Women-Only Self-Protection: A Defence

Statistics seem to consecutively show that women are and always have been less likely to be victims of violence than men. And yet surveys also consecutively show that women fear violence far more than men. There is clearly something amiss here. The first statement could be set against the point that most violent and/or sexual offences against women go unreported. It is a valid point and one that should never be ignored, but I would still argue that most people you will find in the accident and emergency wards obviously suffering from injuries inflicted by a malicious party will be males. We could also consider the way society has historically and across cultures shaped man into the role of the protector or warrior – and therefore more likely to endanger himself – and cast women as the protected therefore encouraging a feeling of vulnerability, especially when an adult male is absent from the household.


Regardless of the gender issue, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a specialist in training soldiers and law enforcement officers in the USA, makes the convincing argument that the biggest phobia collectively faced by civilized human beings is interpersonal violence. An understanding of the nature of violence, balanced through the discipline of training and research under pressure testing can help produce aware citizens with a better capability of dealing with violence without becoming paranoid.


What most people look for in dealing with their fears of violence is a “magic bullet” programme. I guess this is partly why there is a growing society of individuals who continually attend self-defence courses and yet don’t seem to exhibit any convincing ability in being able to better handle a violence situation. They seek techniques when really they should be looking inward to develop the right attitude. Without attitude nothing will work for you in a real life situation. Attitude should be born out of an honest belief in one’s abilities, governed by reason based on knowledge and driven by a sense responsibility to one’s self and one’s loved ones.


Paranoia, often prompted by the sensationalism of the tabloid press and the media in general, has helped shape the motives behind most self-defence course attendees. In line with the rules of “supply and demand” courses, seminars, workshops and entire systems have been created to cater for the improbable, the unlikely and the downright imagined. We imagine our attacker is some sort of unknown inhuman monster who will jump from the shadows. The stranger predator is pretty much a development of our society and in line with the growth of recreational crime he is on the rise, but he is also in the extreme minority. Most attacks by strangers can be avoided in one way or another. You can avoid bad areas or situations that, if you are switched on, you can see has a high probability of developing into something dangerous. If you do have the misfortune of falling prey to someone who demands money or property of some sort then, in most instances, you would be better off just giving them the cash, phone or even the car keys. Matters tend only tend to get dangerous if the attacker wants something else – a rape situation for example – or tells you to go with them.


However, as I have said, this type of attack by a stranger is in the minority. This is not to say it shouldn’t be addressed and we did address it on the course, and even used recorded case studies illustrate various points, but perspective needs to be considered. Just as most accidents occur in the home, most attacks are overwhelmingly perpetrated by someone the victim knows and often someone who is close to them. I can guarantee that you won’t have to look that far among your relations and friends to find someone who has been connected to a violent or sexual offence. You might think the knowledge of this would prompt more paranoia, but common sense kicks in. Most rational people would know it would be ridiculous to look at their close circle of friends and family as potential violent predators. You simply cannot operate efficiently and healthily in your day-to-day life like this. Lack of community, it is often argued, has caused the breakdown of societies and the proliferation of crime throughout history, so there is also a macrocosmic effect to alienating yourself and children through fear of predators near to you as well as a microcosmic one. So, this surely dictates that our awareness needs to be a workable type.


The self-defence habits we form need to be applied within context. Context, I have learnt, is a key word and certainly one that crops again and again during the seminars I teach. Understanding the correct context dictates the level of awareness, the precautions you take and the way you respond. There are countless examples where misreading a situation has either lead to someone being either ill-prepared or over-reacting. For example, there are many rural areas in the western world where it would be considered paranoid to lock your front door at any time during the day. Parts of rural Britain, Europe and Canada are just some examples that come to mind. Then there are parts of the developed world, where the level of security you consider to be sensible would be regarded by even the most laid back of its inhabitants as woefully naïve. For example, in many parts of South Africa it is normal to run through red lights at night, to carry a firearm at all times, to lock your car door whenever you are in your vehicle and to not stop for police cars!


Worrying about matters that are of an extremely low risk can lower guard over matters of more immediate concern. You don’t tend to think about attacks by wild bears in English suburbia, but you lock your front doors. Reverse that when you go to certain parts of rural Canada!


Context also helps you understand your intuition. Intuition is an unscientifically proven theory, which often means it gets a lot of stick from my fellow rational sceptics. This is often because of the way the term is used by gamblers. However, Gavin De Becker’s opinion on its use as a self-defence tool has yet to be bettered and I would genuinely be interested to read any counter-arguments to his definition. In simple terms, De Becker regards intuition to be the brain’s subconscious alerting the conscious mind of danger. In other words: our instincts. Your instincts or intuition alert you to dangers without going through a conscious thought process. You recognize something out of place or a behaviour that experience or training has taught you is inappropriate and may be dangerous. Listening to your instincts or intuition in times of potential danger is a cornerstone to good self-defence awareness training. It is adaptable and immediately relevant to any situation. Often when a witness recalls a violent incident they will reveal just how many warning signs they actually saw well in advance of the situation occurring and yet their recollection will often be a “It just happened!” type report.

Why Women-Only Self-Defence?


It has often been brought to my attention that the whole idea of “Women-Only” self-defence training is rather patronizing. One female martial artist wrote an excellent article a few years ago about how unrealistic the whole notion was. After all, most assaults against women are perpetrated by men, so why make matters even more abstract  from reality by having women partner women? It’s a good point.


Taking this point on board I bring in male assistants on my courses to participate in the pressure testing. Men tend to attack women differently than they do other men. Perhaps it is something to do with our genetic make-up or the way society has evolved. Not all men do and this should be addressed as well, but in general the male attacker of a woman, just like the adult attacker of a child, will be looking to control their victim as opposed to just rendering them unconscious. However, just as there are certain fundamental differences that should be addressed in male versus female altercations there are also fundamental issues relating to tactics. Self-defence training can often fall prey to getting too wound about specifics and scenarios. Robust general tactics that use low maintained and high percentage techniques derived from an individual’s personal strengths are surely the most realistic option. We train pre-emption acknowledging that although the verbal tactics and motives for a man attacking a woman may be different, the principles on protecting one’s personal space remain the same.


My question to those who don’t approve of women-only courses is who do you think should be able to undertake a self-defence method or system? Often those who enthusiastically write about self-defence assume that people who undertake such courses are fellow martial artists. It has been a bugbear of mine that those who need the training the most often receive the worst training. These are the courses that offer the easy and unworkable solutions that are never pressure tested and therefore never really confirmed in anyway by the participants. Likewise the most hard-core self-defence seminars are often attended by hulking looking doormen, cage fighters, fitness fanatics and the least likely targets for predatory violence. I made it part of my mission to develop an approach that would by taking individual concerns as its core basis could be used and applied, within reason, by the more vulnerable members of society. In short, if you can mentally understand the information and are able-bodied enough to live an independent life you should be able to apply the tactics and techniques of the CCMA approach to self-protection/defence. The system should be moulded or edited to suit the individual’s needs and the group’s needs.


So does this mean you have to compromise on the realism in the training? Not at all! In fact taking a general approach is more likely to create a compromise. This is why, when I am booked out by certain companies to train their staff or members, I ask and research the exact requirements of my clients. As I said earlier, certain principles remain the same, but environments, social conditioning, genetics and individuals dictate techniques.


I feel we have the best of both worlds with our women-only format. The attendees are all female, so we can isolate the demands relating to their gender and also help bring in those who might be normally discouraged by a mixed class. These same people are often those who require this type of training more than most, so why give them an extra barrier at the beginning. Pressure testing is carried out by both male and female “antagonists”, so we do not compromise on realistic confirmation on tactics and techniques.




Self-defence should be for everyone. It should be viewed with honesty, even if that honesty might mean making your sales pitch more difficult. The job of the self-defence coach is to deliver an accessible and efficient service that they feel will serve the purpose the student demands. There are no guarantees or “magic bullets”. Responsibility lies on the shoulders of the individual. Different people have different demands. Good robust principles tend to stay the same, but the execution of strategies, tactics and techniques are dictated by other more malleable factors.

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