When self-defense becomes necessary, a gun (and knowing how to use it) is usually the best option. Unfortunately, there are many situations in life where carrying a gun isn't an option. What then?
The best line of self-defense is always to avoid danger in the first place. This is where situational awareness, local knowledge, and commonsense comes into play.
Situational Awareness - More than just paying attention to what is going on around you, though that is an important start, situational awareness means both knowing what to look for, and how to assess (make decisions about) your surroundings. For much more on situational awareness, see my article: Situational Awareness and the OODA Loop.
Local Knowledge - Your local area, where you live, shop, and go to work, school & church, has its bad neighborhoods and high crime districts (everywhere does). Knowing where these are and how to avoid them is important. Even your local shopping centers likely have "bad" areas, blind spots where the lighting is poor and the view is hidden, that are potential ambush points for bad guys. Know and avoid these.
Commonsense - The world is a dangerous place and getting more so everyday. Use commonsense to avoid trouble as you go about your everyday activities. There is safety in numbers, so try to travel, walk and shop in groups whenever possible. Let people know where you're going and when to expect you back. Park in a highly visible, well-light location near the entrance to minimize chances of ambush & muggings. Don't make yourself a target by wearing expensive, flashy clothes & accessories, or driving an expensive car. Don't make yourself a target by appearing easy prey - wear practical clothes, walk confidently, head up. Before getting out of a car or walking out of a building, look out a window first to identify possible dangers. Keep your vehicle well-maintained to minimize chances of a break-down at a bad place or time.
Despite our best efforts to avoid trouble, trouble sometimes finds us. What then?
My first suggestion is to know how to defend yourself with your hands. Take a course in non-lethal self-defense. These courses are sometimes offered for free or low-cost at YMCAs, YWCAs, schools, community centers, and so forth. Perhaps you can even talk your church into sponsoring such a course. A good self-defense course won't just cover the physical aspects of self-defense, but also give tips and advice on avoiding dangerous situations in the first place.
Next, consider taking up a martial art of some sort (such as karate, judo, or krav maga). Learning a martial art can be a fun hobby, provide considerable health and fitness benefits. improve self-confidence, and give you a life-long self-defense skill set. I especially urge parents to get their kids involved in martial arts at a young age. And you are never too old, as most good martial arts instructors will tailor your program to fit your age, health, and current fitness level.
There are a whole host of other "weapons" that you can use to defend yourself. Some possibilities include prepper spray, a self-defense necklace (aka Buddha Beads), a cane, a baseball bat, and even a tactical pen. Anything that can give you an edge in a physical confrontation is useful. (Notes: I carry an old metal baseball bat in my vehicle that would make an excellent club in a fight. My everyday carry includes a tactical pen. I've also ordered a set of Buddha Beads, so expect me to post review in a few weeks.)
A Final Word: Money and "stuff" can be replaced. Your life cannot be. If a bad guy with a gun gets the drop on you in a simple mugging situation, just give him your wallet or purse. I promise your life is worth more than your cash.
Related Article: Urban Survival: Twenty-Two Practical Tips
My official statement on Self-Defense and the Use of Force
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