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Mastering Self-Defense for Women

There is nothing more poisonous to personal resilience than constantly worrying about your physical safety- except for feeling so helpless against a threat to your safety that you do nothing to defend yourself or escape. Fear and helplessness are pernicious states of being, with repercussions far beyond any physical danger. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to know how to defend themselves and to feel empowered to do so.

That goes doubly for women. If you don’t think that you have it in you to defend yourself, that you’re not courageous enough or strong enough, think again. Society teaches women to be fearful, it tells them that they are not as brave as men. Believing that can be debilitating. The truth is, women can be enormously courageous. Kamla Devi, a middle-aged farmer in India, defended herself successfully against a leopard attack in a half-hour long struggle, ultimately killing her “assailant” with nothing but the farm tools in her hand. Leopards are quite a bit stronger than humans, and yet how many women every year allow themselves to be victims of physical abuse without fighting back? Without belief in yourself, you’ve already made yourself vulnerable and undermined your own resilience.

 

Keys to Women’s Self-Defense

The Logic of Courage

Many schools of women’s self-defense focus on avoidance and escape as their primary approaches. Alright, escape is always a preferred alternative. But it may not always be an option. More importantly, when adrenaline kicks in, you have a very short time to actively choose between the fight and flight responses, and it is imperative that you learn to choose “fight,” EVEN IF you’re going to run. Only in fight mode do we have the mindset of winning rather than just escaping, the ability to choose our own actions and exercise our intelligence rather than being governed by fear. The objective is to get to the point where you are no longer afraid of physical confrontation, but are confident in your ability to overcome, or at the very least to give a good account of yourself. This is the logic of courage, and win or lose, it carries none of the mental debilitation of the logic of fear.

 

Some Hard Truths

1. If you don’t train against live opponents in a serious way, you will not gain the feeling for body mechanics that you need in a self-defense situation.

2. If you don’t train seriously against (a variety of) men, you will not be able to defeat them in real life. Men have different body mechanics, different mass distribution, different musculature and different psychology than women. You must train against men both to get the feeling of it and to overcome any physical intimidation you may experience.

3. If you don’t train for victory, don’t bother training at all. Not every opponent you meet will be easily discouraged. You have to be prepared to do what it takes to neutralize your attacker’s ability to harm you or your family, and to do so when necessary without hesitation. This doesn’t have to mean inflicting lasting bodily harm (although that is always a possibility), but it does mean that you can’t hold back when an assailant escalates.

A few of the things to look for in a system:

– Hands-on practice at no less than half-strength.
– Real-world scenarios
– Approaches to dealing with multiple attackers, since escape is more difficult when you’re facing more people
– Focus on combat psychology
– Lots of striking practice, both delivering and receiving
– Grappling
– Knife, hard object and gun defense (tip: guns are actually pretty simple to deal with; it’s the knives you’ve really got to watch out for! )

 

Teaching Your Body to Think

The most effective martial arts provide exercises designed to help the body interpret and deal with incoming force in such a way that your body will do the thinking for you. This leaves your mind free to strategize.

 

Web Resources

http://safeinternational.biz/blog/
Safe International’s blog offers information, news and tips about women’s self-defense.

http://www.self-defense-mind-body-spirit.com/womens-self-defense-blog.html
The Women’s Self-Defense Institute blog offers information on controlling the dynamics of violent crime.

http://www.mindsetselfdefense.com/#!mindset-self-defense-magazine/clue
Mindset Self-Defense offers an online magazine dedicated to women’s self-defense topics.

 

Systems

The quality of instruction is the single most important factor in finding a place to learn self-defense, and there are plenty of systems for women’s self-defense developed more recently, but here are a few established options that we have the most confidence in.

Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art invented by a Buddhist nun, is an excellent way to hack self-defense. It teaches body alignment, combat angles, sensitivity to the opponent and simultaneous attack and defense. It is both relatively quick to learn and devastatingly effective when taught well. Make sure that you get lots of hands-on practice time, real-life scenarios and focus on modern problems like knives, guns, Western boxing and wrestling etc.

A Russian martial art developed for use by the Russian special forces (SPETSNAZ), Systema (Система) is deceptively soft, relatively quick to learn and provides you with principles and training you probably won’t find anywhere else. Systema is peerless in providing one-on-one (and one on two or three) experience. If you stick with it, it will teach you serenity in dangerous situations and remove your fear. You must, however, be prepared to face and conquer the two biggest fears of all beginners – falling and getting hit. Their training DVDs are well worth checking out for anyone learning any system.

Israeli Krav Maga is the world’s most popular modern self-defense system. It incorporates scenarios from real-world experience, and its methods have been extensively tested in real-life situations. If you can find a good Krav Maga school, you could do far worse.

One of China’s most respected battlefield martial arts, Xingyi is externally quite similar to Wing Chun. It is the quickest of the Chinese “internal” styles to learn. It is linear and aggressive, controlling and collapsing the opponent. Historically it was a favorite among security guards escorting valuable cargo across a countryside infested with bandits, so it has been well tested.

Several harder-edged versions of Aikido have emerged over the years under different names. Though I have tremendous respect for Ueshiba’s teachings, personal abilities and philosophy, his martial art as it has been transmitted tends to follow the movements of the master without inculcating his understanding of the energies of combat, the combative body or his experience of the messy side of self-defense.

Fortunately, some newer redactions of Aikido have reacted against the dumbing down of the self-defense aspects and definitely offer a viable alternative for women today.

For more information and video demonstrations, refer to our past posts here and here:

 

Call For Feedback

When we set out to find the best web resources for women’s self defense, we had no conception of the vacuum we were walking into! There are plenty of sites out there for individual local programs and schools, but very little in the way of hubs for general self-defense information and resources for women everywhere. We may end up doing something about this ourselves, but in the meantime, we’d like to ask for your feedback. Have you taken a women’s self-defense course? Are you a woman who’s been involved in martial arts more generally? Please share your experiences, impressions and opinions. How has the training impacted your confidence and your self-defense abilities? What was the quality of instruction? Post your comments below.


What Every Woman and Parent Needs to Know About Women’s Self-Defense

Let’s face it, you could be the target of physical violence…  It happens all the time in our society.  It could happen while you’re commuting, walking down the street, at your place of work, or even in your own home.  

And yes, statistically speaking, you’ll probably never have to defend yourself or your loved ones over the course of your life time.  But you don’t ever want to be put in that position and realize you don’t know what to do.  That’s why self-defense is an integral part of mastering personal resilience.

Not surprisingly, self-defense is of even more concern for women than for the guys.  So if you’re a woman trying to figure out the best way to learn self-defense or if you’re a parent wondering where you can send your daughter, what should you do?  The array of options out there is bewildering. 

To help you out, I’ve rated most of the readily available alternatives for you here.  Keep in mind that there’s no way I could cover every possible style or system, and that one of the most important variables is the one you’ll have to rate for yourself – the quality of the instructor(s).  

The Rating System:



The most desirable rating under each category is 5.  Just think of it as a “5 star” rating 😉


Availability: this refers to your chances of finding competent instruction in this style/system in an average major city.


Speed: 5 stars here means the style will make you genuinely effective at defending yourself in the shortest possible time.


Sophistication: The less sophisticated systems may give you a baseline self-defense capability, even quickly, but may keep you from progressing beyond that level.  The most sophisticated styles, on the other hand, have incredible potential.  Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a trade-off between speed and sophistication, and a less sophisticated system may serve your immediate purposes.


Grappling / Striking: This refers to the style’s preference, since almost all of them prefer one or the other.  While ideally you want a mix of both, striking (e.g., punching, kicking, elbowing, etc.) is certainly the more important, especially in the early stages.  


Applicability (to women’s self-defense): Does the style / system leverage a woman’s natural abilities and take into account her physical characteristics?  


Martial Art: Karate
Country of origin: Okinawa, Japan
Availability: 5
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 2
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 2
Overall Rating: 3
Karate is often taught as a sport, rather than for self-defense.  If taught specifically as self-defense, it could bring you to a reasonable level of competence in a short time.  However, it has stylistic elements that can inhibit further progress.


Martial Art: Taekwondo
Country of origin: Korea
Availability: 5
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 2
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 2
Overall Rating: 3
Same comments as for Karate.

Martial Art: Jiu-Jitsu
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 5
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 3
Grappling/Striking: G
Applicability: 3
Overall Rating: 3+
Although primarily a grappling system, jiu-jitsu verges on a “mixed system”.  It may lack the sophistication of more “internal” arts, but it can be learned to a basic level quite quickly.  Particularly worthy of a look-see is modern “Brazilian Jiu-jitsu”, which has made a name for itself in the martial arts world. 

Martial Art: Judo
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 5
Speed: 1
Sophistication: 1
Grappling/Striking: G
Applicability: 1
Overall Rating: 1
Judo is solely a sport.  Anyone telling you they teach “combat Judo” is out to lunch – the combat version is jiu-jitsu, from which Judo was explicitly constructed as a sport.  You’ll never learn to defend yourself competently through Judo.  

Martial Art: Aikido
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 4
Speed: 2
Sophistication: 5
Grappling/Striking: G
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 3+
Aikido is one of the world’s top martial arts, no doubt.  However, it takes quite a while to reach competence.  Note that some Aikido styles are combat oriented, while others are not much more than an elaborate form of exercise.

Martial Art: Ninjutsu (Tai-jutsu)
Country of origin: Japan
Availability: 2
Speed: 4
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
This is the martial art of the Ninja.  It’s far more sophisticated than all later Japanese martial arts, with the exception, perhaps, of Aikido.  Competence in a short period of time is easily possible with good instruction. 

Martial Art: Shaolin
Availability: China
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 4-4+
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
The catch here is that the Shaolin systems (northern and southern) and their off-shoots are sometimes taught more as aesthetic practices than as martial arts.  Authentic Shaolin instruction from real Shaolin-temple trained instructors has become easier to find in recent years. 

Martial Art: Wing Chun
Country of origin: China
Availability: 4
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 5
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 4+ to 5
Overall Rating: 4+ 
Wing Chun is a superbly designed system and was invented by a woman, Yim Wing Chun, explicitly to defeat the greatest martial art of the time, the Shaolin system.  This was also Bruce Lee’s primary style.  A competent Wing Chun practitioner will defeat most comers quite easily. 

Martial Art: Jeet Kune Do
Country of origin: Hong-Kong / USA
Availability: 3
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability:  5
Overall Rating: 4+ to 5
Bruce Lee and his senior student, Dan Inosanto, developed this from Wing Chun, Kali/Escrima and other martial arts.  It’s extremely effective, easily learned and takes the best of everything.  Highly recommended.

Martial Art: Tai Chi Chuan
Availability: 4
Speed: 1
Sophistication: 5
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 2
Overall Rating: 3
Tai Chi is one of the most sophisticated martial arts in the world.  In China of old, to challenge a Tai Chi master to combat was regarded as a one-way ticket to the after-life.  Now, however, Tai Chi is usually taught for its health benefits and few instructors can teach the combat aspect.

Martial Art: Bagua Zhang (Pa Kua)
Country of origin: China
Availability: 2
Speed: 2
Sophistication: 5+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 3
Overall Rating: 3+
Bagua is at least as sophisticated as Tai Chi and high level practitioners are nearly unbeatable.  It just takes a while to become competent.  It’s also hard to find good instructors. 

Martial Art: Xing Yi (Hsing I)
Country of origin: China
Availability: 2
Speed: 3+
Sophistication: 4 to 4+
Grappling/Striking: S
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
Xing Yi is the third major “internal” style from China (after Tai Chi and Bagua), and is extremely direct and effective.  In 19th century China, many body guards were trained in this style.  Finding good instruction would be the key here. 

Martial Art: Krav Maga
Country of origin: Israel
Availability: 3-4
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 2-3
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability: 4+
Overall Rating: 4
Krav Maga was developed to train people quickly.  So if you want to become dangerous in a short time frame, this is for you.  For women’s self-defense, it’s hard to argue with the idea that becoming effective quickly is the primary criterion. 

Martial Art: Haganah
Availability: Israel
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 3
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability: 4+
Overall Rating: 4
Haganah is based on Krav Maga and two other Israeli systems.  Its virtue?  An extremely well-designed curriculum where you, the defender, terminate all encounters in one of three ways.  Whereas some martial arts bombard you with hundreds of possible techniques, Haganah simply shows you the best response to the most common attacks.  From there, it’s all downhill for your opponent – you either take him down, break his ankle or send him to the afterlife – your choice!

Martial Art: Thai Kick-Boxing
Country of origin: Thailand
Availability: 2-3
Speed: 3-4
Sophistication: 3-4+ (depending on the style)
Grappling/Striking: S / Mixed
Applicability: 3-4
Overall Rating: 3+
Thai kick boxing (not to be confused with generic “kick-boxing”) is a very effective and practical system and is usually taught for real combat, although there are sport variants too. 

Martial Art: Silat

Country of origin: Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia

Availability: 2
Speed: 4
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4
Some of the Silat systems are among the world’s most sophisticated martial arts.  Yet, unlike the Chinese internal systems, these translate into real-world effectiveness quite a bit faster.  They also teach a very sophisticated defensive method against knife attack. 

Martial Art: Kali / Escrima

Country of origin: Philippines

Availability: 3
Speed: 4
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4 
Kali / Escrima is a grouping of systems that, like Silat, strike an ideal balance between grappling and striking, and between weapons and empty-hand applications. 

Martial Art: Systema (pronounced siss-TYEH-mah)

Country of origin: Russia

Availability: 2
Speed: 5
Sophistication: 4+
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 4
Overall Rating: 4 to 4+
An extremely sophisticated use of body mechanics, coupled with internal power generation and economy of movement, this continually updated method has been routinely taught to Soviet and now Russian special forces. 

Martial Art: “Women’s Self-Defense” courses

Country of origin: N/A

Availability: 4
Speed: 3
Sophistication: 2-3
Grappling/Striking: Mixed
Applicability: 2-3
Overall Rating: 3
Okay, a rating of 3 is generous, but here’s why I’ve given it: these courses are often a good first exposure to basic martial arts techniques, they tend to cover the legal issues surrounding self-defense, and they teach women how to make use of items readily at hand for self-defense.  These courses, frequently offered to the public through recreation centers or colleges and usually with accredited martial arts instructors, are however usually too short in duration to bring you to the desired level of effectiveness.  You’d have to continue with something else. 

There you have it – a basic once-over of what’s out there today and how likely each of these styles / systems is to get you where you want to go.  

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger 




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