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Learning To Heed Emotions Is Self-Defense: Here’s How

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In Western societies, we’re heavily influenced by the ancient Greeks. And Disney movies. The Greek influence? We’re pushed to set aside emotions and use reason alone as superior to our feelings. Or, if we go the Disney route, we’re told to “follow your heart.” As if you can just chuck your rational mind to the wind and ride the often-turbulent waves of emotion.

Mind and emotions are spoken of as either/or as if we’re sectioned off with no connection between mind and emotions. As if the two aren’t deeply intertwined. But they are. And, managed well, our emotions can work in tandem with our mind and together form a pretty solid ally when it comes to self-defense.


Nashali Alma was working out alone in her apartment complex’s gym when a man approached her – then attacked her. Afraid he was going to rape her, she immediately fought back. He wrestled her to the ground, but what did she do? She punched him, yanked his beard, and even got him into a chokehold. Then, she dodged his attempts to grab her again, ducking behind gym equipment and calling 9-1-1. He tried one more time to subdue her, but she ran away. 

Nashali said just before the attack, she felt the man watching her. So she turned, and sure enough, he was rushing right at her. The rest is viral history. The gym’s video surveillance quickly shot around the world, and Nashali not only defeated her attacker but went on to help teach Krav Maga classes in Florida.

What happened to her assailant? Xavier Thomas-Jones, who also attempted to attack a second woman, is cooling his heels in a Florida prison where he’s being held without bond.

For any who find themselves in a similar situation, Nashali’s advice is so good: “Keep fighting… If you’re ever in this situation – like I’ve always said – never give up, never stop fighting. Keep pushing, keep fighting, because you are stronger than you think you are.”

So what was going on with her emotionally during this whole situation? She says she was confused at first. Then she realized he would try to rape her, so she prepared to fight back. During the attack, she says she wasn’t afraid. Wait – how can that be? Here’s her thinking: she saw herself as strong (and rightfully so; she’s a bodybuilder) and capable of fighting him off. And she did.

Her underlying belief in her training and abilities helped her emotions settle so she could defend herself. She had the know-how. She combined skill with a fighting spirit, empowered by the determination to win. That’s powerful stuff.

A Simple Definition

What are emotions anyway? Here’s a handy definition:



emo·​tion i-ˈmō-shən 


: a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body


: a state of feeling


: the affective aspect of consciousness : FEELING
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Emotions warn us of danger and help us fully experience our lives. When they pour in, good or bad, they can feel barely perceptible all the way to overwhelming. We’re aware of them and may be able to identify them quickly. “I feel so angry!” “Wow, I feel great.” Or they can be subtle. “Something feels off, but I’m not sure why.” We need to heed them no matter what, especially in a new, potentially volatile situation. Our lives could depend on it.

Let’s discuss emotions and what happens when they arise in the brain and body. According to the article “Emotions and the Body” (see link below), we experience emotions as sensations in our body because they’re activated neurologically, biologically, and hormonally. Read that again. Do you see it? It’s a threefold sensation in the brain, body, and hormones. 

Did you ever get a pop quiz you were totally unprepared for? Experience a bad breakup? Almost get slammed by a speeding car on the highway? How did it feel? Cold sweat, stiff shoulders, churning stomach, sweating palms… confusion, mental and physical pain, depression, sadness, grief. A combination of some or all of the above?

We all feel negative emotions, which are sometimes challenging to contend with. So when we do, how do we respond? Let’s explore that next.

What We Can And Can’t Do About Them

When negative emotions hit, what can we do? What can we do if we’re in a situation where we feel sudden terror? What can we do if we’re in a position where we must act to defend ourselves, or where we must act to protect someone else and our emotions so immobilize us we can’t even think, let alone act?

We’ll go to our deepest instincts if pulled into an emotional fog. We may run. We may fight back. Or we may freeze. These are automatic, and we’ll default to them unless we work to do something different. We understand these are all natural and understandable reactions. And running away or fighting serve us well when done right. But becoming slaves to our emotions – letting them run the show – can be dangerous. 

Now I’d like to clear something up right away. We’re not necessarily captive to even the strongest emotions. We can learn to regulate them. But it takes practice. 

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There are some things we can’t control. Thoughts will enter our minds. Emotions often follow closely; sometimes, they hit together so powerfully we’re stunned. We may even be triggered into a flashback. And sometimes, we react instead, lashing out when circumspection is wiser. And whether the lashing out is physical – or verbal – or both – we end up with regret. We are saying and doing things we can’t take back. Given the stakes, we need to do better. 

We can’t afford to self-medicate negative emotions away with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, food, video gaming, and social media. You name it – most of us know where our weaknesses lie. We realize we need to face those difficult emotions somehow or other, perhaps through therapy or other means. We must be honest and deal with whatever’s going on, including our feelings.

Emotional dysregulation can make us victims. We can’t afford to let emotions get out of hand. Instead, we must learn to harness them and help them serve us. 

But how? Our self-defense classes teach us to channel our emotions into a fierce warrior spirit. We use the power of these emotions to power our careful, curated responses. As we know, emotions can drain us if we let them. So what if we used their energy to handle the problem with focused determination and perseverance? What if we learned to wisely fight back – like Nashali did?

Her underlying belief in her training and abilities helped her emotions settle so she could defend herself.

How Can We Use Our Emotions For Self-defense?

Picture this. You’re walking across the parking and catch a glimpse of a guy out of the corner of your eye. He seems harmless enough, but he’s breathing hard, and you smell alcohol on his breath. Suddenly he’s coming at you, so you move out of the way. But you’re terrified, and now he’s lunging at you. He’s grabbing your arm! What do you do?

For a split second, you freeze. Then you take a deep breath and let that fear melt into outrage. How dare you? you think. Maybe you shout it. Then you remove his arm with a technique you learned in class, cause him enough pain not to want to mess with you anymore, and run away, calling 9-1-1 as you bolt into the store.

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In Tigress’ Roar, we train these kinds of scenarios again and again, so if we’re in a similar situation, we’ll have the innate sense to know what to do.

But Why Do I Need This?

I honestly wish our world wasn’t what it is. I wish we could all just keep our houses and cars unlocked. I wish we could go out anywhere, anytime, and be safe. But I know better. So do you. Let’s face it. The world’s not getting any better, and it certainly isn’t getting any safer. So we must remove the “nothing bad will happen to me” mindset. Sure, we may get through this life relatively unscathed, but are we willing to take that chance?

I’m not. Are you?

We need to prepare as best we can, while we can, for whatever may happen. It’s not paranoia to accept that bad things happen to good people. So what’s the next logical step? Get in a class where you can be taught how to respond mentally, physically, and emotionally to various situations where otherwise negative emotions can paralyze and make us victims.

It’s time to step out of a victim mindset and into a victor mindset, strengthened inside and out for whatever may come. Confident because we’re competent. Competent because we showed up, we keep showing up, and we keep on training.

Our doors are open to you, and you’re welcome here.

Join Us!


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