Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Common Sense Self-Defense for Women

Some day, I'd like to instruct self-defense classes for women. Eventually, that means certification, I suppose, but between Fight Like a Girl, R.A.D., S.A.F.E. and other systems, there're a lot of different types of programs out there, it seems. I think I know what the type of course I want to teach should contain, but I haven't quite found it yet. So I'm still looking.

In addition to the research, I've decided to check out a few workshops and seminars. Last week, I traveled upstate to the Red Dragon Karate School for Sensei Jeff Melander's seminar in Ballston Spa. I met him at a seminar a few years ago when I took his kicking class on the advice of my sensei. I still do many of the drills I learned from him then when training today.

His Women's Self-Defense seminar was for folks who had no previous martial arts training or experience. Most were mothers of Sensei Jeff's younger karate students or teen daughters of some of his adult students. All were dressed in sweats and t-shirts but I took the opportunity to actually try something I've always wanted to do: throwing techniques in something other than what I'd wear in the dojo - hence jeans, a button-up top and sandals.

Awareness was the key word of the day, as Sensei Jeff discussed ways to be more observant of what's happening around you. He also talked about the importance of walking confidently, keeping your hands free/keys at the ready and parking in well-lit areas. Unlike martial artists who are used to yelling/kiai-ing on a regular, he told the group to get used to using their voices before, during and after an attack. Two of his female black belts helped him as well - meaning he was their uke for wrist grab, rear bear hug and hair-pulling attacks. He used their natural responses - hands open and in front of the body, boxing the ears, elbow and knee strikes to segue into escape tactics the group later worked on individually.

Then he slid into "the suit" - you know, the protective full-body armor that enabled the participants to actually try the techniques with full speed and power without actually hurting the attacker. All of the women had a difficult time warming up to that at first - and several even commented about how much more menacing he looked dressed in a shiny black suit and helmet - but after a few tries, strikes were flying towards his eyes, ears, groin and shins. So used to being "nice" to my uke in the dojo, he actually had to remind me to NOT be so controlled and delicate when it was my turn to keep him at bay/get him off me. I had no problem engaging him, but I found that I pulled every single knee and elbow strike. Gotta work on that!

Any certified self-defense instructors out there? How did you decide on the program you ultimately chose for your certification?

For more information on how to chose a self-defense program, click here.


  1. Hi Felicia, it's great that you want to teach women's self defence - it's something I'd like to do in the dim and distant future when I'm suitably qualified!

    I'm not at all in a position to advise you but here's a cautionary tale told me by a friend: When she was a university student she enrolled to do a women's self defence course (she had no prior martial arts experience). Prior to the course she always avoided walking through a city centre park at night. However, after a couple of lessons learning escapes from wrist grabs, strangles etc she felt so empowered that she decided to walk home through the park, feeling that she could defend herself if necessary. She almost wanted someone to attack her so she could try her new (elementary) skills out! It was only later she realised how stupid she'd been (once the adrenaline from the class had worn off). Fortunately she didn't meet anyone in the park.

    So my only advice would be - make sure your students don't let common sense fly out the window just because they know a few moves! Good luck with it :-)

  2. Great post Felicia!

    I am a certified instructor in Okinawa Kenpo but not in a specific R.A.D. type program. I have taught women's self-defense courses. Initially, I assisted my instructor and learned how to teach a session from her.

    Sue C. touched upon the most difficult part I have with teaching women's self-defense classes. Are the women going to leave the class thinking they are invincible? Did I teach them enough? Do they understand the importance of awareness? Do they know that a big part of self-defense is common sense?

    We make sure to offer follow up sessions and are available for questions as long they need. I remind the women they need to practice the skills and encourage formal martial arts training.

  3. Howdy Sue and Michele :-)

    I can totally see how that self confidence you try to instill could translate into a feeling of invincibility. A big worry of mine as well. How do you convey all that in a two-hour or less workshop? Difficult.

    Even more difficult to me is the concept of impressing upon the participants that most women attacked are attacked by people they know. Stats show that the "stranger jumping our from behind the bushes" scenario is far more unlikely than a date/acquaintance rape situation, unfortunately. Discussing that - as well as really, really encouraging women to rely on our instincts and trust the "something about this just doesn't seem right" feelings we get - are both important, but again, there are only so many hours in a self-defense seminar, I suppose...

    Thanks for stopping by :-)

  4. The stats are alarming to say the least. For example only 6% of female homicides were perpetrated by someone unknown by them. And the majority of incidents happening in a place of dwelling. I have some links to stats on www.aikidorepublic.com . Probably the best self defense tip is choose your life partner well and practice home based drills rather than for the 'street'

  5. Interesting post. I taught self-defense for 14 years becuase I loved what I was learning in Aikido. I knew the techniques weren't practical for me yet because I was such a new student. I started taking every self-defense course I could find. Nothing quite worked all together so I started my own business called EveryWoman's Self Defense. I taught at a couple of colleges and did over a hundred of seminars.

    I wrote a book called Self-Defense for Everyday. After the book was finished I decided to stop teaching self-defense and focus entirely on Aikido training again. It has been an interesting journey.

    My Aikido has been enhanced by my knowledge of simple ways to defend myself. Now my focus is being as mindful and as peaceful as I can be in the given moment.
    Women are not children...they are adults. We can give them good information. They are responsible with what they do with it.
    I wish you well on your journey.
    Mary Eastland