A Self-Defence Reading List

Jen Sherman

Staff Writer

Jen is an urban and cultural geographer who did a PhD on public libraries and reading. As a researcher, her interests are focused on libraries, reading, book retailing and the book industry more broadly. As a reader, she reads a lot of crime fiction, non-fiction, and chicklit. And board books. All the board books. You can also find her writing about books for children and babies at Instagram: shittyhousewife / babylibrarians Twitter: @jennnigan

You have just run into a dark room, and your attacker is hot on your heels. It feels like there is no way out, and you will surely meet your end in the next few pages. They have a gun, a knife, the ferociousness of a mother bear and you are the key to a secret that they need destroyed.

This ‘you’, by the way, is how I read crime novels. I get very involved in the story: I become the character, whether I’m an ex-stripper who faked my own death ten years earlier and whose past is now catching up with me*, or an NYPD cop about to burst into an apartment where the bad guys are probably hiding with guns. It gets very stressful, and I let myself be swallowed by the story, keeping at a distance the knowledge that there will be a happy ending because it’s more fun that way.

There are a lot of self defence moves that are used by these characters (both the good guys and the bad guys), and self defence principles that are seen in the fight scenes: kicks to the groin, palm strikes, attacking vulnerable points like eyes and throats, head butts, and the mantra of Amelia Sachs: ‘When you move, they can’t get you.’ (Sachs is a character in Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme series.)

Self defence, if you’re interested in learning more, is a practice where doing is more helpful than reading. But reading can be a good complement or introduction to the topic, and below are some books that cover a few different disciplines and ways of thinking.

gift of fearThe Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. This one isn’t actually about self-defence, but rather a book about intuition, dealing with violence, the power of the subconscious, and the importance of gut instinct.

Facing Violence by Rory Miller. This is another book that isn’t specifically about a specific discipline of self-defence or martial arts but rather about being prepared if you’re ever faced with violence. I say that it isn’t about a specific form of self-defence, but many of the things Miller talks about, like avoiding particular situations, de-escalating dangerous scenarios, and the foundations of how to defend or fight are found in the principles of Krav Maga.

krav magaKrav Maga: How to Defend Yourself Against Armed Assault by Imi Lichtenfeld and Eyal Yanilov. Imi was the founder of Krav Maga, a self-defence system developed for the Israel Defense Forces. It focuses on real world situations, and the goal of Krav is not artistic or graceful movements but rather doing what you can or need to do to get home safe.

Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee a martial artist, actor, filmmaker, and the founder of Jeet Kune Do, a mixed martial art that focuses on simple, economical and fluid movements. This book covers the science, techniques, and philosophy behind the system.

smile at strangersSmile at Strangers by Susan Schorn. Unlike the other books on this list, this one is a memoir, by a woman who took up karate and discovered not only techniques of a martial art but also a new way of living—without fear.

*I just finished reading Harlan Coben’s The Innocent before writing this post, in case this particular plot point sounds familiar to anyone.