Women have more room for movement, at least in the Western world than ever before and yet our view of how to teach self defense skills–even of what those skills should be–are lagging to say the least.
Following is my diatribe on things that are wrong with women’s self defense:
Martial arts, the origin of self-defense, was created by men out of ancient war arts often involving antiquated weapons and/or horseback, and handed down mostly unchanged over generations. Many so called self-defense styles have failed to evolve with the times. Self defense has been retrofitted in an effort to suit the needs of modern women, but really it was built for something entirely different.
Modern self-defense classes tend to spend a majority of time training for fair fights. When a man attacks a woman, it is rarely a fair fight. Fighting fair can put you at a fatal disadvantage. When Instructors do discuss or attempt to recreate unfair attacks, a number of things go wrong. They either spend a very small percentage of overall time on the complex issues, oversimplify the dangers, or extrapolate from their own situation and training and come up with answers based on the false premise of man-on-man violence or matched size violence.
Instructors also tend to focus on altercations between people who are facing one another, rather than one blind-siding the other or using charm or the element of surprise to get into position for a crime.
Today’s self-defense is often disconnected from everyday realities like kids, strollers, overwork, physical handicaps, sleep deprivation, age, illness, arthritis, depression, distraction, travel, traffic, pregnancy… life! For reasons such as school insurance coverage and convenience, self-defense is almost always practiced by people in comfortable clothing on smooth floors. No obstacles, no furniture, cars, wind, rain or darkness. All of these things must be part of your consciousness or it will be like learning to drive by playing a video game.
Due to the popularity of stunt-heavy Hollywood movies and sports martial arts, we often see a lot of cool creative moves I call fitness techniques that are more acrobatic than practical. These techniques might work for someone somewhere under very particular circumstances, but a self-defense technique you depend on to save your life should be like a good doctor… reliable as much of the time as possible.
Martial arts and self-defense classes are often more about following a leader than expanding our minds. And what could be safer than seeing and understanding more?
“If you ever find yourself in a martial arts class or a relationship of any kind where you are discouraged from thinking and asking questions, don’t just get annoyed, get out!”
Most people think kicking and punching are the main aspects of self defense. In general, modern self-defense is primarily concerned with the moment of the attack and neglects the Before and After. It leaves out all the things we can do that will diminish our presence on the criminal radar and neglects the aftermath, where stress can affect us adversely and cause us to make things worse. Self protection has more to do with good decision-making under stress than physical technique.
Self defense could be a vehicle for true empowerment. That’s a big word these days. We all want to feel empowered to be who we want to be and to take the world by storm. But how we do it is important and rarely addressed. Blind or reckless empowerment can get you in trouble if you think it means being assertive out of context. Not that plenty of people aren’t better off for having learned a few moves, but I think we can do a lot better. We love to hear about the grandma who fought off an attacker who tried to take her purse, but the fact is there are thousands of other versions of this story that went badly.
Ideally Women’s Self Defense would:
Have aspects of martial arts, but also psychology, sociology among other things.
Include the study of trickery, goal oriented and criminal behavior.
It would cover attacks the way they are most often perpetrated against women or whomever the class is meant to address. Men, women and children are attacked in different ways, under different circumstances.
Women’s self defense would be based in reality. It would take into account the kids, strollers physical handicaps, bad days and other things life is made up of.
It would be simple to perform and to remember. When your mind and body are under extreme stress they respond very differently than they do in a class under controlled circumstances. Time both slows down and speeds up. You freeze, you fail to hear someone right next to you calling your name, you drop things involuntarily. You’re unlikely to be able to remember, let alone execute, a series of intricate movements, even with years of practice.
It would involve strengthening muscles and improving coordination and range of motion so our bodies get stronger and work better. What point is self defense if you are your own worst enemy, daily grinding yourself into dust. For that matter self defense would include some discussion of general health and wellness
“A role model should never discourage us from forming ideas about our own protection.“
Safety training must encourage us to think for ourselves and to question everything. Instructors have the opportunity to be guides and roll models rather than disciplinarians.