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Defend yourself: Self-defense dos, don'ts and classes

Tuesday - 5/14/2013, 8:57am  ET

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Hackley says the focus of a self-defense course should be on situational awareness. (Thinkstock)

Rachel Nania, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Getting fit doesn't just help improve your physical image, it can also help you to stay safe. But with several different popular fighting styles out there, choosing the one that is right for you can be challenging.

Personal trainer Fairfax Hackley offers some advice on how to pick the right course and style to protect yourself from a potential attacker.

Choose a course that focuses less on perfecting technique and more on how to handle a dangerous situation.

Hackley says the focus of a self-defense course should be on situational awareness.

"A lot of these techniques and things they teach you in martial arts classes really don't work well in the street," Hackley says. "If you can identify the three d's -- detect, diffuse and defend -- you have a better chance of surviving a violent confrontation."

Think about what you are capable of doing in a dangerous situation.

If ever attacked, would you be able to hit or kick someone? Don't take a class that focuses on physical retaliation of you think you would not be able to strike someone. Instead, take a class that focuses on escaping a situation through alternative means.

"It's the lack of awareness to a situation, also unfamiliarity with your environment, that really contribute to you being a better situation person, to figure out what to do and what not to do," says Hackley, who adds that taking a self-defensive class can prepare a person for dealing with fear and surprise in an attack situation. "Remember, they don't want to fight, they want to win."

Hackley explains that both men and women can be victims. In fact, men are twice as likely to become victims of violent crimes. They are also more likely to be victimized by a stranger, whereas women are more likely to be victimized by a friend or an acquaintance.

If you ever find yourself in a threatening situation, Hackley offers tips on how to avoid a dangerous situation.

  • Use at least four of your five senses at all times. For example, do not go jogging at night while listening to music through headphones. Already, your guard is down by compromising your sight and your hearing.

  • Try to talk an attacker out of something. "The longer it goes, the better off your chances," Hackley says. "A real attacker wants to take advantage of you when you're unaware so you can't identify them, you can't pick up on certain things."

  • Don't kick above the waist. Hackley explains the attacker can see it coming more easily and stop the kick.

  • Don't hit a person with a closed hand. With an opened hand you can grab a person, scratch a person, etc.

  • Use your voice. Hackley says a victim should not only scream, but also scream descriptions of the attacker and the weapons the attacker is threatening. Using a whistle is also a good option to attract attention from others.

  • Pepper spray is not always your friend. Using pepper spray can backfire. If sprayed in a fast-type of situation, the victim can accidently walk into the direction the pepper spray was aimed, or the wind could blow the pepper spray in the direction of the victim. If pepper spray is on a keychain, an attacker may be able to spot it prior to approaching the victim and take it away from the victim.

"Defending is always your last resort, but if you can, that is the thing that will keep you safe," Hackley says.

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