It’s no question that the world can be a dangerous place. If anything were to happen to you, it’s important to know how to defend yourself and one of the best ways is to be trained.

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I’ve asked two professionals to weigh in and offer some tips on the basics. The first, Danielle Clark, is a senior at Cornell and certified third degree black belt with 11 years of experience. She has training in mixed martial arts with a focus in Krav Maga, kickboxing, and Muay Thai. Danielle teaches Women’s MMA and Fitness on Mondays in Appel from 8-9. She’s the badass fighter everyone aspires to be. The next professional I consulted is Kevin Seaman, who has more certification and training than you can imagine. With 47 years of Martial Arts experience, 8 black belts, and certification as a US boxing coach, he’s definitely in the game for the long haul. He’s also an author, professional educator, speaker, and consultant. Kevin teaches Self-Defense and Personal Safety, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and a few other classes on campus.

I asked these professionals why they think self-defense is important and what tips they have for people unable to make it to their classes. Here are their responses:

Why is self-defense important to you?

Danielle: I think it is incredibly important, particularly for women, to be trained in self-defense even if that means just knowing the basics. It is empowering for women to learn how to protect and defend themselves and to feel confident in their bodies and abilities. For me, training in Self-Defense and Martial Arts has also helped me to have greater respect for my body and to emphasize my mental and physical health.

Kevin: No one has the right to hurt you or your family in any way. I study and teach self-defense to ensure that this happens to neither me nor my students. I believe that no one is coming to the rescue. If I am going to be protected, it will be for myself, by myself. I am a survivor with a warrior mindset.

What are some basic skills everyone should know?

Danielle: Know that knees and elbows are the most destructive strikes. Always try to distance yourself from the attacker and keep your hands up in guard for protection.

Kevin: I feel everyone should have a certain general level of environmental awareness on a day-to-day basis. People are unbelievably distracted in today’s world and this makes them a “soft” or “easy” target.

Why should Cornell students take self-defense?

Danielle: As students, we may be walking home late at night from the library with few other people around. You never know what could happen. The best plan is to always be prepared and equipped with basic knowledge of self-defense.

Kevin: In Self-Defense, I have one rule… go home safe. There is no room for social etiquette, rules, or compassion. You have one objective… injure or disable the attacker and escape! And I teach students the basic skills and drill them over and over again to allow them to do so.

Any tips on being more aware or advice for daily practices?

Danielle: I think it is important for women to understand tactics to help prevent them from being attacked in the first place. For example, attackers often look for women wearing baggy clothing or with their hair up because a ponytail is an easy thing to grab. As well, while walking on city streets, it is important to walk on the side closer to the road. This is because if the woman walks closer to the doors and alleyways, it is much easier for the attacker to pull her into the dark alley in only a few seconds without anyone noticing. Or even just remembering to always park in parking lots under lights and to have her keys ready and in her hand while walking through the lot to her car so that she is not fumbling in her purse to get them while walking, can make a huge difference.

Kevin: Walk with a friend, look both ways, be careful after dark, don’t become too familiar with strangers that do not fit in your sociological environment, and don’t get in a car alone with anyone you don’t know. In addition to that, if they work at night, they should try to park in a lit area, be on Orange Alert (as shown below) when in parking garages. Keep your keys in your hand while you walk to your vehicle. These can be used as a defensive weapon, a diversionary tool (hitting your alarm button on your key), and allow you to get into your car undistracted, not having to look for your keys.

I use a simple Color Code System that is easy to learn based on Jeff Cooper’s system:

  • White: Relaxed/Unaware – This is when you are at home or in a safe environment.
  • Yellow: Relaxed/Aware – This is when you are in public.
  • Orange: On Alert – This is when you are in a potentially vulnerable environment or have been made aware there may be potential danger.
  • Red: Take Action – This is the “Switch!” This means you are in danger and need to fight or take flight. This is the area that most people need to train themselves on much more consistently. We need to learn HOW to flip the “Switch”.

Any final advice?

Danielle: When I left for college, I didn’t cry leaving my friends or parents (sorry mom and dad!), but was a blubbering mess leaving my dojo and my instructors who are like family to me. It is a sport that has taught me modesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance and an indomitable spirit (which are what we call the principles of black belt). It is a sport anyone can participate in at any point in their lives, which I think makes it very special.

Kevin: Most of the basic survival methods I teach are there as a last resource. Predators take about seven seconds to evaluate a target as a YES, NO or MAYBE. How you present yourself has a huge bearing on whether or not you will be selected or looked over for the next prime target. Proper training will show you how to be seen and evaluated as a “Hard Target” that will be way more trouble than wanted. Be that “Hard Target”! Be Safe!

Now we can’t model the superheroes we see on the big screen, like Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) or Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), but what we can do is be more prepared for the real world. We can have sharper focus and by taking a self-defense class, equip ourselves with the skills to stay safe. Cornell may have a relatively low crime rate, but we do have numerous cases of sexual assault and the male ego is rampant in college students. In addition, we travel and are only on campus for 4 years, so being ready for any environment is important, and is a skill that will serve us for our entire lives.