Global Resilience Solutions > Category:women’s self defense

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
Safe International’s blog offers information, news and tips about women’s self-defense.
The Women’s Self-Defense Institute blog offers information on controlling the dynamics of violent crime.!mindset-self-defense-magazine/clue
Mindset Self-Defense offers an online magazine dedicated to women’s self-defense topics.



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.