A woman awakens in the early-morning darkness to find a man standing at the foot of her bed. He is short and stocky, dressed in black and is clutching a knife. Leaning toward her, he leers, "I'm going to rape you."

She sits up, smiles and says, "Far out! But I need a drink first. Why don't you bring in a bottle of bourbon from the kitchen?"

Surprised, but titillated, he walks toward the kitchen. She rushes past him and escapes through the front door.

Bizarre, but true, says self-defense expert Terry Dobson.

"In talking to people who have gotten out of assault attempts," he says, "you'll often find that the thing they did was so simple, so banal, that no one would have believed it."

That incident also illustrates an "extremely effective" assault-averting technique Dobson calls "blending." Like the willow that survives by bending with the wind, he says a person can "blend" with -- not against -- an assailant.

"Rather than standing rigid against a stronger, more forceful attacker, "you temporarily realign your energy and blend your force with his.

"This will startle your adversary," claims the ex-Marine, bouncer and bodyguard. "It's more than he bargained for, and puts him off balance for a moment. That instant of confusion and disequilibrium gives you your chance. Since your power is aligned with his, your assertion of a small, almost insignificant amount of force will enable you to take control of him, or to run away."

Blending -- "the course of the willow" -- is also the guiding principle of Aikido, says Dobson, 44, who holds a fourth-degree black belt in the martial art and studied in Japan with its creator, Morihei Ueshiba.

"The aim of Aikido is peace," he notes, "not domination. It is an approach to conflict-resolution based on the idea that accommodation, not competition, is both the kindest and most effective means of resolving a physical attack."

In the 20 years since Dobson started studying Aikido -- "as a way to deal with my meanness and violence" -- he has evolved a philosophical view of self-defense. "There is a reality of crime out there," he says, "that requires alertness and taking certain precautions.

"Yet you must be able to recognize the difference between prudence and paranoia, since -- to be really alive -- you have to be open to the best things life has to offer. This requires preparedness . . . to reduce the likelihood of physical harm and to make you feel less like a victim and more in control."

This approach to self-defense -- and to life -- contrasts markedly with Dobson's earlier views. A natural football player at 6 feet, 220 pounds, he learned "the way to get strokes was to hit people as hard as I could."

As a Massachusetts high-school senior he "really clobbered a guy in a game so I could impress this Suzy Q I liked. When the ambulance came to take the guy away I felt guilty."

Dobson was so chagrined by that "indication of weakness" that he joined the Marines. After the service came a short stint at college and a period of drifting from job to job -- factory worker, laborer -- that culminated in a move to Japan and the discovery of Aikido.

"Up until then I was depressed. It had seemed that, in this world, you could either dominate or surrender. But Aikido showed me that you didn't have to be a victim or a victimizer. There was an alternative -- going with the force."

Dobson returned to this country in 1969, and took a job as a bouncer in a "biker bar" where -- among other accomplishments -- he disarmed a man wielding a chain saw.

"I found that I'd learned something other people didn't know. Most bouncers have between three and five fights a week. I would go for several months without a fight.

"I began to see how much of male fighting is pure ego. You can come up with so many other options. Aikido contains the accummulated street wisdom of thousands of years of survivors . . . who obviously knew things the dead ones didn't know. It seemed that much of the art was applicable to our daily determination to avoid trouble."

Dobson went on to teach Aikido in New York, and now lives in California, where he conducts workshops and works as a security consultant for individuals and organizations. He has complied his "life-saving" principles into a book, Safe and Alive (J.P. Tarcher, Inc., $4.95) that gives advice on preventing and dealing with danger almost anywhere.

The biggest mistake most people make when confronted by trouble, he says, "is not trusting their intuition. If there is such a thing as a central unconscious that contains life-saving information, it's contained in our instincts. They say people in crisis see their lives flash before them. That's the mind thumbing through the Rolodex of your memory, looking for a way out."

In ancient times, "people valued their intuition. They used to think it was the providence of angels--the ability to see and understand immediately.

"But today people just don't trust it. You'll hear victims say, 'I knew I shouldn't go in there, something seemed funny' or 'I had a feeling I shouldn't trust that guy.' Yet they went against what their intuition told them, for fear of being impolite or looking silly."

Men, he believes, are particularly uncomfortable with the idea of trusting intuition, "maybe because it's considered feminine. So I tell them to go with their hunches. They can accept that.

So far as the fight-back-or-play-for-time question, "There's no quick and easy formula," says Dobson. "People who advocate either fighting or running have probably had an experience where it worked.

"The reality of a criminal assault is much different from what you might think if you haven't gone through it. So it's hard -- and dangerous -- to tell people to do just one thing no matter what."

While "every situation is unique," Dobson defines six "options for response" to danger:

1. Fighting -- Using physical force, without or without weapons. Most appropriate when a sudden, unprovoked attack is made on you at close quarters and you feel in danger of bodily harm.

2. Flight -- Escaping or using evasive action to separate you from your attacker. Typically, the people to run from are those most difficult to fight. Remember: Run towards safety, not away from danger.

3. Negotiation -- Opening a dialogue with your attacker to forestall or minimize the attack. "Spot and exploit offers of a relationship, and -- if possible -- don't grant acceptance unless your assailant is willing to compromise."

4. No action -- Carrying on as though nothing unusual is happening. Most appropriate when you can't do anything anyway, you can't decide what to do, you're surrounded, outnumbered or surprised.

5. Diversion -- Employing actions to confuse, mislead or startle the assailant. "Try doing or saying the weirdest, most unexpected thing you can think off." Don't attempt to surprise an attacker who seems professional or one who is jumpy and/or has a weapon.

6. Blending -- Joining temporarily with your attacker's force to redirect it and gain control. Most appropriate when you have no other choice, and/or you need time to decide which of the other options is best.

While considering these guidelines may be helpful, "If someone approaches you," concedes Dobson, "you're not going to be able to think 'Now what are those six options again and which should I choose?'

"Try to stay calm and get centered see box . Then use your intuition -- your capacity for spontaneous insight. It will tell you which way to go."