I've gotten a couple questions lately about training for self-defense, finding a school, recommendations, etc. Frankly, I get these questions enough that I'm trying to put together a comprehensive guide on the subject, but that's going to take a while. So this is meant as a starting point, for those who are interested in learning self-defense but have no idea where to start.
I'm not going to worry about recommending training locales, videos, or systems here, because that is a more complex subject than I'm prepared to deal with here. This more meant as a list of things that I think anyone should check out, preferably BEFORE studying a physical system. If not before, at least concurrently with.
Self-Defense 101 (Stuff you should definitely read)
1. Get Tony Blauer's Mental Edge package, and listen to it. All of it. It will provide you with the framework to start developing a proper mindset for self-defense, and give you some tools to evaluate your physical training as well. He also has some videos on the Crossfit site that are worth checking out.
2. Read Meditations on Violence. Rory does a great job of outlining some of the issues with martial arts vs. self defense training. It will give you a good reference point, and help you evaluate any training you are doing or considering doing. Facing Violence is also worth reading, but Meditations alone will give you a good start.
3. Read The Gift of Fear, because if you can avoid bad things in the first place, that's way better.
Self-Defense 102 (Stuff to Help You Go A Bit Deeper)
1. Read Inside the Criminal Mind by Standford Samenow. Because understanding how bad guy's think makes stopping them easier.
2. Read Strong on Defense; it's out of print, but it's a nice, compact guide on how to shift your mindset appropriately.
3. Read The Truth About Self-Protection. It is WOEFULLY out of date in some places, but it will give you a good sense of just how comprehensive this self-defense thing can be.
After this, it just gets big and huge, and there is a lot of stuff to read. Honestly, most of the books on physical tactics aren't worth the paper they're printed on. If you can learn to understand how bad guys think, how survivors survive, and apply those things to your life and mindset...you'll probably be pretty safe.