What Is the Best Type of Self-Defense Class for a Fit Young Woman?

What is the best type of self-defense class for a fit young woman? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Jae Alexis Lee, Martial Arts Instructor, Competitor, and Eternal Student, on Quora:

Before I dive into things: I won’t name styles in this answer. There are a multitude of effective styles that many people have never heard of that I wouldn’t want someone to miss out on because the style isn’t famous. At the same time, there are plenty of McDojo schools teaching whatever is trendy right now without a solid background in the style (ten years ago that meant Krav Maga, now it probably means Brazilian Jujitsu.) Just because someone teaches a style with a reputation doesn’t mean you will get a good education. Got it? Good.

There are a few things that are going to do a great deal for your ability to find a good self defense program for women.

Does the program have female instructors and high participation of female students.

I know that sixteen guys in the back just got pissed off and are reaching for their gloves to come kick my ass right now. Sit down and take a deep breath.

If a school doesn’t have female instructors or a high level of participation from female students then that’s a warning sign of an environment that isn’t friendly to women. If there are lots of women in beginner classes and none in advanced classes, ask yourself: What could be causing the drop out rate?

Martial arts schools aren’t immune to sexist jackasses and I will be the first to tell you that I’ve seen more than enough instructors that like opportunities to teach “grappling drills” to female students. I’ve also seen women driven out of martial arts schools because male students never stopped hitting on them and the instructors failed to create an environment where it wasn’t permissible to do so.

You’re looking for women in the program as a predictor of a safe environment to learn. It’s martial arts. We’re going to get hands on. We’re going to get grabby. We’re going to wind up in between each other’s legs (mount position, guard position, leg locks…) and with our hands around each other’s necks, arms around each other’s chests… We’re going to be hands on because that’s what we do. You need to be able to trust that the person getting hands on with you isn’t going to get fresh with you.

Martial arts schools are rarely gender balanced, men will outnumber women most of the time. But if you don’t see more than a few women in the school at senior levels and teaching classes… move on.

Real world training

Not every school trains for the real world. Lots of instructors will say that their teaching is real world applicable but that’s not the same thing as training for the real world. Training for the real world takes a huge amount of understanding about safety because when you step up the level of training your risk of injury goes up if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Things you might see in a program designed to be real world effective:

  • Opportunities to train in street clothes. Moving and fighting in your daily wear shoes is different than being barefoot on the gym. Throws that rely on grabbing a gi don’t work so well when your attacker is just wearing a cotton t-shirt. The list goes on a ways but training in street clothes occasionally is useful.
  • Resisting opponents and realistic scenarios. This is one of those places where you get safety issues. Obviously we don’t amp simulations all the way to unrestrained assault but you need to work with partners who don’t fall onto the ground and tap out as soon as you start to apply a technique. Likewise, scenarios should focus on things that actually happen with an understanding of real world obstacles, environments and weapons.
  • Versatile. There are fantastic arts that focus almost exclusively on grappling, or kicking, or hand to hand striking… For self defense, you want a program that covers a comprehensive set of threat environments, not just one type of application.

Realistic promises

Self defense training takes time. If you take a one month class that meets twice a week and then leave, you haven’t made yourself safer and in a year your ability to execute anything you learned will be severely diminished.

Beware of schools that promise you fast results and short term programs. This is another reason why you look for women who have been training in the program for a while: It takes time to get good at this stuff and it takes sticking with it to be able to do it well enough to actually protect yourself.

There are lots of great programs run by a wide variety of instructors teaching a multitude of styles. There’s also a lot of McDojo garbage floating around. Ask questions. Ask to watch a few classes. As a woman seeking a school, if the owner / instructor isn’t a woman, ask to talk to a few of the women in class. Get a lay of the land. Try things out.

If you want to get good enough at self defense to actually keep yourself safer, it’s going to take time. Make sure the school you select is a place where you want to spend that time. Class, in general, should be something you look forward to. Don’t get tripped up on which famous style is better than which other style… look for a good school that understands women as students, provides a safe and welcoming environment and trains for the real world threats we deal with every time we pick up a purse and walk outside.

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