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Hair and Self Defense (Martial Arts)


Long Haired Model

I was reading Hair Politics recently and ran into an entry where a woman with long hair stated how many people touch her long hair without asking her permission.

There were many helpful ideas given in how to deal with this situation, and someone also mentioned that perhaps taking a course of martial arts might help.

There was also an earlier note where someone mentioned they had a friend who cut off her long hair because she was afraid that an *attacker could restrain her by holding it while assaulting her.

It's to this last statement I'm addressing this article.

Tae-Kwon-Do & Self-Defense

Having taught Tae-Kwon-Do and self-defense for years, I’d like to share a few tips I picked up along the way concerning hair.

Before I do, let me first make the following statements:

  • It’s never a bad idea to know some defensive moves. If you don’t actually take a class, then be sure you know what defense(s) you want to use, and practice them often.
  • Make an everyday practice of thinking through possible scenarios. If you were attacked in some way (fill in the blank), what would you do? Where would you go? What would you say? Be prepared—NOT scared!
  • It is possible to seriously hurt or even kill someone using some of the moves I will describe. Be aware of what you are doing, and whether or not your life is in danger.
  • If you have to hurt your attacker in order to get away, don’t waste time checking to see if he’s ok. Run to safety first, then call for help for him if you feel you need to.
  • REMEMBER: Nothing is absolutely guaranteed to keep you safe. This is why it is important to keep a couple ideas in mind at all times.

Hair Grabs

Long Haired Model

I always advised my long-haired students to keep their hair out of their eyes so they could see easily; they usually pulled it back into a ponytail or braid. However, as neat as a ponytail or braid is, it can still be used as easily as unbound hair to restrain.

There is nothing that makes you feel more helpless than being held from behind by your hair—like holding a kitten by the scruff of the neck. Your scalp is sensitive, and having your hair held back roughly can be painful and immobilizing.

Hair grabs are restraining moves, and by the way, short hair is no deterrent.

The two basic "hair grabs" are when the hair is grabbed by the front of the head, or by the hair in back of the head. In a front grab, the attacker usually grasps the bangs or whatever front hair he can reach.

Imagine that your attacker is facing you, with your bangs firmly held in his hand. What do you do? In a back grab, the attacker is behind you, usually holding your hair very close to your head to immobilize you. He figures you can’t use your hands to defend yourself. But there are other things you can do.

Front Grab - First Determine If You Are In Danger

Long Haired Model

The more quickly you can access a situation, the better chance you have of getting away. If "the attacker" is your boyfriend’s best friend being funny, and he doesn’t stop when you tell him to, you’ll need a few moves which will make him let you go, but not cause permanent harm.

Move #1: If the attacker is standing still and wrestling with you, ease the strain on your hair by putting up one hand and grasping the hand holding your bangs. Step toward him quickly. You must move fast to put him off balance; hopefully he will feel he’s falling backward and loosen his grip so you can get away. If this doesn’t work, grab whatever you can—an ear, nose, hair, and twist until they let go.

Move #2: If the attacker is someone you don’t know, you can only assume he means to harm you. Again, assume you are in the same position as before. If he still hangs on after you grasp his hand and move forward, use your free hand to make a fist (thumb on the outside, never on the inside!). Aim your punch hard at his Adam’s apple; if he can’t breathe, he can’t hang on to you.

WARNING: This move can kill. It can also permanently damage the larynx. You may also strike the area between the attacker’s nose and upper lip by striking it quickly with the heel of your hand.

WARNING: This move can kill. If it is delivered hard enough, this move can push the nasal bones into the brain. All the time you do these things, yell "FIRE!" or "911!" as loud and as often as you can. Why not yell "HELP?"

The sad fact is that "HELP" may be ignored, but "FIRE" or "911" usually gets people’s attention—after all, it may be their house on fire!

Back Grab - First Determine If You Are In Danger

Long Haired Model

Again, quickly assess the situation. If someone is just being annoying and holding your hair from behind, you can dump them on the ground, but you have to be fast.

Move #1: Quickly bend down (and there is a risk here that he may catch on and not let you bend), and grab his knee on the leg closest to you and pull his knee up quickly between your legs. If it doesn’t land him on his butt it will at least cause him to lose his balance. In Move #3 (this section), you can stay upright.

Move #2: Try to get a feel for how close the attacker is behind you; if you can glance down and see one of his feet, even better. Lift your knee up as high as you can, and stamp down on his instep. Even if he is wearing boots, this will hurt.

Again, if you feel you are in danger as you are being held from behind, take action immediately to stop the attack.

Move #3: You can repeat the same move as in Move #1 (this section), where you bend down quickly, grab his knee and pull it up hard. But this time, plant your weight on one leg, and with the other, lift your knee up as high as you can and point your heel downward. Using your full weight, drive the heel down hard into the attacker’s groin, and run.

WARNING: This move can seriously and/or permanently injure.

Move #4: As before in #2, try to get a feel for how close the attacker is behind you. Lift your knee up as high as you can, and, scrape your foot hard down the inside of his leg. Follow with a hard stamp on his instep. If he still doesn’t let go, follow this up by bringing your heel up as high and as hard as you can between his legs.

WARNING: This move can seriously and permanently injure. (Don’t try this last one if your attacker is much taller than you.)

Long Haired Model

There are many, many moves, but when in a life or death situation, you need to keep your own moves as simple and to-the-point as possible. Your ultimate goal is to get away from your attacker and get to safety.

Let me stop here and say a few words about the good old kick-in-the-groin kick our daddies all told us to use. FORGET IT. Unless you do it hard enough to drop him and stop him, you are just going to make him furious and he’ll really hurt you.

If the attacker is trying to pull you somewhere, for instance into his car, by your hair, fight to stay where you are! You never want to let him get you to a secluded area.

I’ve given you scenarios only involving one attacker. When I used to take my self-defense seminars on the road, I always got questions about what to do with more than one attacker, how to defend against knives, guns, etc.

There are just too many possible scenarios to talk about here, but these are excellent questions you can ask a martial arts or self-defense instructor. I will tell you this much: in any attack situation, your best defense is your brain. Get used to figuring out what you could do if you had to.

Hair Model

Think of what you might say to discourage attack. I’ve included some brief examples of what some actual victims said to their attackers that stopped them:

  • One elderly woman who was carjacked in her driveway at gunpoint, turned to her attacker and screamed "every dirty word I could think of!" in his face. He was so startled he dropped the gun and ran.
  • A would-be kidnapper tried to pick up a 5 year old girl and take her into his car. She struggled and kicked, and screamed over and over again, "I don’t know you! I don’t know you!" People in the vicinity heard her and some came running. The kidnapper dropped the girl and ran away.
  • A 12 year-old girl was attacked by a man in his late 20’s who tried to get her into his van. She had been taking karate for 2 years, and she immediately kicked him repeatedly in his knees and shins. The attack stopped when he dropped to the sidewalk in pain. She then ran for help.

Obviously, for these people, what they did at that time worked for them. Sometimes plain luck has a lot to do with what works. This is why you need to keep thinking of things you can do.


Long Haired Model

As stated earlier, your best defense is always your brain. Wherever you are, always be in tune with what is going on around you. I always advocate leaving headphones behind when you are out walking or jogging. And if you are out walking or jogging, stay away from deserted areas.

Always stay in an area where people can hear you if you need help. Be aware of situations that can endanger you, such as using an outdoor ATM machine at night, or pumping your own gas at night.

To the woman who felt she had to sacrifice her long hair for safety, I offer this: you have every right to wear your hair as long as you please.

But if you are afraid it can be used against you, take the time to look into a basic self-defense course and ask the instructor for ideas. It will give you peace of mind, and freedom to enjoy your long hair!

*Men, please forgive me by referring to "the attacker" as "he." I don’t want to infer that all attacks are by males.

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- Revised Publication Date: 04/29/11

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