The Easy Self-Defense Moves You Must Know to Protect Yourself

After countless hours spent on the treadmill in a stuffy gym, there’s nothing quite like going for a jog in the great outdoors. Many men simply lace up their sneakers and get moving without a second thought. But venturing outdoors to pound the pavement can be quite a different story for women. While leaving the house with just your keys in your pocket sounds appealing, that nagging voice in the back of your mind wonders if you should bring mace along for the run, too.

Though most of us may feel uncomfortable when we’re by ourselves in a new place or exercising outdoors into the evening hours, The Washington Post says twice as many women as men report feeling leery of walking alone at night in their own neighborhoods. Because of this, it never hurts to have a bit of self-defense knowledge to make you feel more confident and secure. Check out these easy moves that could potentially save your life.

1. How to make a proper fist

woman with hands wrapped ready to box

Know how to make a proper fist. | iStock.com

This seems obvious, but you may be surprised to realize just how bad your self-defense fist really is. If your fist is weak, you’ll probably do more damage to your hand than to your attacker. Greatist explains none of your fingers should be crossed in your fist, and your thumb should never be loosely wagging. Bend the middle set of your knuckles in first, and then bend in the knuckles at the base of your fingers to form the general shape. Then, wrap your thumb around to hug your pointer and middle fingers. When you go to throw a punch, avoid bending your wrist, too.

Your two biggest knuckles are on your pointer and middle fingers, so when you punch, aim to hit with these. And if you do have to bust out your best punch, move into it with your whole body. Rotating from your hips will give you more power.

2. Knee kick

athlete warms up for exercise with high-knee skips

Use your knees to attack. | iStock.com

You’ve seen this one in action flicks — it’s usually the move that has the bad guy crying on the ground and the heroine running out the door to safety. You won’t always have the room to throw an effective punch, and that’s when the knee kick comes in.

To start this move, Prevention explains you should aim to grab the person between the neck and shoulders and hang on to as much of them as possible. Then, drive your knee up into their groin area, aiming to hit with the bony tip of your knee and not your thigh. Grabbing them beforehand gives you more leverage to drive your knee where it hurts. They’ll be limping off in no time.

3. Eye strike

African American female brown watchful eye

The eyes are an extremely sensitive area of the body. | iStock.com/phakimata

This move is particularly useful if you’re outdoors, as there’s plenty of time for you to hit quick and make your getaway. Functional Self Defense explains if you’re close by someone who can help you or know you’re near home, the eye strike can really come in handy.

This move is pretty much as it sounds — you surprise your attacker with a few fingers to their eyeballs, and then you’re off and running while they’re trying to recover. It’s not a move that will seriously injure them, but it’s enough to quickly remove you from a dangerous situation. First, you have to know the proper footwork. Step forward with one leg to make a triangle shape with your feet. When you go for the eyes, you can quickly pivot on your back foot and make your getaway. Or, if you need to continue the fight, you’ll be better able to move your body out of the way of any attacks coming back at you.

The best part about this move? You could completely miss, and your attacker will still pause and flinch from your hands in their face. It’s not contingent on accuracy or strength, so remember this one.

4. Elbow strike

martial arts man attacking bricks

Your elbows can deliver a powerful strike. | Pixabay

While punching and kicking are all fine and well, don’t forget about how devastating a swift elbow strike can be. The Concourse reminds us your elbow is the hardest and sharpest point on your body. When you’re in a situation where you’re in close proximity to your attacker or you’re knocked to the ground, a quick jab with your elbow is sure to take the wind right out of them.

To get into the right position, make sure your elbow is bent and close to the body. Keep your hand open and your thumb close to your chest. Work on keeping the arm bent tightly and rotating your core to gather momentum. Go for the throat, temple, or chin, and you’ll give yourself plenty of time to escape.

5. Front kick

woman working out in sunset

A proper front kick can save your life. | iStock.com

Facing an attack head-on is never something any of us want to do, but when faced with no options, go for a powerful kick. Kelly Campbell, a third-degree black belt, gives Prevention a few tips on how to make this move really count. First, don’t mess around with kicks to the waist or legs — go straight for the groin. “Imagine that your kick could travel through the attacker’s groin and out the top of his or her head as if you were going to split that person in two from the groin up,” Campbell said. This image alone might make you slightly squeamish, so just imagine how your attacker would feel.

When you’re kicking, work to bend your knees and drive your hips forward for power. Then, extend the knee and hit your attacker’s groin with the top of your foot, and make your getaway.

6. Palm to nose

couple playfully laughing

The tip of your nose holds tons of sensitive nerve-endings. | iStock.com

If an attacker gets super close, it’s time to unleash the power of your palm. The nose is full of sensitive nerve-endings, and hitting it with the palm of your hand is sure to bring about plenty of pain, some tears, or in serious cases, broken bones, says Pacific Wave Jiu Jitsu. The move is as easy as it sounds — take the heel of your hand and hit the bridge of your attacker’s nose.

If you’re looking to still make your getaway without doing lasting damage, try pushing your palm into the tip of the nose and then rubbing back and forth with force. This will cause the person to recoil in pain so you can still get away safely.

7. Uppercut

a couple fighting with boxing gloves

A strong uppercut can be a good attack when you’re close. | Pixabay

This is another close-range move that’ll surprise your attacker. Because you’ll be coming from a low angle, you can be sneaky with the uppercut. Start by making a proper fist with your hand and driving upward, keeping your palm facing you and your arm bent. Then, when your attacker is close and in front of you, you can use the uppercut to knock them in the chin or jaw with your two bigger knuckles.

Krav Maga Worldwide explains you’ll want to make sure your whole body is working for maximum impact. Like a normal punch, you’ll want to move into it with your hips, but for the uppercut, you’ll also need your weight to move upward with the angle of your fist. This move can take some practice, but be careful — we don’t recommend giving it a try on your friends.

8. Roll through a fall

runner sitting in the grass holding a leg injury

Know how to fall to avoid injury and get back on your feet quickly. | iStock.com

If you’re in hand-to-hand combat with your assailant, chances are the whole scuffle won’t finish with the both of you standing. Try as you may, there could come a time when they knock you to the ground, or you trip over something in your path. Your natural reaction may be to stiffen your body in anticipation of the hit and then scramble back to your feet as quickly as possible, but Military.com shares a better plan.

Do your best not to fall flat. When you’re headed toward the pavement, use that momentum to roll through the fall. You can do this by doing a somersault or even rolling on your side — just make sure to tuck your head for protection. With your body already in motion, it’ll be a lot easier to stand up quickly and run.

9. Throat hit

woman coughing

A hit to the throat can completely disable an attacker. | iStock.com

If all else fails, you can’t go wrong with a solid hit to the throat. Think about it — your neck isn’t as strong as your arms and legs, and it protects the pathways that allow you to breathe. Scott Bolan, a self-defense specialist, told Black Belt Magazine, “One solid smash to the throat will cut off a person’s air supply, essentially cutting off the power supply to the house.” That’s bad news for them, but good news for you.

If you can get into a position where you can wrap an arm around your assailant’s neck, do so. This will cause them to lose balance, and that’s when you can go into attack mode. From here, use your elbow, the edge of your hand, forearm, or even a fist to deliver a blow to the throat. From here, you’ll have plenty of time to run free.

10. Ear clap

Stop gesture by a woman

Don’t turn away from the attack. Instead, go for the ears. | iStock.com/pecaphoto77

We can be honest with ourselves — as much as we all like to think we’ll go full Karate Kid on an attacker, some of us are timid and would rather be as minimally invasive as possible. That’s where the ear clap comes in.

Your inner ears control your balance — when this balance is thrown off, it’ll send your attacker into a vertigo-induced haze. S.A.S.S. says to cup your hands and slap your attacker’s ears as hard and as fast as you can. Aim to completely cup their ear to pressurize their eardrums and stun them. No matter how big or how strong someone is, no one is immune to this attack, making it a great go-to.

11. Escaping a wrist hold

Close-up shot of senior couple holding hand

Know how to escape this common hold. | iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

There may be a time when you have to work more on the defense instead of the offense. In order to drive power through punches and kicks, you’ll have to drive your body forward. If you’re in a position where your attacker has you by the wrist, moving forward into a punch will scoot you closer to them, making it easier to pull you in completely.

When you’re grabbed by the wrist, the Gracie Academy recommends you maintain a staggered stance and squat down into it. This way, it’s much harder to move you. Then, instead of pulling the wrist back toward you, lean forward and bend your elbow in toward the attacker. This position makes it really hard to maintain hold of your arm. It may seem strange to bend your arm in instead of pulling away, but give it a try — you’ll see how much more successful this is.

12. Escaping a choke hold

Karate school for adults and children

Knowing how to escape a choke hold can save your life. | iStock.com/Garsya

Even just the thought of a choke hold is scary. It’s also hard to imagine being able to think straight long enough to escape if you do find yourself in this position. But, using a few techniques from Attack Proof, Second Edition, noted by Human Kinetics, survival is certainly possible. If your attacker doesn’t fully have you in this position yet, make sure to tuck your chin and place your arm in between your chin and your chest so access to your neck is limited. From here, you can use that elbow to knock your attacker in the face, or use your free hand to go for their eyes.

If you are in a full choke hold, time is of the essence, but you do have options. Try turning your chin into the arm that’s choking you while pressing your chin down and lifting your shoulders. This will relieve some of the pressure. Then, see if you can bite the attacker’s forearm — it should be very close to your mouth. If you’re in a situation where one of your attacker’s hands is around your neck and the other is behind your head, reach behind you and peel those fingers back from your hair. This will cause your attacker to have to readjust, and when they do, seize the moment and twist out of the choke.

13. Escaping a bear hug

Woman runner running on city road

Escape this hold and run to safety. | iStock.com/lzf

Bear hugs may not seem all that insidious — after all, it’s better to be grabbed around your middle than around your throat. But it’s imperative to know how to escape. Inside Defense Krav Maga explains you’ll want to work on dropping your center of gravity forward and down. You’ll want to instinctually “get heavy” so your attacker has a harder time lifting you. Then, hook your arms around theirs and drive your elbows down to your sides, almost as if you’re going to do a chin-up. This will lock their arms in place, which will prevent them from sliding their hands up and choking you.

From here, you can roll backward out of the hold underneath your attacker’s armpit. To escape from their right side, take a small step with your right foot, then step back with your left foot diagonally past their right foot, and scoot out of the hold. You’ll have a small opportunity to throw in a knee kick to the groin once you’ve escaped the bear hug, so take advantage.

14. We all carry our keys, so use them

Person Giving Key To Man

Use your keys if necessary. | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

S.A.S.S. says many of us have been taught the best way to use our keys as self-defense is to hold them between our fingers so they stick out like deadly spikes. We’re not Wolverine, and we don’t think you are either, so here’s a better idea: Instead of going for the full set of keys dangling from your keyring, grab one key and grip it like you’re holding a knife. If you’re holding on to it tightly, you’ll be able to slash and stab with much more control, and you’ll also be a lot less likely to hurt yourself.

Another hint? If you have a number of keys to use, grab the sharpest one. Your car key is likely the dullest one of the bunch because it’s used the most. Use the one you use the least to do the most damage. 

15. Tips to remember

Young woman refuel the car

Follow these tips in any situation you’re alone — this includes when you’re getting gas. | iStock.com/Geribody

No one ever wants to be in a situation when they need to use these moves, and there are a few tips to remember that will help keep you safe if you’re ever in a potentially dangerous situation.

If you know you’ll be somewhere alone, ABC News suggests dressing in clothing that won’t be too hard to fight in. Tight skirts and high heels will limit your movements, and long necklaces are easy to grab ahold of. And when walking, always be alert. Get off your smartphone and pay attention to your surroundings. If anyone suspicious is in the area, look them in the eye. This may seem counter-intuitive, but an attacker may be less likely to follow you if they think you could identify them later on.

If someone does approach you, don’t be afraid to run. Even if they have a gun, only four out of every 100 shots are likely to hit a running target, and the chances of that bullet striking a vital organ are even slimmer. And of course, when it comes to your newly-learned self-defense moves, know the eyes, knees, throat, and groin are the most vulnerable areas.