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Women, if you have any interest in self defense (and you should), buy Personal Defense for Women by Gila Hayes. It is informative, instructional and encouraging. And it may save your life someday. No, the book won’t save your life, but it may begin or enhance a journey that one day saves your life.

I expected the entire book to be about handguns. I was wrong. Hayes uses the first 20% of the book helping to develop your survival mindset. We have grown up in a culture that doesn’t emphasize surviving, so it is not our first response. In life and death situations, first responses often determine the outcome. Hayes presents very logical and reasoned information that will begin to create a mindset that makes taking whatever action is necessary to survive. As Hayes puts it, “The will to fight has been trained out of socialized humans. If surprised by an assailant, do not expect some defensive instinct to surface automatically. If you have not confronted issues about your right to defend yourself, questions of legality and morality may be foremost in your mind, interfering with the concentration that should be directing your defense.” (page 40)

The author then turns to prevention and non-lethal means of self-defense. She covers safety and crime prevention in the home, on campus and at work. Her practical suggestions made me realize areas where I should make simple, inexpensive changes to reduce the likelihood of ever needing to use my self-defense skills – and that’s the goal of everyone who develops those skills. The information she provides on non-lethal methods of self-defense were largely new information for me. She identified several tools that can stun or stop an attacker giving you time to run to a safe location. (Tools that go well beyond the commonly given advice of carrying your keys in your hand and using them to jab at the eyes of your attacker.)

The final half of the book is dedicated to self defense with handguns. I began learning about and training with handguns about a year ago, so I am still a relative newbie. I found her review of the basics to be an outstanding refresher. I especially appreciated the discussion of the mechanics and physiology of recoil. While I have been taught about stance and how to hold the gun properly, I haven’t fully adopted what I was taught because it feels unnatural and quite frankly I was hitting my target better from a different stance and with a different grip. Hayes explained why the stance and grip I’ve been taught is important. It’s an important issue for women. Proper stance and grip minimize the recoil experienced by the shooter. That means my bones and joints are less stressed when I shoot and it means that I can reacquire my target faster. The first can save my body in the short run; the latter can save it should I ever need to shoot in self-defense. Now I’m motivated to let my accuracy suffer in the short-term while I practice a stance and grip that feels more unnatural but is healthier and safer.

The special attention she gives to women’s issues helped me understand things from a women’s perspective. For example, I have been struggling with the issue of concealed carry. Having only men around me to offer advice, I’ve developed this response to most of their solutions: “Men and guns have angles; women have curves. Therein lie my concealment issues.” In other words, all their advice worked well for men but not so well for women. Hayes offers practical advice based on her experience and the experience of her female friends.

As I said in the first paragraph, I recommend Personal Defense for Women by Gila Hayes. Women, buy it for yourself. Men, buy it for the significant women in your life – your girlfriend, mother, wife or daughters.  It’s about more than hand guns – it’s about not becoming a victim.

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