Can Women Fight Men in Self Defense?

Posted by: John W. Zimmer
Under: Self-defense
2 Jun 2009


I have been watching too many youtube women’s self-defense videos and reading the chatter on the web lately and seem to keep finding a familiar theme. An alternate universe where karate instructors seem to be pumping up the egos of women, trying to pretend they can go toe to toe with men!


Now before you (if you are a 21st century woman) start screaming at your computer screen, let me assure you that I know women CAN defend themselves against men. But do I think just because a woman has attended a self-defense course and generally buys into equality, that she understands what she is in for?


I may have worded this a little too strongly but please understand that I think realism should be injected into any woman’s fighting strategy… rather than the dribble that I see so often put forth as empowerment for women (in the form of self-defense)! I spoke to my step-daughter to try and get an understanding of why equality is bandied about so freely when speaking of self-defense and she told me that for some women – it is more important to “feel” that women are equal to men in every way.


Ok here is what I am going to do in this post:

  • Point out how to overcome a stronger attacker
  • Point out that women have to use strategy (i.e. surprise, explosiveness, run, awareness, or weapons to win)
  • Women in the martial arts can overcome a size/strength advantage by superior skill.
  • That many men attacking women will strike hard to disillusion a woman – make her more complainant.
  • Woman should expect to have to fight for their lives – become an animal if they expect to survive!


I hope I have not lost you but let me open with this video and then I will go into more detail. The good news is if you are a woman – YES you CAN defend yourself against a stronger, larger man but you will have to be smart about it!




Now I do not mean to draw a parallel with women of poor countries but I wanted to point out what seems to happen when women do not know how to fight back. Males just do not think women can harm them so bad guys will attack women while leaving themselves open to counter attack!


I have been seeing on the web, ball busting stories and lots of videos of how women can kick the nuts of guys. Heck I even posted a couple of stories here about that topic. The good news is a guys family jewels are very sensitive and may totally incapacitate him but will not necesaraly stop the attack.


If a woman has to defend her self against a man, she will have already not noticed the threat in time and was unable to avoid the situation. We will not deal with those issues in the post but rather the fighting strategy.


First off watch this video from Dr. Ruthless TM, about what a woman will likely face and then I will talk about it.



Alright now – that was more like it for realism but I would like to take it up a notch. If I was attacked, I would expect that I was going to get hit or hurt. I think my counter attack strategy would win out but I would not expect to just counter attack and beat the guy up! No, I would expect to take some shots or get hurt before I got away with my life!


I also think it would be great if the bad guy did not hit me, my point it it would be unwise to plan on not getting hit and then be demoralized by some pain.


Having said that what I don’t like about these self-defense videos (even the good ones like I think this one to be) is the guy gives up too easy. In a real attack it might go like this video but most likely the woman is going to be under pressure and every counter will not hit its mark. She will likely take some damage until she hurts the attacker momentarily – giving her time to make her escape.


Remember this if your first two mantra’s have failed you (Awareness & Avoidance):

  1. Aggression
  2. Surprise Counter
  3. Escape!


As a woman (I’m extrapolating here – I am a man), a bad guy is going to want to rob or rape you (unless he is a kidnapper/killer). Either way my guess is a man will not think a woman can defend herself. This is the aggressive act. This will be your first engagement judgement call. How are you going to get out of this?


Common strategies employed by women are assuming awareness or avoidance failed are:

  • Screaming at him – trying to scare him off and draw attention
  • Talking to him – trying to reason with him
  • Aquascience (give them what they want and hope for the best)
  • Rage and attack (gives the attacker a warning you won’t go easy)
  • Feigned complacence and Surprise Counter Attack (I think is the best chance at getting away)


I will only deal with the surprise counter attack here because while the other strategies may work – if they don’t you will have to fight back. I would suggest not fighting back until you think you have an advantage. Think about it – the guy is bigger and stronger. If he does not think you are a threat (arguabaly his predisposition) he will not just try and knock you out and take whatever it is he wants. He will be barking orders, wanting you to comply.


Here is your chance as you saw in the Dr. Ruthless TM video. Your surprise counter attack to get away! You will be striking his eyes, throat and groin with your knees, kicks, palm, punch (half-fist works good for the throat), elbows and if you are close enough, biting!


You are trying to do as many strikes as it takes to get a momentary advantage, and then run away (hopefully you are not in the wilderness – if so you will have to break away and find a weapon, rock whatever to incapacitate him). 


So the choices women have are many; 1) become a martial artist and take any fighting training so you know not only how to do all of the kicks and punches, but what it feels like to be in a struggle (albeit it studio sparring session), 2) become proficient with lethal or non-lethal weapons and carry them, 3) at a minimum take a self-defense class – this will give you the minimum tools you will need to defend yourself!


I think most women can avoid most bad guys with awareness and avoidance and if it is not possible to avoid – take someone with you to mitigate the risk. But if you do find yourself in a pickle – you CAN defend yourself against a man if you have taken a realistic look at what you are up against, as well as mitigating strategies.


In closing I would like to point out how martial arts can “even up” the score between a man and a woman. A former student of mine’s husband (now ex) came to me on a layover (he was a long haul trucker) and confided in me that whenever his wife and he were arguing (as he put it) he had to pick up a stick. He could no longer win a fair fight (she knew karate and he did not). He was 6′ 2′ tall and my student was about 5′ 6″.

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26 Responses to “Can Women Fight Men in Self Defense?”

  1. Cheri Arbuckle Says:

    Thanks for the post, John. There’s a lot of good information here. As a 5’2″ 125lb female martial artist, I can say that my training has definitely removed a large amount of the “intimidation” factor. Almost all of my sparring practice has been against men who are much, much taller and much, much heavier than I am. I’m no longer overwhelmed by their greater size. I’ve never been in an actual fight, but there’ve been a couple of times I’ve had to “stare down” men. Once they saw I wasn’t afraid of a larger opponent, both potential attackers backed down and walked away.

  2. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Cheri, I started out as a 155 pound, (still 5′ 11″) guy that came up the ladder fighting 220 – 240 pound, 6′ 2″ animals at Tracy’s Thursday night sparring class. I soon learned that I could not fight toe to toe with these guys (they had the strength, size, weight, and skill advantage)!

    I had to learn evasive strategies, initial movement and get out of the way as well as fight from the outside. That was why I did really well at fighting tournaments as a lower belt (Green and Brown). After my initial movement (As Joe Lewis taught Tracy’s to use) started to improve and my overall skill level increased – I could fight toe to toe with these guys… It took a year or two until I got comfortable. :)

    I really liked fighting women (where else can you hit a girl?)… Just kidding. The thing I liked was teaching women was how to cover up if they got caught, so they would weather a storm and counter effectively!

    No problem not fighting for real (probably shows you have good judgment) but standing up for yourself is important. In my experience the ones that do fight – really ought not to as it is generally beer muscle (poor judgment and no training). The real fights I’ve been in mostly have been against people that were emotional or bullies but could not fight their way out of a paper bag! I had the advantage of fighting a few paper bags before and always came out ok :)

    Thanks for you insight Cheri!

  3. Michele Says:

    Hi John,

    Great post on women’s self-defense.

    I have been to several types of self-defense seminars. Some classes were basic self-defense while others were called empowerment seminars. The empowerment seminars focused on awareness and prevention with a few simple self-defense techniques at the end of the session. Years ago, a co-worker asked to attend an empowerment seminar. She did not tell me at the time but she was a survivor of a violent attack. She had a tough time with the physical part of the seminar. The contact and confrontation brought back unpleasant memories. She learned a few simple techniques. Less than two weeks later, I was called into her office at work. During work that day she drove to a HR hearing and parked in a parking garage. A man approached her and tried to grab her. She started yelling and took her briefcase and started swinging. He ran away. Was it hearing the empowerment seminar and knowing/feeling that women can defend themselves? Was it knowing a few simple techniques? Or was it an internal dialogue that “it was not going to happen again”? I don’t know….

    My instructor would always quote a research study (I can not find the referece) about the characteristics of women who got away from an attack. In the study, the number one trait they found in common was that they played a contact sport. Interesting.

  4. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Michele, Glad your friend came out ok this time! I think empowerment and such is valuable and may lead to enhancing performance. I’m sorry to hear the self-defense portion was short. Most of this post although it covered self-defense, was pointed to the concept that a lighter, weaker woman could defend against a larger, stronger man… heck take the gender out of it… just large versus small of anything… the smaller person has to do something to get an edge to win.
    I’ve been reading a bunch of these testosterone driven mma forums that make fun of teaching women to just kick the nuts to win a fight with out stressing the follow-up. I guess I should consider the source of the comments but that do make one valid point – not stressing realism is not doing a service to a beginning self-defense student. I guess the trick is to get that point across while still teaching the empowerment :)
    I was sickened by the creator of model mugging stating the reason for creating was a woman from his karate school was a black belt but still lost a fight – insinuating what she learned at the karate school was worthless! I don’t know how he got there from here… individuals learn at their own rate… some just don’t seem to get over the panic. That is why I suggested fighting in the studio so if it ever really happened – getting hit would be no great surprise. I tend to get long winded about self-defense as I believe in it… I just don’t like the criticisms and wanted to deal with the one valid critique in my view.
    It is nice short term self-defense coursed try to let the women really hit and kick the bad guys and maybe that is as good as it gets in the short term. My solution is a longer term martial arts course where the women get comfortable with fighting. In all of my real fights (one a week for two years when I was a bouncer in a low-life bar) I never got the jitters when fighting… rather I was always amazed on how easy it was to take out the bad guys… as they generally did not know how to fight.

    Thanks Michele for your insight and again – I’m really glad your friend made out ok!

  5. SueC Says:

    John, thanks for calling by my blog and leaving a comment.

    This post on women’s self defence is very topical for me at the moment. I have been having doubts for some time that my karate training adequately prepares me for defending myself against an attack. In fact I have recently written a post about it for Martial News which I have reproduced on my own blog site today. All this self-defense training assumes that a women’s greatest threat comes from a ‘stranger’ attack in the street when in fact this type of attack is relatively rare. A woman’s biggest threat comes from being attacked in her own home by someone she knows (85% of attacks on women are of this type) or from a date rape situation where she has been drugged first. In a domestic violence situation the woman will have been subjected to months of psycholgical attack before a physical blow is struck. I think a woman’s self-defence strategy needs to equip her to deal with the events occuring before any physical attack occurs. What do you think?

  6. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hey Sue!
    Glad you stopped by and pointed out this interesting statistic. I have found that with men, the probably attack will be from a stranger but as you say, mostly likely women will be attacked by someone they know. Even more sad for me is most women I have known in my life have been attacked by someone they knew at some point in their life. I had never really thought of it in those terms but it is quite startling. I’ll gladly give you my 2cents.
    First off let’s agree the figure is 85% of the women attacked know their attacker. I don’t know the actual figure but I believe this is probably close. My guess that date rape, child molestation and domestic abuse probably account for the lion’s share of attacks.
    Now with woman’s self-defense, as you state/imply we are really dealing with more than just learning the mechanics of fighting. There are societal as well as individual psychological considerations, for instance will a woman stand up to her abusive husband? Will a woman feel comfortable with her date to get drunk? Does a mother/father trust that uncle to baby-sit their daughter?
    As you can see it is not really simple. My guess is by your question (and your website post) – you are wondering if women taking traditional karate classes are in the women’s best interest from a self-defense standpoint? Or how to best teach women to defend themselves for the attacks they are most likely to face?
    My take is all of this ought to be considered as follows (please note that I am not blaming anyone in my suggestions but rather pointing out common sense to mitigate some of the risk. This is near and dear to my heart as my step-daughter seems to think she and her friends are invincible – they take dumb risks):

    • Parents should be protective of their children – not just assume relations are safe (molested women to my understanding tend not to be as trusting)
    • Young women should somehow break the mold of knowing everything (feeling invincible – just like young men do at this age) and not take foolish risks such as allowing themselves to get drunk (this is easier said then done but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure)
    • Women should learn self-defense techniques at a minimum. My preference would be to learn a martial art of some kind and become proficient at fighting.
    • Women should learn basic techniques for molestation at a young age. For instance I think there is now awareness in women to tell their daughters that no one should touch their privates. That is a change in the right direction.
    • You have touched on micky’s or ruffies in your post… good observation. My mom taught me when I was a boy of 12 to never leave a drink in a public place. I’m not sure what might of happened to her but she stressed that if I got up to dance, not to drink any of the beverage I left but rather toss it and order a new one. I guess there have been date rape drugs forever. I actually had a female co-worker tell me about a similar experience – she felt really funny after going to a club and luckily was with girl friend that drove her home.
    • Domestic abuse is a hard one… for instance how would one teach a women that has been abused and buy’s into abusers reality? As far as I know many women that get away from bad situations – willingly go back. I’m not sure that a karate studio not dealing with women’s physiological issues would make any difference. My take is by teaching women how to fight back – when they are ready – they will have a chance.
    • Women ought to actively seek out strategies that will help them feel empowered if they need it. Some women are naturally aggressive about their self-defense but other might have self-confidence type issues. There are women’s groups that can help women feel better to where they will fight back. Now I should say that those classes are generally short term but playing the devils advocate – why would women want or need years of that? Would years of empowerment training be worth the same as karate/ jiu jitsu training?
    Here are a couple of great resources I have found that deal with women’s self-defense specific issues:
    . &
    I think both of these websites have women’s organizations that would be helpful for anyone reaching out.
    Ok – sorry for that long winded answer but this is really a huge question you have put forth. These are just my quick thoughts but I will probably do a post after I have some time to consider. My short answer is no matter what statistical number of women that get attacked by a stranger or non-stranger – as soon as it gets physical, the formal martial arts training will come in very handy. Say the overll number is 50% of attacks are defensible and another 25 percent of the non-defensible attacks are preventable (through awareness and common sense) – that leave 25% of the women as victims rather than a far larger number. So yes I do think women should take martial arts training over just women’s self-defense courses but if she was only going to take a short-term class, then I would opt for the women’s self-defense.
    I hope some of my point of view makes sense. Please let me know if I missed some of your points and I’d be glad to reconsider.

  7. Cheri Arbuckle Says:

    Women going back to their abusers…wow, that hits close to home for me. I’ve started a post on it on my own blog. I guess I’ll need to finish it sooner, rather than later. It’s been a difficult post for me to write, since I was in an abusive marriage for 10 years.

    I agree we need to teach women to fight, to get the used to the idea of how to hit and to learn to accept the fact they might be hit as well. They need to learn that getting hit isn’t the end of a fight, that you can take a blow (or three) and still keep fighting.

    Along with that, we need to teach our girls how to recognize abuse. It’s not always easy to tell when you’re in the middle of the relationship. I didn’t learn about the “red flags” until after I left the abuse. I wish someone had taught me about them when I was a teenager.

    Your comment about your stepdaughter did make me chuckle (in a worried way). I did some pretty stupid things at that age, too. I call it my “I’m 19 and I’m invulnerable” stage. I look back now and go “What on earth was I thinking?!”.

  8. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Cheri, Yes abuse is a hard topic to even talk about. The thing I cringe at is seeing how some men view women as property. That view point seems to lend itself to abuses. Anyway I’ll be looking forward to your post as I am on the outside of this – I only see the results.
    Yeah the most recent thing my 19 year-old step-daughter announced to my wife was she and a girlfriend wants to save up their money and backpack in Europe next year alone! :(
    Well that is a year away and hopefully she won’t be able to save enough money… no sense in pointing out the obvious… we are old and don’t know anything :)

  9. Krista Says:

    Interesting post. I think it highlights the importance for women of targeting vulnerable areas and using ‘dirty’ tatics in self-defense scenarios – shredding, biting, eye gouging, hair pulling, elbows, knees etc. Unfortunately not all martial arts focus on this kind of training. But if your primary goal is self defense, it’s worth thinking carefully about what kind of martial art you’d best be suited to.

    And while most kinds of training are preferable to none, whether your a man or woman, it’s also important to introduce some uncooperative realism into training. Otherwise you only end up patterning in overconfidence in ineffective techniques.

  10. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Krista!
    You bring up two great points.
    One is that there are variances from style to style as far as self-defense techniques might teach to include dirty fighting (hair pulling, gouges, biting, scratching, breaking the ear drums…). I always make the assumption that all styles of martial arts include this – as my flavor of Kenpo (American Kenpo from Tracy’s, from Parker, Chow, Mitose…) does. I still tend to believe every style probably will do a good job of self-defense but I’ve not trained with every style.
    Secondly I like your point about injecting uncooperative realism into practice… this was partially my complaint with all of the self-defense videos I saw. The bad guys were giving up too easy. I used to train with one lady that would attack me and stay too long in the inside of my distance. I loved to remind her by punching her head – she got real good at covering in the transitions (in and out of my distance). Later when she tried to defend her male cousin at a party – she tried to kick the nuts but the guy was wearing a cup! She got overpowered and took a lot of kicks and pounding on the ground but was able to walk away. I attribute her survival to her drive and training so I am a believer.
    Great insight!

  11. SueC Says:

    John, thanks for your detailed comments. I’ll look forward to any future post you may write on this subject. This is an excellent article on what makes a good women’s self defence strategy;

  12. Urban Samurai Says:

    Great post. Lots of good advice. My daughter started training at my dojo not too long ago and this has made me a feel a bit more secure when I think of her out alone. She has a talent for it and she could probably handle herself if it came to it. Against a man, though, I don’t know. I’ve told her if she gets into trouble to just hit and run, as she will not survive a full on confrontation. The training will give her the vital edge she may need one day and that makes me feel good, knowing that.

    On another note, female ninja’s of old used to use their feminine wiles in confrontations with males. They would simply bare their breasts to distract their attacker (which being male, would always work!) and then move in to attack. Great cunning I think! Not that I’m suggesting women employ this tactic but it goes to show that were there’s a will, there’s a way.

  13. Urban Samurai Says:

    My gravatar doesn’t show up on your site for some reason. Any idea why this is?

  14. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Neil,
    The gravitar is tied to your email address that you use. check what email address you list in the websites compared to what email you listed with Gravitar.

  15. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Sue,
    I saw that position paper before and toyed with wrapping a post around it but decided it was a no-win situation.
    Firstly let me say that I view any women’s self-defense as better than not. While I agree with some of the statements made – I see a bunch of logical fallacies.
    The biggest problem I see is just because most of the attackers are known to women – somehow knowing a traditional martial art and employing self-defense techniques from the same will not work as well as a women’s self-defense training. I don’t buy that argument but again as I stated in my post – if a woman is going to learn self-defense short-term, then just taking the women’s self-defense class is a great option!
    Also what does the fact that some men harass women in some karate studios have do to with anything unless you are in one of them? Is the writer trying to associate the bad behavior of some men to represent the rest of the male self-defense/martial-arts instructors? I don’t like kitchen sink arguments.
    While I do not see anything wrong with working with self-esteem, I do not think when it comes to the fighting techniques (assuming the women decide to fight back) it will make much difference.
    I do like that the JD is going to bat for women and she has a point of view. I do not like that the assumption is that traditional studios might not serve women well.
    Again the whole paper is problematic – why I did not choose to address it… (but you have gotten a little idea).
    I think it is most important that women find a program/course they like and do it! I do not worry if I agree with the point of view but rather that the women learn stuff that works for them.

  16. SueC Says:

    John, again thanks for your detailed comments. I feel that I have opened a can of worms here! I have reviewed the paper again in light of your comments and I don’t actually agree with you that the whole paper is problematic. I think the paper is wrong to suggest that men will dominate things in a mixed gender martial arts class, or behave in a sexist manner – this is not my experience at all. She also suggests that women are better off training in all female classes. I don’t agree with this either. I think there are advantages to women of training alongside men when learning physical techniques.

    What I like about the paper is that she understands female psychology and how this can inhibit women from defending themselves (even if they have a good grasp of physical defence techniques). For example: needing to be 100% sure that an attack is imminent before taking any action to evade or prevent it – I can actually identify with that feeling.

    I think women need specialist training to help them a) understand their own psychology, b) understand their attackers psychology and motives and C) learn how to change the way they perceive events that occur prior to an attack i.e prevent themselves from being manipulated by their attacker. I do think this type of training should be done in an all female environment.

    Physical training is an essential part of a womans’s self-defence stragegy and will build confidence and assertiveness. But if a woman can’t recognise and deal with the psychological issues that often pre-empt an attack then no amount of physical training will help her.

    I’m not sure I agree that some self-defence training is better than no training at all. The problem with that is that it can lead a women to feel more empowered than her training justifies, i.e lull her into a false sense of security

  17. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Sue,
    I took another look at the article and I will try to be clear. By the way I like discourse because it can help bring out viewpoints that might otherwise be missed.
    The four main points were:
    1. Based on attacks most often experienced by women
    2. Promote self confidence…
    3. Focus on verbal skill combinations (assuming point 1 is correct)
    4. Provide supportive – caring – non threatening environment
    After re-reading, ignoring the implied sexism, I will speak to each point.
    1. There are lies, damn lies, and statistics… meaning I disagree with the premise of the paper, why I said it was problematic. Not because I do not think women would learn well in this way but rather the facts are being misinterpreted in my view. Assuming the number is correct (I think they might be) I would frame it this way: 75% of attackers were known to women. 30% of the attackers were intimate with the women (ex or husbands, ex or boyfriends). So by these numbers it is saying 20% were strangers.
    The basis for this article is partially saying that regular martial arts schools address stranger attacks and if only 20% are stranger attacks, why not focus on the attacks that really happen to women? Extrapolating that means 80% of the attacks would be harder for women to defend against because of cultural bias (women unable to make the decision to fight off someone they knew).
    I think there is another way of interrupting these figures. I would say that yes it would be harder for women to fight off a man she has a history with but I do not think a neighbor would be any harder than a stranger. In each case there is no history of intimate contact.
    So reworking the figures I would argue that women get attacked by non boy friends or husbands (and ex’s) about 30% of the time and the other 70% of the time it is by known or unknown assailants. What difference does it make if you know the pizza boy or the neighbor boy?

    2. I have no issue with number two point. I think it is good to work on self-confidence. I would say that sparring in a class give women the feeling of knowing how it feels to be in a struggle with a larger person… the more she successfully gets in her strikes – the better her self-confidence. I agree there are other good ways to boost women’s self-confidence.
    3. Assuming point one is correct, verbal skills and such would come into play. I think this is true if point one is incorrect as I believe too! I totally endorse women using their wits, awareness and avoidance too!
    4. I agree with point four too! I believe that women should learn in a supportive environment. I think this can be a traditional martial arts school as well as women’s self-defense courses.
    I am glad I looked a little closer because rather than being “problematic” and therefore ignored, I think you have pointed out some good points of this article.
    I believe that either approach will work but as I have had some great experience teaching women to fight/defend themselves with traditional martial arts schools – I will continue to recommend this solution.
    I also will continue to believe that a short-term women’s self-defense class is better than nothing. As an example if you teach a woman how to fire a hand gun but know she thinks she could never shoot someone no matter what they did to her. Would teaching her to shoot be useful?
    I would argue YES. She at least would have a chance to defend herself if there was a hand gun handy whereas she would have had a lesser chance with no training. If the same woman had a kid that was threatened – I would say her predisposition would be negated in a New York minute!
    Thank you Sue for sharing your views. I love discourse but I think we both have valid points. Your comments have helped me understand your view point better.

  18. SueC Says:

    John, I’ve enjoyed our discussion too. I think it’s important to re-visit and re-evaluate our views on subjects from time to time and be prepared to be challenged on them, that way we all learn and grow. Blogging is a great way to do this -there is no way I’d ever of had this conversation with you without blogging. Long live blogging!

  19. j.graf Says:

    Absolutely women can fight men in self defense. You just have to know where what to do and how to do it but it can be very effective.

  20. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Thanks J.Graf!
    While I favor karate type martial arts training – I still think short-term self-defense classes can have great impact. I did one post about how a lady watched Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality and then taking out a mugger!

  21. Zara Says:

    Hi John,

    Interesting post. I think the best and most effective approach to women’s self-defense is a combination of awareness-training and MA/self-defense training. Ideally this should be done in school and from an early age. Girls should be taught what is acceptable, normal male behavior and what is not (a guy showing sexual interest in a girl is normal, him pushing the issue when she made it clear she’s not interested isn’t). Mostly this will revolve around simple guidelines: do not get overly drunk in public, make sure you’re in a group when going out, do not accept drinks from strangers, don’t frequent dark alleys or dubious neighbourhoods. Most of all you should trust your gut-feeling: if you feel someone might be dangerous he probably is. Millennia of evolution do not lie.

    The second part of the solution is actual combat-training. In my mind this should consist of more than just a basic self-defense course: in my opinion it’s almost impossible to teach someone how to properly defend themselves in only a few hours. Yes you can teach only a few very basic and highly effective techniques in a few hours but not automatic reaction, tactical considerations, controlled aggression and timing and this is what determines success in a real fight. Simply put: if you haven’t ingrained those techniques and their application into your mind and your body then most likely they will not come out when needed. To learn how to hit properly takes at least weeks to learn, not days and certainly not hours and this is only one part of successful self-defense training. How to get out of grabs, strangulations and holds is yet another matter: in general it’s very easy in a dojo with a friendly partner but in a highly stressful street-situations with an aggressive, strong attacker it’s a completely different ballgame. Your first reaction is crucial: if you do not manage to escape a choke or other types of holding-techniques immediately you’ll be in serious trouble very quickly (losing consciousness, getting thrown, getting hit). In my opinion this cannot be learned in just a few hours and if you do it incorrectly you’ll not only be ineffective but on top of that you might actually make things worse for yourself. For example: if someone takes you in a bearhug from behind and you turn and straighten your arms but fail to control one of his arms most likely he’ll transition into a carotid choke which is a) more dangerous and b) he’ll know you have some skill. Basically you warned him and he’ll try to finish the job as fast and as violently as possible. Now he knows he’s not just attacking a hapless victim but he’s fighting for his safety too. As Musashi said bad strategy is the source of much grief.

    Now it is true not many people (least of all women) like martial-arts and will take up one even though they may be aware it will make them much safer in the long run. There are quite a lot of women who take at least one self-defense course and this in itself is a good thing (at the very least they’ll be more aware, that is if the instructor is worth his salt) but I think we can agree this is hardly ideal and will not deter determined and knowledgeable attackers. One possible solution would be to include regular self-defense training in the physical-education package in school, either compulsory or as an elective. This is killing two birds with one stone: MA-training can be quite strenuous physical exercise (it works the entire body, if you throw in some push-ups and sit-ups it’s strength-training and it improves general endurance and flexibility) and you’ll have the time to implement a decent self-defense course. In my view this should not consist of judo, karate or another traditional MA since they are rather one-sided and take way too much time to learn. Rather take a reality-based, hybrid self-defense system like krav-maga with simple, easy to learn techniques and drill them as much as possible against a wide variety of attacks. This is much easier to teach and learn than a traditional MA (takes years to learn and even longer to be able to properly apply techniques in reality): basic krav-maga can be taught in about 3 to 4 months and it will offer at least a decent chance of survival in violent situations. 1 or 2 hours a week for a semester is not too much and it’ll leave enough space for other sports. If needed or desired it can be expanded in later years to include more advanced techniques and defenses or it can be repeated so as to increase the student’s proficiency and confidence. At the very least it should count as an elective: while not everyone will be keen some will be and while children should do at least some sports when growing up it’s equally important not to force it on them and at least give them a say in the matter. If you detest football but it still is compulsory it’ll just be highly annoying and you will not benefit much from it.

    In my opinion this would greatly increase students safety (while still in school and later on) and if implemented nationwide decrease crime-rates. For women especially this would be very effective and empowering since knowledge and skill in basic self-defense will give them confidence (in conflict and in general) and prevent trauma/injury. Every rape or violent action against a woman is one too many and while sadly it’s quite impossible to completely prevent it (if an attacker presses a knife against your throat it would be wise to just cooperate, however painful and degrading it might be) at the very least it’ll give women a fighting chance when they do get into trouble.



    PS: I do think karate is not ideal for self-defense purposes (most styles anyway) since it usually doesn’t teach or include defenses against grappling (standing and on the ground) and most schools do not teach going for the vitals. If they do usually they’ll stop before contact (this is called pulling your punches) or to automatically disengage when contact has been made (point-sparring). This is contrary to self-defense logic: in self-defense your goal is not score points but to do as much damage as fast as possible in order to ensure your safety and escape as quickly as possible. It’s very rare to disable someone with just one technique (especially if the guy’s much stronger and bigger than you, which he will be in reality): either he’ll block it or he’ll just take it. If you are trained to stop after just one attack there’ll be a lull in your momentum and he’ll take over and gain the tactical advantage of attacking (action being faster than reaction). Basically your reaction should be to employ proper footwork and defensive techniques (blocking, parrying, moving your head out of the way) and counterattacking as violently and as early as possible. When you do so go for his most vulnerable body-parts (eyes, groin, knees, temples… depending on the gravity of the situation of course) and keep hitting until he’s down or otherwise disabled. Try to vary your attacks (both in type and height) and move inward. This is used both to negate his weapons and to employ yours as effectively as possible: the strongest weapons on the human body are knees and elbows (they generate enormous force and are nearly indestructible) but of course you must get close enough to be able to use them. This is why I say it’s best to move inward and keep driving him back. This is how you win fights but unfortunately this is not what is taught in most MA-schools. It’s a fact some MA or systems are better for self-defense and will yield better results with the same amount of training. This does not mean they’re necessarily bad or unworthy of respect, it just means people should know what they’re getting into and always keep the purpose of training in mind. If you take aikido with the expectation you’ll be able to defend yourself in just 6 months you’re in for a very rude surprise. Is this the fault of the trainer or the system? Of course not, that is unless they were claiming they’d teach you effective self-defense in a relatively short period of time. Will this type of training benefit you in other ways? Certainly: you’ll become much fitter and more nimble than you were before, you’ll most likely meet some very interesting people, you’ll get to know your own body much better and most likely you’ll be more at ease and happier. This is all very valuable and that is why I say aikido and other types of more internal or intricate martial-arts deserve respect in spite of the fact they’re not very useful self-defense wise. This does not mean they’re completely ineffective either but it’s not because the sensei or a blackbelt can defend himself with it you (as a beginner or intermediate student) will too.

  22. John W. Zimmer Says:

    Hi Zara,
    First off thanks for reading through this topic and weighing in. I think you are right about women should trust their instincts. Awareness, avoidance and common sense should be taught to girls early and often.
    I also agree that the ideal is not for a short-term self-defense but longer more realistic training. I have often wished that self-defense was taught in schools. Why once I even tried to advertise in a school newspaper but the ad was rejected and my money refunded. I guess the school did not want to be seen as endorsing violence but rather stay with their non-violent dispute resolution methods (that pretty much do not work against a thug).
    I also think that from what I understand of Krav-maga, it would be one of the acceptable methods of self-defense that would benefit women. I don’t think the lack of kata would really impact one’s fighting ability. I like that this is a topic that you have obviously thought out and formed opinions on how to train women to effectively defend themselves!
    That is one part of the goal of this blog, to teach women (really men, women and children) to realize that first they can take steps to learn how to fight and then moreover effectively mount a good defense in most situations! The first part of doing I’ve always said, is believing!
    The actual combat training is widely offered in a variety of venues including short-term self-defense classes that focuses on the psychological as well as actual striking techniques for girls and women. As you said many women will only (and half heartedly at that) opt for the 2 hour class.
    If the girl is willing to make a greater time commitment, there are a number of martial arts that would teach women how to defend themselves in a few months. That includes boxing, and most styles of karate as well as many styles of kung fu.
    If the woman is willing to make the commitment to learn a martial art for a couple of years, then any style of karate, MMA, muay thai, judo, jiu-jitsu, heck even wrestling or aikido would be fine.
    Now to address some of your critiques of oriental martial arts styles for shorter term self-defense modalities, you specifically mentioned that most karate might not include ground fighting defenses or even escaping various holds?
    I can speak for (at an expert level) kenpo karate. Kenpo starts out with basics, self-defense techniques, and kata. Any kenpo student has a good idea (and is practiced) of how to throw all of the basic kicks, punches, blocks and stances. He or she also has extensive training on how to defend against holds and strikes. He or she has the confidence to break a knee of an attacking thug or escaping from a bear hug or choke.
    Learning basic self defense is relatively simple as it is easy to break someone’s knee or gouge the eyes or half-fist the throat. It does not take much technique as learning how to fight competitively. In four months I would think almost any kenpo student would be able to fare ok in most self-defense situations. I would not expect them to do well in mutual combat (nor should mutual combat be engaged in as it is not the intent of self-defense.
    As the kenpo student progresses and starts to learn how to do semi-contact point sparring in the studio and tournaments, he or she is able to then defend themselves against most trained opponents by using distance an initial movement (both important to point fighting success).
    Now addressing your point about ground fighting… yes going to the ground is not covered in beginning classes but ground fighting is generally a losing proposition in street fights. Once you go to the ground – you cannot fight more than one person (unless they are inept). It is better to stay on your feet and use critical distance to your advantage.
    As far as automatic reaction, that does not come until brown belt (about 2 years of fighting) and it is not really smooth at that point. Black belts have smooth thought to action responses. In 6 months you can train reflexes somewhat but to what end? If you have canned responses to strikes (such as block/counter-strikes) – that is also a losing proposition. What am I talking about?
    Initial movement is king! If two fighters are inside of striking distance of one another – the first one to strike with initial movement and follow up – wins! This also means the other person cannot possibly block the strike before it hits (again if he is inside of the critical (striking) distance. This pretty much invalidates most self-defense techniques as last ditch measures when everything else failed! I guess it is better to try and block a punch or kick that is about to hit you but it had the student been trained to fight effectively; he or she would have never let the other person inside of the striking range without countering!
    So as you can see – I am not a big fan of blocking anything (at least in the initial clash).
    So I think you and I agree on most of the substantive matters but I am more open to viewing almost any martial art as a good way for women to learn to defend themselves. I also believe that krav-maga (or any Western martial art) would be just as good as any Eastern martial art at teaching women how to defend themselves!
    I used to work as a bouncer in a rough neighborhood bar and used to get into one major fight a week for two years. The toughest fight I have been in was against a wrestler… the strikers were all easy as I did not let them hit me… I just used critical distance as well as initial movement to win the fights. The reason I tell you this is so you know I am not speaking from theoretical point of view. No karate works well in most fighting situations (except for on the ground if striking was excluded).
    Please let me know if you see any flaws in my logic or you would like me to explain/expand on any idea mentioned.

  23. Zara Says:

    Hi John,

    As far as I can see you didn’t make logical errors (being a philosophy-student I do know a thing or two about logic and should be able to detect them), your posts are generally well-constructed and the fact that you have hands-on, street-experience only lends more credibility to your statements.
    That being said I must disagree about any MA being suited to women’s self-defense: MA that are very limited in scope (aikido), sports-orientated (most types of Japanese karate), overly complicated (taekwondo, a lot of wu-shu styles) or rely on strength (wrestling, MMA) are out as far as I’m concerned. Allow me to clarify this: meditative MA like aikido or tai-chi generally do not contain any offensive techniques or at least not very effective ones. Their aim is spiritual cultivation and a healthy body and mind, self-defense usually comes in second or even third. Besides that it’s a nice ideal to be able to win fights without resorting to serious violence (strikes, kicks) but in reality this is not possible or only for a very highly trained individual. For women it’s just not feasible to rely on techniques that require a very high degree of skill and in general effective striking and kicking should be the cornerstone of any successful defense. Sports-orientated styles do carry some benefits (experience in hitting a moving target, speed, dealing with stress) but since most tournaments aren’t full-contact you’ll never know if your strikes would have been successful in a real fight with a much bigger attacker who may or may not be high on drugs or drunk.
    Also a lot of karate-styles have the annoying habit of not even making contact (at least not to the face) and breaking off as soon as a point has been scored. With all due respect to these arts but in my opinion this does breed bad habits (you should learn to hit through a target, not just graze it with your fist, only rarely will you be able to knock someone out with just one blow) and I do think it’s true the way you train is the way you fight (at least to a certain extent). That being said boxing, kickboxing and muay-thai are very effective styles (in the ring and outside): it’s well known good boxing form and training produces the hardest strikes and this combine with good kicks (virtually the same as those in karate, with the exception of the thai-roundhouse), hard knees and elbows (thaiboxing) and a no-nonsense approach to training pretty generally produces hard and above average fighters. Of course there are downsides too: since they’re still sports the most effective targets (eyes, knees, throat, groin) are not dealt with and hitting said targets is what’s going to give a woman the advantage over a stronger adversary and in my view will give her the best chances of escaping relatively unharmed. Another major downside (which I’ll cover in a little more depth later on) is that while even a few months spent learning these arts will give you the advantage in a stand-off type situation with only one opponent you’re still pretty much defenseless when it comes to grabbing types of attacks (especially chokeholds and attacks from the rear or in a ambush type of attack) and any type of weapon-attack. Now I do think most attacks on women are not going to consist of strikes or kicks but of grabs and holds: this makes sense since most men (even thugs) have an aversion to hitting women and since they know they’ll have the advantage of strength, mass and height on their side they’ll be more likely to attempt to control her by restricting her movement, weaken her (through strangulation-techniques or by simply letting her wear herself out in futile attempts at escape) and make her comply with whatever they have in mind.
    With this in mind it would make sense to spend a substantial amount of training on escaping grappling-attacks (of course with follow-up strikes or kicks) as well as effective defenses against ground-situations. Since one of the biggest self-defense issues facing women today is rape and the act is usually conducted on the ground a woman has to learn how to reverse that situation. Naturally the best thing would be to avoid getting there in the first place but in training for self-defense one should always assume the worst will happen and start from there. If you get ambushed you don’t have time to prepare and chances are you will end up on the ground, especially if your attacker is bigger than you or has any experience in a grappling-art. If you do not know at least some grappling-techniques you’re pretty much done for, even if you are the best standup-fighter in the world.
    With these considerations in mind (which of course are open to criticism, I’m not expounding dogma) there is a strong case to be made for modern, hybrid, self-defense orientated arts like krav-maga. Basically krav-maga consists of kickboxing, conditioning, escapes, basic ground-fighting and effective weapon-defenses (usually knife, stick and gun) taught in a semi-military format. This means training is geared exclusively to effectiveness and simplicity with little regard to considerations of artform, spirituality, religion or intricate maneuvers. In my mind it comes very close to what I’d consider ultimate self-defense: simple, highly effective techniques nearly everybody can do with a high percentage of success trained over and over again in circumstances approaching reality (uncooperative opponents, training in low-light or noisy conditions, after a heavy workout). They usually train full-contact (using focus-mits, pads or body-protection) with about 90% of the defenses following a similar pattern: evade, escape or parry followed by strikes, clinching with knees followed by elbow or hammerfist-strikes to the neck. This makes for a very fast learning-curve and since it’s a system taught and used by the Israeli military I’m pretty sure it works too.
    That being said krav-maga is not the only form of successful self-defense and anything that does the job is great but I do like the concept (simplicity, realism, contact-training) and its ease of use: whenever possible it makes use of instinctive responses and since there isn’t a completely new respons or defense to every situation it means you don’t have to think very hard which shall only benefit your reaction-time. All these factors combined would make it a good candidate for any kind of self-defense course, especially for people who are physically weaker and who cannot afford to invest years into a traditional MA.
    As far as your style goes: I don’t have any hands-on experience with it but since it’s self-defense orientated and mainly striking-based I’m sure it has its merits. I’ve done some research on the subject (youtube, websites, a general MA-book) and what I like about kenpo (at least what I’ve seen) is its rapid-fire striking (unlike pure okinawan or Japanese karate) and defenses against a wide variety of attacks (not just punches and kicks as in karate or kickboxing). It does seem to be a bit complicated though: why make combinations of 10 consecutive strikes which is not only hard to remember (especially if they vary in application) but which effect will be nullified when he blocks one or simply evades. As far as striking goes we teach basic striking techniques (usually on the heavy bag or focus-mits, that way you actually feel wether or not your strike was good or not) and a few basic combinations (mainly boxing). In defense-application it’s up to you to decide which combinations suit you or work best in any given situation. The ideal in self-defense or fighting in general is mushin or acting without thought and the more complicated a system is the more difficult it’ll be to get into that state-of-mind. Also, if you could explain to me the value of kata I would be much obliged. I’ve never done karate so I don’t want to judge but I do wonder how sequences in a kata could be used in a real fight. It seems to me like making intricate, complicated battle-plans which usually do not survive even first contact with the enemy isn’t a very good idea and a rather unnecessary diversion of training-time.
    Basically any system can be made to work but the question is how long it takes to become effective with, how much risk and punishment you’re willing to take and how strong/agile/gifted you have to be get there. The effectiveness of a MA depends heavily on your goals: if your primary goal is self-defense I wouldn’t go for judo (it contains no defenses against striking, unless you count an antiquated kata which you’ll only learn at second dan), if you’re looking for hardcore fitness tai-chi would probably be a bad idea, if you’re into relaxation and spiritual growth boxing probably isn’t for you.
    As to your point about initial movement: while I fully agree with the concept (action being faster than reaction your chances of winning are greatly increased if you throw the first punch) this is also a very offensive mindset. In itself it’s a great concept and basically the highest strategy in fighting (attack or intercept his intention, strike while he’s still debating or preparing) but it can be explained by bystanders as if you were the attacker (you iniated) and this could get you in trouble with the law and possibly convicted (depending on other factors and especially the amount of damage you inflicted). Of course it’s different for a small woman with limited training but for a trained martial-artist, especially when you’re male, this could backfire and it may be better to just keep your distance and let him attack first. At least that way there won’t be any confusion as to who’s the aggressor and who the ‘victim’. In most cases criminals actually have more rights than upstanding citizens and while the law or the cops are almost never there when there’s trouble (in a number of cases they are on the scene but actually wait to make arrests until after both parties wore themselves out) they do tie your hands so to speak and being a martial-artist actually puts you at a disadvantage judicially speaking. Ah well, different topic completely. Perhaps we can discuss this some other time.


  24. Zara Says:

    Damn, it seems the message was displayed twice. My internet-connection is pretty slow and it wasn’t clear or not it was sent. You may of course delete one of them, that way it” save some room.

  25. John W. Zimmer Says:

    No worries Zara,
    I deleted the duplicate… lots of times a key word is triggered or such and the post goes into moderation or as you suggested there might be a lag time somewhere.
    I like how your mind works and how you back up your arguments well. I would like to point out that we are each susceptible to our own perceptions of reality and as such often see the world based on our experience or training.
    For me using critical distance and initial movement is all I’ve ever really needed in a fight. All of the rest of the techniques were insurance because fighting does not follow a structured design (as you pointed out).
    Understand there are many valid ways to fight and methods of training for them. Consider full-contact. Ring/cage/street fighters cannot really train in “full contact fighting as you will soon run out of sparring partners. You can train at 50% or at best in the school, maybe 70% of your striking power when you are getting ready for a match.
    So if you agree with that statement then you will have to grant there is some benefit to training with lesser intensity “full contact.” If you do grant that concept, it becomes an argument of degrees… meaning that non-contact sparring is just as good a light contact sparring because all of the movements are there and you will injure fewer sparring partners (assuming you can take and dish-out a punch).
    If you accept this, then differences between full contact and semi-contact become similarly blurred with the power/speed/contact benefits.
    Assuming you accept this argument then is it not just as possible that full contact and non-contact training can be said to have benefits for real self-defense situations? I mean you cannot practice self-defense like you can full contact or MMA (even if you pad everything – you lose mobility and realism).
    Having said all of this about perceptions, experiences, and methods, consider martial arts. Most martial arts were formed in an answer to a fighting problem. Even the sports like Judo have these roots. If a woman has the patience and drive to learn a martial art – I don’t think the method is quite as important as the commitment.
    You can make a case that striking martial arts will get a woman to a usable defensive posture quicker and you might be right. You can also make the argument that martial arts similar to the defensive art you are most familiar with are the most effective. You would lose me there but some might agree with you.
    So without getting into too much detail on the different ways to skin a cat (sorry to any cat lovers), I think your arguments as to what style will work the best for self-defense are non-sequitur (the logic does not necessarily follow).
    To address a few of the specifics… take the kata’s… Kata’s are the founders way of showing future students a way of movement that stylizes the martial arts system. Katas are built of defensive and offensive as well as weapons fighting techniques so it might be argued (and is by pure fighters) that kata does not benefit fighting ability. Alternatively one might (and many karate-ka do) that learning how to move with the style gives them insight how to put moves together. As I said before not having kata is not necessarily a disadvantage anymore than not having self-defense techniques. Kenpo happens to have both but some systems only have one or the other.
    As far as the complex kenpo techniques… that was a question when I started to my instructor. I wondered when I’d ever do Kimono Grab for instance (a six move defense for a double lapel grab). The answer I got is never! While one certainly could in the perfect situation with lots of practice and muscle memory… my question would be to what end?
    What I have used my kenpo techniques for is to learn how kenpo stylists move, strike, block, and escape… and so on. So say someone attacked me insight my critical distance (I was asleep or distracted), I would have to fall back on the various strikes that are ingrained into kenpo students. I learned how to throw elbows and knees from self-defense techniques in the 70’s long before I ever watched a Muay Thai match.
    So I think you would be wise to look for the good in each way of marital arts including modern one like krav maga. Martial arts are a lot like fighting – there are so many ways to do the same thing… there are no real wrong ways (unless they do not work) and plenty of right ways… look at how Machada stood the UFC on its ears! A karate-ka (admittedly a well rounded karate-ka) took out the champion… interestingly enough the UFC had long since dismissed karate and did not really have an answer for the longer critical fighting distances.
    Please keep commenting and keeping me honest… even if we disagree on some points because if I ever start telling people that I am right because of my rank… question me to see if there is any beef to my argument. ?
    Thanks Zara!

  26. gracie in love Says:

    This is my favorite BJJ video clip