Basic self-defense skills before departure

I had never thought about taking self-defense classes until I made the decision to travel the world, partly as a solo traveler. Not only I wanted to prepare myself for any uncomfortable situations, but also, the fact that I was doing a MLA pushed me towards acquiring new skills, such as self-protection, especially in preparation for my solo travel experience.

I had 6 weeks in Lisbon before I headed to India, so I planned to take a few self-defense classes in my home town. I found a place where I could start anytime and stay as long as I wanted, which was perfect for me. There were classes 2 times a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 19h:15m to 20h:45m, for a monthly fee of 25€ + 1 time off subscription fee of 10€.

In my first class there were only 3 other people plus the instructor, which was perfect. I explained my motivation to be there and the instructor, very nicely, took around half an hour to explain me (and to remind the other students) about the principles of self-defense. I will never forget the first thing he said (since for me, without putting much thought on it, self-defense was solely about physical contact): “self-defense starts with intuition and common sense”. Of course, makes so much sense! You don’t need to get into physical contact to protect yourself from any kind of harm. It is said that “prevention is the best self-defense”. Basic things include: being aware of surroundings, not walking alone in remote areas, especially at night, avoiding places like nightclubs and pubs that have a reputation for violence, not taking rides from strangers, etc.

Self-defense can be divided in 3 stages, according to the professor:

  1. Prevention, through avoidance and awareness: “most potential confrontations are avoidable if you use the tool of awareness, follow the prescribed rules and use your common sense”, therefore “the key phrase in contemporary self-protection is target hardening. By making yourself a hard target you lessen your chances of being chosen as a potential victim.” – Geoff Thomson.  In his book, rules to follow are described for situations like/ involving: in the home, in the car, car break-downs, car abductions, taxi drivers, on foot, in town, in the nightclub or pub.
  2. Avoiding confrontation, through identifying a possible attack and running away from the dangerous situation. There are 4 techniques often used by attackers in preparing victims for attack: dialogue, deception, distraction and destruction. Geoff Thomson describes each of these techniques in detail in his book.
  3. Confrontation, through learning how to fight back effectively when there is physical contact. There are some basic self-defense techniques that can keep us safe:
    a) Get loud and push back! This signals 2 things: help and that we are not an easy target.
    b) Hit as hard as you can! “When you’re in a confrontation, you only have a few seconds and a few moves to try before the fight may be decided. Before an attacker has gained full control of you, you must do everything you can – conserving as much energy as possible – to inflict injury so you can get away.” – Melanie Pinola.

Most Effective Body Parts to Hit

The Most Effective Body Parts to Hit

c) Apply different moves for getting out or defending against common holds or attacks! Best way to learn them is in class… they need to be practised until they feel natural. You can watch some examples here.

This is just a glimpse on self-defense, there is so much more in case we want to fully immerse ourselves on the topic. A book suggestion is made on the bottom of this post.

A final remark from Sun Tzu on “The Art of War“:

“Thus, those that win one hundred triumphs in one hundred conflicts,
Do not have supreme skill. Those who have supreme skill,
Use strategy to bend others without coming to conflict.
The ideal strategy, therefore, is to thwart a plan.
The next best is to thwart a negotiation.
The next best is to thwart a strategy.
The inferior politic is to attack a fortified area.
Attacking a fortified area is an art of last resort;
Those skilled in executing a strategy,
Bend the strategy of others without conflict;
Uproot the fortifications of others with out attacking;
Absorb the organisations of others without prolonged operations.”

MASTER FACT: The best self-defense tactic is prevention, through intuition and common sense.

SKILLS: Basic self-defense.

PLACES: Classes: NDPL – Núcleo de Defesa Pessoal de Lisboa, Rua Helena Félix (Centro de Apoio à Juventude João Paulo II, ao C. U. PioXII), 1600-083 Lisbon, Portugal – Contact: +351 965 325 822.

BOOKS:Dead or Alive – The Choice is Yours“, Geoff Thomson.


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