I want to begin this by saying that I am okay with ruffling feathers.
I take this work of “making women safer” very seriously, and it goes way beyond demonstrating techniques, being a badass, making money, or creating a vocation.
With the current state of our administration, there is an interesting trend in women’s self-defense. The catalyst is unfortunate, but it is exciting that women are taking the step to become safer, stronger, and more aware.
As with any trend, we start to see teachers who are exploiting the demand, looking for quick fixes, making it “sexy,” or honestly—just making sh*t up.
I have struggled for many years to know when I’d be ready to teach self-defense. I began training seriously in the craft after my initial sparring session six years ago, while dancing around like a jumping bean, repeatedly hit in the jaw. This was the same weekend of my first jiu-jitsu throw, where I broke the fall with my face.
It has, and always will be, an everyday learning process that requires time on the mat, humility, daily training, and apprenticeship under a master teacher/teachers. If you are committed to sharing an art, you find a way to practice it, and that doesn’t mean a few workshops, a few private classes, or watching videos.
To master any craft, it takes years of consistent and sometimes boring repetition, drilling movement patterns into muscle memory, creating higher probability of success during moments of fight or flight.
I have been a teacher of movement for the past 15 years, and because of the serious nature of self-defense, I’ve been hesitant to jump into “instructor status.”
I take responsibility for any of my own insecurities for not feeling qualified, especially in a field that is primarily male dominated. I did not claim to be a self-defense instructor until after five years of diligent training and asked myself some tough questions.
“What would I be willing to do if attacked?”
“Do I think I could kill someone?”
“Where are my personal lines in the sand?”
I still don’t claim to know all the answers. However, I’m in the arena.
My catalyst for feeling “ready” came through fighting in a Muay Thai ring several times. I realized this type of full-contact sport fighting was the closest experience to actually being attacked. There is a huge difference between sport fighting and self-defense, namely weight classes, judges, protective equipment, rules, no weapons, one attacker, predictable terrain. But, when someone was in front of me trying to take my head off, my limbic response was tunnel vision, refinement to gross motor movements, adrenaline dumps, spastic breath, and inability to feel my legs.
Under the umbrella of self-defense, this is the reality we are dealing with, not Hollywood, superhero fantasies about what we “might” pull off in a moment of actually being attacked. If you have never been hit, choked, kicked in the head, had a black eye or two or been a little bloodied, I’d question your credentials of teaching women’s self defense.
You can’t teach from a bubble of concepts, it’s intellectually dishonest and does disservice to the movement that so many strong women and men are trying to create.
I do not think you have to step into a ring or a cage to be a great instructor. I do think you need to know how to fight, how to take a hit, train with accountable sources, and constantly be doing the deeper internal work. This is not a “game,” it’s not “cute,” it’s not the next new fad. We are dealing with women’s lives, therefore the work should be taken seriously.
Here are five signs your instructor may be full of sh*t:
1. Your instructor says, “These three techniques will make you safe.”
If you hear this in a self-defense seminar, run fast in the other direction. When we are talking about self-defense, we are discussing a huge umbrella of unknowns. We are talking about a probability game, winning moments in time to make someone safer.
This work is not black and white. You can’t “do this” and suddenly have an invisible shield of safety around you. It’s messy, and if we are telling our students, “this technique will work without understanding context,” we are lying to them.
2. The instructor’s credentials are “I am a woman and teach some kickboxing classes, therefore I am qualified to teach self-defense.”
As a teacher of teachers, I wholeheartedly believe you can be a great teacher at any level if you “teach what you know.” Fit to Fight, the self-defense system I train under, has a wonderful progression of certifying teachers to teach the curriculum they have been tested in. The latter is not what I am referring to. I am shining a light on instructor who may be a world-class cardio kickboxing coach, and has been heckled as a woman on the street, therefore qualified to teach women’s self-defense. Air does not punch back. We are dealing with people’s lives. It is dishonest and potentially dangerous to water down this gritty reality.
3. Your instructor only trains self-defense techniques without knowing how to fight.
You need both, and I would risk saying, for the average woman, learning to fight is the first priority. Quoting Ryan Hoover, the founder of Fit to Fight, “You can’t self-defense your way out of an attack,” you will have to fight. Which means, you will get hit. It will be messy.
If you, as a teacher, are not conditioning your own body to take a hit, fire back, and become stress-inoculated, I’d question your authenticity in teaching it. Knowing how to fight has a direct correlation to a woman’s confidence, psychology, and the way she carries herself.
Does this mean learning to fight will prevent an attack? No, we are playing a game of statistics, and knowing how to fight gives a woman a higher probability of getting home safely—or out of the home safely.
4. When your instructor gives you a flow with martial techniques and implies it will make you safer.
I am in complete support of movement that express martial, circular, and transitional energies. This can be a wonderful tool for building range of motion, efficiency of output, and muscle memory in the body. I have taught Budokon yoga for years, and love when students feel like badasses flowing through a sequence.
Budokon yoga has been a gateway for many students, including myself, to enter more serious martial and self-defense training, but it is not self-defense. Even though I think it would be awesome, I’m not gonna “block stance” my way out of an attack.
5. When your instructor has all the answers.
I’m always wary of hard and fast truths. In sport fighting, we have different arenas where we can test our techniques and strategies through a field that is constantly evolving. It is difficult to spar out the efficiency of eye-gouging, knife-slashing, groin-kicking, hair-pulling, head-butting, flesh-biting, and face-stomping. These are illegal in sport fighting for a reason.
There are different professions and fields of reality-based study, such as police force and military, with more “real-time data,” and yet there are still many variables based on size, psychology, weapons, terrain, and multiple attackers.
Self-defense is a personal journey.
I know many women who have been attacked and didn’t fight back because they wanted to live. Like animals in the wild, our limbic brain is wired to fight, flee, or freeze as survival mechanisms. I have discovered my natural trigger is to freeze. Through putting myself in highly stressful situations, I am working on reprogramming my limbic threshold.
There is no “right or wrong, good or bad” answer. This is why the deeper questioning is so important. “What am I willing to fight for? Die for? Could I kill someone? Who would I fight for, if anyone? Where are my lines in the sand?” If your instructor is not encouraging you to question, I’d find someone new to train with.
In conclusion, I do not think the trend of women’s self-defense is a negative phenomenon. If tagging “wine” onto a women’s self defense workshop is the hook for those who’d otherwise be intimidated, so be it, as long as the instruction is not watered down in the process.
If group fitness is the gateway for women to enter the world of self-defense, so be it, as long as there is intellectual honesty in the delivery.
Now more than ever, the world needs teachers to step up and do the work, be the student on the path, growing, learning, sweating, bleeding, getting hit, falling down, and getting back up again in service to ourselves, our students, and the world.
Author: Angela Meyer
Editor: Lieselle Davidson