How to Defend Yourself Against a Violent Attack, According to a Personal Safety Expert

how to defend yourself
Courtesy of SABRE

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We don’t need to tell you, SPY reader, that the world is a scary place. From a recent uptick in violent crime nationwide to various horrifying news stories about unprovoked attacks in large cities like New York, the world might feel more precarious now than it ever has before.

Many of us have begun commuting to and from work, school and social gatherings again, and while our destinations might be fun, the road to get there may seem unpredictable, treacherous or downright scary. We’re reminded that sometimes strangers are quite dangerous, and you never know when someone is going to creep up behind you and attempt to steal, threaten or something worse.

That’s why we decided to sit down with David Nance is the CEO of SABRE, Security Equipment Corporation, a personal safety company that’s a global leader in producing top-rated personal safety weapons, to discuss his best tips for keeping yourself safe in this ominously unpredictable world of ours. Editor’s Note: Quotes have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Nance also founded SABRE’s Personal Safety Academy and PersonalSafetyExpert.com, two digital wings of SABRE that specialize in instructional videos on how to use their products and keep yourself secure, and in-person education on self-defense.

SABRE produces a variety of weapons to fit every lifestyle, from pepper spray to personal alarms, stun guns and home security accessories as well, and we’ve featured many of their top-rated weapons here on SPY, including their 4.7-star Amazon-rated pepper spray.

SABRE RED Compact Pepper Spray

SABRE pepper spray, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

  

SABRE’s Priority: Education on How to Defend Yourself

SABRE is a second-generation family business that’s been specializing in self defense for more than 45 years. After Nance graduated from college he was simultaneously providing training to professionals for how to use their products, and realizing that one of their biggest target demographics wasn’t getting the same instruction.

“Specifically college-aged females were a big target market of ours, and we provide them with these products but I wasn’t sure that a lot of them were very familiar with it, they seemed to simply slap it on their keychain or hand when they went for a run, and I realized if we’re providing professionals instructions on how to use this we should probably provide some kind of training to help young females that are using our products as well,” said Nance.

Hence the Personal Safety Academy was launched, and it’s since grown into an extensive library with hundreds of videos and in-person classes focused on how to defend yourself. Nance himself is a big believer in education, and everyone having at least the theoretical knowledge of how to defend themselves, should a situation arise.

“I think it would be fantastic if we were mandated at some point in school to have some sort of personal safety class because it’s a skill that every human being should have, and a mindset that everyone should be exposed to.”

He said that although attacks are still rare, “almost every person you know has had a dangerous situation happen to them at one point, but assuming someone is able to escape that situation and hopefully that’s the case, since that’s what we want, there’s still could be emotional challenges that occur afterwards. It’s a very emotional experience, psychologically it can have quite an impact on you, so I think it’s highly advantageous for people to have that mindset and have some idea of how to protect themselves.”

  

It’s Not Enough to Be Aware of Your Personal Surroundings

Nance’s first tip for personal safety? Have a plan.

“I think people like to dumb down personal safety and say ‘oh, just be aware of your surroundings.’ Well, I think we all have a general awareness of our surroundings when we’re out and about, but it takes more than that. If the person has really planned this attack, which oftentimes they do, they tend to stalk like cougars do, like prey in the woods,” said Nance.

He explained that just being aware of your surroundings isn’t enough, and that making yourself a physically intimidating presence may work, but may not work. And you need to have a plan if it doesn’t.

“You can do everything correct and make yourself a hard target with shoulders back, head and chin up, not staring at your phone which is the most common mistake people do nowadays, we’re the most distracted we’ve ever been. If you come off as a more intimidating presence, you might scare off a potential threat with your presence alone but that may not work. So if it doesn’t, that’s where personal safety products come into play.”

  

The Best Self-Defense Weapon? Pepper Spray and Pepper Gel

As we mentioned above, SABRE specializes in a variety of self-defense weapons, including pepper spray, pepper gel and stun guns. I asked Nance which products he recommends everyone carry, and he broke down the pros and cons of each one.

Pepper Spray

“We’re the global leader in the production of pepper spray,” said Nance. “What people don’t know is 25% of the time violent crime occurs with more than one attacker. It’s a little less than ideal to have to touch someone and be within arm’s reach with a stun gun, so I think in general if you have the option spray is better.”

He noted it gives you the ability to put distance between yourself and the attacker, and gives you the ability to defend against multiple attacks at once.

SABRE Pepper Spray Keychain

SABRE pepper spray, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

  

Pepper Gel

“We’re also a leader in pepper gel as well,” said Nance. “I like pepper gel from the standpoint that it typically only affects what it directly contacts, so the concern with spray is it’ll atomize, I might inhale it. Say, for instance a child, it might affect them or if there’s some wind blowback, that doesn’t happen with pepper gel. Pepper gel eliminates that from occurring.”

Pepper gel is still sprayed, but it’s a heavier, stickier substance that burns any skin it touches, without being easily carried through the air and affecting the entire surrounding area.

“It’s just an enhancement to pepper spray. It does exactly the same things that pepper spray does – causes involuntary eye closure and facial burning. You think about a household spray that you would use, for example, and the microscopic droplets that would come out of that, so this doesn’t have that. It’s a little bit thicker of a substance, the pepper stays within that substance and it eliminates the airborne particles, so it only affects what it directly contacts.”

“It’s still sprayed out of a can, and it deploys actually 20% further than traditional pepper spray which is advantageous as well.”

SABRE Pepper Gel With Finger Grip and Snap Clip

SABRE pepper gel Courtesy of Amazon

  

Personal Safety Alarms, Whistles and Horns 

Alarms can’t outright defend you in the ways that other weapons can, but they can draw attention to what’s occurring and potentially create safety through the eyes and ears of other people.

“We provide safety whistles, air horns and devices that draw attention and create loud noises to create witnesses out of people and help discourage an attacker.”

SABRE Self Defense Dual Siren Keychain

SABRE dual siren keychain, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

  

Stun Guns

SABRE also makes stun guns or electric immobilization devices. The big con with this weapon, as Nance mentioned above, is the fact that you have to get very close to someone and basically touch them to use it. However, he explained that they’re very effective.

SABRE Tactical Series Stun Gun With LED Flashlight

SABRE stun gun flashlight Courtesy of Amazon

  

Choose the Right Weapon For Your Lifestyle

Nance explained that depending on your lifestyle or the activities you engage in, the right self defense weapon, that’ll be most advantageous in a dangerous situation, will vary.

Some are small, discrete and made to fit in a purse. Some are made to fit in the palm of your hand, perfect for runners and joggers. We recommend taking stock of where you’re most at risk currently in your day-to-day life, and choosing a weapon that caters to that scenario.

“Certainly out and about you want to have it readily accessible. So there are products that are mighty discrete, very small very easy to put in a clutch purse or a small pocket. We make products with a quick release key ring so you can attach it to a handbag or a purse and it’s secure so someone can’t take it away from you, but it’s right there readily available. You simply press the button, it detaches, you have access to it,” said Nance.

SABRE Lipstick Pepper Spray

SABRE lipstick pepper spray, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

  

“If you’re a runner, I recommend one of our products that wrap around your hand or fit in the palm of your hand so it’s right there ready to go. We make some that come with reflective devices, some that have LED lights so cars can see you at night and other people can see you at night.”

SABRE RED Pepper Gel Spray for Runners

SABRE pepper gel spray, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

  

Smart Self Defense Weapons & Bluetooth Pepper Spray

I also asked Nance about the advancements in the personal safety tech world in recent years, and where those innovations have come from. He broke down SABRE’s three most recent spray products, and how they’re combining different safety tools and implicating smartphone Bluetooth capabilities to make people safer in a variety of situations.

“It’s innovation that’s focused on the current needs that people have. I look at the last three products on the spray side that we’ve done. We did a 3-in-1 auto-safety tool not too long ago that combines a pepper gel with a seatbelt cutter and a glass breaker. So, two nice things there — if you’re in a dangerous car accident and the car flips upside down, you’re locked in your car seat and you’re trapped you can get out of that car. A lot of attacks occur when people are walking to or from their car so you have that protection as well.” said Nance.

He also noted how this product could help you escape from a rideshare gone wrong.

“Unfortunately, there have been some people posing as rideshare and this allows you to escape if they lock the back door and put child locks on and you can’t get out. Gives you another opportunity as well and multiple advantages with that product.”

SABRE Safe Escape 3-in-1

SABRE safe escape 3-in-1, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

  

SABRE Smart Pepper Spray

SABRE smart pepper spray, how to defend yourself Courtesy of Amazon

“Then we created the SMART Pepper Spray. What that does is if you need to use that product it connects via Bluetooth to a SABRE app which sends out your exact location to your chosen emergency contacts in your phone and lets them know where you’re at. And then it has geo-tracking, so it will follow you because likely if you use pepper spray you’re not going to stay in that same spot. It will follow you until you get to safety and hit “all safe.”

You can also opt for a subscription in the app that’ll give you instant access to police and law enforcement if you need it any time at the push of a button

What the app also does, Nance explained, is give you access to that secure location sharing with friends even if you can’t carry pepper spray where you’re going. For example, if you’re entering a hospital where pepper spray isn’t allowed.

“We also realized that men are attacked more often than women violently, but they often don’t consider their personal safety so we decided to create a product that would address a need that men have. Men tend to gravitate towards flashlights, so we made a compact flashlight with a pepper spray on the opposite end which is helpful,” said Nance.

SABRE PepperLight 2-in-1 Flashlight Pepper Spray

SABRE PepperLight Courtesy of Amazon

“You hear a noise in the middle of the night, you have a light to go investigate, you have a way to protect yourself against something dangerous. If you have a flat tire and it’s dark outside now you can change it, you have the ability to protect yourself there as well. We call that Pepper Light.”

  

Safety Tips Post-COVID

I ended the interview by asking Nance his best tips for people who want to stay safe while re-entering the world after two years spent largely inside, away from others. He offered the following pieces of wisdom. An overall theme? Continue keeping a safe distance from others.

1. There’s Safety in Numbers

“I live in a big city it sounds like you do as well, I think there’s safety in numbers. When being out and about when possible be with more than one person, that makes it more challenging for you to be victimized,” said Nance.

2. Choose a Weapon, and Know How to Use It

“Choosing a way to protect yourself, knowing how to use that product effectively, what that product can and cannot do, being ready to use it are all incredibly advantageous,” said Nance.

3. Socially Distance

“Keeping a safe distance is so key. A lot of men think ‘You know what, I can just protect myself with my hands.’ Some can, but the problem is? Their [the attacker’s] action will always be faster than your reaction. They know what they’re going to do before you even notice that they’re doing it. Right? They start to do it, they’ve already decided, could be seconds ago or minutes ago, and you have a split second to defend yourself. So keep a safe distance, and have a way to defend yourself at a safe distance.”

He went onto say that “Ideally, like I said earlier in this conversation, have them have to take multiple steps and change directions to get to you. So you should never be straight in front of someone or have someone right behind you, you should always be at an angle and be ready to move and use the safety product that you have. That’s why I’m a big advocate of the spray. It can protect you against more than one attacker at a distance and allows you time to react because their action is going to be faster than your reaction.”

4. If You Hear a Commotion? Don’t Go Investigate

At the end of our interview, Nance also brought up gun violence, the seasonality of it and why it’s important to not investigate a commotion, if you can help it.

“In general we’re heading into spring and summer and that’s when there are larger events and you’re out and about. The truth of the matter is there are more emotionally disturbed people post-covid than there’s ever been, and that can be dangerous unfortunately,” said Nance.

“When you see something or hear a noise and it doesn’t sound right or there’s some sort of commotion, don’t investigate. Again, distance and call 9-1-1. Get help for those people. The more time you take to figure out what that is, you put yourself in danger, the less help you can give those people. So, you’re better off calling for help and getting the heck out of there.”