Establish boundaries with tools like voice and eye contact, and you are much less likely to be attacked.

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THE BRIGHT side of a self-defense course is you don’t need to be in fighting shape to defend yourself. You don’t need to be in middling shape, though it helps to have some hand-eye coordination when it’s time to gouge the attacker’s eyes out. You think I’m kidding.

Taking a self-defense course seemed like a great idea until I had to do it. Suddenly, I was nervous about dropping into the middle of a five-week, self-defense series with Joanne Factor of Strategic Living. I wanted to know the moves required to take down a scary, unknown assailant. In theory.

Then I realized the class was going to be a pretty cool two hours packed with facts. In addition to the moves, Factor shares a lot of information about the psychology of assailants. She stresses that they need both a target and an opportunity. Attackers are not looking for people who fight back, Factor emphasized. She shared many examples of women who have done that and scared attackers away. Establish your boundaries with tools like voice and eye contact, and you are much less likely to be attacked.

I’m well aware that as fit as I think I am, I know I would lose a strength-on-strength situation. Factor emphasized that our voice is one of our most powerful tools.

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Then there are the moves.

Factor focuses on tools we all have, regardless of fitness: our body weight, voice and the ability to strike areas of the body that will hurt.

Factor taught us to aim for “decisive targets” — eyes, throat, groin, knees, nose — which debilitate the attacker. Come up with a three-point combo to make it really effective. Karate chop the groin! Kick the knee! Gouge those eyes! And make sure you yell “back off!” “let go!” and “no!”

We partnered up. It was liberating to work with another human being, yelling, taking them off balance, pulling their ears and pretending to knee them in the face.

Releases were a little more intimidating. Even when someone is a nice, sweet girl you just met in self-defense class, it’s not totally pleasant to have someone grab you from behind or grab your throat in a chokehold. Factor showed us how to use our weight and other tricks to release from more unpleasant holds. (Factor also is attentive to students who may have been through attacks, offering modifications if certain holds trigger emotions.)

Factor also ventures into more familiar territory — how straight-up awkward people can be. She is an advocate for speaking straight. If someone is being a jerk, a close-talker or overly touchy, Factor coached us to tell someone kindly, and firmly, “You’re in my space bubble.” If they are a friend, tell them it’s not personal. Use the word “and” instead of “but,” and tell them they’re in your personal space.

Back off, buddy.

What Factor does best is instill confidence. If I am concerned someone is following me, I know to turn around, walk past the person at a decent distance, look at their nose and say “Hi.” If they are an assailant, it will be clear I’m not a victim. I’m ready with my three-point combo in case they attack. If they’re not an assailant, well, no big deal.

I never felt the need to take a self-defense class before. Factor’s class was more than worthwhile to feel prepared, capable and strong. Because we are.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Email: Erika Schultz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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