When you think of women’s self defense, what comes to mind? Probably one of the hundreds of slogans used by those who give and promote courses; something along the lines of, “Don’t become another number,” “Defend Yourself!” or “Learn how to get away from an attacker.”
The list goes on and on. The problem is, all these slogans are rules or commands. Not much different from the patriarchal crap you get in the majority of women’s magazines, no?
Women’s self defense is a wonderful tool, but not in the manner in which it is currently being used by the majority of those teaching it. Allow me to explain.
The thing about the way in which women’s self defense is currently being utilized? It is a male-dominated martial art. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, as I’ve come across many male instructors who are quite wonderful. At the end of the day though, they are still men. They do not know what it feels like to move in a woman’s body. They do not know what it feels like to get cat-called. They do not know what it feels like to objectified daily.
It is also a “striking-based curriculum.” Doesn’t “self defense” automatically mean striking? No. Striking is actually detrimental to the entire “self defense” cause. Those of you who have been in street fights know it is not wise to pull out the kicks unless you’re Bruce Lee. Which I highly doubt any of the women taking any of these courses are, or striving to be. A true women’s self defense curriculum will focus on pressure points, joint locks and leverage, with a very small amount of striking involved.
Another issue is that women’s self defense courses operate as fast cash for martial arts businesses. Women’s self defense is an easy sell. No one wants to get attacked, right? Well, it’s this easy sell that gives jokers like American Taekwondo Association a chance to pull in some extra cash between belt testing and competitions. Please be aware of who you are taking a course from – just because a person holds a black belt in a martial art does not qualify them to instruct women’s self defense. Women’s self defense is a specific art in and of itself. Further more, for those who do teach it based on holding a black belt in another martial art, make sure they test properly. Meaning, make sure no one is getting their black belt in six to eight months, as one so often does going through ATA’s, and others like them, programs.
Now that we’ve covered the main problematic areas for the way in which women’s self defense is utilized, lets take a look at the material being taught in your average course: body language, verbalization, awareness, intuition, removing oneself from the situation and personal defense tools.
There is nothing wrong with these individual bullet points, but rather the way in which they are presented. All six of these key points are presented under the context of prevention. It looks something like this:
Body language – walk, sit or stand strong and you won’t get attacked.
Verbalization – yell instead of scream and you won’t be attacked or people will always come to help; tell you attacker “no.”
Awareness – be aware of who is around you at all times so you may prevent an attack.
Intuition – trust your gut and it will prevent you from getting attacked.
Removing oneself from the situation – cross to the other side of the street so as to not get attacked.
Personal defense tools – anything and everything can be used a tool of self-defense. Never mind the fact your body is going into fight or flight mode rapidly and you might not have any time or head about you to use anything you have on you and you really aren’t trained well enough to be carrying a gun or knife, but here, have this gun and knife.
Instead, these points should be presented as a tool to bring about self-empowerment, love and ownership of body. Which would look more like this:
Body language – Pay attention to how you stand, walk and sit. Remind yourself to hold your body with pride and confidence. Can it help detour an attacker? Sure, but the main point is confidence. How you hold yourself doesn’t just affect people’s view of you, but your view of yourself. After a while of reminding yourself how awesome you are and to hold yourself like you’re just that awesome, you’ll find yourself looking in the mirror one day to see the true lioness you are inside.
Verbalization – learn to assert yourself in daily life. Can learning the difference between a scream and a yell prevent an attack? Maybe, but the main idea here is to feel comfortable speaking your mind. We so often don’t speak up because we think our opinions or ideas don’t matter, or maybe that we’re not worth. Relearning to do so is empowering.
Awareness – be aware of what is around you, not because you can spot an attacker before they attack (maybe you will, maybe you won’t), but because we are often very sidetracked in social media and a world of technology, all located on our phone. Have you ever watched someone text and walk? I’ve personally walked into poles while texting and walking. Be aware of what’s around you because life is beautiful. You’re missing so much. You might also be missing a sudden curb, or car coming at you, so take a moment to lift your head, it’s an amazing world.
Intuition – trust your gut because it is a beautiful part of you, especially women. It is innate and wonderful. Start small, like taking note of the feeling you have before you know your phone will ring or a knock will be at your door. Learn to recognize your intuition. Could it help prevent an attack? I suppose so, but again, not the point. Reclaiming your intuition is empowering and brings you closer to your body, mind and spirit.
Removing oneself from the situation – how often have you stayed somewhere you were uncomfortable because all your friends were also there? I bet it’s happened at least once in your life. What about how often have you done something you didn’t want to do at all? It can be as simple as not wanting to go to coffee with a friend because you can’t stand their negativity, but you wind up going anyway and come out 10 times more annoyed than you were going in. Learning to remove yourself from these situations is a great way to bring your mind, body and spirit back to you and only you. Could it help you get away from an attacker? Perhaps, but attacks are so much more complicated than “cross to the other side of street.”
Doesn’t that sound so much better? Prevention is bullshit (unless you’re working on educating the younger generations, all genders alike, on rape culture and patriarchy) and those who continually push prevention need to start recognizing the harm they are doing, especially in women’s self defense, where a mistake or wrong teaching could lead to someone being physically harmed.