Tag Archives: trauma

7 Self Defense Myths

10 Jul

My job as a women’s self defense instructors is widely misunderstood. This is partially because there is no really credible certification system for teaching women’s self defense, so many people teach it without a complete understanding of what they are teaching and give people the wrong idea. Why should you believe me over them? Not only have I grown up studying martial arts since I was old enough to walk at a school owned by my mother, a now 7th degree black belt in Shaolin Kempo Karate (a self defense based mixed martial art), but I have spent several years educating myself about violence against women through research, volunteer work and activism. Most self defense teachers understand one or the other– fighting back or what you’re fighting against. I strive to understand both sides.

These are some of the most damaging myths about self defense:

1. You need to learn how to protect yourself if someone attacks you when you are walking alone at night, because nobody you know would attack you, and if they did you would know what to do.

About 90% of violence against women falls under the category of sexual assault, and within that we know that about 85% of sexual assault is committed by someone the victim knows: a friend, acquaintance, family member or intimate partner. Most women don’t believe someone they know and trust could attack or sexually assault them, which is why their guard is down and they usually have not thought through what they would do in such a situation. A good women’s self defense class teaches more than martial arts– it teaches how to navigate dangerous social situations.

2. Women are targeted to be victims based on how they look and/or what they wear.

Attackers choose their victims based on what they think they can get away with. Who won’t tell? Who wouldn’t be believed? Who can they overpower with the least amount of struggle? This is why the majority of sexual assault victims are minors. To suggest that a woman’s appearance has anything to do with her attack is called victim blaming and it is extremely damaging.

3. Perpetrators of sexual assault and other violent crimes are sick and different, so they are easy to spot and avoid.

Most perpetrators look and act just like anyone else. I would even go as far as to say that many simply do not know better than to commit sexual violence. In a poll of college aged men whose actions fit the legal definition of rape, over 80% said their actions were “definitely not rape.” This is why it is important to talk about these issues and educate people to change our culture.

4. Self defense is mainly a set of physical skills plus screaming “NO!” and “BACK OFF!”

Self defense is first about recognizing and avoiding dangerous situations so you hopefully never have to use your physical skills, and second about recognizing that we as women are just as strong and capable of fighting back as any man. Although the material is serious, a good women’s self defense class should feel fun and empowering!

5. The hardest part about physically fighting someone off is that they are probably bigger and stronger than you and they may have a weapon.

Probably the biggest obstacle that most survivors report is the “fight, flight or freeze” response to trauma. Many women report that they didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late and then they were in such shock they were unable to think clearly or act in the way they would have thought they should. If you know how to fight back, it doesn’t matter how big or strong your opponent is. What matters is your reaction in a moment of high stress. That is why martial arts classes are great preparation– because they train your body to react to unexpected attacks with physical defenses, and because they teach how to communicate clearly while working in close quarters with other people’s bodies.

6. Women who don’t leave abusive relationships are different from me. I could never end up in a situation like that.

Any person is capable of ending up in an abusive relationship. I know many intelligent, strong, powerful women who have ended up in psychologically toxic or physically abusive relationships. If it were obvious, nobody would go there! The are so subtle and complex that the best thing you can do to avoid it is to understand and HEED the by getting out before you are too emotionally invested.

7. Pressure points and grappling are the best defenses for a woman who is not trained in martial arts.

UGH this one annoys me. Let me put it this way: most self defense classes are from 2-12 hours long. I have studied martial arts since I was a small child and I STILL have trouble using pressure points effectively. My first choice for physical defense? HIT ‘EM IN THE FACE!!! As for grappling, it’s so trendy right now with the surge in popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA. The thing is, joint locks are great (although too complicated for a beginner), but if you are smaller than your opponent you do NOT want to go to the ground with them. Yes, there are ways to defend on the ground but no, they are not easily accessible for someone untrained in martial arts.

Body Language And Consent

23 Mar

Thomas from wrote an excellent explaining new research that demonstrates that a non-verbal no is as clear as a verbal no.

This is particularly important when we consider the trauma response to sexual assault. An assault triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. I know I talk a lot about fighting, as a martial arts instructor, but the reality is that in that moment of intense stress, many victims freeze. Just because someone does not fight back does not mean that they gave consent. It also does not mean they deserved to be assaulted or were responsible for the attack in any way. Yet, in the few rape cases that go to trial, the most common defense is to assert that the encounter was consensual. This defense often focuses on what the victim did not do (ex. fight back, say no clearly or loudly or believably enough, etc.). Unfortunately, what they did do (in terms of non-verbal communication) would be hard to recreate in court. This new research is just one more piece of evidence supporting the fact that victims should be believed and that creepers know exactly what they are doing.

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