Within two months of a friend‚s murder in 2001, Erin Weed, 28, was studying with violence-prevention experts and self-defense instructors.

She melded aspects of different approaches with her own touches of humor to create Girls Fight Back, a two-hour program she presents at schools, corporations and women‚s groups.

Weed says, „I don‚t think a single woman in America shouldn‚t know how to defend herself. Violence happens all around us, and the more you know how to fight, the less likely you are to use it, because you have learned how to stick up for yourself and recognize [dangers] before they materialize into attack situations.‰

It‚s all about body language and awareness, says Seton Hall University student Ivory Riley, who took a four-session rape-aggression defense class on campus.

Her instructor, Kevin Lockwood, also taught her to be watchful of her surroundings.

Lockwood, then a master‚s degree student, was Weed‚s assistant during her first presentation five years ago. He‚s been working with her ever since, allowing himself to be covered in orange stickers showing „vital targets‰ such as nose, eyes and groin. He also offers a male perspective on how to avoid dangerous dating situations.

„A week after she took Erin‚s class, one college student was attacked by her boyfriend,‰ Lockwood says. „She told us that she kept her wits about her and ... fought back as best she could, and he went away.‰

Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense method, drills students to take advantage of natural reflexes to defend and attack in the minimum time required, says Tony Racciatti of Krav Maga Contact Combat and Contemporary Fitness Center.

„We teach students how to make use of the human body‚s vulnerable spots and how to use their own natural weapons,‰ like teeth, as well as ordinary objects that may be close at hand.

High-heeled shoes, a purse, a remote control, an alarm clock and a cordless phone are all potential weapons.

Most of the time, the best defense is a good offense, says Ed DiNardo of Arts of Self-Defense. He often teaches young women heading to college.

„Know where you‚re going, and stay conscious of everything around you,‰ he advises. „Don‚t go to an area that seems dangerous. Stay with a group of friends or make sure someone knows where you are at all times.‰