Saturday, April 16, 2011

Women's Self Defense

I recently came across a very interesting person on the American Apocalypse blog. She had a made a very cool comment on being proud of her lifestyle and I checked out her profile and blog: My Path to Freedom.

Note: If you read this Jennie, I will remove your blog info if you'd rather not have it mentioned.

She has a lot of great information on homesteading and gardening.

She had also posted something on women and wrestling that caught my attention. I hadn't intended to write much if anything on martial sports or combat on here, I'm no expert, but it is a topic dear to my heart. Seems there was an effort to keep girls from competing with boys in wrestling in her home state. She made some great points:

"Women need to know how to fight. Think how many hurts and abuses could be avoided if more women had adequate knowledge of defensive fighting. How dare you tell girls they shouldn't wrestle, that they shouldn't fight boys. Nearly 1 in 3 American women will be physically abused in their lifetimes. Do you have a wife, a mother and a daughter? Chances are one of them will face it. I'd argue we should be teaching wrestling in every high school to every girl that will learn. AND teaching them to use it against both genders."

And in the comments section:

"you say men are trained to treat women gently, but the statistics on physical abuse of women, (usually by a male she's living with) shoot holes in that view of how-the-world-works. I don't doubt that YOU were taught that, and maybe your sons/brothers too, but fact is, that's sadly not universal. I'm not advocating that that sort of training stop. I don't see any disconnect at all between teaching boys to respect girls AND teaching girls how to defend themselves from boys that don't get the lesson."

I've seen a lot of women's self defense classes and I've known many women martial artists. Almost universally, the training that I've seen them receive is of little to no value for self defense purposes.

When it comes to wrestling, I think it's a great sport for women to be involved with. It's just a great sport period, an amazing emphasis on physical fitness and a lot of fun (yes, I am a former competitor and coach, rather biased). And considering the nature of assault on women, it's a lot more practical for them to have some idea of what it's like to physically struggle against a man then to practice punching someone with keys in their fingers!!! Or doing 10,000 katas.

A couple of years back a female friend asked my what I thought of women doing martial arts or self defense training. She was concerned about being attacked out a party for example. This is some of the comments I sent to her, I thought some might find it useful:

That's a very interesting question. Better discussed in person probably but I will do my best.

I don't like "women's self defense" classes. Or at least all of the ones I have seen and the majority I am aware of. A lot of them are taught by martial artists or by those with past martial arts training. Sometimes they are run by cops. Or, even worse, they are run by women trained by those people, making the training even more watered down. Or dear god, MMA enthusiasts *shudder*

A lot of this goes back to my (discussion board) old post about martial arts. It's very difficult to take someone seriously, who is teaching you something that is supposed to be "life or death" related, who has never even been in a fight. Even a dumb school fight. It's one thing to learn a martial art from these people. Their are many reasons to learn martial arts besides fighting. I (mostly) respect that even if it's not my thing. But a self defense class is supposed to be about saving your life, not about a 500 year old tradition.

The stuff that you learn in a karate class, for example, doesn't work for shit in 3 years of training. It's not any easier to use it when you learn it over a weekend.

Also, police training from what I have seen doesn't work very well for the cops (men or women) that use it. There training in hands on techniques is rudimentary and, if any good, job specific. It isn't going to translate well into what a woman needs to do.

Martial artists, myself most definitely included, often have an unrealistic focus on empty hand techniques. Real fighting should always focus on weapons first. That should be your base. Never fight someone bare handed unless you have no choice or have a damn good reason. Also recognize that if you are attacked by someone that wants to hurt or rape you, there is a very good chance that person will have a weapon.

Now, most women will most likely never be attacked by a stranger so it is hard to say how much time they should put into this. That's a personal decision. But there are some simple techniques to learn that can be learned over the course of an afternoon (better over a weekend) that could be practiced and that may, just may, help if they feel that fighting back is the best option (note: I'm referring to combato here or related systems).

Awareness is of course the best defense since, as you have pointed out, the greatest risk to a woman is from family, friends and newly met acquantainces. So. If I was going to "train" someone from a self defense standpoint, a few realities would need to be looked at and/or considered. Following all of these may be unrealistic but you should at least be questioning some of these things. Or think about them.

1. Men have all the advantages. You can't expect to fight them and win (it's not impossible but it's really unlikely).
2. You are probably going to be attacked by someone when vulnerable and have no reason to expect attack. A party at a friend's house where the booze is flowing is probably more risky than a parkade (for most of us middle class folk) in terms of getting sexually assaulted.
3. Know your friends. Think about who you drink with.
4. Always tell someone where you are going, who are you are going out with and when you expect to be back.
5. Don't accept alcohol or drugs from a man. Personally I no longer drink and have never done drugs, best to avoid mind-altering poisons altogether.
6. Don't let some guy drive you home.
7. If you walk into a place and don't feel comfortable, leave. Don't be pushed around by people's opinions.
8. Carry a cell phone everywhere you go.
9. Carry your purse everywhere you go.
10. Always know where you are and how to get home.
11. Always have cab fare.
12. Don't crash at houses.
13. Don't think that you will be able to run away if there is trouble. You are probably wearing party clothes and probably couldn't outrun a man anyways. I'm in terrible cardio condition but I can still outrun most women, even those in good shape, in a very short sprint. If I am sober and they aren't, it gets worse. Also, fear makes it difficult to breathe and will degrade athletic performance.
14. If you must fight, fight. Rip off his ears, put a thumb through his eye, tear off his balls etc. It's not sparring.
15. Always look for a weapon. USE IT!! He's going to be bigger and stronger and most likely took you by surprise. You need to even the odds.
16. Scream your bloody head off. If you can. Hard enough to breathe when you are scared and struggling.

As for actual fighting and fight preparation, I could go on quite a bit but some helpful things for women:

1. Get involved in a contact sport or at least a physical one. Learn what it's like to be physical and to get hit (wrestling, rugby, lacrosse).
2. Find good training that meets your needs - time, size, etc. Also, if some esoteric art takes 10 years of 3 hr/day training to learn, move on!
3. Practice fighting when you are drunk and/or stoned (I don't take drugs but if you do, take that into consideration).
4. Train as much as possible in clothes that are like what you wear when you go out.
5. Always carry a weapon where you can - three is better. In some places carrying weapons is illegal. I don't know what to suggest there, you'll have to make your own decisions.
6. Practice pulling them out and using them.
7. Practice awareness - of people and of weapons. LOOK at people around you.
8. Learn to shoot, even if you don't carry (note: if you can legally carry, do it!) The more firearms familiarity, the better. He may have a gun, you need to understand the limitations of firearms and how to use it if you take it away from him.
9. Learn (practical) knife fighting - super high priority.*
10. Get in shape.
11. Practice running in your going out clothes (or something similar). Then consider what you wear on a night out, if it's a good idea.
12. Find people that will do proper simulation training - very physical, at night, outdoors, etc.
13. Let someone slap you in the face. See what it really feels like and then consider what getting punched in the face is like. etc.

That's sort of a starting point. Again, it depends how serious you are. It may seem over the top but I know many women that claim to take martial arts or self defense classes to feel safe. Why not put the same effort in and try and learn something that will actually work?

Education without experience is....I dunno. It's not real. You can tell someone something until they are blue in the face, I don't think most humans will really process it without at least very good simulations.

*What I've seen in Chinese/Japanese arts for weapons fighting is...unimpressive, especially with knives. Defense against knives is especially bad as taught in your neighbourhood mcdojo. I would look at basic, streamlined styles that are either related to Filipino martial arts (Michael Janich) or western European styles (fencing, bowie knife fighting, i.e James Keating).

For example, it was once pointed out to me that Aikido is one of the best martial arts for defense and that some styles (i.e Tomiki) have a heavy focus on knife defense. They do regular tournaments. So......the rules are:

Tanto Techniques

A. Criteria for tsuki-ari (effective tanto techniques) The pre-condition for tsuki-ari (effective tanto stabbing) is that Tanto’s arm must be stretched when the rubber knife lands in Toshu’s body. If one stabs with his elbow hooked at a right angle, it will never be accepted as an effective one.

1 Specific conditions:

a. The rubber knife must land in the part of the opponent’s body between armpit and belt levels. This includes the front, back, and both sides of the body, as well as the upper arms. However, the belt itself is not included in the target area.
b. Tanto must step in and stab with his back straight and his balance stable.
c. The rubber knife must touch the opponent’s body at an approximately 90-degree angle. But this particular condition does not have to be satisfied when Toshu is either off balance, has assumed an undesirable posture, or has already fallen on the mat.
d. Rubber-knife stabbing should never endanger the safety of the opponent. Particularly, the type of stabbing with the fist landing directly on the opponent’s body is subject to penalization. However, if Toshu comes in without proper taisabaki, it is considered to be his fault.

2 Tanto is allowed to stab the opponent’s flank by swinging his tanto from the outside (“Mawashi-tsuki”) as long as all the conditions in #1 are satisfied.

3 Tanto is allowed to stab the fallen opponent once right after the latter has fallen as long as all the conditions in #1 are satisfied.

4 When Tanto scores a tsukiari point at the same time that Toshu scores a yuko or greater point in techniques, then the tsukiari point will take precedence over the toshu technique.

B. Inadequate (ineffective) or invalid stabbing

1. Tanto techniques that do not satisfy the above conditions will not be counted as effective stabs.

2. Tanto techniques will also be regarded as invalid unless the tip of the rubber knife has clearly touched Toshu’s body and Tanto has stabbed with proper foot movement.

Well, that's realistic, for sure! Nice rule set....I don't know what they are trying to do here. It's an odd sport without an ounce of practical application. I don't see it as fitness related or traditional either. Doesn't look like fun. Whatever it is, I hope NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND thinks it is practical or effective! Just look at it in action! Imagine if that was a real knife.

Randori Final Southern Region Kyu Grade Open

Aikido Tournament 2010 Campbell 006.MPG

Aikido Tournament 2010 Campbell 001.MPG

No doubt people will say I am picking on Aikido. Not to worry, I think many other martial arts are just as silly :)


  1. awww... *blush*
    I don't think I've ever had someone mention my blog. Thanks! Of course you can leave it.

    I skimmed over your post on martial arts too.

    TKD was where I got my start in things too. I was a clumsy, skinny high schooler. My younger brother started, and told me I "had to check it out." So, I did. Went all the way to black belt before I graduated from High School. Finally got my feet under me and learned some balance and grace in the process.
    I did a year of judo in college, but lost interest because I got into dance. I've done some random bits of MMA style sparring since then.

    I totally agree that the emphasis on unarmed is a bit unrealistic, but to this day I can still instinctively do things like breaking holds, and balancing my weight properly which I find useful. (And the one time I was faced with domestic violence, we were both standing and he had me up against a wall, breaking free was exactly the tool I needed.) I was glad to get the year of judo though, it really opened my eyes to that form of combat.

    It opened my eyes and convinced me that I NEVER want to be on the ground with an attacker. EVER. lol Break and flea, immediately kick out their knee, or better yet, pick 'em off with a gun from a distance. :-D
    I think situational awareness and a sense of confidence keep me off of a lot of predator radars. That goes a lot farther than any amount of grappling training at this point. In my opinion.

  2. I'm surprised no one has mentioned it before, you obviously have put a lot of work into your blog, lots of great info - impressive. Where do you find the time?

    What kind of dance? Do you like the MMA training?

    Getting into martial arts at a young age can be a great thing. I was also super skinny, small, and uncoordinated - TKD was a great help for that and I did learn a lot of useful things in addition to what I know consider some bad habits.

    I was also a bit over serious about it I think, maybe I read too many books? I trained incessantly in martial arts, especially once I started getting into fights, worked very hard at conditioning my body. I look back on it now and just shake my head. All that punching of trees and walls, doing breakfalls on cement floors, it's a miracle I'm not crippled.

    I am pretty sure that I could punch harder at 14, all 115lbs of me, than I can 20 years later at 190lbs. That TKD/karate type of punching is very powerful. I used to have a ball at those test your punch strength machines at fairs and at the science center :)

    I eventually became very frustrated with TKD, Hapkido and other similar arts for two reasons:

    1. We trained one way and sparred another. For example, the "fighting stance" back stance. We did all this training from there and then, as soon as people would be sparring, they would be jumping around like kickboxers! We never seemed to utilize much of the technique we spent so much time learning. Which leads to #2

    2. How poorly much of it actually worked for me in real fights. The strikes would work but I cut and bruised my hands quite badly several times when punching people and I got thrown to the ground trying kicks. The blocking techniques were something I was never able to successfully use either, very painful on the arm, too slow.

  3. I should be careful not to be so strident in my posts, it can be difficult to explain myself in writing, I don't want to bash other arts. Well, maybe that Aikido weirdness in the videos...something like that might give someone the false impression that their Aikido might actually work at disarming someone.

    Black belt - ever thought about taking it up again? I'm very, very glad that your training worked for you. That's terrible that your partner would lay hands on you like that, I'm glad you were able to defend yourself. In the TKD I learned (and from your experience, what you learned), there was a lot of emphasis on breaking holds and "dirty" fighting. Some of it was very good, some meh, but that's like many things.

    I couldn't agree more with you about not wanting to go to the ground. That's actually why I find my wrestling training so valuable, because it keeps me upright. As far as I am concerned there are two basic rules for fighting:

    1. Stay conscious (protect your head)

    2. Keep on your feet

    After that, it's do your best :)

    One of the things I don't like about MMA and BJJ is people calling it a "true" or "street" fighting style. It's a great sport - but it's still a sport and it isn't always going to show you the best moves for fighting. The last thing I would ever want to do is pull guard on someone. It's great to know chokes and sweeps to get back up though.

    As for the gun - you're right on there, pick 'em off at a distance for sure! In pretty much any unarmed martial sport/art, the bigger, taller, stronger person is most likely going to have a significant advantage - meaning men, on average, will have an advantage over women. Knife fighting on the other hand is based more on speed and technique, women may lose out on reach (generally shorter) but they are not as automatically disadvantaged. Same for the gun. I haven't men any women that could beat me in a bare knuckle fight - I'm sure there are some out there but I haven't met them or trained with any. On the other hand, there are legions of women that can shoot better than me.

    I always liked this quote: "Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal."

    Even more so, he gave women the chance to fight on a near equal footing.

  4. “Learn what it’s like to be physical and to get hit” – I agree. You have to feel the pain and use it to motivate yourself to be strong! Females should do something to make or improve their physical strength, not to overpower males, but just enough to fight back potential threats or criminal acts. Do what you learn, and be determined to fight for your safety.

    -Saundra Tosh

    1. Thanks for your comment, it's nice to get feedback :)