Monday, February 16, 2009

Women's Self-Defense

By Matthew Schafer

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved

Every now and then the subject of teaching a women's self-defense class comes up. People ask me about them, voice their opinions about them, and I do teach them occasionally, although solely for promotional reasons. If I teach a "self-defense class" then I may get mixed results, as far as turnout goes, but if I go after a niche audience like "women's self-defense" then I'll often have a room full of people.

I don't really understand the concept of "women's self-defense". How is defending yourself different for women then it is for men? It takes about 12 lbs of pressure to break a properly set up elbow joint so does it really matter what sex delivers that 12 lbs? The truth is that "women’s' self-defense" is a marketing ploy. Women want special things and for things to be made especially for them so why shouldn't they have their very own self-defense techniques and classes?

A big part of the marketing ploy is that most women can be easily intimidated and they don't want to hurt or embarrass themselves by working out with men or trying to do self-defense techniques with men. If you tell women that the class is for women only and it will be just them in a room full of other women then they feel "safe". This creates a problem in that they only do their techniques against other women and that leads to a false sense of security. A woman can go up to another woman who has little to no training and do all the joint locks they want on them and it will be relatively easy, but if they tried the same technique on a guy who didn't feel like being cooperative then it might not work. It takes very little strength to do most techniques on women but it will take quite a bit more strength to do the same techniques on men. Plus a man being bigger makes it harder to do a lot of techniques. I've seen women that have no problem doing a wrist lock on another woman during a self-defense class but taking the size of hands into account, they'd have a hard time even grabbing a hold of my wrist if they tried to do that technique on me.

The whole premise of a woman's self-defense class is that you're teaching smaller weaker people to protect themselves from larger stronger people...but isn't that just plain old self-defense?? In any self-defense technique you want to assume that your attacker is always bigger than you are, stronger than you are, faster than you are, more skilled than you are, armed, and has friends waiting to jump in at a moments notice.

If a technique "works", not just once or twice but repeatedly, then it doesn't matter who does it. I don't care if you have a penis or a vagina, or if you weigh 200 lbs or 90 lbs, if you punch someone in the throat or jam your fingers into their eyes (not touch or poke but drive your fingers through in an attempt to destroy the eye) then you're going to get a hell of a result out of your attacker. The real issue isn't "men's self-defense" or that men do self-defense "this" way, or "women's self-defense" and that women do self-defense "that" way, it's that women want to feel special, don't feel comfortable doing self-defense techniques on guys, and the techniques taught in 99% of women's self-defense classes suck. Also, in my experience and the experience of other instructors I know, it seems that 99% of self-defense instructors are not qualified and don't know what they’re doing.

I used to live in the Colorado area and there was a woman who taught self-defense there. This woman's heart was in the right place but she had no business teaching people to defend themselves. She had a 2nd degree black belt in some karate style and for some reason she thought that that qualified her to teach self-defense. The problem is that self-defense and martial arts are not the same things. In martial arts you punch, kick, do joint locks, throws, kata, etc., but in a self-defense situation someone tries to seriously injure you, rape you, forcibly rob you, or kill you and you have to stop them. I don't know of any karate school that teaches you situational awareness methods, how to identify criminal behavior, how to counter the criminal method, and all the other dozen things you have to know before you even think about throwing a punch.

This woman was making a pretty good living teaching people “modern karate solutions" (modern karate is a seriously pussified version to what was taught even 50 years ago) to serious violent problems. Some punk walks up to you with a knife behind his back and asks you what time it is, then gets ready to run up and stab you the second you look at your watch...and you're training in point sparring is supposed to protect you? Give me a break. Karate contains some self-defense and self-defense contains some karate but they are not one and the same.

The idea that punching and kicking IS self-defense baffles me. Sure, in my self-defense classes I teach people how to punch and kick but we don’t focus on that because self-defense isn’t about punching and kicking; self-defense is about deciding not to become a victim, educating and preparing yourself to defend yourself and your loved ones, learning how criminals commit their crimes and how to counter it, being aware of who an what is around you and being on the lookout for criminal behavior, knowing de-escalation skills and “verbal boundary” skills, and then only after these do we deal with self-defense techniques and the use of improvised and commercially available weapons. However, when we talk about techniques I tell them to not get caught up in them because there is only one way to hit someone: as hard as you can!

The physical side of self-defense is not about doing this technique or that technique, it is about causing injuries. In my class if I teach a technique and someone has a hard time with it then I tell them to forget about it. This has brought actual gasps from martial artists who think that you should never abandon a technique but rather you should spend years and years practicing it over and over until you perfect it. The problem is that that is focusing on techniques and self-defense is not about techniques. If someone is trying to hurt you then a technique will not save you, causing an injury will. A technique is simply a means to an end but it is not the end.

A few weeks ago I was teaching a simple arm breaking technique but there was a girl in the back of the class who for the life of her just couldn’t get it. I explained the technique again but still she couldn’t do it. I explained exactly how it worked because often an in depth explanation of the physics of a technique can give people an understanding enough for them to be able to do it, but she still couldn’t do it. About 5 minutes or so into it she couldn’t do it so I said, “I’ll tell you what, this technique isn’t important. It’s all about causing injures, it doesn’t matter if it’s this one or anther one, all that matters is that you injure him. See his ankle? The ankle breaks very easily from the inside or the outside so I want you to stomp on it as hard as you can.” After that she was breaking people’s ankles and became a very happy camper.

If someone in my class can’t seem to get certain technique within about 5 minutes or so I tell them to forget about it and I show them another way to cause an injury in the same situation.

1 comment:

Guro Vee said...

Sir ... I appreciate your viewpoint on "women" self-defense. As a martial artist (and a woman), I was taught from the onset of my training (almost 20 years ago) that self-defense techniques are not woman v. man specific. We all learned the same combative techniques and, as our training progressed, we strengthened the ones that were the most effective for our personal use. There are techniques that I was required to learn as part of the curriculum and will likely never use, but my male cohorts use very effectively. My instructor never gave us (the women) a false sense of security by teaching us techniques that were not street ready or had us train only with the women classmates ... we had to (and still train) ground fight, learn joint-locking manipulations, eye pokes, use of makeshift weapons, quick limb destruction techniques (like your ankle break), etc., while engaged as much as possible in high-stress situations - e.g., outside at night, surprise attacks, etc. - against the men. The bottom line: you have to BE WILLING to fight back! If you've been training as if you were fighting (coupled with a few more advantages learned via good training), you have a far greater opportunity of surviving ... Unfortunately, too many women have yet to realize the power within and are not willing to fight back. So, certain folks - the predators - prey on that weakness. I'm okay with the marketing of "women's self-defense" just to get more women in the door, but the goal is to introduce them to reality ... It's way pass time for women to make the predator ... beware! Thanks for sharing your viewpoint. Guro Vee