- If self-protection is your primary motivation, make sure your instructor knows what they are talking about. Your training should be tailored not only around "stranger" attacks like kidnappings, muggings, and street assaults, but should also cover relationship strategies, boundary setting, and address patterns of abuse both emotional and physical. This will require training completely outside the realm of hand-to-hand combat. One of the things I absolutely love about Annapolis Defense & Security's Fight Like a Girl program is the amount of time spent on boundary setting, relationship strategies, and situational awareness. Before ever learning a combative technique, young women going through this program spend hours learning how to avoid, read, and take steps to mitigate being targeted for assault. I am very confident in saying that no other women's self-protection program I have experienced covers these subjects to the depth that FLAG does.
- Are there other women involved in teaching? The martial arts and self-defense world is a male-dominated one and sadly often a macho one. Male involvement in a women's self-defense course is not a bad thing. If you are assaulted, it will likely be by a man, so drilling and training with men is something to work toward. That being said, there are benefits to courses led or assisted by women that no man can ever replicate, especially if the woman is a survivor or speaking from a place of experience. The Jeet Kune Do Athletic Association is blessed to have the leadership of Beverly Pratka in designing and leading our women's curriculum. Annapolis Defense & Security has an incredible woman instructor and survivor on staff. Here at MDJKD, we have an amazing contingent of female students and assistant instructors who come from a diverse background of self-defense experience, full contact fighting, and military training. We do our best to ensure that women's voices are heard in every Escape to Gain Safety workshop we teach.
- Understanding. Look for an instructor or program that is willing to meet you where you are and build you, rather than insist you immediately meet their expectations. At both Maryland Jeet Kune Do and Annapolis Defense & Security, we have a "cease fire" rule. Call out "cease fire" and the drill stops. No questions asked. When you are ready, we will find a way to help you get through. I once took part in a Combatives intensive lead by former Marine Special Missions Officer Kelly McCann. Kelly is a Marine's Marine, with a gruff, take no BS attitude that you would expect. Aside from the dozen experienced men taking this intensive, there was also a young woman. Through conversation during a break, I found out she was a survivor of a physically abusive marriage and walking into the lion's den that is the Crucible was her attempt to reclaim her sense of self. She fought alongside us for the entire weekend until we started drilling two-handed chokes on the wall. She froze and her partner didn't know what was happening. I quickly and quietly mentioned to Kelly that she had confided in me that she had been assaulted. The tough Marine immediately melted into the most caring figure I have seen. For the next few rounds, while the rest of us continued to smash each other into oblivion, he took her to the side along with one of his lead instructors and worked with her at her speed and emotional ability until she was finally able to rejoin the rest of the team. The beat down she delivered to each of us at the end of the weekend was all the more triumphant. I learned from Kelly's example that day. Look for an instructor team that will give you the same experience.
- Alive, Realistic Training. Having recognized that the circumstances that women find themselves assaulted in are often very different than men, the differences stop there. There is no such thing as a "women's" technique versus a "men's" technique, and no methodology outside of alive training that works for imparting skill and attributes that enable you to defend yourself. Training that is based on the idea "If he touches you this way, then do x, y, and then z" will fail you without some method to ensure that you have made it a part of you, and no method does that better than alive training. The techniques we teach to women going through the Escape to Gain Safety program at Maryland Jeet Kune Do are the exact same ones we teach to military and law enforcement, as are the drills. The only difference are the simulations we run and drill are geared toward the situations described in point one.
- Training Must Continue. An afternoon or a weekend will leave you knowing a few tricks that will likely be forgotten over the course of weeks and months. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as muscle memory. Skills must be maintained to be sharp, and this goes not only for combative skills but also the so-called "soft skills" of situational awareness and boundary setting. Starting with a self-defense workshop is definitely a good idea, but you must find a way to make that continue after the workshop is over. I definitely recommend taking workshops and courses a few times a year focused on the specific soft skills needed for women regarding acquaintance attacks, boundary setting, and situational awareness, while also engaging in weekly combatives or martial arts training.
- Have fun. Many of us, men and women, came to the martial arts looking to develop the ability to defend ourselves. What keeps us coming back is the friendships we develop and the benefits it brings to our life outside the mere physical ability to punch, kick, or choke an attacker. The more fun you have, the more likely you are to keep training, and the more trained you are, the better off you will be.
When we delve into the discussion of self-protection, while there are truths, each truth must be tailored to an individual's needs. While a jab is always a jab, a choke is always a choke, and a throw is always a throw, the ways and situations these individual tools end up being applied are vastly different for the law enforcement officer, the soldier, the young man out for a night with his mates, and the young woman watching Netflix with someone who had up and until this moment otherwise seemed like a friend and a good man. A police officer grappling with a suspect must always keep in mind that there is at least one firearm involved in the altercation, the soldier likely has his squad mates close by with multiple firearms to assist him, and the young man is more likely to encounter another young man who will grab and swing on him than slip a roofie into his drink. So these factors must all be kept in mind when the specific question of self-defense or martial arts for women is asked.
As a martial arts instructor specializing in women's self-protection, it's a question that has often been asked of me. Normally, my reply is a quick and easy one, recommending either Maryland Jeet Kune Do's Escape to Gain Safety program or Annapolis Defense & Security's Fight Like a Girl program. However, the other day a friend of mine from out of state asked for recommendations in her area. Unfortunately, I knew no one in her state I could recommend, so after some thought, I came up with these guidelines to recommend what she should be looking for.
We would love to hear from other women involved in teaching self-protection. What are your experiences, good or bad? What lessons have you learned that you want to share with other women? What can we do to help?
News & thoughts from Maryland Jeet Kune Do!