Betty Jo is home alone, wearing her favorite flannel nightgown. She shuffles into her U-shaped kitchen and fixes herself a cup of Sweet Dreams tea. Suddenly, the kitchen door is kicked in and the prospect of sweet dreams turns into her worst nightmare. “Shut up! Shut the f*** up!” the hulking man spews as he closes in. Fearing for her life, Betty Jo backpedals in horror, becoming trapped in a corner. The attacker slaps and punches her, knocking her to the floor. ... The rest of Betty Jo’s nightmare appears in the morning papers.

It didn’t have to be this way, however. Quick thinking, savage instincts, a surly survival mindset and some basic self-defense moves coupled with some improvised self-defense weapons could have turned her nightmare into his horror story. Let’s replay this with a different ending, taking it from the moment the attacker enters:

In spite of her terror, Betty Jo glances around, hunting for and maneuvering toward self-defense weapons of opportunity. She feigns weakness, pleading to buy time, but has already made up her mind: The only way out is through. Taking matters into her own hands, Betty Jo erupts like a fireball.

She grabs a nearby metal colander and whips it at his eyes. He flinches, and by the time he recovers, she has already snatched the boiling pot of water from the stove and thrown it in his face. Backed up by all her might and a bellicose war cry, she slams her handy cast-iron pot cover into his mug. As his hands reach for his pained face, she assails him with knee strikes. 

In spite of fearing his counterattack, the wonder drug of adrenaline propels Betty Jo into some fierce self-defense moves. She grabs her attacker by the hair, smashing him face-first onto her granite countertop. She kicks his legs out from under him, grabs a knife from the counter and bolts out the door. The morning paper reads: Betty Jo Goes Ballistic! Serial Rapist in Prison Hospital!

My version is dramatic and idealized. I don’t mean to suggest that striking back is always the best or safest option, but it illustrates a crucial lesson: Self-defense moves are most effective when you can be adaptive. To be prepared, you must own your world and learn to transform everyday objects into self-defense weapons.

Self-Defense Weapons Always Depend on Being Ready to Execute Aggressive Self-Defense Moves

Today’s technology should work for us, right? Why “get physical” and ruin my makeup doing self-defense moves if I can zap a bad guy with my stun gun and make it to dinner on time? However, relying too much on your firearm, pepper spray or device-du-jour is dangerous. Violence pops up when women least expect it. Your body and whatever is within arm’s reach is all you can count on in such situations.

Once you know how to use your body to generate power for self-defense moves and you possess resolve (the deep muscle that funds all acts of self-protection), a pen in your hand, junk on the street or a hallway fire extinguisher can become effective self-defense weapons when used against vulnerable targets.

However, even with a “weapon” in hand, never expect one strike or a surprise attack using improvised self-defense weapons — such as hot liquid in the face — to enable your escape. A pumped-up aggressor can take a lot of punishment, so get your mojo in gear and prepare to let loose!

Improvised Self-Defense Weapons Are Everywhere!

Ballpoint Pen

This everyday writing tool can become a deadly weapon for self-defense moves when thrust into the soft tissue of the throat, under the jaw line or — in a life-and-death encounter — the eyes. The point also can be driven into a groin or “punched” into the thin-skinned back of a hand.

Sticklike Implements

Golf clubs, broomsticks and wine bottles, etc., can make great self-defense weapons because they can be thrust into vulnerable areas or used to strike (and bust) knees, hands or the head during intense self-defense moves. When held sideways, sticklike self-defense weapons (including umbrellas!) also can be rammed into a neck or face.

In the Kitchen

Choose from cutlery, pots and pans (a pot cover worn on the hand will add zing to any palm strike!), cutting boards or piping-hot coffee. A metal soup can, jar or ceramic mug can be struck into the temples or face, swung back into a groin or used to bust a collarbone and disable its adjoining arm. Many people wouldn't think of them as self-defense weapons, but hardcover books — such as cookbooks — can be thrust into a throat or smashed into a face.

Sharp Objects

Knives, letter openers, scissors or pieces of glass can serve as self-defense weapons and inflict painful damage. One woman stabbed her rapist with a steel comb from her purse. It worked — she escaped!

Objects With Weight or Mass

A heavy vase or small table can be slammed into the face or torso. Don’t merely toss the item, however. Keep it close to your body, then charge into and through your target.

Makeshift Shields

One physician shielded himself from a patient’s oncoming knife with his briefcase. Large, thick hardcover books also could fit this bill.

Stuff It

A pillowcase containing a hard-hitting object — a brass candlestick, giant ashtray, your defunct toaster — could leave a lasting impression on Mr. Rapist’s face. (And for you campers, a nice rock-in-a-sock is one of several self-defense weapons available in the woods.)

Your Mind Is Among the Best of Self-Defense Weapons

Be smart! Nothing beats preparedness and the ability to improvise. Keep these tips in mind:

Environmental Terrain

If immobilized from behind or lifted off the ground in a confined space (elevator, ladies’ room, kitchen), get one or two feet onto the edge of a countertop or any flat surface and shove off as hard as you can. You have padding behind you: your attacker! He will “eat” the crash landing.


Buy yourself a moment, then take control! A towel thrown over the eyes could work. So could dirt, sand, household products (and of course, pepper spray) aimed at the attacker’s face and eyes. In the 1995 film Copycat, Sigourney Weaver fights for her life with a serial killer on a restroom floor. Even with her hands chained together, she slashes him with a piece of glass, then squirts shaving cream in his eyes. This distraction allows her to deliver a killer side kick and flee the restroom.

Practice = Preparation

Wherever you are, imagine you are suddenly ambushed. Give yourself three seconds to get a “weapon” in hand with the emotional and physical readiness to use it. Practice fashioning self-defense weapons wherever you are often until it becomes second nature.


Picture yourself in scenarios like “Betty Jo Goes Ballistic.” See yourself fighting back, improvising self-defense weapons from your environment and fighting back like a warrior goddess with attitude.

Reconciling Internal Conflict

In spite of my battle-girl persona, I can think of few things more repugnant than smashing or cutting another human being. The use of aggressive force in self-defense moves and the subject of self-defense weapons grates against femininity and feminism’s nonviolent ideals.

However, talk and empathy are not always saving graces — and estrogen doesn’t make us sissies! To effectively bring any weapon to bear, you must vanquish the "inner muggers" — the voices of doubt — and overcome moral or spiritual conflicts. (Example: “I’m a worker for peace” vs. “I’m about to bust bones.”) A divided heart can jeopardize your ability to forcefully, unhesitatingly strike back when seconds count and your survival may be at stake.

Reconciling the forces of dark and light, the maternal and killer instincts, are deeply personal matters. When women give themselves permission to do “what it takes,” owning the fact that this violent capacity is part of our female inheritance, they often claim their greatest strengths and can jump these hurdles like a tiger through hoops.

Feminist author Robin Morgan said it best in the 1970s when advocating that women acquire skills in the area of self-defense moves: “These skills are only tools. They have proven murderous or at least exclusive options in the hands of men. They could be liberating in the hands of women.” Instead of shunning aggression, let us view it as a resource to draw from in times of danger.

About the Author: Melissa Soalt (aka Dr. Ruthless) was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as its 2002 Woman of the Year. A veteran instructor of practical and full-force self-defense for women, her no-nonsense methods to self-defense moves and self-defense weapons have been featured on The View, NBC Nightly News and in more than two dozen publications. To learn more about Melissa Soalt, visit

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