Self Defense: Transforming Fear into Empowerment

A Guest Post
Keagan Delaney

A little bit about me.¹

I’ve always known I was different, every trans person knows this feeling. I was fortunate enough to have parents who believed in freedom of individuality, and they had no negative things to say about my sexuality or my gender. Once we got passed the, “Is this a phase?”, part.

I was first introduced to martial arts at the age of 8, and have spent a good part of my life studying different styles both in the formal way; in dojo under the supervision of a sensei ( a martial arts teacher), and in my personal/independent study. I also studied the philosophy behind these arts, and developed a way of life that I call, a Boshido Buddhism. Living by the 7 virtues of bushido, the way of the warrior; courage, compassion, honor, honesty, duty, justice and respect, with the Zen principles of Buddhism, as much as possible.

Self-defense to me, is not just a way to get out of a dangerous situation. It instills a confidence, and ability which enables you to avoid these situations altogether. By having the knowledge to protect yourself, you exude a sense of security. Some people call it energy, some call it chi, some simply say it’s body posture, but whatever it is, it gives potential attackers the idea that you are a bad target, which is what self-defense is all about.

My workshops are heavily influenced by Krav Maga, Aikido and Jujitsu, the focus being to be as efficient as possible. They are comprised of the fastest, most effective moves of many styles, combined with highly aggressive counter attacks that neutralize your attacker as quickly as possible. We learn tactics of deflection of the opponent’s energy, and disarming those with weapons. We incorporate wrist locks and leverage techniques, as well as hand grabs, knife-hand strikes, and knife- gun take-away. In close quarter combat, the most common techniques practiced are throwing an opponent. By using their weight, and momentum to our advantage, as well as vital pressure-points, and escape techniques; to free yourself from a grapple in various situations. These techniques are effective no matter the size, or strength difference between you, and your opponent, and thus are highly effective as self-defense techniques.

Pointers to readers who are unable to get to a workshop, or another type of self-defense class. The three key things to keep in mind. 

Attackers need:

Intent: a reason they believe is justifiable to attack you². Be it hate crimes or muggings, they will have some reason. Believe it or not, this is something we have some influence over. They will target you based on two things, Risk and Reward. Is the risk of injury, or capture worth the potential or perceived reward? Ways we can control this, don’t visually display valuables; laptops, expensive bags, jewelry should not be carried openly. If you must carry it with you have it concealed. Doing this will lower the perceived reward. If you have mace, or pepper spray, or some other self-defense item, that is legal to do so, carry that in a visible location. Get a brightly colored pepper spray, and keep it in a visible, easy to reach location. This can be used as a deterrent by increasing the level or risk to your attacker. Higher risk, lower reward, makes you a bad target. 

A Means to Attack: This could be a weapon, intimidation, or perceived advantage of physical violence. This also, we have some control over. Just like increasing the risk; visible deterrent devices can lower the perceived advantage. Staying out of arms reach of persons you don’t know, or who seem threatening, can decrease the ability to attack you. Staying calm, holding your head up, making eye contact, holding a steady, even verbal tone can decrease the potential attacker’s level of intimidation. Keeping an even tone, and a neutral stance, can also help deescalate verbal confrontations. Even if your heart is beating 1000 times a minute, attackers who feel in control of the situation through intimidation will feel more confident in their success of physical violence. (This is not to say staring down every aggressive person will keep you out of conflict. But if a confrontation arises, these strategies can help ease the tension, and reach peaceful resolution.)

Opportunity: This is a place and/or time to attack you. This is where we have the most control. Along with keeping potential out of arms reach, being aware of your surroundings is the first, and most important step to keeping yourself safe. In order to be attacked, you need to be in a place that is close enough to a busy area to have been noticed, and is easier to escape in, but also secluded enough to not have many, if any witnesses. Alleyways, parking garages, parks, and parking lots are great places to ambush someone. Avoid obviously dangerous areas, these are typically alleyways with little or no lighting, high crime areas, or places where there is a lot of drinking. When parking, and while arriving or leaving at night, park as near to an entrance near you as possible, and in well lite areas. When walking at night especially alone, do not walk with headphones on, this greatly decreases your situational awareness, and makes you a very easy target. Most importantly, trust your gut. If a place feels unsafe, if a person feels dangerous, if you feel like you are being watched or followed, don’t put yourself into that situation. If you are walking and feel unsafe, call a friend, being on the phone with another human being, (even if its fake) makes you a riskier target.

My last two points, if your attacker is only after your material possessions, give them up. Entering any physical confrontation, no matter how skilled, has risk, and no material object in this world is worth dying for.

If the attacker wants your life. You have to put your human instincts to the side, and be willing to injure, and/or kill your attacker. If it’s between your life and theirs, choose survival. Many people, even if it is unconscious, are ingrained to not hurt another human being. If you hesitate, it could kill you. Practice and confidence can be the difference between you getting home safely, or not.


  1. Kegan Delaney is a trans advocate, martial arts, and self defense instructor. You can follow him on his self defense page, Disengagement & Empowerment Group, and on Twitter @dearthair_beag
  2. Trans People are often the target of hate crimes. The epidemic of trans women of color that are killed is why Nov. 20 is National Transgender Day of Remembrance.


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