.  Keep your back straight, chin up, and shoulders back.  Don’t slouch or look down at the ground.
  • Mind your hands.  Nervous, scared people fidget with their hands.  Keep your hands at your side, swinging them normally when walking or still when standing.
  • Eye contact.  If someone looks at you, even a stranger, don’t look down or away.  Look them in the eyes.  Don’t stare them down but let them know you see them.

All of these things are easily said than done, especially if you find yourself in a scary situation.  You may be able to fake it but it is better to have confidence outright.  So how do you build confidence?  There are many ways.  A few are listed below.

Take Martial Arts Lessons

Martial arts lessons build confidence through learning self-defense skills, getting physically stronger, and mental toughness through discipline.

Get Stronger

Running is great but getting your entire body physically stronger will help boost your confidence.  Seeing your body getting stronger not only makes you feel great, it will also help you in the event you are attacked.


A calm and peaceful mind, free of doubt and worry will also boost confidence.  As little as 10 minutes a day can have a huge impact.

Get Support

Surround yourself with supportive, positive people.  Whether it’s friends, family, church members, co-workers, or class/group mates in your favorite activity, be sure you are network is a positive one.

Avoid Toxic People

Unfortunately, not all people in our lives are supportive.  Even friends and family members may consistently bring us down with negative criticism and comments.  Try to avoid or at least limit your interaction with these people.

These are just a few concepts in regard to having the self-defense mindset.  The next step is to build your awareness, confidence, and then start learning specific defensive skills.  If you would like more information or advice about self-defense please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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