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High Fives

5 Principles of Empowerment Self Defense

The cornerstone of Empowerment Self Defense (ESD) is the 5 Principles.






Empowerment Self-Defense goes much deeper into awareness and how we think in terms of Social Awareness


Social Awareness as self defense helps us to recognize and disrupt toxic and unhealthy behaviors with people we know.

Situational awareness is something that we are taught when we are young. "Look both ways before you cross the street." We've all heard this a million times from the adults in our lives - for a very good reason. Awareness of our surroundings is a vital part of keeping ourselves safe. Do I know where the exits are when out in public places? Am I distracted by my phone or have headphones on when I am walking by myself? Did I lock the door my car door when I got into the driver's seat? Did I leave my drink unattended while I went to the bathroom at the bar?

As children, we need to be taught these things. As adults, we begin to consciously and unconsciously put this awareness into practice. But what do we learn about assessing situations that may not fall into the category of surroundings awareness?

Empowerment Self-Defense goes much deeper into awareness and how we think in terms of Social Awareness - how we live in the world and the people we come in contact with. 

Social Awareness as self defense helps us to recognize and disrupt toxic and unhealthy behaviors with people we know. This could include, but certainly not limited to: friends, co-workers, bosses, coaches, family members, intimate partners, and spouses. I invite you to assess the people around you and ask the following questions:

Have I set healthy boundaries with these people?

Do they respect my boundaries?

How do I feel when I am around them?

Now reflect on your answers to these questions. Where do they fall into these categories: red light (definitely toxic), green light (healthy), and yellow light (could be toxic if accompanied by other indicators, or not really sure - totally okay, by the way). 

If you have determined that you are involved with an individual(s) who is not respecting you and your boundaries, the next step to THINK is to have a plan of action. How are you going to protect your mental, emotional, and physical well-being from this person?

Do you reassert your boundaries?

Do you communicate to them or to someone else how they are hurting you?

Do you remove yourself from the situation?

These are not in any order of importance or mandatory. You choose to decide how to respond.


Remember, we're still in the THINK phase. No action has been taken yet. This is how we assess and plan our response to toxic individuals. Now that we have an idea of what we want to do, we decide how we want to move forward in action.

Using our voice is an important tool for setting and maintaining our boundaries.


"The way you rehearse, is the way you perform."

In ESD when we talk about the principle of YELL, we are talking about all of the different ways in which we use our voice to communicate. Our voices can be utilized in many different ways - a soft whisper, a stern low tone, a loud shout. 


Our voice is the first line of defense in terms of personal safety.  After we have determined our boundaries with our friends, family, co-workers, and clients, it is time to assert those boundaries with action. Our choice in action is determined by our relationships with these people and our state of mind at the time. 

Do we shout at them to get them off their guard and to alert others the we are in danger?

Do we call out their behavior right there or do we calmly discuss it with them later?

Do we communicate clearly and decisively our boundaries and how they are crossing them?

Do we distract them to buy us some time to get to a safe place?

None of these choices are right or wrong. Being confident in your voice sets clear boundaries. 

I have friends and students who are introverts. Some of them don't want confrontation at all. Some just can say "no" to someone. I am sympathetic to the plight of the introvert, I still tell them to suck it up. Fake it til you make it. Even if you don't feel bold and brave, play the part. At least until you can get some place safe. 

In Empowerment Self Defense, we work on our voices...alot. Just like any other technique, it must be practiced. We get used to hearing ourselves be loud, and we become comfortable with it. I had a theatre director tell me and my castmates during dress rehearsals, "The way you rehearse, is the way you perform." It applies to all aspects of life, and it certainly applies in self defense. Work it, and it will work for you. 

Removing ourselves from a situation and finding a safe space is important to regroup and decide what to do next.


We have every right to walk away from places or conversations that make us uncomfortable, regardless of anyone else’s feelings

After using our voice, our next best bet is to remove ourselves from a situation. This does not always mean that we have to sprint out of the room at hyper-speed (though sometimes that may be necessary). Like the other principles, how we RUN is situational and depends on how comfortable we feel with a confrontation with an individual.

Walking away from a situation, especially if both parties are escalated, is usually a good idea. This is a good technique to use with familiars - family members, significant others. Often times if we can go for a quick walk to rethink the situation, it gives both individuals a moment to think through what is happening and re-claim more rational thought. 


There are times when it is more difficult to leave a situation: in the office, at a meeting, at a social gathering. This is a good time to excuse ourselves to the bathroom or leave to get another drink. If we have to fib or straight out lie, that is okay. 


If we are under physical threat, now is the time to get away and sprint to the nearest safe place - someplace with people around, a trusted friend / family member's house, our own house, a shelter.

Remember that when and how we remove ourselves from a situation is completely up to us. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how we choose to keep ourselves safe.



75% of women who fight back are more likely to disrupt an assault and stop it from completion.

Physical self defense is the final boss of personal safety. Fighting back is the choice we make when we have set our boundaries, they have been violated, and we can no longer remove ourselves from the situation. 

There are many reasons why we could be hesitant to fight back physically, just as there are many reasons that we should:

We are afraid of hurting someone else - Using physical techniques to protect your body is not assault. Our aim in fighting back to is neutralize our assailant who is trying to hurt us. The goal of self defense as a whole is RUN away from the danger and get to a safe place. 

We are afraid that we may get hurt more if we fight back - Real talk, if you engage someone physically, there is a risk of getting hurt. However, studies show that up to 75% of women who fight back show less physical harm and are more likely to disrupt an attack and stop it from completion. This is where we weigh the chance of possibly getting hurt and the cost of a more severe assault.

We are not strong enough to fight back effectively (this is more likely a fear of women or individuals of smaller stature.) - In Empowerment Self Defense we learn a series of effective, easy to learn techniques that, when practiced, can be executed under stressful encounters. They are techniques appropriate for all genders, most body types and capabilities, and experience. And YES, THEY WORK!

The biggest takeaway from choosing how and when to fight back is this: WE ARE WORTH FIGHTING FOR!!

Talking about our experiencing can help us heal from trauma. 


Possibly the least talked about, but just as equally important as the other principles, is TELL. This goes beyond the scope of "reporting" or "disclosing" to law enforcement. While that is always in option (only if you feel safe doing so), healing from any kind of violence can be encouraged when we can find a safe space to tell others. When we experience any kind of violence or trauma, we deserve to find a person (or group) who is supports us in an environment without fear of punishment or judgement. This kind of support can be with whomever you choose to feel safe with: friends, family, a therapist, an anonymous group. Just like the above principles, we get to choose how and when we feel comfortable talking about our experience. 

Always know that an assault is not on us, no matter what lame excuse our assailant (or sometimes even society) would try to make us believe. It is always the perpetrator's fault - end of story. Never stop looking for a safe place to talk about your experience. If one person doesn't listen, try another. Speak your truth and heal. 

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