Here's a copy of the blog post I recently wrote for Martial News:
Why do women do martial arts? I’m sure they have a variety of different reasons but I expect that if you asked around in your dojo virtually all women would have the following two phrases in their answers: ‘to get fit’ and ‘to learn some self-defence’. Well I’ve no doubt that if they put the effort in they will get fitter, I know I am certainly stronger and fitter than I was two years ago before taking up karate, even though I was a regular attendee at a gym.
Unfortunately I have some doubts as to whether women actually learn a useful and effective self-defence strategy. They will learn many self-defence techniques that seem useful such as escapes from strangles and grabs; blocks and counter strikes to various kicks and punches and maybe even defences from the ground. But I have some doubts as to how useful all this really is in a real life attack situation.
I am taught exactly the same techniques as the men in our dojo are. It is my observation that the men can generally get to grips with most of the techniques and get them to work, they seem fascinated with the whole bio-mechanics of things and will spend ages getting complicated locks on.
Women on the other hand are a bit more pragmatic in their approach and are more discerning about what works and what doesn’t. There is often much chatter amongst the women along the lines of ‘I’d never try and do that – it’s too fiddly,’ or ‘ That would never work on a big bloke,’ or ‘I’m not strong enough to do that one,’ or ‘ It’s too complicated, I’ll never remember that’. I’m often the one saying these things!
I’m not actually surprised by this, after all martial arts of all styles were developed by men for men to fight other men. Traditionalists have ensured that ancient fighting techniques have been preserved and so most martial arts taught today seem more effective for the male body form than the female one. On top of that we have ‘sex equality’ issues and ‘political correctness’ to throw into the mix. It would probably take a brave instructor to treat male and female students differently because of their differences in body shape; particularly if he were male, the risk of sounding sexist or patronising could be enormous.
In the dojo that I train in men and women are treated exactly the same in all respects. On the whole this works well, after all I have two legs and two arms like a man so I can do most of the same things that a man can do, so I have no complaints about being treated the same. I will partner the men almost as often as I partner other women and I think this is a good idea as I can learn what it is like to throw or apply techniques to a much larger, heavier person.
So, what is my problem? Well, being a male orientated fighting system, karate teaches you how to deal predominantly with a male on male attack. If a man is attacked it is most likely to occur in the street by a random attacker or by a ‘rival gang’ or in a pub brawl or somewhere like that. Statistics suggest that women are rarely attacked by strangers in the street.
Eighty-five percent of women who are attacked are attacked in their own homes or in the home of someone they know by someone they know. There is often an emotional attachment between the woman and her attacker which the attacker plays on and manipulates; or her attacker may have got her drunk or drugged prior to a physical attack. A woman is often already defeated before the first blow is struck.
An effective self-defence system for women needs to help her deal with the events that go on between her and the attacker before the physical attack starts so that she can learn how to diffuse or prevent an attack from occurring. This requires quite a different approach than simply learning combative techniques.
I’m not saying that the self-defence techniques that I am learning are no good; indeed if I am one of the few unfortunate women that are attacked by a stranger in the street then I feel confident that I may be able to help myself.
However, my training does not adequately prepare me to deal with the more likely event of being attacked in my own home by someone I know or trust. A woman’s biggest mistake is to believe in will never happen to her – it may never be your husband or partner that attacks you but he could be a neighbour, family friend or colleague, or someone you just met in the pub, you just never know.
I think women’s self-defence is a specialist area. Women are different to men, both physically and psychologically, whether we acknowledge this in the dojo or not and their self-defence needs are different. Even the method of attack is likely to be different and requires a different approach.
Not every club is equipped to deal with this and there is no reason why they should be. A martial arts club teaching traditional or modern techniques has much to offer women and should be free to teach what its instructors want. After all martial arts are not just about self defence. But even courses that are specially designed and sold as ‘women’s self defence’ courses are often still based on the assumption that a woman will be attacked by a stranger in the street and don’t touch on issues of date rape or domestic violence which is much more common.
All that I am asking is that if a woman wishes to join your club and says that she wants to learn some self-defence, if you don’t offer any specialist training for women, please be honest with her about the limitations of the self-defence she will learn. Don’t let her be lulled into a false sense of security. Don’t allow the empowerment a woman may feel from learning a martial art to simply turn out to be an illusion.
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