Self-Defense Is Whatever Works

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Sometimes the art of self-defense requires more than physical skills. A little creativity can go a long way. Christine Schoefer has this Perspective.

In 15 years of teaching self-defense in the Bay Area, I’ve been told many stories. Descriptions of attacks have kept me up at night. Reports of quick-witted reactions and creative escapes inspire me: Way to go!

Recently in a Berkeley workshop, a white-haired man named Barry recounted a story unlike the others.

One evening, Barry was walking with his young nephew on the Berkeley Pier, enjoying the sparkly view of distant San Francisco. In an instant, pleasant became threatening: two men stepped out from behind a concrete fishing shelter. The smaller one spoke: “I have a gun. Give me your wallet.” He was agitated, high strung. It was dark and no one else was nearby. Barry spoke to the larger man who appeared to be calmer.

“It was too dark to see well but I had an intuition that this man was not dangerous,” Barry told us. “I said, ‘I won’t give you my wallet but I will give you a blessing.’ We locked eyes, while the small guy cursed under his breath. The tall man spoke: ‘What if I told you I need 20 bucks for my family.’


Barry replied: “If that’s how it is, I’ll give you twenty bucks.” He handed over a bill from his wallet. The two strangers walked away, towards the shore. After a few paces, the tall guy turned around and came right up to Barry. He said: “You forgot the blessing.”

A mugging is fueled by a complex emotional mix of desperation, anger and longing.

Real-life self defense is more than physical techniques; it also combines awareness with tools of assertiveness. Importantly, it relies on situational, impromptu ingenuity that arises from a person’s life experiences.

Barry’s response to the muggers interrupted the script, upended expectations, and opened space for something different to happen.

A blessing indeed.

With a Perspective, this is Christine Schoefer.

Christine Schoefer is a writer who teaches empowerment skills to women and girls.