Master these self-defence tips

03 April 2014

Be smart and arm yourself and your child with this advice from an expert on how to ward off a rape or assault.

What do you do when you and your child are confronted by an intruder in your house? Self-defence expert Sanette Smit is an experienced karate instructor and says one of the biggest mistakes women can make is to believe there’s some good in their attacker.

“Don’t be naïve – and don’t be scared to act. If you make a mistake and the person didn’t intend harming you the most important thing is that you’re safe – not that you may have offended him.”

Sanette says until recently she served on many sports bodies which meant she often came home late at night. “When I got home and felt unsettled I wouldn’t go to bed without first checking every room and hiding place in the house. I never found anyone. But if I had, I would’ve been in a better position than had he caught me unawares while [I was] sleeping.”

Sanette became interested in self-defence because she realised the women and children at her karate classes in Vredehoek, Cape Town, were physically capable of defending themselves but knew little about an attacker and his tactics. “That’s when I started interviewing rapists and rape victims. I realised we didn’t know what we were up against and I was horrified by some of the stories I heard.”

The interviews and research she did were used in her book, The South African Woman’s Guide to Self-defence. Over the past 10 years 100 000 girls in the Western Cape have been trained in self-defence at her self-defence school, which also offers workshops at schools.

Here are Sanette’s top tips for parents and children.

  1. Intuition is your strongest weapon “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable – be it someone you know or someone who stops you on the street to ask for water or food – make yourself scarce.”
  2. Always choose the best option for your specific situation. “Each attacker is different. What you’re wearing, where it happens and when, all play a role. If the attacker uses a communication tactic to make contact with you, you can talk yourself out of the situation. But if he opts for a direct attack, such as slipping into your house, you have to take action. This doesn’t necessarily mean punching him. If you’re lying on the ground and see there’s sand nearby, chuck a handful into his eyes.”
  3. Don’t be naïve. Remember the attacker is there to do you harm and nothing else. Sanette says one woman she interviewed told her an intruder slipped into the house while she was hanging washing. “When the woman found him in her house he told her she needn’t worry – he only wanted to steal, not rape her, but that he was nervous which was why she had to allow him to tie her up. She agreed; the man cleared [out her house] and then came back and raped her. Don’t let an intruder trick you. Take action – immediately.”
  4. Use all your senses. “Can you see the two men standing on the street corner when you walk to the café? Did you hear the car stopping behind you while walking home? Do the footsteps behind you sound strange? And if you hear something falling in the house do you assume it was the wind that knocked it over or do you prepare yourself for the possibility it could be a criminal? Make sure you’re not caught unawares and take note of the smallest details.”
  5. If you do have to use force go for the sensitive parts. “These include the eyes, nose, ears, throat and between the legs, giving you enough time to get out of harm’s way.”
  6. Give your child permission to act. “Often children feel they may get into trouble if they’re nasty to the male relative who makes them feel uncomfortable or that they’ll be scolded if they tell stories about the man standing next to the sports field watching the kids. Talk to your children and make sure they know their job is to tell you if anything makes them feel uncomfortable.”
  7. Work out an emergency plan for attacks and practise it as you would an emergency plan for a fire. “Ask someone whom the child knows and trusts to pretend to be the attacker. Choose a code world such as ‘Shrek’ or ‘Tom Cruise’ and make sure everyone in the family knows what they should do if you use the word. Also make sure your kids know what to do in the event of an attack. Whether it’s climbing out of a window and running to the neighbours or running to a telephone upstairs in the house, make sure your child gets out of the way so you can put your self-defence plan into action.”
  8. If your child is in the vicinity you can’t think straight. So make sure they understand they have to run to safety if something were to happen. Sanette says many parents don’t realise this until something does happen, but when you’re in danger you can only take the correct action if you know your child is safe.
  9. Remember you have the advantage of launching a surprise attack. “Rapistshave told me they don’t regard women as being able to fight back [or if] they do, they don’t regard them as a threat. So if you know what to do you have the upper hand.”
  10. Don’t think martial arts are enough. Sanette says in the self-defence workshops, which last an afternoon, they teach you much more than kicking and punching. They teach you about the tactics an attacker resorts to and how to think on your feet. It’s protection even for those who aren’t fit and anyone can learn it.”

Click here for more information about Sanette’s workshops.

Watch a video demonstration of Sanette's self-defence techniques here.

-Dalena Theron

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