“YOU are allowed to fight back,” was Mandy Tyrer’s passionate advice to a group of women and girls recently during a three-hour self-defence workshop, held on a cold, drizzly Saturday morning at a suburban gym. “But self-defence is not about fighting. If you are attacked, the purpose of fighting back is to get free and escape.” While working as a fitness instructor, Tyrer’s eye was caught by a small advert in The Witness for self-defence classes. On attending the class, Tyrer said: “I was shattered how little women know about how they can protect themselves. I also realised that my own instinctive response to being attacked would have been completely wrong.” She was so empowered by the information she received at this class that she joined a national campaign called the Crime Buster Campaign. The campaign’s intention was to reach every woman and child in South Africa through the schools by educating the teachers, who, in turn, would educate the children, ensuring that the information would filter down into the communities. Unfortunately, the campaign folded after three years, but this did not stop Tyrer’s crusade to teach every woman how to protect herself. Tyrer’s Academy of Self-Defence caters for groups of about 10 women, often at gatherings such as book clubs, gardening clubs and old-age homes. She has also been educating schoolchildren during life orientation lessons for the past five years. Because 80% of rapes are linked to alcohol, when she’s talking to schoolgirls, Tyrer emphasises the role that alcohol plays in rape attacks. She said: “Girls must know that with each drop of alcohol that passes their lips, so does their awareness of what’s going on around them diminish.” Tyrer said that self-defence is all about a change in mind-set. It’s the ability to recognise dangerous situations and avoiding them, it’s about recognising signs and signals, and reacting to them in the right way. Most women have a personal space of about a metre around them and feel uncomfortable when that space is entered by another person. Tyrer said: “Honour yourself and own your space. You are allowed to be rude if you feel threatened. If your space is violated, be assertive. Forget those lessons that your mother told you, that nice girls aren’t rude, they don’t raise their voices and they are always polite. Those lessons go out the window when your safety is in question.” It’s important that women trust their intuition, what Tyrer calls her “creep radar”. Although the purpose of her self-defence workshops is to empower women to fight back and show them ways to do this, Tyrer was emphatic when she said: “Only fight back if you are being physically attacked, if the attack is personal. If the attacker just wants your stuff — your bag, car or cellphone — hand them over; they are not worth fighting for.” She said that, at all costs, if attacked, we should avoid being taken to a secondary location. “If you are being attacked, fight where you are, so if you are hijacked at a traffic light or on a road, fight to get out of the car before the hijackers drive off, even if they are armed. If they shoot you or hurt you at the primary location, they were probably going to do it anyway. Your chances of getting help and getting to a hospital quickly from a primary location are much greater than if you are taken somewhere remote because no one will know where you are.” Specifically addressing runners and walkers, Tyrer said that it’s a very bad idea to run or walk with earphones. She said: “Firstly, they are attached to something of value, which makes you a target, but most importantly, they interfere with your awareness of what’s going on around you, your most important weapon against being attacked.” Tyrer also dashed a commonly held misconception. “If you are off your property, never rely on your dogs to protect you. If you are accosted while walking or running with your dogs, it’s more likely that they will run away than protect you against an attacker,” she said. After discussing the psychology behind self-defence, which Tyrer says is 90% awareness and 10% technique, we moved onto what we can and should do physically to protect ourselves and escape potentially violent situations. Self-defence is about what Tyrer calls the three As – awareness, avoidance and action. “Once you become aware that danger is lurking, the first thing you do is try to avoid it. If you can’t avoid it, that is when you take action,” She said, and action was what we were there to learn. “You get two types of attackers; the scavenger and the predator,” Tyrer said. “The scavenger is an opportunist. He’s easy to recognise and easy to intimidate. Draw attention to him by raising your voice and shouting at him — more often than not, you’ll find that the scavenger will run away.” However, the predator, Tyrer said, is the one you’ll probably have to fight, because he’s unlikely to be put off by being verbally challenged. “His actions are premeditated. He has a plan that he’s determined to execute. This is the guy you have to be worried about, and I’m going to show you how you can get the better of him.” Tyrer’s first rule was: “Never fight against a man’s strength; you won’t win. Target his weaknesses, his soft targets. For instance, it’s pointless driving your fist into a man’s abdominals — they are naturally stronger there than women.” We were shown eight places on a man’s body to target. “In an attack, if you don’t remember anything else, just remember four primary areas always to go for: nose, ears, eyes and groin,” Tyrer said. Keeping those areas in mind, she showed us the weapons we have on our bodies that we can use very effectively to fight back and escape an attack. “Think about your body from the top of your head — you have up to 14 natural weapons that you can use to defend yourself,” she said. “You have between three and 10 seconds to react, taking advantage of the element of surprise and before you are overwhelmed by his strength. If you decide that you are going to fight back, you must be committed. Your aim is to inflict as much pain as possible because pain interferes with thought and his plan will unravel, giving you that split second to escape,” Tyrer said. We went through all the possible attack scenarios and how to handle each situation, which of our natural weapons to use in which situation and how, and which can be used in combination. Practising on each other, we realised that a lot of what we were taught is common sense which you don’t know you have, until you are told or shown it. Tyrer said: “We have to face the reality of living in a violent South Africa, so deal with that reality by becoming empowered, instead of being a passive victim.” We all left the workshop feeling stronger and more confident in our ability to protect ourselves should the need ever arise. It’s amazing what a little knowledge can do to boost your belief in yourself, and while I hope that I never have to put anything I’ve learnt into practice, at least I know that because of what I have learnt, I may have a fighting chance. • Mandy Tyrer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org • Recommended reading: The South African Woman’s Guide to Self-defence by Sanette Smit.