Sunday, August 7, 2011

For Women: Self Defense

It’s a common scenario in most movies. The female lead, whether tough as nails cop or helpless homemaker, is at the mercy of the physically bigger and stronger male villain. Usually, she is saved from beating, rape, or death only by the intervention of the hero, generally an equally strong male who will defeat the bad guy in a no holds barred physical confrontation. Nice in theory, but art unfortunately does not imitate life, and in reality it is likely up to the woman to save herself.

Ideally, the lady in question will be armed to the teeth. Again, the reality may be that she is not and must defend herself as best she can without weapons, or only with what comes to hand. Given the disparity of size and strength between male and female, the odds are heavily against the female winning such a contest.

While there is no guarantee, women can shift the odds in their favour. One way is by becoming fitter and stronger, about which more in an upcoming post. Another way to even the odds somewhat is by taking training in martial arts.

There are several benefits to doing this. Strength, speed, and flexibility can all be improved while training in the martial arts, although usually not enough in my opinion. I still think women must go to extra lengths to obtain the strength necessary to fight effectively.

Another benefit is to ‘untrain’ them. Whether you believe it is in a woman’s nature to be less aggressive, or it is the role society trains them to assume, it is a truism that women tend to be less forceful and less likely to react physically to threats. Martial arts training will help with that.

Finally, martial arts techniques will give a woman the training and techniques that will make fighting for her life a viable option rather than a hopeless gesture.

So, what sort of training is appropriate? First, although the sort of ‘rape-proofing’ self defense class that is usually offered to women might be an okay starting point, it should not be considered anything more than a warm up to more effective training. The unfortunate thing about many of these classes is that there is an assumption that escape or assistance is eventually available. Nor do these sort of classes advocate deadly force.

There are a lot of classic martial arts, but some will not transfer well to either life or death combat, or to the size and strength of women. Some ‘harder’ styles of Karate for example, will not work well for a woman facing an aggressive male. Other styles can take excessive time to master, have arguable effectiveness, or are perhaps too ‘sportified’ (e.g. judo) to be useful. However, rather than create a tedious list of what not too take, I’ll get right to the point.

I believe the overall best martial art for women is Krav Maga, the unarmed combat system used by the Israeli armed forces. It has emphasis on continuous motion, aggressiveness and speed. It also teaches techniques for dealing with attackers with weapons, and places some emphasis on improvised weapons. I believe the importance it places on violent action to end a confrontation as soon as possible is of most benefit to women, both psychologically and physically.

Jeet Kune Do would be a close second choice, due to its emphasis on speed and effectiveness over technique. Unfortunately, both it and Krav Maga are eclectic styles and not widely available everywhere.

In fact, a woman looking for martial arts training may have very limited options. In choosing something to learn (since almost any martial art has at least some utility), try to find one that involves full contact. Again, women are trained not to be physical, and practice in hitting and being hit will at least benefit the mental preparedness side of things.

Regardless of the martial art, look for the techniques that have application in real life combat. Even a sport like judo will teach at least one or two throws and chokes that may be useful. It is the same in any other style. Avoid the complicated, look for the simple and effective. Even boxing has something to offer, if only to teach speed and precision in punching.

Women should (at least in my opinion) try to avoid styles that have a heavy emphasis on grappling and groundwork, two areas that they will likely be at a disadvantage. Weapon heavy styles are also to be avoided, as the likelihood of you having your weapon of choice at hand when you need it most is not high. But if grappling or weapons styles are all that you can find, take them. Any training is better than none at all.

Even with the best training in the world, there is no guarantee that a woman trained in a martial art can defeat any attacker. You can be guaranteed that with training, her chances are orders of magnitude greater.


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