Newsletter (11) – Women and Self-Defence

The Straits Times on 3rd Jan 2010 had an article on more people signing up for self-defence classes. The article said that the recent spate of gang-related activities has led to more men signing up for classes, while there isn’t a corresponding increase in women sign-ups. And that was attributed to a lack of awareness amongst women about their need for self-defence skills.

Now I would be the first to say that some people (not just women) live in denial of the possible dangers around them. In fact, I even wrote about it here.  But this is not the only reason women may avoid self-defence classes.

Here are some other reasons:

1)      False advertising – the class is advertised as a self-defence class but it is actually a martial arts class. If it is a traditional martial art (such as Karate or Taiji) there will be a strong emphasis on personal development. You will have to spend a long time (months or years) on mastering certain movements, to get them exactly just right. The process itself is valuable, and I’d be the first to argue for its benefits. However, if the women come in for self-defence, that’s what they are looking for. They don’t want something that CAN be used for self-defence three years down the road if they practice it for hours every day. They want something that they can use NOW.

If they join a sport-based art (such as Judo) that has been advertised for self-defence, then they will spend time in physical conditioning (which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong) and then training in competitive techniques. As a gender, women are more cooperative and less competitive, so they will be uncomfortable with that. Also, they may not be comfortable with violence for the sake of winning a competition.

On the other hand, women may find themselves in a class that combines fitness, meditation, weight-loss and martial arts training. This is appealing to women because of the one-stop-shopping concept, that they only need attend one class to get all these benefits, but unless the students are taught the common attacks they may face and how to deal with them, it’s not self-defence. And the students have been misled by false advertising!

2)      Uncomfortable with Violence – most people are uncomfortable with physical violence, but women on the whole are even more so. To make things worse, what is often advertised as self-defence is often violence for the sake of sport (competition) or violence for its own sake, characterized by savage techniques that are more suitable for a soldier in the battle field than a civilian in normal society.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe any criminal who attacks a woman deserves whatever he or she gets (remember, there are violent women around!) but it is very hard to justify teaching anyone how to break another person’s neck, or how to sneak up behind people to cut their throats with a knife. That’s violence for violence’s sake. Self-defence should be violence for the sake of escape, to get out of the very dangerous situation that you foolishly got yourself into, either by bad decisions or inattention.

3)      The Lessons Take Too Long – As I said earlier, if it takes years for people to learn to get to a useable level of skill, people get discouraged and drop out. Martial arts are intricate, multi-faceted and deep. Of course it will take a long time to acquire martial arts skills. However, self-defence skills should be something people can use without having to train hours a day for years.

It’s like the difference between learning stunt driving and the driving that gets your kids to school and yourself to work safely. Many women who try out self-defence classes find themselves signed up for the stunt driving version when all they want is what gets them and their loved ones home safely. Of course they’d drop out! But what frustrates me is the realization that these women may then get the impression that they can’t learn self-defence skills within a reasonable period of time and therefore not try anymore. And that would be a shame, wouldn’t it?

With all these reasons, it is unfair to say that “self-defence awareness hasn’t caught on with women yet”. It sounds very patronizing to me, like a businessman claiming that people don’t buy his products just because they aren’t aware how wonderful his products are…

So if you have any disappointing experiences with attending self-defence classes, do email me about it and share your story with me!


Quick announcement: because of some difficulty in finding a good venue for group classes, I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!


About Junjie
Musician, Martial Artist and father of two boys. Rambler, thinker and compulsive teacher.

4 Responses to Newsletter (11) – Women and Self-Defence

  1. eastpaw says:

    I’m actually not sure that *physical* self-defence classes are useful at all.

    It would be nice if we had good studies on this, but that’s next to impossible.

    • Junjie says:

      How WOULD you frame such a study? 🙂

      There are stats that indirectly support physical self-defence classes. Rory Miller, in his book Meditations on Violence, mentioned that in the overwhelming majority of the time, the woman putting up some form of resistance was enough to make a wannabe rapist abort the attempt and look for an easier victim. If I remember correctly, most of the time rapes take place because the victim was too shocked to put up any resistance or was drunk/drugged/etc.

      The problem comes with getting the resistance to be a reflex response to the danger. That is why they need to be shown the common street attacks they would face and get some practice is dealing with it (scenario-based training). This is the missing part from many martial arts courses. That was why in the 1970s USA had an alarming number of female black belt holders who were attacked and raped. So a number of martial arts groups arose to concentrate on scenario-based training.

      From this you can see that I believe scenario-based training is a vital part of self-defence classes. 🙂

      • eastpaw says:

        Reading your next article (newsletter 12), I think I see your point.

        When you say “physical self-defence”, you’re not talking about “how to elbow someone in the gut” lessons, but scenario-based training instead. Yes, agreed that scenario-based training is useful.

        It all makes sense now. 🙂

  2. Brenda says:

    Ths month’s article is very precise, at least it gives the insights of the different defence arts in a macro manner…

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