You have a right to protect yourself, but it didn’t start out physical. If hands are not on you, it’s best to avoid getting physical. Just get away from them.

I can't find what it means either in dictionaries or on the web. My best guess is hands don't hit you, but I am not sure if I get it right. What does "hands are not on you" truly mean?

Here is the full source.

1 Answer 1


It's not any common idiomatic expression, but the context suggests that it means holding you in some way:

If someone is not physically restraining you (has their hands on you) then it's best to get away.

There is a similar idiomatic expression, "to lay a hand on someone" or "lay hands on someone" which does usually mean to physically harm them in some way. Note also that you should not confuse this with "to lay hands on someone" in a church setting, which means to pray over someone or heal them with prayer

Side note: From a practical perspective, what bothers me most about this is that both hands on you and lay hands on you are unclear. I'm not sure if by this they mean assault or restrain. Are they saying if your assailant is trying to hit you, you should not run away?

Odd advice, given the best option is to leave a dangerous situation, period. If they mean holding you so you can't escape, then why not just say so:

You have a right to protect yourself, but if you are not being physically restrained, your best option is almost always just to get away from your assailant.

Of course, the author of the guide might believe that, once you have been physically assaulted, you should respond with force. Again, if this is the case, then say so. For example:

Once your assailant has struck you, however, anything goes. You should respond with whatever weapons are at your disposal, and end the fight quickly and finally, attacking until you feel you are completely out of danger.

  • 2
    But according to this dictionary: lay hands on someone can mean to beat up; assault. Also, I can't find the definition of lay a hand on someone in the dictionary. collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/lay-hands-on
    – dan
    Jul 27, 2018 at 2:46
  • I feel the same way with Andrew. "hand be on something" here is just the literal meaning - hands are on you, hands are contacting on you ...
    – Zhang
    Jul 27, 2018 at 5:22
  • @dan I suppose in some dialects it could be lay hands on someone, but it sounds archaic to me. The only modern usage I know is in a warning, such as, "Don't you lay a hand on her!" Meanwhile the ecclesiastical meaning of "lay hands on" is still in fairly common use.
    – Andrew
    Jul 27, 2018 at 6:58
  • Ok. Interestingly, you can find an example in the link I attached in my question. If the person starts attacking you from a distance but hasn’t laid hands on you, it’s smart to try to move away and, again, use your voice to try to stop the attack.
    – dan
    Jul 27, 2018 at 7:46
  • @dan From a practical perspective, what bothers me more is the use of the ambiguous "lay hands" in this sentence, as it's not clear whether they mean assault or restrain. Are they saying that if the person has tried to hit you, you should not run away? That's odd advice. If they mean hold you so you can't get away, then that's what they should say. A self-defense guide should be clear, concise, and practical, because if you're ever in the situation when you need it, you won't be thinking clearly.
    – Andrew
    Jul 27, 2018 at 15:10

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