Trial Lessons

The Self-defense Mindset

Mon May
by Ronin Athletics Team

Women Empowered classes at the Gracie Academy emphasize eight fundamentals of self-defense. They are:

  • Awareness
  • Intuition
  • Distance management
  • Verbal assertiveness
  • Boundary setting
  • Energy conservation
  • Preemptive self-defense tactics
  • Toolbelt of techniques

As Eve and Victoria Gracie explain in the video below

As Eve and Victoria Gracie explain in the video below, the principles of self-defense are not only applicable during a physical altercation. This is because not all threats are physical. Some are emotional. Others may be psychological. Having a self-defense mindset allows you to not only stay safe on the street, but to better confront everyday challenges and take control over your life.

What Is the Self-Defense Mindset?

The self-defense mindset is more than just the belief that everyone has the right to set their own agenda. At its core, the self-defense mindset, in the words of Eve, “is the fundamental belief that we are worth defending.” It is a mindset that gives you the conviction to push back when someone is overly aggressive or simply overbearing.

It is also a mindset that recognizes that the components of the triangle of victimization—a predator, a target, and an opportunity—extend beyond assaults. They are also at work when you are dealing with emotional abuse, harassment, or even unpleasant social interactions. Therefore, learning and adopting a self-defense mindset is about more than protecting yourself from opportunistic predators who want to physically harm you. It’s also about preventing relationships from becoming unhealthy.

Below, we’ll look at how these principles intersect and promote the self-defense mindset.


At its most straightforward, awareness is the capability to observe your surroundings and clearly identify potential threats. Some may lack awareness because they actively deny that threats exist. They think they live in too safe of a neighborhood or that bad things simply do not happen to them. In other cases, the denial may be due to the fact that they just do not think about threats because they lack the tools to do challenge them. As Eve said during the above clip from the Women Empowered YouTube page, “We are more likely to be aware if we also have an idea or a plan as to what we would do if what we’re aware about, meaning this potential threat, were to happen.”

Maintaining a healthy level of vigilance means being grounded without being overburdened by a sense of constant fear. It means being capable of identifying threats, and then taking steps to avoid them or, if necessary, confront them.


As Eve said in the video, intuition is “like a superpower.” It is the sense of unease that comes over you when a situation is not safe or when a person or animal has intentions that are not in your best interest. Listening to your institution allows you to be more aware of your surroundings and to take precautionary steps. Far too often, children—especially girls—are conditioned to mute their intuition to make social situations go smoother. This is especially true if the person who arouses these feelings is a family member or a respected person from the community.

Victoria recommends nurturing your sense of intuition by really asking yourself why you feel a sense of fear around certain individuals or situations. In some cases, it may be associated with a traumatic experience from the past. In other cases, it may be because the person or situation is a legitimate threat. By understanding your intuition better, you can better recognize a threat and act accordingly.

Distance Management

Those who are familiar with jiu-jitsu know that distance management is key to winning fights. It’s also key to self-defense. Managing the distance of your attacker means keeping them either more than two arm-lengths away (all the way out) or so close that they cannot effectively build momentum to effectively strike (all the way in).

This principle is no different when dealing with an assailant, the unwelcome stare of a coworker, substances that may lead us to make poor decisions, or overbearing family members. When you can separate yourself from a problem, it ceases to be able to interfere with your life.

Verbal Assertiveness

Verbal assertiveness is also a necessary component of the self-defense mindset because it allows you to demand space and to create distance. Once again, many of us are taught as children to be good, to not cause a scene, and to go with the flow.

The truth, however, is that sometimes going with the flow is the last thing that we should do. There are times when we need to raise our voice and firmly vocalize our desire to be left alone and to be afforded space. Expressing oneself with confidence is more than just wanting to be heard; it is about wanting to be respected.

Boundary Setting

Setting boundaries is an extension of distance management and verbal assertiveness, and it is more than just a demand for space. As Eve said, “We are likely only going to set boundaries that we feel capable of defending.” She elaborated on this, nothing that it’s hard to set a boundary with conviction if you don’t have the tools to do something should someone cross that boundary. In other words, you need to have the confidence to defend yourself if you are to set meaningful boundaries and to take trespasses against those boundaries seriously. This is true even of boundaries between you and your coworkers or even your boss, as well as between what is considered acceptable behavior within your friend group.

Remember, if you are not setting your own boundaries, someone else may feel entitled to set them for you.

Energy Conservation

Energy conservation is integral to jiu-jitsu and it is the reason why the Gracie name became so famous throughout the world. Members of the Gracie family were not the biggest or the strongest fighters, but they knew how to weather the storm during fights. They remained on the defensive and conserved their energy while their opponents constantly attacked and became increasingly tired. Once their opponent was exhausted, only then would the Gracies mount their attack.

These same principles apply in self-defense situations off the mat. Even if the assailant is bigger and stronger than you, if you use defensive tactics and conserve your energy while they tire themselves out, you will eventually find an opportunity to escape. Similarly, if someone is draining because of their negativity or you feel oppressed by a toxic work environment, you need to conserve your energy by not giving into the negativity or toxicity, and then you need to find an opportunity to escape.

Preemptive Self-Defense Tactics

In the Women Empowered classes, preemptive self-defense tactics are things that you can use when you recognize a legitimate threat and know that an attack is imminent. Some are strictly defensive maneuvers like asking a coworker to walk you to your car because you’ve noticed a person who makes you uncomfortable lurking around the garage. Others may incapacitate an assailant before they attack you or at least put them on the defensive, giving you time to better prepare yourself for a physical altercation.

Ultimately, you are being aware, listening to your intuition, and then taking concrete steps to avoid victimization. 

Eve demonstrating a Jiu Jitsu escape against her partner, Victoria, attempting to pin her to her back

Eve demonstrating a Jiu Jitsu escape against her partner, Victoria, attempting to pin her to her back

Toolbelt of Techniques

Finally, there is the toolbelt of techniques that women learn through the self-defense courses offered by Gracie Jiu-Jitsu academies. These are moves that are developed with the help of law enforcement agents to help women defend themselves. These may not translate to the self-defense mindset quite as easily, but they do give women the confidence to be more assertive and to help them manage, mitigate, and overcome whatever challenges they face.

 To listen to some firsthand accounts of how Eve and Victoria applied these principles of self-defense to situations in their own life, check out the YouTube clip above or one of their other conversations.



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