Saturday, November 10, 2007

The One Thing Every Women's Self-Defense Class Should Cover

The title of this posting is a bit of a misnomer. There are many things that every women's self-defense class should cover, personal awareness, safety practices, body language skills, practical defensive maneuvres, and more. But as far as the physical defense portion of the class goes, the one thing they should all teach is how to mentally psyche yourself up to defend against an unprovoked attack.

Many women have trouble summoning up mental and physical energy required to put self-defense maneuvres into action. You can teach the most practical defensive techniques, but if they aren't able to mentally psyche themselves up to overcome their fear, their application of those techniques will likely be ineffective at deterring their attacker.

I teach women to release adrenaline by harnessing their anger when faced with an attack. The best way to do this with most women is to tell them to imagine that the aggressor is trying to attack a vulnerable loved one, their child or younger sister for example, and that they are the only thing there to protect them. The instinct to protect someone else is stronger than the instinct of self-preservation, so this works much better at getting women to build up their anger and therefore their adrenaline. This gives them the energy necessary to repel an attack quickly and fiercely, which is the best way to get the attacker to back off. The attacker is looking for a victim, for easy prey, not someone that will pose him any difficulty or get him caught.

For more articles about women's self-defense, visit the articles page of my website. Also, if you happen to live in the Vancouver area and are looking for a women's self-defense course, I'm teaching my Self-Defense for Busy Women course on Sun. Nov. 25.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lori,

This reminded me of a discussion we had a while back regarding women’s self-defence classes, I don’t remember which post it was exactly so I’ll just reply to this one. I hope you don’t mind. It’s actually about women’s self-defence, in case you’re wondering (lol).

A few days ago there was a big party for my nephew’s confirmation and while I was there I taught my niece some basic self-defence. She goes to school in quite a big city and it’s not always very safe so it seemed a good idea to teach her some very basic, very effective moves. She’s quite accomplished in sports (she enters in swimming-competitions quite regularly and trains nearly every day) and that carried over nicely in training (especially in terms of coordination and attitude). In about an hour and a half I taught her defences to eleven fairly common attacks: a one-two combination, a hook (left and right), a straight kick, a round kick, a front choke, a choke from the back, a bearhug from the front, a wristgrab, a hairgrab, a downward stab and a straight stab to the gut. All following the same basic patern: evade/parry/regain balance, enter/counterattack, grab and knee and finish with hammerfists to the side of the neck. This method stems from krav-maga with some JJ-principles and a few JKD-techniques. This truly is the easiest way to teach someone how to defend themselves: teach just one defence per attack, always counterattack immediately with a punch/palmheel or kick to the groin (especially useful against kicks) and make sure they always end up in a strong grappeling-position (one hand controlling the arm, the other the neck or clothing) in order to safely and effectively finish with a combination of knees and hammerfists.

My niece is 16 and quite a small girl and while she’s quite strong for her age (swimming is a great way to develop strenth throughout the entire body) it’s clear she’ll never be a match for a fully grown man or even a boy her own age when it comes to brute strength (I could easily carry her using only one arm). However she’s very quick on her feet, headstrong and actually knows how to coordinate her whole body to get the most out of each technique. This is why MA are so great: you actually learn not to rely on strenght or reach or any other physical advantage, hit the most vulnerable points in the human body (preferably with your strongest weapons) and to avoid physical damage by correct body-movement. Basically you learn to fight using scientific principles (the shortest distance to any given target is a straight line, if you aim for structurally weak points you do not need much force, if you force a joint in a direction it’s not designed to move it will break) and to rely on technique and trained responses instead of instinct or anger. Almost anyone can learn how to effectively kick or knee the groin-area, if you can move your arm and bend your fingers you can strike someone’s eyes, a proper wrist-escape will always work (even against the strongest man)… Too bad alot of MA and schools needlesly complicate things and thus actually diminish their combat-effectiveness instead of increasing it. Taekwondo is a good example: why on earth would you want to learn how to do a spinning back-kick (let alone a flying kick) while you’ll get the same result with a simple jab-cross combination and completely avoiding the humiliation of getting knocked on your ass? Another example would be kenpo: while I like their method of delivering multiple counter-strikes as fast as possible I doubt the value of learning ten succesive strikes to each attack… Striking combinations should be short and you should be able to improvise on the spot. What if he blocks one of them, what will you do then? There are counters against counters of course but this needlesly complicates things and forces one to remember a huge set of patterns and combinations and while this may be fun and good for show they overload the brain and this is something you do not need in a real fight.

Anonymous said...

The maximum amount of damage/effect with the least amount of effort in the least amount of time, this is the basic principle governing all fighting. This and the principle of always providing the maximum amount of protection and security for yourself. The more complicated a technique or a set of techniques the more time it’ll take to learn and the higher the chance it’ll fail in reality. I call this the KISS-strategy: keep it simple and stupid. In the words of the late Bruce Lee: “the art of JKD is simply to simplify”.

Anyway: the whole point of this story is that’s actually possible to train even a completely uniniated person in a relatively short amount of time provided that person is a) willing to learn and dedicated enough to train hard, b) you eliminate all unnecessary movements and only focus on a few proven techniques (palmheel, kick to the groin, knees, elbows and hammerfists) and c) you select only the most common types of attacks and teach principles and points-of-reference instead of particular techniques per se and most all focus on the conditioning and proper use of the weapons (it takes practice to develop a good punch, even if you hit with a palmheel) and First-reaction drills. The First reaction is everything: if your interception is good you’ll be ¾ of the way to winning, if it’s bad good luck to you. This should be enough in most situations really.

I’m quite confident I can turn my niece into a decent fighter in about 10 2-hour lessons. This would include open-hand attacks/grabs/chokes, basic ground-defences and weapon-disarming. Will she be able to best a trained boxer or an experienced streetfighter? Of course not but this is clearly not the aim. Aslong as she’d be able to confidently walk the streets and defend herself against untrained thugs and would-be muggers, drunks or rapists I’d be a happy man. Most attackers are cowards anyway (they’ll most likely run if the victim is assertive and actually fights back) and it’s extremely pathetic to prey on those weaker than yourself. A basic self-defence course should actually be mandatory in schools: it is physical exercise after all and in my opinion much more useful than learning how to kick a ball around. Especially for girls since they are physically weaker and thus are more likely to become a victim one way or the other.

Anyway, I really should get back to studying. Great post.



Lori O'Connell said...

Not all martial arts teach with the goal of self-defense as their primary goal. Some are taught for sport. Others art taught purely as a visual art form. And still others are taught more for spiritual development. And all these are ok as long as no one is being deluded into believing that they are.

It's nice that you use your skills to try and help out people around you like that btw.

Anonymous said...

I did add a second part (much shorter than the first) to my comment but apparantly that didn’t got through, too bad. In my opinion martial-arts that train for sport or another goal are not true martial-arts: they’re combat-sports or dances or cultural/spiritual movements (whatever you’d like to call them). With all due respect to boxers and the like but you can hardly call what they do an art: they basically train to bash eachother’s heads in, all this for nothing more than financial gain, fleeting glory and to satisfy the bloodlust of the masses. They are not unlike the gladiators of ancient Rome: both despised (they were part of the damnati or the lowest ranking in society) and revered at the same time. Sure, it’s fun to watch and if you’re into MA you can learn a thing or two but I thought a sport was supposed to promote health, peace and well-being. Playing sports professionally is never healthy but boxing is downright dangerous and unlike other sports it’s virtually impossible to diminish or avoid that danger. Getting hit on the head time and time again is a perfect recepy for brain-damage (not unlike frequent heavy drinking) and what sane person would subject himself to that kind of punishment?

In MA-training you’re bound to get hit on the head from time to time (you’re supposed to aim for it) but even in sparring there is never an intention to really hurt eachother or to hit full-force. When something does happen it’s an accident and not intentional: in boxing the goal is to hurt the other guy as badly as you possibly can, the goal is a knock-out or enough damage to make him quit and each time you get hit on the head your brain shifts and bounces around in the skull, damaging the brain. Of course this type of damage cannot be seen from the outside but alot of ex-boxers (professional ones) were actually beaten silly. No wonder a great majority of neurologists and doctors are opposed to professional boxing, some even consider it a threat to the public health. Muhammed Ali is one of the greatest boxers that ever lived and his footwork and evasive skills were superb but even he could not avoid very heavy blows (especially from Foreman) and look were it landed him.

Anonymous said...

That is not to say MA-training geared towards self-defence is without risks, on the contrary: I myself got injured three times: one time my shoulder was very nearly dislocated, my right arm got damaged because some fool used way too much force when applying an armbar (at first it didn’t work so I didn’t tap, then he used force and all of a sudden he did get it right and nearly broke it, good thing for him I was pretty meek back then or I would have broken his nose) and I once got hit on the nose so hard I was knocked to the ground and suffered a severe nosebleed (luckily my nose was not broken). All in good fun of course. I can only imagine what injuries professional MMA-fighters or boxers must endure. I’m always quite careful in training, especially with beginners, but even then they sometimes complain about pain. I do wonder why: either they’re just not used to it (I know I wasn’t when I first started training) or they don’t know locks are supposed to hurt. Of course the goal is not to injure people but it is vital to actually feel wether a technique worked or not. No pain no gain and if one person at our dojo suffers it’s me since I’m my sensei’s uke, most of the time anyway. I found this actually helps you: for one it toughens you mentally (take the pain, it’s nothing compared to the one you’ll experience in a real fight) and it actually makes your joints stronger. If he goes too far I’ll tell him of course but aslong as he doesn’t break anything I’m ok with it.

It does feel good to be useful and help people with the skills you have. We had great fun training together and my niece is a sweet kid, a quick learner and was actually quite serious about it. Unlike my nephew who was all nosey and whiny (“if you do this, can’t he do that?”, “does that really work?”… the what-if people lol) and ran to his mother when I offered to demonstrate what I’d do in such cases. Truly courage and toughness do not depend on gender although it is a fact far more men train in the MA than women. I offered to train my younger brothers since they both have gotten in trouble quite alot of times (mostly when going out, they tend to drink quite heavily) but they declined. Ah well, it’s their choice but they shouldn’t come complaining to me when they get beaten up by some punk with an ego the size of Texas. I’d jump at the chance of free training and I dare say I do know what I’m doing. I am not a true teacher or sensei yet and I do have alot to learn still but in general my base is pretty solid and I am confident in my abilities. On and off the mat.

Yours truly,