A Mini Guide to Self-Defense: Everything You Need to Know


To understand self-defense and create your own self-defense strategy, you need to understand your own skills and abilities, work within legal parameters, and focus on tools and methods that work best for you.

In this guide, we’re breaking down all of these elements to help you create a personalized self-defense strategy — one that will rely on your existing competencies to keep you safe in public and in your own home. Let’s get started:

Competency is Key

Before you run out to the nearest pawn shop and start browsing the handguns, take a step back and consider your current skill set. Let’s break down how to assess and build your competence to create a personalized self-defense approach.

Understanding Your Competencies

As you begin to explore self-defense options, ask yourself a key question: “If I’m in a dangerous situation, what am I capable of?”

Are you:

  • Strong or able-bodied enough to fight off an assailant with physical force alone?
  • Trained enough to actually use a knife without having it forcibly taken from you?
  • An accurate enough shooter (or psychologically prepared) to land a lethal shot on an assailant?

Before you choose self-defense tools, practice scenarios, and grow your skills, you need to understand what you’re already capable of. If you aren’t sure, it’s best to underestimate your skills rather than overestimate: that way, you’ll invest in the tools and training that will protect you in the present.

Choosing Self-Defense Tools Compatible with Your Skills and Comfort

When you imagine yourself in a self-defense scenario, you might picture yourself holding a gun. But is this really the right tool for your skills and comfort level?

Self-defense experts, law enforcement officers, and researchers agree: carrying a firearm isn’t the best approach for everyone. In fact, you could even put yourself at a higher risk if you’re not competent.

Harvard University Injury Control Research Center director David Hemenway says, “The fact that you have a gun may mean that you do things you shouldn’t be doing: you take chances you wouldn’t otherwise take; you go to places where it’s really not safe, but you feel safe.”

If you want to carry a firearm for self-defense but you can’t hit a paper target from ten yards at the range, remember that there are plenty of other self-defense tools available—tools that you could use more effectively.



When it comes to self-defense competency, there are two key things to remember:

  1. Don’t get complacent – If you used to be at the top of your martial arts class, but you haven’t been to class in years, you might not still be qualified to take down an assailant. You need to maintain the skills you rely on for survival.
  2. You can always upskill – If you’re highly competent in martial arts, but you’d like to eventually become a competent knife user, you can certainly invest in training and tools to build those skills. In the meantime, you need to create a self-defense strategy around your existing skills.

You should pursue your ambitions — but remember that they won’t protect you.

Self-Defense and the Law

Another key element of self-defense is the law — and legal discourse surrounding self-defense is complex.

Before you make a self-defense plan (and choose tools), consider talking with a law enforcement officer or criminal law expert in your area. If you unlawfully defend yourself, you could face legal consequences.

Self-Defense Options

All of the above said, what are your options for self-defense tools and skills?

Technological Tools

For self-defense at home, consider using as many technological tools as possible to put distance between yourself and assailants. This might look like:

  • Using security cameras to alert you to unexpected visitors
  • Installing an electronic garage door opener that you can use from anywhere in your home
  • Adding electronic, remote locks to doors and windows
  • Setting up an alarm system

The same can be said for self-defense in public. Tasers and pepper spray, for instance, are common options — highly useful ones for people without the skills or comfort to physically fight assailants or carry more lethal weapons.

Martial Arts/Physical Skills

If you’re already versed in martial arts (or you have basic skills that could be further honed with training), it might make sense to rely on your physical competencies in self-defense scenarios.

You might be thinking, “How could I possibly defend myself with martial arts if an assailant has a gun?” But, remember that:

  • Not every self-defense scenario will involve firearms (or even knives)
  • You can learn to use martial arts skills to disarm opponents
  • Sometimes “flight” is a safer option than “fight”

People who rely on martial arts for self-defense should train specifically for self-defense scenarios (like learning to disarm assailants) and invest in skill maintenance.


If you’ve been trained to carry and use a knife, have defensive competencies, and are willing to maintain these skills, consider carrying a knife for self-defense.

There are a few important things to note about knives and self-defense:

  • Laws can vary and change – Learn more about which types of knives (like switchblades or out-the-front knives) and sizes are legal to carry in your area.
  • Be prepared to be disarmed – If an assailant knocks your knife out of your hand, what’s next? Consider building other skills (in martial arts or taser operation, for instance) as a redundancy.
  • Maintain your tools – Remember to keep your knife sharp and clean it regularly.



If you choose to carry a firearm for self-defense, remember to:

  • Choose help over handicap – If you can confidently and consistently land shots at the range with only iron sights, that’s outstanding. But consider employing accuracy tools like micro laser sights to make it as easy as possible to land a shot in a stressful scenario.
  • Choose the right firearm – While you might feel cool wielding a Desert Eagle, is this choice compatible with your skills, state laws, and concealment demands? Carrying a gun you can’t adequately use in distress is the same as not carrying one at all.

As with knives, remember to review local laws, maintain your skills, and maintain your weapon.

Stay Alert, Keep Learning, and Stay Safe

Self-defense is a nuanced, highly personal matter — your self-defense approach should be, too. Develop an understanding of your current skills (and work to maintain and improve them), understand how local laws impact your self-defense strategies, and choose the right tools for the job to keep yourself safe at home and in the world.


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