For women, building a basic, self-defense “tool box” is a simple way to gain greater confidence and become more powerful, both physically and psychologically. Acquiring these tools is surprisingly easier than one may think.

Contrary to what Hollywood’s martial arts movies portray, an individual needn’t be a martial artist to effectively use self-defense skills. In fact, self-defense tools gained through education and the practice of very fundamental skills may provide all that is necessary for safe escape from an attack.

Rich Pelletier, owner of Pelletier’s Karate Academy in Lewiston, says, “Knowledge is power and self-defense is for everyone. If you have 10 tools in your self-defense tool box that can be used in a variety of ways, that’s all you need – enough to get away.”

The first step to building a self-defense tool box is to banish the “victim mentality.” According to Pelletier, who has studied martial arts since 1970, most people operate from denial – “It will never happen to me.” Adopting this mentality creates fertile ground for a would-be attacker who can capitalize on unpreparedness.

Pelletier, who recently presented a basic self-defense workshop for Androscoggin Health Start employees as part of their annual Employee Wellness Day, describes attackers as opportunists who look for perceived vulnerability. He emphasizes that, for this reason, women, with even minimal self-defense skills, have an advantage.

The foundation tools for any self-defense tool box are mental preparedness and distance from the attacker. Awareness of surroundings, heightened senses, and focus all contribute to fear management in an attack situation. “If a person’s mental game is there, 98 percent of any would-be attackers can be talked down,” says Pelletier. “Be sure to always maintain a two to three arm’s length (four to five for children) distance between you and the other person, keeping yourself well out of reach.”

An athletic posture is another tool box essential and one that any person can acquire, according to Pelletier. By placing feet apart, weight evenly distributed, and slightly bending the knees, a solid base is achieved. By stepping back with one leg, careful not to overweight the back leg, balance can be maintained more readily. Tucking in elbows to ribcage and placing hands in front of the body, with palms turned out toward the assailant, creates an immediate visual barrier that also sends a universal message, “Stay back!”

“Now you’re ready for the soft interview,” confirms Pelletier, describing the “soft interview” as the opening conversation a potential assailant may use to gain opportunity for attack. Examples of the soft interview include asking for a match or some change.

Out of the tool box comes the verbal command. In a loud, commanding voice, shout “LEAVE!” or “BACK OFF!” The tone, directedness, and sudden loudness of the command will give pause to an attacker and sends an unmistakable warning. Don’t be afraid to yell. It attracts attention and serves as a release of adrenaline.

“Be prepared,” warns Pelletier. “Remember, attackers are opportunists. They will swear, yell, name-call – attack what they think will hurt you the most, make you nervous – all to create opportunity to make their move. Outplay them, call their bluff.”

Should the attempt to de-escalate the situation verbally not succeed, basic physical self-defense tools may be required. Pelletier offers the statement, “Escape To Gain Safety” to help individuals remember the vulnerable spots: eyes, throat, groin, and shins.

“Your attacker has mistaken you for vulnerable. Use that to your advantage,” encourages Pelletier. “When he makes a mistake, you strike. Hit and run, hit and get away.”

Basic physical moves are best acquired and practiced in a classroom setting for proper form, even built into a regular fitness routine, and include open palm driven into the face, reaching around and pulling down on the neck and directing the knee to the stomach, followed by a kick to the groin.

Pelletier says, “You don’t need to know a lot of moves. Better to have one tool that can do many things. And remember, if a move can’t be done in the classroom, it can’t be done under stress. Practice, start at your level of fitness and build up. Refresh your self-defense knowledge yearly. Try taking a class. Self-defense is for everyone and the goal is to make you feel more powerful and less scared.”

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