Saturday, 20 April 2013

The Importance of Learning Self-Defense & How to Choose a Reputable School

It always surprises me how many women scoff at self-defense, or how many women think that they don't need to learn some basic techniques. Are you guilty of thinking any of the following as reasons for why you don't need to learn self-defense?

I'm too old/young
I live in a safe neighbourhood/city
I don't dress fancy or have anything someone would want to steal
I've never seen anything bad happen to me or anyone that I know
I'm too weak 
I don't have any martial arts experience, so self-defense would be hard for me to understand
It's not interesting to me 
I don't want to be taught by a man 
I don't want to be in a class with big, sweaty, rough men 
I don't think that I should have to learn it 
I don't put myself into dangerous situations I'll be fine
If anything happens, I'll just hit him in the groin  

If any one of these thoughts have crossed your mind in regards to your own personal safety, then it's time for a rude awakening, because violence is everywhere and it makes no sense to not take charge of your own personal safety. 

The only person in charge of your safety is you 

While that might sound trite and overly obvious, it's a sad fact that women worry about their safety regularly, though do very little to ensure or improve it. We spend years worrying about walking through underground parking lots by ourselves, walking down the street when it's dark outside, or feeling anxiety when we see groups of males in proximity to us, and yet, many women never take any steps to alleviate this anxiety. 

The first step to making a change is deciding to take up self-defense. At a minimum, women should take a self-defense course or seminar every few years in order to stay sharp. Self-defense skills are like any other skills: you don't use it, you lose it. If you take one French seminar, your French skills will quickly improve, though will sharply decline without regular practice. You will undoubtedly retain some vocabulary, though you will be a far cry from fluent; in fact, it may take you a few minutes of thinking to think of the word you were trying to recall. Self-defense is the same - you will be surprised what you will retain (even years later), but these techniques and skills ought to be practiced and maintained. 

How to find a self-defense school or instructor:
1. Look for a reputable martial arts club or instructor in your area - How long has the instructor been training? What are his/her credentials? Have they been teaching for long? 
 2. What style of self-defense do they teach? This is an important question. Not all styles are made for the type of self-defense we are talking about here. Some styles that won't be particularly helpful in terms of learning self-defense are: karate, taekwondo,  Capoeira, kickboxing, Tai Chi, Judo, Ninjitsu, etc.*  Instead, look for instructors and schools that teach jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga, Hapkido, or other styles that are meant for close, hand-to-hand combat, and that employ techniques that are based on body mechanics rather than strength (joint locks, scenario-based techniques). 
3. Are there other females in the seminar/school? - A club should be female-friendly, especially if they're trying to offer women's self-defense calsses. It's nice to have other females to partner with, and to look to for help. It's particularly nice to have female instructors.
4. Prices/Time - expect to pay for a self-defense seminar. Seminars can run anywhere from about $30 to as much as $150. Ultimately, it depends on who is teaching it and the duration of the seminar. 
5. Location, location, location - Anyone who is serious about keeping women safe and is interested in teaching women how to defend themselves should have a school located in a reasonably safe neighbourhood, which is public transit-accessible, on a well-lit street and have closeby parking in an equally well-lit lot or street. 

 Go try a few classes, and see how the school feels to you. Check your local paper and online for upcoming women's self-defense seminars. 

Above all, go and try schools and seminars with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and put 100% effort into trying everything that you learn. If your instructor asks you to hit a pad, HIT IT! Train like you mean it, ladies!

*Note: these are perfectly fine styles, and I personally hold rank in a couple of them, but they aren't great for the average woman with no martial arts background who is looking for a few effective techniques to add to her arsenal.


  1. Hi, You stated, "Some styles that won't be particularly helpful in terms of learning self-defense are: karate, taekwondo, Capoeira, kickboxing, Tai Chi, Judo, Ninjitsu, etc.* Instead, look for instructors and schools that teach jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga, Hapkido, or other styles that are meant for close, hand-to-hand combat, and that employ techniques that are based on body mechanics rather than strength (joint locks, scenario-based techniques). "

    Could you go into specifics as to why you promote this, i.e. first why those systems are not and second why those systems are effective from your perspective?



  2. Hey Charles,
    Hahaha, I KNEW that comment would raise a few eyebrows! While I meant no disrespect to any of the styles I listed (as I said, I actually have a black belt in Shotokan, as well as some significant experience in a couple of the other styles I mentioned), I don't necessarily think that they're a great place to start for the average woman who is looking for a one-time self-defense course. Now, as a female martial artist, I know that female martial artists tend to be a special breed of woman, who relish in the power they feel when they strike a pad hard, or when they land a solid kick on an opponent, or when they take their partner down to the ground with a smoothly executed hip throw. We tend to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to that mentality, in comparison to the average woman. In teaching women's self-defense for years now to many women with little or no martial arts background, many women are so concerned with not wanting to hurt other people that they barely hit the pad when an instructor asks, or they put only minimal effort into strikes because they've been socialized for such a long time that this is simply not what women do; it's "men's stuff". The styles that I've mentioned in the post really need you to hit and hit HARD. Take karate, for example - the kicks, strikes and blocks that are the fundamentals of the entire system require some strength to perform effectively, especially in an actual self-defense scenario. For someone with the time and inclination to train regularly, I think it's a fine style (I wouldn't have put almost twenty years of training into it if I didn't agree!); however, many women who take a self-defense course don't sign up at a school afterwards because for them, it was something they did for a few hours on a weekend one time, and it's for these women that I made that recommendation. I sincerely believe that if you are only going to spend a few hours every couple of years (if that!) learning some self-defense, your time would be best spent learning about easy escapes from holds and other techniques that really emphasize body mechanics vs. size and strength. This is why I'm a particular fan of jitsu and Krav Maga for the average woman seeking a self-defense seminar or course.

    For a woman interested in actually joining a school and becoming a regular martial arts practitioner, that's a different story. I'm not much of a martial arts elitist, where I proudly proclaim that only style x or y are the best; honestly, I think that any martial art that gets a woman moving, in better shape, has her meeting new people, learning how to defend herself and building her confidence is great!

    1. Thanks, I appreciate your answer. Most of my experience with women in karate were through the military and as you can guess military women don't have issues, mostly, with hitting hard.

      One point tho, out of your context, is hitting hard with strength. I tend to stay away from strength in general and try to teach fundamental principles that provide power, i.e. example is the step punch putting the entire body and momentum into a punch vs. using strength, etc.

      A bit more complicated I know but your experience probably assumes these things anyway and may have been behind your reference to strength and punching.

      Lastly, I feel that karate is not taught correctly in most cases and that various fundamentals such as shifting, deflecting, etc. are ignored for the manly strength. But I digress and regardless of these comments your explanation is excellent in that it answered all my concerns.

      Regards and appreciation,


  3. Here I was, ready to pounce when you said karate was no good for self defense and Charles goes and beats me to the punch!

    Just kidding. I wasn't actually going to get all gorilla-man over here but I was going to ask for the same clarification you made above.

    I've got some experience in Combat Hapkido, myself, and I can tell you that one area in which it is lacking is that of resistant application. Because it revolves around joint manipulation my dojang-mate would be a fool to resist me like a real attacker would - as he would likely suffer terrible injury. So, while we drilled the hell out of escapes, grabs, takedowns, etc., the experience provided mostly "theoretical" or potential and untested skills.

    Another area of self protection where self defense classes lack is teaching the students how to deal with getting hit. In seminars and short term classes the emphasis is not on how to handle pain and how to recover from getting your head rocked back by a punch but rather on offensive skills. Offense is important but it has been said that "Everyone has a plan, until they get hit".

    Not saying you are incorrect overall, of course. But I think that some of the advantages Traditional Martial Arts offers someone seeking self defense skills deserve to be touted a bit.


  4. Brett, you hit the nail right on the head there. I trained at one of the last few schools in the city that actually allowed face contact and some medium to heavy-body contact when sparring. Being hit, knowing what it feels like, and knowing that it's not the end of the world is a huge part of effective training. I think that this is a skillset that is lacking even in some traditional martial arts schools, too! It really just depends on the teacher.


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