10 Tips for empowering women through self defence

“One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime. This is an appalling human rights violation, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognised pandemics of our time.” Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman says it as it is.

I started karate at the age of four – and now 30 years later, am a 5th Dan black belt, having competed at the highest level of karate.

As a young girl growing up in South Africa, I was exposed to violence and crime every day.  I will never forget the day my best friend was attacked outside of a night club – I found her pinned to a wall by her neck, hanging helplessly and gasping for air.

I realised that day that girls and women have no skills in self-protection or self-defence.  This was something I took for granted.  I was 17 years old at the time.

Now more than ever domestic violence needs to be addressed and solutions found. Not only because of the negative and often devastating effects it has on the victim, but also through its rippling affects, and the devastating consequences it has for children, particularly infants.

Self-defence is a life skill which should be taught within the school curriculum.  By learning the basics of defending yourself, you also empower yourself and increase your self-confidence.  A confident person very rarely becomes a victim.

Some very confronting statistics:

South Africa:

  • 1 person is raped every 26 seconds
  • More than 25% of men admitted in a survey of over 4000 men that they had raped a woman, and half of those admitted to multiple rape.
  • A recent national mortuary-based study concluded that in South Africa a woman is killed every six hours by an intimate partner
  • Estimates that over 40% of women will be raped in their lifetime.
  • Every 1 second a woman in South Africa is sexually abused or exposed to severe domestic violence.


  • The 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Personal Safety Australia survey found that one in six women in Australia (or 16.9%) suffered some form of physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15.
  • 33.3% of women have experienced physical violence after the age of 15. (Source: Department of Families, Housing and Community Affairs Fact Sheet 2 Women’s Safety)

10 tips to surviving an attack:

  1. Prevention. Be part of your world. Notice the small things. Use your intuition. Be aware. Avoid danger. Simple things like taking a corner wide when walking, and maintaining your own personal space bubble can help avoid a possible attack.
  2. Do not allow yourself to be the victim. Making eye contact with people is a sure sign of confidence. Walk tall, shoulders back and stride or walk with a sense of purpose and assertiveness.
  3. Surprise your attacker: Do the unexpected. An attacker thrives on the fact that they have surprised you. When this element is lost they no longer hold the power.
  4. Dog eat dog. You need to stoop to the level of the attacker and you need to be ready for it mentally.
  5. Visualise. A term you may have heard from top athletes or even in meditation classes. Well, the same applies forself-defence. Visualise all forms of attack – in your home, in your car, at work, at a party. And watch your own reaction. We practise fire drills and flood drills from the time we go to school, but never have we practised personal safety drills. Have a plan and visualise it.
  6. You need to be physically fit. Adrenaline will get you so far, but physical fitness is required to survive an attack.
  7. Make sure you know how to strike (really hard). This does not need 30 years of training, but a course on self-defence would go a long way to teaching you some fundamental basics
  8. You are stronger than you think you are. When someone teaches you the correct and most powerful way to strike, using your own body as a weapon, you realise how powerful you actually are. This one skill and the knowledge itself may save your life.
  9. Today, attackers often use drugs to take advantage of you. When out, make sure you watch your drink being poured and keep it in your hand. Date rape drugs are prevalent and if targeted you can do very little about it.
  10. Never, never go with the attacker. Fight for your life. The odds stack against you heavily when the attacker takes you with him. Research shows that out of 100% of people attacked, only 10 % fight back. Of these 10%, 90% are successful. Fighting back is usually the unexpected reaction and puts the attacker off guard.

These are by no means the answer to every situation, but a guide based on my own experience as a martial artist. Every situation is unique and requires a different response. Please feel free to share this information with friends and loved ones. It may just save their life one day.

Tammy Fry

More on Tough Love – founded by Tammy Fry

Tough Love is self-defence and functional fitness program designed to empower women.  The program in Australia funds similar programs in South Africa where women exposed to violence can be taught the skills necessary to defend themselves in dangerous and violent situations. Many of these women are victims of rape or domestic violence and if not physically, certainly mentally scarred for life. The program is also designed to build self-confidence and a sense of self-worth.

Tough Love runs programs for women only…at schools (staff and students), corporate team building events, sports clubs, community clubs and private groups.

The program is flexible and can be adapted to suit the needs of the group – whether it be a one-hour course, three-hour course or a course run over a few weeks.  We combine martial arts and functional fitness and the idea is to have loads of fun whilst learning invaluable, potentially life-saving skills.

Kenya’s Karate Grannies

Whilst violent crimes against women persist, humanity cannot move forward to a more peaceful world.

Help us to become ‘change agents’ for a better and safer world. As the famous cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead once stated-

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead


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