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A Woman?s Guide to Self-Defense
Patrick Mascoe

As I surf through the channels on my TV, Buffy, the ever-so-slight Vampire Slayer, has just stood toe-to-toe with a half dozen, extra-large men and defeated them all with tremendous ease. Chyna, the female bodybuilder from the WWF, has just knocked out a man almost twice her size with a single punch, while Xena the Warrior Princess single handedly disposes of an army of armed men.

It is a television producer’s job to give the audience what they want regardless of reality. Unfortunately, numerous women’s self-defense instructors are now following this very same philosophy. The problem with many self-defense courses that are taught today is that instructors often tell their students what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.

Giving people a false sense of security is extremely counter-productive and quite possibly dangerous. Too many martial arts instructors believe that women should learn how to outfight an assailant, thereby proving that their martial art is superior to all others. Escaping or avoiding a dangerous situation should be seen as a victory and becoming involved in a drawn out physical confrontation with an assailant decreases your odds of victory.

Tan Shu Bin, a Southeast Asian Games gold medallist and five time Singapore Women’s National Judo Champion, was asked what she would do if she were attacked on the street. She replied that if given the chance, she would run away. "Even though a man and woman may be equal in size and weight, physiology shows us that a man’s muscles are stronger, larger, and more powerful than a woman’s. To stand and fight an opponent that has a physical advantage over you is just too big a gamble".

One of the biggest reasons why unqualified instructors are able to stay in business is because they often prey upon people’s naivete. Naturally, we can’t possibly be knowledgeable in all areas. For example, when I was looking to purchase a computer, I was completely ignorant as to what was good or bad. When the salesman started talking to me about ram and mega-bites, I was completely in the dark. I assumed he was an expert simply because he knew more than I did. I knew nothing and therefore, had no point of reference to determine whether the salesman was competent or not. So, rather than just taking his word and purchasing a computer immediately, I decided to do some research to make sure I was getting exactly what I wanted. This, of course, is simple advice. Yet, as a martial arts instructor, I am often mystified by the number of women who don’t take this approach when it comes to their personal safety.

I know of a Karate instructor who openly advertised that he taught Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Aikido, and Kung fu, even though he possessed no qualifications or knowledge of these arts. When asked why he was deceiving the public, he said that the public didn’t know the difference between Judo and Karate and as long as they came through his doors, he could make money off them. (Check table for a description regarding the various styles of martial arts.)

After you have researched and decided upon a martial art or self-defense course that appeals to you, your next step is to assess the instructor. Check credentials. Is the instructor qualified to teach what is advertised? Ask for references. What have others said about the instructor?

Don’t always assume that a person’s belt rank is a true indicator of how good they are. In various styles of Karate and in Tae Kwon Do, the rank of black belt can be awarded at the club level. Therefore, the standard of a black belt varies from club to club, as does the time it takes to achieve it. It is not uncommon to hear of Tae Kwon Do practitioners earning second and third degree black belts in less than five years of training. Whereas, Judo and Aikido practitioners often take much longer than five years to earn even their first degree black belt. Judo practitioners cannot earn the rank of black belt at the club level and must be recognized by a national grading board.

Most important of all, what is the instructor’s true objective? Is the instructor concerned more about their income or your safety? A good instructor will confidently answer your questions and provide logical explanations. Take it as a warning sign if an instructor is uncomfortable answering your questions or if the answers provided don’t make sense to you. Also, be suspicious of anyone who acts too secretive about what they teach. You have a right to know what you are getting before you pay for it. There are no secret techniques or fighting styles because if they were a secret these instructors wouldn’t know them.

Remember most honest martial arts clubs will allow you to take part in a few free lessons before making you sign a contract. Those who don’t are usually more interested in the business of making money than in teaching martial arts. Also walk away from any club that offers you the chance to earn your black belt for a set fee. No amount of money can earn you a true black belt. This can only come through dedication and hard work.

Once you have found a course and an instructor you like, there are still a few more things to remember:

  • No one self- defense course will teach you everything.

  • If you are able to recall even one or two things you were taught then your money was well spent.

  • No one ever mastered anything by doing it once.

  • Remember that self-defense is an art.

  • No matter how many courses you take or how many years of training you put in, the best way for you to avoid a physical confrontation is by being careful.

The real key to women’s self-defense is confidence and intelligence.

Beginner’s guide to the martial arts

Here is a brief description of some of today’s more popular forms of self-defense.

AIKIDO: is a Japanese martial art that was founded by Morihei Uyeshiba in 1942. It relies on redirecting an opponent’s attack by using unbalancing and joint manipulation techniques. Aikido is considered one of the gentlest of the martial arts.

BOXING: is often called the martial art of the West. It probably originated in ancient Greece or Rome. Boxing emphasizes using the hands to punch an opponent. The true art of Boxing is to hit without being hit.

JIU-JITSU: is one of the original martial arts of Japan’s samurai warriors. It emphasizes punching, kicking, joint locks and choking techniques. Jiu-jitsu is categorized mostly as a system of self-defense although competitive Jiu-jitsu has recently become quite popular.

JUDO: is a Japanese martial art that was created by Jigoro Kano in the 1880’s. Judo training emphasizes the use of leverage to unbalance and throw an opponent of any size. Since judo was derived from Jiu-jitsu, joint locks and choking techniques also exist. Judo became an Olympic sport in 1964 and is known as the "Gentle Way".

KARATE: originated in Okinawa in the 1600’s. It relies primarily on striking and kicking techniques. Karate is considered a hard martial art, unlike Aikido and Judo, which are considered soft.

KUNG FU: originated from China in approximately 300 BC. It emphasizes hand and elbow strikes as well as, kicks aimed at the lower part of an opponent’s body. Imitating animals (i.e. Crane style and Praying Mantis style) developed the numerous styles of kung fu.