Walk  into any martial arts dojo and you’ll most likely see flyers and class times set aside specifically for “women’s self defense.” There is an unfortunate and certainly undeserving stigma associated with being a woman and learning ways to defend oneself. Martial arts instructors often fall into the trap of thinking women are weaker and more afraid and, therefore, need a special set of techniques and training to protect against big, bad, scary men who wish to do them harm.

Hogwash.

The Weaker Sex Fallacy

Yes, I will admit when I was younger I fell into the trap of offering women’s self defense classes. It had marketing appeal for sure. I was so proud of myself, providing a great service to my community, making sure our mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives had the necessary tools to fend off an aggressive person. But over time I’ve trained (and trained with) many women, and quite honestly I don’t buy into the notion of “women’s self defense” anymore. It’s not only untrue about them being weaker and more afraid; I think it does a great disservice to the training and, most importantly, to women in general.

To elaborate, I’m stealing a hypothetical from my teacher, Jack Hoban, President of Resolution Group International.

You are walking through the woods and you see a bear. Are you scared?

Yes.

You are walking through the woods and you see a bear. Following closely behind the bear are her two cubs. Are you less scared or more scared now?

More scared. Of course.

Why “of course?”

This really gets to the heart of the issue, doesn’t it? Why are you more scared of the mother bear? Because we all understand the natural inclination for a mother to protect her young. Why, then, do we act as if women are somehow less capable of defending themselves (and especially their children) than a man? Let’s get the notion out of our heads that they can’t, and I think we’ll be doing everyone in the personal protection industry — students and instructors alike — a great service.

Tools Are Tools, a Punch is a Punch

“Use your handbag and swing it at the attacker.” I observe this being taught all the time to women. C’mon… really? This is not self defense instruction, this is lazy teaching. Women don’t need to spend their time learning how to swing a handbag around. Watch two Ruth Buzzi comedy routines and you’ll understand what to do. It’s just self defense, plain and simple. If we remove the label, I think you’ll not only find a more receptive female audience, but you’ll also find that the intimidation and awkwardness is gone. More importantly, you can spend your energy providing practical information to willing participants. (That was a lot of P’s, wasn’t it?)

Teach what you normally teach. Teach how to punch, kick, elbow, grab, pinch, gouge, scream and run — all the same stuff you teach men. Teach how to escape a grab, ukemi when falling, and using what you have with you. (But don’t dumb it down to handbags, okay? Keys, belts, books… you get the idea.)

Is There Any Value to Women’s Self Defense?

Well, yes, there is. But, perhaps not in the way you think. I believe there is value in holding a class/course where the participants are only women. This has more to do with confidence-building than techniques. I have seen time and time again women feeling very unsure about being able to perform a technique against a man. At this stage in the game it’s not about getting the technique perfect, it’s about giving them the tools to build confidence in themselves so they know they can do it. (And I won’t even get into the apprehension of having some large, sweaty stranger sit on top of a women to practice ground defense.)

A point should also be made on the psychology of an attack against a woman. Rape is something men don’t have to deal with, and therefore it’s hard for us to quantify the potential damage. For that reason, a self defense class wherein only women are participating is a great place to discuss this subject. In my experience, this topic is just not something many women feel comfortable talking about in the company of a lot of men. Granted, if a man is leading the workshop then you work with what you have, but in those cases it is perhaps best for the man to step back and let the women speak openly and honestly.