Why should a woman train in “modern” self-defense and not traditional martial arts?
Or, to put it another way, what is the difference between traditional martial arts and a modern system of self-defense?
The difference, in my opinion, is that if you train in “modern” self-defense, you have a more complete picture of what is involved in a physical assault. You also learn how to control your reactions to danger and train in physical and psychological techniques that are based in reality, not myth.
You would also learn a certain level of usable skills and streetwise knowledge. This in itself gives you more confidence to believe you will survive.
In contrast, it could be argued, that the traditional systems really don’t address the reality of self-defense in the modern world. That they have a narrow view of what actually functions in a real assault. This is why I believe that for a woman, “modern” self-defense would be more beneficial.
So, let me define the three core reasons as I see them :
1, Activity and physicality
Sports activity, in general, is good for everyone. It’s good for lowering stress and if you participate in “modern” self-defense classes, you will get the benefits of physical activity. You will also learn skills that are directly related to helping you survive a verbal or physical assault.
What you also become accustomed to is being pushed outside of your comfort zone, both mentally and physically. You get used to the rough and tumble of training. This is a vital part of developing a durable mindset that can deal with a real situation should it arise.
The physical build of a woman is ( in general ) smaller than a man and a man is generally physically stronger. When you train in modern SD, this becomes less of a focus as you learn to cope with any physical difference and utilize what you have rather than what you don’t have.
2, Building the Confidence to deal with aggression
A very good article, “The importance of self-defense training for sexual violence prevention”, which you can find here, by Jocelyn Hollander argues that “modern” self-defense is beneficial for women.
She calls it specifically, Empowerment Self Defense ( ESD ) and I recommend you read the article ( you can download the pdf ).
It argues in-depth, that training should take into account the underlying issues of power, control, and fear. That ESD should also give you the tools to deal with these issues, not only physically, but also psychologically. With this type of training, you would be giving yourself a higher chance of surviving a potentially violent encounter.
The last point is important because, if you put gender aside, it could apply to anyone who trains in the type of “modern” self-defense that we discuss in this blog. The basic reality of any self-defense training is that it gives you a greater chance of dealing with a violent assault, but as in life, it has no guarantees.
Everyone has their own psyche, their own personality and their own cultural norms or traits that they bring to a class. This doesn’t change the basic idea that the closer you can come to replicating real violence in a training environment and learning to deal with it, then the better chance you have of survival in a real assault.
Jocelyn Hollander states,
“…. physical self-defense is only part of what women learn in ESD ( Empowerment Self-Defense ) classes, and the misapprehension that self-defense is purely physical causes critics to miss the other ways that ESD training works to prevent violence. Awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation tactics may help to forestall assaults, even for women for whom physical self-defense may be difficult or impossible.”
3, Realism in understanding violence and defense against violence
Often traditional martial arts have tended to inflate someone’s belief in their own ability to deal with a violent assault. They don’t tend to address the underlying reality of how the body and mind can react under pressure.
It’s not all about punching and kicking and looking good when working the pads. That can be great until it all goes pear-shaped under pressure.
This dose of reality applies to anyone, male or female. Better to train in a class that consistently addresses how you deal with fear and adrenalin under pressure. One that also works on realistic methods to get you out of trouble. One that gets you to the heart of “real” self-defense.
This crucial issue of “realistic” training is discussed in an excellent article here, on the Medium blog platform, by Lauren McKeon. She writes very honestly, about how, in spite of her being a trained kickboxer, it didn’t help her when she was physically assaulted. She states,
“Knowing how to hurt someone did not stop my assault… What we don’t account for is the way your mind can freeze your body. The way you forget that you ever knew how to do anything …. I did not fight back. I knew how, yet all of me forgot. “
She gives an open account of how she deals with all of this and touches on issues described in the Jocelyn Hollander article. At the heart of what she is saying is that being skilled in say Karate, Kickboxing, Jujitsu, etc, is not the same thing as self-defense, as her bad experience underlines.
To summarise the 3 core reasons and just one more point…
So to conclude as to why women should train in “modern” self-defense. For the same reason as anyone else. It may get you out of trouble one day.
It’s a good way to meet people and is good exercise. You get used to some actual “rough and tumble” which can give you more self-confidence. You learn to cope with the reality of violence, not the myth. It tests you in a way that few other activities can.
Plus, on top of all that, would you believe, it is actually a fun thing to do!