You might think that any self-defense instructor who tells you to run away from a confrontational situation as soon as you can is joking, after all, nobody wants to be seen as a coward. Right? Wrong. Forget what you see and hear in the movies and on the television. Forget how boxers or cage fighters talk when promoting a fight. In fact, you can forget every single cowardly accusation that you have ever heard. Throw them all away right now, because your priority if you are being attacked is to survive, and if that means running away then you run away. It's the very first thing you should think of.
Think about all the victims out there, the people who have been punched, kicked, assaulted, beaten, stabbed, hospitalized, or left scarred for life, or disabled, with their lives changed forever. If they could go back to their individual incidents do you think they would hesitate to run if they had an escape route? Would they stick around and take a beating, or would they happily run away to prevent the damage? The answers are obvious.
What about the unfortunate people who have been killed because of an attack? How many times do you think the loved ones they left behind have wished for a different outcome? Being brave, as noble as the concept of bravery might seem, is often the most foolhardy thing you can be. In fact, when you consider that society's opinion of somebody who runs from danger is so ridiculously negative, running away is from a physically threatening confrontation is not only the smartest thing to do, but it is also very brave.
If you are lucky enough to see an escape route, take it!
Human beings are hard-wired to take flight if we sense trouble, but our media-based upbringing sends a conflicting message to our brains that says we should always stand and fight. It tells us to act like men! To give as good as we get! To take a beating as long as nobody can accuse us of being "yellow", or call us a "chicken". It's frightening to consider how many victims of assault could have avoided taking any damage at all if they had ran away.
Self-defense instructors should always emphasize the importance of looking for an immediate escape route. It is, by a long way, the most effective way of preventing injury. Even if you are well trained and very capable, the chances are high that you will get hurt in some way during any altercation. When faced with a knife-wielding thug or a group of bat-waving gang members your instincts should tell you to run first, and your training should back this up.
Of course, every situation is different, and sometimes you have no choice but to use techniques you have learned to disarm and prevent your attacker from hurting you, but in the first instance try to get the hell out of there. Protecting yourself, and thus ensuring your survival, comes first, and if you have to run away to ensure you survive then so be it. Your life is far more important than what people might think of your so-called "cowardly" actions.