Think. Yell. Run. Fight. Tell.

Laura Mallene’s t-shirt has all these words in many different languages.

Think. Yell. Run. Fight. Tell.

Those are the five principles of Empowerment Self Defense (ESD). In English they’re simple words of one syllable, all derived from Saxon and related languages (not from French or Latin), the kind of words children learn early, the kind English speakers grasp quickly.

It’s an easy mantra to remember. And, as a bonus, the order of the words tells you what to do whenever you encounter a difficult or dangerous situation.

Each word is packed with meaning, of course. There are lots of components to each one. But the quick short words provide a door to all those different components.

In one of our first classes at ESD teacher camp, we divided into groups and wrote all the things we could think of about each of those words on big sheets of paper.

For “think,” we included such things as evaluate the situation, strategize, trust your intuition, know your surroundings, and breathe. It’s always important to breathe.

Yell means much more than a loud “No” projected from deep in your body, though that’s very useful. It includes creating boundaries, taking control, giving firm directions — being active rather than passive. A quiet voice can be as powerful as a loud one, depending on your presence.

Run means do what it takes to get out of there. “Move your body toward safety” is my favorite of the phrases listed on our sheet. Avoidance is another good one — see something coming and get out there before it happens.

Fight is the first word that comes to mind when the average person thinks of self defense. But in truth, most of the time you have plenty of options besides a physical fight. One of the most important reasons to learn to fight is to give yourself confidence and that means that you will rarely need to actually hit or block or kick. But believing that you can do it is crucial.

Tell is probably the word few people expected to see on a list of self defense principles, but it might be the most important. Like the others, it means a lot of things. The “Me, Too” movement is one form of telling. Calling the police is another.

Reporting someone to proper authorities — whether it’s a coach in a competitive sport, a doctor,  a professor taking advantage of students, or a priest — is also important, though up until recently much of that was swept under the rug and many of those who reported these crimes were treated badly.

In a situation where involving the authorities is unlikely to help, it’s still important to tell, to find someone to share your story with. If something terrible happens to you, do not bear it by yourself. If the people around you won’t help, find others who will.

And by all means, tell your success stories! We need those as well. It’s important for everyone to know about women who stand up for themselves, who fight off attackers, who handle abusive bosses.

It’s a lot easier to believe we can win when we know other people have done so.

You know, when I first saw this list of words, I thought it was too simple. But the more I think about it, the more powerful I find it. Sometimes simple is the best way to convey things that are truly important.



Think. Yell. Run. Fight. Tell. — 5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Why Empowerment Self Defense Matters |

  2. I once went to a talk by an attorney who had handled a lot of workplace sexual harassment cases. He said that the best way to deal with this situation is simply to start screaming the FIRST time that anything like this happens. Just go nuts. Grab his computer and throw it on the floor. That way, it will be very difficult for him to argue that you consented to his advances.

    • There’s some logic to that, especially legal logic (as you and I know). But in terms of safety and also in terms of keeping your job, you may need to handle it differently in the moment. That’s why “think” is the first word. I think that if you learn to trust your intuition, it will tell you the right thing to do in most circumstances.