The issue I’m addressing in this article, are the instructors that market their “Women’s Self Defence” materials and seem to pass it off as a separate self defence system. They are creating a myth amongst both genders that women need to learn their own techniques. That self defence classes attended by men are somehow unsuitable for women. This myth has been a cash cow for many decades now. Check out this self defence video from the early 90’s!
Now, I’m not saying that ladies only self defence classes are a bad thing. Gender segregation is sometimes necessary, such as religious reasons or simply the individual’s confidence level around men.  It’s beneficial for women to attend a good quality ladies only course to better understand the possible scenarios they could face, along with an attacker’s motives towards a female victim. But so many of these “Women’s Self Defence 101” books, dvd’s and courses fail to emphasize that it’s the senario and motives towards a female victim that can differ from male victim NOT the defence technique used. These “Self Defence Experts” are either ignorant or simply prefer to concentrate on making money by supporting this myth of selling “secret female ninja skills”.
The truth is, there are no “secret techniques” that a women will learn at these courses. A man has the same vulnerable areas available whether he is attacking a man or a woman. Both men and women have the same tools (hands, knees, teeth, nails and so on) to defend ourselves with and they can only be used in so many ways. Self defence is self defence and to pretend otherwise is misleading.
Another thing I have an issue with is most of these books, dvds and short courses are conducted by male instructors. No offence guys but do you really think you have the knowledge, experience and insight to teach vulnerable, often psychologically scarred women self defense? Can you really understand how they feel when you explain how to escape a rape scenario or a violent husband? Surely you have at least one female student that could teach these courses on your behalf. If not, find one.

But aren’t women smaller and weaker than men?

Some are, some aren’t. I’ve taught women who were faster and stronger than my average male students. I’ve also trained women who were taller or heavier than the guys in the class.
It’s not about being male or female. It’s about your size, skills and abilities in comparison to that particular attacker. Assuming that all men that attack women resemble The Hulk is just ridiculous, after all, there are plenty of guys with Short Man Syndrome around. Should a tall women relax and not worry so much if she is being followed through the park by a short man? Of course not! Evil presents itself in all forms and having assumptions limits your awareness and judgement.
good self defence instructor should help each practitioner, regardless of gender, to understand their individual strengths and weaknesses. Which strategies will work best against a variety of different types of opponents, attacks and situations. These strategies are no different for men and women. They even may be identical, for example, why should a short, skinny man defending a punch from a taller man, be any different from a small woman defending a slap from a tall man? Similar height and weight differences, similar angle of attack…doesn’t it make sense to use a similar defence?

But don’t men attack women differently than they would attack a man?

It’s not really the initial attack itself that differs (being cornered, punched, stabbed and so on), it’s the motive and scenario behind the attack that can change depending on gender.
Motive: The motive for an attack can be different in some cases, based on gender. It is more likely that a man will attack a woman in order to sexually assault her. (Although there are plenty of male on male sexual assault happening as well). However, in order to subdue a woman, a man is going to have to use the same techniques (ambushing, grabbing, striking, pushing) as he would to attack another man. Defending against a strike or a grab or punch for example, is the same regardless of the attacker’s motive.
Senario: An attacker may also cater the scenario depending on the gender of his victim. A man isn’t likely to approach another man and insist on helping him carry his shopping as a distraction before attacking him, but he may do so with a woman.
However, the same fundamental principles of prevention and self defence apply. Both men and women must be able to recognize and avoid dangerous people and places, to recognize a situation for what it is and maintain distance when necessary. To know when to be compliant and when to be non-compliant. To know when to fight back and when to walk away.

In Conclusion

Although specifics may be different on average, it’s imperative that both men and women understand the underlying principles and how they apply to themselves in particular.
Fortunately for both men and women, awareness and prevention can cover a high percentage of your self defence needs, stopping a situation before it goes physical. Unfortunately for both genders, physical self defence is hard work. It requires stopping an opponent who is intent on hurting you, an opponent who will be aggressive and entirely uncooperative. Learning to do that takes time, commitment and serious training.
You’re probably not going to learn that from a “Women’s self defence 101 dvd”. But it is possible, with regular functional strategy, techniques and training scenarios. All of which are covered in my Apolaki Krav Maga classes and courses.
About the Author:
Daughter of a 2-9 British Army Commando and Combatives Instructor, Kelina Cowell grew up on a military base in Dortmund, Germany. Inspired by training with her father from an early age, she continued her combative journey into Krav Maga, Submission Wrestling, Filipino Martial Arts, Pencak Silat and Muay Thai. She searches for the truth in personal protection, simply keeping what can really work on the street and the discarding the “Hollywood” techniques that don’t.
Kelina Cowell is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Apolaki Combat Systems:
  • Apolaki Krav Maga – a unique blend of traditional Krav Maga, with elements of Filipino martial arts, Pencak Silat, Muay Thai and Submission Wrestling. Complete with it’s own 5 Level syllabus and gradings.
  • Apolaki Dirty Boxing – A more in-depth training into Filipino boxing, Western Boxing, Muay Thai and Pencak Silat. Complete with it’s own 5 Level syllabus and gradings.
  • Apolaki SPD: Self Protection for Dwarfs – Co-founded with her student Eugene Grant who was born with Achondroplasia (a form of short-limbed dwarfism). An adapted form of Apolaki Krav Maga suitable for dwarf body types.