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March 3, 2023

Self-Defense for Older Adults: Must-Know Information About How to Protect Yourself

Are you an older adult who wishes to increase your activity levels and get out of the house more, but are worried about staying safe? Today’s kupuna are more active than ever, choosing to go on long walks in the park or around their neighborhoods and getting involved with water aerobics, yoga and Tai Chi. However, you may be concerned about running into someone unscrupulous and what to do if you are confronted while you are running your errands or participating in group or social activities. You can alleviate your worry by learning some new self-defense moves. For example, did you know that your cane or umbrella can be used to defend yourself? Taking a kupuna self-defense class can teach you how.

Benefits of kupuna self-defense

Taking a few kupuna self-defense classes provides numerous benefits for older adults, including:

  • Better personal safety
  • Greater peace of mind
  • Improved balance and coordination
  • Improved physical fitness
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased socialization
  • Lower levels of stress

Types of self-defense classes for older adults

There are many different types of martial arts classes that kupuna can learn in order to help them stay more aware of their surroundings, de-escalate situations and physically defend themselves if the need arises.

  • Self-defense Classes – If you’re a kupuna just looking to learn a few techniques, there are basic, intermediate and advanced classes available that are designed for older adults. These classes tend to focus on what to do during common attacks, like grabs and strikes, as well as how to get away from an attacker.
  • Cane Fu – Cane Fu is a newer option for older adults. It involves teaching kupuna how to use their canes as weapons to hook, grab or hit an attacker. This works well because canes aren’t often seen as objects of power, but rather of weakness.
  • Krav Maga - Krav Maga was developed for the Israeli Defense Forces in order to improve their hand-to-hand combat techniques. It emphasizes practical defense techniques that can be used in real-life situations, and it is often adapted for use by civilians, including older adults.
  • Tai Chi - Tai Chi is a Chinese martial art that is commonly utilized for its health benefits. It involves slow, flowing movements that can improve balance, flexibility and coordination, and it can also be adapted for use as a self-defense technique.
  • Karate – Most kupuna have heard of karate. Karate is a Japanese martial art that involves striking and kicking techniques. Brought to the United States by Robert A. Trias in 1946, karate can be adapted for use by older adults with modifications to the intensity of the training.
  • Judo - Judo originated in Japan, and it emphasizes throws and grappling techniques. While this is an intense and highly physical form of martial arts, it can be adapted for kupuna self-defense.
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu - Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling martial art that emphasizes ground fighting techniques, including sweeps, submissions and escapes. Older adults can use these techniques because they emphasize leverage and technique over strength and speed.
  • Aikido - Aikido is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes using an attacker's energy against them. It involves joint locks and throws rather than punches and kicks. It also teaches people how to fall to minimize the risk of getting injured, which can be extremely beneficial for older adults.
  • Wing Chun - Wing Chun is a Chinese martial art that emphasizes close-range combat and quick, efficient open-handed strikes and low kicks. Like aikido, this technique doesn’t demand great strength or speed. Instead, it focuses on precision movements.
  • Boxing – If you’re looking for a more basic approach to kupuna self-defense, boxing may be the answer. Boxing involves using punches for defense, and it can be adapted for use by older adults with intensity modifications and by the use of safety gear while practicing.

How to avoid being targeted and becoming a victim

Avoiding being attacked or getting into a hostile situation involves being mentally aware and listening to your inner voice.

  • Stay alert – Always be aware of your surroundings and who else may be in the area.
  • Walk like you know exactly where you are going – Always walk with your head and shoulders up and keep your eyes scanning across the area. Unscrupulous people are less likely to attack if they think their potential victim is alert and aware.
  • Don’t go to isolated areas – Always go to places that are well-lit and have other people around at night. It may seem like a great idea to go walking around your neighborhood or local park on a cool night in order to relax and unwind, but someone could be lurking in the shadows.
  • Remember stranger danger – The same wariness that was instilled in us as children still applies as we get older. Be extra cautious of all strangers, especially if they are asking for money or want you to help them in some way.
  • Trust your gut – If you are in an area or situation that doesn’t feel comfortable to you, believe that feeling and leave the area.

Practice a few general safety tips

Preparing yourself for a potential attack and being ready to defend yourself isn’t the same as preparing for or instigating a fight. You can think of it like defensive driving, where the goal is to avoid an accident whether the driving mistake was yours or someone else’s. Remember, most crimes are crimes of opportunity. Your goal with learning how to defend yourself is to eliminate the opportunity, and you can do that by:

  • Be mentally prepared and alert in all situations – Always know who and how many people are around you. Pay attention to anyone acting strangely or wearing the wrong clothes for the environment.
  • Buy a personal alarm system – An air horn or personal alarm can be triggered in just a second, and they make a lot of noise, meaning anyone in the area is going to turn their heads to try and figure out what’s making the noise.
  • Use the buddy system – You may have first encountered this piece of advice while on a school field trip, and the same advice can be used by kupuna as well as people of all ages. If you’re going into an area that you are unfamiliar with or it is late at night, always try and bring a friend with you.
  • Don’t flash your money or valuables – Always keep your jewelry, expensive cell phones and electronics and cash out of sight. Criminals are more likely to target people who they think have money and expensive items.
  • Wear a smartwatch – High-end smartwatches connect to your cell phone, meaning you can leave your phone in your purse and still answer calls and make calls. In an emergency, you could use that watch to call for help. Some watches also have the ability to store their own phone number, meaning that you don’t have to be within a certain number of feet from your cell phone to make calls.
  • Learn self-defense – Take the time to learn a few defensive moves. You can start learning at home by watching self-defense training programs. As you advance in your understanding, you should consider taking a class, where you can talk to professional instructors and participate in live training with an actual partner.

Getting older doesn’t have to mean becoming a recluse or being fearful of attackers. You can take charge of yourself and prevent attacks by being mindful, learning how to protect yourself and knowing how and when to call for help. As an added bonus, learning self-defense can help improve your mental clarity, balance, coordination and even your fitness levels.

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