Women. This is what you need to know to defend yourselves

Women's self defense seminar

Ali Valente and Lisa Sawai both want to feel safe when they’re out and about and if necessary, to be able to defend themselves. That’s why they took a self-defense seminar for women that was hosted by AW Strength & Conditioning in Westbrook, Maine and taught by Sergeant Anthony Ciampi, recently retired from the Westbrook Police Department and owner of Sheepdog Performance.

Self-defense starts with the brain, says Sgt. Ciampi.

The mid-brain is the actual sensory receptor that’s processing what’s going on and passing along the information. When it senses something isn’t right it triggers an alert. That alert could be a dry mouth. It could be the hair on the back of your neck stands up. It could be that you pause without really knowing why or you have an uneasy feeling in your stomach.Your mid-brain is signaling your thinking brain that there’s something you need to attend to. Pay attention.

So … you’re alert to the danger and find yourself in a bad situation. What should you do? Go for the groin, the eyes, the throat? Sgt. Ciampi’s quick answer is to focus on vision, wind, and limbs. Targeting those areas may give you the seconds you need to make a run for it or the chance to strike another blow.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Self defense seminar

We are visual creatures. If you can, get your attacker’s eyes to clamp shut. Use your fingers — not just one, all of them.

You increase your chances of hitting a target if you have more weapons on the target. If I try and poke your eye with one finger my chances of success are less than if I throw four fingers at the same eye. Also, from a structural stability standpoint, I have more support with four adjoining fingers than with one finger. And if you use one finger and the person dips or turns their head and you hit some part of the skull that’s harder than the eye socket you’re likely to break that finger.

Should you spray some mace?

You could, but not everyone responds the same way and not everyone’s eyes will clamp shut.


We need to refuel the body, particularly the muscles that move the joints. If we can’t do that then we can’t attack as efficiently. That’s why it’s important to understand if you’re trying to counter an attack, you want to try and disrupt your attacker’s wind. Try to hold their mouth shut, push on their jaw or throat. Try to break their nose so that blood goes into the mouth. Strike the ribs and disrupt the diaphragm. Those are all ways you can affect somebody’s ability to reoxygenate muscles, which can inhibit their ability to carry out an attack. Aside from the midsection, all of the areas that would affect breathing from the shoulders up are fairly sensitive areas and they’re fairly close to the surface.

You have several vulnerable areas you can hit and you’ve also got more than your fists to use as your personal weapon.

You can strike with your head. You can strike with your shoulders. You can strike with a forearm or an elbow. You can strike with your knee, your shin, your toe. Closest weapon, closest target is a concept that we typically teach today.


You need a stable platform to deliver a punch, so you want to try and disrupt your attacker’s platform or any limbs that are flying at you. One way to do that is to throw the person off balance.

A slap to the side of the head or a chop to the neck will disrupt the neurological impulses that go from the central nervous system down to the limbs and that will help you gain the upper hand. You can also kick the side of the leg. There’s a nerve that goes inside the leg and down through to the back of the knee and it comes particularly close to the surface on the outer thigh bone. It’s called the peroneal nerve. If you can hit that nerve bundle [you can throw your attacker off balance.]
An important thing to consider is being able to maintain your own balance. Andy Wight and Andy Kinslow, who own AW Strength & Conditioning have that one covered because they help people get stronger and more physically fit. They teamed up with Sgt. Ciampi to offer the women’s defense seminar because they understand that you need to be more than physically prepared to defend yourself.

What Ali and Lisa learned

When I watched Ali and Lisa practice techniques on each I thought neither lacked confidence. Ali is more than 30 years younger than Lisa and could pack a wallop, but Lisa held her own.

“She’s much much stronger than I am,” said Lisa, “so it was kind of scary. I knew that she had a lot of power compared to me, but I thought if I know techniques I could probably be better. Also, an attacker I might confront would also probably be stronger.”

Lisa always thought that going for the groin was the best move she could make, but she learned not necessarily. “A  lot of times they can take the pain,” she said, “so go for the eyes instead — not with one finger, with fingers together, because if you miss, you might break your finger.”

Her favorite move was the ear slap.

Ali learned how to use her knees and elbows and how to mentally prepare herself ahead of time. “To size things up before they happen,” she explained. “How to see a situation and be more aware and if I need to, to respond. I hadn’t really had any training in terms of visualization, so I think that was super helpful.”

Ali’s favorite move? “I really liked the hammer punches because I think I would have done a straight punch and the hammer punch was a nice technique to protect my hands.”

An air of confidence

Sgt. Ciampi may have taught several good moves, but he said the psychological aspects of being aware and being confident (even if that’s not what you’re feeling) are also important. And you should never assume that it could never happen to you or someone you care about.

Having a mindset that bad things can happen to good people is something that needs to be understood and accounted for. You want to develop plans as to how to respond should it happen. And don’t be meek. I don’t have all the facts but the FBI did a study a number of years ago with regard to women being preyed upon by violent attackers. These predators looked for women who seemed to be meek and incapable or unwilling to defend themselves. What I hope to instill in the women I teach is that without being confrontational, when you’re around others and particularly if you sense some level of impending danger, you be confident in yourself and project that confidence so that they will recognize you might not somebody they want to trifle with.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.