When I tell people the neighborhood I live in, the first question asked is, "Do you feel safe there?" I always have the same answer: Anything can happen to you anywhere, at any time, especially in New York City.
As someone who rarely experiences anxiety, it's alarming how sketchy areas of New York make me nervous. Fortunately, I've never experienced a life threatening situation.
The worst I've been through happened on the express train between 125th and 59th Streets on a Sunday afternoon. In an uncomfortable situation, that 66-street stretch with no stops can feel like an eternity.
A young man approached me, mumbling, and initially I just moved to a different seat. He followed me. I moved again.
He was leaning on the pole, towering over me and mumbling nonstop. I could only catch a few words but, from what I understood, he was commenting on my body. I ignored him, hoping he'd give up, but he leaned in closer. Angry and frightened, I yelled at him to stop bothering me.
A guy sitting next to me got up and asked the passengers on the train to applaud if they wanted the man to leave me alone. Everyone started clapping and it worked. Embarrassed, the mumbler sat down across from me, but continued to stare. I was mortified and my hands were shaking.
Even though nothing happened, I would have felt more confident about the situation if I had a bit of self-defense knowledge. I was given an opportunity to work with the founder of Steve Sohn's Krav Maga Self Defense & Fitness Training Center, who taught me the basics of self-defense.
The first class is actually free, and from there you can sign up for a package. In just one hour with Steve, I learned moves and techniques that will come in handy if I ever find myself in a threatening situation again. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Fighting stance
In the wake of a dangerous encounter with another person, you have to be ready to defend and fight. Your fighting stance is essential, and it makes you feel like a badass.
Protect your face by pointing your palms slightly outward, legs wide like you're riding a motorcycle. The wide stance with your weight distributed evenly provides stability. The foot of your dominant side should be slightly behind your other foot, so you're ready to go.
2. Striking with your hand
From your fighting stance, you'll have more power throwing a straight punch or using the base of your palm by engaging your hips.
Your thumb should be tucked over your first two fingers. If you punch correctly, only your first two knuckles will be making contact, instead of the whole fist. Keep your other hand up to protect your face.
When using an open hand, use the base of your palm and thrust upward. This move is especially useful when going for your attacker's nose.
The human body is equipped with several weapons, like elbows and knees. An elbow to the face can do some serious damage. You don't need to rely only on your hands to strike someone. If your attacker is close to you, use your elbows and knees to strike him or her.
3. The basic kick
A swift foot to the groin is sufficient and will take your assailant down, but a vertical front kick to the stomach is also powerful. This kick can stop someone who's coming straight at you. It might not take your attacker out, but it will provide enough space for you to get away.
Lift your leg from the hips and aim the sole of your foot at where your attacker's stomach would be. It's important to lean your hips up and thrust your knee forward. Getting your hips up and leaning back allows you to kick higher.
4. The forearm block
In the class, Steve taught me to use my forearms to block any angle of a frontal attack. To block correctly, bend your arm 90 degrees at the elbow, and flex to hold the L-shape. If my attacker tried to strike over my head, I would lift up my arm, with my wrist over my forehead.
Below, my attacker is trying to strike from the left, so I'm blocking him with my left arm. Aim to block wrist to wrist, instead of with your forearm. Crossing over is a no-no -- you don't want to block a strike from the left side with your right hand.
Blocking isn't just a defensive technique, either. The motion should be forceful, so you're also pushing your attacker's arm away from you. Doing these blocks reminded me of my dance and cheerleading days when the teacher used to scream at us to have "strong arms." Floppy noodle blocking isn't going to cut it!
5. Escaping a front choke hold
It takes about a second for someone to completely cut off your airflow by choking you. If someone tries, grab his or her hands and pluck them sharply away from your neck. The motion is fast and powerful. Simultaneously, use your knee to strike the groin.
There are several other ways to strike your attacker and get out of this situation.
6. Getting out of a bear hug
If your attacker comes from behind and your arms are trapped, kick backward and upward, aiming for the groin.
You can also drop your weight, making it tough for your assailant to hang onto you, by squatting slightly lower. If your arms are free, use your elbows to strike your attacker.
When in doubt, go for the eye. It's gross, but very effective. Your attacker's hands will always go to his or her eyes if something gets in them, like your thumb.
7. Above all, be aware.
Always be conscious of your surroundings, that way you can avoid someone who may pose a threat before even crossing paths.
Self-defense isn't about being able to kick someone's ass. It's about being able to save yours.
If someone threatens you with a weapon and demands you give up your wallet or bag, do it. It's best just to get out of the situation and contact the police as soon as possible instead of trying to resist. That's just asking for more trouble.
Even after one class, I feel more prepared to handle a dangerous situation. Learning these techniques and moves has made me body confident in the sense that I won't need to cower in fear if someone approaches me. While you can carry products like mace to protect yourself, you might not always have them when you need them.
It's best to know how to use the one thing you'll always have access to: your own amazing body.